All posts by caperaway

I’m a publisher writer of graphic novels and short fiction. Published works include Acts of Violence: An Anthology of Crime Comics, The Grim Collection, Black Salt, and Psychosis.

Solo Gaming

Solo board games including The Harbour, The Lost Expedition, Paper Tales, and Legendary Encounters: Alien.
Some of the board games in my collection that have a solo option.

There are many games designed with solo play in mind. Some of these games are 1-player only. Some are multiplayer games that come with solo modes. And some are multiplayer games that have unofficial solo rules that have been created by and embraced by the gaming community.

Not all solo gamers are solo. I am a member of a family of four and yet I enjoy solo gaming. For me, solo gaming offers quiet concentration. I approach solo gaming as a puzzle to be solved. I also enjoy the meditative nature of moving board game bits and shuffling / handling cards. You’ll notice most of my personal favorites are card-driven games.

This list was compiled by me from a mix of personal experience, feedback from fellow local gamers, and a few choice bits taken from the annual list of best solo games as compiled by users of BoardGameGeek.com.

MY PERSONAL PICKS

Star Realms Frontiers

Star Realms started as a solid 2-player deck-builder, but has since evolved into Star Realms Frontiers, which is the Star Realms game packaged with enough content for up four players. It also comes with a number of 1-player challenges. Some are more difficult than others, but each is a unique challenge, not just an escalation of difficulty within the same challenge. If fantasy is more your flavor then give Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar a go.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue

This cooperative fire-fighting game has been a bestseller at ComicReaders for several years. My son when he was younger would play it solo, taking turns with the different firefighters in an effort to rescue people (and pets) from burning buildings. Years later when I got involved in solo gaming I thought about this game, did some research, and found some unofficial rules on BoardGameGeek.com. I like to run this game solo with 3 firefighters. You pretty much play it the same way you play with a group but with way less table talk. This means all the bad decisions you make are your own. After every firefighter takes its turn you have to activate the fire. I find the limited, focused actions of the firefighters and the maintenance of the fire itself quite meditative. Lots of cardboard bits to move around the board. And it is still an excellent thematic experience. I do enjoy a game that manages to execute its theme.

Paper Tales

The expansion for Paper Tales is needed in to play solo. This is a drafting game (think 7 Wonders) but it is tight like borscht in that the game plays in only 4 rounds. The game also has an aging mechanic– basically, cards you draft last for two rounds at the most. This means you have to not only adapt your strategy based on the cards being drafted but also on the fact that some of those cards are not going to be around to help you in later rounds. When I first learned Paper Tales had a solo mode I thought how in the holy heck does one play a drafting game solo? The way is rather slick. You draw cards, draft one, and the remaining cards are set aside. You do this again– draw some cards, draft one, set the rest aside. The cards set aside eventually become the “hand” of the enemy you are competing against. I love this because I get a sense of what I’m going to face when the enemy’s turn takes place, but it is frustrating because if a card I don’t really want is going to really help the enemy then I sometimes feel like I have to take it to deny the enemy. As with the original game, the whole solo experience takes place in only 4 rounds. There are different levels of difficulty in the solo experience. I’ve won the easiest level only once out of a half dozen plays.

The Harbour

There is a lot of game variety in this small box game. The game box says 1-player but this official solo experience is basically you playing against a “dummy player” which has its own set of actions and cards that you have to manage on its behalf. This is NOT the way to play The Harbour solo. A member of the gaming community developed an unofficial 20-Move Solo Challenge. It had been around for a few years when I discovered it so feedback on BoardGameGeek has refined it into a great solo experience. A game of The Harbour ends when a player buys four buildings. In the 20-Move Solo Challenge you have 20 turns to build four buildings. If you do, you score your points. Now reset and try to better your score. I built my four buildings on my first attempt of the challenge, but I’d always buy the cheapest building available, so my score was not very impressive. Each time I play I try to do better and better. The kicker is due to the large number of buildings available in the game the game experience is almost always different in some way each time I play.

The Lost Expedition

If I’m feeling particularly strong I’ll tackle The Lost Expedition in which you are trying to discover a lost city in the heart of the Amazon. Resources are limited. The dangers are plenty. Every decision feels like a bad one. You have three explorers but you only need one to reach the lost city alive. (Thank the stars you don’t have to get back out of the Amazon!) This is a great thematic experience, but it’s hard on the nerves. There are ways to make this game even more punishing. I should mention you can play this game cooperatively, which is difficult and fun, and two people can play it competitively, which is difficult and fun as you each lead a team of explorers.

