What Makes a Game a “Filler”?

We boardgame geeks certainly have our own lingo when it comes to games- Euro games, point salad, deck drafting, Ameritrash, filler games, 4x games, etc.  To the non-gamers, it could be a bit confusing. What does it all mean?

Is it a filler game? A hand management game? A Card game?

Is it a filler game? A hand management game? A Card game?

Often, in regards to certain games (like my recent review of Yardmaster Express), the word “filler” is thrown around a lot. I am guilty of this as well. For some this could be a little confusing. What do we mean by the word “filler” What makes a game a filler versus the “main event”?

First, lets get some logistics of the term defined. When I (and most gamers) use the word “filler”, we are referring to a game that is short in play length, with little set up. Typically, these are the little games that might come out as a friendly diversion in between games of say, Caylus, or Puerto Rico.

So short, simple, and light game play…. It could be tempting to add many micro games to this category, but some of them are more complicated than say Uno, or Yardmaster Express, or Ratuki. So do they make the cut?

And then, there is the consideration of time. Some nights, all we have time for are “filler” games, though we would gravitate towards one that feel more like a bigger game in a smaller package. In that case is the filler game still a filler game?

Some nights, the filler game becomes the main event....

Some nights, the filler game becomes the main event….

Granted this is rather meaningless debate over definitions, but it does seem a little hard to define what a filler game is- It can depend on who is playing and the time you have whether Scrabble Slam is the main event of the night, or just an ice-breaker/filler for that bigger game like Pay Dirt.

This brings us to the point of why I really like these so-called filler games- they are so versatile. They can stand in for a bigger game when time doesn’t allow, or when people want something simple. They can fill in the dead spaces in between bigger games. They can be thrown in a pocket or bag and taken on vacation, or on day trips. While they may not be as long or as deep as the big ticket games, they have more openings to be played.

For me, I consider any game that is portable, and plays in 45 minutes or less to be more of a filler game (In the broadest sense). They have varying degrees of depth, but all are light, portable, fun games that can fill this dual role.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

  1. Station Master– This is one of my popular games in this category. It has slightly longer gameplay, 30-45 minutes, and is simple to play. DSCF3197
  2. Empire Engine– This is a great strategy game in a small package. Short gameplay under 30 minutes, more complicated to learn and master, but fun to play.DSCF3172
  3. Yardmaster Express– Arguably the simplest game on this list, this game is closer to Uno than say Empire Engine. But it is fast (10 minutes) and really simple, and addictively fun.DSCF3595
  4. Harbour– This is arguably the most complicated game on this list, but it is still relatively easy to play, and a lot of fun. It nicely boils down the big worker placement strategy games into a smaller, simpler package. This game takes about 30-50 minutes to play.DSCF3133
  5. Infection Express– While very luck dependent, this game is a fun challenge. It takes the experience of Pandemic (which itself is a shorter, simpler game) and makes it smaller. Gameplay is quick, usually 10-15 minutes, and like Yardmaster Express, you will find yourself muttering, “just one more game!” or “Let’s play again, so I can beat you now!”

    All is not well in Disney World

    All is not well in Disney World

Weigh in with your comments: What do you define as a filler game? What are some of your favorites? Let us know!



#30- A Look Back, and a Look Ahead


According to WordPress, this post is my 30th post on this blog. While certainly not a huge achievement, or an overly significant milestone, especially since it has been stretched out over many months. But, in my my mind, it is a milestone, and I am sure there is a philosophy out there that encourages you to celebrate every milestone, now matter how minuscule, right? Right….

So, what does one write for a 30th post?  I frankly have few ideas, so I decided to look back at highlights of these past few months, and then attempt to speculate what lies ahead for this blog.

So without further ado, lets look at some highlights of these past 29 posts:


1. The Most Controversial Post: Downsize Your Hobby: This post generated lots of comments of various reactions both here ont he main blog site, and on the forums I frequent where the link to this post was uploaded. Perhaps not surprisingly, there was more of a negative reaction from the board game crowd- It’s hard to argue with the Cult of the New.

2. The Most Overlooked Post: Unplugged Gaming – Taking time to unplug and spend it with friends is a great way to spend time.


3. The Most Popular Post: Idea #1 Find the Free Stuff!– This post really kind of kicked of my Low (or No) Cost Ideas Series. According to WordPress’s stats, this was the most viewed post. Hopefully you all found it helpful. This series has been for me  a great way to encapsulate my philosophy and my approach to my hobbies- the essence of being a Frugal Hobbyist.


