[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 17 ]

“Scheherazade had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of bygone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers.”

–  Sir Richard Francis Burton’s translation of 1001 Nights

Shahrazad (an alternative spelling of Scheherazade) is a small box, cooperative tile-laying game for one or two players designed by Yu Ogasawara and published by Osprey Games. The game features beautiful, lush art on 22 tiles by illustrator Kotori Neiko who also did the art on the small box game Birdie Fight! Each tile is numbered 0 to 21 and each belongs to one of four suits or colors.

The solo (and 2 player) game is played over two rounds. The goal is to score as many points as possible by arranging tiles in columns across the table in a checker board fashion with no more than four tiles in a column. To start, a random tile is placed in the center of the gaming area and the player takes two tiles from the shuffled, face-down stack. The player will place a tile every turn adjacent to a previously placed tile and then draw one tile back up to two. The player may choose instead to replace an existing tile with another from her hand. In this case, she would then place two tiles on her next turn. You cannot replace tiles in two consecutive turns.

Beautiful art in Shahrazad

Once all the tiles are placed, tiles are scored but first some may be eliminated from scoring. First, tiles touching must increase in value from left to right. If one does not, it is flipped over and does not become part of the scoring. Second, tiles must form a valid path from the left side of the field all the way to the right side, in increasing value. If any do not, they are flipped over. Then, you identify the largest group of each connected color and score a point for each of those tiles and subtract one point for each empty space where you may not have paced a tile in a column. You then leave one column behind, shuffle the remaining tiles together and begin round two. This followed by another scoring phase which is added to the previous score for your final tally.

Mechanically there is nothing wrong with the game.  Shahrazad is a light, puzzly sort of tile layer; a solid filler perfect for couples and a nice little distraction for the soloist. Although you do have some choices in placing tiles, it is somewhat random in so far as tile draws are concerned and only slightly mitigated by the choice of placing one or two tiles, or replacing one all together to assist in your strategy. There is no theme here as it’s more of placing increasing numbered tiles and trying to get large groups of like colors.

Exquisite art and component quality.

When I first opened the box, I was hoping the art would feature characters and places from 1001 Nights as told by Scheherazade and that the style of artwork be more indicative of Persian culture even if only a westernized version. Instead, it features the names and art suggestive of the 22 tarot cards of the Major Arcana. Plus, most of the illustrations feature famous folklore and fairy tale characters like Puss in Boots, Red Riding Hood’s Wolf, and Gepetto and Pinnochio. I get the “story telling” idea but it’s sort of mish mash. As nice as the art is, I was a little disappointed with the disconnect of the art from the title and what I was expecting.

Shahrazad from Osprey Games

Osprey seems to be on a roll with its small box games like Odin’s Ravens, the Raven’s of Thri Sahashri, and the Lost Expedition. The component quality is outstanding. The included scoring tiles where one overlaps another to keep score is gimmicky and unnecessary. In fact it’s just easier to use pen and paper.

I can’t imagine anyone pulling this game out often for solo play trying to beat their own score, but all things considered, it is still a solid addition to a gamer’s library especially as it fills a dual purpose as a light co-op, couples game, filler niche.

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Field Commander: Alexander





[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 16 ]

“In the end, when it’s over, all that matters is what you’ve done.”

-Alexander the Great

You are Alexander and with his army conquer their way from Macedon on the Grecian peninsula through Mesopotamia to Indus and finally ending back in Babylon where Alexander would eventually die in 323 BC. If your campaign is successful, he shall be glorified as he completes Prophecies, governs enemy Cities or razes Enemy Strongholds. Can you conquer the ancient world and become history’s most successful military commander, Alexander the Great?

Field Commander: Alexander is a solitaire game published by Dan Verssen Games. The game includes four mounted campaign maps to choose from that include Granicus, Issus, Tyre, and Gaugamela. The Battle of Granicus is the best scenario to start with as other maps add more difficult armies to face as well additional rules. You may also string your plays from map to map for one giant, world conquering campaign! As you overpower more and more areas on each map, you will encounter Prophecies that you may or may not complete. These objectives will allow your Alexander to level up and become more powerful.