Legendary Encounters: Alien

I think there are ways to play every Legendary deck-building game as a solo experience. The official solo rules for Alien came with its first expansion but even before that people were playing multiple hands in order to play by themselves. The official solo is my go to game for a thematic, longer playing, full on meditative experience in solo play. It’s a deck builder so I’m constantly moving cards, reading cards, making decisions about cards, shuffling cads, discarding cards. I can think of few things more focusing then the riffle of cards as I stare down the wet, prickly maw of a xenomorph. The theme is nailed. I somewhat reluctantly picked up the newest expansion which features elements from the Alien Covenant movie. I’m not a fan of anything beyond Alien 3, but I wanted more cards to move around.

Hoplomachus has high quality components. It is certainly one of the more expensive solo experience games in my collection.


Hoplomachus: The Lost Cities

This mouthful of a game has two of my favorite things: a theme you can really get into and great tactile elements. The theme is gladiatorial combat in a fictional version of ancient Rome. The tactile elements are the heavy poker chips that represent the combatants and the coloured dice you chuck to resolve combat. Before Chip Theory Games had their big hit Too Many Bones, they had the series of games Hoplomachus. The Lost Cities is the first one I picked up based on a stellar review from a ComicReaders’ customer. In the solo experience, you use gladiators and your champion to fight bosses, criminals, and arena beasts over three rounds.

This War of Mine

This is, I think, the most thematic and most depressing game I’ve ever played. It’s a board game simulation of surviving in a city under siege. I played this as a multi-player experience and though I can’t say it was “fun” I can say it was an excellent experience in immersive board gaming. You can play this solo quite easily but the game itself is not easy. It’s a long game experience, too, but it comes with a slick “save” mechanic. Don’t fly solo if you are worried about intense emotions. Maybe not the best game to play during a pandemic, but then again sales of the board game Pandemic spiked when the coronavirus crisis kicked off.

Sherlock Consulting Detective Agency

With a close attention to detail and lots of physical props to read and consider, Sherlock Consulting Detective Agency is an immersive game where you try to solve cases by scouring newspapers and other props for clues. A more tech savvy individual might consider Chronicles of Crime as a solo mystery-solving experience.

Terraforming Mars

One of the best-selling heavier strategy games at ComicReaders is Terraforming Mars. It also comes with a solo mode. I do believe this is one of my business partner’s favorite solo games and it’s on this list because he’d probably give me heck if it wasn’t. (I like Terraforming Mars with multiple players. I have not played it solo.) In 1-player mode it is my understanding that you need to achieve a certain level of points in the three resources of oxygen, temperature and water. It’s an engine building game so you get to move a crap tonne of bits around the board. Lots of planning and careful decisions required.

Friday

For me, this is the “original” 1-player only game. It is a lean deck-builder. It might seem dated to some these days but ya’ gotta give this not-so-old-classic its props.

Hostage Negotiator is a solo only game. The theme might not appeal to everyone.

EXTENDED LIST

Spirit Island. One of the best cooperative experiences can be played solo.

Mage Knight. I read on BoardGameGeek that solo is the only way this game SHOULD be played.

Aeon’s End. I’ve played this cooperative deck-builder as a multiplayer game. I can see how this would be a good solo experience, but I like to fiddle with Alien cards instead.

Arkham Horror LCG — Lord of the Rings LCG — Marvel Champions LCG . The LCG stands for Living Card Game. Different themes. Similar core game mechanics. Card driven solo experience, but not a deck-builder.

Viticulture. A heavier strategy game with a solo option. If you don’t want to terraform Mars perhaps you can immerse yourself in wine country. Actual wine optional.

Nemo’s War (2nd edition). A member of the ComicReaders South team is digging the heck out of this heavily themed solo experience.

Wingspan. One of the most popular games in recent years can be played solo.

Hostage Negotiator. Dark theme. Solo only. Save hostages. I own it and all of the expansions released so far. It is difficult for me to recommend this one because of the theme. That said, the theme is NOT as immersive as other thematic games on this list, which is why it only gets an honourable mention.

Dawn of the Zeds. I’ll be honest here and say I had not heard of this game. It has gone through three printings, I think, and is an annual favorite on the best solo games list on BoardGameGeek. Zeds means zombies, so if Zombicide as a solo experience is too much of a table hog for you then consider the Zeds.

