Flamme Rouge – Strategy Tips

The map will vary, but that’s not the choice you are making – that’s the territory you are playing on and must adapt to.

During the game:

Slipstream: Moving an extra space forward – or being pulled forward by the riders in front is a great way to boost your movement during the game. It’s also the key way to close down breakaways. Try to predict and land one gap behind your opponent; even better, end your movement one gap behind your other rider – the slip stream will move you up that last space! Other players will be trying to do this, so you better watch out for it.

Getting Tired? No worries!: Exhaustion is bad, but only if you take too much. Too much exhaustion will lead to late game hands of only two point movements. If you are left with no option but two points, you will quickly get caught. Spread the exhaustion between your riders or between you and others. You will need to lead at some point though, so whilst it can’t be all you, there will be a time to accept it and push out into the lead.

De-optimising: The counter to point one above is that you can predict where players may land – dropping into that gap between their riders denies them that extra point of movement and keeps you in front. This is the second best way to frustrate the opponents!

Blocking: The single best way to frustrate the opponent is to move up to the same space as your other rider, or as another player who went earlier in the turn. Two riders in the same row will block a player landing there – this might cut short their move by a point or more if multiple rows are blocked. This is worst when it blocks them at the top of the hill – you can slipstream forward and they get left taking exhaustion and being capped in their next move!

Boosts & Uphill Struggle: Up and down hills can be predictable – players aiming to go the max five points up but only off five point cards, and players using low value cards downhill to go five points. However, this makes you predictable – allowing players to block you at the top of the hill or to slipstream on the downhills. Great options including attacking with high cards of the downhill to start a breakaway, slipstreaming other players off of the last downhill space (so they lose the benefit next round), or rushing to the uphill and ending on the space before so that you can minimise the turns that are caped.

Inside Corner: At the end, ties are split by the player on the inside corner – i.e. in a straight race between those two players, the one that was leading last turn wins the race. If you think it’s between just two riders, this makes the early attack the likely winner. You take away the risk of the highest card not making it to your hand in the last turn, potential leaves the other player in a separate group drawing exhaustion, and gives you the edge in the finish. Watch out for a player breaking away in that last turn therefore!

Starting the Attack: Starting the attack to the finish should be calculated. You want to breakaway and not get caught. If you end up with the pack closing you down then there will be players who slipstreamed / closed down without using all their attack cards and they will have the edge at the end. Some early attacks can work but normally a breakaway of 2-3 riders is needed; even if that’s split with another player, you can still make the most of it. If you are the minority in a breakaway though, you might want to deliberately help the peloton catch up! Normally the last corner is the place to attack but watch out for chances to breakaway earlier, or for hills on the finish that need mid range cards to complete.

Breakaway: Managing a breakaway is tough in the base game. Playing with two players controlling two teams makes this easier, but assuming you are in a group of four you want to watch out that (a) you switch the lead and (b) you keep attacking after the initial break. If you don’t switch the lead then one player will drop out as they take too many exhaustion cards – that can be the bridge that gets other riders back in. Continuing the attack is key as well otherwise the uphill and downhill sections can start to bring the group back together. If you see the breakaway go – look for these hills to plan an attack and close the gap (or join the lead group!)

One and Only: Lastly, don’t forget that only the first rider to cross the line matters – if you finished first and last, you win. Having two riders in second and third may seem impressive, but it means that you didn’t optimise for one rider to win the game. Keep this in mind when taking exhaustion – and plan the route when thinking about which rider will be best placed to win.

Good luck!

Flamme Rouge – Review

Type: Race

Time to play: < 30 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 4)

The cross over between board games and cycling is not obvious; and even if you wanted to, making a board game about a team sport with years of training feels like an uphill struggle (pardon the pun!). However, Flamme Rouge has done just that. It’s created a fast paced game of managing your deck – managing your fatigue – to get these cyclists over th line.

In this review, I will cover only the base game – there’s an exciting expansion that takes this to six players and throws in more road tiles of different types, but let’s save that for the future!

So, you start this game by setting up the road – building it out on the table is a quick and easy set up. Once you have set these tiles in, you take your two riders and in turns place one at a time before the starting line. Turn by turn, you simultaneously select and then reveal a card for each rider. Each rider’s pack is different, and the choices are limited to four cards drawn each turn from each. Having moved, you then see if riders are at the front of a pack or indeed can slipstream off a rider one space in front!