Field Commander: Alexander published by DVG

Various game counters represent your forces as well as those of your enemies. They include Archers, Light and Heavy Cavalry, Phalanx and Infantry, among others. Each counter possesses a strength value as well as a speed, or initiative, that determines who strikes first in battle. Having the sequence of play printed right on the board is a great reminder of the order of the steps you do on each turn. Initially, you can spend Gold to flip your counters from their reduced side back to full strength. Then, each unconquered Enemy Stronghold gets their chance to execute randomized orders that can build up their city with walls, place more Gold in them for you to loot, or even make them harder to beat by placing a garrison with extra forces within the city. Next, you get to scout ahead to see if the adjacent area you wish to move into offers any resistance or you may have to spend more Gold in order to have enough supplies for your troops.

Forces waiting to fight Alexander and his army!

Engaging enemy forces on the battlefield occur when you enter an occupied enemy region. Each enemy force counter draws a random enemy Battle Plan counter. The number drawn may be modified by Advisors you’ve brought along on your campaign. The Battle Plans give their assigned force an advantage. Likewise, Alexander’s forces get their own Battle Plans based on Alexander’s level as well as those plans that are purchased with Gold. Battle resolutions are based on the speed of the counter denoted in the upper right corner of the counter. Forces of the same speed are resolved simultaneously. Each hit reduces the opponent’s unit to its reduced side, or if already reduced, removes it from play. The game includes a player log sheet (that may be photocopied) to keep track of stats as you play your campaign. It also has an area for your battlefield at the bottom. A free, printable 8.5” x 11” battle mat on BoardGameGeek makes battling enemy forces easier to organize and, quite frankly, more thematic.

If you are successful in your war-like ways, Alexander will gain Glory. Additionally, pivotal areas of the map can be governed (Gold over the course of the game) or razed (a one time Gold pay out). The last step allows you to spend your acquired Gold and Glory on items such as purchasing forces, a City that gains you VPs, random Insight counters or Advisors that both allow for your forces to have special abilities, and you can level up Alexander to make him more formidable and allow you to gain additional Battle Plans to use against your enemy.

The optional free, printable battle mat makes game play easier!

This is an over simplification of the rules because like most DVG games, there are some persnickety rules and exceptions, and the rulebooks are generally not laid out especially well or indexed. Also, the game is heavily lucked based since it relies on dice for battle outcomes although those rolls can be mitigated through Battle Plans, Insight and Advisor counters. For those that may be scared that this game, like many war games, comes with a lot of counters, it does not. It’s very manageable. Overall, the system is fairly straight forward to understand and after a couple of plays you probably won’t need to refer to the rules. Deciding which Battle Plans to use against enemy forces, when to Govern or to Raze a pivotal area, and what Advisors to choose, all add juts enough complexity to the game.

All that being said, it is a very enjoyable game. It’s a light-weight, dice rolling war game. But make no mistake, it’s not necessarily easy to win. The best experience you can have with it is to play the entire linked campaign. Or if time, and for many of us, space is an issue, you can play just one of the maps instead of all four.

All four maps can create a giant, linked campaign!

There are other games in the Field Commander series including Rommel and Napoleon. Coming soon from DVG will be a Robert E. Lee version. So, depending on your interests, there might be a Field Commander game just right for you. This game is a great entry-level game into the system and a fantastic way to dip your toes into the shallow end of the war gaming pool. Heavier war games are out there for sure, but if you want something light, fast and quick, you can’t go wrong with Field Commander: Alexander.

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Roll Player





[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 15 ]

Roll Player is a dice drafting and manipulation game for 1-4 players from Thunderworks Games. Designed by Keith Matejka, players create RPG characters with the usual tropes of stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. Class, Skills, Alignment, Traits and Equipment cards can also add complexity during play as well as scoring opportunities.

