The last year or so has seen my solo gaming drop right off. Every time I even think about playing, I get a little voice in my ear saying, ‘Can I play too?’. I can’t knock it, having a daughter that’s a willing game buddy is something to cherish, but still, every now and then I look longingly at my collection and get an urge to play something all on my own…
I do like games that I can get my teeth into. Longer thematic games are my favourite, such as Gloomhaven, which I like to leave out for a week or two and chip away at the campaign by busting up a few scenarios, maybe even retire another character. I also like to puzzle my way through a good Euro, looking for new strategies and beating down the Bots. But sadly, these joys have recently been few and far between.
As winter draws ever nearer and the temperature falls, the chances of playing anything other than small, quick solo affairs, or something I can get a fix from with a single session, are becoming slim. After a shuffle around in the summer, the garage became the place where I could play games, leaving them set up for as long as I liked, but it’s already too cold for sitting around in there and so some will have to wait for spring, and the itch to play will just get worse.
I decided to make a list, as you do, and it was quite a long list, containing upward of 30 games. For the sake of keeping things short, and for helping me home in on the ones I really should try and get to the table, I decided to put together a top 10 ‘itch’ list. It wasn’t easy narrowing it down to just 10. I kept juggling things around, changing my mind, and looking at it from a different perspective. In the end, I removed games that were on the list because they were favourites of mine, such as Gloomhaven, because I knew they would reappear at some point in the future, and so I eventually came up with something that fits, for now!
It contains a variety of games. Some are games that I want to give another, possibly last, chance to, whilst at the other end of the spectrum there are a few that I have yet to play at all. Anyway, there are many reasons why I have an itch to play these games and I’ll explore a few as I go. The closer to number 1 the more the want to play, but that doesn’t equate to being a better game; it’s just an itch that needs scratching a little more than the rest… Oh, and this, I think, is my first ever top 10, enjoy!!!
TSM’s Top 10 Games in my collection that I have a growing itch to play!
(Okay, not the snappiest of titles, but at least you know what it’s all about!)
Number 10. Dice Hospital
A game I bought at the UKGE earlier in the year and we’ve played it a handful of times so far. It’s a really good dice/worker placement game and I wrote up my first thoughts on it at the time. However, I’ve yet to get the chance to play the solo variant and I can’t wait to explore the possibilities it presents.
In the games I played against Yasmin, I got a feel for the mechanisms, especially the balance between healing patients and letting them rot in the corridors for a turn or two. If you can line ’em up just right, you can have a mass healing session in one turn, throwing patients out of the door at a great rate of knots, turning them into those lovely Victory Points.
This is what I want to take my time and explore – the many different ways of developing my hospital in order to turn over a high number of patients per turn. I find that playing on my own enables me to focus on certain aspects of a game, see how things really work, and how to use them to my advantage against the game (or another person😉). I also need to play it solo so that I can write up a review, though I’ll need to play it with others as well for that, as so far, it hasn’t hit the table as often as I would have liked.
Number 9. Tiny Epic Tactics
I backed this on Kickstarter, and if memory serves, I got it about this time 2 years ago – part of it is still in the cellophane!
You know what it’s like (or maybe you don’t, actually, as it might just be me) you back a game for one reason or another and then forget about it. The postman then delivers a neat little parcel to your door, and you go, what’s this? Why did I back this again? The interest can dramatically wane for some games after you press that ‘Back This Project’ button, especially those that aren’t hyped right in your face for the entire Kickstarter campaign and after.
By all intents and purposes, it isn’t a bad game. I’ve read good things about it, though mostly it tends to be described as… Okay! That to me says it could be a little suspect, a little bit underwhelming, though it could also mean it has many good points but falls short of being great, there’s only one way to find out…
I keep looking at it, in its tiny, but weighty, box, and thinking that I really should make the effort to see just how okay it really is, I might be pleasantly surprised. Tiny Epic Galaxies was quite good, though as a solo game it petered off once I’d figured it out, but this might have a little more staying power.
