Cruel Necessity

[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 10 ]

Oliver Cromwell lamented during the execution of King Charles I in January 1649 stating, as he looked over the decapitated body, that it was a “cruel necessity.”

Cruel Necessity by Victory Point Games was one of the first true solitaire experience games I ever purchased and it still sits proudly on my shelf, for good reason. Designed by John Welch, the game is a States of Siege™ game that simulates not only the military battles that were going on at the time but also mimics the political and religious struggles during the English Civil Wars of 1640 to 1653 as you attempt to further Parliament and Puritanism.

You can play each civil war individually as scenarios or play the full campaign (all three civil wars) with all three decks of event cards. Although these event cards are randomized they do contain meticulously researched flavor text that gives the player an insight into the events occurring in England during this tumultuous time and how those events are reflected in game play through the movement of military forces and the influences of politics and religion. Organizing the event cards in chronological order, provides the player with a more historical reference from with which to enjoy the game.

Cruel Necessity from Victory Point Games

Each turn an event card is played that can cause enemy armies to march toward their fortresses or besiege yours. They will adjust the various political markers on the political tracks (which include the Monarchy, Parliament, Puritanism, Catholicism, Scotland and Ireland) and possibly give you die-roll modifiers (DRMs) which can assist you in bumping those political tracks into a more favorable position. Lastly, you may acquire more Zeal points or lose some. These Zeal points are essentially action points that you can use to push invading armies away, increase the strength of your Royalist held fortresses, purchase Achievement cards that gain you victory points if you can complete them, or you use them for other actions. You can save Zeal points and carry them over to a future turn however, most times, you will be spending them all as the game is tense and there is quite never enough Zeal points to go around.

The Battle Mat may be a little busy but all the information you need is printed on it.

During the game, event cards will trigger battles. You will leave the main game map and carry out tactical skirmishes on the Battle Display Mat. Your Royalists pikes and cavalry will encounter the better-equipped Parliamentary units. Die rolls can swing the battles from a slight win for the Royalists to your crushing defeat. Historically, most battles ended in a draw. Additionally, you may be able to play Battle Event cards that can both help or hinder you. These battles are quickly resolved and are representations of “push of pikes” combat of the day. Alternatively, there are optional rules that simplify the battles portion of the game and are diluted down to a single die roll and checking a table. Once the battle is resolved, you will return to the event card following the event on the card in sequence.

Close up of the main map

I wish the map board was mounted instead of being two halves on thin cardboard but sadly it is not however a separate deluxe map board is available for purchase separately from VPG. Plus, you have to like that burnt smell you get when you open a Victory Point Games box. For those that don’t know, VPG cuts their counters using a laser cutter. They are cheeky about it by including an official VPG napkin for cleaning the soot off the edges. I’m used to it and although it’s their m.o., some gamers may not be accustom to it or even like it. Lastly, the rule book is in case and rule format and is a bit of mess. Lots of different shaded boxes, colored and highlighted text – it’s all a bit much to look at but the book is thorough and has plenty of illustrations, examples of play, and insights into the game and its various ideas and concepts as presented by the designer.

Tracking political influence in the game.

All that aside, this game is one of the best solitaire games on the market. This is not an easy game to win and you will lose more often than not. Although you are trying to gain as many victory points as you can, there are degrees of victory and degrees of loss. A lot is going on as you manage the ever present pressure from Scotland, Ireland and other armies besieging your fortresses. Event cards trigger battles where the game switches to the battle mat for that “roll your battle dice” distraction. Achievement cards give you VPs at the end of the game as you attempt to fulfill certain requirements which usually revolve around the political tracks and that influence that can affect your points positively as well as negatively. In conclusion, it’s a simple game, the rules are not complicated and it’s all easy to grasp. However, there is a lot to manage as you make decisions as to whether or not you should roll that die again to boost Puritanism now or save that Zeal point for something else later. Great tension and excitement in die rolls and that flip of the card! The game has a lot of historical information that ties into game play and this integration makes Cruel Necessity not only a fantastic board game but also a brilliant learning experience.

