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  • Writer's pictureJW

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!


 



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.

 

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.

 

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. 😳

 

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.

 

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.

 

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?

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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. 😁

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.




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.

 

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. 😁

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.




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.

 

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.

 

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!





 

🕮 Suggested reading: Neil Gaiman "Neverwhere".

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15件のコメント


Gloomknight
Gloomknight
2021年12月05日
•

I now have a renewed interest in Donning the Purple (which received some middling reviews, but I’m a sucker for Rome), Helionox, AD 30, Commancharia, Zulus, Infection… damn it JW! It’s the Holidays now and I have so much more to spend on others before I get to myself! Don’t tell me you never watched X-Files (actually there was a reboot of the series which wasn’t so bad) and do I really have to own this game if I already have Alien and Predator Legendary Encounters? Don’t answer that. Also one of these days you can convince me to buy Maximum Apocalypse, because even though I love the setting I keep skipping this one.

いいね!
Gloomknight
Gloomknight
2021年12月05日
•
返信先

Wow, that was good, Stimpy 😋. If I’m gonna go down I might as well go down in style! 😎

いいね!

Gloomknight
Gloomknight
2021年12月05日
•

This list was Awesome, JW! Thanks for all of these new ideas!

いいね!

Wouter Cordewiner
Wouter Cordewiner
2021年12月05日

16. In Magnificent Style: Pickett's Charge


For me, this is essentially Can't Stop solo with a theme and this is a good thing. The push your luck is so well done here. I still own the VPG box edition and I am wondering if I should get the new edition. My VPG copy serves me well but the new edition looks really nice.


13. Warfighter Shadow War


Warfighter is such a nice system and the actual gameplay is so cinematic. It's one of the few games where I find the preparation interesting and fun to play out.


However, I own Warfighter Shadow War almost two years and it's my only unplayed game. After the Warfighter 2019 KS campaign I vowed…


いいね!
JW
JW
2021年12月05日
•
返信先

Machina Arcana takes three hours I guess? You can leave out some chapters from a scenario to bring this down. Having played four Legendary Encounters games, and one ordinary Legendary, I can answer you: no, it's not needed to own three. 🙂 The first expansion to Legendary Encounters Alien is way more important to get. But, if you ever want some variety, I'd pick X-Files as your next one.

いいね!

Cadet Stimpy
Cadet Stimpy
2021年12月04日
•

Nice list, JW. I even share a few. Most notably, Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp. Not widely recognized in the Gaming Community I don't think, but I really like it. Even the title's cool!

いいね!
JW
JW
2021年12月04日
•
返信先

Back in 2014, in the very first People's Choice Top 100, Infection was still #14. Now it's almost forgotten. Checking that old list: Friday was #2, right after Mage Knight! Good old days.

いいね!

Zerbique
Zerbique
2021年12月02日
•

That's a really interesting format! What I like most with the Top 200 is all the games that fall outside of it, as it's a great way to discover new titles.


I think I should really try March of the Ants and Warhammer Quest Card Game now! I enjoyed Heroes of Terrinoth, but it was too long (and playing four-handed was likely a very bad idea), and as I always repeat, I felt like I was playing the mechanics, not the adventure (oh but if I wait one round to activate this skill, since once every three rounds the quest marker triggers this effect, then it will be optimal for this action and...).


You also tempt me a lot with…


いいね!
Zerbique
Zerbique
2021年12月02日
•
返信先

Too bad for the advice, I already own it... (And it was indeed cheap, I got it for 15€ or so, already sleeved.)


Besides, I still consider Heroes of Terrinoth as a good game I'm happy to keep. I especially like that it gives you a full Fantasy adventure experience in a small box. The enemy AI system is amazing and it makes the different foes feel truly unique, while keeping the whole thing smooth and efficient.


I think I should just change my mindset while playing it: you are not here to kill loads of enemies (as you do in usual cRPG, where killing everything is the best way to get plenty of XP), monsters are only here as…

いいね!
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