4. The Best Board Game Review Post: If I defined best by “most views”, my review of Occupation of the Rhineland would easily take the cake. However, I think that my review of Pay Dirt takes the cake. This game has spawned more posts, or parts of posts than any other game, and has been my favorite game to review to date. Seriously, I think it is that good! Notable runners up in this category: Harbour, which really kickstarted this blog, Serica: Plains of Dust, and Yardmaster Express.


So, where do we go from here? That is where you, the reader comes in! I realize that I am pulling from two very different groups of hobbyists: Those who like trains, and those who like games. Granted some of you are probably like me and like both! But, I do want to cover both to the best that I can. So, if you have ideas of what you want to see discussed , or reviewed, let me know in the comments.

Now, I do have some ideas, and hopefully that work is slowing down for me, the next 30 posts will come at a faster speed than before. (but no promises!)For the next 30 posts, expect more of the same. More board game reviews, more updates on my train layout, and more ideas and opinions about how to enjoy both without breaking the bank.

Now, a word about board games: I would love to review more games. If you are a designer, promoter, or publisher, big, or small, I will gladly review a game for you. Simply send me an email, and we can work something out!

Yardmaster Express- an Express review

If you are anything like me, it can be sometimes hard to get people to play a new game. Especially if those people are more of casual gamers who are a little hesitant to try another new game of yours, especially since I like to play (and craft) complicated games. (Puerto Rico, Pay Dirt, Empire Engine, to name a few on my shelf)

However, some games are simple, and unimposing enough that the resistance is short lived. Once the game has been played, you all find yourselves shuffling up the cards….”Let’s play again! That was fun!” When that happens, I know I have found a good, short, enjoyable, simple filler game, that everyone can enjoy.

Now, I am not always a big fan of games in this category. Games like Uno, Phase 10 (which is really a LONG game), Blitz, Farkle, Rook, and Ratuki, etc. are fun, but for me are not a main event. I like to think and strategize typically. Don’t get me wrong- these are all good games for the niche they fill, and are fun with the family, but it is just not a niche that I need filled all that often. In other words, these are the games, I can get everyone else to play, but I personally am not as excited about.

So when I discover a game that meets those conditions, but also is interesting to me, and draws me into it as well, one that everyone, no matter their deep-thinking comfort level can enjoy, and is short and addictive (“Play again!” “One more time!” “Why not one more round!”), I take notice, and if I can, add it to my shelf.


Yardmaster Express is one such game. While a slightly larger micro game at 30+ cards, this is a good little filler game, that can be enjoyable in-between games kind of game, or if you are a little shorter on time, can be an enjoyable event to itself.


Yardmaster Express is a micro game from a small board game start-up publisher, Crash Games, who recently brought us Pay Dirt, which I have been thoroughly enjoying. My PnP copy has been seeing lots of use!


Yardmaster Express is also another recently funded Kickstarter project that is really a great game for the package. It is the express version of Yardmaster, also a recent Kickstarter project and a small game as well.

Players take the role of yardmasters (imagine that!) trying to make up a profitable train consist to send out. Each player has their own train they are hooking up car(d)s to based on type or value. Once the trains reach a certain car(d) limit, the game ends, and players tally up their points.


As with all it’s games, Crash Games generously provides the full color pdf files for Yardmaster Express on its game page on BoardGameGeek here:

As this games is all cards, it really is a simple, simple build. You print out the cards (5 pages total) double sided with the colored train cars on the front, and the grey wild cards on the back. Then I ran them through the laminator, cut the cards out, and rounded the edges. Other than making sure to keep the cards in order when double-sided printing so that the cards match up with their backs, this was a walk in the park, especially compared to some games I have crafted.


In one sense this game takes elements from 7 Wonders, Uno, and Stationmaster, and blends it into a nice, unique game. First, you draw a hand equal to the number of players in the game. This is a communal hand that gets passed around. On your turn, you draw a card to the hand, play a card either face up or face down, and then pass the hand to the next player.

The communal hand. I can choose to either play the red 2/2 card or the green 2/3 card...

The communal hand. I can choose to either play the red 2/2 card or the green 2/3 card…


This deck-drafting/communal hand mechanic is really neat, and while I am familiar with it somewhat with 7 Wonders, it really has a novel, unique feel to it.  Do I take that 4/4 card I can’t play, and bury it as a wild card in my train to prevent someone else from taking it, or do I take that 3/3 card in the hopes that the 4/4 card makes it around to me next turn?


