This past weekend, I attended JesseCon. What is JesseCon? Well, it’s an invitation only convention, hosted by me, where attendees play games all weekend. There was only one person invited (me). That’s right, it’s a solo convention!
What’s the point, you may ask. Well, I’ve been getting more and more into solo games recently, finding them to be a really fun and engaging way to pass the time when there’s no one else around to play multiplayer stuff. I have a few games specifically designed for solo play, and have found some variants I really wanted to try out. Calling this weekend a convention helped me to be able to plan things out and actually get to some of these solo games I’ve wanted to try out. So, here’s my log with some thoughts on how they worked.
I kicked the con off with a game specifically designed for solo play, Friday, by Friedemann Friese. This 2011 game is all about helping Robinson Crusoe survive (you are Friday). It’s a deck building game where you have an initial deck and have to amass enough fighting points to defeat certain challenges. If you lose, you lose life points, but you can use that to destroy useless cards from your deck. Hazards that you defeat go into your deck and have the potential to give you extra benefits like more cards, extra life points, or the ability to destroy cards. If you survive three times through the hazard deck (the hazards get progressively more difficult), you have to fight two pirates. If you beat both, you win.
I’ve been embarking on a project to play Friday every Friday for the entire year, so this seemed like a logical place to start JesseCon. It was a pretty bad start however – I got down to no life left early in the first phase, and couldn’t build myself back up effectively enough to avoid complete failure the second time through the hazard deck. This was the worst loss I’ve had in quite some time, made even worse because I’ve been challenged to listen to Friday by Rebecca Black every time I lose. So I started off the con with a loss.
7 Wonders (2010, Antoine Bauza) is not a game that was designed for solo play, nor is there an official solitaire variant. However, BGG user David Weiss proposed this variant in which the player is competing against two dummy players who each have a hierarchy of cards they will draft. A deck of seven cards is dealt to each player, and the live player each turn takes one card from each AI and adds it to his hand. Then one AI drafts from that hand (using a priority chart), the player drafts, then the other AI drafts. You play through the game just like usual – three ages, resolving military in between. The civilization with the highest score wins.
This was my first time trying this variant, and I did a lot of referring to the chart as I played. But the game was pretty simple to follow and I got through it pretty well. I made the mistake of not planning ahead for needing four brick to complete the final stage of my wonder, and missed out on 7 points because of it. The robot on my right ended up with 44 points, while I had 40 and the robot on my left had 37. I don’t know if I would have won with those seven points because I would have had to pass on something else. Overall, a very solid variant that I’ll be glad to try again.
I initial discovered Delve: The Dice Game (2009, Drew Chamberlain) as an app, then found out it’s available as a free print and play. It’s basically Yahtzee in a dungeon – you have three rolls of six dice to get the best result you can. You have four party members that have special abilities based on your results – the barbarian, for example, uses 6s to do up to two damage on the monster you’re fighting while the cleric can use straights to heal the party. Once you’ve taken your turn, the current monster takes their turn and scores hits based on their own abilities. If you make it to the end of the scenario, you win. If all party members die, you lose.
There are several ways to play Delve. There’s a basic starting adventure and a Sands of Time adventure, both with preset monsters and heroes. There are also available charts where you can roll up what you’re playing with. For this con, I printed out the basic and Sands of Time adventures. I ended up losing to some monstrous spiders in the first adventure because they stunned my entire party, then presumably ate us. In the Sands of Time, I lost one adventurer to a sandstorm, then the rest to a giant beetle that only needed one roll to kill everyone that was left. I still enjoy this one as kind of a mindless adventure that doesn’t take too much time, but it was disheartening to lose both times. Especially when I hadn’t won yet.
The first game after my dinner break was Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game (2012, Devin Low). This superhero themed deckbuilding game is cooperative, so it’s ideal for solo play. On your turn, you first flip the first card of the villain deck, moving any villains or henchmen into the streets. It could also be a scheme twist which advances the plot, or a master strike by the mastermind which could hurt you, or a bystander that gets captured by an already present villain. Then you can fight villains or purchase new heroes from your deck by playing cards out of your hand. If you defeat the mastermind four times, you win. If the lose condition of the current scheme is met, you lose.
