Tag Archives: solo gaming

Palm Island, a card game you can play in your hand

Initially, I wanted to get a copy of Palm Island before my family and I went on vacation to Disney World last summer. Alas, I never bit the bullet and instead brought along One Deck Dungeon, which, to nobody’s surprise, I didn’t even play once…for various reasons. Mostly because there are a lot of components to that game, such as a handful of colored dice, and you need a decent amount of table space to really set everything up. The idea behind Palm Island eliminates the need for this space, allowing you to play an entire match in the very palm of your hand. I ordered a copy several weeks ago and am glad to finally have it in my collection, as it actually does what it claims to do. Go figure.

Palm Island uses a deck-transforming mechanic that allows a player to play with just 17 cards over eight rounds to shape their island and overcome its unique challenges. You’ll store resource cards to pay for upgrades and upgrade buildings to access new abilities and gain victory points. Each decision you make will drastically change your village from round to round. After eight rounds, you calculate your score, and I’m still ending most of my games in the “needs work” range, but I can see the potential each time to do better. Palm Island is a solo card game with multiplayer variants, and the copy I got comes with enough cards for two decks, which is generous and kind of neat to see.

Here’s how the game ultimately works. Each card, which are double-sided, has four states, and they all start at state one when you begin playing. As you proceed through the game, which consists of a total of eight rounds, you may upgrade cards by rotating or flipping them, so long as you have the resources to do so. These actions change the card for the rest of the game and can help you gain more resources or victory points down the line. The decisions then come down to either upgrading your resource cards for more effects or spending all you got to build that grand temple for a ton of victory points. A lot of this deciding is affected by your initial shuffle of cards; for instance, one game, I ended up having all my temples back to back in a row, unable to do anything but skip past them, which meant losing out on a lot of victory points.

Palm Island has a fairly distinct look, with artwork done by Jon Mietling. It’s tropical, colorful, and well designed, with clear pictures for different resources and actions. In fact, for cards doing quadruple duty, there’s quite a lot of information to grok, but it never felt overwhelming. I did have to constantly double-check which was the flip upside-down icon versus the flip card over icon, but I eventually got it. The cards themselves are sturdy and thick, but a bit slippery, which can be dangerous when you are playing everything in your hand and trying to keep organized. Turning and un-turning resource cards can be tricky, and if you drop the deck you might as well just start the game over as it can be impossible to remember what order every card should be in. Still, that’s a minor complaint overall.

Right. I’ve played it at my kitchen table shortly before dinner. I’ve played it while in the chair at the oncology center getting my latest chemotherapy treatment. I played it on the morning of my wedding to kill time. Palm Island is without a doubt a game I’ll be bringing with me almost everywhere because…well, you can literally play it anywhere. So long as you don’t accidentally drop the deck of cards, you can game it up whenever you want. I truly love that.

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Final Fantasy Explorers forces the player to endure

At the beginning of 2018, I was real close to getting Monster Hunter: World. In fact, it’s now the beginning of 2019, and I’m still thinking about biting the bullet. It’s a genre I’ve always been intrigued by, but terrified to get into due to what seems like a massive amount of complexity and menus and history to learn. However, this newest iteration, which jumps from the realm of handhelds to big boy consoles, seems to be somewhat more friendly to people like me. Or what kids back in the day referred to as n00bz. Side note: if you know what kids refer to people like me nowadays, please let me know ASAP. However, instead of getting this, I dug through my Nintendo 3DS collection and found something similar called Final Fantasy Explorers. It both compares and does not compare.

Final Fantasy Explorers is an MMO-lite that revolves around the titular group of explorers from the rural town of Libertas who hunt the world for crystals, objects which are the source of life and civilization for the world. The most major source of crystals is the new island of Amostra, but they are guarded by fearsome beasts that the explorers must fight. So yeah, surprise, surprise–it’s another Final Fantasy game dealing with crystals as the magical MacGuffin, but then again I wasn’t expecting much in terms of story from a Monster Hunter-like game. They generally are about fighting big monsters and crafting cool gear from their dead, shredded body parts. Also: cats cooking.

