(The Grapes of) Wrath of the Lighthouse – A Solo Game Review

Once upon a time (well, in 2010), there was a post-apocalyptic tableau building game from Poland that garnered a good bit of attention. And some expansions.

This review is not about that game.

Over the years, the designer/publisher decided to take a fresh look at the design and reimagine it for a new generation of gamers. I own that version (and a number of the expansions).

This review is not about that game, either.

In the interregnum between the two post-apocalyptic games, the same Polish company released a fluffier-looking take on the original game that added individual player decks/civilizations and opened up the game space a good bit. And, no surprise, it had expansions.

This review is not about game #3… but we’re getting closer.

A couple of years after the release of the new & improved version of the “dark future” game, the civilization game spawned a new offspring… taking the civilizations north, reducing the destructive interactions, and actually increasing the strategic game space. Once again, I own that game (and pretty much all of the expansions.)

This review is not about that game… until it is – because Wrath of the Lighthouse (the subject of this game review) is a solo campaign for the Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North.

And I like it.

A lot.

Note: the original game was 51st State… later updated and improved by the 51st State Master Set. (Not mentioned: there’s a new big box version with more content about to deliver in the next few months.) The “fluffier-looking” game is Imperial Settlers… and the company that made all of this possible is Portal Games.

Take off… to the Great White North!

For those who haven’t played Empires of the North (or haven’t played it solo), let me give you a quick (and not entirely complete) outline of how the game works.

  1. Choose your civilization… thanks to the expansion boxes, the original 6 civilization decks found in the base game have been joined by 8 other decks with a variety of new twists & turns.
  2. Lay out your Basic Field cards (resources you produce) and draw five cards from your deck, keeping three to start the game.
  3. Take 5 workers/citizens, 2 ships, and the resources from your Basic Fields.
  4. Set up the “rondel” of actions randomly (it’s not really a rondel, but bear with me on this one) as well as the Island board (with two face-up islands of each type: Nearby & Distant).

With all of that in place, the (solo) game begins… and you have four game turns to hit the scoring objective of the scenario you’ve chosen. You spend resources to build cards from your hand into your tableau – many of which give you more action options; you use your two action markers on the “rondel” to trigger specific actions – which could assist you in building, recruit more workers, and even send one of your ships off to the Island board to pillage or conquer. In the process, you score victory points and (hopefully) build an engine that lets you keep rolling along to victory.

Your final score is determined by the victory points you’ve earned over the course of the game, plus one point for each card in your tableau, one point for each gold coin, and one point for every two resources remaining. There is likely to be other ways to score that are based on the solo scenario that you are playing.

The base game comes with a booklet of solo rules and scenarios (four of them!) and there are other official & unofficial scenarios available. There are a couple of simple twists to the solo game:

  • Events: after drafting cards at the beginning of each turn, the player uses numbered chits to randomly select an event from the solo scenario.
  • Action costs: at the end of each turn, flip the actions on the “rondel” with your action markers on them over to their solo side… which imposes an additional cost to take that action during the next turn.

Here’s what I wrote about playing Empires of the North solo for my last solo gaming update:

While I’m a big fan of 51st State: Master Set, the dark apocalyptic tone makes it a little tough to get to the table sometimes. Add that the solo module for it is not enjoyable and it hasn’t seen much play in the last couple of years.

This frustration led me to Empires of the North, the cleaner, friendlier, and more coherently put together cousin to 51st State and Imperial Settlers. The two player game is quite enjoyable… and so is the well-thought out solo mode. (And the plethora of expansions just means you have lots of options in how to try each solo scenario.)

I’ve been trying to go back and play some of the simpler solo scenarios with the more complicated decks, which has been a lot of fun.

Take off… it’s a beauty way to go…

With that spotty but helpful overview out of the way, let’s get to the real reason you’re reading this – the Wrath of the Lighthouse solo campaign.

