Yesterday we published numbers 20 - 11, so let's continue where we left off. Today it's time for the final countdown of Zerbique's Top 20 Solo Games 2021.
10. Tajemnicze podziemia
Ok, that this game made it to a Top 20 solo games list is surprising even to me. Tajemnicze podziemia is a very, very basic game, and it's actually an implementation of an app.
You randomly draw a dungeon tile, place it in your dungeon grid, and keep doing this until the dungeon is filled. Then there are two paths starting from the entrance and you check how many treasures you find following these paths, minus two times the monsters you encounter, and get your score. That's it!
Although it's minimalistic, I do consistently have fun with it and it's my go-to game when I work until late (like 2-3 am) and want something fast and really undemanding to clean my mind a bit before going to sleep.
👍 Set-up in 10 seconds.
👍 Play in 5 minutes.
👍 Surprisingly good variability.
👍 So simple, and yet always fun.
👍 The theme gets through somehow.
👎 It's what it is - an app implementation with 20 tiles and a board.
👎 Box is too big.
👎 A bit costly.
👎 Difficult to find (it's a Polish game).
👎 I don't like the box cover art.
👍 Nice theme, beautiful components, top-notch production value.
👍 The spatial patterning puzzle is very good and interesting.
👍 You can really try different strategies.
👍 I like the mitigation granted by Nature tokens.
👎 I'm a bit burned out on this one.
👎 I have reached scoring saturation and I don't know how to improve (but I definitely could).
👎 The scoring is complicated and I wouldn't want to handle it by myself.
👎 The emerging "ecosystem" at the end of the game is a bit ugly.
👎 There are not many ecosystemic relations between the different species.
8. Call to Adventure
👍 I like randomly casting runes to get a result.
👍 Very low rules overhead.
👍 Relaxing, and it works at providing an emergent narrative.
👎 The solo mode is just lacking.
👎 Overall it's pretty random.
👎 The box is giganormous for such a simple game.
7. Spire's End
👍 The art and atmosphere are great.
👍 Such a neat item.
👍 The fights are good, meaty and interesting.
👍 The story is fast-paced.
👍 A card-based CYOA story with combats that are actually engaging is a feat in itself.
👎 The story is not very interesting.
👎 The narrative decisions are mostly random.
👎 The fights can drag a bit.
👎 Saving the game is not that easy.
👎 I have yet to finish it.
6. Runebound: Second Edition
Just because I set criteria to discard them on the first occasion, I'll include Runebound: Second Edition. It was my #1 last year but I couldn't play it again. I really like it though and I have been wanting to play it all the time.
There isn't much in this game, but it works and it's fun.
5. Ravage: Dungeons of Plunder
Another one I played to be able to include it on my list. It's probably far too early to tell if it will stay there or not, and it depends on how much interesting the later missions are. I also played it once. But it did what I wanted.
I was on a quest for a dungeon crawler that would be good solo, with simple rules, and not too long. Ravage: Dungeons of Plunder checks all the marks. I tried several ones, and only this one truly succeeded. Since I love the dungeon crawler genre, I was happy to add it in the list.
👍 You play as Orcs.
👍 The dice rolling is good. "Failed" rolls give you mana for activating skills on later turns, so there is no waste here.
👍 The skills management and the character progression is fun.
👍 Not too many rules, and the monsters are easy to manage.
👍 It doesn't take too long to finish a session.
👎 The dungeon map is sprawling and can push the boundaries of the table.
👎 To keep a steady stream of monsters they're adding rooms and rooms and rooms (but only if you are on the "edges" of the dungeon).
👎 A bit fiddly (FFG-like, with a lot of little cards for plenty of different stuff).
👎 The rules are a bit of a mess, with crucial info in the appendix. Also you reveal random tokens, that have an icon for which you must find the meaning in this appendix, where things are alphabetically ordered - but you don't know which name to look for.
👎 The first scenario wasn't too interesting.
4. Tasty Humans
This one got lucky. I only played it once, as I was compiling the list. But I have wanted to play it for a long time and it did not disappoint.
Tasty Humans is a polyomino-drafting, tile-laying game. But there are many crazy twists. First, you are a monster and the polyominoes are adventurers you are gulping. Second, the polyominoes disintegrate in your stomach, so there is no "gap", each part will fall down as much as it can. Third, you score according to "Leader" tiles that you draft, gulp, and whose position is relevant for scoring.
The AI opponent really does not require much upkeep, only providing a random score generator and a nuisance when drafting, but you have handles on both. So it enriches the decision space (do I take this adventurer but let the AI score too many points, or do I prefer this other? do I want to draft first or do I want to avoid suffering damage? etc.).
Although the rules are simple, the game is quite rich, and extremely brain-burning. It's also very fun and the theme helps a lot. There are very many different scoring conditions so plays are satisfyingly varied, and there is a list of fun achievements you can hunt for in solo.
👍 Very fun theme.
👍 Engaging yet elegant gameplay.
