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Best Solo Board Games

Owner

Let's talk about the best solo board games!

  1. But first, are you a solo gamer? What is the appeal? If not, how open are you to the idea, and why?
  2. What are your best games to solo?
  3. What makes up a great solo game?
  4. Which 2019 game or newer release do you expect will make the biggest jump in this list? (1 Player Guild's 2019 People's Choice Top 100 Solo Games).

Here are my answers:

1. Soloing board games is a relatively new thing for me but I like it. It gives me a chance to explore games that will otherwise be hard to get to with my wife. We typically play about 2 times a month together so soloing just helps me squeeze in more gaming time too. I think the hardest thing about soloing is fighting off the laziness. It's always way more difficult to start a session if it's solo vs. multiplayer because laziness kicks in when I start imagining all of the setup and cleanup involved. But when I do get to it, I typically find it a great way to unwind for the night.

2&3. The best solo games in my book are ones that are compelling enough to make me avoid just playing an app. It should be engaging, but not too much that it stresses you out. Setup time should be reasonable and around 5 minutes. With that said, the best solo board game in my collection is #Root. For a while, this spot was held by #Architects of the West Kingdom, but I think I know the reason. Root offers many of the euro-y mechanics that I love as a strategist and tactician, but gives me just enough of that luck that I tend to love in games because of the thrill and the "story-telling" moments. The game often presents situations where I'm just hoping that the bot won't escalate the situation or attack a certain area, and it's reminiscent of my chess days where I would think "please don't do that, please don't do that". Besides Root and Architects, I've also enjoyed soloing #Viticulture: Essential Edition and #Clans of Caledonia, which are both very tranquil in theme and offer a really nice puzzle to think through.

4. Most of you know by now that I'm unapologetically a Root fan. Now that #Root: The Clockwork Expansion has seen retail release and with many having tried the Better Bots PnP, I'm hoping to see it break into that top 100 list (if they count solo games implemented through an expansion). I also think many of these new entries in that 2019 list will make a big jump:

  • #Cloudspire - Considering how well #Too Many Bones has placed on that list, and with NPI recently reviewing and seemingly praising its solo options, I think this one will place quite a bit higher for 2020. It's a heavy game alright, but lots of heavies seem to place well on that list.
  • #Tapestry - I haven't played this yet but there are hints of it being a top contender on the 2020 list. Automa solo modes are typically received well and three of Stonemaier Games' games are already in the top 20.
  • #Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North - Haven't tried out the solo mode yet but I'm pretty sure this is a great solo game, where I'd even say that it could be a better design than its multiplayer counterpart. Heard great things and I suspect it'll soon surpass #Imperial Settlers (#42 on that list).
  • Lastly, I bet there will be a 2020 David Turczi game that will make a big entry on the 2021 list (I think the releases will be way too late to make it onto 2020's). His solo mode designs are always well received and he's coming out with tons of games this year. My bet is on #Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun.

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Supporter7 months ago

I am primarily a solo gamer. This started from necessity, but, I have learned to be a solo gamer by choice as well.

My two favorite games to solo are #Spirit Island and #Star Trek: Frontiers. Both of these are heavier games.  But they are so so good.

For me a good solo game has to have win lose conditions. I don't prefer the "beat your own score" variety. I also need meaningful decisions.

I think that #Pax Pamir (Second Edition) Will make a big jump. It isn't in the top 100, but it is in the top 200 right now. If I have to choos a game in the top 100 to make a jump, then I don't know, mabye #The City of Kings.

Owner7 months ago

I completely forgot that the top 100 list isn't all there is to it haha. I should take a look at which games placed beyond that point. Did you mention before that you got Hoplomachus? Or was that something that you were just thinking about?

Supporter7 months ago

I don't have it, I have considered it at times, that one though feels like a "try before you buy," for me. 

7 months ago

1. I am barely a solo gamer. For myself, as for most people I'm sure, the hobby is all about getting together with friends. But there are times when I cannot get a group together or might simply choose to pull a game a try a solo session. Probably the only thing solo gaming has over a group is that I can ponder my decision as long as I would like and I'm not forcing others to wait on that. 