As it is tiny, and once the learning process has been taken care of, it should play in around 30 to 60 minutes, so it has every chance of being played soon. I can’t see it being the kind of game Yasmin would like, and so it needs to offer me something in order to remain in the collection, whether it be excitement, intrigue, or just be plain old fun to play!
Number 8. The 7th Continent
Now, this is a great game, especially solo, and I’ve already racked up a good few hours of play. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get in a good run at it, and I’ve had to keep using the ‘save game’ option, leaving it a week or two, and then try to remember exactly what I was up to. That’s the main reason why I haven’t done very well and failed to complete any of the curses – I keep restarting because I’ve forgotten what I was doing!
7th Continent is an exploration game, where, through the clever use of skill cards, you adventure around the continent searching to remove the curse(s) bestowed upon you. The continent is made up of location cards, each tied to the next by a number. Imagine it as one of the Fighting Fantasy books, but with cards instead of pages and you’ll get the idea.
As the intrepid explorer you start off fairly, well, useless, and you’ll need to gather resources, steer clear of injuries, and try and craft items to help see you through the days. If you do like those ‘Choose-your-own-adventure’ type books, then this is the game for you. There are far more choices to make and a much greater degree of complexity, and it all makes sense, oozing theme.
As I do want to get it completed, at least one of the curses, it will probably have to wait until spring when I can leave it out on the table in the garage and really absorb myself in its world.
Number 7. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Another excellent solo game, and again, it has similarities to the FF books, in that you consult a case book, looking up numbered paragraphs as you investigate the case. You visit locations around London, talk to suspects, and can even peruse the newspapers for clues. This is done with very little direction other than the initial intro into the case. You decide where to go, often by looking up a name or an address in the directory and going to visit your suspects.
It’s this ‘sandbox’ feel to the game that makes it really special. There is no luck, solving the cases is all down to your own mental agility and you’re trying to compete with Sherlock himself, though I certainly never got close to solving anything in the short time it took him. In true, Conan Doyle style, when Sherlock reveals how he went about it you feel a bit of a halfwit, but who cares!
I have the old 1982 version, resplendent in an A4 binder. It’s a superb publication, containing a large map of London, a collection of newspapers, a directory, and a number of other useful books. It sits on a shelf in our sitting room and so I look up at it every day, and every time I do I think, ‘I really want to play that again!’
It’s an absorbing game, though, and one that I like to set aside a day to play. I make copious notes, often sitting back to ponder the evidence, and usually consume a good quantity of tea and cake whilst doing so. The cases really need to be solved in one sitting, and there lies my problem. I rarely find the time to give it the attention it requires and putting it away mid-case always results in me not finishing, as I lose the thread of my thoughts.
If memory serves, I’ve completed the first three or four cases, some of them twice over the years, and I’m now bursting to play the others.
Number 6. Teotihuacan: City of Gods
So far, I’ve only played Teotiwhatsit a few times, but I’ve really enjoyed it. I liked the way it used dice as workers and how they gradually upgraded until they reached the point of Ascension, where the worker joined the Avenue of the Dead. Everything about this game oozes theme, and yet, it’s a nice, meaty Euro.
This is my type of Euro, one that mixes theme with complex strategy, offering a host of choices and yet it still manages to shift along – it also looks great on the table, especially when the pyramid has been advanced some.
I managed to get a few games in solo, and from what I remember I got drubbed by the bot. There are a number of difficulty adjustments that can be made, and I’m interested in exploring them, which shouldn’t be too difficult because the way the Bot works makes for quick turn times. It would also be interesting to see if I can use a couple of Bots to play a 3 or 4-player game.
The main appeal, though, the thing that makes me really want to play this again, is that there are many paths one can take in terms of strategy. This opens up a lot of game exploration in terms of mechanisms and it is this that I want to delve into. I want to test out my ideas on strategy and test the game, see if I can find a way to beat the Bot every time – it’s this kind of challenge that keeps me playing a solo game.
