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Come One Come All: A Comparative Look at 3 Games

Come One Come All:

A Comparative Review of Three Multiplayer-Solitaire Games:
Neos, Doodle City and Rolling Japan
by Joe Huber

 

Oftentimes, games are described as multiplayer-solitaire – sometimes derisively, sometimes with praise – when players take their actions completely or nearly completely independent of other players. But most of the time, the tag is, if not misguided, at least overly aggressive. Race for the Galaxy, to give one example, might not have direct player interaction but there is interaction between theplayers.

There are, however, some games which really are multiplayer-solitaire. The classic example is Take It Easy where all players are placing the same tile each turn; there truly is no interaction between the players. As a result, it’s an ideal group game; I’ve often played the game with 100 players or more, and it’s every bit as enjoyable – and no longer – than with four players.

neos2I’ve had the opportunity recently to play three games, all of which have strong multiplayer-solitaire properties. Neos, an uncredited design published by Saien in 2009, around 1500¥, is the oldest of the three: a Korean card game, with each card having one of four colors and two lettered ribbons between A & F. Each player has a hand of six cards. Another card is flipped and the letters announced; each player must either choose a card from their hand including either or both of the letters to play, or must pick any card to discard. After the first card is played, players must play subsequent cards to either end of their line of cards. Once twelve cards have been flipped and called, the game is scored. A set of three or more consecutive cards of a color is worth five points, a set of three or more consecutive cards with one letter is worth between 3 and 5 points. The highest score wins.

doodlecity1PrintDoodle City, designed by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby and published by Aporta Games in 2014, about $20) has no cards (as in Neos) or tiles (as in Take It Easy) to provide randomness, but instead uses dice. Each player has a 5×5 board consisting of homes, hotels, taxi stands, and shops. The game plays more like a traditional game as the active player rolls a number of dice including one special die. The special die determines the column all players must use. Starting with the active player and proceeding clockwise, each player will choose one of the other dice, identifying a space where the player must draw a road connecting two sides of the space. However, once a space has been used, it cannot be reused. Whenever a player can’t play because all possible spaces have been used, a tree must be taken out. Hotels and shops score during the game, for the length of road they occupy and the number of connected homes, respectively. Taxis score at the end of the game, four points each if connected to at least one other taxi stand. The game ends when one player runs out of trees, when one player builds a road through a hotel creating a 15-space or longer road, or when a player builds a road through a shop connecting it to 10 or more homes.

rollingjapan1Rolling Japan, published by OKAZU Brand in 2014 at about €15, is a Hisashi Hayashi design (whose Sail to India is also reviewed this issue) that is also a dice game. Each player has a board roughly in the shape of Japan showing the 47 prefectures divided into 6 regions. Each region has one die associated with it and, in addition, there is one wild die. Each turn two dice are pulled and rolled. Each player must, if they can, put the number shown on the die in the region indicated by the die’s color. However, adjacent spaces (regardless of region) cannot vary by more than one so a 3 can only be placed next to 2s, 3s, and 4s. If no legal space exists, one space must be marked with an X. However, trollingjapan2hree times during the game, a player may change the color of a die in an attempt to allow it to fit better. Additional pairs of dice are drawn until six of the seven dice have been rolled. This ends a round and all dice are returned to the bag. After eight rounds, the game is over and any remaining spaces without a number are marked with an X. The player with the fewest Xs on their board wins.

It’s worth first noting that while all three games are multiplayer-solitaire in nature, Doodle City really isn’t a fully multiplayer-solitaire game. The sharing of one die makes the game feel like one, but the choosing of the second die works against this and, unfortunately, leaves Doodle City feeling like neither fish nor fowl. It’s not as quick moving as a true multiplayer-solitaire game while not offering enough interaction to create real interest on that front. Neos and Rolling Japan both provide the full advantage of their multiplayer-solitaire nature, both playing quickly and feeling like the game is progressing right along.

None of the games are primarily English publications but both Doodle City and Rolling Japan come with English rules, both of which are clear and make the games easy to learn Neos does not include English rules but is easily played based upon the translation on Boardgamegeek.

One advantage of multiplayer-solitaire games is that they can handle any number of players smoothly. Rolling Japan is the best with this; any number of players can play with the components in the box. Neos could in theory be played with an unlimited number of players but is designed for four players at a maximum, and would not be entirely balanced if multiple sets were combined to play with more. Doodle City handles up to six players but with additional dice could be played with more though it would slow the game down to do so. Rolling Japan and Doodle City include solitaire rules though Doodle City’s vary more from the basic rules – and offer more, in my opinion. There is an iOS app allowing for solitaire play of Doodle City; it’s a reasonably fun app, but after about a month of regular play I’ve found myself choosing other apps.

Of the three games, Doodle City is far and away the easiest to get hold of; it’s available from US sellers at a reasonable cost today. Rolling Japan is currently unavailable but hopefully the game will be picked up by an English publisher and become readily available as other Japanese games have. Neos might be the trickiest to track down as it’s a somewhat older game and, while likely released in greater quantities than Rolling Japan seems far less likely to see an English release.

None of these games are very thematic, but Neos is completely abstract where Rolling Japan and Doodle City have a modicum of theme. In Rolling Japan, it’s window dressing only; the choice to use the actual prefectures of Japan doesn’t really matter or make the game easier to learn. Doodle City does use its theme to help players learn the game but still feels abstract at heart.

For me, the weakest of the three is Doodle City. I enjoy the game and have it in my collection currently but I don’t expect it to be a long-term keeper. The slower pace doesn’t help and there’s some sameness to the game – not a sameness in how the game plays out, as the dice provide some variety, but a sameness in the feel of continuously reducing choices.


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


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