There’s a solo variant for this game listed in the rules, which is essentially an altered setup. I messed it up, so my results may be a little skewed, but I’m still going to count my win as it was the first of the con! My mastermind was Magneto, and the scheme was Portals to the Dark Dimension. Each new portal increased the toughness of a villain in a particular position by one, and if seven were revealed, I would lose. My heroic team (Spider-Man, Gambit, Deadpool, Hulk, and Rogue) managed to defeat Magneto after three portals had been revealed. The world is saved! Huzzah!
Zombies!!! (2001, Todd Breitenstein) has been languishing on my shelf for a couple of years, but I was convinced by some people in the 1 Player Guild at BGG to give a solo run-through a try. I used the variant suggested by Shaun Rice in this video. Zombies!!! is all about trying to either kill 25 zombies or make it to the helicopter. It’s a roll-and-move game, as well as a roll-and-fight game – when fighting a zombie, you have to get a 4-5-6 to win. You can spend bullets to increase a roll or a heart to reroll, but if you can’t do anything to affect the result, you lose half of the zombies you have collected and go back to the start space. In this variant, you have only have three extra lives. If you run out, you have failed.
This is an exploration game as much as a zombie fighting game, and you begin each turn by drawing a tile. This creates a map that will be different in every game. Zombies always appear on the new tile, and sometimes bullets and hearts will show up as well. So as I played, I killed off zombies and collected stuff as I tried to find the helipad. I was up to 16 dead zombies when I lost my first life. I had gotten back up to 16 dead zombies when I found the helipad – it was off in the distance and I had a herd of ’em between me and it. I lost my second life soon after that, but the start space was actually a little closer to the helipad. I still had to fight my way through some of the undead, but I made it to the helicopter for my second win of the day. I found the game to be much more palatable in solo form than in multiplayer – there’s a little too much “take that” in the multiplayer experience. I enjoyed it, and would play again. In fact, I think solo is the only way I’ll play it from here on out.
It’s no surprise to people who follow this blog, but my favorite game is Cribbage (1630, Sir John Suckling). This is usually a two-player game, but I used a solitaire variant I found in the book Play Winning Cribbage by De Lynn Colvert. In this variant, you deal six cards to yourself and two to the crib. You discard to the crib, then flip over the top card of the deck as your starter. You then peg, only competing against yourself, and end by scoring your hand and crib. You then use the starter card as the first card you deal out in the next round. This game will end up being only six hands long, and if you get 121 points, you win. If not, you lose.
This is a solitaire variant I have played many many times, and it was a good way to end the night. However, I was not very successful at it. I scored 103 in the first game, and came really close in the second, scoring 118. It’s a very tough variant, but I have won before. Just not this time.
I kicked off Saturday with a game of Pandemic (2008, Matt Leacock). This is another cooperative game that works well as a solo experience. The idea is that you’re trying to rid the world of disease. On your turn, you get four action points, and can use them to move, establish a research station, treat a disease, cure a disease, or give cards to another player in your space. At the end of your turn, you draw two new cards from your hand, then infect new cities. Epidemics may come out to wreak havoc and reset the infection deck, and if there are ever too many cubes in a city, there’s an outbreak. If there are eight outbreaks in the game, you lose. If there are not enough cubes in the supply to infect all necessary locations, you lose. If you run out of cards in the player draw deck, you lose. But if you manage to cure all four diseases, you win.
I played with three characters on Normal difficulty (five Epidemics in the deck). My randomly drawn team included the Containment Specialist (removes cubes immediately on entering a city with 2 or more), the Field Operative (can take cube samples and use those in curing diseases), and the Scientist (only needs to turn in 4 cards to cure a disease instead of 5). I should note, by the way, that I have the On the Brink roles integrated into my set. Anyway, I was able to successfully contain most of the diseases, only suffering two outbreaks (both in South America). I ended up curing all four diseases pretty handily – this was a really good combination of roles.