This exhaustion or slipstream is a key mechanic. Get your positions right and you get to squeeze up a one space gap to the cyclist in front (if they move up too, then you are pulled with them). I have seen players squeeze four free moves out of this – that’s more than a whole card. However, find yourself two spaces behind other riders or at the front of the pack, and then you will take an exhaustion card – a two point card that might restrict your future movement!

Add this to mechanics from the terrain: uphill and downhill segments that set a cap or floor to your speed and you can gain or lose additional points of movement off these areas. In all the tracks, you have enough to get to the finish line but these small differences are the opportunity to get ahead.

Lastly, choosing your point of attack is key. Coming into that last turn, and finding all your high cards in one hand – well then perhaps you are too late. Attacking off the front of the course, and your sure to be drawing hands full of exhaustion by the end of the race. Balancing these two mechanics is difficult; and perfecting it to get that front space over the finish line is even harder. It’s not about crossing first, it’s about crossing and finishing furthest ahead – I have seen plenty of races where the lead changes after the line!

These mechanics all come together to strike lighting quick turns, and for great stories. Opportunities for two players to work a breakaway if they are careful with how they play there cards. Chances to slipstream large gaps between riders. That single rider breaking away two turns to the finish or the one who caught him on the line! All these stories come out of reading your opponents, planning the course and managing your deck.

It may sound easy but it’s not, and course variety gives you a vast amount of replay-ability. However, this is a race game with little direct interaction and a fair bit of luck in the last few hands. If you want to block, or stop an opponent there is little you can do – this can at times feel like a solo game for four players. It also can at times feel crushing when that sprint card is the only card of five you didn’t get in the final straight. Sometimes that’s just the way it happens.

The only other thing to watch out for is that this game strongly favours experienced players. New players will struggle to predict the slipstreaming and will plan an attack too late on average – leaving those high value cards too late and sometimes unused.

All that being said, this is still a game that I enjoy and am really enjoying the expansion!

Last notes:

  • If you like fast turns and a variety of maps – this game brings that and more!
  • If you want to build or develop an engine, or push other players back – this is a simple race game.
  • If you win at this game, try a new course – one that favours the other rider! However, you are probably odds on to win against new players!

Essen Spiel 2017

Okay, so there are a million and one “Essen” reviews and I am not going to try and make a long run through. However, the reason there are so many reviews are because these first impressions can actually be really helpful for the retail releases later in the year. Given my aim is to help people identify games to buy and strategies to play I will make a short comment on the game and the strategies from just a first impression:

Istanbul (Dice Game) – Short dice game based on the theme of the original market game. Roll the dice, make the combinations and trade the goods. You can play a variety of strategies – from getting coins, to getting goods or getting buildings. There are lots of paths and different ways to create chains. Sure you would need to block as much as optimise, but also worth noting this is a rush to a small number of points! Interesting, and one of our group did end up taking this one home!

Pile Up Rush – Balance wooden pieces on a small wooden disc – if you run out you win, if you knock the pile over you lose. Great mini version of junk art and good in teams or solo play because it’s quick and simple, but the shapes and the base allow you to create really clever balancing. Watch out not to leave smooth surfaces for the opponent to just pop a piece on to!

Ice Cool – Time to start flicking! As a dexterity game it’s an interesting game of chasing the other characters around the board. Do you risk going near the hall monitor to get the fish, and can you bounce round the wall to get two in one turn?! Tough choices, but more likely because you won’t be able to aim that much at first!

Masmora – It’s interesting to take the dungeon crawl mechanics and make a competitive game. The challenge however is that this feels like a slightly arbitrary exploration game with an ability for players to gang up due to turn order. Yes, you can chase down leaders but a shrewd player will play for second and then rush into a room full of monsters with a few good cards and snatch an early win (or have the cards to rush passed the player that triggered the final round).

Dragon Ranch – Tableau building card game with set collection. The innovative elements of the eco-system are very smart but the game was still a prototype with a few confusing icons from previous versions. Would definitely watch out for this one as it comes back round, especially as the strategy changes by the points tiles revealed in the first and second rounds of the game.

