Solo Gaming - A Beginners Guide

PART 1 – GOING SOLO

Why board game on your own?

Well, as an example, my game group consists of about six regular players, most of whom are married, in relationships, studying for university or work jobs that can easily spill over into their evening leisure time. This can often lead to nights where nobody can make it as life gets in the way. Should this stop me from gaming? Absolutely not!

What are the benefits of solo gaming?

People generally play games to beat their opponents which comes through practice. Therefore, can solo gaming make you a better player? Without a shadow of a doubt, YES! You will actually benefit from the lack of input from other players; you'll have to think harder and more strategically about your decisions when playing co-op games solo. I can definitely say my gameplay skill has improved through solo gaming.

What kind of solos are out there to play?

Co-operative games can easily be played solo unless they have a traitor mechanic. Generally this is just a case of setting up with any player count but leaving any cards or hidden information face up and playing each turn yourself. This has the added benefit from a collection standpoint which is that when people come round for a game you can still play these games with company.

Here are a few suggestions for this type of game

  • Pandemic
  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  • Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
  • Mice & Mystics
  • Castle/Dead Panic

Strict solos are games designed with one player in mind from the outset. Most of these games are thematic and filled with critical decision making, and they are about as immersive as they come. There aren't a whole load of games in this category at the moment but hopefully more designers will get involved and grow the pool of these sorts of games available. See the below list for some excellent examples of strict solos.

PART 2 – MY TOP 10 SOLO GAMES 

Now that you know a bit about solo gaming, I’m going to reel off my personal top ten and then give some suggestions of games I've seen that look interesting, or that I have played normally and feel would bridge the gap to the solo experience quite well. Here goes!
 

10. Mage Knight (WizKids Games)
Widely regarded as the top dog of solos, but not around here. Mage Knight is a solid game about managing your deck and adding better cards and spells to it in order to move around the board more efficiently and best the big bad monsters in combat. This one’s highly thematic and a real puzzling challenge, but the main issue for me is a brutal rulebook to manage on your first play, especially when playing the solo variant. It also takes a horrendously long time to set up.

9. Imperial Settlers (Portal Games)
I really enjoy Imperial Settlers as a solo. A game about creating your own thriving civilisation through building buildings, you get a chance to sink your teeth into customising your deck with the expansions and you can build it to suit your own style of play. It’s also a good way of trying new card combos out and is a platform for improving your play and spotting more effective combos for when you play with opponents.

8. K2 (Rebel.pl)
Set on the mountain itself, your goal is to try to reach the peak and get back safely. This game oozes theme; you'll be panicking about acclimatisation levels and trying desperately to keep 'Jiggly' and 'Chubby' alive until the end. This is a great game solo or with other gamers. The level of tension in this game is unrivalled. My only issue is that, without the expansion, there's not a whole lot of variability.

7. D-Day Dice (Valley Games, Inc.)
Another game dripping with theme, this one set during the second world war and sets your troop of soldiers against a menacing machine gun nest trying to kill them. One of the main reasons for my enjoyment of this dice ‘chukka’ is making a storyline as I go.The mission briefings included with the game are awesome!

6. Sylvion (Z Man Games)
The only game I've played from the ‘Oniverse’ series (a collection of games by Z Man taking place in the same world) this is a game about preventing a deadly forest fire. The introductory mode to this game seems almost impossible, but give it a few plays then jump right into the drafting variant which is easier and a lot more fun. Having to make decisions on which angle you'll take whilst building your deck is great. A nice little risk vs reward element is included in the drafting process which makes you want to go back for another play.

5. Glass Road (Z Man Games)
I adore this game about creating a successful glass making business. It throws up a new strategy and puzzle every time I play it, always leaving me with the challenge of getting the elusive twenty five points that people always mention when talking about this game. The resource management wheels are brilliant and the one random draw from the cards every round keeps it different, while the huge stack of buildings keeps it from being too 'samey'.

4. Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game (Fantasy Flight)
This is my highest rated co-operative game to play solo and is a Warhammer 40K game about clearing out aliens from a spaceship. I was a Games Workshop lad growing up, so the theme sits well with me. The card play for this game is phenomenally simple and works an absolute charm. It’s no push over either. My only issue is the luck of the die can really jam you in this game.

3. At The Gates Of Loyang (Hall Games)
The second Uwe Rosenberg to make my list and for much of the same reasons; the man knows how to make you puzzle out your turns and strive to beat your previous score in glorious fashion. This game just has a charm to it, the way it looks and feels just hits the right spot for me.

2. Five Tribes (Days Of Wonder)
This came completely out of left field for me. I heard that Bruno Cathala had added a solo play variant and I was sceptical to say the least. Man, was I wrong! This is the most brutal and punishing game I have played. With a boatload of instant losing conditions to worry about, this really keeps you on your toes and definitely makes you better at the game. You'll most likely become a faster player too, as this game is known for causing severe AP (analysis paralysis).

1. Friday (Rio Grande Games)
There was never any doubt this would be my number one. The whole system works great, the theme is perfect and the difficulty level is just right. Tough decisions and smart strategy will see you through this deck building masterpiece.

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PART 3 - SOLO GAME RECCOMMENDATIONS

So that's the top ten over and done with. Now, here are some other suggestions of games you should try out if you like solo gaming.

In the specific solo category we have anything from the omniverse, be it Onirim, Sylvion, Castellion or Urbion. I have only played Sylvion, but I've heard good things about this series. There’s also Hostage Negotiator which looks fantastic and is quite the challenge.

Co-operative games are great as they play solo or a crowd equally well. Some good ones to check out are Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island, Mice and Mystics, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert. The last three are especially great for players new to the hobby.

There are some competitive games with solo variants out of the box, including Snowdonia, Agricola or any other Uwe Rosenberg title. Race for the Galaxy has one too, although it does require the first expansion (Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm) to play solo. Additionally, there’s Castles of Mad King Ludwig which is all about building a strange mansion and C&G favourite Flip City or Harbour if you want something smaller in size.

Rally man is a game that has a forum dedicated to monthly rallies seeing who can post the fastest time. It has an absolutely amazing community behind it and I'm gagging to get my own copy so I can join in the fun.

Finally, one of this years top games Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is also worth a look if you know you will be gaming solo for a while. Certainly an awesome investment if you haven't played it already. I wont post any spoilers but there's a reason this game has seen such buzz and success and it would certainly be an epic experience even played solo.

That’s my list, but what great solos have I missed out? And what does your top ten solo gaming list look like?

Written by Rob Murcutt