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.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

What I learned in 2017

As the year comes to an end we look back on the preceding 12 months and determine what went well and what didn’t. What was good about it and inevitably what was bad. Here are a few lessons I learned that are most certainly relative to me, possibly to you as well. YMMV

  • I played less games this year than any other year I’ve been in the hobby. That scares me a bit. I have a lot of money invested in this hobby and I really like to get my money’s worth out of them. The cost per play will come down as time goes on. It’s just taking a little longer than I thought.
  • I learned to give up games that don’t get played. Not getting played can be the result of many different factors. But suffice it to say, it can be difficult to get rid of games but also a little liberating as well. That brings me to….
  • Regret. I have regret for purchasing some titles. Games I thought I would love and ended up being just “meh” about them or, worse, hating them. A few instances I can recount that the hype train was zooming into the station and I had to get aboard. Many of us fall into that trap. Myself included.
  • I miss going to a regular gaming group. I miss playing games with other people. On the flip side, it’s been good not having to deal with others as often times it pushes my anxiety levels way up. My regular gaming group parted ways while my previous group is just too far away. I’ve thought about hosting my own group but the strangers/anxiety thing gets in the way. I’m not sure how this will resolve itself in 2018 but if it doesn’t, my gaming days may be numbered — at least the multi-player ones.
  • I want to play more games with my daughter and so does she but we keep playing the same 6 or 7 games. I want to introduce her to more but her attention span can be a real challenge. With more plays comes her ability to play more complex ones as well as her own confidence in playing those heavier titles.
  • Speaking of my daughter, I learned that she really likes games where you read an excerpt from a book and make a choice to see “what happens.” She enjoys that aspect of Above and Below. I don’t think she would like the theme of spies as in Agents of SMERSH but then again she has yet to see a James Bond movie — there’s that attention span thing again. I used to own Arabian Nights and although it is totally random I decided to reacquire it and see if Natalya likes it. And if not, no harm no foul. I can just trade it away again.
  • I’ve learned to stay away from Kickstarter. Not that I have gone completely cold turkey, but I back far fewer games than before. I think that’s due to my being a little more discerning when it comes to games and the types of games I play. Part of it also lies in my frustration with the cost of games dropping to almost half 6 months or so after the game has been released. If the game is really good and worth it, I can wait a little while longer.
  • And lastly, I’ve really come to begin to learn about the types of games I like and which themes do nothing for me. You’d think this would be easy but for me, part of it has been the notion that I should like something because so many other people like this or that. I have never been so wrong. You like what you like. If I like a silly little dice roller, so be it. If I like to play a heavier war game, that’s fine too. There are so many wonderful games out there, there is something for everyone!

Year Long Challenges

I’ve been tracking my plays throughout the year on BGG. Some are solo challenges. Others are 10×10 – 10 games, 10 times. And another is 100 different games over the course of the year. I was also tracking all the games new or used that came in the door and which ones went out through a sale or a trade. The results are in…

Terrible.

I was no where near close on completing any of them except maybe tracking all the games in and out. This year has been awkward year for games in my house further stymied by my gaming group splitting up. Real life gets in the way far too often. Natalya desire to play games waned at the beginning of the year although recently she expressed an interest in playing more. I’m not a huge fan of the BGG game challenges. I think it can put you in the mindset of “OK, I need to play this game” or “I must play these three games this week.” I don’t like being in a situation where I have to play or must play anything — takes all the fun out of it.

I have a year end post that will include all the things I learned about gaming this year. One take away is I don’t think I will be doing any challenges in 2018. I will play what I want to play when I want to. And that’s it.

Negativity

I suppose this is somewhat ineveitable to blog about this but I wanted to speak my peace. I hang out on BGG a lot. Sometimes I contribute worthwhile commentary, if I do say so myslef, and other times I throw ina a “me too” for good measure. But, I tend to stay out of the shit storms that perpetuate in many forums there. Some users there say they had to get off of Facebook gaming groups because of negativity there. On Facebook I am also an avid paticiapants in the aforementioned ways on BGG. The same negativity is there as well let me tell you.

So to say I am dropping on for the other is sort of wasting your time. Both have their values, both have worthwhile content, comments and conversations. Both are equally volatile when it comes to personalities. And there in lies the rub. People.

In most respects we need people to play games but other times you want to strangle people. Right? The negativity astounds me. I don’t understand it. There are so many different games — so many differing opinions. That is awesome. It offers a chance to get your own opinion swayed by logical, respectful debate and “changing of your mind.” It also allows for opportunities. Opportunities to learn about new games, new mechanics, new designers, et cetera.