To start, choose a player board; this establishes your race i.e. Dwarf, Human, Orc, Elf, et cetera. Next, randomly assign yourself a doubled-sided class card. This establishes what profession your character will be: a rogue, monk, wizard, cleric, druid, and so on. Each class has different stat requirements that score reputation stars (victory points) based on the total pip value of dice in that stat’s row. Additionally, the card lists a special ability that can have an ongoing or a once per round effect. A random alignment card is placed on your home board with a cube that tracks whether you are good or evil; lawful or chaotic. This is not only a way to score more points but also used to enable certain special skills that you may acquire. A backstory card is also randomly chosen. This card sets up your pre-game history with some flavor text to give you some insight into your character and displays how additional points can be scored.

Player Board & Attribute Dice!

To start the game, take 6 random dice form the bag and roll them. Then place them on your board in whatever stat rows you’d like as long as you place dice all the way to the left. In other words you can’t put dice in random places like the middle of the far right side of a row. You’ll also start with 5 gold. Initiative cards numbered 1 through 3 are each placed above three Market cards. Then, three random dice from the bag are rolled and placed from least to greatest (ties are arranged by player choice) one on each of three initiative cards – the number two card also has one gold on it.

Attribute card and backstory flesh out your character!

At the beginning of each round you will take a die. If you select the first card, the AI will not take any cards in the Market. If you take the second die, you will get a gold but the AI will roll 1d6. A 1, 2, or 3 will trash (destroy) its associated card (a 4-6 does nothing). If you take the third die, a 1/2 will destroy the first card, 3/4 the second and a 5/6 will destroy the last card.

Once you have placed your die on your player board you have the option of discarding a Market card, if you are not interested in buying one, which gains you 2 gold. Otherwise, you purchase one of the remaining cards by paying its gold cost. Skill cards, which can be used at anytime during the game, can only be activated if you can move your alignment cube as indicated by the arrow on the card. If you can’t move it, you can’t use it. If the arrow is next to its cost then, if possible, you must move your alignment cube as indicated when purchased. Weapons and armor cards may also be available to strengthen your character but only one Market card may be purchased each round.

The Market

The other two dice are put back into the bag, the left most card is discarded and any other remaining are destroyed and therefore removed from the game. You replenish the Market, roll and add three more dice to the initiative cards with no more than one gold on the 2nd card, and continue with the next round. Each time you place a die in a particular row you activate that stats’ special ability as indicated. Abilities may allow you to re-roll a die, switch dice around, flip one to its opposite side, or shift your alignment cube. Once a row is complete, you will also gain a gold and when your player board is completely filled with all 18 dice, the game ends and you calculate your final score.

This game in a word is fantastic! It’s a great puzzly, solo experience as you decide which die you should take to get your stats where they need to be. The obvious choices are high valued dice, however there are trait cards that allow you to have a low valued stat and still gain points. Skill cards, although affect your alignment, gain you valuable ways to adjust your dice. Although Roll Player can seem a bit random, there are some interesting decisions to be made as to when you should bail out of trying to hit 17+ on your strength and utilize a trait card to get 8 or less, for example. Armor cards allow for a set collection element. There are limitations on how many weapons you can carry. (After all, you only have two hands.) Dice colors that match your class gain you additional points and gold dice give you one gold each time you place them.

One Deck Dungeon (base game) published by Thunderworks Games

The game has its critics wishing there was more than just creating a character or that it’s too random, but then again it is a dice game. At game’s end you have an RPG character with a backstory, completed stats, special skills and equipment ready to go on an adventure. But that’s it – no more. Enter the next Kickstarter! A campaign is in the works by the publisher that will add a module to the game where your completed character will battle a beast or monster! I, for one, cannot wait for this added gameplay.

There are lots of opportunities to score, and Roll Player has just enough in game crunchiness that makes the game a little “thinky” but also allows it to be played really fast. I don’t think you will play one game and put it away. Many games can be played in one session as you try different boards, classes, backstories and alignments – the possibilities are endless.