One Deck Dungeon. Play it solo or play it as a two-player game. Chuck dice. Allocate dice. Try to fight your way through a dungeon. I find this one a challenge.

Ganz Schon Clever / That’s Pretty Clever. Same game with two names. Chuck dice. Assign dice. Try to get your engine running to chuck more dice and score more points before the game ends. A slick little puzzler. Play. Reset. Try to do better.

Tiny Towns. A new game that has proven to be popular that I did not know had solo rules until I started to research this list. I’m going to end with Tiny Towns even though there are many more solo gaming experiences to be discovered. Tiny Towns is a good reminder that some multiplayer games have solo rules. Check your own collection and see what solo experiences you might have waiting for you. (Chad Boudreau)

Note: BoardGameGeek.com currently has more than 1,300 games listed as having a solitaire experience. Also, this article in its original form first appeared on ComicReaders Downtown’s Facebook page in April 2020. I made some changes to the article when I posted it on the Web site.

The Roots of Alien RPG

The artwork is what initially got me very excited for the Alien RPG.

The winners of the 2020 Ennie Awards were announced at GenCon Online this year and the gold winner for Best Game went to the Alien RPG by Free League Publishing and 20th Century Studios.

For me, Alien RPG was my most anticipated RPG release since Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and I was not disappointed when I finally got my mitts on the massive core rulebook. At almost 400 pages, the hardcover core rulebook is packed with lore and gorgeous illustrations that invoke the feel of the best Alien films. It also presents a rule system that is quick to pick up, favours narrative play over number crunching, and is potentially and deliciously lethal.

Free League Publishing is a Swedish game studio that has built itself an impressive reputation for award-winning RPGs. Alien is just one of the latest, and interestingly, it and other RPGs from Free League that have won the hearts of fans and critics are all based on the core mechanics of their first major hit: Mutant Year Zero.

Mutant Year Zero core rules and several other books within the same RPG system are a part of my own RPG collection.

Mutant Year Zero was released in 2014, but its roots date back to 1984 with a system called Mutant. Published by Sweden’s Target Games, Mutant was set in a post-apocalyptic future where players could play as humans, mutants, and robots. That system evolved over the years, eventually morphing into The Mutant Chronicles. This was the early 2000s, I do believe. This was when I first became aware of the RPG, though I never played it. You might recall the 2009 movie The Mutant Chronicles starring Thomas Jane and Ron Perlman. Well, the roots of that movie stretch back to the original 1984 Mutant RPG.

Target Games had a video game division. When Target Games folded in 1999 that video game division was spun off into Paradox Entertainment, which continued to produce video games based on Target Games’ properties. Fast forward several years to when Free League Publishing started developing a prequel to Mutant under license from Paradox Entertainment. In Mutant Year Zero, mutants have been kept isolated from the outside world in Arks. Players are these mutants and as the story begins they learn of circumstances that will force them outside the Ark for the very first time. Mutant Year Zero then becomes about exploring the world outside the Ark, but also maintaining and improving the Ark, including its food and water sources, its defense, and its social structure.

Mutant Year Zero is a D6 system as are the RPGs that use the games’ core mechanics. You roll some D6 based on your skills and attributes, add some modifiers, and look for a single 6 to succeed. A failure is never just a “well, that didn’t work”. A fail always brings consequences that drive the story. There is also a cost to your character for this kind of failure. In Alien RPG it is stress. In Tales from the Loop it is an emotional, mental or physical condition. In Mutant Year Zero it is the chance to trigger your mutant characteristic, which can be helpful or a hindrance depending on the situation. The twist in Mutant Year Zero is that your mutation will eventually kill you. Player characters are literally killing themselves with every triggering of their mutant abilities. They are dying even as they try to make their Ark a better place.

Tales from the Loop and its sequel Things from the Flood use the Mutant Year Zero system. So, too, do Forbidden Lands and Alien. Each has its own twist on the core mechanics, as hinted at above. Each operates in a different genre: A 1980s that never was for Tales from the Loop; a 1990s that never was for Things from the Flood; a ruined fantasy realm in Forbidden Lands; and the universe of Alien as described by Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, and numerous books and comics. Each favors collaborative storytelling and narrative play over dice chucking. Each has won accolades.





2020 Eisner Awards Winners

The 2020 Eisner Awards winners were announced at the end of July. I had missed the opportunity to post this when announced because I was still thinking about how to redesign ComicReaders’ Web site, but I knew it would be one of the first things I wanted to write about when the Web site had been re-designed.