All these forums, whenever they may be, are a necessary evil, if that’s what you want to call it, as there always going to be a rotten apple in the bunch.

Game Designs

I’m not an expert gamer. I don’t claim to be. I know people who play 15-20+ games a week. I say to myself, they have so much knowledge of games and mechanics, what stops them from designing one of their own? Now, some people are players and not designers. And I have seen the opposite. Usually on Kickstarter. Really bad designs by people who don’t know what worker placement or card drafting or resource collection even means. Scary.

Designing a game is difficult work. I mean really hard. Many people outside the hobby would most likely have no concept, while people in the hobby are far more understanding as to what is involved and the commitment it takes.

Oracle at Delphi Prototype by Stefan Feld

That has not stopped me from having about a dozen or so designs shoved in a drawer — none completely fleshed out. Some are more of an idea and a general sense of what I want the game to do and how it should play. Others are far more detailed with prototype cards and components made. Most fall in between. A couple are geared toward kids and families as that’s what I was playing a lot of when I first got into the hobby and the ideas that got generated from those plays. Now, there’s a couple that fall more into the medium weight category.

One design in particular, I’ve decided to try to develop more. It might not appeal to some but thematically I think it’s sort of neat and I know if given the right artistic treatment would be a real hoot to look at. It’s nothing innovative. It’s a general resource collection and exchange those resources for “contracts” to gain victory points. Yeah, I know, pretty vanilla. But as I said, I’ve seen worse out there.

But the more I work it, the more holes I find in it. The more fiddly it becomes. And then I get creatively stuck. Then, I shove it back in the drawer to look at it months down the road. Ack!!

Finding the time to develop the game is difficult as I already have a lot of plates spinning. Hopefully, one day, it will see the light of day with a real prototype and some blind play testing. Maybe 2018 will be the year!

Podcasts

Why don’t I listen to as much podcasts any more? I hear this being asked a lot in our gaming community. Although everyone has different reasons, I can certainly relay my reasons why my attitudes towards podcasts have changed.

I feel I should preface this with the statement that at one time I thought about doing podcasts either in lieu or in addition to YouTube videos. The more I think about it now, I’m more inclined to make them in addition to — much like Joel Eddy’s Drive Thru Review FM (which is a great name by the way).

Shooting video and editing can be real time consuming. The quality of what I’ve seen in the board gaming community has skyrocketed. Some of it might be directly related to Patreon or Indegogo backing cash, but overall as folks get more into it, they make investments in lighting and maybe new cameras. I know myself, I still shoot on the same camera I used at the beginning and don’t use any auxiliary lighting even though I know I should. Hence, my desire to produce some content for YouTube that is more audio based with the occasional pics.

Back in the beginning when I first got into the hobby I was ravenous when it came to podcasts. I have a one hour commute each way to work every morning on the train. I was listening to so many different podcasts usually starting with the most recent and when time allowed I worked my way backwards. Over time, my excitement for listening to podcasts has waned. Here’s why, in no particular order:

1.) Much of the content, at the time, was the same. Everyone was covering the new hotness of games. A lot of the same content, but different takes on the game and different feelings on what the gamers thought. All of that became just a lot to skip over.

2.) Some of the podcast’s quality was pretty lousy. Remember, this was at the beginning and none of it showed any signs of improving. A lot of time has passed since then and now. So I am sure, as with YouTubers video quality increasing, audio has as well.

3.) Personalities. Some podcaster’s, and even some YouTuber’s, personalities bother me. I know for a fact that there are those who really dislike my style, what I have to say and what games I was reviewing. That’s OK. We agree to disagree. Anyway, some podcasts would have multiple people on it and when everyone was talking at once, sometimes it was difficult to figure out who was who. Some of those “whos” were just miserable people who didn’t like anything and didn’t have any opinion on the newest games that the podcasts were touting. One other example that comes to mind was a podcast featuring a husband and wife. More often than not, the husband would give his wife shit about a game or anything in general. This was not a sarcastic, cheeky sort of jabbing or verbal sortie that comes with a married couple. To me, at least, this sounded outright disrespectful. So much so, I could no longer listen to it. It angered me so much. I don’t think they have a podcast anymore and I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t together anymore.

I’m not sure the state of podcasts anymore. I don’t think it has grown all that much, at least from what I’ve seen. Video reviews and the like have grown exponentially however. I think also, for me anyway, I have grown as a gamer and am certainly more conscious and thoughtful about the online media I consume as I try to cut through the all the static that’s out there.