Solo play: Cardventures: Stowaway 52

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.

Beyond nostalgia, I’ve enjoyed a lot of the modern takes on the Choose Your Own… errm… Narrative style of book. Recently, my fellow commuters and I have been laughing and stumbling our way through Ryan North’s 400-page Romeo and/or Juliet, which I highly recommend. There are great independent works up at It’s an art form that’s alive and well, and has grown beyond the exclusive realm of children. Does a book that you read out of order, and often fail to bring to a happy conclusion count as a game? Does it warrant a post in my ‘Solo play’ series?

Cardventures: Stowaway 52 by Gamewright is a card-based version of the choosable narrative. The premise is something along the lines of being stuck on an alien ship set to destroy Earth. The assumption is that you like Earth, and would therefore like to keep this plan from happening. My initial suspicion was that the thing should’ve just been a book, and that the card-based system was a cost-cutting measure or a gimmick. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was quite wrong about this.

Solo play: Coffee Roaster

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.

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.

Solo play: Intro and Dungeon Roll

As someone who is far more into board (and card) than video games, as someone who spends a lot of time alone, and as someone who has immense insomnia (compounded by the ridiculous anxiety brought on by recent politics), the volume and quality modern board/card games continues to impress me. While I know I’m not alone in seeking these out, I do think they get pushed to the side a bit, and I’ve been meaning to get a few write-ups out there about the games I’ve been enjoying as of late. Initially, I’m going to present this series as my current top five, but in the future I’ll be tacking others on in no particular order. With that…

First up is Dungeon Roll from Tasty Minstrel Games and designer Chris Darden. Its appeal is pretty clear: it’s cheap, has fun dice, and comes in a tiny cardboard chest that you pull treasure from during the game. They bill it as playing 1-4, but multiplayer is essentially just every individual playing a solo game while others watch. All of the encounters are based on dice, with no automatic rerolls (some character abilities grant rerolls), so it is very much a game of randomness and of pushing one’s luck. There are a handful of expansions out there (all bundled together in a cheap package at CoolStuff Inc., conveniently), which are largely just new player characters, though the winter one also adds some interesting new treasure.