Solo board gaming, loved by some, despised by others. People who don’t often venture into the depths of ‘boardgaming for one’ always ask the same questions. Why don’t you watch a movie, play a computer game or read a book? And a lot of people don’t even know that solo games exist. It shouldn’t be like that. It’s fun, I tell you! Here’s a list of ten games I like to play solitaire.
First things first.
Solo gaming is just something I do. During some periods more often than during others and not always with the same goal. Sometimes I do it because I need my boardgaming fix, sometimes I do it to learn the game and sometimes I purposely play a solo game, not because there are no people to play a game with, but just because I want to play a game that is intended to be played solo. No other humans allowed.
One thing I know for sure is that I want other things from a solo game than I expect to get from a game played with other players. It either has to be incredibly challenging in some way, or the setting, the world, must be one I can, head first, dive into.
Learn before play
When it comes to learning a boardgame I prefer to play a game solo in advance, before I’m willing to teach it to other players. I dislike gamers, including myself, yes it still happens sometimes, who learn and teach at the same time. So, to prevent that I settle myself, with a cup of tea, or maybe a beer, and play a couple of rounds, or sometimes even a whole game, as two or three players. In this way I can see how the game plays out and sometimes even come up with answers to questions that other players might ask during my explanation. It means I can explain the game better and the other players, hopefully, understand the game better and therefore have a more enjoyable time playing the game. Plus, as an extra benefit, it helps me to get my fix.
There are loads of games that can be played solo. Some are intended to be played with more players, but because of the way the game plays they can also be played as a solo game. Cooperative games, like Pandemic, are a good example of games where there are no rules-changes required, because you can play as multiple characters. There are other games that are mostly played as multiplayer games, but the designer added a nice solo variant, with a slightly different rule-set. Le Havre and other Uwe Rosenberg games are a good example.
However, be careful with these kind of games. They might have a solo mode, but it could be that they only added it so they could write ‘from 1-4 players’ on the box and because of that, maybe, sell more games. Not all solo modes are worth your time.
And then there are, of course, solo only games. Many of them have a war theme, but probably the best known solo only game today is Friday from Friedemann Friese.
But that’s enough talking about what kind of solo games there are in the world, although what I’ve written above only gives you a glimpse into the solo realm, let’s dive into my top ten.
10: Mobile (iOS/ Android) versions of board games
What? Are you serious? I come here to read about some nice solo board games. You just questioned why people always ask why you don’t play video games when you want to do something on your own and now you start your top ten with iOS games!? I’m outta here!
No, no! Wait. I know I’m a bit of a cheat here, but hear me out. Sometimes I just don’t have the time or space, most of the time it’s the space that’s an issue in my case, to play a real board or card game and then I take out my Ipad and play a quick game against the AI. Like when I travel by train or by plane. I sometimes have to change trains every fifteen minutes or so, so taking out a small card game is not very handy. Then a tablet or a phone is the perfect solution.
What games do I like to play? Well there are a couple of games I play a lot. This does not mean that I think that they are the best iOS games or the best iOS implementations of board games out there, but I just enjoy myself when I play them.
The games are: Lord of Waterdeep, Caylus, Ingenious, Tigris & Euphrates and Alien Frontiers. These are all good games in the real world too, but except for Ingenious they cannot be played solo when you play the real deal.
9: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Well, off we go into the world of ‘real’ games. My number nine is The Lord of the Rings: the Card Game from Fantasy Flight. I really like the theme. It tells a story while you play the game and whenever you buy one of the tiny expansion packs, which I did, the story grows. Your collection of cards also grows and now you can start building your own deck and you can really make the game your own.
This basically is what I like about it and also the reason I sold it. The story is great, the artwork is phenomenal and the game itself is a joy to play, but creating a solid deck, sorting out which card works well with the others, takes up a lot of time. Time I just want to spent on other things, most importantly playing the game. However, the game is great and therefore it made my list.
8: Flash Point: Fire Rescue
This is a game I never bought to be played as a solo game. However, because not many people around me were interested in it, or could get into the theme, playing Flash Point became a predominantly solo gaming experienced for me. First of all, I really like the fire-fighting theme. There aren’t many games with that theme, it’s fresh. Plus, I think the dice rolling, the mechanisms where smoke turns into fire and walls collapse, or where fire on fire causes an explosion really fit the theme well.
The cartoony artwork looks good and it also makes it less realistic, which is a good thing, because some people might not make it out alive.
