Sid Sackson's Solitaire dice

Sid Sackson, in his book A Gamut of Games1, describes a solitaire dice game that I have grown very fond of. Fond enough that I decided to whip up a little js version of it, found below. I won’t go into the rules here, others have done that well enough. I will just put a couple of thoughts out there on why I find the game so compelling. Dice are obviously the epitome of randomness; roll-and-move mechanics are universally bemoaned for this. Games that try not to be awful while still using dice generally do so with some sort of randomness mitigation technique. Yahtzee is an easy example – a player gets three rolls to a turn to mitigate luck. Sackson’s Solitaire Dice does not offer any mitigation, and in fact it can be brutal. You could theoretically lose 400 points on your last turn. And while this sounds objectively terrible, it really isn’t. Occasionally you will have a game where the dice just torture you, but for the most part the game forces you to think about probabilities, and attempt to control pacing. If the game is going really well, you may want to try to blow one of your scratch piles up toward the game-ending 8 marks. Similarly, if things aren’t going great, it would probably be in your best interest to take poorly-scoring pairs in order to scratch dice evenly. In my plays thus far, I’d say that a meh game is in the -100-100 point range, a successful game being 350+.

Sum -200 0 Score Points Total Scratch ones
2 100 0
3 70 0 Scratch twos
4 60 0
5 50 0 Scratch threes
6 40 0
7 30 0 Scratch fours
8 40 0
9 50 0 Scratch fives
10 60 0
11 70 0 Scratch sixes
12 100 0
Total 0

  1. In my 1982 Pantheon (NY) edition, the game is described on page 169. ↩︎

Solo play: One Deck Dungeon

On to my number one solo game at the moment: Chris Cieslik’s One Deck Dungeon, released by Asmadi Games. This game takes all the uncertainty and the brutality of a roguelike, and packs it into a small deck of cards and a pile of dice. One’s character has attributes which indicate the number and color of dice that can be rolled in resolving a conflict. A section of dungeon, so to speak, is entered by spending time (discarding cards). This fills the player up to four face-down dungeon cards, which can then be encountered on a turn by flipping them up. One can either attempt to defeat the card or leave it for later, wasting time and available space to fill with new dungeon cards. Defeating these cards involves rolling the dice allowed by the player’s character attributes and placing them to beat numbers on the card. These can be color-specific or not, and spaces can either require the placement of one die or allow multiple dice. Unfilled slots are what ultimately cause damage – to either health, time, or both. Assuming the player lives, resolving a conflict allows them three choices – the card can be taken as an item (additional dice and/or health), a skill or potion, or experience.

Solo play: Deep Space D-6

My (probably, maybe) second most-played solo game currently is one of dice, cards, and worker placement. Designed by Tony Go and released by Tau Leader (in very small print runs, it seems, though one can print-and-play), Deep Space D-6 packs a lot of game into a very small package. One of several tiny boards with illustrated ships, explanations of their features, countdown tracks for hull and shield health, and placement areas for worker dice sits in front of the player. To the right of the players ship, tiny threat cards are added every turn, and positioned to indicate their health. The player rolls their crew dice for the turn and assigns them to various attack and defense roles. Worker actions are taken, then a die is rolled to see which, if any, enemies activate and attack on that turn.

Solo play: Friday

Friday is third up in my list of top solo games, and routinely comes up whenever solo board/card games are being discussed. Designed by Friedemann Friese and released by Rio Grande, Friday is a card game in which the player takes on the role of the titular character, helping Robinson Crusoe survive his time on the island. The theme is not one that has been beaten to the ground, and while the game by no means drips with theme, it makes sense and the art supporting it is goofy fun. Even if the theme does nothing for you, the gameplay shines so much that it’s easy to get lost in it.

For as small as the game is, as few card as there are, Friday is just loaded with decisions. Essentially, every turn involves pulling a hazard from the hazard deck (actually, decision number one: you pull two and choose one to take on), then pulling a series of counterattacks from your fighting deck. You get so many fighting cards for free, and then pay life points to keep drawing. Additionally, if you opt to simply lose the fight instead, you will lose life points. While the primary goal here is to obviously not run out of life, you’re also essentially building your deck for the future – defeated hazards become fighting cards, and a lost fight gives you the opportunity to get rid of poor fighting cards that you may have drawn that round. When your fighting deck runs out, you get to shuffle it anew, including the new cards you’ve gotten from defeating hazards, but you also end up throwing one aging card in with negative effects every time this happens.

Solo play: Onirim

Beyond Dungeon Roll, this list is a real struggle to rank. Do I push games with creative mechanics higher, or games that ultimately speak to me more? I’m inclined to go with the former, in this case, only because the things that make my no. 3 work as a solo game make for such a tight, decision-addled game. But Onirim (Shadi Torbey, Z-Man Games), my no. 4 may very well get more play for its relative lightness, small footprint, and fascinating artwork/theming.