The box includes 55 new campaign cards:

  • Location and Follower cards
  • a Crop Event deck
  • a Naval Event deck
  • a deck of Special Fields

There are a bunch of tokens and tiles to make play easier, along with some wooden special worker pieces. Also included are 2 double-sided progress sheets to keep track of your campaigns… and there’s a way to print more.

Finally, there is both a rulebook (which contains some “choose your own adventure”-like paragraph information for each scenario in addition to the rules for the campaign) and a scenario book with 15 different scenarios. According to the publisher (hello, Igancy & friends!), there are 50 different story branches available utilizing the components in the box.

Why is the number of lighthouses on the coast increasing? Why do the people so strongly oppose the cathedral being rebuilt? And those seas constantly assaulted by storms…

Game description from BGG entry

Coo, loo, coo, coo, coo, coo, coo, coo!

Because of the story-driven nature of the campaign, I’m hesitant to try & give a lot of details about the story and/or the scenarios. So, what follows is a broad brush picture of the campaign design.

Simply put, you are attempting to find the end of the story… but lose three scenarios and your adventure is over. (My personal campaign is five scenarios in… and after two rather bitter losses – one of them a real nail-biter, I’ve managed a solid win, a “hold on with my fingernails” win, and a crushing victory to keep the story going.)

The set-up and design of the scenarios I’ve played so far is a bit more complicated than the solo scenarios found in the base game… but I expected and welcomed that in order to tell a more interesting story. I’ve been impressed with how many of my rules questions have been answered in the rulebook – with so many scenarios and odd situations, it’s a sign of solid development work that the rules do such a good job of clarifying terms and application.

Most of the scenarios have additional special actions you can take, using action markers from non-player colors to mark using them. In some case, they can be used each turn… while others are once per scenario actions that are marked by putting the action marker with the “X” side up.

The progress log is used to track wins, game conditions (which affect how various “choose your own adventure” encounters and special actions are resolved, event deck composition, and set-up changes (due to your success and/or failure).

I’m a professional, eh?

As I said above, I’m five games into the campaign using the Ulaf (Viking) clan… and whatever happens from here, I’m going to be a substantially better Ulaf player going forward, as dealing with everything the campaign throws at you with the same deck is educating me on the combos, strengths, and weaknesses of my clan.

But the real question is – am I having fun? The answer is an unqualified YES – I’m really enjoying the blend of story and solo scenarios. The challenge level has varied (I’ve only felt ‘comfortable’ with one scenario, partially due to the set-up changes I’d “earned” due to my sub-standard play on the first couple of scenarios) and I can see hints of even loopier scenario designs coming.

If you are (a) a solo gamer, and/or (b) a fan of Empires of the North, I can heartily recommend the Wrath of the Lighthouse campaign. I’d encourage my solo gamer readers to give Empires of the North a try (again, I’m a fan of the solo system Portal designed)… and this would be a great way for non-solo gamers with a copy of Empires of the North on their shelf to try solo gaming.

Simply put – the Portal Games crew set out to build a (solo) board game campaign that tells a story… and stuck the landing. (They did not pay me to reference the books Ignacy wrote – I threw that in there for free.)

Note: the section headers are references to the classic Bob & Doug McKenzie skit done with the assistance of Rush’s Geddy Lee… and which I intended as a nod of the base game but mostly just to amuse myself. Want to know what the heck I’m yammering on about? Try this.

A review copy of Wrath of the Lighthouse was provided by Portal Games… but the Empires of the North base game box and all four expansion boxes and the extra solo scenarios and the Treasure Islands I bought with my own gaming budget, thank you very much.

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 57 as he did at age 7
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5 Responses to (The Grapes of) Wrath of the Lighthouse – A Solo Game Review

  1. dbvanderark says:

    The link to the song took me back. Thanks, hoser.

  2. Geoff says:

    How come he’s not wearing a tuque?

  3. Man, you made me go back and listen to the whole song…. probably gonna have to listen to the album now, too. I recall hearing bits of it via radio and other channels but didn’t own it at the time…

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