Solitaire Gaming

Solitaire Gaming

Another great adventure from Dark City Games.

I blame the whole thing on John O’Neill.

A few years back I asked him about the solo Dark City Games adventures that Andrew Zimmerman Jones and Todd McCaulty had reviewed so favorably for Black Gate. John happens to have a larger game collection than most game stores, so I’d come to the right person.

Solo games were great fun, John told me. “Here’s an extra copy of an old game you’ve never heard of that’s really cool. Go play it.”

That was Barbarian Prince. And yeah, it was pretty nifty (you can try it out yourself with a free download here, along with its sister solitaire product, Star Smuggler).

I started playing and enjoying the products created by Dark City Games, which the rest of the staff and I have continued to review for the magazine.

barbarian-prince3But what are these solitaire games like?

The most obvious analogy is to say that solitaire games are a little like computer adventure games played with paper, with dice and cards taking the place of a computer game’s invisible randomization of results.

My first thought was something along the lines of “how quaint,” but it turns out that while the play experiences are similar, the flavors are slightly different, even if playing them stimulates similar centers of the brain.

It’s like switching off orange pop to try some root beer, or vice versa. You may not drink one or the other exclusively, but they both sure are sweet on a hot day.

"You mean your only plan is to stand behind a few feet of mealie bags and wait for the attack?"

While playing a solitaire game you may not see any computer graphics, but your imagination will paint some images for you.

And there’s the tactile pleasure of manipulating the counters and looking over the game board and flipping through the booklet and rolling the dice.

Solitaire in no way means that you will get the same game play each time, and to my surprise I’ve discovered that a well designed solo board game has better replay value than many computer games.

It turns out that Dark City Games isn’t the only producer of solitaire games, for I stumbled upon another company, Victory Point Games,  that creates and sells solitaire and traditional multi-player games. For perhaps the first time ever, I was able to get John hooked on games he himself hadn’t heard of before me, which warmed the cockles of my cold, cold heart.

VPG has created an entire series of solo tactical and adventure games. The one that first caught my eye was Zulus on the Ramparts, not because it seemed like an ideal fit for Black Gate readers, but because it was based upon the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, known to me because it inspired one of the greatest (and manliest!) war movies ever filmed, Zulu — the true story of a tiny British outpost manned by approximately 140 soldiers who were under attack by thousands upon thousands of Zulus. Through guts and luck and some inspired leadership, the British survived. And here was a game that simulated those events.

Only your starfleet stands between the robotic star titan and the outposts of the empire.

But then I saw a whole bevy of Victory Point Games — there was Nemo’s War, which allows you to travel the steampunk seas aboard the Nautilus, and Astra Titanus, where you’re controlling a starfleet trying to stop a giant ship/planet killing robot machine.

It’s Astra Titanus I’ve been trying first, and having great fun. I hope soon to have a full length review, but the game comes with multiple scenarios, and I haven’t had an opportunity to try more than the first one yet (and a few times, owing to the fact that its clever design means the game never plays the same way twice). There are, in fact, lots and lots of games from Victory Point Games, as well as a whole bevy of great fantasy board games from other game makers, both traditional and solitaire, and I plan to be discussing all the best of them in the coming months, both online and in print.

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Jeff Stehman

I enjoy Barbarian Prince, and it’s quicker than setting up Runebound for solo play. I’ve heard that some people play Arkham Horror solo, but it’s really, really hard to win. Still, I like that some of the big fancy games out now tip their hat to solo gaming (which is how I played 95% of my Magic Realm games).

My introduction to RPGs was a friend, visiting from afar, spending an hour telling me about this incredible game he was playing called Dungeons & Dragons. Not knowing anyone else who played it, my response was to create a solo board game based on his description so I could play it by myself. (You learn these tricks when you’re five years junior to the next sibling up the line.)

Scott Taylor

Howard: John really does have a soft spot for these games doesn’t he? I have to wonder, have you ever seen his gaming collection first hand?

Scott Taylor

OH, and I often ‘blame the whole thing on John O’Neill’ 🙂


How odd that this came up for a topic. I’ve recently been on a board game kick buying games like tide of iron and warhammre invasion. But then i began to think about solitaire gaming, isn’t is just like playing a computer game. I figured i’d give it a try anyway.

