Villainous (Ravensburger, 2018)

Basic details: 2-6 players (competitive); 40-120 minutes (depending on number of players)

Dates played: July 3, July 4, and July 5, 2020

Expansions played with: Evil Comes Prepared (2019); Wicked to the Core (2019)

Basic details: You are a Disney villain, trying to achieve an objective specific to your character, while possibly also trying to prevent other villains from achieving their objectives, or at least slowing them down.

On each turn, you move your villain to a new location on your 4-location player board and carry out as many of the depicted actions as you want. Actions include gaining power tokens, playing a card, discarded cards, moving a card from a location to an adjacent location, activating a card, vanquishing heroes, and invoking your opponents’ fate cards.

Each villain has 2 decks of cards: a fate deck and a villain deck. The fate deck contains heroes (that may or may not need to be vanquished to achieve your objective), item cards that can be attached to heroes, making them stronger, and effect cards that can otherwise throw wrenches into your plans. The villain deck contains allies, which are slightly less evil villains, items that can be attached to allies, making them stronger, and effects, which usually let you take some kind of additional action that may help you eventually achieve your objective.

When your opponent plays a fate card against you, they draw the top two cards of your fate deck and choose one to play on your board. With few exceptions (like Yzma), they choose where to place any hero they have drawn. When a hero is placed on your board, they block half the actions for that location, and usually can only be removed by being vanquished by allies of equal or greater strength. When a hero is vanquished, any allies involved in the vanquishing are discarded back to the villain deck, while the hero is discarded back to the fate deck.

We blew through 3 games this weekend: Yzma vs. Prince John; Hades vs. Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog), and Scar vs. Jafar.

Color Commentary: This game is fantastic, if for no other reason than they include Yzma, from The Emperor’s New Groove, as one of the villains. TENG is probably my favorite Disney movie, and completely underrated and often forgotten. Plus, her objective is clever: defeat Cuzco using Kronk. But there’s a twist, because Kronk can turn from being an ally to being a hero, the only remedy to which is to use an effect card to place him back in your hand and start the Kronk process over.

I think each package (villain, villain board, fate deck, villain deck, objective, etc.) is pretty clever, and they also create interesting dynamics with how you interact with other players. For instance, in the second game, I played Hades and M played Dr. Facilier, but also took a fate-heavy strategy, which basically made it impossible for me to win. Hades needs to start his turn with 3 titans at Mt. Olympus (far right location). However, titans must be played in the Underworld (far left location), and playing heroes can lock them and make them unmovable without an unlocking card. Also, unlike regular cards, titans can only be moved with special cards, as opposed to with a regular move-a-card action. So by M playing a fate-heavy strategy (he also had 2 locations from which he could invoke fate, and those locations were also pretty useful in general, so he visited them frequently), he could lock and re-lock and sometimes move my titans faster than I could get them to Mt. Olympus, because he had heroes on all my locations and thus half my actions blocked, severely limiting my options each turn. I briefly had 1 titan in Mt. Olympus, at which point he played a hero that let him move a titan, which was then moved onto a location with a hero that automatically locked any titans that landed there. My other 4 titans never made it past Mt. Olympus, and even then, 2 of them were locked and unable to move until I could cycle through and reshuffle my villain deck. I invoked fate less often against Dr. Facilier, and though doing so more often might have slowed M down a bit more, it was just a matter of pace, not possibility.

Compare this with the 3rd game, though, where it would be impossible for M to win if I didn’t use invoke fate cards. Jafar needs the Genie under his control, and the Genie is found in the fate deck. Scar’s objective is also easier to accomplish if other players invoke fate, although Scar at least has cards that let him look through the fate deck himself.

Thoughts from M: In the first game, I was Prince John, who had the pretty simple objective of accruing 20 power tokens. This seemed too easy, though, so I fiddled around with other strategies for a bit, and Petra won. In the second game, I was more aggressive, and decided from the beginning to play a fate-heavy strategy, just to see what happened. In the 3rd game, I couldn’t really figure out a best strategy and fate wasn’t thwarting in the same way against Scar as it was against Hades, as Scar needs to vanquish heroes to achieve his objective.  (Also, this game is evil as it had me fighting again Robin Hood, but then again monarchs are made up of the better families amongst us and do deserve to rule.)

In general, I think mixed strategies probably won’t work in 1 on 1 games as well as they would against more opponents, so against a single other opponent, I think it’s best to decide on a strategy early on and sticking with it and invoking it consistently are key. That said, it does seem to be a flaw in the game that fate (either invoked or not invoked) can make it functionally or actually impossible for a villain to achieve their objectives, because then players could just lock another player out, which definitely diminishes the enjoyment that player would get out of the game.

 

Castellion (Z-Man Games, 2015)

Basic details: 1-2 players (cooperative); 30 minutes

Date played: June 29, 2020

Gist of the game: You are building a castle. To win the game, your castle must successfully overcome 3 ordeals, ensuring that you have the necessary defense fortifications and a sturdy foundation for each ordeal.

To set up the game, place 1 each of the 3 ordeal levels (Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3) face-up on the table. Each ordeal card specifies what defensive fortifications you need/what happens to your foundation and the number of traitors that will trigger the ordeal. Shuffle the two sets of dream tiles separately: 72 regular tiles, which contain 12 traitors and 12 “safe” tiles, which contain no traitors.

On each turn, draw a tile from one of the two sets. If it is a defender (i.e., non-traitor), you may place it or discard it. If the tile is a traitor, you must place it next to the ordeal card you are working toward. Once you accumulate the specified number of traitors, or you complete the 6×6 grid, you will trigger the ordeal.

To place a defender tile, you must follow 4 rules. After the 1st tile is placed, tiles must be orthogonally (not diagonally) adjacent to each other. With the exception of the bottom row, tiles must be placed above another tile (no dangling tiles), and tiles depicting the same shape (circle, square, triangle) cannot be placed next to each other. Finally, the castle may not exceed a 6×6 grid. To discard a defender tile, simply place it face-up in the discard pile.

There are 3 defensive formations: a 2×2 grid, a 4×1 line, and a 1×4 line.  Tiles of the same faction (they have names, but are 4 different colors)

You lose the 1st ordeal if you don’t have the required defensive formations specified on the ordeal card or if you do not have 6 tiles in your bottom row (the foundation). If you do have the defensive formations and a complete foundation, you proceed.

For the second ordeal, you destroy your current foundation so that the 2nd row is now the foundation. If this new foundation is not complete, you lose. If the new foundation has 6 tiles, you proceed.

The 3rd ordeal is similar to the 1st. You must have the required defensive formations and a complete foundation to win.

There are three levels of difficulty: introductory, base, and advanced. With the base and advanced levels, new defender features come into play, like letting you move tiles around within your castle and being able to violate some of the defender placement rules.

