In the past year I’ve been exposed to a range of games that I had previously disregarded. 18xx and the occasional lighter, train-themed game seemed more than adequate in the past. But this year I dove into the world of cube rails and now I’ve been playing train simulators and have a pair of striped overalls on the way to the house.
Welcome back to another round of guest Top 5. This time we are joined by Rex Stites, a local wargamer but more relevant an all around train game guru. Whether an 18xx or cube rail game, it seems to me that Rex will almost always have had some experience with the game. And although Rex might root for the Jayhawks, I do listen closely when he shares his opinions on train games.
This go around we are sharing out Top 5 ‘Train’ Games. It appears that, as with war games, it’s necessary to define, or intentionally fail to define what a train game is. Accordingly, we are interpreting ‘train’ game in the broadest sense of the term. If a train is involved, and it’s not an 18xx title, it qualified for the list. That being said, I think there should still be plenty of good picks for all levels of train interests
Rex was also great about providing a run down for each game, so listen up!
Rex:Dutch Intercity – What would this list be without DIC? Dutch InterCity is a train game that makes you forget it has trains. There’s a map. You build rail links. Route length determines dividends. Simple. But where’s the game?
The game is in the auctions. Well, kind of. What sets DIC auctions apart actually has nothing to do with the auctions themselves. Like many games, stock rounds, operating rounds, and dividend rounds make up the general cycle of the game. Dutch InterCity‘s conceit is that the stock round does not end until one player has $0 of personal cash left. This creates a brittle situation in early SRs, as players jockey to prevent [or obtain] an early share edge. As the game progresses, and the various companies differentiate themselves, players must carefully balance the intrinsic value of the share, their own personal cash, and the personal cash of others in deciding which shares to auction and how much to bid.
There’s not much of an operational aspect, but the game doesn’t need it. Dutch InterCity forces players to think about share auctions in a unique way, and the player interplay is more than enough to ensure DIC doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Matt: First Class is a household favorite and is only qualifying for this list based off theme alone. First Class is a drafting game where each player drafts cards into their tableau. Cards are largely single purpose but there are a few multi-use cards that can be selected depending on the modules used for play. For the most part First Class is multi-player solitaire but the multiple tracks (heh) to victory make for a fun puzzle each play as you focus on different aspects of your train tableau to develop. Probably not for the train-iest of train gamers but one of our most played games.
Rex:Age of Steam – Some say it’s Martin Wallace’s best game. Others say it’s not even a Martin Wallace game. Still others say it’s not a train game. Whatever it is or isn’t, it’s a damn good game. The key to AoS is that the game hates you. And that’s not just hyperbole, it really does. Unsure how to interpret a rule? It’s safe to say, that whichever interpretation puts you in a worse position is the right one. And that’s not a bad thing. There are two levels of AoS play: learning to survive and learning to compete. Surviving is harder than it sounds. While AoS‘s pick-up-and-deliver core (you deliver cubes to increase your income) is simple and unintimidating—once you dig into your first game, you might quickly begin to wonder if you can survive turn 2 or 3. Since each delivery permanently increases your income, how hard can it be? Did I mention that you don’t start with any money? That’s right $0. You have to take loans. Loans that can’t be repaid. Loans that cost interest each turn. Loans that count against your VPs. If that weren’t enough, at then end of a turn your income will $1 for every $10 of income. Not enough cash to pay your expenses after taking income for the turn? You reduce your income dollar for dollar—which can quickly lead to a spiral toward bankruptcy. Put it all together and AoS can become an economic trap that would make Malthus blush. But with a game or two under your belt, the game becomes a less daunting enemy, allowing you to focus on the other players and actually winning. It’s at this point that AoS moves from a solid but forgettable game to something special. Auctions become the critical, if not sole, consideration. The auctions are ostensibly just for turn order. “Just.” Ha. In reality, players are competing for everything from the right to deliver that one purple cube left to who will get to build that critical link. But turn order is not absolute. Immediately after the auction, players choose a single special action. Standard actions available include “First Build” and “First Delivery” that changes turn order for each of those phases. It’s not unheard of for having first choice to deliver a cube that round is so critical to a player’s game that the player will win first player and then take “First Delivery” as well to ensure, with absolute certainty, that the critical delivery is made. What makes the AoS auctions so great is that players have various competing interests throughout the sequence of play and they’re effectively all up for auction at the same time. Because of the uncertainty about what everyone else is doing, the auctions are always lively and, more often than not, decisive in determining the winner. By itself, base AoS—The Rustbelt—probably wouldn’t be strong enough to include on this list. But there are myriad maps available, and they can change AoS into something new and fresh, but without disturbing the game’s core concerns. Rule changes are often as simple as replacing or modifying one of the core specific actions. With minimal AoS experience, the way such a change will reverberate throughout the game is fairly obvious, which means the same basic tricks players have already learned will continue to work. At the same time, the change(s) will often make you rethink a previously core aspect of the game.