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Flash Point Fire Rescue

[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 9 ]

“But sound aloud the praises, and give the victor-crown
To our noble-hearted Firemen, who fear not danger’s frown.”

~Frederic G.W. Fenn, “Ode to our Firemen,” 1878

I remember growing up how I wanted to be a firefighter and save people’s lives. I didn’t care about the danger involved, as I was too young to understand the risks and hazards. In light of somewhat recent events, firefighters have become even more legendary and celebrated than ever before. Flash Point: Fire Rescue is designed by Kevin Lanzing and published by Indie Boards & Cards. It is a cooperative (or co-op) game that has players working together as a team to put out fires, snuff out smoke, remove hazmat materials and rescue people and even pets from the blaze before the structure collapses. In typical co-op fashion, you all win or you all lose. – together.

The base set comes with a double-sided board that allows for some extra variability right out of the box. The set-up is a little fiddly since, through die rolls, you randomly place the initial fire tokens, hot spots, hazardous materials and POI markers (victims) which are placed faced down on the board. In the solo game, you can choose how many responders you wish to play with. A good starting game is at least three. Each responder has a different special ability or, to be more accurate, specialty that can be utilized in certain situations. One may be more adept at putting out fires, while another is better at rescuing victims and still another may be better at chopping through walls.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue Board and Player’s Responders

On each responder’s turn there are three “phases.” First, you will spend the action points assigned to that particular character. Action points (APs) may be used for movement in and around the building, extinguishing smoke or fire, drive the fire truck or ambulance around the board, firing the deck gun into a quadrant of the board to put out fires opening and closing doors, and picking up victims. Unused action points can be banked and used in a subsequent turn.

In the second phase, you “advance the fire.” Rolling the dice randomly seeds a smoke token that could possibly flashover and become a fire, cause an explosion, or even a shockwave that causes damage to walls that are marked with black damage marker cubes. When the damage markers run out (there are 24), the building collapses and you lose the game. As you might suspect, things escalate from bad to worse in this game very quickly.

The last phase of a responder’s turn is replenishing the victim markers so that there are three on the board at the end of every turn.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue features lifelike art on the cards

Since most co-op games offer shared information among players, Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a great beginners’ solo game (and co-op game too!) You are the captain of the team developing a plan of attack, deciding who goes in where, who is retrieving victims and who should operate the deck gun to put out large sections of the fire! One of the greatest features of the game is its replayability and variable setup. There are many different scenarios that gamers can play, through the use of available expansions, including high-rise office buildings, brownstones and even a submarine! Each expansion comes with its own set of additional rules for dealing with the specific scenario and conditions. Additionally, you can make the game as easy or as hard as you want depending on how many firefighters you intend to play with, how many fires start in the structure, if there are hazardous materials presents, or how many victims are present in the building or how many of them you need to rescue to win. Optional rules allow for no hazmat materials or not having any use of the deck gun. On Boardgamegeek, users have uploaded custom campaign rules as well as user created map boards for more challenging play.

As an aside: When playing the game in full co-op mode with others, some “care bear” players might have an issue with game play when they are unable to rescue victims from fire and smoke and some of those victims can be pets.

Managing all your responders’ action points and trying to maximize each turn can be a challenge. “Advancing the fire” is relentless and unremitting. The damage counters are finite and run out quickly. It can be a pulse-pounding race to get the last victim out of the building before it collapses on top of your responders or victims left behind. Flash Point: Fire Rescue is a fantastic and tense game. Its cooperative nature makes it perfect for solo play. Although it is considered one of the preeminent gateway cooperative games, its advanced and custom rules allow for a higher degree of difficulty for multiple players as well as the solitaire player.

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Glass Road

[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 8 ]

Sometimes, we are learning a new game or we just don’t have anyone to play with. Sure, it may be easier to play a game on an iPad, but often times it’s just nice to sit back and relax with our favorite beverage and relish in the cardboard on the table — to disconnect from our electronic lives. In this on-going series I hope to highlight some games that play well solo. These could be co-op games, multi-player games with solo variants, or games specifically designed for one player.