Color commentary: This is a quick and fun game, though I would like to renew my mild complaint about games that don’t have a single end point that you work toward and then determine victory. Nautilion was similar, where I would realize halfway through the tile path that I could no longer win. In Castellion, I never even survived the 1st ordeal, which makes the whole thing very anti-climatic. This meant that the projected 30 minute play time was really more like 5-10 minutes, depending on how quickly I drew traitors. It was still fun, but simultaneously slightly disappointing.

I lost on the 1st ordeal in the introductory level. I had a complete foundation and 2 of 3 defensive formations.

Because I understood the mechanics of the game, for the 2nd attempt I moved up to the base cards. I also lost on the 1st ordeal with 3/4 of each of the 3 defensive formations and 5/6 of my foundation complete. Using some of the defender abilities triggered by a discard might have helped, but I’m not convinced of that. Probably I should have started taking from the safe pile after I drew the next-to-last traitor card.

The game is fairly portable: you need room for up to a 6″x6″ grid, 3 cards and a row for traitor tiles next to each, two stacks of tiles, and a discard pile.

Thoughts M might have had if he had played: I think there’s definitely strategy here, like when to draw from the safe pile, and where to try to position your defensive formations, but so much of the game is also simply luck, based on what tiles you draw. Perhaps discarding also becomes strategically advantageous, to ensure that you’re not clogging up your castle with defenders that aren’t actually advancing either your foundation or your defensive formations. Also, since the 2nd ordeal always necessitates destroying your foundations, it seems like you should plan for formations to only start in the 2nd row, or a 1×4 formation that you need for the 1st ordeal but not the 3rd.

On further reflection, there certainly is an element of luck in this game, but there’s also plenty of room for strategy, especially in the base and advanced levels, when the defenders can do more, and sometimes do better, when they are discarded rather than placed.

BarBEARian Battlegrounds (Greenbrier Games, 2018)

Date played: June 27, 2020

Basic details: 2-4 players; 20 minutes

Gist of the game: You lead a team of bears -aka the most magnificent creatures to be found in the known universe- who want the most glory for their village. To gain glory, you need to earn resources (which can be traded for glory) and win fights (which allow you to steal another bear’s glory). The first bear to gain 7 glory tokens wins.

Players start the game with 2 glory tokens and 3 dice. Over the course of the game, players can buy up to 2 additional dice and 5 more glory tokens. Players also have village boards on which to allocate their dice and a screen so that their choices are made secretly. Players are given 2 trial cards, from which they select 1. Each player also has access to a set of upgrade cards that they can purchase. Resource and specialist tokens (which are purchased with resource tokens and help players gain more resources) are placed in a community pile, as are 5 additional neutral dice that can be hired out by players for a turn.

Rounds of play contain 4 phases. In the planning phase, players roll their dice simultaneously and announce their results for everyone. They then place their screen in front of their village board and play their dice on the board secretly. On their village board, they can select various locations for their dice: battleground (offensive fighting position), barracks (defensive fighting position), or on the honey-, faith-, or ore-production areas. The battlefield can use dice only, while the barracks and resource areas can also use specialist tokens. Once everyone has placed their dice, players remove the screens and resolve the actions.

In the brawl phase, battles occur. If 2 players attack each other (the village boards have a slot for attacking each other color), there is a clash. The player with the higher dice total wins the clash. The dice value of the loser is subtracted from the dice total of the winner to provide the winner’s strength when encountering any potential defense. If the attacker has a higher dice value than the defense, the attacker successfully raids the village and has the choice of either a glory token or 2 resource tokens of the loser’s choice. Ties go to the attacker.

After battles are resolved, the gather phase occurs, when players collect the resources produced by their dice and specialist tokens.

In the build phase, players can use their resources to buy specialist tokens, more dice, upgrade cards, and glory tokens. Resources can also be spent during the planning phase to change a die value or to obtain one more or additional dice for the turn. Players can also lock their glory tokens, so that they cannot be stolen after a lost battle.

Color commentary: Look out, Hanabi. You have a new competitor for the role of marriage-breaker. Listen. The game has bears, which basically dictated that we purchase it. Little did I realize that the game would descend into belligerence and aggression, wave of attack after wave of attack when all I wanted to do was collect resources. I could also probably be a more gracious loser, but when every turn you have a glory token ripped away from your little bear paws, it starts to hurt. When the opposing bear has more glory tokens of your color than of their own, it stings, because the only thing that enabled them to win was your tearing down turn after turn.

Ok, aside from the melodrama, I think this would maybe play better as a 3- or 4-player game, where battles may feel a little less like personal attacks and a sign of some kind of deeper aggression and resentment. When it’s just 1 on 1, it feels more brutal. I also had made the strategic decision to focus on gathering resources and buying my way to glory, and had successfully locked up several glory tokens, but had depleted my stock of them and was going to have to start buying “neutral” glory tokens from colors not in the game. But M bought a couple upgrade cards that greatly enhanced his fighting and looting prowess, and he was able to steal glory tokens before I could get them locked up. I think this was maybe the most frustrating. Because one of M’s upgrades allowed him to use additional dice in combat, and because you could never play 2 dice in a single area unless the dice shared the same value (barracks were slightly different because there were 2 slots), I was never going to be able to mount an adequate defense, and since combat is all-or-nothing, devoting nothing to defense and everything to resource production still seemed like the best strategy to me, even though it was a moderately-paced bleeding of resources and glory tokens.

Because of the dice, this game feels a little less portable than card games. If you roll carefully, or have a little dice tray, it could probably work. Personally, I have a lovely image of playing this game in a bar and bringing a dice tower with me. Aside from the dice issues, this game probably requires a 4-top to be able to accommodate the boards/screens and community piles of resources, even for just 2 people. But I think a 4-top would still work for 4 people.

Thoughts from M: I have a feeling that, in a 2-player game, if one player gets out to an early lead, the other player is best served by being aggressive with attacks. And given that this is actually pretty likely to happen, depending on how specialist tokens end up getting distributed, the game may very well become a zero-sum contest of attrition quite quickly. Nonetheless, even an aggressive strategy might not work every time, unless your opponent is a schmo…I mean, gentle soul (love you, Petra!) (P here: Uh-huh) who never attacks back and mounts only paltry defenses, but yet still used dice to mount defenses in a way that was so predictable, I was perpetually awaiting the arrival of proof of a mixed strategy. If both players are using nearly all their dice for combat, resource production is likely to slow down, and interestingly, players may be confronted with a difficult decision to make about dice allocation, since a 6 is excellent for the battlefield, but also the only way to lock a glory token (when placed in the faith production area).

Because I wasn’t on the receiving end of the brutality, I think I enjoyed the game more than Petra did, but it would also be interesting to see how the game plays either with an agreement to never attack or when both players are in full aggression mode.

Playing with more than 2 players would also be interesting, because as Petra alluded to above, I think it would change the dynamics of gameplay and increase the strategic decision-making about who to attack and what kind of defenses to mount.