Hopefully, this will take many, many games to figure out (if I ever do), and again, this is a strength of a solo game. If ideal strategies can be worked out too quickly then the game loses its appeal – I have high hopes for this one!
I feel really guilty about this one. Not only did Dan Hallagan, the designer, send me the Second Edition and latest expansion, but it’s also a really great solo game, backed up by its rise to number 29 in the 2021 People’s Choice Top 200 Solo Games. I just haven’t found the opportunity to get this latest edition to the table, and it’s starting to bug me. Not long after I received it then COVID hit, limiting the group of people I could play it with. Yasmin’s showed no interest at all, despite my coercing, and at that point any game I got out we played together so solo wasn’t an option.
As things have slowly returned to normality and I’ve managed to think of playing solo again, this is one game that should hit the table pretty soon. I know there have been a few changes over the first edition and I’m keen to see how they’ve improved things, and from what I’ve read the solo variant has been further improved, providing an even more entertaining and challenging game. All being well, I should get a few sessions in before Christmas and I’ll pass on my thoughts when I do.
Number 4. Everdell
Unlike the previous game, I don’t hold out much hope of playing Everdell solo any time soon. Why? Because it’s one of Yasmin’s favourite games and she’ll pounce as soon as she gets wind of me opening the box.
I’ve penned up a review of the game already, just waiting to add my thoughts on the solo aspect. I could just post it as is, but that would be wrong on so many counts. First off, I don’t want to put out a review of a game that has a solo variant if I haven’t tried it, I mean, solo is in the title of this site – It would be just… wrong! Secondly, I often find things out about a game that I wouldn’t have learnt playing with others. Solo gives me the time to think and try things, and can often reveal a game’s strengths and weaknesses, which I would then try out against others to see if they stand up throughout the player count.
And last, but by no means least, I want to play it on my own because it’s a very good game. It’s a little different to most, in that you can’t go into it with a set idea of how you’re going to play – “No plan survives contact with the enemy,” or in this case the draw of the hand! In Everdell, you have to remain reactive, responding to what cards you have in your hand and what is available on the table. Criticism has been aimed at this mechanism, but it’s what the game is all about, making the most of what you have, and it does a great job of levelling the playing field amongst the players, add that to the cute critters and you have a hugely appealing family game.
Don’t get me wrong, the more you play, the better a ‘feel’ you’ll get for what is the right thing to do, and I’m sure you could play the odds, though there are far too many cards in the deck to rely on that. It’s this ‘reactiveness’ that intrigues me because it is quite different to the games I usually play. I think I might sneak it away sometime and get it played by the light of a candle, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a little voice say, ‘I want to be the mice!’
Number 3. Alien vs. Predator: The Hunt Begins
This isn’t a game I mention very often. Why? Because the 60+ page rulebook is a mess!
This is the second edition too; you would have thought things could have been sorted out by then, but no, the rules were a nightmare to get my head around and when I did, the game didn’t play as well as I’d hoped.
So, why is it at number 3? The shallow answer is that it features some gorgeous miniatures, floor tiles, and harks to one of my all-time favourite movies, Aliens. The real answer though, is this… When I’d tinkered with a few of the rules I didn’t like, namely movement, I managed to get in a few, highly thematic games, all of which featured ‘seat of the pants’ finishes, and I really enjoyed the game. But then I put it away and when I next came to it, I looked at the rulebook, as I couldn’t remember half of it, and thought, Nah, and put it back on the shelf.
I’ve done this a number of times since, and even started reading the rules again, only to find that time got the better of me and I had to move on. But things have changed slightly. Yasmin has the miniatures bug, in that she’s started to enjoy skirmish style games, such as Marvel: Crisis Protocol and Walking Dead, and has expressed an interest in AVP. Of course, there is no way I’m ever going to sit down and learn the game with her at the same time, she’d lose interest by page 1, if not before – she likes me to know the game and breeze when I’m ready to teach it.
And so, I have an urge to play this again, not just to satisfy my own craving but to relearn the game and introduce Yasmin to an IP that has been a favourite of mine for years. Then, when she’s a wee bit older, hopefully we can sit down together and binge on all the films.