Once a set number of rounds have been played (depending on the number of players), players tally up their points from the value of the cars added to the train. In addition, whomever has the longest run of a color gets extra points based on the number of cars in the run. You can also play with the caboose expansion which offers some variety of extra bonus points to earn by meeting certain conditions.


Admittedly this is a very simple game. This is a light filler type of game, and it makes no pretensions to be anything else. Even with that though, there is a little bit of strategy and planning involved, which I alluded to above. The sharing of a common hand makes this game really interesting.  The Caboose variants really make the game more interesting as well, and keep things different each game. These really help break up the monotony of always the same goal.



Yardmaster Express is really a great game for what it is intended to be. It is a fun little filler suitable for all ages. If you can play Uno, you can play this. Is this a deep game, or a gamer’s game? No, not at all. In one sense it feels a little more strategic than Uno, mainly because of the card drafting/shared hand mechanic, but on the other, it feels just as simple and easy to play, although it doesn’t feel like brainless play like Phase 10 or other games with little decision making…


In short, this game really is worth checking out. The retail version should be out soon, or you can always make the PnP version, which takes only a little work to do. Finally a game I like that everyone likes to play, not just my gamer friends and family. 😉


Digging up a Gold Nugget, or a Pyrite Disappointment? A Review of Pay Dirt.


Gold. There is something about it’s allure that is difficult to entirely describe. That precious metal has been sought after for centuries. Emperors craved it, kings warred over it, prospectors gambled their lives and their fortunes for it, and now investors are plunking their money down for it, desperate for financial security.

Gold. Something about it’s color and luminescence captivates our imaginations. Young boys dream of finding buried treasures of gold and any good movie about treasure hunting usually features gobs of it. It is hard to think of another physical substance that has been so coveted over the centuries of human civilization.

Gold. It is still important today too, even beyond the the investment craze. It is a vital component for special electronic wires and components. It is used in all sorts of fine jewelry and rings. It has a significant demand and usefulness. Hence the gold mining industry.

We don’t often think of gold mining as a modern industry. When we think of mining we think of coal, ore, or recently natural gas, or Minecraft. But gold mining continues, albeit half-way across the world in South Africa where there are rich gold mines.

But wait! We would do well not to forget that it continues on our own shores, especially in Alaska. While we often equate gold mining here with the 1800’s and the prospecting boom, there are still gold mining operations in the area.

It is a hard, cold, expensive job, but someone has got to do it. Will that someone be you?


My homemade box

My homemade box

Before you start packing your bag for the next flight to Alaska (I hope you packed plenty of long underwear!),allow me to clarify. In this case, I am referring to a new game put out by Crash Game: Pay Dirt. Pay Dirt is a worker placement game about the modern gold mining industry in Alaska.The game is 2-5 players (though the PnP version only has files for 4 players), and lasts about 90 minutes or so. It recently funded on kickstarter so expect to see it available in retail next year.  While winter clothes are not required, a determined attitude is.


Digging for gold in the frigid North is by no means a walk in the park. The gold is out in the bush, far away from civilization…which isn’t saying much since it is Alaska! And did I mention it is cold and hard? Equipment is always in need of repair or wearing out, good staff are hard to come by, funds are limited, and hardship are a plenty. Rusted axles, snap freezes, misfiled paperwork, dishonest employees, diesel shortages… wait, where are you going?

Just like the real thing, Pay Dirt nicely captures the challenges and excitement of the modern gold mining industry in Alaska. This is not your average worker placement game with a pasted on theme. The theme here is rich and engaging. In an abstract way, you do feel like you are trying to lead your ragtag mining outfit to victory (most gold wins!) But theme is not everything. To take the analogy in my title here, a good theme is like a good shiny appearance. Only by looking at what’s under the hood can we tell if this is the real deal, or a fake disappointment.


If you plan on buying a copy when it is produced, then feel free to skip this part. But, if you are like me- a frugal, crafty kind of guy, then keep reading!

Pay Dirt has been my most exhaustive/involved PnP build to date. Part of that was due to some of my choices to make it nice, and part of that was due to the fact that this is a big game (on par with Puerto Rico, or Ticket to Ride as far as amount of components). I have been detailing some of the construction in previous posts: here, here, and here

The first step is to (obviously) print everything out. The tiles and the player boards I printed on matte photo paper. For the cards (Personnel and Hardships), I printed on high quality printer paper, double-sided (these have fronts and backs, and photo paper only can be printed on one side, hence regular paper).