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One Deck Dungeon





[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 14 ]

There’s been a lot of hype online for One Deck Dungeon and I decided to pick up a copy to see what all the fuss was about. It’s a small box with cards, lots of little dice, some cubes, and a little rulebook. It’s a solo or two player game out of the box. Higher player counts require additional copies of the game. I tried it out solo – Wow! There is a lot of game in this little box!

Designed by Chris Cieslik and published by Asmadi Games, One Deck Dungeon is essentially a mini dungeon crawler. You take on the role of your usual fantasy class types, Mage, Rogue, Paladin, etc. Interesting to note however is that all the classes are women. No male characters at all. My 8 year-old daughter liked that a lot!

One Deck Dungeon published by Asmadi Games

After choosing your character, and choosing your dungeon rated easy to hard, you assemble your initial dice. The dice are different colors and represent strength, agility, and magic and differ from character to character. Moreover, you will have special abilities that allow you to gain additional hero dice or heal damage. On your hero card is indicated your health or hit points.  On your turn, you expend time by discarding 2 cards in your dungeon deck, and you can “Explore” which adds up to four possible rooms (Encounter Cards) to enter or you can “Enter a Room” which results in Combat Encounters or Peril Encounters. Lastly, on the Turn Reference card, a white cube is placed on the potion section. Each cube represents one use of any potion placed under the card including the one already printed on it.

Assigning your dice

In Combat encounters, creatures have special abilities that will make your battle more difficult. You roll dice and place them on the card to meet the required numbers or higher based on the type of dice required. Two dice of any color can be exchanged for a one-time use black hero die of the lowest value of the two dice you exchanged. You get those colored dice back at the end of the encounter. This helps mitigate requirements that might be too difficult because perhaps you don’t have enough strength or agility dice to meet the check. It’s very possible that you can still “beat” the creature, take the loot but pay the consequences which is usually made up of losing health points and possibly time (discards of the dungeon deck). Lose too much health and you lose the game. Health can be regained with various potions.

Peril encounters are handled a bit differently. Here you will have a choice between two checks both require a different type of die and one is always harder than the other, and each with its own consequences should you fail.

If that weren’t hard enough, in either case, as you roll dice to beat your foe, you will also need to beat the dungeon floor or suffer the consequences. Once you get through the dungeon deck and you reach the “stairs” card at the bottom, you advance down to the next level of the dungeon. Shuffle up the encounter cards and start another round. After three, you will face the dungeon boss on the flip side of the dungeon card.  Hopefully, you have gained enough XP to level up, have more dice, potions and skills necessary to fight the horrible beastie — they are tough to beat.

All the player character in One Deck Dungeon are women!

When you can claim a card as loot, which may or may not involve suffering consequences, that card is multi-purpose. Once you choose, you can’t voluntarily change it to something else. Although there are some cards that allow you to convert one type of loot to another. A claimed card can act as experience points that allow your hero to level up or it can be equipment, which means you can get an extra die or more. It can be a special skill/new ability that you place at the bottom of your hero card or it could be a new potion you place under the Turn Reference card.

All heroes begin at level one which limits how many potions they can have, how many skills they can use and how much equipment they can carry which translates into how many of each die type they are allowed to roll. Leveling up is key to winning the game as well as playing the included campaign mode.

I wish the box was a bit bigger for those of us that like to sleeve cards. Although not a huge issue if you toss the simple insert. However, what about expansions? This game is the new solo hotness right now and I think more cards and “stuff” would be very welcome. Depending on what gets added, the box might get a little tight.

Lots of characters to choose from with different abilities.

This game is an ingenious design. Having the encounter card be a multi-purpose loot (reward) card is a great idea. What type of loot will you use that card for? XP? More dice? Or a really cool special ability that comes in handy later? Don’t forget about those potions! That’s where a lot of the strategy in this game resides – the risk/reward from the choices you make. Sure, it’s a bit random with success hinging on the card flip and the required die rolls but the strategy in this game comes from the balance of how you use your dice, skills and potions together.

