Zerbique's Top 20 Solo Games 2021 - part 1

Now that the 2021 People's Choice Top 200 Solo Games has been revealed on Board Game Geek, we'll share some favourite games with you as well. Please join us and post your top (3, 10, 500) solo games in the Lounge. We'd love to read about them. First up, here's Zerbique's list: numbers 20 - 11.

I don't like competition. I don't like picking the best out of a lot. But I do enjoy rankings, as an ordered sequence of items that seems worthy of interest, or at the very least, of curiosity.

I compiled my Top 20 in this spirit. I don't do this to highlight some piece of design masterpiece, to say "this game is great and above all others". I don't believe in such things. We have fleeting gaming needs, our opportunities to dedicate ourselves to board gaming are varied and changing, and we do enjoy a diversity of features that are highlighted by a single title. And I find it so great that the solo Top 200 is wide enough to allow for this precious diversity to shine.

Now, in my particular case, I am currently in some rough, exciting years in my life, where a lot must be achieved, and time is scarce. As such, I cannot devote myself to long games, or complex rulesets. Therefore, my list is not a reflection of the 20 "best ever" solo games that I would keep if I were to only keep 20 in my collection, but rather a testimony of this situation. Right now, I am grateful to these smaller, lighter games, they are the ones that keep me afloat and leave me the opportunity to play.

Here are a few criteria that I have used to compile that list:

  1. I must have played the game within the last two years (within the last year is even better).

  2. I must be willing to play it again right now (even though I probably won't since the opportunities to play are scarce and far-between).

  3. There is no minimal play (some games I have only played once, but I am eager to play twice per criterion #2).

  4. Overall I don't care a lot about what goes on this list and what doesn't, but if I see a game here, I must be pleased that it got here, even if I end up unsure about the process by which it made the cut.

  5. I think I have applied the #1 rule of the 'contest': this is all for fun, and about fun. So I tried to have fun making the list. And I remarkably succeeded.

20. Monster Expedition

This is one of my most played games of the year. I had lots of fun with it. So, it may be surprising that it's so low on the list while games I have barely scratched at are much higher. But who am I to argue against the way of things?

Monster Expedition is a dice rolling game, and the great thing about it is that you roll dice. So, you decide to hunt in a biome, roll the dice corresponding to your skill level in that biome, and reserve all dice forming a "set", that is, all dice sharing the same value, but that value must be one you haven't stored yet (so you "lock" the number of dice you have for that value). Then you either stop or re-roll. Except if you cannot store a set after re-rolling, you "bust" and discard your highest value reserved die.

Once you are done with this dice rolling, you can sum up your reserved dice to count your "firepower", and spend it to purchase monsters on display. Then there is some set collection, as, if you get one monster from each biome, you get an additional die in your hunts. Furthermore, the 1s, 2s, and 3s dice can be used to upgrade your "skill level" in the different biomes.

That's really it, it's a simple game. In solo, you play through a series of scenarios (usually: get X monsters within 8 rounds). But these aren't great. The first ones are far too easy. Then the last ones require you to get insanely lucky with the dice. I did not find at any time a "sweet balance", where you must think carefully about what you do to win, but where victory doesn't depend on whether you don't roll optimally. In the end, I never managed to win the tenth and last scenario, and I didn't even get close.

So I parted with it. But it was fun while it lasted.

👍 You roll dice.

👍 You roll lots of dice.

👍 The upgrade mechanism is nice.

👍 It plays fast.

👍 Components are good and the box is small (of course it could be much smaller still).

👎 It's a game about poaching. Why did they go with such an awful theme?

👎 One element of the multiplayer game (cages) has no purpose in solo.

👎 Difficulty is uneven: too easy for the first 8 scenarios, too hard for the 10th (too hard meaning: you must be overly lucky with the dice).

👎 It's very repetitive. All games look alike, no matter the "scenario". You always end up doing the same thing and there is not enough variety in the monsters' abilities once you capture them.

👎 The multiplayer game could have redeemed it a bit, but I found it a repetitive drag, far too long for what it is.

19. Palavan