Solo Variant for San Juan

San Juan is a fast game with a small foot print. Perfect for solo play, but there is no official variant. Here is a solo variant where the goal is to beat your own high score.

Variant Rules

1. Each round you choose one role. You may only perform the associated action for the role and do not get the special privilege. The Councillor role is removed and the Prospector role can be chosen, but there is no action associated with it.

2. At the end of each round, draw four cards. Keep one and discard the others.

3. Remove the Library cards from the game.

4. There is no restriction on the number of buildings that can be built.

5. When the deck runs out, you do not reshuffle the discard deck and continue. The game ends when you draw a card but there are no cards left to draw.

Design Notes

The game plays on the timer of the card draw. The strategy revolves around retaining as many drawn cards as you can, to use for trading and building, before the deck runs out.

The variant can be made easier or harder by changing the number of cards you draw each round. This alters the value of buildings that let you draw or keep extra cards as well as giving you more or less time to build.

The prospector action exists so that the Gold Mine may be used. The Gold Mine could also be removed from the game to avoid this technicality.

No Food Upkeep Variant for Caverna

Caverna is a great sandbox game where players can choose many different paths to victory, however the game is dragged down by the need to constantly feed the dwarves. Here is a variant that redefines feeding, to remove the stress of being forced to manage food and to increase player freedom.

Variant Rules

1. Dwarves no longer need to be fed during the feeding phase.

2. During the Feeding phase, a player may spend 3 food up to two times for each adventurer to raise their level by one (remember to build a weapon first!).

3. When an adventurer completes a quest, it no longer levels up automatically.

Design Notes

Food still needs to be dealt with, but it is used as an incremental addition rather than as a forced payment.

The balance is that the usual food requirement for feeding is now supplanted by a similar amount of food to level up adventurers. There is variation around this balance depending on the number of adventurers a player creates and there may be room for improvement, but so far the variant plays fine.

Also, the power of adventurers is decreased as they require extra work to level up. By allowing them to level up faster, each adventurer gets more opportunities to use the higher level powers and this balances with the new need for food.

Diceless Variant for Stone Age

Stone Age is a fun, simple game with just enough strategy to keep players interested. One drawback is all the dice rolling, then adding and dividing the numbers. This quality makes Stone Age excellent for teaching arithmetic, but can get boring or draining when you just want to relax. Here is a very simple variant to minimize the mental arithmetic, but not completely remove it.

Variant Rules

1. Each die roll for Food, Wood, Clay, Stone or Gold is treated as a 3.

The result is less addition and a reduced pool of numbers to divide.

Design Notes

As a six-sided dice has an average of 3.5, this variant does make the game harder. The value of tools is clearer, especially when getting Food, Clay or Stone (as the calculation divides by a number that is not a multiple of 3). In general, the game becomes more strategic as the resources are more reliable.

There is a potential for the variant to be boring, as reacting to the variability of the dice rolls is part of the challenge. The counterpoint is that there are other random elements on the board and the jostling with other players for spaces to alter the tactics of each game.

Review of 7 Wonders

7 Wonders is a great casual game that scales well from two to seven players with a play time of around 30-60 minutes.

+1 Scales well from three to seven players.
+1 Short play time of an hour or less.
+0.5 Consistent play time for any number of players since players take their actions simultaneously.
+1 Colourful and polished ancient world theme.
+1 Accessible game play for people new to board games.
+0.5 No direct player interference.

+0 Setup time is fast, but card decks need to be changed for different numbers of players.
+0 Game is easy to learn except for a few abstract symbols on the cards.

-0.5 Is playable with two players but involves a dummy player.
-0.5 Hard to form effective long-term strategies due to randomness of the cards with higher player counts.

Score: 4

Top Board Games for Couples and Friends

Our favorite games are light to medium style building games with minimal confrontation. They need to play reasonably fast with two players but also scale up well to four. We enjoy urban or ancient themed games, but the theme can be forgiven if the game is good.

The games that fit this criteria for us, in no particular order, are:




Special mention for games that don't play so well with two, but satisfy our requirements and are fun with friends:


Two Player Variant for Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan is the quintessential family board game. The game is great with three or more players but shows several deficiencies when played with two. Presented here are several alterations to the base game that simplify the game and bypass some of the issues. This variant is also designed to reduce negative interactions and to speed up game play.

Variant Rules

1. At the start of the game, both players places three settlements instead of two. The order of placement alternates between the two players.

2. Remove the robber.

3. Remove trading.

4. Increase hand size to nine.

5. Increase the largest army victory point bonus to three.

Overall, the game will be faster and it will play more like multiplayer solitaire.

Design Notes

The robber is an aggressive element, and can be removed to maintain a more peaceful game. It can also negatively impact two player games as a static robber can cripple one player disproportionately. Removing the robber devalues the knight card, so the largest army victory point bonus has been increased to balance the loss.

Trading is a bit odd with two players, so it is easy to just not do it. If playing with children, however, trading could be reintroduced to occasionally help them get the resources that they need. The hand size has also been increased to nine to offset the lower availability of specific resources due to no trading.

Puzzle Variant for Runebound

Runebound 2nd Edition is a fantasy adventure board game where the players move around the board, fighting monsters, acquiring items/allies and competing to defeat High Lord Margath or collect three dragon runes.

A unique mechanic of Runebound is the terrain dice. A simple variant is to strip away all the monsters, items, combat and character powers, leaving just the terrain dice and movement around the board.


1. Remove the encounter cards, equipment cards, character cards and all tokens except the encounter tokens.

2. Each player chooses a character as per normal and places it on a starting city.

3. All encounter spaces on the board are covered with tokens according to colour. The tokens can be laid number side up to assist in easier decision making.


Each player takes their turn as follows.

1. Roll the terrain dice. The number of dice used is based on the number of players. Two/three players use 5 dice, four/five players use 4 dice and six or more players use 3 dice.

2. Move according to the terrain dice and pick up the tokens from the spaces. The player may pick up more than one token during one move. A player may not finish their move on the same hex as another player.

The game ends when there are no more tokens left on the board. Each player counts up the value of the tokens they have collected and the player with the highest number wins.