For the most part, the combat, which is the bulk of what you do in Final Fantasy Explorers other than stare in horror at confusing menu after confusing menu, is pretty solid, even though one of the shoulder buttons on my Nintendo 3DS is not working properly. It’s a bit hack and slash, with some spells and special abilities thrown in for good measure. To start with, Final Fantasy’s signature job system is here, which adds variety to the battles by letting you equip a mishmash of weapons and abilities tied to your chosen profession while in town. Spells and skills can be tweaked and tailored however you want using special mutations learned in battle, which can make them much more effective, so there is plenty of customization to work with. Personally, from my three-ish hours so far, I’ve been sticking with the Freelancer job, which is kind of your all-around job, capable of both casting basic spells and also wielding decent weapons for physical attacks. Alas, I’m currently stuck trying to beat the legendary flame djinn known as Ifrit.

Let me get more detailed. By default, you have a simple, quick attack that you can mash; however, squeezing the left or right bumpers grants you access to one of eight hand-picked abilities–some magical, some physical, and some related to your current job and weapon. The best strategy is to chain all these abilities together to begin building up something called Resonance. Once you have enough, you can squeeze both bumpers simultaneously and select one of four crystal surges, which supercharge all your abilities for a limited time. This is wisest done during boss battles, as most of the generic enemies you fight along the way are easily dispatched with simpler attacks.

Like Monster Hunter, Final Fantasy Explorers is probably meant to be played with other real-life people in your party. I don’t have access to those kinds of friends; I’ve only ever played online on my Nintendo 3DS with Animal Crossing: New Leaf and some cooperative multiplayer thingy for Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. Thankfully, solo players get the ability to gather essence from some downed monsters and create your own monstrous allies, who will wander after you and join you in combat. Unfortunately, their path-finding is terrible, but you can fuse them other monsters and materials to up their level or unlock perks. I currently only have one monster following me, a level 8 goblin that carries a large cleaver. What’s nice about this is that you can basically recruit your favorite Final Fantasy monsters, such as Cactuar, TonBerry, or Chocobo, like they are Pokemon. Fine by me.

Look, I haven’t played a whole ton of Final Fantasy Explorers yet, and I plan to give it a few more hours, but I can already begin to see the grind here. The real hook for me is seeing all the things from various Final Fantasy games on display, such as summons, characters, spell names, etc., plus the option to basically dress up your avatar as, say, Sephiroth or Tina. If this ultimately doesn’t do it for me though…there’s always Monster Hunter: World.

Continue to smoothly dodge bullets with SUPERHOT: The Card Game

Let’s just get this out of the way right from the start:

SUPER…HOT.
SUPER…HOT.
SUPER…HOT.

Phew, there. Now we can begin proper and talk about SUPERHOT: The Card Game from Grey Fox Games, which is both alike and different from its videogame counterpart, which I greatly enjoyed playing through last year. Y’know, despite not really understanding anything related to its narrative. This is a micro deck-building game, based on something called Agent Decker, which I have not checked out yet, though there seems to be a free print-and-play version. In this one, naturally, you use abilities and items to deal with increasing threats, such as men with guns and flying bullets. Threats you eliminate are added to your hand, giving you improved abilities and more options while bringing you closer to victory; however, you need to be careful because the more cards you use, the faster you move through time, which is represented by a line of obstacles moving in your direction.

Okay, let’s get more detailed without hopefully making your eyes glaze over. Rules for board games and card games can sometimes be a lot to take in, which is why simpler games like Just Desserts, Bandido, and Elevenses are more digestible. Basically, on your turn, you need to interact with obstacles–whether killing them or knocking them out, though I still don’t understand how you knock a table out–to increase future possibilities or give you more time before bullets begin to appear in the line, which are harder to deal with. The cards that you use are discarded to the obstacle pile while cards you pass by are placed in your personal discard pile, creating a mini-deck of cards. The game has three types of obstacle cards: enemy, scenery, and objects, with each type giving you different abilities when they’re in your deck. Your goal is to complete three tiers of missions–level one has one mission, level two has two, and so on–while not running out of cards or ending up with four bullets in your hand.