What I personally enjoy about the Eisners is the variety of subject matter and the diversity of the creators represented in the nominees and winners. I also like that award-winning books come from a variety of publishers and, likewise, that award-winning creators create material for a wide variety of publishers. There is never one creator or one publisher that racks up all the awards. I think people who follow the Eisners already follow the comics industry more closely than a casual reader, but I like to think that the Eisner seal of approval exposes all readers to books, creators, and publishers with which they might not be overly familiar.

I know an Oscar-winning movie can enjoy a larger audience. I hope that is the same for Eisner winners.

The list of winners is below, with some personal comments from me where applicable.

Best Short Story
“Hot Comb,” by Ebony Flowers, in Hot Comb (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Single Issue/One-Shot
Our Favorite Thing Is My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)

Best Continuing Series
Bitter Root, by David Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene (Image)
I have to admit that Bitter Root has been on my “to read” list for many, many months. I am attracted to its art style. I’ll have to bump it up the list now that it has won this prestigious award.

Best Limited Series
Little Bird by Darcy Van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram (Image)
Gorgeous art really drives the story home.

Best New Series
Invisible Kingdom, by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
Dark Horse has had a rough couple of years with the loss of the Star Wars, Conan, Aliens, and Predator licenses, controversy around one of its leading editors, and now a slow start to releasing material during the pandemic. In light on those things it can sometimes be easy to forget what a creative force Dark Horse has been in the industry for 30+ years. Awards like this for creators is a good reminder that Dark Horse is a company that takes risks on new creators, takes the time curate a diverse line of comics across numerous genres, and is still a relevant and welcome publisher in the industry.

Best Publication for Early Readers
Comics: Easy as ABC, by Ivan Brunetti (TOON)

Best Publication for Kids
Guts, by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic Graphix)
Anything with the Telgemeier name on it is going to be a hit in schools, libaries, book stores and comic shops.

Best Publication for Teens
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (First Second/Macmillan)
Here is a read that has had great success at ComicReaders Downtown.

Best Humor Publication
The Way of the Househusband, vol. 1, by Kousuke Oono, translation by Sheldon Drzka (VIZ Media)
I stocked this manga because the description sounded like it could be a bizarre read. I did not realize at the time that it was a straight up comedy.

Best Anthology
Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment, and Survival, edited by Diane Noomin (Abrams)

Best Reality-Based Work
They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (Top Shelf)

Best Graphic Album – New
Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden (First Second/Macmillan)
Here is another one that keeps finding new readers at ComicReaders Downtown.

Best Graphic Album – Reprint
LaGuardia, by Nnedi Okorafor and Tana Ford (Berger Books/Dark Horse)

Best Adaptation from Another Medium
Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran (Dark Horse Books)
I have to be honest and say I missed ordering this one. I’ve had a few customers ask for it and I was quick to bring it in for them. Neil Gaiman still has a following.

Best U.S. Edition of International Material
The House, by Paco Roca, translation by Andrea Rosenberg (Fantagraphics)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia
Tie: Cats of the Louvre, by Taiyo Matsumoto, translation by Michael Arias (VIZ Media) and Witch Hat Atelier, by Kamome Shirahama, translation by Stephen Kohler (Kodansha)

Best Archival Collection/Project – Strips
Krazy Kat: The Complete Color Sundays, by George Herriman, edited by Alexander Braun (TASCHEN)

Best Archival Collection/Project – Comic Books
Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo: The Complete Grasscutter Artist Select, by Stan Sakai, edited by Scott Dunbier (IDW)

Best Writer
Mariko Tamaki, Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass (DC); Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me (First Second/Macmillan); Archie (Archie)
I remember many years ago when Dana from ComicReaders South invited Mariko Tamaki to the store to promote and sign her graphic novel Skim. Dana was devastated by the low turnout. Now Mariko Tamaki is one of the biggest named in comics, but even then she was a talent.

Best Writer/Artist
Raina Telgemeier, Guts (Scholastic Graphix)

Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team
Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me (First Second/Macmillan)

Best Painter/Digital Artist
Christian Ward, Invisible Kingdom (Berger Books/Dark Horse)

Best Cover Artist
Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly (Image)

Best Coloring
Dave Stewart, Black Hammer, B.P.R.D.: The Devil You Know, Hellboy and the BPRD (Dark Horse); Gideon Falls (Image); Silver Surfer Black, Spider-Man (Marvel)
I’m pretty sure Dave Stewart has won this award every year since he got into colouring comics. I’m not going to fact check that though.

