• JW

Underground

On the occasion of the 2021 People's Choice Top 200 Solo Games, we share some favourite games with you as well. Today JW puts the spotlight on some gems from his collection that didn't make the top 200.

Compiling a top 20 is hard for me. There are those all-time greats that I may not have played this year, there are the new hot titles that I may have forgotten all about a year or two from now... I've played over 250 games solo, how to rank them anyway? 🤷🏻


So this year I compared the People's Choice Top 200 Solo Games (PC21) to my own top rated games. I put the eighty or so that didn't make it to the Top 200 through the Pub Meeple Board Game Ranking Engine, to now present you the best of what's left.



The public gets what the public wants But I want nothing this society's got

I'm going underground!


 


25. Healthy Heart Hospital


PC21 rank #288


A hospital management game that puts a smile on your face while presenting you with a good puzzle every turn. You can take the cynic route, letting some patients die, digging graves in the backyard while hiring a lawyer and a PR person to smooth things out. But in the end it will be more fulfilling to work hard and gain prestige by saving lives.


This is the first of five (!) games on this list that were published by the original Victory Point Games (VPG), when they were still more than just a name on a box.

 

24. Donning the Purple


PC21 rank #763


Why do I even play this solo? It's unwinnable. Well, for one, I like the setting. Games like this make me read some stuff about the Roman Empire and as I missed most of this at school, I really enjoy it. Two, it is a very original game. Some worker placement, some combat and area control, some politics in a hostile environment while you desperately try to keep the population happy... It's a tough balancing act for the emperor.


That said, I need some house rules for the event cards or I'll never play this again. It is brutal.

 

23. Outlive


PC21 rank #551


The worker placement game that killed Fields of Arle for me by dropping a big bomb on it. I am much more immersed while trying to survive in this post-apocalyptic environment than while expanding my farming village. The basic mechanisms again are some kind of combination of worker placement and area control. I never thought about it before but we could be on to something here.


The only reason I don't play it more often is that the Kickstarter version of Outlive came in a huge box with a very impractical "insert", consisting of four hundred smaller separate cardboard boxes. Just the thought of setting up the game tires me out.

 

22. D-Day Dice Pocket


PC21 rank #1191


Or to be more precise: D-Day Dice Express!, the included solo/coop mini-game. It is really simple: throw some dice for the Axis, now try to match the results with your Allied dice. Some combinations will let you hire specialists (that give you mitigation or other actions), and from there it's a push-your-luck fest. The game takes four minutes on average, six minutes tops.

I use the advanced solo rules, where every beach in Normandy has different obstacles. And then play until I've conquered all six of them. Or until I'm sick of it, whichever comes first. Come to think of it, this is too low on the list. I'm a bit embarrassed to have so much fun with it. 😳

 

21. Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game


PC21 rank #267


The game that turned me into a solo player has a special place in my heart. I started out spending some a lot of time figuring out the rules and then I started playing and then I didn't stop playing. And never once with others as was the original plan. The card play was so much fun. It also broadened my idea of what a "board game" was, as there is no board in this game.


Unfortunately, after two extra characters, no more expansions were made. Of course, there is the fan-made content, and there is the cleaned-up Heroes of Terrinoth, but I prefer the gameplay and content of the original - despite its flaws.

 

20. With a Smile & a Gun


not in the PC21


When the campaign for With a Smile & a Gun was on Kickstarter, I played the Print & Play version, and really enjoyed it. The printed game looks way better than my homemade one, and the solo rules have been expanded. Great.


You play the leader of a criminal gang during the Prohibition Era. You try to control parts of the city's illegal business, to hopefully establish a monopoly in gambling, weapons and contraband. So, yes, more area control. Against an automated opponent, while a mysterious Shadow figure and the police are messing with your plans as well . There's a lot going on in this dice placement game.

 

19. March of the Ants


PC21 rank #524


Irresistible meeples and a fun explore, expand excetera. It's great to take on - or outsmart - the centipedes with your army of ants. After a while (many plays, actually, in my case) the base game can become too easy for solo. But then you can just add some modules from the Minions of the Meadow expansion, and you're good to go for a long, long time.


I haven't played it in a while, but I just dusted off some boxes and shelves and this was one I opened because I got curious once again. I should make another shelf next to the Shelf of Shame, with play suggestions. Shelf of Fame? Shelf of Acclaim?

 

18. Helionox


PC21 rank #238


I enjoy playing deck builders. Most of my favourites ended up in the People's Choice Top 200, but Helionox did not. It's a really nice one, especially if you like a science fiction setting. It has a few interesting twists on the usual formula as well.


First, there is a board of the solar system, and you move your ship around. You can use your cards to travel to locations and then activate them. You can build embassies to get even better actions at those locations. Second, there is some hand management involved. New cards you buy go on top of your deck. At the end of the turn, you first keep any cards you didn't play. Then draw five new cards before you discard down to five in your hand. So you can do some nice planning ahead.


