Safari Sunday: Zebra reflections

Posted by barb on Aug 20, 2017 in Pictures, Recreation, Travels

While we were on a drive in Chobe, we stopped for while near the river just watching the herds of zebras, kudu, and impala. Our guide noticed this zebra about to cross, and drew our attention to it, knowing the reflection would make a nice picture.

Zebra reflections

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Safari Sunday: Kudu with their bird friends

Posted by barb on Aug 14, 2017 in Recreation, Travels

On our first game drive in Chobe, one of the antelope we saw was kudu. Many of them had bird friends who I assume eat insects off of them. Not much else to say about them, but love the goofy looks on their faces.

Hello Kudu!


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Safari Sunday: Troublemaking lion cub

Posted by barb on Aug 6, 2017 in Recreation, Travels

On one of our game drives at Pom Pom Camp in the Okavango Delta, we came across a pride of females and their young cubs eating a kudu. One of the cubs, though, wasn’t interested in just sitting around and eating. Instead he prowled around, tried chewing on the kudu’s ear, went after the horn, and crawled over the other lions. Of course this one was my favorite.

Fierce Lion Cub< Troublemaker

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Solo Play: Valley of the Kings Afterlife

Posted by barb on Jul 7, 2017 in Entertainment, Games

Valley of the Kings: Afterlife box

Up next on the solo-play list was Valley of the Kings: Afterlife. Valley of the Kings is a Egypt-themed deck-building game where you build-up your deck with purchases from a pyramid and then must destroy your deck strategically by entombing cards. Only cards in your tomb earn victory points.

There are three types of cards: starter cards, set cards, and unique cards. The starters are cards with low purchasing power but with actions that help you build up your deck with better cards. The set cards are cards have different themes, such as mummification, jewelry, and tomb art. Your score for each set is equal to the square of the number of unique cards in that set – duplicate cards are worth nothing. Unique cards are just that, one-of-a-kind cards available in the stock, each of which with it’s own victory point value.

In the solo variant, you play essentially as usual, but are attempting to entomb exactly a complete set of everything – your 10 starter cards, one of each of the set cards, and each of the unique cards. Any duplicates in your tomb count against you.

I came very close to winning, but I had one duplicate card in my tomb. It was my own fault. I made a conscious decision to have a duplicate because I thought I had a card that would let me essentially trade that for another card. Well, yes, I had such a card, but the duplicate that I put in my tomb didn’t meet the other conditions of the card that would let me trade it, so I was stuck with the duplicate entombed card.

It was a fun game; almost too easy. There is a harder variant, which I’ll likely try once I win the easy version once!


Solo Play: Lost Woods

Posted by barb on Jun 29, 2017 in Entertainment, Games

Lost Woods

Next on my solo-play adventure was Lost Woods. Lost Woods is a map exploration game where adventurers collect gold and unique weapons all while defeating monsters and trying to avoid gold-stealing gnomes.

In the traditional multi-player game, each player is trying to escape the woods with the most gold. There is a cooperative variant which has players working together to ensure all 6 adventurers escape the woods with a minimum amount of gold. The co-op game adds the element of food, which counts down each round – run out of food, and you lose the game. The gnomes steal food instead of gold, and adventurers who lose fights against monsters must wait to be revived by a fellow adventurer, rather than simply losing a weapon and returning to the campsite.

For the solo-play variant, it’s played as the cooperative game, with the player controlling all of the adventurers. The adventurers must find one of the woods exits, battle the exit’s guardian, and then they all must exit with a minimum amount of collective gold before food runs out.

Blank character cards

Adventurers ready to go

It’s a fun single-player game. The added element of the food, and the danger of losing a fight (especially before you’ve uncovered the “revive” spell) makes it a challenge.

I ended up losing, but just barely. Most of my adventurers needed just one more round to get out of the exit, but there was one pair who would have needed an additional round to get out. I should have kept them all together better, I suppose.

Adventurer cards at the end of the game

Final woods layout


Solo Play: Agricola

Posted by barb on Jun 20, 2017 in Entertainment, Games

Agricola box

My next solo game was Agricola. In Agricola, you play a farming family starting with a couple in a wooden shack on a blank plot of land. The goal is to feed your family while you upgrade your shack to a clay hut and ultimately stone house, fill your land with crops and pastures, acquire farm animals, install major and minor improvements to your house, and employ people to help out.