Best Lettering
Stan Sakai, Usagi Yojimbo (IDW)
A year or so ago I had a really good conversation with a customer about the art of hand lettering comics. I wish I had a transcript of that conversation. Also related to lettering— since I’ve been involved in some comic projects as a writer I’ve worked with letterers and I’ve learned a lot about the craft of lettering, including placement of dialogue to ensure the proper flow for the reader. Lettering is one of those things you won’t notice when it’s done correctly.

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
Women Write About Comics, edited by Nola Pfau and Wendy Browne, www.WomenWriteAboutComics.com

Best Academic/Scholarly Work
EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest, by Qiana Whitted (Rutgers University Press)

Best Publication Design
Making Comics, designed by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Digital Comic
Afterlift, by Chip Zdarsky and Jason Loo (comiXology Originals)

Best Webcomic
Fried Rice Comic, by Erica Eng

Gideon Falls volume 3

Gideon Falls volume 3
Image Comics
Writer: Jeff Lemire
atist: Andrea Sorrentino
FC, 128 pgs, $16.99 US

(The following comments were originally posted on the ComicReaders Comic Reading Facebook Group on Halloween of 2019. That group has since been turned down.)

I am handing out candy and reading this one.

I was on the fence about this series and was considering giving up because it felt confusing and couldn’t get to the point.

It felt less a mystery and more a self-indulgent mess.

Well, it got really good with this trade and it finally feels like it’s going somewhere and questions are being answered. It’s satisfying.

A good spooky one for Halloween. (Matt Barton)

What kept me going in the early issues was the art gymnastics. I feel like the creative team is taking some big risks here with a story that provides almost zero answers for the first— testing my memory here– 12 issues. Volume 3 is definitely where the groundwork starts to pay off.

I’d also like to mention that Gideon Falls is read by three people in my family– my wife, my oldest son, and me. (Chad Boudreau)

Queen & Country

Queen & Country Definitive Edition
Oni Press
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Steve Rolston, Brian Hurtt, and Leandro Fernandez
BW, $19.99 US

It was a crazy 2019 holiday season at ComicReaders, which is just the way we like it. (Thanks to everyone who shopped local for the holidays, by the way.) As a result, it has been a while since I posted and to be honest I did not read ANY comics in the month of December. (Shock!) My bus and evening reading was solely John le Carre.

I had picked up a heavily worn copy of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy a few years ago after watching the BBC miniseries starring Sir Alec Guinness as George Smiley. The first chapter was great. I found the second chapter a slog and put the book down and moved onto other things. As we put our house back together after a renovation was completed in December I rediscovered the novel and decided to give it another go. The first chapter was great. The second chapter was STILL a slog, but I kept going and quickly got lost in this thoroughly gripping spy novel. A spy novel that is mostly Smiley digging through archives and reading old documents or interrogating people!

After Tinker, I borrowed the second novel, The Honourable Schoolboy, from the RPL. That one had actual boots on the ground spycraft but it made me so angry by the end! Needless to say, I followed up with Smiley’s People, which I’ve just about halfway consumed.

These John le Carre books reminded me of the excellent BBC series The Sandbaggers, which ComicReaders’ Dana recommended to me many moons ago. And thinking of The Sandbaggers got me thinking about Queen & Country, the comic series from many moons ago, which is quite fascinating because in December a young chap came into the store and bought Queen & Country volume 1!

Queen & Country is available in three definitive editions from Oni Press and it is a set I like to keep in stock even though I might only sell one edition every 2 years. Dana and I talked about this the other day over breakfast. If you run a comic shop there are certain titles you keep in stock to demonstrate you know your craft. Most often these are current bestsellers, award-winners, and titles that are important to the industry because of their influence, but just as often there are titles that are important to the individuals in the store. Queen & Country is, for me, one of those titles. It did win awards. And it did feature a cast of artists that continue to do stellar work in the industry. And it did give something that I would argue has yet to be duplicated in modern comics– spy stories that feel real– and that is the reason I like to keep it on the shelf. If someone was to come into the store and say, “Hey, you ever read John le Carre?” or “You ever hear of The Sandbaggers?” “Do you have anything like that?” My reply would be, “Well, yes– yes, I do.” And we’d head over to where Queen & Country resides. And as we walked over there I’d look over my shoulder and ask the person’s opinion on that second chapter of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. (Chad Boudreau)