One Deck Dungeon has a lot of replayability. Nothing heavy here to be sure and a fair amount of randomness. Lots of variety on the encounter cards. Different heroes to play. Different dungeon difficulty levels. Different bosses to face in the end. Although the rulebook does have some ambiguity in it, a visit to the BGG forums should address most questions. Otherwise, One Deck Dungeon is fantastic compact card-based, dice chuckin’ dungeon crawler worthy of the hype train it’s currently on.

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Space Hulk: Death Angel: The Card Game





[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 13 ]

“By our fury, they shall know the Emperor’s name! Forward and destroy the infestation my Brothers!”

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game is a cooperative card game for 1-6 players from Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop set in their Warhammer® universe. You are a squad of soldiers clad in powered-up, mechanized armored suits rippling with weapons making your way through a giant space “hulk” of a starship, infested with aliens called Genestealers. You don’t need to have any knowledge of the Warhammer® intellectual property – just think of it as your space marines doing battle with xenomorph aliens from the popular movie franchise Alien. Since this is a cooperative game with all players trying to win (or lose) together, this makes a great solo adventure. But don’t get your hopes up, the aliens in this game are relentless and don’t often lose.

You start by selecting your marines (or choosing randomly) which come in pairs, each assigned a color. Each pair of marines comes with a color-matched set of three action cards.  Each pair of marines has different abilities than the others – some may be better at attack, or defense, or movement.  The “board” is set up with a set of locations at the top with the top-most card flipped to show where you are and also displays setup information. Beneath are your marines randomly distributed in  single column but the first three face to the left and the bottom three face to the right. On the location card will be the terrain cards that get assigned to spaces on either side of the marines. These include ventilation ducts, doors, control panels, and hallways. Most objectives require you to make your way through the space hulk to the last location and escape with at least one soldier still alive while other objectives may require a different end game requirement. Finally, to the left and right of the location card are small piles of face down Genestealer cards, called blip piles (again, think of space marines in Aliens and their motion trackers), from which aliens will spawn and attack your marines from each side in the column formation.

Set up and ready to play (and most likely lose)!

Each turn involves four phases. First is the Actions Phase where you choose which action cards you will activate – one for each set of marines. However, you cannot choose the same action card in a set in back to back turns. Second is the Resolve Actions Phase. Actions are now resolved based on the lowest numbered card first. Some action cards apply to both marines while others may only apply to one of “Your Brothers.” When using an “Attack” card, the dreaded “skull” die is rolled. A skull indicates you have killed an alien (50/50 chance). A player can also choose “Move and Activate” which allows you to change up your formation and move marines around, change their facing direction and activate a location. The last type of card is the “Support” which allows the player to place support tokens on marines to allow for re-rolls of the die or allow for activations when subsequently playing “Move and Activate” cards.

Brother Valencio

Once all of your actions are done, then it’s time for the Genestealers Attack Phase. The more aliens in the swarm adjacent to a marine means it’s easier and far more likely that the marine will get attacked! One hit on a marine and they are eliminated form the game.  Once each swarm on each side of your marines attack, you flip an event card and follow the text in the Event Phase. (hint: it’s usually bad) Also the card will indicate where more Genestealers spawn, from which blip pile they come from, and specify their movement within your squad’s formation. The game continues until you make your way through all the locations in the scenario and complete your objective or the aliens eliminate all your hardened space marines.

The Dreaded Skull Die

After one or two plays you’ll understand how to play the game. But, don’t be fooled! This is game is hard…really hard. The skull die is unforgiving. Even with a 3 in 6 chance of rolling a skull, it seems they never come up often enough. The randomness of the die roll is what makes the game exciting. Reading through the forums on BoardGameGeek online and you will notice a recurring pattern – loss. But quite honestly, if it were too easy, this game would not be as popular or fun as it is. When you do win, often times, you will do so with a lone marine or, if you’re lucky, two left – and it feels really good!