Matt: Trains are a theme that seem to register well with members of our family who don’t play a lot of board games. For a long time, Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania was our go to when playing games with our family when wanted to play a train game but wanted more than Ticket to Ride. Although I still enjoy TTR:P, Ride the Rails has become our new go to lighter train game. Players are still building routes and taking limited actions each round but Ride the Rails introduces passenger delivery, company ownership, shared incentives and basic economic decision making, all without ramping the difficulty up much past a game of TTR.
Rex:Union v. Central—UvC is somewhat of a white whale for many who’ve dipped their toe into this little niche of the boardgaming hobby. I’m here to say that you probably won’t like it, and I don’t say that to be snobbish or elitest or exclusionary. I’m convinced that most people want it simply because they can’t find it and they’ve heard people talk about it.
Conceptually, there’s a lot that many people would like about UvC. It’s a 2P tableau building, resource conversion, pick-up-and-deliver card game. Kind of. It’s all those things and yet none of them. In a word, it’s unique. At it’s core, it offers something to gamers with a wide range of preferences. What sets it apart is that the “short” game is probably 6+ hours, and god knows how long the campaign game would take—12? 16? In some ways, it’s similar to AoS in that you’re building an economic engine of sorts. Like AoS—and unlike so many Euros, though—the engine is much more likely to stall than it is to snowball and become a trivial optimization exercise. A lot of people would be fine playing UvC for an hour, maybe two. But I doubt many would willingly suffer it for 6+ hours.
The game’s conceit is that each player represents either the Union Pacific or the Central Pacific, the two railroads trying to complete transcontinental railway. The winner is the first player to build a set number of rails—8 in the “short” game and 16 in the campaign game.
It sounds so simple. How could it take 6+ hours to build 8 rails??? Well, you’re not just building rail. You’re collecting and converting raw materials. You’re building towns and depots and buying the trains you need to transport your goods. What makes the going tough is a basic truism of logistics that is often neglected in boardgame design: as your supply lines become longer, the percentage of your transport capacity that is filled with the supplies necessary to move the goods increases. The trains you build in the game consume raw materials in order to operate for a turn. Each turn, they can move 5 rails—maybe less in bad terrain. It can be relatively easy to build those first few rail sections, but eventually you’re going to have to stop building rail and start building other infrastructure—depots, towns, etc.—along the way to facilitate shuffling goods to their ultimate destination.
In many ways you’re playing the game more than your opponent. But there’s just enough interaction that you don’t feel like you’re playing a solitaire game. It’s a game unlike any other and despite the length, at the end of a game, I’m always ready to play again as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get to the table. If I have a buddy and 8 hours, I’m probably playing a wargame. And that’s too bad, because if you can get past the length and the effort needed to accomplish seemingly simple objectives, it’s a great game and a unique experience.
Matt: Iberian Railways is another game I would consider to be a great next step or introductory cube rail game but also one that I find to be tons of fun and a game that appears to have a few different viable strategies. The game is limited to four basic actions and you can’t repeat an action two turns in a row. No shared incentives or investment between players in Iberian Railways but players still develop routes, start new railways and must manage their finances and loans. The end game trigger is also interesting. Once a player has placed their final cube anywhere on the board (cubes are not only used in to represent routes) the game ends. Not everyone’s favorite but one I enjoy.
Rex: Lokomotive Werks— Who knew rolling 20d6 could be this much fun? The teaching pitch to the game is: 18XX train rush without stocks or operating rounds. The grumbling you hear from new players is, how could a game with that much dice rolling be decided by anything but luck? The fact is, games need uncertainty—whether from other players or randomness—otherwise they are simply a puzzle.
