Safari Sunday: a silly mama lion

Posted by barb on Jun 25, 2017 in Pictures, Recreation, Travels

During a drive in Chobe, our guide knew of a place where a couple of mama lions would “stash” their cubs for the day – then in the morning or afternoon, the would call the cubs out to let them run around and get a look at how they were doing.

We popped by that location early in the day, and found the mamas, but it was looking like rain, so they were not going to call out their cubs. (At least not until later in the day, which we *did* see!) However, we did catch this girl rolling around.


Lion rolling over=

Silly lion

Silly lion

Stretch lion

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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.


Safari Sunday: Morning traffic in Chobe

Posted by barb on Jun 18, 2017 in Pictures, Recreation, Travels

On our morning drive into Chobe National Park, we had to stop for some…um…formidable traffic. It’s clear who has the right-of-way in the park – I wouldn’t want to honk at a mama elephant, anyway.

We also watched a hyena running down the road – its normal morning patrol for overnight roadkill.

Morning elephants

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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.


Safari Sunday: a giraffe in the Nxai Pan landscape

Posted by barb on Jun 11, 2017 in Pictures, Recreation, Travels

Our last “animal” camp was Nxai Pan – a salt pan to the south and east of the Okavango Delta, where we had spent most of our time. This desert-like area felt a lot like New Mexico – hot with big skies and vast landscapes. We spied this giraffe on one of our morning drives.



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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


Safari Sunday: a waterbuck and cattle Egret “friend” for Best Friends Day (later this week)

Posted by barb on Jun 4, 2017 in Pictures, Recreation, Travels

On our second night at Waterberry Lodge in Zambia, our evening river cruise included seeing this pair along the shore. The cattle egret tags along to pick off the insects kicked up as the waterbuck walks through the grass. We watched them (and some friends) for a long time, following them down the bank.


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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: Greeting elephants

Posted by barb on May 28, 2017 in Pictures, Recreation, Travels

The elephants that we saw at Nxai Pan were all bachelors. The family groups, which we had been seeing at our other camps, had recently moved in toward the middle of the Pan, because the rains had started. Those parts of the park were not accessible from the roads we had to say on.

Unlike the family groups, who stay together essentially at all times, the bachelors go off on their own, then come back to rejoin the group as they please. The elephant in the left on this pictures was just returning to the group, and we caught the greeting. This is apparently common.

Elephant greeting

Elephant greeting

Elephant greeting

Elephant greeting

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Safari Sunday: a dignified cheetah

Posted by barb on May 21, 2017 in Pictures, Recreation, Travels

On our first morning drive in Kwara, the other truck’s guide found this cheetah – that’s how it works on safari – the guides share their finds (after their own truck has had some significant time on their own, that is), so that all the guests can see the hard-to-find animals.

This cheetah was just hanging out under a tree, enjoying the morning.





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