Onirim (Z-Man Games, 2015)

Date played: June 24, 2020

Basic details: 1-2 players (cooperative); 15 minutes

Gist of the game: In this game, you are traveling through a dreamscape and need to find 8 doors before the dream ends. Obtain all 8 doors before the deck runs out and win. Have an empty deck when you need to draw and you lose.

To get a door, you must either play three cards of the same color in a row or, upon drawing a door from the deck, discard a key card of the same color from your hand.

You begin the game with a hand of 5 cards that includes neither doors nor dreams. On each turn, you play or discard a card, draw your hand back up to 5, and shuffle any cards you put in your limbo pile (such a door that you didn’t have a key for) back into your deck. If you discard a sun or moon card, play proceeds as normal. If you discard a key card, you trigger a prophecy. To carry out the prophecy, look at the top 5 cards of the deck, discard 1, and put the remaining 4 cards back on top of the deck in any order. If you draw a dream (nightmare in the base game) card, you must resolve it immediately. To resolve a nightmare, you must do one of the following: discard a key card; place a door card you’ve acquired in the limbo pile; reveal the top 5 cards of the deck and discard all except door and dream cards, which are placed in the limbo pile; discard your whole hand and draw a fresh hand the same way you did at the beginning of the game, with door and nightmare cards going into the limbo pile until you have a hand of 5 dream location cards.

If you play 3 cards of the same color in a row (but no two cards of the same symbol placed next to each other), you get to search the deck for a door of that color. There are 4 colors and 8 doors, 2 of each color.

In a 2-player game, each player must acquire 4 doors, 1 of each color.

There are also 7 expansions built in, each involving the addition of a new set of cards and new objectives beyond just collecting the 8 doors.

Color commentary: This is a fun game, and I’m really enjoying the aesthetics of the Oniverse with its Jean-Michel Basquiat-esque artwork. It’s a pretty light game, though it ultimately involves a tremendous amount of shuffling (every time you put your limbo pile in, after finding a door, etc.), possibly an excessive amount. Like, it felt like equal parts playing and shuffling, and still I would see runs of like 3 nightmares in a row every time I shuffled (and every time I saw them, I separated them, only to see them again the next time I shuffled).

This game is more portable for 1 player than 2, though depending on the public space it might still be a little large (wide) even with 1 player. There’d be no problem at a 4-top, but it might be a little cramped at a 2-top. Because the total width ends up divided between partners in a 2-player game, a 2-player version might work better at a 2-top than a 1-player would. That said, compared to something like Catan or even like Machi Koro, still very portable.

Every expansion appears to make it more difficult to win the game. One expansion, for instance, requires you to earn the doors in a specific order. I wish they added something besides additional difficulty, because they all look incredible, but I like winning, and they all seem like they would decrease the chances of doing so by moderate to extremely large amounts.

Thoughts M might have had if he had played: This may come as a surprise, since I never comment on the artwork of games, but I also enjoy the abstract boldness of the Oniverse games. A lot of the game is luck, in terms of having the right cards at the right time to make a run of 3, but there’s a definite strategy involved when choosing what action to perform when resolving a nightmare. If you only need 1 more door and your hand isn’t helpful, it’s probably a smart move to discard your hand. Unless it’s the very beginning of a game, you probably don’t want to put a door in limbo because of the dwindling number of cards in that color to earn it back. Discarding a key if you already have both doors, or even just one of a color, is a potentially good call, and keeping a key card on hand even after earning both doors of that color as a kind of nightmare insurance isn’t a bad idea. Discarding 5 cards from the deck is a real gamble because that grouping may have the cards you need, and also increases the nightmare-to-location ratio since nightmares don’t get discarded if they’re drawn as part of the 5. Nonetheless, if you have a hand that is going to work for you for at least one door and you don’t have a key you can discard, discarding from the top of the deck might be the best choice.

This Game Goes to Eleven (Gamewright, 2018)

Dates played: June 22-23 & June 25, 2020

Basic details: 2-6 players; 20 minutes

Gist of the game: Each player begins the game with a hand of 3 cards. The top card of the deck is placed face up in the center of the play area (if it’s a 0 or 11, another card is drawn to begin play). Players take turns placing a card (numbered 1-9, 0, and 11) on the pile, announcing the sum of the cards, and drawing a new card. If a player places a card to make the sum equal to 11, they give the stack to another player. If they play a card to exceed 11, they take the stack. At the end of the game, the player with the fewest cards wins.

There are 2 special cards: the 11 card and the 0 card. The 11 card automatically brings the pile to 11. This can be countered by a 0 card, which then requires the person who played the 11 card to take the stack. If the 0 card is played on a normal turn, the sum of the pile is set to 0.

Color commentary: This is a super light, really enjoyable game. The quick playtime means you can play multiple games without getting bogged down. With my penpal in mind (looking at you, JB!), who, in pre-pandemic times enjoyed playing games with friends at bars and in similar social settings, I should note that this game is extremely portable, in multiple ways. First, the box itself is not especially large (6×9?), and could be made smaller by putting the cards into a deck box, which means the game could easily fit in a pocket or even a small purse. Second, it doesn’t take up a lot of table space: you need room for a draw pile, play pile, and each player’s accumulated cards from having to take piles.

Thoughts from Micah: This is a fun game that’s light on strategy. The best move I can think of is to carefully use the 0 and 11 cards. If you’re a little more conniving, as I aspire to be, you could also count cards to know what’s still in play and what’s been exhausted. I think this game probably plays just as good at 2 players as more, which is refreshing, since sometimes the dynamics change considerably. More players would introduce an element of strategy concerning who gets piles dumped on them, unless you play with the guitar pick variation, which basically ensures that every player gets a roughly equal number of piles (first player starts with the pick, and they get the first over-11 pile. Pick then moves to second player, who gets second over-11 pile, etc.) and thereby removes that element of strategy. Playing with the pick probably makes the game even more similar in terms of 2 player vs. multi-player. This is easily one of my top 5 filler games, below Kingdomino but ahead of Guillotine.

Colt Express (Ludonaute, 2014)

Date played: May 25, 2020 (reasons it took us a month to post this remain unclear)

Basic details: 2-6 players; 40 minutes

Expansions played: Horses & Stagecoach (2015)

Gist of the game: A group of bandits tries to rob the Nice Valley Coal Company’s payroll, guarded by a marshal, in transit via the Union Pacific Express, but only 1 bandit will succeed in becoming the richest.

Each player chooses a character, which comes with a character card, 10 action cards, and 6 bullet cards, as well as a $250 sack of money. The value of this sack of money remains hidden from your opponent, because as you rob more and maybe have to forfeit riches, the total value of your holdings will change.

Each train car has prescribed loot, and the marshal and a strongbox are situated in the locomotive.