If you’re not familiar with the game check out a play-through.

In the solo play variant, the game is set up like a two-player game (so, there are no extra worker spaces on the board) and you start the game with no food. Otherwise, game play is the same as the multi-player game, with you just taking one turn after another.

Agricola set-up

As always, when I play Agricola, I feel like I just can’t make any headway. While in the end I had a full farm board, I had used all of my fences, and I have some leftover grain and vegetables, it was a struggle the whole way.

I’m not shy about playing hard games, but for some reason Agricola has just not resonated with me – I never feel like I’ve played a good game, even when I win the multi-player version.

I suppose this time was certainly easier, since I wasn’t fighting other people for prime positions, and I could plan a few moves ahead without suddenly compensating for losing the spaces I wanted. Playing solo also meant that the resources piled up until I grabbed them, meaning that I could get lots of anything at once, if I waited long enough. But even though that challenge was removed from the game, it was still challenging to build up my farm, make a family, get livestock, feed everyone, and renovate my wooden shack.

Agricola - final farm

I ended with a score of 35 – 15 less than the goal of 50 points. I would have had 41 if I hadn’t had to take the two begging cards, but still short of the goal.


Solo Play: Suburbia

Posted by barb on Jun 13, 2017 in Entertainment, Games


Next up was Suburbia. This is a tile-laying game where you try to build up your town into a thriving city. As you purchase civic buildings, housing, businesses, and industrial buildings, you adjust your city’s income and reputation to earn cash and population. The goal is to have the highest population at the end of the game.

Each tile you lay has the potential to help or hurt your income and reputation. It can also bring in cash directly. In the multi-player game, your tiles can also affect the income and reputation in other players’ cities. Finally, there are universal and individual goals in play to help players choose a direction for their cities (and make extra points!).

There are two versions of solo-play, I only played the first. In this variant, the game is set up as it is for two players, but no goal tiles are dealt out.
Suburbia set up

Differences from a typical game include the following:

  • No goal tiles in play
  • After each turn, a tile is discarded from the market – it’s the player’s choice, but if you pick anything other than the first two, you need to pay the cost of the market position
  • When the “one more round” token is drawn from the “C” stack of tiles, the game ends immediately
  • When your population crosses a red line on the score board, your income and reputation are each reduced by two, rather than one

Here’s my final city:
My final borough

And my final score:
Suburbia final score

Final score ranking

I’ll confess, I have this game on my tablet, so I’ve played some version of the solo game previously. However, the tablet also has a number of challenge modes – building a city with low reputation but high income, filling in a city from some pre-laid tiles, etc.

The game involves a lot of set-up, which the tablet eliminates, but I miss the tactile element of the physical game. I found I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.

Early in the game, the additional penalty for growing the population didn’t seem too bad. I was able to keep my income high and reputation modest, even with the penalty. Then, at some point, I couldn’t continue to overcome it, and ended up with several turns where I had negative income, reputation, or both.

It was a fast game, and I found myself eyeing the 60-population spot on the board, knowing that was the minimum I needed to not be in the lowest ranking. And while I enjoyed the game, I did miss the player interaction that comes from the multi-player game – thinking twice about buying another airport or housing development because I didn’t want to help other players with their income or cash-flow.


Solo Play: Wizards of the Wild

Posted by barb on Jun 6, 2017 in Entertainment, Games

Next on the list for testing out the solo-play variant was Wizards of the Wild. In this game, players are animal wizards who battle in a magic contest run by acolytes of the Lost Masters. Dice rolls determine what resources you have each turn, along with saved resources on your card. Collecting a carefully curated set of spells, you can set up combinations to supercharge each turn.

In the solo play variant, you play against a dummy opponent who starts with the standard starting set of resources and a number of points based your chosen difficulty. The opponent can lose resources and points, based on the spells you use and the “skull penalty” for each round. And you, of course, try to make as many points as you can in the usual fashion – through victory points earned on your turn using spells or overcoming challenges, bribing the acolyte, and end-game victory points on spells and challenges.

