For Northwood! A Solo Trick Taking Game was originally put out as a a game you could play with a deck of standard cards as the game The Emissary. After winning some awards it got some artwork and some additional ways to play. I recently borrowed a friend's copy and was able to play the game. It's pretty great for solitaire play for several reasons.
First off, the amount of ways the game can be set up is nearly infinitely variable. This means no two feel the same even if the gameplay is nearly identical. Despite the variability of setup, the ease of rules both for setup and gameplay are so simple that when you are playing your focus is on what you want to do.
Second, this leads to the illusion of choice in the game. Sometimes you really don't have much choice as your hand and the deck have been programmed already to doom you to fail. But the illusion of choice is so strong in this game.
I have now played through all of the scenarios in the Chronicle that also accompanies the basic play. Four seasons are shown with different challenges for the player - some much harder than the others. By removing the burden of an onerous ruleset, it makes it easy to get back into the game.
Additionally, it is obvious when you are about to fail. In some games, this is a negative. For this game, it adds to its delightful, whimsical quality in that it feels like a burden is lifted to no longer have to worry if you made a wrong choice.
For someone like me who struggles to understand what people "really" mean sometimes- the theme brings it all the way home.
In the game, you visit one fief at a time and try to convince the rulers to become your friends. This is done via dialogues where you want to score points or avoid points with your responses. Mechanically, you are playing tricks and trying to guess how many you are getting. Thematically, you are engaging in conversations with the animals of these fiefs. Sometimes, despite your best efforts those dialogues don't end well. This setting mirrors life for me.
Finally, the art is super cute. I'm pretty sure I said that in my How to Play video. Because the art is super cute. Why does that matter in a game review? Well, it changes my experience of the game. If the game had been set in some stodgy castle or bureaucratic building where I had to argue my way with other humans, I would have probably been more mentally taxed by the game. To all those who say theme and setting don't matter- my imagination won't shut up, so it matters immensely to me.
Designed by Will Su
Art by Will Su
Time 20-30 minutes