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Solo Gaming

Solo board games including The Harbour, The Lost Expedition, Paper Tales, and Legendary Encounters: Alien.
Some of the board games in my collection that have a solo option.

There are many games designed with solo play in mind. Some of these games are 1-player only. Some are multiplayer games that come with solo modes. And some are multiplayer games that have unofficial solo rules that have been created by and embraced by the gaming community.

Not all solo gamers are solo. I am a member of a family of four and yet I enjoy solo gaming. For me, solo gaming offers quiet concentration. I approach solo gaming as a puzzle to be solved. I also enjoy the meditative nature of moving board game bits and shuffling / handling cards. You’ll notice most of my personal favorites are card-driven games.

This list was compiled by me from a mix of personal experience, feedback from fellow local gamers, and a few choice bits taken from the annual list of best solo games as compiled by users of BoardGameGeek.com.

MY PERSONAL PICKS

Star Realms Frontiers

Star Realms started as a solid 2-player deck-builder, but has since evolved into Star Realms Frontiers, which is the Star Realms game packaged with enough content for up four players. It also comes with a number of 1-player challenges. Some are more difficult than others, but each is a unique challenge, not just an escalation of difficulty within the same challenge. If fantasy is more your flavor then give Hero Realms: The Ruin of Thandar a go.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue

This cooperative fire-fighting game has been a bestseller at ComicReaders for several years. My son when he was younger would play it solo, taking turns with the different firefighters in an effort to rescue people (and pets) from burning buildings. Years later when I got involved in solo gaming I thought about this game, did some research, and found some unofficial rules on BoardGameGeek.com. I like to run this game solo with 3 firefighters. You pretty much play it the same way you play with a group but with way less table talk. This means all the bad decisions you make are your own. After every firefighter takes its turn you have to activate the fire. I find the limited, focused actions of the firefighters and the maintenance of the fire itself quite meditative. Lots of cardboard bits to move around the board. And it is still an excellent thematic experience. I do enjoy a game that manages to execute its theme.

Paper Tales

The expansion for Paper Tales is needed in to play solo. This is a drafting game (think 7 Wonders) but it is tight like borscht in that the game plays in only 4 rounds. The game also has an aging mechanic– basically, cards you draft last for two rounds at the most. This means you have to not only adapt your strategy based on the cards being drafted but also on the fact that some of those cards are not going to be around to help you in later rounds. When I first learned Paper Tales had a solo mode I thought how in the holy heck does one play a drafting game solo? The way is rather slick. You draw cards, draft one, and the remaining cards are set aside. You do this again– draw some cards, draft one, set the rest aside. The cards set aside eventually become the “hand” of the enemy you are competing against. I love this because I get a sense of what I’m going to face when the enemy’s turn takes place, but it is frustrating because if a card I don’t really want is going to really help the enemy then I sometimes feel like I have to take it to deny the enemy. As with the original game, the whole solo experience takes place in only 4 rounds. There are different levels of difficulty in the solo experience. I’ve won the easiest level only once out of a half dozen plays.

The Harbour

There is a lot of game variety in this small box game. The game box says 1-player but this official solo experience is basically you playing against a “dummy player” which has its own set of actions and cards that you have to manage on its behalf. This is NOT the way to play The Harbour solo. A member of the gaming community developed an unofficial 20-Move Solo Challenge. It had been around for a few years when I discovered it so feedback on BoardGameGeek has refined it into a great solo experience. A game of The Harbour ends when a player buys four buildings. In the 20-Move Solo Challenge you have 20 turns to build four buildings. If you do, you score your points. Now reset and try to better your score. I built my four buildings on my first attempt of the challenge, but I’d always buy the cheapest building available, so my score was not very impressive. Each time I play I try to do better and better. The kicker is due to the large number of buildings available in the game the game experience is almost always different in some way each time I play.

The Lost Expedition

If I’m feeling particularly strong I’ll tackle The Lost Expedition in which you are trying to discover a lost city in the heart of the Amazon. Resources are limited. The dangers are plenty. Every decision feels like a bad one. You have three explorers but you only need one to reach the lost city alive. (Thank the stars you don’t have to get back out of the Amazon!) This is a great thematic experience, but it’s hard on the nerves. There are ways to make this game even more punishing. I should mention you can play this game cooperatively, which is difficult and fun, and two people can play it competitively, which is difficult and fun as you each lead a team of explorers.

Legendary Encounters: Alien

I think there are ways to play every Legendary deck-building game as a solo experience. The official solo rules for Alien came with its first expansion but even before that people were playing multiple hands in order to play by themselves. The official solo is my go to game for a thematic, longer playing, full on meditative experience in solo play. It’s a deck builder so I’m constantly moving cards, reading cards, making decisions about cards, shuffling cads, discarding cards. I can think of few things more focusing then the riffle of cards as I stare down the wet, prickly maw of a xenomorph. The theme is nailed. I somewhat reluctantly picked up the newest expansion which features elements from the Alien Covenant movie. I’m not a fan of anything beyond Alien 3, but I wanted more cards to move around.