👍 Lots of control, lots of planning required, but on a tactical level.
👍 The AI is easy to manage and does the job of affecting your choices very well.
👍 I love polyominoes.
👎 The art is too cartoony. I would have liked the monsters to be a bit more scary.
👎 The graphic design of the polyominoes (color scheme, etc.) is a bit ugly.
👎 Sometimes it's very brain-taxing.
👎 The box is rather big, and there is no insert.
👎 If you play it multiplayer, expect a lot of downtime. This one is really best played solo.
3. Puzzle Dungeon
Ah! My favorite small game!
Puzzle Dungeon is a deck of cards. It plays in fifteen minutes. It can be played on a train, on a small surface, during the lunch break. And it provides an incredible amount of variability. How a game so small can provide so much variability is a truly incredible feat. The secret lies with the heroes: you pick one out of about 30 in the core game, and they all feel different and twist the gameplay in unique ways.
A glorious piece of game design, that is consistently fun and engaging. You can go with the deluxe, but the standard edition already offers so much to explore I haven't yet exhausted it.
👍 The sheer amount of variability.
👍 Low footprint, fast playtime.
👍 Such fun in so small a box! And a great feeling of control
👍 The art, atmosphere, and characters, are thematically cohesive, even though it's not a dungeon crawler.
👍 Sometimes you think you've utterly lost, and the game completely reverts in one round... Or the reverse!
👎 The biggest thumbdown is that some "Monster Kings" abilities may become fiddly when they start to pile up, and you have to account for all of them even though they are scattered across the different columns. This is a big, big thumbdown.
👎 The Arsenal cards are a bit dull, but they are the ones you play most with.
👎 If you receive all the contents all at once, it will be overwhelming. Start with the Standard set!
👎 Luck of the set-up may turn a game very easy (or very challenging).
👎 I don't know if sometimes you are supposed to count cards to succeed but I won't do it.
2. Proving Grounds
Proving Grounds is not a very popular title, and I can get why. But I absolutely adore it. Let me expand a bit on that. This is a dice game. Purely and absolutely a dice game. You roll dice to defeat opponents, of which there are always six. When you kill one, another spawns. You keep going until you defeat eight of them. It lasts for about 40 minutes, and all opponents feel alike. So, yes, it's incredibly and absolutely repetitive.
But I don't care, because I find it so much fun. Even more, I think the game is genius. I think it has finally solved the dice problem in games. I would say there are three families of dice games. The first one allows you to do lot of different things with your dice, they truly become input randomness. This is One Deck Dungeon and Pocket Landship. I like that, but it's a bit like saying "let's use dice not to do dice". The second is "resource-driven" mitigation. You can mitigate the results (re-rolls, flips, choose the face, whatever), by spending resources of some kind, but it's costly. This is, for instance, Way of the Samurai, or Eight Epics. I really don't like that, for all sorts of reason. The third one is "built-in" mitigation, basically, Yahtzee, Monster Expedition, or Elder Sign, giving you mechanics to re-roll, but with some constraints and limitations. I like this the most but it still can get frustrating.
Proving Grounds belongs to the third category. But it gives you all the re-rolls you want... within a minute. And with a constraint: you can only re-roll sets of dice with a given value, not single ones, so some dice (that you don't want!) can get "locked". And it's just brilliant. It works so well. It's tense, exciting, full of agonizing choices. I love this core mechanism so much.
Now the game is cool. Nice, engaging theme, beautiful components, modules to add some variability. I don't ask for more.
👍 The core dice mechanism.
👍 Solves the "dice problem" elegantly.
👍 The theme.
👍 The beautiful components.
👍 The modules to add variability.
👎 The modules are not that interesting.
👎 The game is extremely repetitive.
👎 The story that comes in a booklet is just so boring and annoying I couldn't finish it. Bad piece of writing, IMO.
👎 The box might be a bit too big for what it is.
👎 It is certainly a bit too long.
This was an easy pick. When I played it, I knew Bullet♥︎ would be my #1 this year. It is exactly what I expect from a game. Easy rules, great fun, something fast-paced, challenging but not pedantic, and above all, with a great potential for variety. In this regard, Bullet♥︎ reigns supreme: all characters and bosses feel different and require you to substantially consider how you play. This leads to a daunting number of match-ups, that goes through the roof with the Orange expansion. It also set-up in a minimal time and has a low footprint. Everything I enjoy.
👍 Easy rules.
👍 Fast gameplay.
👍 Smooth and nervous design.
👍 The variability from one match-up to the next.
👍 The low footprint and short playtime (about 30 minutes).
👎 The theme is somehow off. I don't get why super-girls battle each other. I don't know why they all have an "evil" version. The whole story seems silly and aloof.
👎 Sometimes it's too much brain-taxing for my fatigued self.
👎 The difficulty of the different match-ups is extremely uneven.
👎 The components are not great: flimsy player boards, the paint on the deluxe bullets wears off.
👎 I really dislike Level 99 customer support. But really.