The cards were the easiest to make. after printing them out, I ran them through my laminator. (Man, I love this tool!) After cutting them out, I pulled out my nifty, new, corner rounder  to give them a nice professional-ish appearance. The nipping with the cutter was tedious, but it made a difference.



The tiles were simple as well. Because this is the PnP version, the tile backs (with the exception of the pay dirt tiles) are not included. I simply glued the pages to cereal cardstock and pressed it with a dry iron on low heat. This worked well in “laminating” the paper to the cardstock. Once everything had dried for a day between thick theology books (to keep the boards from warping as the glue dried), it was just a matter of cutting out the tiles.

There are a lot of components to this game as well. You need some unique pieces to track the dropping temperature, to  mark bidding categories, and to mark the head miner. (I have half a mind to go and find a cheap hard hat to serve this purpose! 🙂 )You need 48 red cubes to track wear to your equipment, 25 gold nuggets, 25 gold bars (worth 5 nuggets), 40 workers, 10 each in Blue, Red, Brown, Green.

You can use counting cubes for most of this, and designate different colors to differentiate. However, I decided to get some wood dowels and make my own token. Talk about cheap! (But, labor intensive). I bought a 1/4″ square dowel and chopped it into cubes.

The raw materials

The raw materials

These became the wear cubes and gold nuggets. I then chopped 13/16″ lengths in another 1/4″ square dowel to make the gold bars. The workers and tacking tokens were chopped from a 1/2″ round dowel. Everything was then soaked overnight in paint baths. While the coloring is not the most impressive (with the exception of the gold pieces), it was a cheap and somewhat fun…but also tedious. I think the results were worth it though for custom bits at a fraction of the price. Had I had to do it over, I would have bought some spray paint  for better finish results when painting.



Unlike some games that overwhelm you with details and choices right out of the gate (I am looking at you Caylus), Pay Dirt offers a streamlined, simplified experience without dumbing things down. There is still plenty of strategy here, but it is very accessible. The game plays over a variable number of rounds (ultimately determined by the players). Each round has four phases.

The first phase is auction, and really this is the heart of the game. When you start the game, you have old, slow equipment and few workers. In the auction phase you can upgrade equipment, hire personnel, and stake more claims. But the way the bidding works makes things difficult sometimes to get what you need. You will find yourself in all out bidding wars with your opponents for vital pieces of equipment, and valuable workers. Once one item is auctioned off (there are three pools of choices to choose from: equipment, personnel, claims), the next auction must be for something different. (Example: The player before started bidding on a new excavator (a equipment tile). Once that  auction ends, you may start bidding on an item, but not from the equipment category. So if there was a new wash plant you were looking at: sorry!)


Choices, choices, choices. Do I want a new wash plant? or a new claim with valuable gold? or more workers?, or maybe an excavator?

The Auction "house" The little brown cylinder marks the "no bid" area

The Auction “house” The little brown cylinder marks the “no bid” area

Once everyone has had a chance to start bidding on something or has won something, then the auction phase ends, and all items won are incorporated into your outfit.

Play then moves to the Work phase. This phase is pretty simple- Simultaneously place your workers and preform actions. In essence your player board represents a conveyor belt of sorts as the gold is dug up, transported, and washed. Tiles are excavated from claims (they are kept face down until processed), moved from excavator to loader, and then through the wash plant. Once the pay dirt tile reaches the last space in this “conveyor belt”, then it is flipped over and the amount of gold you get is revealed.DSCF3432

Each piece of equipment is divided into 1-3 “stages” that the pay dirt must move across. Each worker assigned to an equipment moves the dirt one stage. So, until you get more workers, better equipment or both, it takes a long time (about two turns) to process each pay dirt tile. So it is imperative to upgrade your outfit in one way or another.


By using all five workers, I can pull a piece of pay dirt (The brown tile) from the claim, across the excavator, across the loader, and onto the first stage of the wash plant. Because the dirt hit every piece of equipment, they all gain 1 wear cube. (Notice too that the earth movers had been upgraded to have two slots instead of three, speeding up the process somewhat.)