Initially, I was very confused with how a turn went in SUPERHOT: The Card Game. I ended up watching three or four videos to finally see how things are supposed to go, and I get it better now. Still, I’m constantly flipping through the rulebook to make sure I’m doing things correctly. For my last game, I managed to get to the third tier of missions, but ended up running through all the bullets in the bullet deck, which is an automatic loss. Wah. Here’s hoping my next run is more successful or, at the very least, more confidently done. There’s both cooperative and versus modes, but the game was definitely designed for solo gaming, and I think that’s where it will remain with me.

I really, really love the look of SUPERHOT: The Card Game. Obviously, it draws many of its images from the videogame, which is sparse on details yet high on style, but the cards themselves manage to contain a lot of information without being completely full of clutter or text. They maintain the dedication to the colors red and gray, and the mission cards all contain a bunch of code that probably says something to people that can read code, but I’m left in the unknown. Either way, it’s slick and cool and feels futuristic.

SUPERHOT: The Card Game features game mechanics that forced me to figure out the best tactical and strategic solutions in each moment.  Do I destroy that flying bullet or clear out the enemies that, if I don’t, will add more bullets to my deck? Do I want to empty my hand, moving time forward quickly and risk seeing more bullets coming my way? Sometimes the best laid plans don’t always work out, but, in the given moment, you do feel in control. This often resulted in tense decision-making, but felt satisfying when things did work in your favor.

For a solo game, it can take anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on how often you need to re-read the manual, but once things get going, and you understand the flow of turns, the game stops being about the manual and specific rules and more about moving through time as you see fit, and for that SUPERHOT: The Card Game flips a table and lives to see another day.

Bandido wants you to stop a prisoner from escaping

I’ve never been to prison, and I hope to never go to prison, but there is a small piece of me that fantasizes about pulling the greatest prison escape, one that would make Alcatraz Island weep. Bandido, designed by Martin Nedergaard Andersen and put out by Helvetiq, is not actually about escaping, but rather preventing a prisoner from seeing blue sky and green hills ever again by blocking all passageways, forcing him back to his cell to continue counting the days.

To begin a game of Bandido, you place the Super Card. which is the one showing the prisoner in jail with multiple exit points, in the middle of the table, shuffle up the remaining cards, and deal three cards to each player. That’s all there is to begin the game, and I appreciate that, especially when things like One Deck Dungeon, Fallout: The Board Game, and even Friday take a good amount of organization to set everything up before you can begin playing.

On each player’s turn, you’ll place one card down so at least one tunnel is connected to an existing tunnel and then draw a new card. The one main rule is that you can’t block off any of the tunnels with walls when you’re placing a card; everything has to fit and connect. Only cards showing a dead end, represented by a circle and a hand holding a flashlight, can truly end a good-going tunnel. That said, there are a couple of other cards that basically form a loop that connects multiple tunnels together, and those too can block tunnels off. You win if you’re able to block all of the tunnels, and you lose if there are any open tunnels by the time you’ve gone through the deck or if you are unable to play any more cards.

In terms of complexity, there’s really not much to Bandido. The only strategic decision you ever have to make generally involves when to branch out to avoid cutting yourself off and when to tighten things up so that you can try to narrow multiple paths of exit down into just one or two manageable ones. This isn’t always easily done based on the cards in your hand and requires some table talk to try to figure out the most effective card placements. You can play it solo, but Bandido is better with more people, because it is more of a cooperative game that really makes you care about the outcome as a group. Sometimes you need to be aggressive and say things like, “Oh, don’t play a card there, I have a perfect one for it next turn.”