So last week i bought my first solitaire game. The Barbarossa Campaign by Victory Point Games. Seeing as how their so small time i was surprised to see them brought up in your entry. I Haven’t played a game of it yet. i set it up last night but i’m still learning the rules. The game gets great reviews though.

Jeff Stehman

I have, indeed, seen his amazing collection. I think it was Eric Knight who dubbed it the “Cave of Wonders,” which is quite fitting.

Excuse me while I make an addition to my bucket list.

Scott Taylor

Hey Jeff, I think John’s Cave of Wonders should be a pilgrimage thing, a place where old gamers come to worship.

Well, I have been invited to eat Indian with John if I ever roll into Chicago, so maybe I can also secure a one hour pass to what I will forever after refer to as the ‘JOCOW’.

John ONeill

How do I keep getting blamed for stuff? C.S.E. Cooney just blamed me (and Howard!) for that entire C.L. Moore affair.

Jeff, glad to hear that you enjoy BARBARIAN PRINCE. It was always one of my favorites. Have you ever WON it?

What’s RUNEBOUND like? There’s a copy or two in the Cave of Wonders, but I’ve never opened it.

And you’re more than welcome to drop by the cave the next time you’re in St. Charles. Be an honor to show you around. 🙂

John ONeill


The invitation goes out to you too. I suspect you’d get more out of it than most folks. 🙂

And yeah, I have a soft spot for most solitaire games. They got me through a few lonely times. And I’ve enjoyed more than one with many friends at my side — and now I play them with my son Drew.

John ONeill


Thanks for the comment. Glad to see someone else out there trying Victory Point Games! Howard introduced me to them, and I’ve bought three so far. So far my favorite is Star Borders: Humanity. I love the map!

What’s TIDE OF IRON like? It looks great, but I haven’t brought a copy into the Cave yet.


I’m fairly new to war games but Tide of iron i think is amazing. Its a scenario based war game. It comes iwth 6 premade scenarios but you could very easily make your own. Thats where the game shines is in the ability to make your own game. Also if you don’t like making your own the Fantasy Flight website has over 100 submitted fan made scenarios.
I would say the only problem with the game (which isn’t really a problem for me) is that combat is solved with a lot of d6’s, so even if you plan good you could still be foiled by the dice. In my opinion if you rely on the dice to win for, your not thinking hard enough. I could go on and on about the game so i’ll stop there..

Jeff Stehman

Thanks for the invite, John. Looking forward to it.

Runebound is one of my wife’s favorite games. We received it for Christmas 2009 and probably played it 40 times last year, including some multi-game sessions. It’s straightforward: overcome encounters, become stronger, collect loot, hire allies, and buy better gear, all with the goal of beating the Big Bad. Whoever does that wins. Encounters are color coded for difficulty, and your approach to the game will vary depending on which character you play. I find the combat/skill system elegant, and an encounter that will be easy for one character will be hard for another.

I’ve only played Runebound with two players. Three might be fine, but beyond that I think you’d spend too much time waiting for other people to take their turn. The base game can have encounters start to cycle, so we added in some carefully selected expansions. (One of these days we’ll probably buy one of the board expansions as well.)

Yes, I’ve won Barbarian Prince, although the game seem to make a serious effort to stop me once I had the money and was heading for home. As I once mentioned in the newsgroup, it is even possible to win on the first turn of the game, which I discovered when I missed doing so by one pip.

Jeff Stehman

I should add that’s the second edition of Runebound. I haven’t played the first edition.

John ONeill

Hi Jeff,

I’m intrigued by your comments on RUNEBOUND. it sounds like something I’d be very interested in. Would you consider writing a review for us?

[…] the late 70s and early 80s, particularly Dwarfstar games like Demonslord and the near-priceless Barbarian Prince, and classic mini-games from Metagaming like Melee and […]

[…] spent much time on the Black Gate website you’ve probably seen Barbarian Prince get mentioned at least […]

[…] spent much time on the Black Gate website you’ve probably seen Barbarian Prince get mentioned at least […]

[…] They were also instrumental in helping kick off the solitaire RPG trend in the late 70s, with such classic solitaire (or “pre-programmed”) games as Death Test, Death Test 2, Grail Quest, Treasure of the Silver Dragon, and many others. Read Howard Andrew Jones’s fine 2011 survey of solitaire mini-games here. […]

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