Four round cards (as in, period in which all players take a turn, not the shape) are drawn at random, as is 1 train station card, which is placed at the bottom of the stack, so that there are 5 rounds total. Each round card specifies the number of turns that will be taken that round and how cards should be played on each turn (face up, face down, simultaneously, etc.).

The first player begins the game with the round cards in front of them. Players are numbered according to their order. Odd players place their bandit meeple in caboose. Even players place their bandit in the next-to-last car.

Each turn in a round has 2 phases: schemin’ and stealin’. At the beginning of a round, players shuffle their deck and draw a hand of 6 cards. The first player draws the top round card and places it where everyone can see.

In the schemin’ phase, each player must either play an action card onto a common deck or draw 3 additional action cards from their deck into their hand. In the stealin’ phase, the first player takes the common deck of action cards and flips it over, revealing the cards one by one in the order they were played in order to perform the bandits’ actions. Actions include moving in between train cars, moving to the roof or floor of a train car, firing a gun, throwing a punch, picking up treasure, and moving the marshal.

To end the round, each player shuffles their 10 action cards and any bullet cards they’ve been hit with (either from another bandit or from being in the same car as the marshal) back into the deck. The next player becomes the first player and receives the remaining round cards.

The game ends after 5 rounds. Each player adds up the value of their loot. The player who shot the most bullets (has the fewest bullet cards left) is named Gunslinger and receives $1000 for the honor. The richest player wins.

In a 2-player game, the train is assembled with 4 cars (instead of 1 per player) and each player chooses 2 characters. One bandit is placed in each of the last 2 cars. Bandits retain their bullet cards and $250 loot token, but action cards are combined into a single deck of 11 cards (duplicate cards for each bandit are removed, as is one move-the-marshal card). Two-player games are also played using the expert variant. At the end of the schemin’ phase, players keep cards in their hand that they want for the next round, discarding all bullet cards and cards they’re not interested in playing the next round. During the stealin’ phase, the performed action is placed on the discard pile (instead of back into the deck) while bullet cards players receive are placed on the top of the draw deck. At the beginning of each round, players draw their hand up to 6 cards. Each time the draw deck is depleted, the discard pile is shuffled to form a new deck.

Bullet cards basically limit the options available to a player during the schemin’ phase by taking up space usually reserved for action cards.

In the Horses & Stagecoach expansion, the stagecoach is placed to the right of the locomotive during setup, with a strongbox and a meeple holding a shotgun placed on top of the stagecoach. A flask of whiskey is placed inside each non-locomotive train car. A number of hostage cards equal to the number of players minus 1 are drawn and placed face up to the left of the locomotive. New round cards are shuffled in with those from the base game (but have some different symbols, so they can be differentiated). The marshal gains an additional 3 bullet cards. Each player gets a ride action card and a horse meeple. Bandit meeples are placed after the “Horse Attack” is played out.

In the Horse Attack, bandits can choose which train car they start in, except for the locomotive or stagecoach. Each player hides in their fist either their bandit meeple (or meeples, if 2 players) or horse. The contents of everyone’s hands are revealed simultaneously. Players with their bandit in hand place their bandit(s) in the caboose. These players then place their horses outside the caboose. Those players who displayed their horse proceed to the next car and repeat the process until they place their bandit in the car of their choice and the horse next to the car. After this, the horses belong to no particular bandit.

The ride action card is played during the schemin’ phase like any other action card. If there is at least 1 horse alongside the bandit’s car, they ride the rose. They can jump on the horse from inside the car or the roof of the car. They can then move their bandit up to 3 cars, either forward or backward. At the car where the bandit stops, they jump inside the train car. Bandits can also jump into the stagecoach. When a bandit enters the stagecoach, they must take a hostage, which is placed next to the player’s character card. The hostage gives extra money at the end of the game, but may have stipulations that affect gameplay, like being able to draw fewer cards per turn. Bandits can only have 1 hostage each.

The stagecoach is considered adjacent to the train cars for punching and shooting purposes. A bandit on the stagecoach can shoot any bandit on a train car roof and vice versa.

To get the strongbox away from the shotgun meeple, a player must punch the shotgun. When punched, the shotgun abandons the stongbox and is moved to the roof of the traincar next to the stagecoach.

If a bandit ends their movement in the same place as the shotgun, they receive a neutral bullet (as opposed to player bullet) card and must move (but not to the stagecoach).  A bandit can move across the shotgun’s position, but still receives a bullet. The shotgun blocks line of sight on roof cars, affecting the ability of a player to shoot other bandits.

At the end of the round, the stagecoach is moved one car toward the caboose. If the shotgun has been moved to the train, he is also moved a car to remain even with the stagecoach.

Whiskey flasks are a new kind of loot that can be played up to 2 times and can be played instead of an action or drawing 3 cards. Regular whiskey flasks (there are 5) let a player draw 3 cards and then also play an action. The old whiskey flask (there is only 1) lets a player play two action cards in a single turn).

Color commentary: THERE ARE 3D LOCOMOTIVE AND TRAIN CARS YOU GET TO ASSEMBLE. AND IF YOU PLAY WITH THE HORSES & STAGECOACH EXPANSION, THERE’S A 3D STAGECOACH AS WELL. The meeples are also shaped like gunslingers with guns blazing. And in the Horses & Stagecoach expansion, the horse meeples really look like little horses! And a bandit meeple actually fits into the divet in the horse’s back! Honestly, getting to assemble the all the vehicles was really fun, and they add a great tactile dimension to the game.

Some rounds have actions that occur at the end of the round, which add new twists to the game and tweak the action somewhat. These aren’t the easiest to interpret, and we definitely had to consult the instruction manual every time.

I think M might have liked the game more than me (Western month was his choice, after all), but it was a lot of fun and is definitely worth replaying. It’s unlikely we’ll play it as anything other than a 2-player anytime soon, but it seems like multiple players would add a new dynamic as you might start each round over with a fresh deck instead of the game operating more like a traditional deck-building game in that regard. It would also be nice to have 2 of each action per bandit, instead of the single action you get in a 2-player game (e.g. being able to move Doc between 2 cards instead of just one).

Thoughts from M: The bandit meeples have guns! They’re adorable! In general, the game has excellent animation-influenced artwork.

Shooting is a neat feature because it really can make life a lot more difficult for your opponents. Having to place the bullet cards on top of the deck means that they’re likely to draw them at the start of a round, meaning that they just have worthless cards and would have to sacrifice an action to try to get better ones by drawing 3 more cards instead of doing something with a bandit. However, even drawing more cards is no guarantee, because you might end up drawing old bullet cards that have been shuffled in.

