Knowing me, knowing Uwe
A-haaah. This week Cadet Stimpy inquired: Where is JW in the Best Uwe Game Thread on BGG? This "best thread" turned out to be a request for suggestions on what to buy next. Being a cheeky monkey I gave him my zen-like answer “Most of the time I'm not interested in my opinion.” But then I thought about this attitude some more. Sometimes not interfering with the world is also an act of selfishness. So let’s put a hologram of this monkey on stage and let him perform. A-haaah.
Disclaimer: I have not played every game by Uwe Rosenberg (Le Havre, Nova Luna and Sagani come to mind), and some not solo (Agricola). I am not including any games with fan-made solo variants either. Finally, my ranking for multiplayer would be different.
Let's start with my least favourite selection of games for playing solo. I only play them when I am too tired for anything that needs brainpower, and funnily enough, not the best ones even then. For those moments numbers 3 and 4 are perfect.
Just so you know: even the easy ones can be played strategically, thinking many steps ahead. I’m just too lazy, or if I am in the mood for that kind of game I pick one of his other boxes.
Spring Meadow – the most Tetris-like of them all
New York Zoo – fun animeeples and the return of breeding to his games
Cottage Garden – a bit too easy solo, but very relaxing
Second Chance – use coloured pencils for a mindful experience
Indian Summer – the best-looking one is also the hardest
The Patchwork Automa (not made by Rosenberg himself) was a disappointment for me. The scoring system is stupid.
The next series of games gives you a lot of freedom on how to reach your goal. Some even turn into a complete sandbox for solo, where you can just try “what will happen if I follow this strategy”. I prefer more limited options. Not surprisingly, the one I put in the number one spot gives you a slight suggestion what to try this time, right from the start.
A Feast for Odin – this thematic Viking game is a masterpiece in mechanisms
Fields of Arle – has just a tiny bit of variety in set up, but it’s enough
Caverna: The Cave Farmers – one of the very first games I played solo, a cool sandbox
Short and sweet
The last selection contains shorter games that will still provide your brain with a good workout session. They all have randomness in set up, but after a while you’ll find out that most of the time you’ll be able to score consistently if you just adjust your strategy. Brilliant designs.
Nusfjord – this worker placement game packs a lot in 30 mins, and is euro heaven when you play a campaign with the advanced solo rules
At the Gates of Loyang – in fact this one does not fit any category and may be the best one ever, except there’s always a new “hotter” Uwe game
Hallertau – the cardplay makes this a current favourite, but it may end up higher or lower on this list next year
Glass Road – the resource wheel is one of the best inventions ever
Caverna: Cave vs. Cave – lightest game of this section, a nice intro
I cannot recommend Reykholt, as the gameplay options are too limited.
Why play them?
Uwe Rosenberg's games have easy to remember rules, great rulebooks and (for the larger ones) appendices that explain every action, card or tile in detail. You can get going in no time. Even games with a lot of components will not overwhelm you after the first playthrough.
His games are very balanced, even the ones with random setup. Most can be played casually or with your brain in overdrive. A lot of the games contain charming components, like the wheelbarrow, the pots and the cats in Cottage Garden, or the selection of animals in New York Zoo (tree kangaroo, flamingo, white fox, penguin and meerkat).
Even though many of his games build upon parts from earlier games (he's an evolutionary designer), after all these years there is a broad scope to choose from. There's something to be found for every one. And he can still come up with surprising games. The first few times you play Hallertau, you'll be thinking "what is happening here?"
Most of all - and this may be me - his games are so much fun.
Rosenberg’s games do not have an automa. You usually play to reach a target score. There’s a very interesting mechanism that he uses a lot though, and that makes your choices every turn have consequences. That is: blocking yourself.
I first came across this mechanism with Glass Road. Every turn you can perform actions by using some cards from your hand. These cards, however (and thus the actions), are not available during your next turn. On the second turn, you have to choose from the remaining cards, and then those won’t be available – while you pick up the ones you used on your first turn.
A Feast for Odin does the same with worker Vikings in two colours. So, for example, on one turn you can play red workers, on the next you leave those on the board (blocking action spaces), and play with blue. The advanced solo mode of Nusfjord even has you playing with three colours, leaving you with a lot of blocked spaces in the seven turns you've got - and making thinking ahead even more important.
This is something I really enjoy. With Uwe’s games you don’t need an artificial opponent to simulate multiplayer. As in life, you are your own worst enemy.