LW is incredibly simple at its core. So simple, new players may come away with the impression that it’s a trivial exercise in optimization combined with a lot of luck. But underneath its simple, trivial, and random venire, there’s a lot of game. The real decisions aren’t how much new production to buy or old production to upgrade each turn so that you optimize your return for that specific turn. The key decisions are which locomotives to develop and when and how to manipulate your production suboptimally in the short-term.
I should probably explain a bit more about the game. Players develop 4 different locomotive technology types. Each different loco type has a different number of technology levels. The highest level is “permanent.” The blue locos only have two technology levels, whereas the green locos have five. The techs come out in a fixed order, but the only requirement to start a new tech is that someone has started the one before. In other words, you don’t have to buy all the “2Ts” to get to the “3Ts.” The techs generally cycle through each color—green, red, yellow, blue—before moving to the next “level.” This isn’t always true, though. The level two blue tech becomes available after the level three green tech. New techs “rust” the earlier tech(s) of that color. There’s a linear progression of the technologies in terms of costs and income. Tech design cost (initial capital investment), additional production cost, and income per unit sold are always a ratio of $4 : $2 : $1. Thus tech is conceptually just as profitable as every other tech.
I mentioned production before. Production is abstract and semi-fungible. When you “design” a new tech, it comes with 1 production on it. You can buy additional production for 1/2 the design cost. Because each tech is 4:2:1, you can “upgrade” a production from one tech to another by simply paying the cost difference. But you can never move production back down the chain.
The flip side of production is consumer demand. This is where the dice come in. Each technology will have a certain number of dice representing consumer demand for that locomotive type. After someone develops a new technology, a single die is rolled for the next technology to determine the initial number of orders for that technology. After the first turn a technology is activated, another die is rolled and added until the tech is “full.” The maximum number dice each can hold varies from tech to tech, with green techs holding the most and blue the least. A player can only satisfy demand for one die before another player is given an opportunity. Dice that are completely depleted are rerolled. Dice that are not remain—so if you leave 1 production on a die, it may seriously limit demand the next turn.
Much of the game boils down to manipulating turn order to your advantage. At the end of the turn, the person with the least amount of cash will become first player—and thus first to satisfy demand—the next turn. That can be a huge deal if, for example, three players have a tech type and the demand dice for the next turn are 6, 1, 1. The first player will be able to sell 6 of that locomotive while the other two only one each. Playing the game well requires understanding the interplay of turn order and how demand is generated and satisfied. Sometimes that means buying new production you can’t use to spend your cash down or moving production away from a technology to leave some demand for the next turn. The big decisive points of the game are typically decisions on which new technology to develop. If you’re behind, it’s often a good idea to enter a market that someone else opened in an earlier turn so that you are competing and depriving them of sales.
The end result is that LW gives players fewer decisions but the decisions it gives have a big impact on the outcome. It also forces players to be cognizant of what other players are doing and to react to it.
Matt: It was back in February of this year that a group of us started playing Chicago Express asynchronously over and over again. Thus began my 2022 love affair with cube rails. Since then, we’ve had a continuous series of Chicago Express plays going non-stop. Those plays have been a highlight of the 2022 gaming year. Even after over thirty-five plays, Chicago Express is still revealing new layers and strategies to me. At first, the three actions all seemed so simple, but the timing and decision to execute (or intentionally not) are what make Chicago Express so brilliant. Those three simple actions and the time of execution are more important than you think when you first start playing the game and are as large of part of the game as auctioning and valuing shares.
Rex:Wabash Cannonball—The King of Cube Rails. The quintessential shared-incentives game. As with all Winsome games, it has a very simple set of rules. That simplicity belies the depth of the game, though. Two things set WC apart. First, it is often in a player’s best interest to select an action type, typically an auction, and then not actually take the action. Second, a player can act on behalf of a company merely by owning a share in it. More on both of those things later.
The game starts with an auction of one share in each of the four companies initially available. After that, players will choose from one of three actions on their turns: Auction, Expand, and Develop. There are a fixed number of each action type available. Once two of the three actions have been maxed out, dividends are paid and the action counters are reset. Auctions and expansions are self-explanatory. Development is placing a token on a hex to increase the revenue it produces. A companies revenue is determined by the cities and mountain hexes it visit. That income is paid out on a per-share sold basis. In other words, when another share of a company is put up for auction, the existing shareholders’ dividends are diluted.