Cover Box art for Glass Road by Z-Man Games

Uwe Rosenberg has long been known as a heavy Euro game designer. Often his games are big, sprawling, table eaters with tons of cardboard tiles, wooden resources, and, if you’re lucky, animeeples! In 2012, Z-Man Games released Glass Road — a game designed for 2-4 players. Although it shines with three players, it plays remarkably well solo.

In Glass Road, you are trying to maximize the production of glass and brick by managing the component resources much like the artisans of the seven century-old Bavarian institution of glassmaking. You are trying to gain as many victory points as you can by purchasing various buildings from a randomized field of nine. You also have a player board that consists of various tiles that represent glades, sand pits, ponds and forests. On this player board you may remove certain tiles for resources. You can also gain resources from card play based on what tiles are on your player board. You’ll use those resources to purchase buildings. Some buildings give you on-going abilities that you can perform anytime such as converting one type of resource to another or more. Other buildings, once placed on your player board, give you a one time, immediate benefit while the last set of buildings allow for end game bonus points.

Production Wheels

The heart of the game are the production wheels. One for glass and the other for brick. – two of the main building resources and point generators. On the glass wheel you manage and utilize sand, water, charcoal, wood and food to create glass while on the brick wheel you track of charcoal, clay and food to make brick. The wheels are a clever design. As you gain resources and move wooden tokens representing different resources clockwise around the wheel, you create an empty slot and the wheel must turn to create one (or more, up to three) glass or brick which in turn makes the count on other resources go down. (see photo) It sounds confusing – it isn’t. It’s genius. It avoids having a pile of multiple resource bits in front of you to set up, count, manage, convert, turn in, and put away.

Each round you will choose a certain number of cards from a pool of 15. (3,4,5,6,3,4,5) This makes a total of seven rounds. Each turn’s cards you have chosen are not available in the subsequent round but are in the round after that. Each chosen card is drawn randomly and you perform one of the two abilities printed on the card. When you are down to two cards in a round, pick one card, do both actions and discard the other. Cards allow you, for example, to perhaps build sand pits (to gain sand or clay), clear cut forests for wood or food, get food or water for the number of ponds you have, or build buildings from the general supply.

Typical One Player Setup

The interesting, addictive, and challenging part of the game is in the interaction of buildings, cards you play and the resources you have. Constructing buildings uses resources that you might be trying to save for some other building. Resources are tough to come by and managing them can often times all be a question of which actions you do in what order and this is made a little more difficult by the randomness of the card draw in your chosen cards for that round. As you reach the end of the game, because it’s a set number of rounds (and you know it’s coming), you’ll have to start crunching on what is the best way to optimize the cards you have left, the resources on each wheel, and how to gain as many points as possible.

There are no point goals or levels of victory. Each game is a matter of beating your best score. Even with all this thinking and crunching (which really isn’t hard once you get the hang of it), the game plays really fast – about 20 minutes or so. Once you finish a game, you’ll want to play another – you’ll want to play it over and over. Glass Road is not as heavy as other Rosenberg games like Ora et Labora or Fields of Arle, but it is challenging, fun, easy to understand, and due to the number of buildings and the randomness as to what comes out, has a lot of replayability.

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The Hunters

[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine #7. ]

Sometimes, we are learning a new game or we just don’t have anyone to play with. Sure, it may be easier to play a game on an iPad, but often times it’s just nice to sit back and relax with our favorite beverage and relish in the cardboard on the table — to disconnect from our electronic lives. In this on-going series I hope to highlight some games that play well solo. These could be co-op games, multi-player games with solo variants, or games specifically designed for one player.