And there's more, like you pick a character to play that has its strengths and special actions, the AI is reasonably predictable but hard to beat and the art is great.



17. A.D. 30


PC21 rank #855


A 10-year-old VPG game that is mandatory material for Easter and a good game for a few times more per year. In A.D. 30 you walk with Jesus, from his baptism to his entry in Jerusalem.


Goal of the game is to recruit all Apostles and have Jesus end up with Judas and at least one Leader (like Pilate or Herod) at the same time in Jerusalem. That way the birth of a new world religion is assured. There are some 14 different outcomes though. If you don't manage to get everything just right, followers may misunderstand His teachings and rebel against Rome, or Christianity may end up as just a minor religion in certain parts of the world. It's not easy getting everything just right. I really appreciate how Tom Decker managed to make a good game with this unusual theme.

 

16. In Magnificent Style: Pickett's Charge


PC21 rank #1148


Another one from the good old VPG games, by Hermann Luttmann, one of my favourite designers. I couldn't find it (reasonably priced) though, so it stayed on my wishlist for years. This year Worthington Publications printed a deluxe version. In a way that's overkill for the old VPG games. It's quite the upgrade from a ziplocked baggie with a paper map and the games seem more suitable for a modest printing. But, no complaints. It does look fantastic and I could finally play it.


My expectations had been building up year after year so gameplay could only disappoint. But I'm over that first reaction as well and am looking forward to get it back to the table. It's almost impossible to win, I think. But it is a lot of fun losing.

 

15. Perdition's Mouth: Abyssal Rift


PC21 rank #414


This is a great and original dungeon crawler. You select actions for your characters on a rondel, and the cardplay is really good. So there's a lot of planning involved while you sneak underground. There are modifier decks for fights, but it's almost like rolling dice, so I won't hold that against the game. The only problem for me is that it's best as a campaign. And somehow I am not always in the mood for setting up scenarios.


I hope that one day this will stay on the table for a month or so.

 

14. Space Infantry: Resurgence


PC21 rank #791


First of two rather similar games at first glance. Preparing a squad to go on a mission is half the fun. Or in this game, probably three quarters of the fun, as chances you'll fail the mission before you are even halfway are high. Why do I like it? The (pulp) sci-fi setting, the random locations, the preparation, and the rolling of dice. 😁

 

13. Warfighter Shadow War


PC21 rank #209 (for all Warfighter versions combined)


The other game where preparing for your mission is half the fun. This time there's card play and hand management involved though, so it has a different feel. I bought this version (instead of War Fighter WWII or War Fighter Modern) because I like the idea of sneaking around. And it didn't disappoint. Once you've done your preparations and go on the mission, it's easy to picture the action movie in your head. A lot of tension, a sigh of relief if you survive.

 

12. Wipers Salient


PC21 rank #1022


My other guilty pleasure, after D-Day DIce Pocket. Except that this game ended up too high, when considered objectively. But it's my subjective top list. So. At first you think this thematic deck builder is too random. But after 40 plays (I'm slow) I noticed it wasn't. Yes, there is a lot of randomness, and yes, the chances of winning are low. This is all very thematic for a game set in the trenches of the First World War. But I've started to win more often, and most of my losses are hard-fought now.


Old news for regular readers of this website, of course: Breaking news from WW1.

 

11. Machina Arcana


PC21 rank #283


A steampunk lovecraftian crawler. Great atmosphere. I really love this game, and like with all dungeon crawlers basically, it's the scenario/campaign thing that prevents me from getting it to the table more often. I realy hope the designer will do a regular board game next (I mean a game you play in one setting, of course the subject matter and the mechanisms should stay as unique as those in Machina Arcana). It will be an instabuy.



10. Pocket Landship


PC21 rank #315


Pocket Landship is my most played solo game - that is, if I include the 100+ plays of the older PnP version as well. This thematic dice game is small, quick to set up and to play. It has a good combination of luck and tactics. And yes, I like to roll dice.

The Kickstarter edition is great, with a lot of new cards for more variety. I've got a fancy box and a playmat as well, it's all just beautiful.

 

9. Pandemic: Rising Tide


PC21 rank #453


Pandemic: Iberia is my favourite "normal" Pandemic, especially with the Influx of Patients-variant. But even more than that one I like the one set in The Netherlands. I think it's more streamlined and very thematic: Here comes the flood. Instead of four rather abstract diseases, you've got just one force to reckon with: the ever threatening water. You build your dikes to keep it out, then pump away the water that's inland. And hope you'll survive another storm.


I've heard the board looks drab and depressing, and yes, that's our country all right. 😁

 

8. Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire


PC21 rank #207


Comanchería is the game that made me read non-fiction again after 20 years or more. And it's also a game I keep playing long after I’ve stopped playing. It just stays in my head. It’s that good.