These basic rules create an ever-changing set of incentive structures that force players to “negotiate” short-term alliances always with a chance of defection. I say “negotiate” because no table talk or explicit deal making is necessary. In fact, quite the opposite. The game really shines when such negotiations are limited to the implicit communication of various actions. If I put up a share of the B&O, which I own the only other share in, and I don’t have enough money to actually win it, that action should be seen as a request and offer to cooperate with someone through advancement of the B&O. But for each action—cooperation—there is an equal reaction—destruction. A 1-1 share split makes for great cooperation. If I’m outside of that [temporary] alliance, I may very well put a third share of that company up for auction. A 2-1 split for the PRR (which only has 3 shares) can quickly shatter that previous alliance and cause force the minority shareholder to divert the company to the middle of nowhere so that it never gets to Chicago (which triggers a special dividend payment for that company).
At the end of the day, your incentives are going to be inextricably intertwined with each of the other players in a way that doesn’t match anyone else (if that makes sense). Each action you take may improve your position relative to some players while hurting relative to others. The web of incentive structures isn’t unique to WC, but I’m not sure any other game gives you the same tools to manipulate and alter those structures.
Matt: Not a meme pick just to talk about the good, good Dutch InterCity. No, Dutch Intercity is a quick-playing, rules simple, minimalist design that is way more nuanced in execution than looks would have you believe. There is so much power in trying to time your actions to control auction rounds ending, turn order and to a slightly lesser extent game end (harder to trigger game end than triggering an auction close). Dutch Intercity is brain burn-y cube rail game with heavy emphasis on timing and auctions and, for the time being, is one of my favorite games going forward.
We asked members of the History on the Table Discord Server what their favorite train games were. The clear frontrunner for HotT members was Chicago Express with South African Railroads and Age of Steam both coming in second place.
Please feel free to share your Top 5 Train games below. Thanks to Rex for stopping by to share his favorite train games. We hope to have him back some day to share his top 18xx games as well. If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and thanks to Judd for dropping by.
Welcome back to another round of guest Top 5. We’re back with Judd Vance who’s video and BoardGameGeek submissions served as my wargaming Sherpa when I was getting into the hobby.
Today we are sharing our Top 5 filler or quick playing wargames. As always, we are using ‘wargame’ in the broadest since of the word. Perhaps Top 5 quick historical board games for our pedantic gamers out there.
We defined filler/quick as 60 minute games or games that we could probably play in that time period.
Judd:Given Up for Dead. It’s a beer-and-pretzels/dice chucker solitaire game in Against the Odds issue #43. You play the part of the U.S. Marines defending Wake Island in 1941 against the Japanese invasion. It captures the battle in broad strokes, but you will destroy a lot more invaders (before you lose) than historically occurred, but it’s quick and it’s fun and as an added bonus, the solitaire Peleliu game that also comes in the magazine is even better, but falls outside of range of “filler.”
Matt: Attack Sub. Quintessential filler wargame historical filler. It’s usually found cheap, you can adjust the number of subs and ships to play super short scenarios or you can scale things up for a big ol’ Cold War show down. I also think you can come up with some house rules to make this play multiple players with partially shared hands but we won’t get lost in those weeds. Judd and others describe this as Up Front but for submarines, so lots of randomness. However, it’s fast enough to not be bothered by the outcomes, long enough to practice your best Captain Ramius impersonation, and fun enough to tuck a copy in your bag when you need a quick filler between games.
Judd:Jena 20. I played all 3 editions (two by Victory Point Games and one by C3i) and all were good. This is part of the Napoleonic 20 series: 20 counters, short rules, and a clever system where you spend morale for combat and movement bonuses and lose morale for routing. If your morale goes to zero, you lose. Event cards provide variability. It is a great gateway into the Napoleonic Wars.
Matt: 300: Earth & Water. I’ll copy Judd’s number 5 here and also go with a beer-and-pretzels game that came recommended to me by Frédéric Serval. Combat is Risk-like in nature and mechanically simple but manages to do a nice job of capturing a numerically superior Persian force and the tactically superior Greeks. Where I find the game excels is through the management of resources each turn as players are weighing building up their forces, land or sea, against cards that drive their strategy. Tiny footprint, very light, lots of fun.
Judd:We Must Tell the Emperor. One of my three favorite State of Siege games. Unfortunately, it will cost you at least one appendage to acquire (and another appendage to acquire the expansion), but maybe it will get reprinted. This solitaire game has you playing the role of Japan in WWII. You have great success in the first third and then it all comes crumbling down after that and you try to get through the event deck before the allies force surrender. You have to push the multiple forces back while keeping a sufficient supply of morale and oil while the army and navy bicker with each other.