2. Hands down Spirit Island is my favorite game to solo. The game is designed to go against the "AI" system to begin with so there is not that much change between solo and group experiences. It is a deep game requiring some heavy processing at times so that lends well to solo also. It feels like an intricate puzzle and can be quite satisfying even solo.

I also sometimes play Gaia Project solo for many similar reasons. Also, I often have a harder time getting this one to the table, but I really love the game.

On Mars has a surprisingly streamlined solo mode that was fun, but not as fun as with a group.

Any other game I've soloed I've only tried once or twice. I did try Root solo the other day and it was quite enjoyable. I can see myself playing more solo games of it in the future.

3. I've somewhat answered this in #2, but for me a great solo game is deep and thought provoking. I am a methodical thinker so I don't want some rapid fire game to play solo, I want something to contemplate. Games that give an element of cracking a puzzle are ideal for this. 

I would also add that the solo mechanisms should be simple and streamlined. I want to be thinking about my moves, not wracking my brain over how my opponent's turn is supposed to work.

Also, the board manipulation should be streamlined. It shouldn't be over-complicated to move the opponent's pieces or to set up the board in between turns, etc.

4. Looking over the list, Cloudspire intrigues me and seems to have the potential to rise. However, what might hold it back is also the reason I have never tried it: It is quite pricey and is only available directly from the publisher. That will limit how many voters will ever experience that game. 

Oath isn't supposed to be out until Jan. 2021 but I think it could potentially be high on this list.

Owner7 months ago

Great points. I especially agree (personally) that solo mechanisms need to be simple and streamlined, or else it just feels like a chore to go through. How many Spirits do you typically run for your solo sessions? I've heard @Marshwiggle92 sometimes running four which sounds like a lot!

Supporter7 months ago

I do do four, I think that or three is my favorite count. But, you are right, it does get stressful.

Supporter7 months ago

1. I'd say I'm a part time solo gamer.  I will say that when I first saw Scythe when I got into the hobby and it looked awesome, but I saw the magic 1 - 5 players (this is before I realized solo gaming was a thing) and I had to get it.  I knew that I'd want access to solo gaming during gaming group droughts because I knew my wife wouldn't really get into gaming with me.

2. I think #Clans of Caledonia and #Viticulture: Essential Edition are tops because of ease of set up and play.  But using the ScytheKick app also makes #Scythe a top for me.  I do like running #Root solo just because I love Root but given the option I'd never play it solo, but I love it so much I am willing to play solo.  I have to imagine that a lot of coops work well solo and in fact most of the time a coop game is only going to appeal strongly to me as a solo game.

3. For me a great solo game emulates the regular gaming experience as closely as possible.  One of the reasons I like Clans so much is because most of your strategy is similar in the solo mode.

4. I'm going to go with Everdell as making a big jump because of all the additional expansions and how popular it is.

Owner7 months ago

I really do like #Clans of Caledonia's solo mode. Closely resembles multiplayer experience and there's so little extra involved. Talking about this game makes me want to get in a solo sessions soon haha, and I'd love to get my hands on the metal coins for this game.

Supporter7 months ago

Yeah, this post made me think the same thing.  It might be time for some solo Clans.  However, I do have to say I basically hit the lottery in the fact that I was able to get a Nintendo Switch at a local Target recently for retail price so that's been getting a lot of my attention.

Owner7 months ago

Nice! Which game have you been thinking about? I still have Hollow Knight that I got about a year ago that I haven't touched yet. I feel like I'd get too into it if I start lol

Supporter7 months ago

I had some money saved up (partially because of my board game resolution this year), so I picked up 6 games (and had one sent from a friend).  I had to focus some on playing with the family so I got New Super Mario Brothers, Mario Kart, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Valkyria Chronicles 4, Mario and Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and I pre-ordered Paper Mario Origami King.  I think that should get me through at least 1 year of gaming, haha.