Each time your equipment loads a dirt tile, it wears down a little (represented by wear cubes) Once the wear cubes gained are equal to the wrench icons, the equipment in question breaks down and needs repaired. You can assign workers to repair  and remove the cubes, but of course this ties up valuable manpower.

Cubes! Though, you don't want too many of these...

Cubes! Though, you don’t want too many of these…

In addition to this main task, you can send workers to town to sell gold for cash, or buy camp gear. (These are little upgrades to help your process: generators, test drills, etc.)

In other words, there is lots of work to do, and not enough hands to go around.

After the Work phase, the Hardships start rolling in. After all, this is Alaska. Whoever has the least gold, draws hardship cards for all the players, and distributes them at his discretion. This is a nice catch up mechanism, in my opinion. These hardship cards are not a walk in the park- they can really hamper your operation next turn. Whether you lose prized equipment you paid top dollar for, or lose gold, or employees, or have other difficulties that require more men, etc, you really have to fight to keep your operation moving some turns.

Hardships, they a'coming

Hardships, they a’coming

Whoever is the head miner (Start player for the round) then looks at the temperature indicated on his hardship card, and drops the temperature on the main board accordingly. Once the temperature reaches 0, then the last round begins after this round finishes.

Since I am head miner this turn, the temperature drops 2 degrees. Brr.....

Since I am head miner this turn, the temperature drops 2 degrees. Brr…..

After the hardships are resolved, the final phase is  Income- every player gains $2,000. (a subsidary from the government) The round finishes and the next player to the left of the start player becomes the new Head Miner, and the next round begins.

That is really all there is to it. It takes a lot to explain it, but once you’ve played a round or two, it is pretty intuitive and straightforward. Once the game is over, players tally up their gold- most gold wins!


So is this a nugget of gold, or a pyrite disappointment? The short answer: yes to the former, no to the latter. Pay Dirt really is a gem of a game. It is simple in one aspect. There is really only one strategy/one goal you are working towards. This is not a complex, point salad game. In fact this is the first game I’ve played in a while with not a ubiquitous victory point in sight. It is not overwhelming  too much to “newbie” players, or non-gamers….too much. It is after all a modern “euro” game so there is plenty to take in, and plenty to keep your mind busy, but it is not overwhelming or brain burning.


Looks like that old excavator needs some repairing before you load anymore dirt this turn!

That said, it is also complex enough to keep the gamers among us interested. There is some strategy involved, from the auction phase to the dilemma of where to place your workers in the work phase. (too much to do, not enough hands to do it…). Do you focus on adding more workers to your outfit, or better equipment? Do you use camp gear to help supplement? Do you sell hard earned gold for some needed cash for auctions next round? Or, do you make do with what you have?

Your typical Euro is bashed for being “meh” when it comes to theme. With some games, the theme really is just the wrapping paper to the game itself. No so with Pay Dirt. This Alaskan gold mining theme is practically oozing from every part of this game (and I mean this in a good way). The theme is so closely connect with the mechanics, you really do get a sense of “roughing it” while making your fortune in the Alaskan wild.  I would recommend wearing flannel shirts while playing this game. A scruffy beard doesn’t hurt either, just to get int he spirit of things.


In case you can’t tell, I really, really like this game. Even for it being the PnP version, the art is great (Kudos to Crash Games for even making this available!), and the game play really is enjoyable, with out being too difficult. All the people I have introduced it to, have enjoyed it. While for some it was a bit of a shock to play a game where things are so hard to get things moving sometime (Those hardship cards don’t pull any punches! Between that, your poor equipment, and your meager amount of workers, you feel as if you are barely keeping your operation afloat the first few rounds), the game really does shine.

One gripe I have (and it is a minor one), is that while it says it plays 2-5 players, the two player games I have tried have been lackluster. Mainly because it is hard to have a lively auction round (where much of the action is in the game) with just two players. I don’t know if others who have played have had the same experience, or if there are tweaks to the rules for a two player game I am not aware of, but this is one spot where Pay Dirt falls short. But from 3-5 players, this is absolutely one of my favorite game, hands down!

Interested? Check out the game on Board game Geek here. You can find the PnP files if you want to craft it, or information for when it will be released to retail.

How about you? Have you tried this game yet? If so, what did you think? Be sure to share in the comments below, and if you want to keep more content like this coming, please subscribe! (either at the top or bottom of the page!)