Number 2. Victory at Sea
Victory at Sea, the WWII Naval warfare game, a game I’ve been holding back on playing again until I have a reasonable number of ships painted. That time is almost here!
Once I’ve finished my current batch, then I’ll have enough to play several scenarios, and I can’t wait. First up will probably be the Battle of The River Plate, or maybe The Denmark Straits, I haven’t decided yet, though I’ll probably run through both as rules refreshers before I decide to post any battle reports.
Painting the ships has made me want to play the game more and more; I think there’s a draw to see how your work looks in action. I have a large fleet of British ships, mostly unpainted at the mo, and a small number of Kriegsmarine, which are nearly all done. I then want to start on the Regia Marina, the Italian fleet, and replay some of the Mediterranean battles, but that’s some way in the future yet.
I’m painting the ships in order to meet scenarios, and I’m using the paint schemes that the ships would likely have worn during those scenarios. Some won’t be right, especially those that changed their scheme frequently, though with those ships that fought in various theatres, I will buy duplicates to paint them up in a scheme they wore for each.
That’s one of the advantages of using 1/3000 scale ships rather than Warlords own 1/1800, they’re a lot, lot cheaper at around £1.65 for battleship. Another advantage is the fact they don’t need a spectacularly detailed paint job. At that scale, when viewed from gaming distance, they look good in a very basic finish, meaning they can be turned out reasonably quickly (unless you’re me of course!
And so, I hope to get this set up in the garage over the Christmas holiday. It’s a game I play standing up and constantly moving around, so that should keep me warm enough to get a game or two done and I can’t wait.
Number 1. U-Boot: The Board Game
A bit of a surprise, U-Boot, right up here at number 1. When I got the game, which was a Kickstarter a few years ago, I was so excited that I quickly got the game set up and in play – my enthusiasm didn’t last long though. One of the core mechanisms, the morale track, just didn’t sit well with me. Every order I gave reduced morale, as did so many other things in the game, and it became a constant battle to keep it good and not have the crew mutiny; it became the focal point of the game.
Now, maybe because I’m ex-forces myself, but this just isn’t how things work, and there doesn’t appear to have ever been a reported incident of mutiny onboard a German Submarine. If people in the forces, especially the elite forces, which you could class submariners as, lost Morale every time they were given an order, where would we be?
For me, this ruined the game, which was billed as a submarine simulation don’t forget, by killing the theme. There was a lot to like, though, such as the prioritising of the crew to get jobs done, especially with the shift change (though there were a few inconsistencies here too). I liked the navigation, and I was really impressed by the app, but it all came back to that damn morale track.
It’s probably been close to 2-years since I last played, and there has been a rules update as well as player mods posted in the forums. So, the want to try again has risen to a crescendo, as I think what this game could be. I want it to be great. Submarines have always interested me, especially the hunt, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. I want to feel the tension when the enemy are out for revenge and the depth charges get ever closer. I want to feel the adrenaline rush as we locate an enemy ship and manoeuvre into a firing position. I don’t want to be bogged down by having to entertain the crew in order for them to do their job.
If some of the sticking points have been ironed out, this could see a lot of play. If, however, it still stutters along, with that morale track taking centre stage, then I’ll either think about a work around myself, or I’m afraid it will have to go! At least I will have given it a second chance, as most games do at least deserve, but I can’t see it happening any time soon, as it needs to be left out for continuous play, and so the U-Boot itch that needs scratching will continue to grow…
And so, we reach the end of my first Top 10, and for me at least, it was fun. I can now see why people do these lists, it helps focus on a specific thing, which can surprise the person putting the list together – I know it did me!
I think I’ll have a go at a few more, though I don’t want to do the usual suspects, favourite games, best family games, etc. and want to do something a little different. Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking at my game shelf and the itch will continue to build, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get some of the games to the table before the year is out.
Got an itch for a particular game? Tell us all about it in the comments below 😁