Today we’re answering a question from Candace, who is looking for single player fantasy games to help keep them busy while their partner is away for an extended period of time.
In this article I’ve put together a list of recommendations, with fourteen of the best solo fantasy games to help keep them occupied.
Looking for single player fantasy board games?
This topic comes from Candace who asks:
My boyfriend went to work overseas for a year. I am looking for challenging single player fantasy themed games to play until he returns. Any suggestions?
Thank you soooo much for your help!
Thanks so much for the great question, Candace!
Personally when it’s just me, I’m much more likely to move downstairs onto the couch and boot up the Playstation or Xbox. My current solo game of choice is Horizon Zero Dawn.
That said, I have been known to play the occasional solo board game. Plus there are plenty of solo tabletop gamers out there, so with a little research, I think I was able to put together a pretty solid list of game recommendations for this topic.
Before I get to the game list, there are some key parts of Candace’s question that I want to highlight. The first is that they are looking for “challenging” games. To me this means games with some weight to them, that take some time to play and aren’t easy to win. This immediately knocks out some of my favourite solo games like Friday or Onirim.
The other important aspect of Candace’s question is “Solo Games.” While I did consider limiting this list to games that you can only play with one player, we would have ended up with a very short list. Instead I picked multi-player games that can be played solo.
Another of Candace’s requirements is “Fantasy themed.” I am taking this to mean heroic and magical fantasy and not horror or urban fantasy or Sci-Fantasy. Just in case they are open to a broader definition of fantasy I will mention some less swords and sorcery style games in the honourable mentions section.
The final requirement comes from the last part of Candace’s question, “Until he returns.” This is important. Candance noted their boyfriend would be gone for a year, which either means they want a lot of different games to play over that time or they want a truly epic game that could take up that entire time. I’ve got game recommendations for both.
One last thing before I get to the game list. You can listen to Sean and I discuss this topic on The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast episode 143, Solitaire Fantasy.
The best solo board games with a fantasy theme:
Gloomhaven starting with Jaws of the Lion – This is a game that fits everything about Candace’s question so perfectly that I could probably stop the list right here with just one item on it.
While you could simply go out and grab Gloomhaven (or Frosthaven if it’s been published by the time you are reading this), I strongly recommend starting with Gloomhaven Jaws of the Lion. As I wrote in my Jaws of the Lion Review and Comparison to Gloomhaven, Jaws is a fantastic onboarding tool for learning the Gloomhaven system as well as giving you a chance to see if it’s right for you.
This is important as Gloomhaven isn’t always what people expect. It’s a rather heavy and complex resource management game, not a fantasy dungeon crawling dice chucker. Gloomhaven is complex, challenging, and there’s enough game here (between Jaws of the Lion and the core game) that it really could keep someone busy for an entire year.
For solo play, you may also want to pick up the Gloomhaven Solo Scenarios which provide you with one additional adventure per character type (for characters from the base game). These adventures are very difficult but unlock powerful character specific items. You don’t need this add-on when you first start playing though, as you can’t even attempt any of these scenarios until your characters are level five or higher.
Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon – If for some reason Gloomhaven doesn’t sound like enough game, take a look at Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon. This is the biggest, solo or cooperative adventure experience out there. It features a fantasy take on Arthurian legends with a deep branching storyline.
When this game was being Kickstarted many people called it “the Gloomhaven killer”. While it has never displaced Gloomhaven as the top board game on Board Game Geek it has risen to the very respectable rank of 82 overall and 21st in Thematic games. It was also nominated for fourteen various board gaming awards including the Golden Geek Best Solo Game.
I know people who have been playing this game pretty much non-stop since getting it who still haven’t explored everything, including a group that’s playing through with their third set of characters and is making sure to choose different options from their previous plays.
If you want epic, you can’t go wrong with Tainted Grail.
Lord of the Rings Journeys in Middle Earth – This is a fantasy adventure game based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books and the Middle Earth setting.
In Journeys in Middle Earth you play as heroes in Middle Earth, but not the named heroes from the books and movies that you would expect. Each game session you play through a single adventure in a long evolving campaign. This is an app driven game and that app is what lets you enjoy the game solo.
Each game of Journeys in Middle Earth should be quite epic, taking up to two hours, with the entire campaign taking significantly longer. As with pretty much all Fantasy Flight board games, there are a number of expansions available to extend the life of the game and to keep it fresh and interesting.
While you aren’t going to get as much total table time with Lord of the Rings as you would with Gloomhaven, this game does offer more replayability due to the app changing things up each campaign.