Spaghetti – A dexterity game of picking up shoestrings from a ball of shoestrings. Okay, some how that sounds harsh but that was the sum total of it. You had to take recipes that dictated what you could pull out, but the reality was that after two rounds you probably can’t actually complete the contracts. At that point, it’s a bit confusing as to what happens. The strategy is definitely to take the shoe strings that are worth more points… but that’s about all I can say.

Time of Crisis – A GMT war game across the roman empire; the fall of it specifically. The game is a deck management game where you can draw any cards from the deck each turn but then discard them. Once discarded you have to run through the rest of the deck to get them back. It’s a challenge therefore to map what you will need this turn and next. War is a dominant strategy here, but there’s lots to be said for using political capital to simply abandon your initial locations and expand on the other side of the map. This incredible flexibility is a really interesting part of a map focused game – expect a review of this in the not to distant future.

Outlive – Post apocalypse colony development, but this worker movement game only has 8 actions and you each have 4 pieces. You can’t move where you already have a piece, and you can’t stand still! Managing where you can go is tough, and managing your rations through each night phase is a real challenge. However, this is a competitive game so you need to collect bullets and defend yourself. Also rush for the points – this is a short game!

Zombie Dawn – Keeping the theme going but adding a take that element to the post apocalyptic world. You play cards to explore and move, but also to throw zombies at your opponents. Gang up on the leader but don’t leave yourself unable to move or unable to defend. Make the most of the ability to run from the big fights, but trap others! Card management is key.

Zoo Ball – Get those flicking fingers back in motion and try to get your attacker to the opponents goal. Don’t forget to leave a defender behind. These guys need to cover the key areas of the field and make sure you aren’t exposed to a single long shot from your opponent! Great with two and four!

Mountaineers – First time to climb a mountain at Essen (but not the last!) and here you have to fight your way across the mountain. Try to complete your missions in the limited turns and manage your tokens as efficiently as possible. It’s all about climbing as much as you can on the limited supplies, but also in limited times. Get an upgrade that suits you, start in the right place, and watch out for the change in weather! About to come to kickstarter!!

Bonk –  Remember the bowling device for kids aim with – well they are back in mini form and this time you are throwing metal balls at a larger wooden ball rolling between the two teams. Very much a team game, but a lot of strategies at play – including starving the opponent of balls and using clearing shots to make the balls come back to you (shot on the diagonal).

Circus Top – Stacking circus acts to match the cards in your hand. Nice and simple, but watch out but your action might complete someone else’s cards. Watch what others do and try and get them to help you completing the patterns.

X Wing – How I have not played this until now is a mystery to me and even more so after playing it. This tactical game about movement and marginal choices is challenging. the core set will only give you a taste but the options and strategies for bluffing / sneaking behind / soaking up fire are fascinating!

Captain Sonar – The game was such a big hit last year, and normally I don’t talk about price but that’s the only reason I think I hadn’t got to this. It’s a group game, but it plays well with 4. However, at the price at Essen this just wasn’t value for money. The frantic game can be fun, but for a co-operative experience of this mayhem simply download Space Team from the app store and let real time chaos commence.

Mountains of Madness – Speaking of madness, this was a fun party game for serious gamers. I say that because the fun in this game is being careful to only speak when the group is meant to speak. That’s the part of the game when the madness takes hold. The madness cards are very mixed and create lots of fun. If you are trying to win though, watch out to not spend too long on the mountain – the top tiles offer a few ruins on the way to escaping!

Wanted Rich or Dead – A shoot out based on revealing which building you choose simultaneously. Exhaust the cash in the middle to finish, but watch out for that final round where a turn of the card could steal some key equipment for your opponent. Key to watch the other players, but also watch out for the asymmetric nature of each player’s hand.

Gangs of Britannia – Prisoner’s dilemma multiple times between multiple players. That is not an easy starting point. Through in intel cards and upgrades and this becomes an interesting and very tight game. Watch out though, because tricking and betraying the other player at a key moment is core to the game – this could break some friendships! Still on kickstarter (at the time of posting – so go check this out!)

Gang Up – A card game with some serious swings of power. It’s all about timing your run on the finish; if you go first other players will block you. Leave it too late and perhaps a card will hand a surprise victory or two players will earn the joint win! Co-operate at first, but there will be time to turn that trust to dust!