It is quick to set up and as your marines get killed by aliens you can return their cards to the box which makes clean up a breeze. Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game makes top 10 solo game lists every year since its initial release in 2010.  There are a couple of expansions that offer some more scenarios as well as some additional soldiers to choose from for your squad. It’s an alien beat down that is thematic, challenging and a rousing great time!

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Tiny Epic Galaxies





[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 12 ]

Tiny Epic Galaxies continues the Tiny Epic line from Gamelyn Games with what is quite possibly their most popular entry in the series yet. Designed by Scott Almes, you are in control of a small fledgling empire. Dealt cards in the middle of the table represent planets that may not only provide different resources but also add victory points and special abilities to your empire when you colonize them and add them to your empire. You roll dice that allow a player different actions like move a ship into orbit which over time allows you to colonize that world and add it and it’s special ability to your empire. You can also gain culture to advance your empire as well as gain energy which can allow you to re-roll dice.

Tiny Epic Galaxies (base game) published by Gamelyn Games

The game comes with official solitaire rules where you are battling another empire, called the Rogue Galaxy, for control of space. The AI comes in five degrees of difficulty ranging from the introductory beginner to the nearly impossible to beat “epic.” The first player to 21 wins the game.

On your turn you will roll only 4 dice although you can gain more dice as the game progresses. You spend a die to perform an action. Dice actions include:

  • Move your ship – Place a ship onto a planet (4 are dealt to the middle of the table) to gain it’s resource (energy or culture) times the number of planets you have landed on, or put your ship into orbit which over several turns can allow you to take control of the planet and gain victory points.
  • Energy/Culture – Either die face gains you the number of either resource as indicated by the number of ships either that are in orbit or landed on a planet that provides the applicable resource.
  • Diplomacy/Economy – Either of these die faces allow your ship to advance on the track orbiting a planet with the matching symbol. As you progress around in orbit (the longer the orbit and thus more spaces, the more victory points the planet is worth) Once you reach the end of the track, all ships are returned to their respective owners, you place the planet card under your galaxy mat (play mat), you gain the special ability and the victory points associated with it.
  • Utilize a Colony – this last die face allows you to trigger one of your special abilities of your empire.

You can also trade in two unused dice to convert a third unused die into any face you want. After you have spent all of your dice, the Rogue galaxy takes his turn.

The Rogue Galaxy AI Mat

The Rogue Galaxy starts with all four of his ships and 5 dice that you roll one at a time, perform the action and then continue. For example, the Move Ship action means the AI places a ship in orbit on the left most planet card where it does not have a ship. The AI gains Energy and Culture the same way as well as Diplomacy and Economy allowing the AI to race you for control of a planet. As the Rogue Galaxy gains culture it increases its dice pool, which gains extra VPs and the energy increase means it will “level up” and future attacks on you will change. When the AI rolls the Utilize Colony action, it will attack your empire zaping energy or culture from you or forcing you to return a ship home. If the AI cannot use the die face, then the AI does nothing – that’s a good thing. A very cool mechanic in the game allows the solo player to spend a culture of your own empire to “follow” or copy the action a die rolled by the AI. A mechanic reminiscent of Eminent Domain’s “follow” action.

Planets ripe for the taking!

Pretty simple, right? It is. It is not a complicated game. Don’t be fooled however by this small box game. The Rogue Galaxy AI can ramp up very quickly and gain lots of points fast. This is a great press-your-luck dice roller filler game and it doesn’t take up a lot of table space. It’s not  very deep and although there is some luck involved with regard to dice rolling, that luck can mitigated through the conversion of two unwanted dice to a die face of your choice. Additionally, falling behind can be diminished by using the “follow” action as long as you have culture to pay for it. Tiny Epic Galaxies plays fast and allows you to make some decisions and the dice rolls, both of the player and the AI, allow for some press-your-luck excitement. Considering the overall popularity of this game, an expansion is on the way in 2017 that provides more planets as well as secret missions and ship pilots with special abilities. Tiny Epic Galaxies is a must-have, fast dice roller for the solo player.

