When I first started getting invested in the board game hobby over 10 years ago, the biggest hurdle I came across was finding people to play with. I joined, as well as started, multiple board game groups to try and find more friends I could play board games with more regularly.
But while my social circles of board game friends and enthusiasts grew, it didn’t always mean I could always play the games I wanted, when I wanted. Enter solo board games.
I started playing more games solo soon after I became a father. I could swaddle my daughter up in one of those chest-wraps while she napped and still enjoy my board games. Since then – plus two years of COVID lockdowns – I've learned a thing or two about what I like and don't like about solo board games.
My experience has led me to discover different key elements to single player board games and how much value I give them when determining if the game will be a good fit for me.
My Top 4 Criteria For A Great Solo Board Game
Just like a film or a book, I just want to feel like I can escape into the game, whether it's a narrative game, or has a lot of thematics that can be enhanced by background music or nice artwork and flavour text.
I want to feel like the actions that I take need to be carefully considered before taking them (no undoing your actions – even if there's no-one but yourself to hold yourself accountable).
There are many "solo" board games that are basically two-player games where you control both players. Some games handle this better than others but I usually don’t enjoy it when my strategies and tactics are being spread too thin between the two or more players that I must control by myself.
Clear Win Scenarios
I like solo board games to be a win/lose scenario and the win is clearly defined. If the game features a "beat your own score" or your end-game result is graded based on your total score I personally get bored of these games easily.
My single player board game recommendations
Not all of my favourite solo games need to tick all of those criteria, but they're the aspects that I find make the most satisfying play, and that I now look out for when seeking new games.
Here are the solo board games that are in high-rotation on my games table.
I love this game, it's one of my all-time favourite games – from the unobtrusive companion app that streamlines gameplay to the ability to role-play each of the characters. There’s hours upon hours of gameplay available with the multiple campaigns and in-app DLC available that can all be enhanced with additional immersion aides such as the movie soundtracks.
Having said that, I'm going to say that this is not a true solo game, you must control a minimum of two different characters. But with the app streamlining a lot of the taxing elements to the game and your individual character actions being rather simple, it's not hard or taxing to manage multiple characters. For your first adventure solo, I'd recommend playing with two characters, but I've played this game quite extensively now that I'll sometimes start a new game with three characters.
Despite being based on the massive sci-fi franchise Dune, this game has surprisingly little thematics to it and feels more like a worker placement, deck-building resource management strategy game with a Dune theme pasted on top.
This game is dripping with tough choices though; deciding which cards to play for actions and gaining resources or saving for the end round conflict resolution or acquiring more cards to add to your deck. Sometimes your hand can seriously limit your choices for that round making some very tough and carefully considered actions along the way.
In a solo or two player game of Dune: Imperium though you're playing against different characters, whose actions and choices are determined by the flip of a card from the AI deck. This is both a blessing and a curse because this gives you the freedom to focus on your plans and strategies, however the complete randomness of the AI deck means that you cannot predict what they might do on their turn acting more as a hindrance to you and to help keep the game moving forward until there is one true winner, pressing the importance of the timing and value of each of your actions.
This game about building your own zoo features an action selection mechanic where the longer you don’t perform an action the more powerful it becomes, and in a solo game where you have a finite number of turns making the best move each turn couldn’t be any more tougher.
The end game is unique and interesting too, where you have two separate score tracks running against each other on opposite sides of the board and when these two scores ever meet and overlap, it’s the end of the game. Depending on how far one surpassed the other will determine your final positive or negative score. However, in a solo game, the actual final points result is irrelevant, you win by having a positive score, and lose by having a negative score.
Ark Nova feels like it’s that step up from Wingspan in terms of ruleset and strategy – plus it also features a very extensive deck of cards of varying animals across the world. So, if that’s something you’re looking for, I highly recommend it.
The game often gets bundled in with the "flip/roll and write" games, since you're using a sheet of paper as your player board and physically writing on them. But at the very core of the game, this is a resource management game with tech trees, in which you mark your progression with a pen as you spend your resources causing chained effects such as gaining more resources, abilities, and victory points. Planning the timing of each action and resource spent in a round is critical to maximise the most out of each round.
As a solo game, the "beat your own score" end game may not be appealing to me most of the time, but to me it's never about the result, it's the puzzle journey that I go on to get there – and is compact enough to even be played on a stable-table in bed. With different difficulties to play, and even an official "campaign" that offers different challenges to each game to play through, offering high replayability (good thing you get 200 sheets included in the game). There's even an excellent unofficial fan-made AI you can play against if you really want that win/lose endgame scenario.
I describe this as a choose-your-own-adventure board game; throughout a game you're presented with a target objective and whether you pass, fail or even choose what way you want to proceed will effectively change the narrative and the next objective to undertake. Unlike other Arkham Horror Files games, which can really punish you with an unmitigable loss from a bad card draw or dice roll, in AH3E you can still win regardless of how well you're playing, however the actual ending (win or lose) is reflected in the progression of the narrative, meaning that you could get completely different endings each time you play the same scenario.
As a solitaire game, you can play with as few as one character or try to manage as many characters as you like up to six. Having more characters means that you have a bigger spread of characters with varying strengths and weaknesses and therefore you can spread your team out more to achieve the objectives, but the admin and keeping track of all the different item effects and perks can be hard to handle. I very rarely play as more than two characters, but most often play as just one.
Want more board game recommendations?
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