Onirim (2010, Shadi Torbey) is a solo game that CAN be played with two players, but it’s really just for one. The idea is that you are a Dreamwalker trying to find eight doors before the Nightmares take over. Each turn, you can choose to discard a card. You can also choose to play a card to the labyrinth, which must be a different symbol than the card before it. If you get three cards in a row that are the same color, you can claim a door from the deck that is the same color. You can also choose to turn in a key card in order to arrange the next five cards in the deck. Whatever happens, you end your turn by drawing back up to a hand of five cards. If you draw a door and have a matching key, you gain the door. If you draw a Nightmare, you must discard your whole hand OR turn in a key OR lose a door OR discard the top five cards from the deck (as long as they aren’t Nightmares or doors). If you find all eight doors by the time the deck runs out, you win. If not, you lose.
This is one of my favorites, and I’ve played it a bunch. There are four expansion modules included in the box, but for this con, I just played the basic set. It was difficult enough – I only got five doors in the first game and six in the second. Still, this is a beautiful game that I really enjoy playing. It’s very fast and is a good thing to play when it’s just me.
Tom Lehmann’s Race for the Galaxy (2007) took the basic idea of Puerto Rico and turned it into a sci-fi card game. The first expansion, The Gathering Storm (2008) added a fully realized solo variant, complete with a play mat, counters, and two custom dice to be used by the robot. Standard mechanisms apply, but the robot will have different powers based on its start world. Basically, each round, you will select two actions (Explore, Develop, Settle, Consume, or Produce), then will roll the dice to see what the robot is doing. You’ll then resolve each action in order, referring to the mat to see what the robot does. Once you get to the end (12 cards have been played to one tableau or the VP chips run out), the side with the most points wins.
I haven’t played this variant in a long time…over five years, probably. What I remember is that it’s really hard – the robot acts unpredictably thanks to the dice, and it is able to build random cards from the deck with ease. In this game, however, it was not able to get too many points, and I won 39-36. It’s a great variant, and I definitely think that fans of RFTG should check it out.
The d6 Shooters (2009, Eric Herman) is a print-and-play game where you are making a journey, and trying to complete it in a certain amount of time. Each turn is a day, and each day, you will roll eight dice, five white and three red (or whatever – I used my dice from Yspahan, so I had white and yellow). If you roll any 5s or 6s on the colored dice the first roll, set them aside – they’re bad things that happen. After three rolls, you have locked all of your dice. 1s move you along the trail. Every pair of 2s give you food, and every three 3s give you gold. 4s can be used to hide (which costs an extra day), seek shelter from the heat (any 5s you rolled with the colored dice), move (a pair of 4s can move you one space), or fight (any 6s rolled). When you reach a town, you can stop, buy stuff, and play poker. Event happen periodically that can be good or bad. If you reach the end within the allotted time (Reno in 40 days for mine), you win and score.
This was my first time playing, and I screwed up a couple of things, namely resolving the heat and shootouts. So it was a little easier than it should have been. I made it to Reno in 31 days, and ended up with a final score of 41. It was a nice game, not overly taxing on my brain, but a good adventure that I’d be happy to play again.
Dominion (2008, Donald X. Vaccarino) has often been called multiplayer solitaire (it’s not), but there have been a few soitaire variants produced. The one I used is by BGG user GameRulesForOne, who has a whole series of solitaire variants for various multiplayer games. I’ve tried out a few, and find some of them pretty intriguing, but they’re all written in the same instructional manual style that is hard to follow. The Dominion variant involves ten kingdom card stacks of five cards each, as well as five gold and five silver. A king marker is used (I used a turtle from Meeple Source) to move around and block off stacks. If you purchase a kingdom card, it is blocked by the king for the next turn. If you purchase a VP card or a treasure, movement of the king is determined by a stack of randomized treasure and VP cards and results in a card getting discarded from the kingdom stack. If you can’t buy anything on a turn (copper is not available), you take a curse. Once the provinces are gone or three supply stacks are empty, the game ends and you score.
You have to get at least 90 points to win this variant. I got 48. I completely missed the rule about making dominions, aka a complete set of 10 kingdom cards. This would have increased my score had I purchased enough cards. I didn’t. Oh well. It was not too bad, I’d play again. The rules seriously need a rewrite, however.