Cover image of The Hunters from Consim Press

It’s midnight, December 1941, your U-Boat is patrolling the icy, North Atlantic. Several days have gone by without incident until… off your port bow a tanker, a small freighter, and an escort. You surface and sneak up on the small convoy, you decide to fire on the small freighter with your deck gun. A hit! It sinks but you’ve been spotted by the escort, you immediately submerge trying to escape, depth charges hit the water, explode and you start to take on water…

This is the kind of narrative that emerges from gameplay and enters your imagination in The Hunters German U-Boats at War, 1939-1943 – a solitaire game designed by Gregory M. Smith and published by Consim Press.

Initially, you choose a U-Boat type specific to the starting year of your patrol. Historically, only certain U-Boats were in service during certain times during the war. You have a limited number of steam and electric torpedoes at your disposal and your deck gun may have a limited number of rounds to fire. Choosing a different sub may mean your patrol starts later in the war, which gives you less time to level up your captain and his or her crew. Also, U-Boats became easier to detect in later years, so there’s that danger.

You have a play mat that depicts your sub, and using counters track your armament, hull damage, flooding, damaged systems, crew status and track your patrol progress. Don’t be too scared, there are not a lot of counters in this game. There are a lot of dice rolls so providing additional dice than what comes with the game will make the game move a little quicker and smoother.

A U-Boat combat mat tracks damage to convoys and other ships you encounter. It also tracks your range to the target and incoming hits on your U-Boat. Conveniently, there is a player aid to track all the steps required during combat vs. escorted ships. There are encounters tables, patrol assignment tables, torpedo dud charts, escort detection charts and damage charts to check but the more you become familiar with the game the easier it is too manage it all. What’s really nice is that you can perform a patrol or two, put the game away and come back to it later (after your sub has been refit in port) and continue your career.

Alternative Map created by BGG User Delphine Echassoux

Although the mats are pretty bare bones and track what needs to be tracked, BoardGameGeek user Koinskyz (real name: Delphine Echassoux) created a giant play mat utilizing an old map of Europe, the Atlantic and North America as well as a custom submarine graphic to more visually present torpedo loads, mechanical systems and track damage. Although not necessary at all, it does add a significant amount of theme and ambiance to an already fantastic solo experience.

The Hunters is a great solitaire experience especially if you are interested in submarine warfare during the Second World War. For those of you who’d rather play the allied part, there is a version coming called Silent Victory where you control U.S. submarines in the Pacific. Randomness is pretty high in the game since it relies on dice rolls for most outcomes but much of that is offset by the decisions you make: should I surface or perform a submerged attack? Should I attack during the day or follow the convoy and wait until night? At what range shall I attack thereby increasing my chances for success but increasing my chances of being detected? Should I even attack at all against so many ships with such a damaged U-Boat? When all is lost, should I crash dive to dangerous depths to escape my enemies? Tensions are always high when you are discovered by the escort and you are still trying to attack vessels. Or are you trying to escape but the enemy keeps hammering on you with their depth charges?

The Hunters: Charts and Tables

Die roll after die roll, the game is a nail biter as your torpedo and deck gun resources are dwindling. Levels of victories are contingent upon you sinking enough ships. It may seem a little abstract but out of game play comes a personal chronicle as you track which vessels you sink, which in the game were all real ships sunk by U-Boats during WWII. You will track their tonnage on a log sheet as you try to complete a patrol in the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic or off the west coast of Africa. Your captain could be promoted which gain you modifiers in die rolls against enemy ships. Over time, the career of each captain has a permanence, which gives each play and the game overall a history all to itself on your gaming shelf.

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Playing Solo

[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine #6. ]

Playing Solo Sounds Dirty, Doesn’t It?

Is solo gaming an important part of the gaming industry? Great question. Depends who you ask. There is a strong contingent of gamers who enjoy playing games solo for multiple reasons and there are those who either don’t really care or are against it — a very small minority of the latter. I believe it certainly fills a certain niche for many. Sometimes you might want to play a game but don’t have anyone around to play with. Or perhaps the game is too complex for most, so you decide to “solo it” and play all four factions maybe in something like a COIN game (more on that later) or you might even be learning a game so that you can teach it to your friends on game night.