The base game is a lot of fun, and the Horses & Stagecoach expansion adds fun new dynamics. There’s also a Guillotine-esque element to the game, because the best strategy is to do the best you can at any given moment rather than trying to think ahead a few turns, because, for example, you could be planning to shoot a bandit in the next car, but if you’re playing actions facedown on a turn, the owner of the bandit may move the bandit before you can shoot it, effectively wasting your shot. Grabbing treasure whenever possible would be the dominant strategy, as would combining punches (which force a bandit to lose some treasure) and nabbing treasure.

Deadwood (Fantasy Flight Games, 2011)

Dates played: 05/23/20-05/25/20

Basic details: 2-5 players; 30-60 minutes

Gist of the game: Knowing there’s gold in them thar hills, you send your cowboys into Deadwood to, ahem, “annex” buildings and collect money. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins.

To start the game, the Town Hall, Sheriff’s Office, and Church tiles are placed on the board, as is the Sheriff token, which always sits at the intersection of 3 tiles. The remaining building tiles are sorted by symbol and placed in stacks. Four random tiles from the first stack are drawn and placed, along with the saloon, in the 5 starting plots on the board. Five wanted posters per player are placed in a pool, and the money tokens, cartridge tokens, pony tokens, and dice are played in a supply. Each player receives the 9 cowboys in their chosen color, $5, a pony token, and a cartridge token. One cowboy of each strength (1-3) are placed face up in front of the player with the remaining cowboys going to the supply. The area in front of the player is their Ranch. Ranches are open and can be seen by all players. Players roll dice to determine who goes first.

On your turn, you must take 1 of 2 actions: head back to the ranch by removing one or more cowboys from the board and returning them to the play area in front of you, or hit the town by placing a cowboy at a building on the board.

Players take turns until the end of the game is triggered by 1 of the following conditions: a) the train station is placed on the game board; b) there are no more wanted posters in the pool; or c) any player runs out of cowboys.

When hitting the town, a cowboy cannot be placed at the abandoned mine, a plot without a building on it, a railroad tile, or at a building with a cowboy of the same color. If placed on a tile with an opposing tile, there’s a shootout (described below). If a cowboy is alone at a building, they annex it. Each building triggers different conditions when they are annexed, including possibly the placement of railroad tiles or additional buildings.

A shootout occurs in 9 steps: 1) the new arrival takes a wanted poster out of the pool (full disclosure: we never remembered to do this); 2) the defender can choose to flee by discarding a pony token and moving their cowboy to the abandoned mine; 3) if the defender stays, the attacker says whether they are going to use a cartridge. Only one cartridge may be played per player per fight; 4) the defender says whether they are going to use a cartridge; 5) players take a number of dice equal to the strength of their cowboy (1, 2, or 3); 6) an additional die is taken if a cartridge is used; 7) the number of dice each player has is compared and the player with the most dice rolls a number of dice equal to the difference in numbers of dice. If any dice have a 6, the other cowboy is killed and is moved to Boot Hill, from hence they cannot return. If any dice have a 4 or 5, the other cowboy is wounded. Two wounds kill a cowboy. After the shootout, all wounded cowboys are healed; 8) if the other cowboy survives the initial showdown, both players now have the same number of dice. They roll dice one at a time until a cowboy dies or they run out of dice; and 9) if the defender is killed or flees, the attacker annexes the building. If both cowboys survive, the attacker must flee to the abandoned mine and the defender retains control. If both cowboys die, no one controls the building.

Once the game end is triggered, the current player finishes their turn. Even if a player has no living cowboys, they may still win the game by having the most points. Points are calculated by adding all the money together and subtracting the amount required for the number of wanted posters a player has (more posters non-linearly cost more money). The player with the most points wins.

Color commentary: There wasn’t much gunslinging in the first couple playthroughs, only a few shootouts, all instigated by M. It’s a little annoying that you almost always have to consult the instructions to figure out what to do when a building is annexed. Each building tile does have an illustrated guide as to what happens, but those diagrams don’t always make sense. Having to constantly refer to the manual made it hard to keep a steady cadence to the game. Maybe making player guides or something would help. Perhaps this will be a craft project I undertake at some point.

The fact that you cannot move a cowboy directly from one building to another (unless annexing a building allows it…but I think only one or two do so) creates interesting strategic opportunities in terms of when and how many cowboys to bring back to the ranch at any given time.

The shootouts all basically revolved around the bank, which comes with a $5 and 1 wanted poster payout. The $5 is a big deal, and wanted poster is easy enough to get rid of because anyone can place a cowboy on the church (which lets you discard a wanted poster upon annexation) without having to worry about a shootout at the church.

Thoughts from M: I haven’t been able to develop any real strategy, aside from trying to annex the bank as often as possible, as well as annexing the church to unload wanted posters. The Dance Hall gives you a dollar and lets you remove up to 2 cowboys in the same turn, which a) provided me with some quick cash and b) let me avoid having all my cowboys out of commission when I pulled them back to the ranch. Petra left the Dance Hall open when I left each time, letting me play it for several turns in a row, generating a steady stream of money and cowboys. That only happened in the 3rd game, though. In general, I found myself getting too focused on a multi-step course of action I could take and missed better opportunities that opened up because of Petra’s actions. The artwork is cool, though, and it stayed fresh over the course of repeated play throughout the weekend.

Oregon Trail games (Pressman Games)

Dates played: May 16 and May 23, 2020

Variations played:
Oregon Trail, 2016
Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food, 2017

Basic details: 2-6 players; 30-45 minutes

Gist of the games:

Oregon Trail
Self-described as collaborative, everyone cooperates to have at least one person survive the trek to Oregon in order to win.

The game comes equipped with trail cards, including a starting card for Independence, MO, and an ending card for Willamette Valley, OR, 2 forts, 2 towns, kind, gentle trail cards that simply move you along, rivers that you have to ford (with an element of chance via die roll), and trail cards that require you to draw a calamity.

To start the game, players receive 5 trail cards and a number of supply cards dependent on the number of players (5 for a 2-player game). The remaining supply cards are divided by type (e.g., food, medicine, oxen). Supplies remedy calamities.

On the first turn, the starting player must play a trail card. After that, players may play a trail card or a supply card on their turn. The trail is laid in groups of 5 cards, with the entire thing ultimately taking about 3 feet (so you need to have some length real estate available on your play surface).

If a player plays a spacebar card, they draw a calamity card and follows its instructions. The calamity card may affect just that player or the whole team, and may be immediate (e.g., snake bite) or time-bound (e.g. broken wagon). If a wagon breaks down or oxen die, no new trail cards are played until the situation is remedied or everyone dies because it can’t be remedied with the resources available. Players can trade 2 supply cards for a specific supply card of their choice (or 2 players can go in together, contributing 1 card each).

When a player dies, up to 2 of their supply cards can be willed to other players.

The game ends when at least 1 player reaches Willamette by completing the 10th stack of 5 cards, or everyone dies.

Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food
The goal of this game is to cooperate to collect 600 pounds of meat before everyone dies. If at least 1 person survives and you collect 600 pounds, you win. This game can be played as a standalone game or as an expansion of the original Oregon Trail game described above. If you survive this game, you can carry food and supplies back to your wagon in the original game and continue your journey. However, if you’re playing it as an expansion and you die in this game, you’re dead in both. Fun aside, this box contained a set of 4 coasters that looked like the most recent iteration of floppy disks (alas, not the giant Apple IIE disks).

This game comes with hunting cards, which include obstacles, calamities, animals, and clearings, and supply cards, which include things like crutches, a compass, clean water, medicine, extra bullets, etc.

To set up, 4 supply cards are placed face up in the play area, with the remaining supply cards placed in a stack.

Hunting cards are placed in a 6×6 grid with each pile containing 3 cards. Each player gets a die, and the hunter standee is placed on a stack (the instructions recommend not starting on an edge) and the 1st player rolls the die to determine both the number of actions the player must take as well as the furthest away card (in a straight line, not on a diagonal) the player can flip. Actions include flipping cards, moving the hunter, and shooting animals to gather meat.

The goal of flipping and moving is to clear a path without obstacles between the hunter and animals, enabling you to shoot them and gather their meat. You can move the hunter from stack to stack (but around, not through, obstacles, not even flowers). If the hunter passes through a clearing, remove that card from play (revealing another card that has to be flipped or a permanent clearing when the last clearing card has been revealed).

If a player lands on an abandoned wagon, they can select a supply card of their choice and then flip the card horizontally so that it becomes an obstacle.

To shoot at an animal, you must have a clear path (no unflipped cards and no obstacles) or be on a stack next to the animal. Shooting costs 1 action and 1 bullet token or card. Each player then rolls their die to see if they successfully kill the animal and gather the meat. Every player must meet the die condition to be successful, and dice stay in play even if their owner dies. If an animal does not die, players vote as to whether to try again, using another action and another bullets token. Successful dice from the previous attempt are retained.

To win, you must have at least 1 survivor and 600 pounds of meat. There are 3 ways to die: have the hunter trapped by obstacles, all players have died from calamities, or you have used all bullets (12 tokens and 4 supply cards).

To integrate with the original game, you can stop the original game at any time by vote to go hunting. You can stop hunting at any point (even if you’re trapped by obstacles) and return to the original game, taking animal and supply cards you’ve earned with you. You can trade 200 pounds of meat for one food card from the supply or use meat as you would food. You can trade 400 pounds of meat for any supply card (the equivalent of 2 200 pounds of food cards). When returning to the hunting game from the original game, place the hunter on an edge stack and begin again. If a player dies in the hunting game, they are also dead in the original game, and vice versa.

The same number of dice remain in the hunting game even after players die, and all must still meet the win condition to kill an animal (i.e., a 4 player game will always have 4 dice).

Color commentary: 

Oregon Trail
1st game: We made it through 16 of 50 cards before we both died. I died first of dysentery. M contracted measles and then his oxen died. We blew through our supplies quickly because I had nothing but spacebar (calamity-drawing) cards and M lost a couple supply cards in an attempt to ford rivers. Nonetheless, the game was fun. The only real strategy may be when to use supply cards (for example, M would have only died of measles when a 2nd measles card was drawn).

2nd game: On his first turn, M drew a calamity card that gave him a deadly snake bite. We made it a total of 11 cards before I got cholera that I couldn’t cure because I had no medicine supply cards. Probably the only way the game even comes close to 30 minutes is with 6 players. I think these two games took about 5 minutes each.

3rd game: 11 cards in, M drowns trying to ford the river. We came across a town on turn 8 and I got the medicine I needed to cure my measles, but M’s death leaves me with no supplies. I fear for my future. This game creates the first convincing imperative I’ve seen for reproducing at or above replacement levels. Someone must survive the trip to Oregon! On my first turn after M’s death, I was able to fix a broken axle through a lucky die roll. On the next turn (card 13), I came to a fort and drew 2 supply cards. I chose oxen and clean water because oxen seem handy and I’m prone to cholera. On card 16, I came to another fort. On card 18 I died of a snake bite, incurable even though I had stocked up on medicine at the fort. Nonetheless, 18 cards was the most successful trip we had.

Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food
1st game: The dice only have numbers 1-4, though they are 6 sided. There are 2 each of 1 and 2, and 1 each of 3 and 4. It wasn’t calamities that got us in this game. We ran out of handy bullets and got surrounded by game we couldn’t shoot. (Ok, I got lost and died in the wilderness because we didn’t have a compass to help me find my way back). We presume the bear M couldn’t shoot ate him, and then the rabbits and squirrels that were also by him. We did manage to get 200 pounds of meat fairly easily, but then didn’t have any luck after that, eating through our bullets really quickly. It’s actually not clear if animals count as obstacles or if you could move through them to other cards. We did a lot of recon to scope out where it might be safe for the hunter to move. 

2nd game: Because there are more 1s and 2s on the dice, we decided to try to mostly hunt animals requiring those values. Of course, having decided this, we were confronted with a bounty of squirrels and rabbits, each requiring 3s and 4s. Then M died of dysentery. And that wasn’t even helpful in terms of hunting, since his die has to stay in the game. There seems to be a tension between success in the original game and success in this game, as more people make you more likely to have someone survive to Oregon, but much less likely to hunt successfully. However, we did manage to get 400 pounds of meat (a bear, bison, deer, and some rabbits) before running out of readily available bullets and then getting trapped by obstacles and a bear. Also, it’s really lame that flowers are an obstacle. Really? There’s no way to pass through them?

Thoughts from M: 

Oregon Trail
There isn’t much strategy to this game, but it was a fun exercise that celebrates the good old days, before Ron Howard ruined the country, when measles and broken arms weren’t seen as bad things, but rather as the opportunity to grow more robust and virtuous. I immediately ran out and personally gave this game to every non-social-distancing American and Confederate I could find! Also, the art isn’t 8-bit-esque enough, although this is because I got the game confused with Boss Monster. Listen, I didn’t play video games as a kid. Instead I read comic books and watched TV. This is why I don’t care if Mario can get his cart somewhere, I am constantly shocked by how little people know about Harvey Kurtzman, and am perplexed by the how many people have never seen High Noon.

Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food
This is a low strategy game, but it is a lot more fun than the high strategy game of tic tac toe! The game has quality art.

Revolver 2 (Stronghold Games, 2012)

Dates played: May 9 and May 10, 2020

Basic details: 2 players; 45 minutes

Gist of the game: It’s 1894, and the residents of Malpaso face the possibility of a raid by General Mapache and his gang of outlaws. To help protect against any such raid, the villagers turn to Padre Esteban (actual priestly status is unknown) and his hired gunfighters. Money for the guardians is obtained through a poker tournament outside of town. After the tournament, Esteban and the guardians cross the Los Quantos Bridge back to the village, though they are being followed by Mapache and his raiders. When the raiders arrive at the newly fortified village, an epic battle ensues, culminating at the Abandoned Silver Mine. The Mexican Army is en route, but it’s unclear whether they will be able to arrive in time to prevent the massacre of everyone in the village.

