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You and a fellow Viking Earl have been trapped inside a chambered tomb in an attempt to protect yourselves from a raging storm. Since you fell inside through the roof, the only way out is to excavate a passage. You don't carry much food with you, so you have to dig as fast as you can. Digging through the chamber is a perilous task as the walls may collapse at any moment, and, on top of everything, your Viking friend is a greedy bastard: when you found a treasure, he wanted to keep it all for himself. Not to mention that the whispers you think you hear in the dark are making you lose your mind...

This is the background to the solitaire PnP game, Maeshowe, by Lee Broderick (the designer of Dwarf). The theme isn't entirely fictional: Maeshowe is a Stone Age burial mound in Scotland that was broken into by Vikings in the 12th century. Lee added some drama, and hand management and set collection gameplay as solid as the tomb's stone blocks.

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To start the game, you place the monument cross-section board in front of you, place the stones along the passage, as well as two food units, four health points, and 7 action points. You have a hand of five cards, and on each turn, you play a card, discard another card, then refill. To play a card, you place it on the table and execute its action. If it is an 'excavate passage' card, you need to play four of them in a row in order to remove one stone piece. When you discard a negative card, like 'passage collapse', 'run out of food' or 'hidden treasure', you lose one health point.

The deck also contains two types of bird cards: a raven and a goose. The raven is a sign of hope that replenishes your health. The goose is unfortunate enough to fall inside the tomb and be preserved as a future meal. If you play the 'eat' card, you can enjoy a heartening foie gras. Then keep digging. If you survive long enough, you will eventually run out of action points, and to restore them, you have to try to play two birds and a 'run out food' card in a row.

Maeshowe is not easy to win, and it punishes careless play. I often find myself pushing my luck to excavate more of the passage while having just one health point left, only to draw too many nasty cards and die. Turns are fast, and it's easy to reset and have another go. It may feel samey if you play it often, but it's fine if you return to it after a pause.

If you like Onirim, you will enjoy Maeshowe, and Maeshowe arguably has a more interesting theme. My only nitpick is that I have a hard time picturing two people performing the actions instead of one: the gameplay makes me feel I'm all alone, a desperate Viking digging to get out. The second Viking only appears as an enemy if you play the 'hidden treasure' card, there is no other evidence of his presence. This not really a problem, though, and could even be solved with the use of different artwork.

Lee will bring the game to Kickstarter sometime this year, so I wanted to give it a try before it takes the publishing route. He is currently doing playtests, so if you're interested (you can even play with a standard deck of cards), head on over to his thread and give him feedback.

#Maeshowe #Broderick

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