My intention with this article is to make you see, the reader, that there is another aspect to gaming that you might have overlooked or even never thought about. I want to talk about solo gaming.
One of the things I love about this hobby is that is very social, I like to gather around with my friends and get lost in other worlds for a few hours, but sometimes is not possible to get together or sometimes you just need to disconnect. The great thing about solo gaming is that you play whenever you want, and is all about beating the puzzle, because who doesn’t like a good riddle? That moment I arrive home from work, after being in front of a computer screen for 8+ hours, and I sit, open a game’s box to get lost for a time I wouldn’t change it for anything.
When I first got into this hobby, I found that it was difficult to gather friends frequently, but I didn’t think about playing solo. Until on one of those bored days roaming around in BoardGameGeek, I found the 1 Player Guild. They got me interested and I started looking at their lists and experiences playing solo. Everything sounded great, and believe me when I say it still is, I have made lots of friends in that small community that keeps growing strongly every month.
As with everything there is a cup of tea for everybody. There are a few different groups of solo games. I would divide them, theme and mechanics apart, mainly in pure solo games, solo-able games and coop games. Pure solo games are those games that are designed just with the solo player in mind, and there are many more than I thought there would be. In this category I would also put multiplayer games that have a solid solo variant developed. Coop games are usually multiplayer games that are easily played solo managing a couple of hands, and is the exact same game as multiplayer as you always play against the game, is just you taking the decisions. Solo-able games are those multiplayer games, that don’t have a solo variant but with their mechanics is easily played solo and is still a challenge. In my ever-growing collection, I have got a bit of everything, but the common denominator, is that no game that can’t be played solo somehow will make it. I would say that I am a big fan of coop thematic games, though lately I’ve been exploring more into the wargame world.
I’ll start listing a couple of games that are a good starting point into solo gaming. Maybe some of you never thought of soloing one of these games, or maybe you’ve never heard of them, but for me are very good experiences and it will cover different themes, systems and mechanics. One of the things you’re probably going to notice is that most of the games are not easy to win, but I found that if I win regularly to a game I lose interest in it quite soon, so be prepared for some good challenges.
Onirim (2nd edition) – Z-Man Games
By Shadi Torbey
This little game was designed as a solo only game, though it has a small variant in the rules to play it 2 players coop.
The basis of the game is that you are caught in your dreams in a labyrinth and you have to find the exit to escape. In order to do that you have to open 8 doors, but nightmares are haunting you, and they are not going to make things easy for you. I found is quite an easy game to pick up, but as said, it’s not easy to master. The mechanics are simple and the wining conditions are straight forward, you have to open the 8 doors before the main deck runs out of cards.
The game plays in about 10/15 minutes and is on the light spectrum. I find the artwork to be very good and fits the thematic of the game. If you get a hold of the second edition it comes with 7 expansions that you can mix in however you want into the base game and each of them adds small mechanics via spells, that let you play with the cards and the main deck and is where the game becomes really interesting.
The good: The game plays fast, it becomes relatively complex adding expansions for a game of its size, it takes very little tablespace and is quite challenging.
The bad: I found that you end up shuffling a lot during the game.
Hostage Negotiator – Van Ryder Games
This game is solo only, and is my go to for a fast rolling dice game.
The basis of the game is that there is a hostage situation and you’re called to deal with it. Your objective is to capture the hostage-taker, and you have to try to save as many hostages as possible. You have cards in your hand that let you deal with the hostage-taker and the situations are solved rolling dice. First you need to know what the demands are and then you need to capture (dead or alive) the hostage-taker before he escapes or before he kills half the hostages.
The game comes with several hostage-takers; each with different background stories and demands that change each situation, increasing the replay ability of the game. There are more hostage-takers as small expansion packs, that add new mechanics to the game too. It plays in about 20/30 minutes, and although there is quite a bit of luck involved you can try to put the odds in your favour with your actions. The components are good quality and there is quite a lot of game in that small box.
The good: Game plays fast, is very easy to pick up, is very thematic and challenging.
The bad: Some people might find the theme a bit dark, though it gives me the vibes of an 80’s action movie and I love it.
Pandemic – Z-Man Games
By Matt Leacock
One of the games you most probably hear of and maybe never thought of playing by yourself. This is a full coop-game, and though it doesn’t have specific solo rules (at least in the base game) it is very easy to solo taking up more than one character.
I find it very easy to take on different roles at the same time, the abilities of the different characters are very straightforward and there is very little keep-up between turns.
The basis of the game is that deadly diseases are breaking out all over the world and you need to stop them in order to save humanity. Check out Rory’s review for more in depth game mechanics.
The replayability of the game is very high, with different roles and the variable starting setup. The game solo plays very fast as you follow your own strategy and is also objective oriented (win-lose endgame). One thing I’ve heard people complain before about this game is that they have a player in their group giving orders to everybody, not letting them chose, I’ve never had this problem with my group, but if you do, this is a very good way to solve that problem.
