TTG's Top 10: Solo Games
Who needs friends when you’ve got amazing games? Treat yourself to these experiences that are just as good when you’re the only player at the table.
Picked by Matt Jarvis.
1. Arkham Horror: The Card Game
The Arkham Horror Files series’ roots in scary stories of cosmic nightmares makes the games ripe for playing by yourself. One of the best to solo is this living card game, with a continuous stream of new adventures released regularly that delve into the investigators and monsters of the universe. The atmospheric setting is backed up by tight cardplay with interesting decisions and unpredictable twists, with loads of replayability when you die or go insane – which will happen. Each scenario isn’t very long, but you’ll quickly find yourself drawn back into the horror – it’s the Netflix binge-watch of gaming.
Does it play well with others? Yes, as do the rest of the Arkham Horror Files games – though there’s something to be said to facing the nightmares alone.
2. Mage Knight
Mage Knight is an absolute beast of a game, a sprawling mixture of fantasy RPG, crunchy Eurogame and deep deckbuilder. Vlaada Chvátil’s heady concoction is part of its brilliance, but it also means that the brain-busting strategy can slow with more people around the table. Luckily, its solo mode is arguably the best way to experience the game’s puzzle-like combat, offering up a randomised map and enemies for a fresh challenge every time.
Does it play well with others? You can play Mage Knight multiplayer out of the box, but more people can lengthen the game – it shines best with just one person.
There’s something about being stuck on an island that inspires excellent single-player games. Friedemann Friese’s take on the classic story of Robinson Crusoe dedicates itself to a solitaire experience, as you build up a deck of cards to eke out a living on the island until you’re able to defeat bothersome pirates and escape for good. Overcoming dangers lets Robinson build up his strength, with the player refining their deck of fight cards over the course of the half-hour game. Short, challenging and showcasing some of the best that solo gaming has to offer, Friday is a definite Desert Island Game.
Does it play well with others? Not really – you could technically play co-op, but Friday is a solo-only game for a reason. For a similar island survival feel with friends, try Robinson Crusoe.
Scythe’s Automa mode was a breath of fresh air upon its release, offering up a dynamic and smart game-controlled opponent that felt more like a real player than most single-player experiences on the tabletop to date. The solo mode is a notably different affair to Scythe’s multiplayer, but is no less intense, with challenges unique to the Automa AI and an adjustable level of difficulty to provide plenty of replayability. Whether you use it to practice your plays tyles for Scythe’s different factions or simply to indulge in Jamey Stegmaier’s slick strategy hit, Automa is awesome.
Does it play well with others? Absolutely – Scythe’s solo mode is mightily impressive, but it’s still not quite a match for real human players.
5. Ganz Schön Clever
Plenty of roll-and-writes can be enjoyed alone without needing to compromise the gameplay of their multiplayer mode too much. Ganz Schön Clever’s high score-besting one-player challenge is among the most addictive, turning the dice-picking gem into a test of luck and efficiency. As in the multiplayer game, you pick dice one at a time, crossing out boxes in the colour-coded sections to rack up points in different ways, while using your rerolls and extra die bonuses carefully. Fast and thinky, the solo mode is especially hard to put down thanks to Ganz Schön Clever’s mobile app version, which does all the maths for you. That IS so clever.
Does it play well with others? Like a lot of roll-and-writes, Ganz Schön Clever’s multiplayer mode isn’t seeped in player interaction, but its dice-drafting core does make for a different puzzle when it’s other players limiting your options instead of you.
Isaac Childres’ epic RPG-in-a-box is perfect for tackling alone, with its Euro-style card combat and legacy storytelling coming together to offer a DM-less dungeon-crawler with hours upon hours of challenging adventures to be had. As well as the extensive content in the main box, Childres has since released a separate book featuring more than a dozen scenarios designed specifically for solo play, leaning into Gloomhaven’s excellence as a one-person experience.
Does it play well with others? 100%. Like embarking on an epic D&D campaign, playing as a party for tens of hours in Gloomhaven leaves you with plenty of shared stories and the collaborative challenge of working together to overcome tough battles.
7. The 7th Continent
Inspired by classic choose-your-own-adventure tales and gamebooks such as Fighting Fantasy, The 7th Continent throws you into a mysterious land in search of a way to lift a terrible curse. The co-op game is just as engrossing in its solo mode, with its vast library of cards inviting session after session of exploration, peril and discovery during your adventures across the continent. The tension of surviving dangers using your wits and ingenuity – crafting tools and weapons with things you find along the way – is raised by doing it all alone, although the option to control two characters by yourself can help make things a little easier if you’re more interested in exploring with a little less pressure.
Does it play well with others? To a point. The 7th Continent can be played with a bigger group, but (in our opinion) it’s best with just one or two people, keeping those around the table fully engaged in the immersive experience.
8. Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Deserted island? Check. Lone survivor? Check. Struggle to survive? Check. Robinson Crusoe takes the quintessential story of survival and turns it into the quintessential survival board game. Shipwrecked onto the cursed isle, the player must scrape together the resources they need to keep on living, from ramshackle shelters and vital food to the weapons needed to fend off some of the island’s less welcoming creatures. From its already impressive central drama, Ignacy Trzewiczek’s adventurous survival sim spins out into all manner of mystery and intrigue – giving you plenty to discover while you await rescue.
Does it play well with others? It might take away from the feeling of surviving alone on an island a bit, but Robinson Crusoe scales very comfortably to suit more players. Just be wary that with more mouths to feed, it’s a different kind of challenge!
9. Spirit Island
Subverting the typical gaming theme of island colonisation in its portrayal of deities driving away invaders, Spirit Island’s intensely collaborative multiplayer scales down beautifully to a single-player challenge. With its roster of spirits presenting a breadth of play styles to experiment with and its deck of event cards throwing up a different puzzle to crack each time – not to mention the intuitive way its modular map adjusts the size of the board to suit – Spirit Island is just as rich and complex whether you’re part of a pantheon or omnipotent alone.
Does it play well with others? Yep! Spirit Island is an outstanding co-op game for those looking for a step up from the likes of Pandemic. With plenty of different spirits to try each time you play and see how their powers work together, it’s pretty much perfect no matter how many people you’re playing with.
10.This War of Mine: The Board Game
As sobering and terrifyingly realistic as the PC game it closely emulates, This War of Mine’s depiction of daily life in a warzone is not an easy experience. It’s one well worth having, though, with the struggles and stories of its characters swept up in the Siege of Sarajevo landing with a devastating level of emotional heft. Its origins as a single-player PC game come through in the meaningful decision-making and branching narrative paths of the campaign; involving more players is possible, but can begin to detract from the powerful resonance of facing it alone.
Does it play well with others? Not as well as you’d like. This War of Mine is all about story and atmosphere, and it makes for a genuinely memorable time whether you’re alone or with others. But the rules remain the same either way, so some players may find themselves becoming unengaged with little to do gameplay-wise.
This article was featured in the July 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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