I tried playing it solo a few times, never winning a single game. Then Melanie and I played it twice the other day, winning the first game where the Super Card had only five exits, and losing horribly the second game with six exit options. Still, it is a good amount of fun, and the game is quick to set up, quick to break down, and small enough to fit in your pocket. The only real problem, much like Okey Dokey, is that is takes up a lot of table space, especially once the tunnels begin to get out of hand; a few times, we had to shift all the cards down on the table to make room for more growth, and that’s a touchy process, trying not to mess up the placement of all the cards in play.

Bandido isn’t a big game, but it doesn’t want to be. The rules are relatively simple to follow, and because the cards have no text on them, anyone can quickly learn how to play and see what to do next. For that, I really like it, and hope to stop the titular criminal from breaking free the next time we play it.

Just Desserts is the sweetest, tastiest card game

I’ve been on a real solo board/card gaming kick as of late, mostly because I’m used to playing by myself and I can probably only convince Melanie to join me on these larger-than-life games, such as Fallout: The Board Game or A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, so many times. I know it is not her thing, and that’s perfectly fine. However, when I saw Just Desserts in my local gaming store, I thought this might be a good one for us to play. It’s all about eating yummy food, specifically desserts. The game is recommended for two to three players, but I think three or more is the best way to go. Two players is fine, but less cutthroat.

Just Desserts comes from Looney Labs, which is the company that makes five thousand and thirty-two Fluxx variants each year. That’s an estimate. I have a copy of Zombie Fluxx from years ago and tried to play it once or twice, not really enjoying it all that much. Or maybe I just didn’t understand all the rules swapping around. I also have a copy of Retro Loonacy from them, which has yet to be played, but I love the artwork nonetheless.

Anyways, Just Desserts is a sweet, delicious card game all about serving some very picky guests at the cafe you work at. No soup, no salad, no main dish… all they want is dessert, and I can understand where they are coming from. I mean, over the Christmas holiday, I probably ate more cookies than anything else, along with a few peanut butter trees from the good ol’ boys at Reese’s. You’ll have to compete with your fellow waiters to serve guests their favorite goodies before someone else gets to them first.

The rules are relatively simple and easy to explain. Each player starts with a hand of three dessert cards while three guest cards are placed in the center of the table; each dessert card shows one to three tastes that it satisfies, such as chocolate, fruit, or pastry, while the guest cards show what they crave, as well as what they refuse to eat, such as veggies or peanuts. On your turn, you draw a dessert card, add a guest card to the table from the deck, then take one of three following actions:

  • Serve (and claim) one or two guests by discarding one or more dessert cards to give them what they want (while avoiding what they don’t want); also, if you give a guest their favorite item, which basically meets all their desires, you get tipped with an extra dessert card.
  • Draw one more dessert card.
  • Discard as many dessert cards as you want, then draw that many cards from the deck to refill your hand.

At the end of your turn, discard guests from the table so that only one guest of each “suit” is still waiting to be served; however, you can consider this guest heading out the door, but still in play to be claimed…until another guest card is discarded on top of it. You win Just Desserts if at any time you’ve served three guests of the same suit or five guests of different suits.

I absolutely love the art in Just Desserts, which is done by…I’m sad to report, I don’t know. I’ve tried searching online for the artist, but am having no luck. Please, if you know, let me know, and then we can all know. Each dessert card looks delicious, even if it is a dessert that I don’t want to eat. The guest cards are goofy and fun to look at, and each person looks unique and truly stands out from one another. My only quibble is that the font on guest cards for their favorite treat is small and hard to see from a distance when you have them in the center of the table. The gameplay is loose and casual, but fun, and there are variants you can use to make it more aggressive, such as stealing other player’s claimed guests, but we haven’t tried these yet.

I’m excited to play more Just Desserts in 2019 and have even ordered copies of the two tiny expansions–Just Coffee and Better with Bacon. They don’t seem to mix up the gameplay too much, but rather add more dessert cards and characters to please in your cafe. Fine by me. I love both coffee and bacon.