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Phantom Leader Deluxe

[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine # 11 ]

Phantom Leader Deluxe from Dan Verssen Games is a solitaire game set during the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1972. You will be commanding US Air Force and US Naval pilots who each have unique skills and their planes each have different weapons to attack their targets. As pilots become fatigued and stressed, their accuracy will decline and could become unfit to fly. If your pilots succeed, they will earn experience so that they may “level-up” to higher skill levels and awarded victory points toward various campaigns.

First, you will select a campaign card, each with its own special rules and choose either a short, medium or long campaign. The sequence of play is broken down into five phases. First is the Pre-Flight Phase. You’ll draw target cards and select the one you wish attack based on your politics counter on your campaign sheet. Every target has a political value assigned to it. The higher the value, the less choices of targets will you have later as you choose from less politically sensitive targets. The harder a target is to destroy the better defended it is and the more victory points it will be worth.

Based on the card, ground-based air defenses are placed on the tactical display. Then, you choose you’re a certain number of pilots/aircraft. Each aircraft has six copies — one for each skill level of pilot from “newbie” to “veteran.”

Phantom Leader Deluxe Tactical Display

This game is first and foremost a planning game. Each aircraft has specific types and amounts of weapons it may carry. Also, your distance to the target will affect this. You will spend a majority of your time playing this game in this Pre-Flight phase while you study the target area determining what munitions are the best choice. These are agonizing decisions but it is a good agonizing as this is where the meat of the game lies.

Next is the Target-Bound Flight Phase. After you have resolved an event card, you place your aircraft in a pre-approach area on the edge of the tactical display and their exit path markers. Aircraft must exit the tactical display at these or their adjacent areas. Finally, enemy “bandits” are placed and the Over-Target Phase begins.

Pilots ready to enter the South Approach Area

You’ll need to destroy the target for the most victory points while defending yourself against ground and air defenders. But you can’t loiter over the target for long as you only have five turns to get in and exit the map before you run out of time. Pilots are fast or slow. Fast pilots get to attack first, followed by enemy sites and bandits and lastly your slow pilots. Then, all aircraft including bandits move and may adjust their altitude. Weapons counters on your aircraft are expended to attack sites, bandits and ultimately the main target in the center. Combat results are based on die rolls as indicated on the weapons counters. Some weapons can only be used air-to-air, others at low altitude, and others are ranged. While this is all an oversimplification of game play, it’s really not that difficult, and is easy to master after a mission or two.

As pilots gain stress through evading attacks or taking damage from enemy units, they can become shaken which adversely affect their die rolls and possibly make them “unfit” to fly which would force them to bug out home! Until unfit pilots are rested and regain some of their cool, they cannot fly another mission.

Enemy Counters and their Attack Angle markers

Once you have completed the Over Target Phase, the player draws an event card and resolve the Home-Bound Phase event. Finally, you move on to the last phase called Debriefing. This is essentially, a records keeping phase where you record victory points, pilot stress, pilot recovery and experience on your player log sheet.

You sit in command of your Naval or Air Force squadrons trying to best figure out how to efficiently take out the target as well as defending yourself from enemy bandits and ground sites. With repeated plays, you will be more accustom to the types of weapons and what targets they are best suited for. There is a lot luck involved with regard to dice rolls. You think you have an enemy in your sights whether it’s a ground-based missile launcher or a MiG-17 trying to blow you out of the sky, you roll your dice…a hit! The target is destroyed! That level of excitement and the “edge-of-your-seat” stress in the Over Target Phase is thrilling and fast playing but it can also be frustrating if you get some bad rolls.

The “leader” system is an easy system to understand and play. DVG has other games in the series if perhaps you are more interested in tanks, submarines, helicopters or A-10 Warthogs! Phantom Leader Deluxe is the flagship of the series and considered by many solo gamers as the best. Good luck on your missions and may all your pilots get home safely.

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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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