In many recent Kickstarters, there have been backers who specifically backed a game due to its “solo-ability.” I, for one, don’t back a game “solely” (see what I did there?) based on that. There are lots of games out there for solo players, let’s briefly mention a few.

For the most part, solo games fall into one of three categories: cooperative games, multiplayer games with a solo variant or are considered multiplayer solitaires and lastly games specifically designed for solo play. Let’s start with that.

Thunderbolt Apache Leader by DVG

There are lots of games that are designed for the single player. Some examples include: Friedemann Friese’s deck building game Friday, Dan Verssen Games’ (DVG) Thunderbolt Apache Leader or Field Commander Napoleon, The Hunters: U-boats at War 1939-1944 (one of my personal favorites) or games in Z-Man Games’ Onirim Universe including Onirim, Urbion, and the recently released Sylvion (although there is a 2 player variant).

Cuba Libre (COIN) by GMT Games.

Some standard multiplayer games include a separate set of cards or boards to allow for solo play, or the game may have solo variants either officially sanctioned by the designer or solo variants posted on BoardGameGeek. Some multiplayer games that you may not realize have solo playability are La Granja, Splendor, Renaissance Man, Carcassonne, Nations and Nations the Dice Game, Imperial Settlers, and all games in the COIN, or Counterinsurgency Series, from GMT Games. There are other titles that have little to no player interaction and are therefore considered multiplayer solitaire games such as Race for the Galaxy, Agricola and Fields of Arle.

Elder Sign (Base Game) by Fantasy Flight Games

Lastly, games that are cooperative — all players playing together against “the game” are almost always solo-able. Some shining examples are Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror, Dead of Winter, Flashpoint Fire Rescue, Pandemic, Sentinels of the Multiverse and Legendary to name but a few. You can play multiple players at the same time since you often share information and cards anyway, you can just play multiple “hands.” Other games might have a different setup that may include additional cards or a different starting hand than a normal game, et cetera.

For me personally, solo gaming has a place in my home. Why? I work in technology and stare at LED displays, computer screens, and cameras all day long. For me, video gaming is not something I am interested in. My son loves it to be sure and I was in to it when I was younger but as I approach 50 (yikes!), I tend to like things that disconnect me from technology. I love having a multiple day session of solo gaming where the game is sprawled out on my table where I can savor the art, push the bits around, contemplate the event text on a card to decide what I want to do, all the while not worrying about my battery life or my eyes straining any more than my nearsighted, tired eyeballs can handle. I like the quiet solitude that comes out of that more than the sounds of booms, beeps, and explosions coming out of my iPad, phone or home tv. Regular gaming does have a place with me in my gaming group, friends and family but so does solo games. I know it’s not for everyone but this hobby we are in is so varied and so vast, luckily, we will never run out of games to play — with other people or by ourselves.



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Pavlov’s House

It’s not too often that I sing the praises of a print and play (PnP) games but only a few come to mind that are truly worth the investment of time and effort to get everything printed, cut, pasted, sleeved and assembled. One I want to talk about in this post is Pavlov’s House which is the second big PnP game that I have assembled from designer David Thompson. (The first was Castle Itter pictured below.)

Castle Itter somewhere mid-game.

David made Pavlov’s House available to gamers to try out and to play test. Additionally, it is available to play for free on Tabletopia. I personally dislike playing board games online as the whole reason for me to play is to disconnect. The moment I played it, I knew this game was going to get picked up by a publisher. In fact it was recently funded on Kickstarter by DVG and should be hitting shelves later this year! The game is sort of a tower defense game. As enemies encroach on your position, you can counter attack to select areas on the board but only from specified firing positions. And as the fight for Stalingrad continues on, the enemy slowly makes their was up the Volga in their attempt to take the city. So not only are you defending on a more strategic level but also on a smaller scale tactical level defending the house as well.

Pavlov’s House all setup and ready to play.

Balance-wise the game may have been a tad off as I was playing version .5 rules with a few cards missing since I had printed a previous iteration of cards. I will get the entire game up to version 0.5 at some point in the near future.