7 months ago

I play solo games, but I approach them differently than multiplayer ones. I value social experiences when playing with other and we often spend as much time talking as making the moves. I like my solo games to be nice puzzles that help me wind down after a day of working in front of a computer - the closest comparison would be a sudoku puzzle, but more complex and involved, while less predictable.

My favourite solo games are #Spirit Island, #Wingspan, #The Isle of Cats and #Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition. When I want something really demanding, I play #Brass: Birmingham with a fan made mAutoma - great fun, but I always end up tired afterwards, although in a good way.

I want solo games to be quite easy to manage. If I am spending more time on doing setup and taking care of its systems than making my own decisions, then I am out. That's also why I don't like
#Arkham Horror: The Card Game. There is just way to much preparation, upkeep and management of new locations, enemies and events to truly let me have fun.

I'd say #Marvel Champions: The Card Game and #The Isle of Cats have a good chance of appearing high on the list. I played the former and it was enjoyable, although I am aware that many people like it very much. As for #The Isle of Cats, it's a great game with a very clever solo mode. I'd be suprised if it weren't broadly adopted by the solo community.

Owner7 months ago

Ohhhh I completely forgot about those and I especially agree with #Marvel Champions: The Card Game. I think it would place really well considering how accessible it is. I could see #The Isle of Cats doing well too and these are both games I've considered purchasing in the past. How long does the solo session usually take for #Brass: Birmingham? It's on my shortlist of games to buy in the next two years haha

Based on what you've shared, I feel like you'd also enjoy #Clans of Caledonia's solo mode. Tranquil theme, relatively quick game length, and streamlined gameplay with a challenging puzzle. Plays great for multiplayer too.

7 months ago

Thanks for recommending #Clans of Caledonia, I'll look into it!

The setup for #Brass: Birmingham is rather lengthy for my tastes, but I am able to play a game in less than two hours (between taking the box off the shelf and putting it back). If you see the game being played multiplayer as well, it's really worth it. The solo mode is something I'll try maybe twice a month, because it feels exhausting (in a good way, though!).

Owner7 months ago

I'm so tempted by that deluxe edition every time I look at it haha

7 months ago

1) I am not a solo gamer, I occasionally play through whole/part of a game to get familiar before I teach it, but have almost never done so just for the enjoyment of playing a game. I think my love of games has always been heavily rooted in the interaction with other people around the table, even in games with little/no mechanical interaction just sitting around and chatting as we play. That shared experience. When I have played solo, I have always found myself wishing others were present. Admittedly I have not tried for many years now so maybe it is something I should revisit. Interestingly I am the opposite with video games, I much prefer solo games to online multiplayer games.

2) too limited experience to really say, but I think soloing co-op games would appeal most

3) I think what video games give solo play that maybe I haven't found in board games is an illusion of a mind to work against in more strategic games. Or a test of skill in more action-y games. So I guess a game with a solid AI would be something I might look for.

4) again, can't really comment, but maybe one day....

Owner7 months ago

That's interesting, if I'm reading correctly, you seem to enjoy co-op games when it comes to board games, but when it comes to video games, you prefer a solo experience. Why do you think that is? Also, how do you feel about couch co-op or competitive video games?

I wonder which board game out is the absolute best at providing a super challenging AI without making things so complicated that you'd rather reach for a video game..

7 months ago

So with board games while I do enjoy co-op games, I think my main pull is any game that I feel creates discussion around the table: Co-op games have a natural edge as there is no reason to keep quiet about strategy or ideas, but my favourite games are often competitive but have strong negotiation, trade or deal-making aspects to them. Things like #Archipelago, #Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, #No Honor Among Thieves are all games I have really enjoyed where a lot of the game takes place while looking up from the table.