When I initially planned this con, the one game I knew HAD to be a part of it was the Mage Knight Board Game (2011, Vlaada Chvátil). This game is the most intimidating one I own, and I’ve attempted a solo run-through on several occasions only to get called away of bogged down or something. In this game, you are exploring the countryside, trying to ultimately conquer two cities. You move by playing cards out of your hand, then can interact with the space you land in – recruit using influence, attack monsters, or other things based on the space. As you play, you’ll be adding cards to your deck and building up skills as you level up. Each round is set in either the day or night. The solo conquest has to be won in six rounds. There’s a dummy player to help determine how long a round is, and I was able to download an app to run that.
My mage knight for this game was Alythea. The first skill I was able to get allowed my to use wounds as extra points when doing an action, which was immensely helpful. It made me much less afraid to take damage because I knew the wounds would be helpful later on. I ended up with 10 wounds in my deck, which ended up losing me 20 points in the final score. However, I was able to conquer both cities, and scored 122 points on the game. I know I missed a lot of rules. I know this wasn’t a completely clean victory. I know that there were things I did that weren’t legal, and I know I missed some things that would have helped me. I DON’T CARE. I made it through, and I know more for next time. It’s a great game and I definitely need to play more.
Morels (2012, Brent Povis) is a two-player only game, and is one that has a solo variant that was designed by GameRulesForOne. This is a game that is all about collecting mushrooms, and the basic gameplay is not changed much in the solo version. Basically, you take mushrooms, then cards are added to the decay. If a pan were to go into the decay, it cooks the next mushroom with it. If a basket were to go, it is discarded and the next two cards are added. If a destroying angel were to go, you discard until there are only four mushrooms left in the line. You have to score at least 40 points to be considered a winner.
I had played this variant before, and find it to be pretty simple once you know the real version. I did make an error at first in cooking three morels early in the game, which according to the solitaire rules ends the game. When I realized this, I just reset completely. For the record, I think that is a completely bogus and picky rule. Morels are the highest scoring set in the game, so I’m assuming it’s there to make sure you don’t get TOO high of a score. I say that the rule should be that you MUST cook a set of morels to win, and adjust the final scores later. Regardless, in my second attempt, I wound up with 53 points, which is written in the rules as a major victory. Even without the morels.
That ended my Saturday, and I wasn’t sure I would have time to play anything else on Sunday. I did. Seasons (2012, Régis Bonnessée) is a great drafting game that doesn’t have an official solo version. Thomas Lajeunesse proposed what he calls “Dummbot’s Challenge“, and that’s the variant I played. The initial draft is handled by you drawing five cards, choosing five, assigning them to years 1-2-3, and putting the other two in the Dummbot’s deck. You do this three times. Game play involves you rolling two dice of the current season and choosing one for yourself. The Dummbot uses the other, and different things happen based on the symbols present. When the season changes, the Dummbot summons a card. At the end of three years, you add up the crystals you and the Dummbot have collected to see who won.
I liked this variant a lot. It played pretty smoothly and provided a nice challenge for me. I ended up with what I thought was a 132-124 win, and later realized that I had forgotten to drop my score five points for having taken a bonus action. I still won 127-124. I did play on the easiest level, so I’ll have to amp it up next time.
After Seasons, I was 8-9 for the con. I had to see if I could get one more win for a .500 performance. So, I pulled out 12 Realms (2010, Ignazio Corrao). This is a review game I got from Mage Company, and I wanted to see how it worked as a solo game – the game is cooperative, and scalable for the number of players (including one). The idea is that there are a number of realms (1 per player), and you have a hero in one of those realms. As the game progresses, enemies pop up all over the map and you have to take care of them because the more there are, the faster the timer will advance. In the advanced variant (that I played), when the timer crosses 7, the Black Fortress appears and must be destroyed before you can take out other enemies in that zone. When the timer hits 16, the big bad for the region appears and must be defeated for victory.
I played this game as the Sugar Plum Fairy on the Island of Bones, with the goal of defeating Jack Rackham. It went very quickly with just me – all the upkeep didn’t take long, and I was able to keep track of everything. I was able to beat the Black Fortress the same turn it came out, and Jack Rackham went down right when he first appeared as well. So I won. It was one of the easier games I played over the con, but 12 Realms is generally a pretty light game.
So that’s my report about JesseCon 2015. It was really good for me to play some solitaire variants of games I already own and enjoy, and even to find new life in games that I thought I was done with. I hope this post has encouraged you to go seek out some solo experiences. Thanks for reading!