Space Freaks – A rush for points in the space first person shooter. Make your character and send your men out to fight. This is very reminiscent of old computer games where you try to achieve king of the hill win conditions and respawn when the other players catch you out! Watch out for the points – these are key to the win (more than the vengeance fights!)

Klask – Atari style table top game with a great physical design. Watch out for the other player pushing the white magnets onto your side. These could cost you the game. Also, try to push your opponent in their own goal by pressing them back.

Army-Mals – A tank movement game, similar to Space Freaks but with more controlled starting characters. Watch out for the power of the mill in the middle! Oh and don’t let your opponent steal that flag!

So that’s Essen or was Essen – watch out for many of these games in the next 12 months!



Raxxon – Strategy Tips

Different starting characters and a few difficulty levels give you variety; so don’t go for an optimal selection here, just try something new each time to mix up the game.

During the game:

Clear the board: It’s a small and probably already used tactic, but try to be careful not to end a day with cards still to flip over – there’s a good chance they are infected. I am always managing the board down to zero – first and foremost – each day. Once that’s on track, the rest of the below falls into place.

Contain – Contain – Release: Containment is one of the options for removing the infected. It’s my preferred in many games as discarding them will bring them back next round, meaning finding that healthy person in the draw pile becomes really difficult. At first this is not so important, but as the healthy population thins out the only way to thin out the infected is to contain them. So may Day 1 and 2 other methods should be used, but then as you start to use containment you will see that you have a problem the next day – you need to re-contain last rounds infected! They don’t cause a problem that day, but at the end of it they will increase the number of infected in the draw pile. However, the trick here is that this caps out at 4; so a couple of turns of containment and then no containment will mean a big outbreak, but far below the cumulative outbreaks you could have suffered!

Watch out for end of day conditions: The biggest issue with both of the above is the risk that four hostiles or three carriers end the day early. Such outcomes lead to flipping the remaining cards and suffering outbreaks for loose infected tiles! If you start to get these piling up – look at how many cards the next player has to turn over, and start working out the odds. If it looks bad then focus on getting those cards off the board before anything else. They can end your plan early with very bad penalties.

Re-occurring Raxxon: However, watch out for the players who use actions that trigger a Raxxon card or two every turn. It might not seem like much, but especially as the game scales, this is a quick way to move Raxxon’s power to 8 and that’s game over. Delay those choices, or get those players to drop out of the day early.

Adding too many tiles: Clearing the board can be done each day, but again watch out for the player who needs to add two or more tiles a turn – they might be making the day harder to close out – if their action round won’t take three off the board, then perhaps its time for them to drop out for that day.

Clear the big row (even if you have to create it!): Lastly, using the powers efficiently is key. Crowd control and clever tile placement can create for you the really efficient evacuations or card discards that save your day! Look for these opportunities as you get the crowd under control.

Good luck!




Raxxon – Review

Type: Co-Operative / Tile Placement

Time to play: < 30 minutes (Teaching: 5 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 2)

In the Dead of Winter series you get the full experience of the zombie apocalypse; from the outbreak of the disease to the latest war between colonies in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Raxxon takes place right at the start of that sequence, and despite being only released by special promotion codes it looks like it’s set to go to full retail release later this year.

So what is this game, and why the special launch? Well, it’s a basic tile placement game where you manipulate the small grid or crowd to evacuate the healthy and either kill or contain the disease. That all sounds nice and easy, but the characters you and the team you are in are quite limited. Each attempt will take days to manipulate the crowd, and all the time the virus will grow and the power of Raxxon, the “benevolent” sponsor of this effort, will grow. If either of these threats gets out of hand, you and your team will lose.

This is a smart game of tough choices and all this happens in a relatively short play time. Each day you have a new crowd, and each day you need to clear the healthy ones. There’s a few ways to approach it and enough different characters to give you some variation in path selection. Plus, like any good co-op/solo game, this game can be made more difficult with a simple change to the set up.

Taking just the basic game mode (there’s more online from the publisher) this gives you a nice filler game which always feels in your control. There’s luck to the draw, but there’s so many ways to manage the cards that turn up, you feel that any win or loss is owed to skill and not just the turn of the cards.

