Every year since 2013, the members of the 1-Player Guild at Boardgamegeek has voted for their top solo board games. This yearly list has been an invaluable resource for a solo gamer like me (daughter away at college, wife with zero interest, anti-social gamer even before the pandemic), and has guided all my explorations (and purchase decisions) in board gaming.
Kevin Erskine—just one person!—assembles the 11,047 (!) votes from 618 people and unveils the Top 200 results, 10 games a day. Which games will climb the highest? Which will fall off the top 100? Will Spirit Island still be at the top? (The answer was “yes.”.) A lively discussion ensues. For me, it’s the BGG highlight of the year.
This year I thought I’d have a little fun with the list and dream up first and last lines, as if it were a story. The list begins below and in subsequent posts.
“I have seen things no mortal has ever laid eyes on!” Nemo cried as the Nautilus fought against being pulled into the horrific churning of the maelstrom. “I have journeyed to all the oceans and sunk warships in every sea! I have smuggled arms to those chained and bound so that they may gain independence from their oppressors! I have traveled the vast forests of kelp, plumbed the unseen depths of the darkest ocean trenches, and fought mightily with the Great Kraken and lived to tell the tale! But still—still!—I am incapable of victory!”
My love for this game based on Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea remains undiminished—even if I have never won a single game. Thus Nemo’s frustration above. (I’ve made it to the end several times, but the number of victory points required for even an “inconsequential” win is so steep.) It’s such a handsome game (illustrated by Ian O’Toole) with its period illustrations and quotes from Verne as flavor text on the event cards. I love a board with a gorgeously designed map.
Nemo’s War is really a solo game; the cooperative version feels really tacked on, and I wouldn’t bother. Your objective in the game is to gain the most victory points; as with games of this ilk, gaining points can be done through a variety of ways, but the twist is that your primary engine for points is dependent on Nemo’s chosen motive. You can be a warmonger, scuttling different merchant ships (and inevitably, warships trying to hunt you down), or you can be an explorer, gaining points for the different treasures and Wonders you encounter as you traverse the oceans. (Closer to my heart is the anti-colonial motive, where you assist in fomenting revolution.) Or—depending on what you’re actually able to tactically accomplish—you can choose to switch sides like the mercurial Captain Nemo. You generally end up doing a little of everything above, as long as you concentrate on one motive.
A shuffled deck of Adventure cards simulates the narrative through which Nemo, i.e. the player, progresses. Like a book, the narrative contains different acts and endings (and even a Rising Action card), and each card features an event, where you roll for success based on different tests.
On the surface it seems like a narrative adventure-type game; you can certainly play the game that way if you choose the Explore and Science motives. There’s no chance you’ll “win,” though, which means you’ll need to dig a little deeper and play Nemo’s War as a tactical, area-control-like game that partly revolves around keeping certain oceans free from warships looking for Nemo.
You have a limited number of actions, but the twist here is that that number is variable, and dependent on dice rolls. Oh, those dice rolls. You have so-called Ship Resources, representing Nemo (more specifically, his sanity), the crew (their strength), and the Nautilus (the condition of its hull), and here’s another twist: you can “exert” a resource as die roll modifiers to better your odds when you roll for tests. Do I risk tiring the crew out and getting victory points subtracted at the end, or do I push the crew and acquire some amazing pearl from the bottom of the Indian Ocean?
Ships are spawned on each turn, and while you can ignore them for a little while, the sea lanes inevitably get clogged, making it more difficult for you to explore or go hunting for treasure. But sinking ships, on the other hand, also increases your notoriety, drawing the attention of even more enemy ships.
Nemo’s War is a superb solo board game—not one for beginners, though, but in presentation and theme and crunchy, deep tactical playing, it’s my #10 solo game of 2020.