By Henri Whitehead
When I discovered solo board games during the pandemic, I looked at only the biggest boxes and the longest campaigns. I made the same mistake that I once made with videogames, overvaluing how long a game lasts while undervaluing the quality of experience. My Switch was always supposed to be a place where I could unwind after a stressful day; however, whenever I bought video games because of a perceived value of cost per hour played, I unwittingly turned a sanctuary for relaxation into a burdensome chore. Those unfinished games piling up on my Switch became nothing more than reminders of how precious of a commodity my time had become.
It wasn’t until my kids pulled out my Sega Genesis from storage that I realized the errors in that narrow way of thinking about the value of a game. Over the past few years, I’ve played my 30-year-old Sega Genesis almost as much as I’ve played my Switch, and I’ve come to appreciate the quality of the experience over the quantity. In board games, this has meant that I’ve been given fresh eyes toward small box games. I now see the beauty in games that won’t take over my life and (in the case of solo board gaming) won’t take a three-month residency on a table.
Resist! is not a big game by any measurement. Its box is small, its rules are light, and its game length is short (about 30 minutes). There was a time not long ago that I would have ignored it completely just on those metrics, but what a fool I would have been to pass up this game because it’s essentially perfect by every measurement that matters. It’s deep in strategy and simple in complexity. It’s low in commitment but has lasting replay value. It has beautiful art and a captivating theme. When you put everything together, Resist! is the ideal formula for a game. It is the Vitruvian Board Game.
Even before you open the box, the art by Alberto Monteys will act as a time machine and transport you right into this Tintin-esque world and time period. Every card is unique and spellbinding. Sometimes, I found it hard to draft my resistance fighters because I just wanted to keep looking at all of the cards. This is the sort of game that I would hang up on a wall just to ensure friends and visitors all had a chance to admire it as a work of art. You don’t have to be told the game’s setting. Alberto Monteys’ art will put you there. This is a solitaire game by popular wargame designers, but it doesn’t look like any wargame I’ve ever encountered. If this style of artwork is the next evolution of the wargaming hobby, I’m here for it 100 percent.
(Side note about the artwork: I have further proof that this was the perfect game for me. Alberto Monteys did the art for Slaughterhouse-Five: The Graphic Novel, which I really liked a lot. Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author, so it’s almost serendipitous that Monteys is associated with both my favorite author and my favorite game designers.)
The core gameplay mechanics of Resist! are simple enough that you’ll have the game up and running shortly after opening the box. The rules manual is clear and concise, and each phase of the game has easy-to-follow examples. You start the game by drafting a small deck of twelve Spanish Maquis (resistance fighters) who are going to go up against the army of Franco. Each round has you drawing five of those Maquis cards and then playing them on objectives that get progressively harder throughout the game. Each time you play one of your Maquis, you have to decide whether to play them hidden or revealed. The revealed side is always stronger than the hidden side, but if you play the revealed side the fighter’s card is removed from your deck and does not go back into your discard pile. This means that the core strategy of Resist! is managing how and when to deconstruct your deck.
The choices in this game seem quite simple on the surface, but as you progress through more difficult objectives, you will quickly realize the incredible depth of this deck deconstruction mechanism. You not only have to draft a deck that has good synergy, but you also have to figure out the perfect time to reveal your Maquis. If you burn your cards to quickly, you won’t have enough firepower to make it through the tougher objectives. The objectives are staggered between different historical eras, and as you complete them, the later era objectives will start emerging. This is a clever mechanic for two reasons. It not only ensures the game will ramp up its difficulty with the later objectives, but it also helps to tell the real story and struggle of the Spanish Maquis.
If you fail two objectives, you will lose the game outright, but objectives cards are not the only obstacle that you have to contend with either. You will also have to deal with the soldiers, guards, spies, and radio operators that guard each objective. These cards are hidden above each objective and will either be revealed when you choose the objective or can be scouted with various Maquis powers. Depending on the type of enemy, they can do things like kill civilians (too many civilian casualties means an instant loss), add spy cards to your deck, add more enemy cards to objectives, or just act as negative modifiers to completing the requirements of an objective. Spy cards are especially brutal because they are shuffled into your Maquis deck and clog up your engine. With all of these obstacles in the way of your Maquis, a seemingly innocuous turn at the beginning of the game can have dire consequences on your final turns.
Resist! is not an easy game. It’s a game that demands extreme efficiency just to end with a modest victory. Whenever you fail (and you will fail), it doesn’t feel random but rather a consequence of a foolish decision. The moment the game turns on you it’s quite easy to see where things could have gone wrong. Perhaps, you played a Maquis on its revealed side too early. Perhaps, you drafted the wrong Maquis for your deck synergy. Perhaps, you took too great a risk or you didn’t take enough of a risk. It really doesn’t matter the reason for your failure, but what matters is the fact that your failure always feels like it came from one of your decisions. Despite the game’s brutal difficulty at times, nothing feels unfair. Luck, just like everything in this game, feels like it’s under your control.
I’ve been a huge fan of David Thompson and Trevor Benjamin for a while now for their ability to streamline complex strategy, but even I was in absolute awe at what they (in addition to Roger Tankersley) accomplished with such a small box and a small deck of cards. It is truly an amazing feat to put such a deep game in that tiny of packaging. This is a game that I will be going back to time and time again. This isn’t just my game of the year, but it’s now my favorite game of all-time. It’s already regularly hit my table because I can set it up and finish a game before I’ve even finished a cup of sleepytime tea. Every game feels like a fresh challenge. Every game feels like a puzzle worth solving.
As a solo gamer, I highly recommend Resist! and there won’t be a day when I don’t continue to sing its praises to all who will listen. If you are interested in finding yourself a copy, I ordered Resist! through its Gamefound campaign, but I know it’s going to (if not already there) retail stores sometime early this year.
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