And that's a good thing, as playing it while you are still playing takes a looooooooooong time. Which means it doesn't get to the table as often as it should, but that's okay. If you catch my drift.

 

7. Zulus on the Ramparts!: The Battle of Rorke's Drift


PC21 rank #387


Speaking of drift, we slowly slide into murky waters by defending a mission post in a British colony in South Africa. Yes, yes, we're the bad guys. Though attacking a small, hardly defended post with an overwhelming force is not something to be proud of either, I'd think.


Anyway. As one of the games in VPG's famous States of Siege series, Zulus stands out because of the added card play. Recommended.

 

6. Aeon's End: Legacy


PC21 rank #302


Aeon's End is actually number 9 in the 2021 People's Choice Top Solo Games, but that's explicitly "for all versions except the Legacy version". And well, I happen to like the Legacy version. So much that I kept buying reset packs. I've played 56 sessions so far, of which 33 solo. Hopefully at the end of this year Legacy of Gravehold will arrive and I've also already ordered reset packs for that one. Plus for the first Legacy again. As I think I'll be longing for it about half a year from now.


Please don't ask me to explain. The story is not very interesting, and doesn't vary. The first sessions are way too easy if you ever played Aeon's End before, then halfway through something terrible happens and the last sessions are crazy hard. Still, it was my Game of the Year in 2019. And if it had been released this year, it would have been a serious contender still.

 

5. Legendary Encounters: The X-Files Deck Building Game

PC21 rank #338


Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game is one of my absolute favourite games (and number 51 in the People's Choice list). But I bought the X-Files version this year, and it is slowly creeping up on Alien. Game play is more complicated, but once again very thematic. Even though I've never seen the TV-series I can enjoy the scenarios very much. One of the nice surprises this year.

 

4. Astroforce: The Dice Game


PC21 rank #590 (plus the old Star Trek version on #391)


Another surprise, as it's mainly a reimplementation of Star Trek: The Dice Game (that I already own) and the artwork for Astroforce looks very silly. But I've warmed up to the new characters, especially because the flavour text on the cards is funny. There are nods to many SF shows, like Red Dwarf, so playing this always puts a smile on my face.


The base mechanism is taken from Deep Space D6, but here it's used in a longer game where you go on missions, upgrade your ship, hire crew etc. Especially if you take the time to imagine the adventure, this game is superior to the one that inspired it. 2021's not over yet, but Game of the Year for me, probably.



3. Maximum Apocalypse


PC21 rank #301


What's not to like. The characters make do with everything they can find as a weapon against zombies, mutants, robots and aliens. I keep grinning with the illustrations, as I am simple like that. And the game gets hard, but nobody ever said surviving the apocalypse was going to be easy. I've played the introduction scenarios a lot, trying out different characters, and am now finally (after four years or so) on a campaign through all the content.

 

2. Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp


PC21 rank #350


Playing this game is like going to the theatre. It tells a story in a small setting (a lab) and lets you focus on the struggles of a handful of people. You get to join them for a little while and be part of their lives.


But every turn there are glimpses of what's happening outside. And as the death toll rises, you start to realize something terrible. That eventually in this game the stage is the whole world, and all the players are going to die. Because you failed them.


Good puzzle game, excellent writing. In my personal top 20 for the fifth time in a row (ever since I started participating in the People's Choice Top Solo Games). The last four years in my top 10 I think, even.

 

1. Warhammer Quest


PC21 rank #1093


And finally, we are literally going underground. This is the first dungeon crawler I bought, 25 years ago, and it's still one of the most satisfying to play. Dungeons are generated randomly with a deck, monsters spawn as directed by another deck. And there's an RPG book included to connect your underground adventures by overland travel, village and town visits and levelling up. It also contains monster tables, so they'll level up with you, and suggestions how to expand the game yourself.

It's a light RPG-without-a-dungeon-master in a box, one of the very first cooperative board games I've owned, and a dungeon crawler that's still fun to play after all those years.



Below the mine shaft roads,

it will all unfold

There's a world going on

underground!




#HealthyHeartHospital #DonningThePurple #Outlive #DDayDicePocket #WarhammerQuestTheAdventureCardGame #WithASmileAndAGun #MarchOfTheAnts #PerditionsMouthAbyssalRift #InMagnificentStyle #SpaceInfantry #AD30 #Helionox #WipersSalient #Warfighter #ShadowWar #MachinaArcana #PocketLandship #Pandemic #RisingTide #Comanchería #ZulusOnTheRamparts #AeonsEnd #Legacy #LegendaryEncounters #XFiles #Astroforce #Infection #MaximumApocalypse #WarhammerQuest


 

🕮 Suggested reading: Neil Gaiman "Neverwhere".

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