Category Archives: Solitaire Play

Thoughts on Agricola as a solo game

I was going to write a fairly condensed session-report-ish-type thing on a solo series of Agricola using the E and K decks (indeed, I have a draft of that post knocking around in the system here), but it got to the point where there was simply no challenge to the series. I could have gone on for probably twenty games in total before the target scores caught up with my farms. This sort of thing had started happening:

Agricola 14 food

Yes, that’s 14 Food left on the Fishing space at the end of the game – not once in the whole game did I deem it worthwhile to use an action to take that Food. That happened in two consecutive games.

I think once you realise there’s exactly 28 Wood available (2 Wood per round for 14 rounds), which is exactly enough to build 1 Wooden Hut room, 4 Stables and 15 Fences, that guides you down a certain path. Yes, there are Occupations and Improvements that might take you down a different route, but I just found myself in a routine of Plough*, Grain, Plough, Grain, Sow, Occupation (assuming I had spare Food from the previous game in the series), Fishing, whatever… and then the first Harvest. Of course, with an Occupation like Seasonal Worker (take a bonus Grain when using Day Labourer*, or a Vegetable from round 6), getting that Grain becomes a little easier.

So you’ve realised you’ve got enough Wood for one room. Then you Renovate to Clay at three rooms and build up to four rooms. Four rooms leaves enough space for five Fields and four Pastures (2 single-space, 2 double-space), each with a Stable, giving maximum points for Fields, Pastures and fenced Stables.

And then you realise that as long as you can get a Stone Oven by the third Harvest, you’re sorted for Food, so you can just go for a heavy baking strategy. And then you realise that means you don’t need any animals on your farm until the very last round, so you can always max out on points for each animal… oh, unless Cattle don’t come out until round 11, in which case you need to take 2 or 3 Cattle in round 12 or 13 so you can breed them once and then also take them in round 14 for a total of 6 Cattle and thus 4 points.

And then you find yourself with a whole different challenge: “How many of these Improvements and Occupations will get me points at the end of the game?” But by the time you get past the third or fourth game in the series, you’ve only got a small number of new Occupations to play each time and the Improvements are generally fairly weak for points and won’t change things much.

Yes, there are exceptions. With a combination like Master Builder and Mansion, it might make more sense to go for a much bigger Stone house and maybe sacrifice a Field or two… but those are just variations on the general theme. I’m pretty much always going to end up with a farm that looks like this:

83 points. EIGHTY-THREE.

83 points. EIGHTY-THREE.

A lot of these thoughts come via the iOS Agricola app, which enables you to rattle through a solo game and series much quicker than the print version (although as I’ve said previously, I much, much prefer the print version). I’ve played quite a few solo series with quite a few different combinations of Occupations and Minor Improvements, and they’ve all ended up pretty samey.

So what? Well, I suppose the Agricola solo series has lost its charm a bit. Maybe some different decks might spice things up a bit (I only have the base E, I and K decks), or maybe I should add in my underplayed copy of Farmers of the Moor, but as it stands it’s just trundle–trundle–trundle–do–some–maths–HUGE–SCORE.

Any spicing ideas gratefully received.

Maybe I should just play it with other people a bit more, eh?

* I know, I know. It should be Plow, Day Laborer, etc. if I’m to quote the names correctly. I’m British and it just doesn’t come naturally.

Playing Alone #3 – D-Day at Omaha Beach

I’m playing the First Waves scenario of John Butterfield’s insanely colourful solitaire masterpiece D-Day at Omaha Beach. Seriously, you’ve never seen a wargame map with so many primary colours splashed across it. I can only start out with the best will in the world, but frankly this game is so absorbing that I’ll probably forget to write about it as it goes along (and being ill really doesn’t help, although really I’m only writing this to give my brain something to do!). Still, at least I’ve got a dramatic start to kick things off on 6 June 1944…

Turn 1 – 0615 (Low Tide)

The US amphibious operations at 0615 hit something of a brick wall, with the landing check cards delaying four of the tank units until Turn 2 (meaning they won’t hit the beach until Turn 3), eliminating one and subjecting the remaining three to a step loss. Ouch. Still, there’s no possibility of good news in the Turn 1 landing checks, so I can’t complain too much.

Nothing good can come of Turn 1 landing checks...

Literally nothing good can come of Turn 1 landing checks…

The three landed tank units manage to avoid coming under German fire and attempt to barrage some Widerstandsnests (WNs) – two are successful, disrupting a couple of nests and hopefully allowing some easier passage for my units in Turn 2. Talking of which… Continue reading

Grey Matter

So I’m ill. Not life-threateningly ill, but not shake-it-off-in-a-couple-of-days ill either. Medium-term-debilitatingly ill. I’ve got post-viral fatigue syndrome, and not for the first time.