Each player takes a role, either of General Mapache or Padre Esteban and the guardians (hereafter referred to as Malpaso). For the Mapache player to win, they must kill all of the guardians. The Malpaso player can win in two ways: if Padre Esteban survives the last turn at the Abandoned Silver Mine, or if they remove all the tokens from the Mexican Army card, heralding the arrival of the Mexican Army and the rescue of the village.

Play proceeds through certain events, like the poker tournament, 3 battlefields determined by who wins the poker tournament, the Los Quantos Bridge, Malpaso (the village), and the Abandoned Silver Mine. There are also additional cards that accompany some of these battlefields (additional guardians can be obtained at the first 3 battlefields, “Dynamite the Bridge” for Los Quantos Bridge, and “Gatling Gun” and “Collapse the Tunnels” for the Abandoned Silver Mine).

The first 3 battlefield cards are determined by which player wins the poker tournament. The poker tournament can also confer additional advantages on players based on the cards they play, regardless of whether they win.

The Malpaso player starts with 7 guardian cards (6 + Padre Esteban), and can obtain up to 12 more during the first 3 battlefields. Each battlefields has a specified number of turns. On the first three battlefields, each turn is accompanied by additional guardians. Some of these turns are optional, with the Malpaso player determining whether to use them or not.

The game proceeds in turns, with each player taking their entire turn before passing to the 2nd player. The Malpaso player starts the game. Turns are divided into 4 phases: a) advance the turn marker (Malpaso player only), b) draw 2 cards, c) play cards, and d) attack (Mapache player only). When drawing cards, there is no limit to hand size.

To play cards, players may have to pay a cost, which is done by discarding the indicated number of cards from their hand. There are 3 types of cards: firepower cards (played on one’s own side of the battlefield), blocking cards (played on one’s opponent’s side of the battlefield), and effect cards that are discarded once the effect is taken immediately.

The Malpaso player can play a maximum of 3 firepower cards. Mapache has no firepower limit, and can also play up to 2 blocking cards on the Malpaso’s side of the battlefield, which count toward the Malpaso player’s card limit. The Guardians player can still play effects cards even if they’ve reached their 3 battlefield card limit. Some cards also have bullets (Mapache) or powder kegs (Malpaso) that can be discarded at particular battlefields for certain outcomes (blowing up the bridge at Los Quantos Bridge and collapsing the tunnels at the Abandoned Silver Mine for Malpaso, using the Gatling Gun at the Abandoned Silver Mine for Mapache). At the Mine, Mapache can use the Gatling Gun to basically mow down the guardians. They can use the Gatling Gun once for each bandit they have at the Mine, expending a value of 1 ammo for each use to kill an equal number of guardians.

During attack phases of each turn, total firepower is compared: firepower cards for Mapache, and firepower cards + battlefield defense for Malpaso. If Mapache wins, the guardians suffer a casualty. If Malpaso wins, a token is removed from the Mexican Army card.

The game ends when one of the win conditions has been met.

Color commentary: Welcome to the 2nd installment of Old West month! We’ve been putting off playing this game for a long time because opening the box and looking at the components was really intimidating. The fact that there are so many specific components make the set up seem daunting (there are general decks for each player with 62 cards each, 19 guardian cards (7 to start, up to 12 additional obtained at the first 3 battlefields), 9 battlefield cards (though you only play with 6), 3 battlefield-specific cards, 2 poker tournament reference cards and 2 decks of 6 cards for that (though you only play with 5), the Arrival of the Mexican Army card, 14 Mexican Army tokens, 11 extra life tokens, 4 guardian power tokens, and 9 Mapache power tokens. Plus a turn marker.

Actually playing wasn’t that complex though, once you realize that a lot of the cards have very specific purposes at very specific times. We played 2 games, taking turns with each character. In the 1st game I played Mapache, and I played Malpaso in the 2nd game. I won both times, though M put up valiant defenses both times.

Because the poker tournament provides additional effects beyond just the 1st 3 battlefield cards, there’s some strategy as to what cards you play, and whether your goal is to win hands or simply get specific cards out there to gain their effects, since effects are gained regardless of who wins.

I don’t think it’s especially likely that the game will ever be won by removing all the tokens from the Mexican Army cards. While Malpaso can draw cards that remove tokens, and some guardians remove tokens, Mapache can add tokens, and other guardians add tokens when they are killed. The game starts with 12. In my game as Malpaso, I pretty aggressively went after the tokens, but between the various additions, I ended up with I think 7 left, although I know I removed more than that over the course of the game. Stupid Mapache and my dead guardians kept adding them back.

I think I had sufficient cards the first game, as Mapache, but I was perpetually hand poor as Malpaso, having to make gut-wrenching decisions about what to discard based on cards M played or when some of my guardians were killed. M seemed to have a glut of cards practically the entire game until the very end, when he almost certainly could have used more options.

The Gatling Gun at the Mine can be a huge boon for Mapache. When I played Mapache, I had like 5 bandits at the battlefield and a whole bunch of ammo, so I spent a couple of turns just absolutely decimating the guardians. This was made easier by the fact that M had no powder kegs, and couldn’t collapse the tunnels When M was Mapache, he was still able to do a fair amount of damage with the Gun, but I was able to collapse the tunnels once, taking out 4 of his bandits, and then place a limit on the total number of bandits he could have at the battlefield to 2, at which point he also had no ammo left and couldn’t beat my defense count of 14 (2 Artillery Cannons and worth 6 points each and 2 defense points from the Mine itself). The good Padre and two of his fellow gunmen survived the showdown, no thanks to the Mexican Army, which had gotten stuck in mud and in an avalanche at various points in the game.

Thoughts from M: Most people don’t know this, but I was once a feared and fearsome gunfighter who murdered hundreds of men without regard to their race, creed, color, tribal affiliation, gender, age, or whether I was being pad to kill them. It was a good life till Will Kane showed up (Petra here: we had a long, painful debate about this and whether it would be necessary, but since I’m the one actually typing this up, I would like to clarify that Will Kane was Gary Cooper’s character in High Noon, a classic 1950s Western that was an allegory for the McCarthy Era, and possibly Everyman, which may or may not have made it a double allegory?)

Anyway, I thought this previous experience would give me an advantage, but it didn’t. Alas, after I lost the game as Malpaso, Petra did not think that a duel would be an appropriate way to social distance.

Still, the game reminded me of my earlier, better, days and was lots of fun. I suspect the game will often come down to a big shootout at the Abandoned Mine, which is lots of fun, but perhaps there is a better strategy that involves more incremental victories and a more gradual but sustained wearing down of the guardians.