As an indication of just how well this game works for a single player, it was nominated for the 2019 Golden Geek best solo game.
The Lord of the Rings The Card Game – This is another Tolkien and Middle Earth themed game that popped up on a number of best solo game lists when I was doing research for this topic.
The Lord of the Rings The Card Game is a non-collectable card game from Fantasy Flight that many people say is best with just one player. This was one of the first Living Card Games ever released and for a long time was long out of print. However, just this year Fantasy Flight brought this game back with a new The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game Revised Core Set and they are currently in the process of updating and re-releasing the expansion content.
This new revised edition now includes rules for a campaign mode, instead of being stuck with only standalone scenarios. It also adds a brand new Boon and Burden mechanic and is rated significantly higher than the original on Board Game Geek.
Mage Knight – Personally, I’m still pretty confused how a cheap preprinted plastic miniature wargame got turned into an epic fantasy adventure in a box, but that doesn’t matter because Magic Knight is fantastic. Similar to Gloomhaven, there’s quite a learning curve when first diving into Mage Knight but it’s worth the effort.
This is, so far, my favourite solo game of all time. It’s the kind of game where you sit down and learn to play through the tutorial, then set up your first game and just leave it set up. You return to it when you have time, sometimes playing out a turn or two, other times wasting hours exploring the land, improving your deck and having adventures.
Mage Knight hits all the standard fantasy tropes. You start by picking a character, improving that character over time, exploring the land, discovering monsters and their lairs, finding wizard’s towers, discovering cities, and shopping for better gear. If Gloomhaven didn’t exist, Mage Knight would probably have been my top recommendation for this list.
Mage Knight is infinitely replayable due to most of the game being generated randomly as you play. There are also a number of set scenarios to play through and fans have created a ton of extra content if you want more than what comes in the box.
One thing to note, at this point you want to find a copy of the Mage Knight Ultimate Edition as it includes the base game plus all of the previously released expansions.
Legends of Andor – This fantasy themed cooperative game from KOSMOS looks like it’s going to be a dice chucking fantasy romp when in fact it’s more of a puzzle style game.
While I have to admit that Legend of Andor is a better game with more players, with each player controlling their own hero, you can play it solo by controlling multiple characters.
In Legends of Andor you are trying to optimize your moves, utilize various character abilities effectively and figure out the right order to complete various steps in order to complete your quest.
Quests are presented in linked scenarios telling an overall campaign story, with the base game including one complete campaign. Random elements make this campaign replayable, though I can’t see wanting to play through it too many times. Thankfully there are a number of expansions for Legends of Andor, some standalone as well as others that continue the main plot.
Sword & Sorcery Immortal Souls – This is another dungeon crawling game with a generic fantasy theme. In Sword & Sorcery players face off against the game itself using an in game AI that is similar to Gloomhaven though less fiddly.
This is a miniature heavy board game that could act as a gateway to the miniature painting hobby. For Candace specifically, getting into miniature painting could possibly be a great way to spend some time alone.
Sword & Sorcery comes strongly recommended as best with either one or two players. The core box contains part one of a three act adventure and there are also plenty of big and small box expansions to keep you busy.
Note that Sword & Sorcery is much lighter than Gloomhaven. It’s more of a fun fantasy adventure. One that is lower in both challenge and complexity. I’ve seen a number of people who found Gloomhaven to be too much move onto this instead.
Legacy Of Dragonholt – While I’m certain it won’t be enough to keep you busy for a year, I’ve heard fantastic things about Legacy of Dragonholt. Almost every review I’ve read has noted that it’s best as a solo experience.
This is a fantasy game set in Fantasy Flight’s world of Terrinoth. The system was designed based on game books, like the Fighting Fantasy and other choose your path style books that were popular when I was a kid.
In this choose your own adventure style game, you build your own unique hero who will evolve over the story. There’s no winner in Legacy of Dragonholt, instead, the game focuses on playing through an engaging story.
Legacy of Dragonholt features six quest books to play through. These can be played through multiple times, using a different character out of the six different species and multiple character classes included.
While I don’t think the game is quite the GMless RPG experience that is promised on the box, I’ve heard very little negative about it since it came out.
Gloom of Kilforth A Fantasy Quest Game – This is a game I discovered while doing research for this topic. It showed up on multiple top solo game lists. It’s also listed as best with one player on BGG and it won Best Solitaire Game of 2017 from The 1 Player Guild.
This is a city based campaign game where you will be exploring and interacting with the various factions of The Sprawl. This fantasy game tosses out the miniatures, dungeons tiles and hex maps and sticks to using cards and a few counters for everything.