Dice manipulation is the key to One Deck Dungeon’s door

After a handful of attempts, I’ve still not beaten any final boss in One Deck Dungeon, though I got somewhat close against the dragon, better than my time with the yeti, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Each run is completely different and randomized, and luck definitely plays a major factor into how things go, especially when you consider this is a game of mostly dice rolls, and I’m sure I’ll see a flawless run eventually. Until then, I’ll keep kicking open doors, dodging traps and slaying monsters with as much skill as my character sheet allows, trying hard to save all my health potion cubes for the final encounter.

As you’ll recall from my last board game-related post on Friday, I’m getting into solo tabletop gaming. Eventually, I’ll have a post about Fallout: The Board Game, but this is not that post. This one is about One Deck Dungeon, an aptly named roguelike card game, wherein you dive deep into a dungeon for treasures and special skills and build your character up along the way. It’s at times similar to Dungeon Roll and far from it, offering a lot more adventure-affecting decisions each turn. The deck consists of your standard D&D-esque enemies to fight, such as a glooping ooze and a skeleton knight, as well as perils like a spiked pit and boulders, and the character classes don’t stray too far from the traditional, featuring warriors, clerics, and rogues.

Each door card, when flipped over, represents an obstacle to overcome, as well as the potential rewards for doing so. Each turn, after burning a few cards from the dungeon deck to the discard pile, which represents “time” spent, you can reveal what’s behind a locked door and take it on if your heart desires. If you defeat the card, meaning you are still alive and in one piece after all the effects are suffered, you can claim it as one of several things: experience points, an item, a skill, or a new potion type. Each of these affects your character in a specific way, and your current level card determines how many of each you can use at once. For instance, when playing solo and at level 1, you can have one item and two skills. You then tuck the card under the appropriate side of your character card to show off its benefits, such as an extra die to roll or new skill to use in battle. Identifying a new potion not only nets you more options, but also a free potion cube to boot.

Things I’m really liking a whole bunch about One Deck Dungeon are as follows. For one, all the character portraits are women and not sexualized, which is really nice to see in this field where bikini chainmail and mega-muscular dudes run rampant. Layering cards beneath the character sheet and watching the stats and abilities list grow is surprisingly effective and pleasing, reminding me a bit of how Gloom cards went on top of each other, as well as Munchkin weapons and armor sets. Lastly, the manipulation of dice–while at times it can feel somewhat like cheating–is where the most fun shows up, especially as you get more options for re-rolling numbers or exchanging them for other colored dice. Starting off an encounter with a terrible roll and a bunch of ones and walking away from it untouched after covering up every square is an extremely good feeling.

Sometimes there can be a lot of elements to be aware of, and the fights can become overwhelming. For instance, you have to remember that spots on encounter cards with a green shield must be covered first before any others, and the dungeon card has its own spots and effects to be aware of, like discarding all ones rolled each fight or spending extra time to use skills. You must also keep track of the enemy or encounter’s special text, as well as your own skills, and I started using extra white potion cubes as markers for when I used a skill so I wouldn’t accidentally use it twice and therefore cheat my way to victory. Occasionally, I’d goof hard and really want to walk back my actions, but it was almost impossible to remember what dice got traded in and what was originally rolled. Also, as mentioned at the top, the boss fights are pretty tough, and I don’t yet know if I’m the problem–remember, I still haven’t gotten past the pirates in Friday–or if they have been designed to be ultra punishing.

There’s a standalone expansion to One Deck Dungeon out already called Forest of Shadows that adds poison and dice exiling, but I think I’m good with my handful of scenarios and classes for a bit, unless I suddenly become a dice-rolling god, smiting foes and perils with little effort. I’ve also downloaded some extra content from the developer’s website, printing out the Phoenix’s Den and Caliana class cards myself. Evidently, there’s also a Steam version in the works, if that’s your thing; my experience with board games turned into videogames is somewhat limited, having played only a few matches of things like Smash Up, Catan, and Monopoly Plus, though one day I’d really like to check out the digital entertainment version of Lords of Waterdeep. We’ll see. For now, I’ll keep trying to roll six after six after six.