Idea #2 In Search of Cardstock (MR,BG)

DSCF3405Crafting is, for me at least, a relaxing, unwinding activity. Whether making a PnP game, or crafting a station for my layout, or making a retaining wall for a bridge, it is a great way to relax, relieve stress, and enjoy that feeling of accomplishment.

But to be able to craft, you need materials. After all, that house you want isn’t going to come just out of thin air! So, how do you get those materials, and how can you do so cheaply (or even for free)?

When it comes to making board games, or making structures for a model railroad, having good cardstock on hand is helpful. It is one of those basic materials (at least for me) in my crafting supply. You can buy sheets of poster board, or printable cardstock paper to get what you need, but why do that when there are other ways to get the materials you need?

To clarify terminology, when I refer to cardstock (here in the US) I refer to a sheet of cardboard that is solid, and not corrugated. The cardboard that is used on the back of legal pads of paper are a good example. I realize in other parts of the world, especially Europe, you might have different names for such stuff, “Chitboard” being one such term I have heard of.

Now, how does one find such cardstock, and how do you use it? This is the focus of my thoughts here. First, let’s run through some frugal sources of this versatile crafting material:

Cereal Boxes. (And other “food” boxes)



DSCF3409 This is my favorite source for crafting material right now. Breakfast is something most always have on hand, especially if you are like me and have a toddler in the house! (Cheerios are to toddlers what Cheese puffs are to adults.) If you are like 97% of those who consume cereal, you just throw out the box (or recycle) when you finish the contents.

But it is better to up-cycle this material. I have found that the cardstock in these boxes to be very usable (the Cheerios boxes get high marks- they are thicker than other boxes, and bigger.) I prefer them for making nice, thinner tiles for games (like Pay Dirt. A review will be coming soonish)DSCF3243

Legal Pad backs.  These tend to be thick- they are great for player boards or extra thick chits or tiles for a game, like I did for Dune Express:DSCF3411


Shirt cardboard: With some dress shirts (or in my case, my work shirts), the shirt comes pinned or clipped to a sheet of thin cardstock. Typically it has a white, glossy finish on one side. I really like to use this for making thick cards, like for the Empire Engine. The smooth white back nicely complements the card’s appearance.DSCF3173

I have also painted the white side of the cardboard, and scribed it to give the look of concrete. I used this technique for the inside of the bridge I am finishing.




These cardstock materials are handy for model railroad projects. They can be used as bracing for an interior of a scratchbuilt structure (as I did with this house). DSCF3281

They can also be used to make textured sheets thicker for walls. The bridge scene on my railroad is cereal cardboard with the textured sheet layer on top. It makes it sturdy and thick enough to be believable.

This cardboard is also good for making the cores of many models. I am planning to scratchbuild some passenger cars in the future, and I believe having a cardstock core should be easy enough to do, that I can layer detail on top of it.

Also, with a steady hand and a good knife, cardstock can be carefully scribed to look like wood siding. This is a skill I am working on mastering, but it sure beats buying stripwood or textured wood sheets. With extra care and attention to detail, I could imagine you could carve/cut brick or dressed stone texture into a sheet of cardstock as well with reasonable results.

It very well may be that you may argue that you can’t get great detail from cardboard as a building material, that styrene is the best choice, or better yet, buy your own stripwood. There is merit to this. I would hope that something you buy be a little better than something I scrounged. But, my point is this: In most cases, you can get a very reasonably detailed, good looking building out of cardstock for a fraction of the price. (Or, if you do use those textured sheets, like I do (they were a gift), cardstock is a good brace and add some more body to the sheet. )


If you look at the great layouts of yesteryear (think John Allen, etc.), many of their great buildings were done with cardstock or similar materials, with great result. Granted they did not have the same selection of products as we do now. But what they did do with what they had is inspiring to us making do will up-cycled materials.


So when you finish that box of cereal, don’t throw it out! You next game waiting to be made, or the materials for a great little station could be in your hands.

Fun for One? (A Review of “Occupation of the Rhineland, 1936”)

Solitaire games…. up until recently I viewed them as a necessary evil. Ok, well maybe not evil…. I just thought it took the whole fun away from being a game. Almost like “Solitaire games” was a paradox or something.

After all, for me, while a lot of the fun in a game is the mental challenge, and the building up of your wealth/resources/civilization/business, a significant part of the fun is the playing with actual people, face to face. It is a great way to connect with people, have fun together, unwind, etc.