Here are the three areas of the board:

Pavlov’s House

Most of my combat positions in the House are occupied but I will admit that I did not suppress as much as I should have, but the dice were pretty good to me. I also made the mistake of deploying my Soviet Command counters too late in the game and thus not getting four actions early enough. Three actions every turn just isn’t enough to get things done. The red discs represent disrupted units and the grayed out counter is exhausted. Although you can’t see it, off the map, there are a bunch of “dead dudes” — didn’t get enough first aid counters into the reserves fast enough either. Always too little, too late. This part of the game feels very much like Castle Itter. You are using your counters and weapons to roll dice to hit armored counters and infantry counters in the middle of the board…

The area surrounding Pavlov’s House and the tracks of approaching enemies.

…that shows the tracks that advance toward the house. Here’s some infantry spread out and a couple of armored divisions. The Panzer IV in the game is tough by the way! The Sapper token on Track 4 saved me from advancing Scouts thanks to a successful roll. Not sure if the Sapper token is supposed to be removed on a successful roll or not. I house ruled it and left it in, to make my life easier. I suspect it should’ve come out.

Both these areas make the game feel very much like Castle Itter as I said. Plus the infantry Wehrmacht counters are identical. So while you are trying to manage that, you are also trying to manage a strategic situation on the far right side of the board…

A high level representation of Stalingrad and the surrounding area.

…that depicts the Volga and the area around Stalingrad (space #18). As you can see, a Luftwaffe 4 bombing roll of 14 would’ve placed a disrupted token on space #17 since 14, 15 and 16 were already disrupted — just one away. Very, very close as the bombing of Stalingrad ends the game. The Staging Area with all the cubes represent a supply line across the Volga where you can get more ammo (that are traded for suppression markers), first aid, Sappers and food into Pavlov’s House. Can you believe it? I have to feed my Soviets or they die!

So overall…

The art on this game is very well done. Everything is functional, clean, and easy to read.

The rules are very well written and provide clear examples of game play. Only a couple of times did I think there was some vagueness and had to house rule it on the fly. No big deal as this was my first play and I haven’t delved into the forums or asked David directly. I really dig how the Soviet cards have two different actions on them but you can only choose one. Plus you draw four cards, but can only use three and the Fog of War cards are dummy cards that clog up your card draws. Really tough decisions. I wish the cards had some reminder text/bullet points on them so I wouldn’t have to refer to the player aid constantly to remind myself what each action can do. The Wehrmacht cards are almost identical to most of the SS cards in Castle Itter. So that was easy to figure out and understand. I only got a little confused with the Assault card but over repeated times that card appeared, that became easier.

As I said earlier, not having enough actions really sucks. Big time! But that’s the game — trying to best use what few actions you have the best way possible.

Yes, the randomness is pretty high in this game. The card flips can kill you especially if that one track is almost full and you pull another Infantry or Armored card. Better suppress that baddie or you’re screwed! Plus, a lot of dice rolls. It seems less than Castle Itter but I am not sure. I think the dice rolls are pretty common for most wargames actually, so that really doesn’t bother me.

The win conditions are pretty tough and the game is a little long the first time. I imagine over repeated plays, it would become far easier as one becomes more familiar with the cards, the rules and the special abilities of some of the Soviet counters which is really easy to overlook.

I think this game is great! I am excited that it has been funded on Kickstarter, I backed it and look forward to its arrival some time in the summer. The game is available on Tabletopia if you’d like to play it. If you are more of a tactile guy, like me, the PnP files for version 0.5 are available for free on BGG. There’s a lot of cards, but after that making the counters is pretty easy. You do need 5 dice and a bunch of tokens but that’s really not a big deal. David Thompson has designed a really great game about the drama around Pavlov’s House and the bombing of Stalingrad. I am looking forward to playing this again soon. One more thing that is really cool, in David’s games he includes a section at the back of the rulebook of readings and references for players who wish to learn more about the conflict!

It’s definitely a solid design.

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