The game adds to the basic swapping cards, removing cards and adding cards buy limiting each type of action and adding consequences that re-occur based on your choices. This light system of tracking and limiting choices pushes you to solve the puzzle quickly and efficiently each time.

If all of that sounds good, then perhaps you are wondering the downside? Well before the retail launch occurs; the cost for shipping for what was a reasonably priced game was a significant one. Now that’s in the past, the main issue is the replay-ability of the game. The puzzle is interesting but it’s short and whilst I have not gotten to the end of the replay value of this game, I am close.

It’s also notable that turning up the difficulty on this game doesn’t change the mechanics, or bring a new level of challenge; it brings more infected into the game. This is harder, but the concept is the same, the card counting likewise. Even the archetype of disease control, Pandemic, feels a bigger step change when you add that last epidemic.

So all-in-all, its a well balanced, highly enjoyable filler game. However, it’s value for money for the games you get, and a good limited action mechanic.

Last notes:

  • If you like quick co-operative games with easy to explain mechanics and a part of the zombie apocalypse universe
  • If you want to get a game that’s going to last through the years and give a more comic / challenging experience – I would stick with the other Dead of Winter titles
  • If you win at this game, try switching a few of the characters around and going again!

Concordia – Strategy Tips

Identical starting cards, and all starting in one place? Better get to your turn based choices then!

During the game:

Getting the colonist: Simple and straightforward; when you pick up your cards if you can’t play a colonist you have really missed a chance! Getting that tool and wheat to play that colonist opens up your warehouse and gets you expanding further across the board. If it’s not this card, you have to buy another card type and play it!

Look for short supply: At the start, the seeding of provinces is semi random, and as such you should take a quick look – what’s gone in Britain or Syria, or in other words, what is the furthest away and in short supply. Other players will build their quickly and may well Prefect it more than other regions! Being there, and being there first, will pay.

Let others Prefect for you: It’s another simple one, but if others are playing Prefect for the regions you are in then you are getting things outside of your turn. They are a bit more varied, so make sure you have one major area to build / trade from, but this is always going to help you to expand quicker and score more points.

Spreading out!: Building lots of cities is great, but it’s almost always better to spread them more. If you are only producing in two regions it’s going to take time to keep re-activating those regions due to the way the Prefect rules work. Spreading across 4+ regions is going to give you more time to allow others to re-activate all regions.

Efficient trading: You can only trade to TYPES; if you buy one and sell one, that means you need to really have a decent number of the sold good to make it worth your while. If you are the main producer of a good, you can really use this to your advantage. Secondly, trade for a few turns ahead – trade to get the city and the colonist, or the city and the card, but not just one (leaving you needing to trade again later).

The better merchant: The basic merchant gives you 3 coins, but buying the card from the board offers you that chance to trade with 5 coins. It might not be your card you need though – watch out for the chance to use your Diplomat to copy the better Merchant rather than buying an expensive one from the board.

Watch out for the cards: The normal end game is the cards; watch out if you are about to put someone in the position to finish out the game and gain that 7 point bonus. Also, watch out if you are about to make a great card, a very cheap card!

Timing the end game: This is a point optimisation but it’s hard for other people to predict the optimal move, and their optimal move may not be the same as the best move to block you. However, towards the end of the game you have cast your scoring structure and you are entrenched on the board. You need to therefore be very careful in these last few turns to points maximise based on when the end is coming. Buying to run out of goods at the end (and not one turn short or long) is tricky. If you can do this well, it might swing 10 points in a c. 100 point game.

Good luck!

Concordia – Review

Type: Deck Management / Rondel / Euro

Time to play: < 1 hr 30 minutes (Teaching: 15 minutes)

Best played with: 2-5 players (Best with 5)

So not every Euro these days is about trading in the Mediterranean but sometimes you have got to – and that’s when it’s time to pull Concordia off the shelf! This archetypal game has a few really interesting mechanics from territorial expansion, to deck management and even a “build your own Euro” scoring system. All that and yet the rule book is 6 pages and easy to follow.

This is a game that kicks off with all players running out from Rome in some sort of board game version of the Hunted Reality TV . Your colonists rush across the board to found cities with your reasonable starting resources. No-one wants to follow others exactly as building in the same towns is more expensive, but building in near by towns yields benefits.