Except for my first two games, I have only played the advanced game, which is a must. It’s much more fun, especially as a solitaire game.
Potentially this game is just as good as the older games from Shadi Torbey, but it’s too early to tell. This games differs from his earlier work, because there’s also a spatial element. It’s a tower-defence game and you basically create a four by four grid with cards. The forest is threatened by fire, which is advancing from right to left, and you have to protect it with the help of forest creatures.
You build your own deck at the beginning of the game through a combination of an auction and drafting, you play these cards every turn to heal the forest or prevent the fire from advancing further into the forest.
It’s a blast, but I have to play it some more to see where it lands.
6: Race for the Galaxy
Race for the Galaxy is one of my favourite games of all time and this card game from Tom Lehman has a very fun solo variant. It comes with the ‘The Gathering Storm‘ expansion. He added a robot to the game that plays a bit differently according to his home planet and it chooses actions with the help of the dice you roll every round. It works perfectly and it can be quite a challenge to beat it.
By doing it this way I can play one my favourite games by myself too, if there’s no one around, and as an extra I can improve my skills.
5: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Number five; Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. This is a wonderful game. I’m not particularly good at it, but I do enjoy playing it.
Again, I like the theme. That’s so important. A solo game has to create a certain ambience. It can be done be artwork or by the setting of the game, but in this game it’s definitely the setting and the great story it tells.
You have to solve a weird case, a strange murder. You stroll through London, read a bunch of papers, talk to a couple of people, ask them incredibly important questions, feel very confident that you’ve solved the case and then you find out you are wrong. Sherlock has outsmarted you again.
Being wrong was never so much fun. Believe me.
4: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
This is probably the most thematic cooperative game I’ve ever played until now. It’s survival at its toughest. The game looks good and it can be very difficult to win. It has multiple scenarios and in combination with the different piles of event, adventure and invention cards the replay value is very high.
I really like it that the game has memory. The decisions you make have an effect on the rest on the game, like when a card gets shuffled into the deck when you choose effect ‘A’ instead of ‘B’ and then haunts you later on.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island tells a great story and offers a tense gaming experience.
The next two games are equally fun and I had to put them in some order, so this is it. My number three solo game, at this moment, is Onirim from Shadi Torbey. In this little card game you are lost in a dream world and you have to get out. You do that by finding doors in your deck of cards and opening them with your keys or play certain coloured cards in the right order. But wait, there are nightmares, evil creatures, that hunt you and make you discard cards or lose doors.
This is a very compact game. It’s just a deck of cards, the discard pile and the cards in your hands. And those are also the things you must manage. To be successful you must have an idea what’s in your draw deck, you have to know which cards are discarded and you have to estimate your chances when you play certain cards. It’s all in your head.
Onirim is, like I said, very portable, very cheap, you have to use your brain, but there also a bit of luck involved. Plus, if you get bored with the base game, you can add a couple of mini expansion to spice it up a bit.
You, again, find yourself in a dream world, but now you have to balance good and evil in different dream cities. It’s my number two; Urbion from, here he is again, Shadi Torbey.
Cities have certain element icons and you can play, from your hand, negative cards on one side and positive cards on the other side of a city to balance a city and claim it. You have to claim all twelve cities to win the game. However, there can never be more than three cards on one side of a city and there are Chaos cards that will ruin your plans when they come up.
You can play a card on one side of a city or discard cards to do a certain special action. It’s all very tricky, because when your deck is empty before all cities have been claimed, you loose. I found this one a bit more difficult to win, but it’s just as tense as Onirim and it’s just very fun to play.
And like Onirim, Urbion also has two small expansion inside the box. And also, like Onirim and Sylvion, the art, from Élise Plessis, is stunning. It fits the theme so well.
1: Mage Knight: the Board Game
Finally. My number one solo game is Mage Knight. It’s one of my favourite games of all time and I think I’ve only played it twice as a multiplayer game. It’s a fantastic immersive experience, it has a wonderful theme, it’s a bit puzzilly, I agree, but the challenges it offers can keep you busy for a long while.
I do think that, as a solo gamer, the Lost Legion expansion is a must have. In the base game you are struggling to reach your goal within a certain time and so you basically have a deck of cards as an opponent and a timer. When you add the Lost Legion expansion to the game you fight against a moving opponent named General Volkare, which is even more fun.
Although the game might not get as much play time as I would like to, it still is the best solo game I have ever played.