Only Friday can get you safely past the pirates

I think Disney’s 1960 Swiss Family Robinson film, a tale of a shipwrecked family building an island home, which is loosely based on Johann David Wyss’ 1812 novel The Swiss Robinson, is my only association with the subject material, besides a random episode or two of Lost in Space. Also, during the last Disney trip, though this has not been drawn yet, Julie and I explored the Swiss Family Treehouse attraction a bit, though I mostly dealt with a pushy family of three that simply had to get past me on those narrow rope bridges only to stop a few feet ahead, block the path, and stare at stuff. Thank you very much.

That all said, I’m here to tell y’all about Friedemann Friese’s Friday, which is a solitaire deck-building card game, which tasks you with optimizing your deck of fight cards to defeat hazards and make it past the pirate ships circling the island. Yes, another solo tabletop game, a specific market niche I’m digging as of late; see my post on Dungeon Roll for more. If the game’s name doesn’t clue you in, you play as island native Friday, not Robinson Crusoe, and your job is basically to babysit the bearded man and ensure he doesn’t do anything stupid and grows stronger in order to better prepare him for the grand escape. This island is your home, and you know it well.

Setup is painless and quick, and I was able to fit everything inside a single dinner place-mat. An entire session lasts around fifteen to thirty minutes depending on your actions and how long you spend analyzing the cards you’ve used versus the ones left in your decks. During a turn, Robinson Crusoe will attempt to defeat hazard cards by playing fight cards against them, with the higher number winning. These hazards range from trying to get to a damaged wreck via a raft to exploring the island further to fighting off hungry cannibals. If he is successful, the hazard card will flip and become a fight card; this is now added to your discards of fighting cards and will eventually get shuffled back into the deck. However, if you fail to defeat the hazard, Robinson loses life tokens, represented by what look like tiny wooden green leaves, but also gets the opportunity to remove some of these under-performing cards from the game entirely. There are three phases, each one being more difficult than the previous, and if Friday can keep his island comrade alive long enough, eventually he’ll battle one of the two pirate ships lingering in the ocean.

Spoiler alert: after about five or so games, I’ve still not managed to get to the final pirates phase. Grrr. Let’s blame it on Friday’s communication difficulties. The closest I’ve gotten is the third phase, red in color, but cannibals destroyed Robinson Crusoe quickly after he lost too many health points getting there and went home feeling sated. Friday is a game of choices. Sure, there’s luck and randomness involved like in many other card-based games, but it really does come down to issues like pushing forward for more cards at the expensive of life points to get that hazard card as a fight card or losing a fight on purpose to rid yourself of cards like “Distracted (-1)” and “Weak (0)”. I’ve not figured out the perfect strategy, but removing bad cards from the game as early as possible seems obvious though not always easy to do. For one game, Mel kept a sheet of paper and tracked what cards remained in my fighting deck so I’d know whether or not I even had a chance at winning a fight; this is both allowed and encouraged, as the instructions explicitly say that Friday is not a memory game and goes on to list out every card in your arsenal for you to be aware of.

One of the things I really like about Friday is its overall footprint. Everything you need to play comes inside a tiny, square box and, as mentioned above, you don’t need a ton of table space to play. The cardboard deck mats are great for organizing where everything goes, and the instructions are pretty clear, though I did have to watch a couple playthroughs on YouTube to fully get how you handle both winning and losing a fight, as some bits weren’t entirely clear. In the end, I’m a fan, and whenever Friday eventually helps Robinson Crusoe sink a pirate ship, I’ll shout it passionately and aggressively from the top of the island for all to hear.

As always, I’m all ears for any solo card/board games that you enjoy and therefore think I might too enjoy. Scythe has already been recommended.