Matt: Watergate. Not many battles being fought here but remember this is Top 5 historical games. We do have the Washington Post duking it out against Tricky Dicky though! Looking around the list, I guess I have a thing for quick playing CDGs? In Watergate game you play cards to influence different tracks or, you guessed it, to activate events. The game has great back and forth tension with the Washington Post drawing evidence connections to Nixon, and Nixon trying to place pieces to block those links as he attempts to gain momentum. Straight forward, quick to play and one that’s easy to go “Another round?”.
Judd:A Few Acres of Snow. I know, I know… “Halifax Hammer.” I still enjoy the game a lot. It was refreshing when it came out and it still feels good to pull it out and play it. This game on the French & Indian War still does the best job I have seen on this topic at modeling the long supply line to home and the uncertain arrival of supplies and reinforcements and it does it all in a very simple mechanic (deck building). That is the mark of a smart design.
Matt: Julius Caesar: Caesar, Pompey, and the Roman Civil War.Can this game be played in an hour? I think so! Am I already cheating? Maybe, but the excellent Rally the Troop implementations of the Columbia block wargames might be skewing my opinion on how long these games take in person. I think with enough practice you could certainly knock out any of the shorter scenarios found in the Columbia games in an hour so, deal with it! Julius Caesar is my chosen representative for any of these games with it being my favorite (so far). They all basically play the same with each having their own rules with varying levels of chrome. Play cards, move a group of blocks, and chuck dice until you roll equal or below a certain number as indicated on the blocks. Great fun.
Judd:Hold the Line: Frederick’s War. This entry also captures Hold the Line (American Revolution), but I prefer this one, because it offered some improvements, such as devastating heavy cavalry charges, counter-charges, force marches, banking action points, and gaining a bonus action point if the army commander did not act the previous turn. The scenarios are tightly balanced and fan-created scenarios open up the entire Seven Years War. It is out of print, but the designer took the premise to Hollandspiele and re-worked it in the Horse & Musket series.
Matt: Red Flag Over Paris. Part of GMT Games’ Lunchtime Games family and is a direct follow up to Fort Sumter. For me, it’s the perfect fit of fast playing and crunchy and, more importantly, interesting decisions. You will vie for control of over Paris both in the military and political spheres while managing limited resources. A basic card driven game with flavorful events and a small menu of basic actions you can carry out instead. Great art and presentation, tough decisions, and a perfect filler game for historical gamers. In my opinion, far superior to Fort Sumter.
Several months ago when this list was first announced on the History on the Table Discord server we polled the members to see what their favorite short/filler wargame was. W1815 received the most votes with Red Flag Over Paris, Watergate, Table Battles and Undaunted all also receiving some love.
User freddyknuckles stumped for Tank Duel, “We had such a great time with [Tank Duel]. Think it would fall in that filler/party/getting warmed up or cooling off space but it takes up a lot of room. Don’t think it’s as easy to bring out as Blitzkrieg or Watergate… when your head is overloaded with hex and counters or moving cubes, it’s nice to shoot tanks at your friends”.
Please feel free to share your Top 5 quick/filler historical games below. If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and thanks to Judd for dropping by.
Rich and I are big fans of non-fiction, especially historical, and will often pair readings with our featured games on History on the Table. Jason is one of the most voracious readers I know so I figured it would be fun to mix up the Top 5 list and cover something else we both enjoy, books. This list isn’t limited to historical non-fiction and both of our lists are presented in alphabetical order by author.
Jason: I’m in the middle of reading biographies of all of the US Presidents and feel really bad that something like Washington or Lincoln or even Hamilton aren’t here, but they didn’t quite make the cut.
When I first cracked this list I was browsing my Goodreads ratings and kept hitting book after book that would be in top 5 and before long I was at 15+ books for consideration. Surprisingly something like War of the Roses by Dan Jones or This Might Scourge by James McPherson just missed the list and I thought they were absolute locks. I’ll be sure to post a full list in the History on the Table Discord server.
Jason:The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones Dan Jones is a treasure. His books on the medieval world are all fantastic and The War of the Roses is my favorite. The writing is tight and entertaining, informative without being overwhelming. In my Goodreads review I said, “It’s like Game of Thrones without dragons. And it’s real.” I stand by that sentiment.