Gloom of Kilforth looks to be very accessible and features some really striking artwork.
The Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System Games – This series of D&D themed games started with Castle Ravenloft. Since then a number of other games in the series have been released, including Wrath of Ashardalon, The Legend of Drizzt, Temple of Elemental Evil, Tomb of Annihilation, Waterdeep Dungeon of the Mad Mage and Ghosts of Saltmarsh which was released as an expansion that works with any of the other Adventure System games.
While these games are designed for up to five players all of them can be played solo.
I own the Castle Ravenloft game from this series and had some fun with it. It’s very light and simple to learn, featuring map tiles and unpainted miniatures. The mechanics are very D&D and include things like rolling a D20 to hit and having various abilities that your character can use at will or once per encounter. The AI system for the monsters is simple but solid and the scenarios often feature random elements that make them replayable.
It’s the simplicity of this series of games that made me not recommend them higher up on this list, as I wouldn’t call these games challenging.
Honourable Mentions: Other Great Solo Adventure Games
The following games are light on the fantasy theme but are solid solo games that may be worth looking at.
The 7th Continent – This is the solo game highest up on my wishlist.
While you can play The 7th Continent with up to four players everyone I’ve talked to who has played this game says it’s best with one. Similar to Gloomhaven, this game offers an epic ongoing campaign that takes hours and hours to finish over many sessions.
In this adventure game set in the early 20th century, you find yourself stranded on an uncharted landmass. From what I’ve read there are some fantastical elements but nothing to truly qualify this as a fantasy game.
Arkham Horror The Card Game – Personally I consider the Cthulhu Mythos to be firmly in the horror and mystery genres and not fantasy, but you can’t deny that there are some fantasy elements in Arkham Horror The Card Game.
While I haven’t gotten to try this game myself, everyone I know, and every podcast I’ve listened to, has said that the Arkham Horror Card Game is one of the best solo experiences out there.
This is a non-collectible living card game that has plenty of expansions available, enough to keep anyone busy for a year or more. Similar to The Lord of the Rings Card Game I mentioned earlier, a Revised Core Set was released in 2021 so this one should be easy to find.
Mansion of Madness 2nd Edition – This is another mythos themed games that I didn’t include in the main list for the same reason I didn’t put Arkham Horror The Card Game — it’s not what I would normally consider a fantasy game.
Similar to Lord of the Rings Journeys In Middle Earth, this game uses an app to make it work, an app where you can list all of the expansions you own and it will pick and chose parts from each of them to build a unique experience each time.
I own this game and find it very engaging and surprisingly tense due to the atmosphere added with the app. It’s a great combination of exploration, puzzle solving and combat that I found worked really well. Now I personally haven’t played this one solo yet, but I do know it’s an option.
Shadows of Brimstone – This is a big epic game that is filled with tons of crunch and options. Shadows of Brimstone has so much going on with characters and progression that it’s almost more of an RPG than a board game.
While the initial premise is of a game set in the Old West, where you are exploring a mine, that mine features gateways to other worlds. Each of these worlds can be explored through expansion content. It’s here that we find a traditional fantasy setting but there’s also, sci-fi, time travel, and horror themed packs. The base game comes with one such setting that has you discovering the Plains of Targa, an ancient frozen city.
Shadows of Brimstone also features many random elements, which makes each of these settings explorable multiple times and makes the game very replayable.
One issue that could scare people away is that this is another miniature heavy game that requires assembling and potentially painting a bunch of minis.
Finally, similar to a few other games on the list tonight, a new Revised Edition was released recently (in 2020) which features clarified and revised rules, better quality rules and other improvements. Of all the games on this list, this is the one I’m most curious about but also the most intimidated by. There’s just so much stuff out for this game and hearing podcasts like the Secret Cabal warn people about the level of detail and fiddliness in the rules for this one has made me skip over it so far.
Robinson Crusoe Adventures on the Cursed Island – This is another game about being stuck on an uncharted island. From what I know this one features even less fantasy elements than 7th Continent.
I’ve heard many wonderful things about this game and many people sharing great sounding moments they have had playing. It’s supposed to be just as good at all player counts and came up on many best solo game lists. This is one I really need to try out myself at some point.
A new collectors edition of Robinson Crusoe Adventures on the Cursed Island was recently funded on Gamefound and late pledges are still open as of the time I’m writing this.
Are you a solitaire game player? What’s your favourite solitaire game? Bonus points if it’s something that could keep someone busy for a long time! Tell us all about your favourites in the comments below.
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