When I first wrote the ‘Solo play’ series, they were basically the top five solo board/card games that I was playing at the time, in order of preference. Adding to this series at this point is just adding more solo games that I love, the order isn’t particularly meaningful anymore.
Solo board games don’t seem to get a lot of distribution. Deep Space D-6 is still rather tricky to come by, SOS Titanic sells in the triple-digits on eBay, and it’s only recently that I managed to acquire a copy of Saashi and Saashi’s highly-regarded single-player bag-builder, Coffee Roaster. The game is accurately described by its title: you are roasting a batch of coffee beans over the course of however many turns you think you need, and then tasting the result to see how closely your roast matched the target.
Coffee Roaster is essentially played by pulling a handful of tokens out of a bag, potentially using some of them for some immediate and/or future benefits, increasing the roast level of any of the bean tokens that were pulled out, and then returning them to the bag. This is wonderfully thematic – the longer you take, the darker the overall roast becomes. Adding to this thematic element, useless moisture tokens evaporate (are pulled from the game) over time, before first and second crack phases occur yielding a more significant increase in roast level as well as adding harmful smoke tokens to the bag. The game is definitely on a timer, and while the effect-yielding flavor tokens allow you to play with time a bit by adjusting the roast, ultimately you need to be mindful of how dark your beans have gotten before you stop the roast and move on to the tasting (scoring) phase.
Scoring involves pulling tokens from the bag and placing them in a cup (which holds ten tokens) or on a tray (which holds either three or five, depending on whether or not you picked up the extra tray). You can stop at any time, but a major penalty is incurred for failing to fill the cup up to ten tokens. Whatever roast you’ve chosen has a target roast level, as well as flavor profile requirements. Again, all thematic to the point where my coffee-loving self was giddy over the little details.
The game has quite a few rules to get through; you absolutely want to read the rules start-to-finish before diving in. It can be a little bit easy to forget to do this or that, but for the most part the theme and artwork help guide you once you’re comfortable with the rules. There is one serious omission to this, however, and that relates to the aforementioned flavor profile tokens. Aside from leaving them in the bag to be used for scoring, these can be pulled out and played in order to achieve certain effects. As an example, I mentioned the extra tray, which you gain by sacrificing two flavor effect tokens while roasting. However, any time you give up a token in this way, there is an additional effect that controls the roast and must immediately be performed. One of the tokens turns (say) a single level two bean into two level one beans, one of them preserves the level of two beans, and the third turns (say) two level two beans into a single level four bean. The problem is that there’s no indication of this on the board, or the player aid. No indication that the effect must be performed, nor which effect goes with which token. It is really easy to forget to do this, and even if you remember, you probably need that page of the rulebook open to remind you which does what. This is my biggest complaint about the game, and I’ll be making myself an improved player aid to remedy it.
I really do love Coffee Roaster; though I haven’t gotten particularly good at it yet. Fortunately, once I do, there are a ton of ways to control the difficulty. Several levels of difficulty in beans, a three-round vs. single-round variant, there’s an on-board mechanism for tracking the roast that can be eschewed. There’s a lot of room to grow into this game, and I fully intend to do that.
While searching through the rule book for ‘Raptor’ (an admittedly great game by everyone’s favorite Brunos) for a bit of errata this weekend, I came across a grossly irritating footnote early on:
Note: throughout this document male pronouns are used for the sake of simplicity and readability. It should be clearly understood that in each instance, we mean to include female players as well.
This is bullshit on so many levels. The most inclusive choice would, of course, be to use the singular they. The most sorry-gaming-is-horribly-patriarchal choice would be to use female pronouns throughout. And while I hate enforcing the gender binary, the most ‘readable’ choice would be to use male pronouns for Player A and female for Player B or vice versa. ‘Raptor’ is exclusively a two-player game, so all of the included examples rightfully include two players. Switching between two people with a shared set of pronouns is far less readable than unique pronouns for either. Ambiguity is always a potential pitfall of pronoun usage, easily avoidable when you’re dealing with two purely hypothetical humans.
Failing all of the above, however, I’d almost prefer they just used male pronouns throughout and cut out the nonsensical and condescending footnote. The footnote reads as though ‘some woman complained that we did this once and rather than adapt we’re just going to make up a bunch of excuses.’ Whose ‘simplicity’ is this for the sake of? The reader’s? Are we to assume that they are so caught up in the masculine gamer trope that a single female pronoun would cause their brains to shut down, eternally paralyzing them, rulebook still in hand? Or is it for the sake of simplicity on the part of the writers and editors, so lazy and consumed by male hegemony that they can’t even bother to do a find-and-replace on their masculine-as-default pronouns? The message put forward by the footnote is a brutally honest display of privilege: ‘we know we should be more inclusive, but we think it’s simpler not to.’ The footnote does not read as a statement of inclusiveness, rather an outright denial of it and a mockery of the very idea.
Karuba is, essentially, a solo game that two to four players play simultaneously. One player could theoretically play for a high score, but the randomness of the draw makes that a little problematic – and playing to beat a high score outside of the arcade isn’t terribly fun anyway. But as I was playing with the pieces and the tiles and thinking of a simple notation for my aforementioned hypothetical correspondence game, I accidentally came up with what seems to be a decent solo variant for this game.
I recently received a copy of the 2016 Spiel des Jahres nominee, ‘Karuba’. It’s a tile-laying game of sorts, albeit less free-form and less interactive than Carcassonne. It’s really about solving a puzzle more efficiently than everyone else at the table. I don’t really aim to explain or review the game, however, as plenty such explanations and reviews are already out there. There is one interesting angle that I would like to touch on, however.
I have always been a fan of correspondence chess, the idea that the game is open, all information is public, and moves are simple enough to easily notate, pass back and forth, and replicate. It was immediately obvious to me that Karuba has a great potential as a correspondence game. Due to the lack of interaction, it will certainly be nothing like chess. But as a casual puzzler, all the pieces are there for correspondence. All information in the game is public. All players start with the same board configuration. All players place the same tile on a given turn. Because of the way this mechanic works, tiles have unique numbers and would just as easily be described in correspondence. To ease in initial setup, rows and columns of the board already have labels. The four explorers every player controls are all unique colors, and can therefore easily be described in notation.
I don’t expect a huge community to explode around correspondence Karuba, but this possible means of play immediately struck me as such a perfect fit. Kind of the icing on an already rather impressive cake.