Sign o' the Times - JW's Top Solo Games in 20/20
Every year solo gamers are asked to send in their twenty all time favourite games, so a Top-200 can be compiled. You'll find my selection below, and an extended version with even more games, words and music videos on BoardGameGeek.
When I was at school, they taught us that history books always tell us as much about the time they were written in, as about the time they are describing. And, looking back, yes: the solo top-20 below could not have been made in any other year.
It is my contribution to the People Choice Top Solo Games 2020, as compiled by Kevin Erskine. It is not objective, it is not about the greatest games ever. It's influenced by what is happening in the world and how it affected me.
Protests in Hong Kong. Protests in Belarus. Protests all over the world because Black Lives Matter. Drought in Southern Africa. Locusts and flooding in East Africa. Flooding in Bangladesh. An overflowing refugee camp in Greece. The coronavirus all around the globe.
How can all this not affect me? How do you think I react? Exactly. I stick my old white male head deep in the sand. Escapism for the win. Let's talk board games, baby.
#20 Attack of the 50 Foot Colossi!
This is a very thematic game, about some trouble on the planet Graviton Prime. You play as marines, called in because miners on this planet are under attack from the indigenous life-forms. The rulebook has some nice flavour text on these Colossi. You really get to learn something about another culture, while wiping them out.
I like the stacked chits for the aliens, how they tower menacingly above the humans. And how all tribes have their own special attacks.
#18 Pocket Landship
The return of one of my most played solo games. Well, if I count the PnP plays. The Kickstarter edition is great, lots of new cards to try out. I've got me a playmat as well, it's all just beautiful.
#17 Space Infantry: Resurgence
So, ehm. Actually, Warfighter Shadow War was supposed to be in this top-20. But I got a bit uncomfortable last year with some of the missions. And then shortly after the assassination of general Soleimani they made a expansion pack for us to reenact it. I know, I live in the Netherlands, and we have this International Court of Justice, and that clouds my view on the world. And I do enjoy to play a game where I shoot first and ask questions later, honest. But there are two problems for me to play this. One, it's about real life, but not to learn something about history, it's just (great) entertainment. Two, we didn't get a battle pack to escort the president from the White House across the street, kicking away protesters, so our man could hold up a Bible in front of a church. We didn't get a pack for undercover operations in Portland.
And yes, I know I'm not fair. Right after the Soleimani pack they added a pack of female soldiers as they'd discovered that it weren't all men serving their country since recently anymore.
Anyway. Like I say, I need my escapism, down here in the sand. Space Infantry it will be, as it doesn't get much better than that. I love it. Building the map, thinking out a strategy. Assembling a team - and there's lots to choose from, basically it's only mandatory to include Draper, the rest is up to you. Then you go in, to face the Flesh Eaters or the Void Spiders. And you get hit. And one after the other squad member is killed. Until there's only Bobby left. And she enters the last room, sets off the detonator... Boom. You've lost another day.
#16 Apex Theropod Deck-Building Game: Exotic Predators
This one may be on it's way out. Then again, I tend to play my card games in waves.
It's an easy game to play, all dinosaur decks are different and I really like that. So it's entirely possible for me to get hooked again in 2021 and work my way through all decks once more. For now though, going down.
This is the game that brought me the most joy last year. I'm not one to complain that a game is too easy if I'm having a fun time. It's a unique mix of preparations (building railroads and farms, hiring soldiers) and great combat with a funny lovecraftian touch. And then there's the personality cards. 😀
#13 D-Day Dice (Second Edition)
So. I love dice. And I went all-in on the Kickstarter. I can play this one until long after I've died. And, if I manage to find a way, I will.
The game comes with a lot of maps. I really enjoy studing the map before starting, figuring out a strategy, and then get rolling. And adapt, along the way.
I also own the much (much) (much!) simpler D-Day Dice Pocket, which with 86 plays is my most played game of 2020. An addictive small filler.
#12 Shadowrun Crossfire: Prime Runner Edition
Well, this was a surprise. When I started out I made a little background story for my two characters. It's a cool setting, and I like thematic games. Then, after just a few plays, I was going through the motions purely mechanically.
And I loved every minute of it.
#10 Nemo's War (Second Edition)
This game is special to me, even though I am not good at it. To be honest, I don't feel the need to be very good at it. I am all in it for the journey.
In that way it's the opposite of Shadowrun Crossfire for me. I know I could score higher if I played a little more mechanically. Or ehm, used my brain. But I just get immersed.
#9 Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire
When I started out with solo gaming, after checking the People's Choice Top-100 Solo Games, Navajo Wars was the game I wanted to buy. I just could not get it in shops over here. So later I bought Comanchería, and I think it's amazing. It just takes way too long for me to get it to the table often. So when Navajo Wars (of which I think you can play shorter sessions) got a reprint, I signed up for the P500 and now I am the proud owner. But then I had trouble learning rules to new games cry Soon though, soon.
Until then, Comanchería in the list. And well deserved, it's great. It also made me read books on the subject, so it was enlightening as well.
#8 Pandemic (series)
Last year I've come to enjoy Pandemic more and more. My favourites are the ones of the Survival series, but I also like playing the original game, the dice game and even Hot Zone.
Here's how I would rank them right now.
