Phil Vecchione, over on the Misdirected Mark Slack channel asks,
Do you have any recommendations for solo board/card games?
Thanks for the question, Phil.
Those of you who are regulars here on the Bellhop’s blog may recognize this name. Yes, this is the same Phil Vecchione who wrote the book Never Unprepared, which I just re-reviewed a couple of days ago. It’s also the same Phil Vecchione that we will be interviewing on Thursday (Oct 25th at 8:30) on Twitch about his new RPG Ashcan: Hydro Hacker Operatives or H2O.
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The Short Answer:
I have to admit, I’m not a big solo tabletop game player. It’s not a genre of the hobby that I usually dive into. To be honest, when I feel like playing a game by myself I’m much more likely to boot up a console or tap on an app and play some video games.
That said I have tried a few solo games and have found a few that I really enjoy. The best of these are Friday and Onirim. Both are small boxed card-based games that have small footprints and are great for playing almost everywhere. I enjoy playing them at our kitchen table as well as at the occasional coffee shop.
The Long Answer
Due to the fact that I don’t play a lot of one player games, I felt the need to do some research for this article. I have played more solo games than just Friday and Onirim but not many. I own many games that can be played solo but I haven’t actually tried them. Now I listen to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of tabletop gaming blogs and news so I have a pretty good idea of what other people have liked and why.
What you will find below are more one player game options, some of which come from my personal experience and others that come highly recommended from multiple sources.
What people may not know is that it’s one in a four-game series. A series known as the Oniverse. Every game in the series is a small box 1-2 player game. The other games in the series are Sylvion, Castellion and Nautilion. Now, I haven’t tried any of these but Nautilion came up on multiple best solo game lists.
Can You Survive?
In Friday you are trying to help Robinson Crusoe escape the island. It’s a fascinating deck builder where you start off with a near useless and bumbling Robinson that you try to improve by replacing bad cards with better ones through overcoming obstacles. It’s my favourite solo game to date and well worth checking out.
If you dig this theme and want something with a bit more meat, check out Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island. This is a full big box board game with a much longer playing time than it’s card-based little brother. This one shows up on almost every top cooperative game list and like many cooperative games can be just as good solo as it can be with friends.
The 7th Continent is getting ridiculously great reviews. This card-based choose your own adventure style game has you exploring the 7th Continent to lift a curse you received when visited the continent on a previous expedition. The reviews on this one make me wish I had backed the Kickstarter. Due to the fact that it was a Kickstarter exclusive, it is now very hard to find, and when you do find it the prices are a bit crazy. Based on reviews it may be worth the crazy price. Right now The 7th Continent is ranked number 14 on BoardGameGeek and number 4 for Thematic games.
Speaking of games with more meat. If you have the patience and will to learn, Mage Knight is great solo. I’m talking about the modern board game and not the old Hero-Clix style miniature game. Mage Knight is a fantasy exploration game where you explore a randomly generated world as you set out to accomplish specific scenario goals. There are two big obstacles to playing Mage Knight, the first is learning to play. This is a game with a lot going on. It can also be a very long game. Downtime between turns is so long that many people consider this game better played solo. I have played this one, and to me it’s the kind of game you play over a weekend or multiple weeks. You set it up, play for a bit and then leave it set up. Then you return to it later, play a few more rounds, and leave it again for a bit.
You can’t talk solo fantasy games without mentioning Gloomhaven. It’s the current number one game on BoardGameGeek and it seems like everyone is talking about this game, even me. I’ve got a weekly campaign going right now. We are playing with four players and no, I have not tried it solo. I have heard many people claim that the game is not only great solo but also that it may be best solo. The one really cool part about Gloomhaven, something I don’t see people mention often, is that you can have multiple groups playing concurrently. Which means that you could actually create a solo party for you to play on your own, while also having a multi-player party playing through the same campaign at once. This seems like a very cool option and one I may try myself at some point.
Legacy of Dragonholt is a cooperative narrative adventure for 1 to 6 players. It claims to be an RPG without a Games Master required. It is basically a very detailed choose your own adventure. Similar to the old Fighting Fantasy books that were popular when I was a kid. Now I don’t own this one but based on feedback I’ve gotten when asking about it, basically what happens with more than one player is that when you get to a branching path and the group has to make a choice the players vote on which way to go. That doesn’t sound very RPG like to me, but it does make it sound like this should be a fantastic single-player experience.
Co-op Card Games
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a scenario-based Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight. This one was nominated for 7 awards, has a ton of expansions and is ranked very well. I did notice one comment that only the first three scenarios are really good for playing solo.
Now Arkham Horror: The Card Game showed up on at least twice as many lists as Lord of the Rings. I don’t think it’s just the theme either. This 2 player or solo game has a fantastic 8.2 rating on BGG and has won multiple awards. It sounds like between the two this is the one to pick up. Unless you are like me and just not into the whole Cthulhu thing.
On the original thread where Phil asked this question, The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game came up a couple times. I know a local group that plays this one but no one I know has tried it solo.
The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game is one I have played. This is a rather unique card game that borrows some mechanics from the Fate RPG system and combines them with puzzle-based hand management. I’ve found this one to be very popular with fans of the books. I tried this once solo and it was solid, not that much different from playing multi-player.
Other Soloable Games
These ones didn’t really fit into categories or were the only examples of games in that category so all ended up here.
You would think with how much I dig Terraforming Mars I would have tried it solo. Well not yet. People say good things though. I know my friend Neil tried multiple times when it first came out and found it surprisingly difficult.
Scythe is one of the most popular games out there right now. I think I hear as much about it as I do Gloomhaven. Some of that buzz is how good it is solo.
One of my all time favourite engine building games is Russian Railroads. This is one I didn’t even realize had a solo mode but it showed up at number one on one top 100 list.
During our last live Twitch show, during the aftershow one of our fans mentioned At The Gates of Loyang. This game is long out of print but was strongly recommended for solo play.
Where you can find more information
At this point, I’m sure it’s clear that I’m no solo tabletop game expert. Here are some of the resources I used when researching this article and some great sources for more info on the world of playing by yourself.
1 Player Guild – A group on BGG dedicated to single player games. There is a ridiculous amount of info here. These people take their solo play seriously. The main page also includes links to other great resources.
Low Player Count – A great podcast about one and two player games.
2017 People’s Choice Top 100 Solo Games – A list of 200 solo games over on BGG.
Favourite single player games? – A Reddit thread with a ton of comments filled with suggestions.
Do you like to play by yourself? What are your favourite single player tabletop games?