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  • Writer's pictureJW

You're no rock 'n' roll fun

I'm an impulsive buyer. I don't like watching videos, most written reviews are way too long (no, I don't need you to copy the publisher's blurb, write down a list of all components in the box and regurgitate the whole rulebook). But wow, some impulses turn out wrong. There must be 50 ways to be disappointed in a game. So over the years, I've sold and given away my share.

1. The friendly guild fallacy

When I discovered solo play and went looking for games, I found the People's Choice Top 100 Solo Games, and through this list the 1 Player Guild. Some members of this Guild post gameplay sessions in the monthly Solitaire Games on Your Table list. Most of them write about new games, some on games they keep coming back to. Most reports are very positive. When you're not sure yet of your own preferences in board gaming, and when you're an impulse buyer like me, you may end up with a whole pile of games that other people like.

Renegade was incredibly successful and highly praised by the in-crowd. But it turned out the overlayed semi-thematic jargon made the game hard to learn and didn't add much to gameplay. You could play just as well and have exactly as little fun while just using the colour coding instead. It's a puzzly game, and though I understand all solo games in the end come down to some kind of puzzle, I like them to offer more.

Chip Theory Games makes such luxury and expensive products, that they can't do anything wrong. When I started, just the Hopolomachus series was available, and most people recommended Hoplomachus: Origins for solo. Alas, again it's not something I call a game. It's a series of increasingly hard puzzles. Like those chess set-ups: from this position, try to get checkmate in three turns. That's not the same as playing chess. By the way, I love Hoplomachus: The Lost Cities. It feels like you are in the arena, trying to get the crowd's favour, while keeping wild beasts at a distance and fighting off convicted criminals. Origins feels like training for that fight. I don't go to the gym in real life either.

There are hard-to-get games that have an almost mythical status. But then you stumble upon them, and the joy of buying such a sought-after game is 1000 times greater than its gameplay. Camp Grizzly: good fun to play twice, then you've kind of seen it all. Wizard's Academy: fun setting, but made artificially more difficult by adding a memory aspect to it. Why bother.

When you join the 1 Player Guild, a lot of people joke how it may be bad for your wallet to hang around. Of course that's nonsense. Every hobby will cost you, and nobody should spend more than they can afford. The problem is that when you're new and ignorant, enthusiastic posts will make you think you'll enjoy those games too.

Until after a while you'll realize: I'm not like everybody else. Then it's time to make other mistakes.

2. Designer's diarrhea

So, I kept the ones I liked and after some time I had a nice collection. And I started noticing the names of designers on the box. And a new trap opened.

The first Kickstarted game I bought was Gloom of Kilforth. It's great. So when Tristan Hall announced 1066, Tears to Many Mothers, of course I was in. Bonus points for it being a historical game. Oh man, was it disappointing solo. A typical two-player game, I'd say. No one to play it with though.

Another game I loved was Anachrony. Like for many others, Dávid Turczi became a name to watch. Then he designed a civ game, with dice! Of course I pledged for Dice Settlers. You may know how the robot in Anachrony was refreshing and fun. Not so with this one. This robot was hard to learn, and when I finally could remember what to do, and focus on playing the game, I couldn't care less anymore.

The Sadlers made some of my favourite games, but they just produce too much. I liked the idea of Brook City way more than the actual game. After doing my beat a few times going vroom vroom and beep beep beep, I didn't bother opening the expansion boxes. Off to the GeekMarket it went.

One of my all-time favourite games is Eldritch Horror, and I think it's thanks to Nikki Valens. So when she announced the choose-your-path roleplaying game Legacy of Dragonholt, my mouth started watering. Bought it as soon as it appeared in shops. I spent a lot of time making my character. I went full speed through the chapters. Until I reached a point where I could only pick options that were out of character. I was so disappointed that I had invested hours in fine-tuning my rogue - and now I could not sneak past some stupid creaking planks. I gave up there and then, gifted the game to someone who appreciated it way more.

3. Culling Cthulhu

Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror, I was falling hard for the Mythos. I started reading Lovecraft, and basically bought any game with Great Old Ones in it. It may come as a surprise, but a pasted-on theme does not make a good game. But I also let go some decent ones. Sometimes you just want your shelf back.

For example, I had both collector's cases of Arkham Noir. These were sold by the designer on Etsy, before he'd found a publisher. I think Arkham Noir: Collector Case #1 – The Real Leeds is a cool game, but after playing the second case I decided the differences weren't big enough to keep both. It was easy to sell off Arkham Noir: Collector Case #2 - The King in Yellow.

The Cards of Cthulhu is enjoyable, though you can see how it's based on a normal playing deck of cards. And it's not good enough to get on the table when you've got other light games. Another one that turned out merely okay is Cthulhu: A Deck Building Game. A designer or developer or something defended the randomness of the game by saying it is in line with the Mythos. That's a very cheap excuse for not making your game balanced. Also, the Great Old Ones may be unknowable and mere exposure to them will drive you insane, but I don't think they act randomly. In line with the Mythos is you losing every game.

I supported some games by publisher RedImp on Kickstarter. One of them was a Mythos game, but this time you played as cultists, basically boasting: our Old One's the Greatest. I enjoyed my plays of

Cthulhu: Rise of the Cults, but in the end I decided I'd probably get more out of it multiplayer. So, it pained me a bit, but it had to go.

My mythos fandom started with Fantasy Flight Games. Like I said, Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror, then the marvellous Arkham Horror card game. Of course in their games the Old Ones are not so Great and rather vulnerable to a stick of dynamite up their dark crevices, but that's okay. What is definitely not okay is the monster of Frankenstein Arkham Horror 3rd Edition, patched together from mismatching parts of their other games. Even Final Hour is a better game. Seriously.

4. No fun

In the end, girls just wanna have fun. And then girls who want boys who like boys to be girls who do boys like they're girls who do girls like they're boys - ehm, I mean, I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want - I want to say: and so do I.

The Kickstarter campaign for Lucidity: Six-Sided Nightmares was very well done. It felt good supporting the designer and I have no regrets. But the solo variant just wasn't that interesting. If I had the right group (hell, if I had any group) I would probably have kept it. It was great looking as well. But just for solo, it had to go.

I love the illustrations in Mr. Cabbagehead's Garden. But I got frustrated by the randomness. You can semi-predict which cards you'll lose from your tableau, but a lot of times you'll just be unfortunate. The scoring options don't build on each other, so once you can't reach your goal, there won't be another high scoring goal to go for. It took a lot of discipline to play this game ten times (I like to give games a chance and prove myself wrong). I was relieved when it left the house.

Hostage Negotiator has a unique theme and is certainly worth a try. Or 17 tries, in my case. The more I played it the less I liked it. The abductors do play differently, which almost saved the game for me, but no, after a while it was just no fun anymore to go through the motions.

So here I am, with over 100 previously owned games and expansions. You live and learn, I say. I just ordered Faiyum. I hear it sucks for solo. What can I say. I'm impulsive.

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