Hoplomachus has high quality components. It is certainly one of the more expensive solo experience games in my collection.


Hoplomachus: The Lost Cities

This mouthful of a game has two of my favorite things: a theme you can really get into and great tactile elements. The theme is gladiatorial combat in a fictional version of ancient Rome. The tactile elements are the heavy poker chips that represent the combatants and the coloured dice you chuck to resolve combat. Before Chip Theory Games had their big hit Too Many Bones, they had the series of games Hoplomachus. The Lost Cities is the first one I picked up based on a stellar review from a ComicReaders’ customer. In the solo experience, you use gladiators and your champion to fight bosses, criminals, and arena beasts over three rounds.

This War of Mine

This is, I think, the most thematic and most depressing game I’ve ever played. It’s a board game simulation of surviving in a city under siege. I played this as a multi-player experience and though I can’t say it was “fun” I can say it was an excellent experience in immersive board gaming. You can play this solo quite easily but the game itself is not easy. It’s a long game experience, too, but it comes with a slick “save” mechanic. Don’t fly solo if you are worried about intense emotions. Maybe not the best game to play during a pandemic, but then again sales of the board game Pandemic spiked when the coronavirus crisis kicked off.

Sherlock Consulting Detective Agency

With a close attention to detail and lots of physical props to read and consider, Sherlock Consulting Detective Agency is an immersive game where you try to solve cases by scouring newspapers and other props for clues. A more tech savvy individual might consider Chronicles of Crime as a solo mystery-solving experience.

Terraforming Mars

One of the best-selling heavier strategy games at ComicReaders is Terraforming Mars. It also comes with a solo mode. I do believe this is one of my business partner’s favorite solo games and it’s on this list because he’d probably give me heck if it wasn’t. (I like Terraforming Mars with multiple players. I have not played it solo.) In 1-player mode it is my understanding that you need to achieve a certain level of points in the three resources of oxygen, temperature and water. It’s an engine building game so you get to move a crap tonne of bits around the board. Lots of planning and careful decisions required.

Friday

For me, this is the “original” 1-player only game. It is a lean deck-builder. It might seem dated to some these days but ya’ gotta give this not-so-old-classic its props.

Hostage Negotiator is a solo only game. The theme might not appeal to everyone.

EXTENDED LIST

Spirit Island. One of the best cooperative experiences can be played solo.

Mage Knight. I read on BoardGameGeek that solo is the only way this game SHOULD be played.

Aeon’s End. I’ve played this cooperative deck-builder as a multiplayer game. I can see how this would be a good solo experience, but I like to fiddle with Alien cards instead.

Arkham Horror LCG — Lord of the Rings LCG — Marvel Champions LCG . The LCG stands for Living Card Game. Different themes. Similar core game mechanics. Card driven solo experience, but not a deck-builder.

Viticulture. A heavier strategy game with a solo option. If you don’t want to terraform Mars perhaps you can immerse yourself in wine country. Actual wine optional.

Nemo’s War (2nd edition). A member of the ComicReaders South team is digging the heck out of this heavily themed solo experience.

Wingspan. One of the most popular games in recent years can be played solo.

Hostage Negotiator. Dark theme. Solo only. Save hostages. I own it and all of the expansions released so far. It is difficult for me to recommend this one because of the theme. That said, the theme is NOT as immersive as other thematic games on this list, which is why it only gets an honourable mention.

Dawn of the Zeds. I’ll be honest here and say I had not heard of this game. It has gone through three printings, I think, and is an annual favorite on the best solo games list on BoardGameGeek. Zeds means zombies, so if Zombicide as a solo experience is too much of a table hog for you then consider the Zeds.

One Deck Dungeon. Play it solo or play it as a two-player game. Chuck dice. Allocate dice. Try to fight your way through a dungeon. I find this one a challenge.

Ganz Schon Clever / That’s Pretty Clever. Same game with two names. Chuck dice. Assign dice. Try to get your engine running to chuck more dice and score more points before the game ends. A slick little puzzler. Play. Reset. Try to do better.

Tiny Towns. A new game that has proven to be popular that I did not know had solo rules until I started to research this list. I’m going to end with Tiny Towns even though there are many more solo gaming experiences to be discovered. Tiny Towns is a good reminder that some multiplayer games have solo rules. Check your own collection and see what solo experiences you might have waiting for you. (Chad Boudreau)

Note: BoardGameGeek.com currently has more than 1,300 games listed as having a solitaire experience. Also, this article in its original form first appeared on ComicReaders Downtown’s Facebook page in April 2020. I made some changes to the article when I posted it on the Web site.