1. Pandemic: Rising Tide
2. Pandemic: Iberia
3. Pandemic: Fall of Rome
5. Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America
6. Pandemic: The Cure with Experimental Meds
7. Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
#7 Marvel Champions: The Card Game
Deck construction for the rest of us, very accessible. Plus the fun of boss fights, it swept Aeon's End off the (solo) table for me. Also, I don't feel the stress of missing out expansion packs like with Arkham Horror: the Card Game. I mean, I want them all, and eventually I buy them all, but the gaming is not stalled when a pack is sold out.
I love how the characters all play differently and, ehm, in character. I already had fun with the base game but really got hooked when the Black Widow Hero Pack arrived. It became Game of the Month in April on our website and may well end up being my Game of the Year.
One of the first games I played solo, and one I still play occasionally. The way the market for cards works is so clever. And I really like how hard it is to reach 18 points. I mean, by now I've managed a few times, but it's certainly no given at all.
Also, I turned the path of prosperity into a doom track. If my farmer doesn't reach spot #17, he gets devoured. Wuah-ha-hah.
I didn't think I would ever say this, but I may have too much content for a game. The millions of set up combinations for Street Masters actually get in the way of playing. As does the huge box that was included with Aftershock. Even though I decided to just leave it on the table, and not make space on a shelf, every time I open it I am overwhelmed by the contents. When I manage to open it, I mean. That lid sure is hard to get off.
But once I am playing, it's great. The fighters all play differently, the bosses have their own style, the stages give their unique flavour. And then in the end you will be playing the same way each session laugh
I really don't know if I'll buy the new expansions that will be on IndieGoGo later this month. Do I need a billion ways to set up the game? I'll be tempted though. As I love it.
#4 Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game
I've played all Legendary Encounters games. I still like this one best, because I'm a fan of the films and because gameplay is streamlined. The first expansion added a lot and may be my favourite board game expansion. The second one is small, extremely hard and exciting for a fan like me.
I've played Legendary Encounters: Predator a lot as well, even though it doesn't have much content that is fun to solo. The missions that it has are cool, so it's a real nice game to have. Not more, not less.
I had fun with Legendary Encounters: Firefly but after I'd played all missions in a campaign, I felt no need to play it again. I tried, it left me cold. That's very unusual for me, but it turns out the changes in gameplay were not for me after all.
This year I added Legendary Encounters: X-Files. I must say, this could be a winner. It's more complicated than Alien, but very thematic. I look forward to playing it more.
So ehm, I was just introduced to this game this year. Shortly before the lockdown. The teaching game took over four hours and I was fully engaged and never bored. Then I had to wait months for a reprint of the Dutch edition (as I figured my daugter might enjoy it, and she did). Then I was off. Such a fantastic game.
In the last few months I've managed to win the base game solo with all corporations. I've added Prelude and haven't won since. But I like it even better. This one is going to last me years.
Still a top position for Eldritch Horror. This year I bought my last expansion (Mountains of Madness) and now I've got them all. To play this game I need a vacation. Set up takes at least two hours as I sort the cards and shuffle the ones thematically connected to the Ancient One (or the Prelude) in with the top third of the rest of the cards. For every single deck. And there are many decks. Then I pick my team, add their Personal Stories, think how they're going to work together, and my four hours journey starts.
Here comes adventure!
Nusfjord is the perfect solo game for me. It's fast, I can do campaign of three games in an hour. You need to think about your actions, but it won't drain you. Just three resources, I can handle that. And it's very balanced. No matter the set up, you'll find a good way to use the available buildings.
Sign o' the Times
Anyway, you may have noticed the numbering above was a bit off. In hindsight, three games represented 2020 for me. Bring them on!
(#19) #3 in 20/20 Bloc by Bloc: The Insurrection Game
At first this spot was for Blackout: Hong Kong. I think it's a very nice solo game. It does have a very positive view of humanity though.
But then we had protests all over the world. So Bloc by Bloc is more fitting. Building barricades, looting shops, that's more like it. I want a riot of my own!
(#15) #2 in 20/20 Freedom: The Underground Railroad
This is a special and important game. It teaches us about a time in histroy when black lives didn't matter. It's hard to imagine now, but... oh, wait.
I usually say it's a good game regardless of the theme. But that's not half the story. I didn't back 1941: Race to Moscow, because even if it turns out to be a great logistics game, I don't feel like playing a Nazi general, then try to do better (?) than the historical ones. Freedom: The Underground Railroad is so much more than a logistics puzzle.
The cards will immerse you in the historic period and have you look up things on Wikipedia or the library later. I've had long talks with my daughter after she saw me play this for the first time. 90% of her classmates were people of colour, so she was shocked to hear about slavery and plantations and wanted to know everything. There was something to tell about our own Dutch history as well.
It's a good game regardless of the theme. But the theme makes it a great game. And yes, Black Lives Matter.
(#11) #1 in 20/20 Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp
There's no way around it, this was the year of COVID-19. The pandemic had a huge impact on our lives. Millions of people got sick, over a million have died. Suddenly we had to practice social distancing. I haven't seen people outside of my small family since March and it's gotten me down.
Progress on a cure is slow. "Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don't let it dominate your life", a superhero tweeted. "Be afraid, be very afraid," this game teaches us. It's not about immortals. It's very, very human. The interactions in the lab, what's happening in the world outside. Infection tells great stories. Then on the microscopic level it's a very well done puzzle.
And it teaches us humility. The greatest sacrifice is not made by presidents or politicians, not by doctors or lab personnel, but by a smart lab rat. He shows real courage and lays down his life for us. Let's all pray to Marvin, or we're doomed.
Oh man, of course it dominates our lives.