I really should know better than to go to any game store thinking I'm going to pick up something like card sleeves and nothing else. While I was at the Wilsonville Hobbytown (a great store, btw, if you live in the area, they have one of the top 5 boardgame selections in the Metro area), I picked up three new games that are all solitaire-friendly and I've managed to get them all on the table. Here are my early impressions of each:
Rune Age - Those of you who are burned out on deckbuilding games probably won't find enough here to rekindle your love of the genre, but you might as well try. I hear that this game takes a few plays before you start to see the deeper game (such as it is) which includes knowing when to attack other players and when to leave well enough alone.
The big diff in RA is that it's scenario based, so there's a defined pool of common cards that everyone can draw from, but also the ability to draw from your own private piles (and there are four factions to play, at least in the core set). You can attack your opponents, or the game can be cooperative, depending on the scenario. it can also be played solo for two of the four scenarios.
Also interesting is that there's a multi-dimensional economy. In Ascension, you have Runes (money) and whatever it is you attack with. Here, there's gold that lets you buy from your private stock, influence that lets you buy from the common cards (including gold cards), and whatever it is that lets you attack other players, enemy cards, and cities/strongholds.
Each scenario also has event cards that show up once per full turn that can threaten your home base or give you things to attack to get more cards that give you influence, gold, etc. It's a little hard to feel the flow until you've played, but suffice it to say each scenario has a flow that you'll go through and thinning your deck is critical.
Perhaps the two biggest differences are that you have cards that are Rewards, which you get from defeating some enemies, cities, and strongholds. These are always in play and are exhausted like in a CCG to use them, although they are almost all in influence with a couple that give gold. Since Gold is important early and influence in the midgame, at least in the Rise of the Dragonlords scenario I played twice, that may be a little on the scripted side, but I can't say since I haven't taken a close look at the other scenarios (I like to be surprised, which mostly turns out well unless you are the Keeper in Mansions of Madness).
The other huge difference is that you can spend influence to keep cards over to the next hand, although they do count against your hand limit.
Solitaire is interesting (and not something I've mastered yet), but I think this game will really shine with three or four players and increased interaction. Some of the events go after players who have the most or the least of something, so there's some need to be paying attention to what everyone else is doing.
Component quality is a little mixed. I found the cardstock to be pretty thin and bendy, and you'll want some sleeves (American board standard size, although Euro will work in a pinch but be a little oversized), and there's some, God help us, more recycled art from the Runebound franchise, but it *is* a Runebound game (mostly, I suspect, to reuse much of the art) and really, if you're going to let the art stop you there's not much I can say in this blog that's going to be of use to you.
As a solitaire game, it's kind of cool, certainly easier to set up and get going with than my incredibly bloated Thunderstone set, and the system is no pushover. So far I like it.
One last thing - this has been compared to the LotR LCG meets Dominion and there is considerable truth to that, but you shouldn't let your opinion of either of those games stop you from giving this a try because it's really not like either game, it just has elements from both.
Elder Sign - Where Rune Age is a game I can't wait to play with other people, Elder Sign is a game that I'm going to be *very* particular about asking to play. When they say it's an Arkham Horror Yahtzee game, they aren't far off the mark, but that's also an unfair assessment. The game is basically a pick a card with specific targets, then roll to try to take them. There's a lot of resource management involved, such as deciding to burn cards that give you an extra (and, in some cases better, die) or give you the chance to set dice aside that you'll need for later. With most of the cards having multiple groups you have to build on, and since you can only complete one "task" per roll, being able to set aside a die can be very useful.
Let's be clear, though - despite components that are literally dripping with theme, the game itself is fairly themeless when it comes right down to it. I would also think that downtime would be a huge problem with anything more than two or three players (eight would be hellish and would require considerable alcohol for me to even think of playing), and I suspect that this will stay a solitaire title for me with occasional two-player gaming. And I like the game solitaire, since you're always busy and pushing your luck with the dice. There are lots of Gods and Investigators, so a lot of replay in the box.
I played two games and it seemed like everything I rolled was pushing my luck. That said, I seemed to make mistake after mistake in my first two games, especially not taking my investigator's special ability into account, and certainly missing the Elder God's power.
ES makes Alea Iacta Est look like a deep strategy game, but it still has it's charms, especially in a solitaire role.
Gears of War - While I have not played this title, I think that anyone who has ever played a first person shooter a la Doom/Quake/Call of Duty/ad nauseum will appreciate this game. I also think that people who liked Doom: The Boardgame but found it kind of fussy and, uhm, colorful may find that this game has taken that idea and done it right.
No Overlord, just an AI (and a pretty good one). Multiple scenarios and random board setup to make things interesting after you've played the scenario once or twice. Very nice sculpts, although not painted (and some of the COGs, or friendlies, look extremely similar, not a problem for playing solitaire). An extremely quick and entertaining sequence of play that will prevent serious downtime issues (and a certain amount of cooperative play potential even when it isn't your turn).
And what a story this game generates. I am not quite done with the first scenario, Emergence (scenarios define the tiles you'll use to create the map, the critters you'll blow away, and the AI deck makeup) has been a bit of a bitch for me, actually. The entire point is to blow away all of the emergence markers on the board, of which there is only one near the exit at the start, and to do that you need grenades and while you start with one you will almost certainly need more because there are AI cards that generate them. And even then you have to roll an "omen" symbol on one or more dice when you roll, and there's only one face that has it on the attack dice.
Which is why I managed, in nine attacks on three emergence holes, to close them all. It took two trips back to the grenade store, found most of the way back to the starting point of the scenario, and one near-death experience, to finally get that damned last emergence hole collapsed. Now I just have to kill eight or nine baddies, two of which are immune to my lancer chainsaw extension. That should be easier.
One interesting note: Your hand of cards? The ones you only get two of a turn, that you can't draw into if you're at your hand limit, that you also use to do all those "not my turn" thinks like overwatch and dodge? They're also your health, so if you use them to pick stuff up or dodge as well as the mandatory order play every turn, you're dropping your health points as well. Nice!
I got through two hours of learning the game as I went (which works, although be prepared to do a lot of back and forth looking for things - FFG's editorial policy is in full effect with this game! Plus be aware that you will have no idea which minis go with which locusts (bad guys) unless you look on the back page) and the whole time I was entertained, at least when I wasn't going back and forth in the rules.
This was a bit of an impulse buy for me, but my friend Jesse (owner of the store) said it was really really good and he was right. I'm looking forward to giving this a try, maybe this coming Tuesday at our regular game night.
I mean, how can you not like a game where when you drop a critter you might get a new weapon or ammo? Really great stuff.
So there you go. Three games, all of which were pretty promising and two of which were good solitaire games (and the third serviceable, but looking good for multiplayer). And, God help me, expandable. Good thing all of them have room in the box once you take out the inserts - FFG hasn't figured that out either, but then again they probably don't need to - we keep buying this stuff anyway.