The good: Timeless and very thematic game. Quite challenging and fast to play.
The bad: If you want pure solo rules from the designer you need to get an expansion, though I don’t think is mandatory to enjoy the base game by itself.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island – Portal Games
Another co-op game, but this one has specific solo rules out of the box. This one is not only a very good entry point on solo gaming but is one of my favourite games in my collection.
The game comes with different scenarios, and each of them is very different and makes each game feel different. The base of the game on each scenario is that you need to explore an unknown island for different reasons (you are stranded there, you’re looking for a lost treasure, …), gather resources and survive. All this while trying to accomplish the objective of the scenario in limited number of rounds. At its core is a very thematic eurogame, worker placement and resource management, but with an island that is there to get you. This is quite a strategic game, in that you need to think ahead, as you have limited actions, but with the uncertainty of what is going to happen every round with the events – and here there is a bit of luck involved.
The game runs in about 2 hours and I would say is in the medium weight spectrum. Playing solo you can take the role of one character and get the aid of your dog and Friday, or as a pure co-op you can always try to go managing a couple of roles. I do prefer the lattert, but the game is perfectly playable with just one character. Some of the mechanics of the game are brilliant, components and artwork are great and I love the variety of the different scenarios.
The good: Thematic and very challenging. Replayability is very high.
The bad: Sometimes it can feel unfair, but losing is fun with this game.
Viticulture – Stonemaier Games
By Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone
This is a pure eurogame, it has a small deck of cards that will block you out of some spots every turn acting as an opponent. This deck of cards is designed by Morten Monrad Pedersen, and it follows its own design philosophy of the Automa. The Automa concept debuted with Stonemaier games, and with Viticulture specifically, since then they have added automas to their other line of games, and they are brilliant.
The basis of the game is you need to produce wine and sell it scoring victory points. The difference between the solo game and multiplayer game is that in the solo game you’ve got a limited number of rounds to reach the amount of victory points to declare victory. Every season you’ll draw an automa card that will block certain action spots of the season. Simple concept but is challenging to win against the automa. You can also play in different difficulties, which in the hardest ones you’ll need to have a minimum of points in every round or else you lose, this is very challenging and my go to solo game. The automa deck also works with the Tuscany expansion map.
As there are different editions of the game, if you own any of the original kickstarter ones the automa deck comes in the Tuscany expansion. From retail, if you get the essential edition of Viticulture it will come with the automa deck. The game is easy to learn and production quality is very high. The solo games are quite fast, running in around 30/40 minutes.
The good: Challenging, different levels of difficulty and great components.
The bad: If you own one of the old editions you’ll need to get the automa deck in the expansion.
Mage Knight: The Boardgame – WizKids
I couldn’t finish the list without mentioning this game, that has been in the top solo games list for a very long time. I’ve played this game multiplayer and it was a drag, excellent mechanics, too long and very little to no player interaction at all. Solo game on the other hand, although still a bit long, you don’t have to wait for the other players to think their whole turn for 20 minutes each, and is an awesome experience.
The game comes with just one solo scenario, though the replayability is very high with the random generated maps. I haven’t got bored of this scenario yet, but in BoardGameGeek there are plenty of resources that tell you how to solo any scenario of the game if you want a bit more variety. The basis of the solo scenario is that you are a Mage Knight and your mission is to conquer the cities of this unknown land. In your way you’ll level up, gain artefacts and new powers to deal with greater foes. The game plays with cards and there is very little luck involved, is just you and how can you optimize the best combo with the cards in your hand and as you progress you will be building a more powerful deck of cards to use.
In the solo game, there is a timer that will limit your time every round, though is not very limiting. The game is very challenging by itself. If you enjoy the base game, you might want to add up the Lost Legion expansion, which changes the timer with a moving army you have to defeat. If the base game is good, the Lost Legion expansion as a solo game it brings it to a new level of greatness.
This is probably the heaviest game of the list, and it plays in around 3 to 4 hours for me, maybe with more experience you can end up reducing that time to 2/3 hours. The rules are very clear and is not difficult to play, but there are quite a few exceptions to remember during the whole game, I do still check the rulebook while playing. The learning curve is a bit steep for a new player, but is worth it, and as you play more you’ll see what strategies to follow and it will get easier. Components are good and the cards have great artwork, it comes with painted minis.
The good: Thematic, excellent gameplay, brain-burning puzzle.
The bad: It might be too long for some people. There are small mismatches with the expansions cards and tokens in some editions.
That’s it for the introduction to solo gaming folks!
It was difficult to choose from so many great games but I think I gave a good selection of games available in the market with different mechanics and that make a good entry point to another aspect of this great hobby.
Thanks for reading.