Addendum based on more experience: When we played the 2nd time, I was saving up for a big showdown at the Mind, but it didn’t work out. It might have otherwise, but Petra had a super lucky hand (Petra here: which was in itself lucky, because I used 2 of the 3 cards in my hand to collapse the tunnels, and then one of the 2 cards I drew on the next turn limited M’s battlefield size, leaving me with 2 cards and no other options, as M had limited my own battlefield size to 2 cards). So the Gatling Gun did work wonders, knocking out most of her remaining guardians, but I only got to use it once because of my own unlucky hand.

51st State (Master Set) (Portal Games, 2016)

Date played: May 8, 2020 (in the interest of full disclosure, it was not a full game, the reasons for which will become clear below)

Basic details: 1-4 players, 60-90 minutes

Gist of the game: In this post-apocalyptic hellscape, your goal is to create a new state (really, city) by gaining territory and thwarting your opponents. In multiplayer mode, your opponents are obviously your fellow players. In solo mode, you play against a “virtual player” which follows the same steps each round. Each player (but not the virtual player) controls a faction.

Play proceeds across several rounds, with 4 phases in each round. In the Draft/Lookout phase, players reveal the top card of the connection deck and draw new cards to place in their hands (this part occurs twice, once beginning with the first player and once beginning with the last player).

In the Production phase, players gather goods via their faction board, any deals they have struck with locations, and production locations. Goods take the form of cards, victory points, contact tokens, and resources (guns, workers, gas cans, bricks, cogs).

In the Action phase, each player takes a turn and play proceeds to the next player until no player can take another action. Possible actions are to build a location, make a deal, raze a location from your hand or in another player’s city, use a card action, use a faction board action, use another player’s open production location, take a Connections card, and play a Connections card. Once you pass, you cannot take another action, but nor can other players interact with your city, whether to raze buildings or to use open production lines.

There are two ways to build a location. You can construct a card from your hand, spending the appropriate number of grey contact tokens. Locations are placed in separate rows by category: production, feature, and action. Players can also develop a location by choosing a card from their hand and in their state that share a type, spend a brick, discard the location already in the state, and replace it with the card from their hand. Grey contact tokens are not needed when developing a location. Production locations produce their goods immediately, and some locations provide a building bonus.

To make a deal with a location, spend the appropriate number of blue contact tokens, and place the card under your faction board so that only the deal portion of the card is showing. Deals provide the given good every Production phase.

To raze a location from your hand, spend the appropriate number of red contact tokens and take the goods shown in the spoils section of the card. To raze an opponent’s location, spend the appropriate number of red contact tokens, and take the specified spoils. The opponent gets the goods specified in the deal section of the card. The card is then flipped face down (but could later be developed).

To take an action from a building card or faction board, spend the appropriate goods and place them on the card (so you don’t use that action again).

To send a worker to an open production location, place a worker on that card and take the specified goods. The player who owns the location gets a worker from the general supply.

To take a Connections card, spend 2 workers. To play a Connections card, simply perform the action on the card. Connections cards provide goods when played.

In the Cleanup phase, you can use any location storage abilities to save goods. Otherwise, all goods are discarded back into the communal piles. Between rounds, you only keep goods in storage and the cards in your hand. Any remaining face up Connections cards are discarded. The first player shifts across rounds, rather than remaining the same player the whole game.

In solo mode, as mentioned above, you play against a “virtual player.”

In the Draft/Lookout phase, you reveal the top blue and red Connections cards from their decks. Draw the top 4 cards from the top of the deck. Choose one for yourself, randomly select one for the virtual player, choose a second for yourself, and give the remaining card to the virtual player. The virtual player also receives an additional card from the top of the deck.

The virtual player does not receive any goods during the Production phase, but you do as normal.

You are always the first player, and take the first action each Action phase. When you raze a location in the virtual opponent’s state, it is discarded rather than remaining as a ruins.

On the virtual player’s turn, they will first try to claim a Connections card. Doing so earns them 2 victory points. When there are no more face up Connections cards, the virtual player will try to attack, up to 3 times. The virtual player stops attacking and passes once they raze one of your locations. For the virtual player attack, reveal the top card of the deck. If its location types do not match any location in your state, the attack fails. Repeat the process up to 2 more times, on separate virtual player turns. If a location type does match a location type in your state, raze that location. The virtual player receives 25 victory points, and you receive the deal payout for having it razed. If the card that should be razed has a shield on it, you can discard the shield instead of razing the location.

You can interact with the virtual player with some modifications. If you send a worker to one of their open production facilities, they gain a victory point instead of a worker. Nor does the virtual player receive goods from razing locations.

The game ends once a player reaches 25 victory points. When this happens, you complete the current Action phase as normal and add 1 victory point for each location in the state for both you and the virtual player. If you have more victory points than the virtual player, you win. If you win, you can compare your score to a scale and achieve various titles (mutant at the lowest end to grand master at the highest).

Color commentary: First, as a solo game, this falls outside of the theme for the month.

This game is garbage as a 1-player game. I played like, 3 rounds before giving up. The virtual player probably has an advantage anyway because they automatically get two built locations per turn (and maybe you can only build 1, or none), and to give them a 3rd makes it incredibly unlikely that you will win. I don’t need a guaranteed victory, but it’s no fun to play a game when it’s a foregone conclusion that you’ll lose.

Also, it’s way too much to keep track of. Taking turns in the action phase is hard to keep track of, because it seems like the attacks by the virtual player should be a single turn since they automatically do it up to 3 times, and remembering to even give the virtual player a turn is also difficult because once they attack 3 times or successfully attack, you basically get unlimited uninterrupted turns. Moreover, there’s a chance that even if you gain the red contact tokens needed to raze a location in the virtual player’s state by taking the red Connections card, you won’t actually get a chance to attack. If you take the Connections card as your first action, the virtual player will take the blue card as their first action. Then, for your second action, you would have to play the card to get your tokens. On the virtual player’s second turn, they’re already attacking you. IF that attack fails, on your 3rd turn you can raze a location in the virtual player’s city. Oy.

I think it’s probably better, and perhaps even fun, as a mulitplayer game, but the solo mode was so unenjoyable I don’t know when or even if I’ll actually try to play it as a multiplayer game.

Thoughts M might have had if he had looked through the box: I could do without the vaguely sci-fi theme. Post-apocalyptic is fine, but do we really need a “mutants union” faction? New York, Merchants Guild, and Appalachian Federation are fine, in principle, but some of the art is, again, weirdly sci-fi. The individual on the New York faction board appears to be a cyborg, maybe? Why can’t we just have the nice, wholesome post-apocalyptic ambiance of Mad Max: Fury Road? No need for monsters or artificial intelligence. The hellscape can be awful enough with regular people who may or may not drive porcupine cars and/or be basically perpetual blood donors. No need to get weird about it.