I’m cheating a bit here. My 6th favorite solo board game of 2020 is Vengeance; see a longer session report and review.
A game by Mark Tuck
And so you take a breath, your mind still, even in the center of the whirl of reds and yellows and purples, and the harvest begins.
I was really surprised to see this game show up so high on my list, but I think I know why. No other game in my collection puts me in such a state of relaxed, but focused, hypnosis. For me, playing Orchard most closely approximates the experience of pure flow.
I draw a card, I look for patterns in the cards on the table, I lay the card down. This is the game.
The fog crept inexorably into the city, a grey blanket of corruption that seethed malevolently in the damned streets. His mind reduced to that of a gibbering simian, Ashcan Pete lay helpless on the ground, his limbs torn to ribbons by the putrefied teeth of the Byakhee. He bled out slowly, his blood watering the cursed soil of Arkham, and around him grew the sound of an unspeakable, infernal howling. The ninth gate is opening, Pete whispered, his last shred of lucid thought. His dying words were a phlegm-choked rattle in his throat, and then the world went black.
Arkham Horror is a shambling inter-dimensional beast of a game, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It can be fiddly, and it can be very random. But its arbitrariness is part of its shaggy charm, like when you’re doing research in a carrel in the library, reading up on R’lyeh, minding your own business, and suddenly a bunch of robed thugs appear from nowhere, beat you up for your library card, and throw you out into the streets of Arkham where a ghoul just so happens to have spawned, and it takes a bite out of your arm, and the whole experience drives you insane, and you wake up the next morning in Arkham Asylum with half your stuff gone because the ghoul grabbed your spell books even though it doesn’t have time in its busy day to kick back and read.
This War of Mine: The Board Game
The sun was a pallid sphere that gave light but no heat, and it rose in a cold blue sky.
Marko was alone once more. The only one left to tend to the empty rat traps and the empty water collector. No wood left to feed the empty stove, no food or water to feed his empty stomach.
At least the fire would be fed, but it would take all he had left.
He picked up the book—The Martian Chronicles—the one thing that had consoled him when he no longer had the strength to dig through rubble, or when he sought respite from the din of sirens and shelling. He started tearing out the pages, the sound of ripping paper hanging in the mote-filled air, crumpling the paper and throwing them into the stove. If only he had committed the words to memory.
The flames leaped up hungrily, and when the fire had consumed it all, and only one page was left, he thought to himself, this is a terrible mistake, I would rather die from the cold than be deprived of the company of letters, and he stopped.
He held the last page. It was from the story “There Will Come Soft Rains,” and he read, in a trembling hand:
“The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes.”
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!”