I’ve actually played the solo variant of Wizards of the Wild a few times before – I pulled it out when I first got the game so I could learn the mechanics and understand the types of cards.

Wizards of the Wild game 1 cards

Wizards of the Wild game 1 score

As with the multi-player version, the solo variant is quick and easy to play, and has great art to look at. The key is to find spells and challenges that work together to maximize the combinations you can make each turn – this seems even more true in the solo game. I’m not sure how often I’ll pull it out for solo play, but it was enjoyable.

I played twice, and finally won the second time. I think that’s the only time I’ve won the solo variant.

Wizards of the Wild game 2 cards

Wizards of the Wild game 2 final score


Solo Play: Mint Works

Posted by barb on May 30, 2017 in Entertainment, Games

Mint Works Tin

While I was home alone for a week, I decided to try out some of our games that have solo-play variants. First on the list was Mint Works. This is a worker placement game that fits in a mint tin. Each player is building a neighborhood in the city of Mintopia.

I’ll confess, I’ve only played this a couple of times before trying the solo variant. As a multi-player game, it’s a fun, fast-paced worker placement game. There’s more depth to the game than you might expect from something that fits in a mint tin. The “workers” are your mints, which double as currency, forcing you to balance how much you spend each round with how much you want to save to purchase better buildings for your neighborhood. You can check out a run through (from Rahdo), if you want to see more about the game play.

For the solo-play variant, you employ one of four AI opponents. They each have different special abilities, game mechanics, and card-buying preferences. The location cards (the cards with worker spaces) are places in a line with a specific order. The AI will always take the first available open worker spot, from the top down, that they are able to legally play. They would play until all of their mints were gone or until there were no more legal spots for them to go.

I played three games, the first two with one AI and the third with a different one. In the first two games, I added one of the optional advanced locations to game, and in the third I played with just the basic locations.

The first AI I played with, Sonic, always took 2 turns in a row, which meant he always had a ton of mints (the first location is a place to spend one mint to get two – he would always get to use that space twice).

In the first game I had the Recycler as the advanced location – if you use this location, you discard one of your plans or buildings in exchange for mints equal to the cost and “star” value (stars are essentially victory points). By following the rule that he plays until he doesn’t have a legal spot to play, he always played this location and lost whatever plans for buildings he had in his neighborhood. I won handily, despite his loads of cash.

Final cards in game 1

In the second game, I swapped out the Recycler for the Crowdsourcing location, which just got Sonic more cash. Since he wasn’t having to trash his plans and buildings, he won quickly. With all his mints, he could always buy the expensive plans, which are worth more stars.

Final card layout for my second game

In my third and final game of the evening, I swapped out Sonic for AI Justin. Justin blocks all other spaces on a location when he plays there and he starts with the start player marker. This meant I was always had an uphill battle to get mints – he blocked the Producer right away, which is the location where you exchange one mint for two. Justin he would go after the cheap plans, so we were fighting for the same plans. Then he built the Assembler, which allows a player to automatically build plans without having to visit the builder, at which point I was completely screwed.

Final card layout for my third game

Overall, I found the AI mechanic interesting. Since I always knew what they were going to do next, I could plan my moves to ensure I could block them when I needed to. However, since the order of the upcoming building plans was unknown, there was still an element of surprise and continued need to change strategy.

The mechanic was clearly broken for the Sonic/Recycler combination, and I would not recommend playing those together, unless you wanted a quick win. For the other two games, it felt almost impossible to win. I’ll have to play some more to see if that feeling is true. I understand that a solo game should be challenging, since winning every game gets boring. However, it still needs to feel winnable.

I’ll certainly pull this out again when I find myself alone and wanting to play a game.


Safari Sunday: Hippos on the shore

Posted by barb on Apr 30, 2017 in Pictures, Recreation, Travels

Our first full day at Chobe included a boat trip along the Chobe river bordering Botswana an Namibia. This turned out to be one of the few times we saw hippos out of the water – they prefer to hang out in the water during the daytime.

Hippos on the island

Birds on the hippo

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