That said, a solitaire game offers none of that people interaction. All you have left is the mental challenge, which while good, seemed to me that the game was missing something, like a body that has been decapitated. Take away people and you take away a large part of the fun.

However, after actually trying a solitaire game, I have come to a somewhat different (and more positive) conclusion. To be sure, playing a multi-player game is still preferred to a solitaire, but there is a lot of fun in just the mental challenges a good solitaire can pose.It’s not unlike working a puzzle or even, working with models (Something I certainly enjoy).

So, what changed my mind?  A little solitaire, “Occupation of the Rhineland, 1936”. I had gotten a copy from Todd Sanders, who did the artwork for this little game.



Occupation of the Rhineland is a historical simulation game, meaning it attempts to recreate the scene in Europe during the rise of Nazi Germany. Specifically it emulates the international tensions between Germany and the rest of Europe during Germany’s occupation of the Rhineland (one of the major steps that lead to WWII). Of course, if you are familiar with world history at all, that you already figured that just by the title.

You play the French government as it seeks to respond to the sticky situation on your backdoor. Through diplomatic and occasionally military means, you seek to oust Germany from the Rhineland and avert WWII. Talk about a chance to rewrite history! Of course we know how the story goes, but it is fun to speculate how things could have been done differently.


The game is published by Minden Games, in the their “zip edition” line. Basically, the game is rules, a postcard game board, and a postcard of counters to cut out, all in a 6″x 11″ zip bag. You provide the dice, pencil, and paper.

While I am sure cost effectiveness for the company has more to do with the “zip edition”, I really do like that concept when it comes to buying games. It seems more…. sustainable, and frugal.



This game is primarily dice driven. After choosing what France’s stance towards Germany is (Balanced, Pro-Britain, Pro- League of Nations, or Leverage), you roll your way to victory….sort of. Depending what you choose, there are different outcomes for your rolls. You are trying to gain influence with Britain and the LoN to back your efforts to oust Germany. Your die rolls determine whether they align closer with you, or move farther away, or if Germany decided to strengthen its forces, or if the crisis deepens. While you can make some choices, you really are at the mercy of the dice.

Where you have choice is when you decide to issue an “ultimatum” to Germany- “Get out of the Rhineland, or else!” The more you have Britain and the LoN on your side, the more likely Germany will pack its bags and head home.


In a way, this game reminds me of Farkle. You are unlimited in how many times you can roll to improve your standing. The better you are, the more likely you can win in the final resolution of the game. However, the more you roll, the more chances you have of exacerbating an already tense diplomatic situation. So this is definitely a push your luck kind of game.

Really the most strategy that comes into play is calculating your odds and taking somewhat calculated risks. At the end of the day, your fate rests primarily on a little cube with printed dots. Some may like that, others may not.


As a strategy game, Occupation of the Rhineland falls somewhat short. The game has more in common with Farkle then say, Axis and Allies.


However, as an intro to the fun one can have with a solitaire game, this game does shine. While I felt that I had only a small amount of control over the progression of the game, it was a lot of fun, and had an enjoyable amount of tension.

Not only that, but it has definitely gotten me interested in looking into solitaire games. While they may not be as much of a game as their bigger, fuller counterparts, solitaires do have a place in your game closet. After all, when no one wants to play games, it is nice to have something to scratch that itch, particularly in mental challenges.

I guess solitaire games aren’t so bad after all.


A Helpful Tool

There are some tools we feel we just can’t live with out. You know how it goes. You find something that you never considered using before, and then you get, and then BAM! That tool is indispensable, and you are using it all the time for all sorts of projects. You find projects just so you have an excuse to use that tool.

Well this tool I am about to link to is kind of like that. Indispensable, no, but it definitely takes your craftiness to a whole new level. What am I talking about? A laminator.

I recently got one from Amazon, and it has been great. I did the cards for Pay Dirt with it, as well as an expansion for Settlers of Catan.


The results are fantastic and beat any method for making cards I have tried to date. With a little corner rounder, you can get a nice, glossy, plastic-y card. I like it so much, I really have to restrain myself from finding another game to print, just to use it. 🙂

So if you are interested, you should check out this laminator. It is currently on a really good sale on Amazon. (personally I am kicking myself a little. I have the same one, but I paid $21 for it…) So, if you don’t have one, you should check this out, while the deal lasts today.

(disclaimer: This is an affiliate link, but don’t let that stop you! Thank you for your support. 🙂 )