As for video games, I'm not really sure. I do enjoy couch video gaming (either co-op or competitive) although it has been a long time since I have lived somewhere where that was accessible to me. So probably that is why I have tended towards solo video games, I think even video gaming with people present in the room and certainly online has never created that same feeling of interaction but what video games can produce is a sense of scope and huge worlds to explore in a way that would become too much for a board game and those I the games I tend towards - RTS/Civ games or vast open world type games. I haven't actually played video games for a number of years now but have plans to upgrade my poor computer so it may open that world up again.

Owner7 months ago

Ah, gotcha. Sounds like you'd like games like #Chinatown, #A Game of Thrones: The Board Game Second Edition, and #Dune. You'd probably enjoy #Root especially with the Riverfolk or other factions with kits focused on interaction with other players!

As for video games--same here lol. I really enjoy the couch co-op/competitive experience when the chance does arrive, but that's only like once or twice a year. Is there a particular game you'd like to dive into when the upgrade happens?

7 months ago

I've not read a whole lot into #Chinatown or #A Game of Thrones: The Board Game Second Edition, but I am definitely keen on #Root and #Dune (root was a close second for my giveaway pick) for those very reasons, I love making deals although I am sadly trusted so little in my board game groups, it's not like I've tended to betray them in the past or anything....

I have many fond memories of Mario kart and star wars battlefront in my own or someone else's living room as a kid! I really want to play the new Mount and blade game that came out not long ago. I sunk so many hours exploring mount and blade: war band and absolutely loved it as a sandbox.

7 months ago

  1. I wouldn't consider myself a solo gamer, but I do occasionally play. Seems to be about once a month, perhaps once every 3 weeks or so. I enjoy it when I do play solo, but it definitely not my preference, so most of the time I'd opt for a video game or movie over a solo board game.
  2. My favorite solo games have been #Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North and #Viticulture: Essential Edition. Both are pretty quick to set up (Viticulture taking a tad longer due to having more decks to shuffle). #Everdell is fun to play solo, but for me the setup is just a bit too long to warrant pulling it out for a solo game. Actually now that I think about it, the base game probably wouldn't take much longer to set up than Viticulture does. I guess I'll add that back into my list of options.
  3. I think I'm in agreement with Phil's 5 minute setup time restriction. If it's much longer than that, I will probably do something else. Another thing that makes a great solo game (for me) is that it is relaxing to play. Obviously most good games have a certain amount of tension in the game, but I don't want to feel stressed out when playing. For a solo game I want to relax and unwind most of the time. So anything with a survival or combat related theme is probably a no-go for me in a solo game. I like to sit down and "play a puzzle," I guess. Not sure if that makes much sense.
  4. Having not played many, and not really paying attention to what games are good solo games (or even have solo modes), I'm guessing that #Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North will make it onto the list pretty easily.

Owner7 months ago

Agh I still need to get to soloing Empires :(

I would definitely get more solo sessions in if I had better inserts for some of my games. I'm sure it would only save maybe a few minutes or 5 minutes tops for my low setup games, but it would just help me break through that mental barrier saying "do something else!" And I honestly really enjoyed soloing Viticulture but it's been maybe 3-4 months since I've gotten it out. Maybe I should go for that folded space insert soon.

I get what you mean about wanting to enjoy a nice puzzle. Most of my sessions start around 10pm before hitting the bed so I'm not looking for too much stimulation haha. Root was one that was a really nice balance of fun mechanisms plus a good amount of luck element that kept things interesting.

7 months ago

Yeah the insert sure makes a difference. That's part of why Empires is so good for solo, haha.

Supporter7 months ago

Phil - a couple of comments on your answers: 

#Cloudspire has too great a barrier to entry to make a lot of moves on the solo list. It looks amazing but I think the price and relative scarcity makes it a tough one to top too many lists.

Also Phil you should really face your fears and try to play a more complicated game solo. The set up isn’t as terrible as you are expecting. And you can have so much fun! I’m thinking of Gloomhaven specifically. But other games too. 5 minutes is a really harsh time restriction!

The more board game apps that I’ve played, the less I enjoy them. I frequently find that playing board game apps just makes me want to either play the physical game or play a video game instead. The board game apps just feel too simple for me. 