The game progress through quick turns driven by the cards played. Each player starts with a set of identical cards that have key mechanisms that drive the game. From trading to movement and even copying other players these actions are key to building your own personal economy. However the subtly important card in the deck is the Senator; a card to buy more cards. The purchase of new cards (mostly repeats of what you start with) gives you more actions before having to use one turn to pick up the deck again!

These other cards have another important function – they create a multiplier on certain points conditions. The bottom of each card is a ancient Roman God to whom that card pays tribute. The Gods reward you for different things, but in essence this creates a point multiplier – 5 cards to a good that rewards you for building cities will mean 5x the city building victory points at the end! In this way, you build your own scoring mechanic in the way you build your deck and whilst the end score may be close, the way the players got there will be drastically different.

The other subtly important card in your initial deck is the card that picks up your discard pile. This is the reset button, but the more cards you reset the more you earn in money at that point. Also, this card lets you build new colonist which may be key to scoring more victory points at the end. To do this, you need to have the right resources just as you refresh.

To add to this, when you build a colonist you free up more space in your warehouse. This can be important late game as you produce and otherwise have put through away valuable goods. This limited warehouse is important as well for other players as often when you produce, they gain production but may not be able to store it.

Production occurs when you Prefect a region – all cities produce but you also get the production of the most expensive good. This is an important part of why you build near others – you want their production to benefit you! However, once a player has played the Prefect for a region it cannot happen again until all regions are reset. This reset is a Prefect which collects the money from those regions.

So this game combines this Rondel mechanic of working through actions in a cycle, with deck management as you buy cards and with a self-built scoring system. It does so in a smooth and quick game with a real variety of strategies. A game that ends when a player lays his 15th city or buys that final card. As building in areas with cities is more expensive the cards normally run out first but not always.

So what could possibly be bad in this game. Well, it sounds easy to learn but watch out for the fact that new players may get the mechanics but the scoring is very opaque. You won’t know any scores until the very end of the game. Those tricks others know cannot be picked up until after one full game. Once you get to repeated plays, this fades. It’s also worth mentioning that the game will fall into small patterns within games – use of the merchant, architect or senator. It’s important therefore that the base game comes with two maps!

Last notes:

  • If you like games with deck management and the idea of building your own scoring system – this is a fun classic
  • If you like direct player interaction or highly thematic mechanics, then this does not bring much to the table
  • If you win at this game, it’s time to turn the board over a try that other map! Watch out – other players will learn to counter your tactics.

Friday – Strategy Tips

There’s nothing to the set up here for you to pick – even the pirate ships are random. So let’s dive straight in to five short tips for your choices in the game.

During the game:

Avoid the 0’s: During the game you will have many chances to grab an island card with a 0 value to it but be careful with these. Each round you may only be able to pick up a certain number of cards from your deck and filling your deck up with 0’s not only means more hands of lower scores but more rounds before that precious 3 or 4 card comes back around. Having these in the deck will slow you progress and may cost you key mid-game cards. However, if they have a “+2 Cards” then they could be net positive at least for now!

Trash Cards: Don’t hesitate to trash the “-1” and the aging cards as they come back into play, but also there may be opportunities to trash “0” or “1” cards which are holding you back. Look at the pirates you are facing as some will remove half the cards you play, but otherwise use opportunities to clear the weak parts of your deck and keep winning “2” or higher value cards!

Grab “double” & “copy”: These powers can help you double the value of your top card or copy a “+2 cards” or other ability. These are really helpful ways of accelerating your deck and often are attached to lower value cards you might otherwise pass over. They are also more flexible to the situation you are in, and suddenly that “copy” might be a “+2 Life”

Count the cards: At least at first this can be really important. There is, after all, only one “2” in that starting deck and only 5 positive points. If you have seen these go then they won’t come back till you shuffle. Knowing the rough expected value of what’s left is crucial early game and helpful right through to the finish. Don’t be precise, but knowing there is still a “4” left in there might allow you to take that gamble for a valuable card!

Think carefully about the last card: In the yellow and red round on the island, you may have a final card due to an odd number left in the deck. Be careful about whether or not you take that card on – sometimes it’s worth trying for it, but often it’s a good opportunity to duck a less useful card and keep moving!