Matt: The Second World War by Antony Beevor For my tastes, you could plug just about any Antony Beevor WWII book in but I chose The Second World War for the breadth of material covered. Beevor is an extremely compelling author and is beyond capable of weaving in fascinating stories into his books. Beevor doesn’t get lost in the weeds but provides ample detail. Beevor’s books are easily my favorite on WW2.
Jason: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson Devil in the White City is a mash-up of a true crime book about H. H. Holmes and his fabled Murder Castle and a historical delve into the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and everything happening in Chicago at the time. It is a gripping read and has something for everyone.
Matt: Chickenhawk by Robert Mason One of the best memoirs and books covering Vietnam I’ve read, Chickenhawk is the firsthand account of Robert Mason, a Huey pilot during Vietnam. A fascinating read that I couldn’t quit whether Mason was ripping up tree stumps or flying during Ia Drang.
Jason: Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan Imagine knowing where everything in the meal you’re about to eat came from. Imagine having a hand in every step of the way. That is what Pollan explores in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Part travel book, part memoir, cookbook adjacent and as a whole an exploration of American consumerism and the business of agriculture.
Matt: The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnanski This summer one of the biggest past sins of MLB’s Hall of Fame will be corrected when Buck O’Neil is inducted into the Hall. Buck had a chance to go into the Hall of Fame in 2006 with so many great Negro League players when he was still alive but failed to receive the necessary votes. Posnanski’s biography is in part a case for why Buck deserved to go into the Hall of Fame but is more just a great read about Buck’s career, his stories, the story of the Negro Leagues and baseball. Highly recommended for any fan of baseball.
Jason:Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner This is one of the most upsetting and powerful books I’ve ever read. I learned about it from the Paulo Bacigalupi novel The Water Knife. It deals with water rights, the restructuring of waterways in the US and the Bureau of Land Management and creating cities and farmland where there shouldn’t be. It will make you mad.
Matt: Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor by Clinton Romesha I found Red Platoon chilling and unsettling at times in the amount of detail poured into the firsthand account of the attack on COP Keating. Riveting is a word that gets tossed around a lot but I have no hesitation using it here. Often times non-fiction isn’t emotional but this certainly elicited more of an emotional response than most non-fiction I read. Can’t recommend it enough.
Jason:Phase Line Green by Nicholas Warr It was hard to pick between Chickenhawk by Robert Mason and Phase Line Green, both of which I have multiple copies of, but Phase Line Green gets the Vietnam nod here slightly. It’s a memoir of a young lieutenant during the second two weeks of the Battle for Hue during the Tet Offensive. Warr’s writing really highlights the confusion of the soldiers on the ground, the terror of house to house fighting and the frustration of dealing with the bureaucracy of war.
Matt: On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle by Hampton Sides If these were ranked in numerical order, On Desperate Ground would be ranked Number 1. In other words, this is my favorite piece of non-fiction I’ve read. Chosin Reservoir is already fascinating and heroic but Sides’ story telling is brilliant. Gripping, compelling, entertaining, pick your book review buzzword and slap it on this book.
Please feel free to share your Top 5 non-fiction books below. If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and thanks to Jason for dropping by.
I recently offered a menu of Top 5 offerings to Jason and he delivered lists for several. After realizing he and I take solo gaming in different directions I thought it would be a great list to start with.
Jason:When people ask me about solo games, I tend to just think of solo only (or primarily solo) games, rather than games that can be played solo (which to me is basically everything). I also like relatively small games that are easy to play.
When playing solo, I look for a balance between interesting decisions and ease of setup. Which means I can forgive a game that you are only ‘playing’ to check results if it’s fast playing and easy to setup. It also means that Beyond the Rhine didn’t make the cut. Sure I could solo the whole shebang but I’ve got things to do. This left me considering both games designed for solo play (admittedly I don’t play many of those) and games where I play both sides.
Jason:A Week in Hell (Battles Magazine) A Week in Hell is a tiny game, with great components (for a magazine game) about the beginning of the Battle of Hue. You’re clearing out the southern part of the city using your meager supply of Marines, trying to keep infiltrators at bay and hopefully keeping all the bridges intact for future operations. It’s quick, tense and rewarding and is my go-to Vietnam solo game
Matt: Hockey Blast (Plaay) Hockey Blast is a sports simulation game that is very fast to play, and even faster to setup. Set your lines and start rolling dice and consulting charts. The game unfolds by checking for certain symbols and key words that are all easy to identify to keep a nice game flow. This makes this list over something like Sherco’s Grand Slam Baseball because I would only ever play this solo. Fun to watch games unfold but not many meaningful decisions to be made.
