Funny this comes up as I have Mage Knight on the table at the moment and done a few solo plays. I did a couple of runs with Wolfhawk in the city conquest scenario before deciding to give the blood/fire mage whatsitsname a go. Yeah, Tom's comment about theme are spot on. The heroes are meaningless, I don't know nothing about Utem, Altem etc, or why there are rampaging orcs and the reasons as to why they and the draconians are so pissed off sitting in their camps.
Firstly, I'm not really playing a different character, but I am playing a different miniature that comes with two unique cards. Whatsername's (rulebook says Arythea) mana pull for instance typically gets burned for an extra movepoint, while her other card at least has a use in combat situations, but only combat. And I can not even enter the game with a strategy because I don't know what to expect when the skill tiles flip over. Add in a map that can really screw a person and a game feels like a puzzle with a complexity that isn't of my choosing.
Somehow though, there is a compelling desire I feel to move forward in the game. Hope maybe? That ideal of holding out for that flip of a skill tile, advanced card or map tile that can turn a nobody into a badass dispatching multiple foes at once. The night before last, I lost two hours merely sitting down to do one day. That day ended up becoming a day and night, then another two rounds after that before I looked up and noticed the clock had struck midnight. There's a progression and challenge that I appreciated once I started doing the actual scenarios and gave up the introductory recon mission. Until then, it felt too predictable.
One issue I have with both Mage Knight (and Eldritch Horror alike) is that ticking clock. It's fair in that it makes a person have to take calculated risks in order to meet the objective, but the time to play with those cool toys is all too short. The typical progression I've seen in Mage Knight is earning first advanced action card by the first day, units and maybe a spell by the first night, more of the same on the next two rounds, then hopefully capping off the game with the city conquest on each of the day and night rounds in the final days. I would like the solo boardgame to have something like a new game + where the challenge scales up for that character that has been developing and cooking for a few hours. That character development is a huge part of those games, particular with Mage Knight being a deck builder of sorts. Instead I look at the map I've uncovered, sigh a little, then clean up and reset the game for another go around. Maybe the answer is to hold those cards, then reset the map and increase the difficulty of the cities. I don't really know.
Mage Knight is a ruthlessly time limited game, where the single most important factor is how much time you have. It is a vicious exercise in maximizing efficiency. Yet you’re often left in a position where you have very few choices and all of them are terrible. You might have a great hand of attack cards, but no way to actually move into the hex you need to attack. Here’s your might mage knight, sitting outside a castle, armed to teeth but unable to budge. What a terrible place to find yourself in a game that’s essentially a race.
Furthermore, there is no provision for actually tracking the time limit. Many of the scenarios are on a clock, but there is nothing in the game that marks how many rounds you’ve played. Is it the fourth day or the sixth day? Who knows? Bring a piece of paper or something to note this, because Mage Knight can’t be bothered. Imagine a scoreboard for a baseball game without room to tell you what inning it is. You’ll just have to remember.
In the first situation of having a hand of attacking cards, you just have to burn a couple to move, then accept the fact you may need to take on some wounds. Not defending the game though, it sucks and it actually funnels me down into a position where I choose to take movement skills when I level up if I can, or you know, count the cards and try and keep track of chances for picking up a dedicated movement card.
With the second about keeping track.... yeah I've only done city conquest, and so I know that there is an inherent tracker of time because each tactics card can only be played once, so it is easy to know when the third round is up because there will only be two tactics cards left. But that's about the only situation I'll concede where the game does track time, otherwise yep, I guess paper and pen all the way. One other possibility could be to use those gold and black mana crystals because in reality, they don't really go into the inventory if I recall, they can only act as tokens.