Good luck!

Friday – Review

Type: Deck Management / Push Your Luck

Time to play: < 30 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 1 player (Solo Only)

Sometimes its difficult to get a game group together or perhaps you are just on the go but want to get a short game in…what to do? what to do? Well why not play a solo game? Beyond the games that happen to play a solo mode, there are now games with specifically designed solo rules and indeed a few games which are only designed to be played solo. One of these such games is Friday by Friedman Friese.

This is a solo adventure where you take the role of Friday – the mysterious man on the island that befriends Robinson Crusoe. You are the plucky native that helps Robinson learn how to survive. It’s a game about helping Robinson train so that you can reach an epic fight against the pirates which might just let Robinson escape. Of course, you will stay on your island at the end and somehow he will get shipwrecked there all over again soon!

The game takes this little narrative through 4 key stages utilising deck management and push your luck to give you a real agency to the game. The first three stages you draw through the island deck with a traffic light system – green first, yellow next, red (and very dangerous) last. Survive all that and you face the pirates. Each card plays in a similar way – you will need to know how tough the opponent is (on that level of green/yellow/red) and you will get a certain number of “free” cards. If at any point your cards match the difficulty, you defeat the island card & gain it – with the pirates the victory is all that matters. If you do need more cards to win then pay 1 health for each one you want to draw. If you do lose, pay the difference between your strength and the strength of the card in health.

What makes this really interesting is two fold. Firstly, you get a choice of two cards every time from the island deck. You can dodge the “too difficult” cards or dodge the “easy but worthless” cards and it’s important to balance this decision carefully. Take too many easy wins in the early game and your deck will be full of useless cards in the late game, leaving you paying away previous life points to draw more cards. Take too many difficult cards, and you won’t survive the green round. After all, think about the fact your initial deck has an expected value of

So you made your choice, and you drew some cards. Now if your still losing to the card you have a decision again – pay for more, or lose and use this opportunity to “trash” the weakest cards from those you drew. This is really interesting, because sometimes you are better off losing and getting rid of those bad cards from your deck, especially the negative points cards. A small deck with a higher expected value sounds great, time to trash everything! Oh wait; every time the deck rounds out I get a REALLY negative card?! Yes, that’s the aging process in this game, the more turns of the deck and the more negative cards that get thrown in.

So you can trash cards, you can select which cards you might add to the deck and you can use the cards special abilities (text on each card) to manipulate the deck – this then is certainly not just a push your luck game. The rewarding thing about all this is that you also feel the puzzle is not just “solved” when you first win. This is a careful balancing act that you can optimise and improve every time you come back to the game. What is more, there are four suggested difficulty levels in the game – something akin to a player’s experience of going all the way to Legendary difficulty on Halo!

Of course, the downside of this game is that it’s for one. Don’t get me wrong, you can get people involved in a “co-op” appraoch, but there’s only one character and only one decision really to be made. Also, this is a game which whilst small and portable, is somewhat delicate. Small pieces and thin cards mean that you still need to be careful where you set up. Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that the pirates at the end feel relatively straight forward; it’s likely that if you make it through the three stages you will beat the pirates. It’s not certain, but this end game boss doesn’t add much to either the theme or the mechanics of the game.

All that said, I didn’t think I would get in to solo playing and yet by far this game is my preferred route in this and I play it often. It’s got a phone app format if you want to try it, but there is something more tactile and interesting about this game than Onirim or other good app conversions. Also, if you are playing solo versions of multiplayer games then I would really encourage that this is a great step up on what can feel like a mechanical points optimising challenge in other games.

Last notes:

  • If you like games with deck management, but can’t always get the group together then this is a great solo choice
  • If you hate re-sorting the decks between games to be able to reset quickly… perhaps keep looking
  • If you win at this game – well done, time to up the difficulty!


Triumph & Tragedy – Strategy Tips

Given the asymmetry of this game, I will share a few overarching tips and then a bit of colour for each of the three powers:

For All:

Using all three rounds of attack; The point of this note is that war is hard! War is really hard! If you are rolling as the attacker you want to have a decent dice advantage but even then you may not get the number of hits you need in just one turn. If you don’t then you will need to go again, and you don’t want those troops stranded and waiting for reinforcements. There is one exception to this which is as the axis – preventing building in France by sacrificing troops into long battles as this prevents the West building in these locations.