The practical upshot of this is that I feel like I’ve spent a day walking in the Alps and then consumed half a bottle of fine Swiss wine. (I can draw this parallel because I’ve done exactly that in the past, but this isn’t anywhere near as enjoyable.) Physically wiped and mentally sub-par, I’m struggling to hold concentration, meaning I can’t read anything with any degree of complexity and it’s a real battle to write things (I’ll note at the end of this post how long it took me to write it*). I’ve been off work/training/study for a month now, with no idea of when I’ll be capable of returning.

Naturally, I’ve been trying to use games to (a) alleviate boredom and (b) keep my brain working. It’s not always easy, what with the reading problems and everything, so I’ve been sticking to games I already know or at least games I can refresh my knowledge of pretty quickly. Rulebooks presented in short, snappy numbered paragraphs are ideal, so GMT and other wargame publishers are my saviours at the moment.

So far I’ve logged 16 (!) plays of Onirim, with various expansions, 3 solo runs of Cuba Libre (variously as the Government or Castro’s 26July insurgents – check out one of my crushing defeats in the picture at the top), 2 of Cruel Necessity and 1 of Friday. The Christmas holidays have also brought with them more opportunities for playing with my kids, so Carcassonne, Catan: Junior, Forbidden Island, Indigo, Rat-a-Tat Cat and more have had outings.

It’s disappointing that I’ll be unlikely to make it to any Newcastle Gamers sessions until I’m recovered (can’t drive, generally need a nap at the drop of a hat, struggle to learn new games, certainly can’t teach games, etc.), so I’ll be continuing with the solo regime and trying to engineer some more opportunities for playing at home.

I’m considering writing a full card-by-card run-through of Cuba Libre or D-Day at Omaha Beach… just as something to do.

* About 80 minutes. Eighty minutes!

Playing Alone #2.5 – Thunderbolt Apache Leader, Day 2

Iraq, 1991

The US government has given my squadron the task of intimidating the enemy with a massive show of firepower over two days. We have just one day remaining to inflict as much damage as possible. The first day was a resounding success, with two major enemy battalions destroyed. It’s time to take out the rest of the trash… Let’s roll!

Continue reading

Playing Alone #2 – Thunderbolt Apache Leader, Day 1

Iraq, 1991

The US government has given my squadron the task of intimidating the enemy with a massive show of firepower. We have just two days to inflict as much damage as possible. The enemy haven’t broken through into friendly territory yet, but their artillery unit is sapping our resources, so we have to eliminate that target as soon as possible… Let’s roll!

Campaign Setup

For this “introductory” campaign, I’ve purchased a reasonable selection of aircraft:

  • one A-10A Thunderbolt tankbuster plane
  • two AH-64A Apache assault helicopters (this is Thunderbolt Apache Leader after all, so I felt I had to go for those first two aircraft types)
  • two AH-1 Cobra helicopters

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Playing Alone #1 – Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?

In a moment of recent weakness (i.e. my third child had just been born, I hadn’t slept in three days and I was walking past my FLGS on the way to the train station) I picked up a copy of GMT Games’ Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001 – ?. Why? Well, apart from being attracted by the unwieldy, punctuation-strewn title (henceforth abbreviated to LWOT), I knew it was well regarded on BoardGameGeek and it was a close cousin to “the best game ever”, Twilight Struggle, but with a solitaire system built into the game. Perfect.

It’s a card-driven game, somewhere in the no-man’s land between wargames and… well, everything else, really. It’s not what I’d call a wargame as such, but it is a game of conflict between two opposing sides, roughly simulating an actual war of sorts. And thus LWOT has courted a little controversy for two main reasons:

  1. It’s based on a current, ongoing conflict, with many of the cards representing real people (living or dead), recent events or things you don’t really want to have to think about while playing a game. For example, one of the cards represents the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Too soon? Maybe for some.
  2. In the two-player game, one player controls the US while the other controls the global jihadist movement. Yes, you get to be a terrorist. Not a cartoony, balaclava-wearing terrorist, but a setting-off-WMDs-in-Israel and overthrowing-the-Somalian-government terrorist. It’s a bit… dark.

However, the second point there brings up my favourite thing about LWOT: it’s completely asymmetrical. The US player has certain actions they can take with the operational value of their cards (disrupting terrorist cells, deploying troops to allied Muslim countries, conducting a War of Ideas, etc.), which are almost entirely automatically successful once they’ve played a card of high enough value. The Jihadist player has an entirely different set of actions (recruit terrorist cells, carry out jihad in countries with cells, set up bomb plots), which require a die roll for success every single time. The upshot of this is that the Jihadist can carry out operations all over the world, regardless of their cards, but the operations are prone to failure, while the US can only play where they have strong enough cards, but the operations work nearly all the time. It’s a neat touch that simulates the difference between a covert network of sparsely funded terrorist cells and the military and political might of the US. Continue reading