Owner7 months ago

That's a good point on #Cloudspire. I guess you could say the same for #Too Many Bones in terms of price point but it does seem like Cloudspire is harder to find since it's not even available on their website. Also, at least from my perspective, TMB seems to target a much wider audience than Cloudspire.

And as for setup--maybe that day will come some day! And for apps, I feel like I go through them in phases. I've gone through a #Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization phase where I played it a ton for about 2 weeks and then stopped completely. Then I had a #Friday phase. Since then, I haven't tackled any other ones.

I'm waiting to hear how your list of top solo games will dramatically change after you get through your new acquisitions :)

7 months ago

I'm with Phil, actually. More than about 5 minutes and I'm probably going to opt for something else - either a different game or a different activity entirely. If I were in a position where I wasn't able to play multiplayer games very often, then I might change my stance.

Supporter7 months ago

1. I am definitely a solo gamer. I started solo gaming just to prove to my wife that I do play all those games in my collection. Surprisingly, almost every game I own has a solo mode. The more that I’ve played solo games the more I’ve come to enjoy it. So after starting out just to show that I do use all those games I’ve come to the realization that solo gaming is awesome. Now when I’m looking to acquire new games I consider the solo mode first, then look at the multiplayer options. 

2. My best games to solo are:

A. #Gloomhaven - absolutely sublime dungeon crawler /hand management game. Is co-op to begin which makes the solo mode easier to implement. Amazing solo experience.

B. #Star Wars Imperial Assault - fun and incredible Star Wars dungeon crawler. The app is fun to solo against but when using a PnP solo system called RAIV the game really comes alive. Tons of fun.

C. #Terraforming Mars - one of the best engine builders/tableau builders for solo out there. The incredible variety of cards makes every game unique and different. Solo rules are more of a beat your own score but the variables in set up and game play are fantastic.

D. #Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North - a beautiful and elegant game that seems made for solo play. A scenario-based best your own score style game that has a fantastic decision space. Quick to set up and quick to play.

E. #A Feast For Odin - one of the absolute best solo worker placement games. Massive amount of decisions to make and one of the most unique solo mechanisms- you block yourself as you play so it makes your strategies really interesting. Another best your own score solo mode. 

E. #Underwater Cities - Another engine builder in the same vein as #Terraforming Mars but with worker placement elements. A really tight experience where every single move counts and can literally be the difference between victory or defeat. 

F. #Scythe - one of the finest AI opponents in solo gaming. Once you learn the rules an absolute pleasure to play that accurately mimics the experience against humans.   

3. A great solo game needs to replicate in some fashion the experience that you get when playing against real opponents. The best solo games approach this from different angles- some utilize AI systems while others use clever/unique blocking mechanisms. And some a straight up beat your own score. On my opinion the best solo games are the ones which more closely replicate the experience of playing multiplayer.

Another aspect of great solo gaming is the ability to give the player an experience that they couldn’t get as easily in a group setting. Gloomhaven is a great example of this for me. My group cannot meet often enough to fully enjoy the campaign in this game. We would be playing for literally 5 years at our current pace. But playing solo allows me to play and see all that this game has to offer without the struggles of gathering your group. 

Other solo games I play are perhaps more complex than my group normally plays and the fact that I can play them solo lets me challenge myself and have fun playing board games. 

4. The biggest jumper will definitely be #Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North. This beautiful game is awesome solo. 

Supporter7 months ago

I feel the same way about answer #3.  I want to get Imperial Assault out as a solo game but it's a lot of set up.

Owner7 months ago

Great list! Thanks for the breakdown. Now, I'm guessing you labeled them alphabetically because you can't quite rank them easily? As for Empires, is the solo mode one of those that end when you pass a certain score? Also, have you been able to play with any of the more complex factions? I'm curious what exactly differentiates them from the simpler ones.

I'm just waiting for your report on #Mage Knight. Given the amount of love it gets among solo gamers, I'd be surprised if it doesn't break into your top 3.