Using Wildcards; In the diplomacy phase there are wildcards that allow you to immediately effect the map (not wait for the end of the turn) in one of a few countries. In the first turn these are almost pointless, but later in the game these can build influence in countries quickly and in combination with the normal diplomacy cards. Stealing resources through using wildcards for attacks can also be very effective to switch control of a region from an opponent to you (and not just neutral) in one turn. Hold these back, combine them, and steal a charge on your opponent!

Science and the economy; Lot’s of games will be won by the default victory of the highest production, and some games will reach economic victory – reaching 25 victory points at the start of a turn. Your basic production is your basic victory points (just like Terraforming Mars!) but you can add to it with any atomic technology. Building atomic techs therefore boost your chance of winning, but also help you build towards a victory where that 4 part science is an automatic victory (subject to minor placement conditions). Actually achieving a science victory is very hard, but building towards it is a good way to grasp the economic win!

Tanks + Infantry; It’s a little statistical fact, thanks to the BGG forum thread on this, that a tank plus an infantry is the way to land the most hits in a fight. However, attacker be ware – you will also lose more units on average over time through this method. Attacking with this combination provides the advantage of “going first” but losses you the better chance to hit of infantry and it leaves you exposed to counter strikes over time.

Interventions & Partitions; When your opponent invades another country you have two interesting options. If you are not at war with them, you can steal the rest of the country without a violation of neutrality – without handing cards to your opponent.  Alternatively if you are at war with that rival then you can gain that country and units immediately by bringing one land troop in and intervening on it’s behalf! Great resource boost in the fall (before production!)

Playing as the West; 

This is a moderate complexity role in the game – you start weak but with the addition of America you will become very strong. If you are playing as the West it is key to defend the French border. Boosting the troops, adding infantry and providing a protectorate status to the Low Countries are all key ways to stop the German invasion early in the game. Add to these areas a chance to build industry (two per turn) unless you get atomic science and you have a strong chance of a win in the late game. You will in the future struggle to get population and resource due to the map – your best chance of population is the Nordics and your best chance of resource is Persia. Given this, open your game with real units in India at first and not forts as you may well need them! Lastly, if you are going to push for the military win, then it’s worth looking at two options – the naval assault on Rome or the control of Denmark as a route to Northern Germany!

Playing as the Russians; 

It’s likely to be a slow build but watch out for the Axis taking Rumania, Poland or Turkey – these are key states for you for resource, border protections or population respectively. Your factories will cost you a lot in the early game, but you start with more than the West and so this shouldn’t be too challenging. The Nordics are less relevant but plugging the sea in Northern Europe would serve you well – blocking quick movement into one of your capitals and potentially a way of losing the game. The Winter phase gives you time to move back to Baku, so in all likelihood you will be facing West and an aggressive player is going to seek to cripple Germany’s infrastructure and roll through – splitting a small force off to keep the axis building in Italy.

Playing as the Axis; 

You are in a tough spot at the start of the game – you must expand, you must gain resources before war. Doing this, and going for war (which I think is your best option) is all about managing a combination of diplomatic absorption followed by military capture. Firstly, keep back your key diplomatic cards later in the turn – the West and Russians will force you to play out your hand early in the game, so try to delay showing where your strength is until they have started to play cards. Also, don’t waste cards on locations you will invade – often the Low Countries / Denmark / etc. Ideally, you invade low muster value countries because they give less cards to your opponent, but don’t hesitate to take key states with one opposition influence – after another diplomacy round this might become impossible to take without starting war. When you start the war, because you probably will, take the advantage of the first player turn first strike – this is helpful and a combined arms force including air force can usually overcome the French across three seasons if you have already got the Low Countries – but you want to use that first strike rule for Lorraine. Also, take Paris. It looks as though it’s the lesser benefit, but the rules state that the French army is then removed and the country collapses! As for the Italians – there are two functions available; blocking the Mediterranean to cripple the West supply chain, or to swing round and support Operation Sea Lion. There are more complex Axis strategies using u-boats or invading Russia from the south or raiding through the northern European map with a landing base in the small German state, but these are harder to achieve – one’s for later games!

Good luck!