Five small card games for compulsive play

I didn't compile a list of favourite solo games this year. My top ones are Spirit Island and Terraforming Mars which makes said list the apex of boredom. Instead, I'm giving you five small card games which I enjoyed playing in 2020. These are all games that I played repeatedly, as they seem to share the same addictive quality that solitaire pc games do. They feed the compulsion to arrange numbers in a sequence or the satisfaction of lightly thinky hand management. They all have a win condition, are easy to understand, compact, and can easily be obtained (purchased or PnP'd).

1. Finished!

I didn't expect to like this game, that's why I didn't buy it when it was first released. I had read that you need to have a strong memory to do well, so I assumed it wasn't for me. It was Eric Martin's video playthrough that eventually convinced me to try it, and I didn't regret it one bit. It is true that remembering the position of numbers in the deck will help you manipulate it more effectively but, even if your memory betrays you like mine does, you may still find the game enjoyable thanks to the clever ways of handling your cards. You also learn to be a little more attentive to your moves, so perhaps it enhances your data retention capability.

There is something satisfying about sorting, putting things in their right place, especially because you make smart moves to get your results. Shuffling the deck well before you start is crucial, or else you'll make things easier on yourself and cheat. Finished! has been criticized for being too long for what it is (indeed, it takes close to an hour) but if you like the gameplay, I believe you won't mind (I don't). Surprisingly enough, the bland theme doesn't actually feel so and the colourful candy and chunky coffee tokens liven things up. All in all, an underappreciated gem and big winner for me.

2. Puzzle Dungeon

Such a fun little game! Just looking at the monsters and heroes brightens my evening. I don't usually like pixelated artwork but it matches the theme well in this case. I have the standard version of Puzzle Dungeon that comes in a very small tuck box. There are 25 heroes, each one with a basic and an advanced side which makes for plenty of replayability.

You have a hand of cards, an 'arsenal' of extra cards on the table, and the abilities and symbols awarded to you by the monsters you kill at your disposal. Your goal is to fulfill your hero's win condition (e.g. kill 4 demons and 4 ghosts) before your deck runs out. Choosing which monster to target is the key to winning, as they all give you a special ability when you take them out. I am currently trying to beat the game with every single hero and will then do the same with their advanced versions. I often succeed at first try but not always, and haven't played on advanced yet. Highly recommended, and remerciements to Zerbique who encouraged me to get it. You can buy it from Brian Garber's etsy store.

3. Regicide

I've talked about this game before (Regicide on a King's birthday), it has become one of my favourites. I would buy the published version to support the designer but sadly the artwork doesn't speak to me. This is a game that can be played with a plain deck of cards (it helps if you have a fancy one with figures for the court cards). You will also need a couple of D20 to track the health of the Jacks, Queens and Kings. Your goal is to kill them all before they kill you. Once taken out, they eventually become powerful weapons in your deck.

It's not easy to win, and luck of the draw plays a role, but it's also a matter of making the right decisions: when to replenish your hand, which cards to spend for attacking, and when to add cards to the main deck. You can easily reset and play sessions back-to-back. If you enjoy this, you may also want to take a look at Dungeon Bounty (my impressions: Bountiful Dungeons). It was inspired by Regicide and is equally fun to play but it doesn't have a clear win/lose condition which makes it a little less satisfying for me.

4. Metempsychosis: Abyss of Horrors

We enter PnP territory with this fast, sequence-forming card game. It's very easy to print, just a pack of 40 cards and nothing else. The dark, foreboding artwork sets the atmosphere in what is essentially an abstract arrangement activity. You begin with a hand of 6 cards and play a card every turn, if you can. Your goal is to form a 'cosmic octave', that is a series of letters: ABCDEFGA or BCDEFGAB etc.

Each card you play will either eat at your health, or your deck, or your hand. Discarding cards from your hand can be beneficial though, as it helps you get rid of the Keepers: nasty cards that mostly cause damage. It's not easy to win but it can happen, especially if you use the assistance of the 4 Desperate Cry cards. I know the art may keep some people from trying it, but if you don't always want to see cats, flowers and cartoons in your games, this one is very good for what it is (my thoughts here: The Abyss of the Psyche). You can find it on War Claw Games website.

5. Maeshowe

Maeshowe is going to hit Kickstarter early next year under the title Maeshowe: An Orkney Saga. I have played the PnP and really liked it. If I'm not mistaken, the designer has made some alterations to the rules for the published edition but my guess is they won't fundamentally change the game. You are a Viking trapped inside a tomb, trying to dig an exit. On every turn, you decide which card to play and which card to discard from your hand while balancing three different resources: your health, action tokens and food.

Chipping away at the walls with every set of 4 excavation cards is a relief in a game that is otherwise full of agony. With a little luck on your side, it is winnable. Lee has done a great job with the artwork in the PnP but I'm eager to see the aesthetics of the final product. Judging by the box cover, it's going to look good. (I have written my impressions here: Entombed).

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