Jason:Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid. (GMT Games) One of my favorite things in games is having different ways to play it, and both Enemy Coast Ahead games do that excellently. The Doolittle Raid has you commanding flights of B-52s on bombing runs again Japan near the end of World War II. The latter scenarios increase the complexity by including flight turns, then naval turns and finally the full boat of planning the mission through to the debriefing. It’s a lot of dice rolling, but in a way that to me is more engaging that the “B-17: Queen of the Skies” kind of way and the debriefing after each mission sums up your efforts wonderfully, leaving you celebrated or chastened.
Matt: Pavlov’s House (Dan Verssen Games) Pavlov’s House shares some similarities with the tried-and-true States of Siege system (a pending doom advancing along several fixed tracks) but shines in its wealth of decisions offered to the player. In Pavlov’s House you not only make tactical decisions inside the apartment stronghold but also try and maintain operational command and support. Each section of the game will require tough decisions but you will find that you lack the resources available to do everything you would like or need to do.
Jason:RAF: The Battle of Britain (Decision Games) More air war in WWII! And first things first, this game looks fantastic on the table. The game has you commanding the British RAF fending off German air raiders in the traditional Lion scenario, you can turn the tables and play as the Germans in the Eagle scenario or you can play head-to-head in the two-player game, each with its own rulebook. The game provides you some intel on what is coming, but it is incomplete which gives a great tension as you spread your resources around the home island trying to protect assets and keep the raiders at bay. You get attached to your pilots despite some fiddliness and some rules overhead but the game tends to reward good play and hooks you in.
Matt: Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games) For my tastes, it’s hard to top the chit pull mechanic for solo wargaming. The randomness and bit of chaos helps me play both sides without being able to plan too far into the future. Battle Hymn may have some unintuitive combat but as a whole I still dig the game. Not only are troop command decisions determined by the fate of the chit cup but so is combat which is great for solo (and opposed) play. You might be setting up a great set piece but things can easily go awry if either combat chit comes out too early or too late.
Jason:D-Day at Omaha Beach (Decision Games) The (John H. Butterfield designed) D-Day at… games are fantastic. Through the innovative fields of fire on the map and a purely card driven system there is a lot to like here. Omaha gets my nod, barely, as the top since it was first, but Tarawa and Peleliu are fantastic as well. They are hard to win and grueling when your troops are getting mowed down but so rewarding when you finally start gaining ground and eventually win. Pro tip: snag the flipbooks from the BGG files page and you’re off to the races.
Matt: Thunder in the Ozarks: Battle for Pea Ridge, March 1862 (Revolution Games) Chit pull. American Civil War. TitO checks the right boxes for my type of solo play. The reason Thunder in the Ozarks slides in front of Battle Hymn is I find combat as a process more enjoyable to walk through here. I will say that both are great games and worth checking out even if you can only play solo. The added trick in TitO is the command roll. When a division comes up for activation, before you select a brigade to act, you make a roll and may find that you are stuck with limited activation or can issue a brigade a full command. I and most people I talk to recommend the Blind Swords System.
Jason:Ambush! (Victory Games) Ambush! is a game that couldn’t be made today. The obvious time and testing that went into the game is only realistic in a full-time employee environment. The game is so innovative with its paragraph system that models and rewards realistic tactics. It’s tense and personal and each hex holds so much danger as you creep toward your objective. With a roster of troops, fitting them out with gear, excellent campaign play and a ton of scenarios Ambush! is a treasure.
Matt: Arkham Horror: The Card Game (Fantasy Flight Games) Arkham Horror is getting better with time and continued play. When I first played ‘Night of the Zealot’ out of the core box I thought the game was fun enough but Arkham didn’t show its true colors until the Dunwich Legacy expansion came out. Not only is the Dunwich campaign way more interesting but the added cards greatly expand the deck building element of the game. This true of the subsequent expansions which continue to deliver more of a good thing. This is getting a bit of a boost by a recent resurgence in play, both solo and via webcam, but I am so glad to be getting this game back to the table. With creative and tight card play and massive looming threats, Arkham Horror: The Card Game is solid.
If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and thanks to Jason for dropping his Top 5 solo games.