The outpouring of creativity spurred by our 2020 pandemic will, I believe, one day be looked back on as historic. We’ve got choirs, orchestras, dancers, Broadway original casts, etc., all giving it their all from their living rooms, basements, and back alleys. In the Tabletop world, publishers and designers have been so generous in making materials available to players. All you need is a printer and a lot of toner, some spare bits, and if you really want to be fancy-shmancy, a laminator.
I’d like to curate five games that may have flown under your radar during these past weeks. Some are old classics which I think deserve some love, and a couple are recent graduates.
PocketCiv goes all the way back to 2008 and delivers on the implicit promise of its name: it’s a solo Civ-like 4X experience that fits in your pocket. You can play the basic version with just pencil and paper, or your can download the deluxe version (also free!) for its counters and hex-tiles. The design shows its age a bit–but on the other hand, it’s got huge potential to be modded.
Black Sonata is a solitaire game set in Shakespearean London. You are on the track of the mysterious Dark Lady, the muse of The Bard’s sonnets, racing around a simplified map trying to deduce her location and her identity. Think of it as a solitaire version of Scotland Yard that doesn’t require a computer. Designer (and artist) John Kean has used the mathematics of combinatorics and networks to create an ingenious system which has an amazing amount of unpredictability and variability that is not totally random. The fact that Black Sonata is also so thematic makes it all the more incredible as a design achievement.
Tiny Farms is one of the new crop whose publishers, Dice Hate Me Games, has decided to make the files available for free. It’s a roll’n’write for one to four players with a rondel mechanic that has a lot going on in a small package. Solid solo version.
Tinyforming Mars just won the Golden Geek award for Best Print & Play, so you may well have heard of it, and yeah despite its name it’s not just a mini-version of Terraforming Mars. There’s a “I cut the cake and you pick which slice you want” mechanic for playing your project cards, and the fact that credits and resources are limit keeps the game incredibly tight.
5. Würfelbingo is also known as Knister and is roll’n’write Bingo. Boom, I just taught you the game–ok, not quite, but give me like 2 minutes to explain the scoring and we’re done. This one is great to play over Zoom or Houseparty when you’re tired of Card Chips Against Guacumanity or whatever.