Every year there is a people’s choice solo game list that gets compiled. And so every year they ask for solo gamers to share their top games, which are then weighted into a system to where games get points based on their rankings for each list. So giving a game the #10 slot on a list is worth more to it overall thank a #14 ranking, etc. It is a neat concept and I always enjoy seeing what gets released as the overall results. Since they need the final lists by November 4th, I figured I had better wrap mine up in an official way, and look for this to be a recurring post each year.
Before I begin, I want to kick off with five games that are high on my solo wish list to try them. Which means you will not find them included on the list:
1) Edge of Darkness
2) Street Masters
3) CO2 Second Chance
4) Marvel: Champions
5) Empyreal: Spells & Steam
Bonus: Too Many Bones, which I am borrowing as of today so it’ll be played soon. Hopefully this weekend.
This game is an anomaly for me, because it really shouldn’t be such a highly-regarded solo experience. It involves dice, bringing about a random element every round that can foil the best-laid plans. You can’t even control or predict when the color of dice you need will appear. You will have rounds where the market will have no cards you want, and then the next turn it will have 2-3 you need but can only choose one. And that is the crux of how it makes this list: it rarely gives you what you desire to use, but oftentimes forces you to make difficult decisions about how to utilize what is presented to you. The layers of decisions include what card to buy (if any) and how much you need said card, because the die you choose determines what chance there is of getting that card you need – the lower value die on the offer will ensure you a shot at the card but is far less useful in your character. And the die abilities you’ll trigger every round help this to not only feel more dynamic, but also helps to mitigate the randomness of dice rolls. The base game is all I have experienced, which speaks volumes to how much I actually do enjoy this game. It is a beat-your-own high score game, which I generally loathe, and the expansion of Monsters & Minions will change that and, by extension, give this game a chance to climb ever higher on the list.
This game fires on two cylinders for me: as a gamer and as a fantasy author. On one end, I am provided with a fairly simple set of mechanics and a core concept to try an overcome by the end of the game in order to avoid a losing condition (avoiding the dreaded beat-your-own-score symptom, which all but two of these games successfully avoid). On the other end, I have incredible artwork and a system designed for crafting tales around. And while my wife wouldn’t want to sit around and tell stories about how her character started life as a Student who Excelled in her Studies and, as a result, Uncovered Hidden Lore that allowed her to Heal the Wounded and led to her becoming an Honorable Sworn Protector, Catching a Criminal and fending off attacks from The Wolf on her path to become a Paragon of Light, and a Blessed Champion of Light to battle off her adversary, The Dark Rider. I mean, the story there practically writes itself.
This game being here should be a strong indicator that you can’t just go look at my Top 100 Games list from June and grab the 20 highest soloable games from that list. Yes, some will be on here. But some of them, like Lisboa, will end up in places you don’t expect. And it isn’t Lisboa’s fault it is this low, really. I just don’t often have the time for a big, heavy experience like this when I sit down to play a solo game. Which means it doesn’t get played often, which means that it isn’t as likely to creep high onto the list, at least not very quick. I want to explore this one more, as I get ruthlessly demolished by Vital time and time again. But I will enjoy every minute of that beatdown because this remains a wonderful game that should only move up a little as I get it back to the table a time or two in the near future.
This is probably not on many lists, as it is very much a hidden gem and not easy to obtain for those not in the know. You see, Button Shy Games has a Board Game of the Month Club, and to join it you would need to be a Patron for at least $5/month. But in exchange, you get monthly goodies (that are admittedly oftentimes a month or two behind) from them. Every month this year has expanded the game known as Chain Mail: an RPG-like adventure with interchangable maps, character parties, enemies, treasure, and scenarios. Every month gets you a new map, enemy card, treasure card, and scenario. Many months bring a new character, too, to swap into your party of 4 characters that all interact with their cubes in very different ways to trigger unique abilities. And that is the part that really shines in Chain Mail: how different the characters play, and figuring out how to shift the cubes just right to make them play optimally.
My gaming history holds a rather rocky history with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. It is a game I always wanted to love but could never quite commit toward because something always just seemed a little off. Maybe it was the limitations on free-to-play scenarios on the app that started it. Or the several different sets, each of which expanded out through a variety of add-on packs. Or the host of character add-on packs. While I can’t pinpoint why I never became enamoured with the older versions of Pathfinder, I can tell you that this is the best version of it out there. It brings a variety of new twists on the core mechanics, a fresh new look, and actual storybooks with adventure playing out as you advance from quest to quest. Most of the clunkiness is gone, although setting up is never a fast task, and it scales exceptionally well even with one character (although some are going to be more difficult to truly solo than others). Ultimately I love the customization of the character across a series of adventures enough to want to get this to the table any chance I get.
Few games have surprised me more in a pleasant way than Maquis. This small game packs a huge punch for the variety contained in the box, and the difficult decisions it forces you to make. With each decision you make, the path you can take shrinks a little more. Do you play it safe and snake out from your starting location each turn, or do you gamble and try to pin down the place you need to go first and hope it doesn’t cost you the game? There is so much tension in every decision being made that this game absolutely stole my heart from the first play of it. I can’t wait for my Kickstarter copy of the game to deliver, because I know this is going to be one that I break out often when I need a relatively quick, yet thinky, solitaire experience.
Rosenberg strikes on this list with a game that, ordinarily, shouldn’t make a top solitaire game for me. While it isn’t his usual worker placement game, it is definitely about resource management and conversion to earn points. But that is the beauty here, with that clever resource wheel as you manage the push-pull to get what you need. And with the promo card for solo play that allows clearing some buildings from the market, this game’s biggest flaw was removed for solo play. The way it handles the solitaire game, giving you a differing number of actions each round and making it so you cannot use the same action card in back-to-back turns provides a nice puzzle experience that I really enjoy.
When I want to lose, there are a few games I could choose from on this list (#1, 6, 12, 18) but none of them feels more punishingly brutal than this game. I love the Arthurian love letter stamped all over every piece in the game, as it makes references to both the popular and the obscure in this game. The base game has limited legs, but I’ve since picked up two expansions on the cheap to integrate in when I reacquire this solitaire experience (because let’s be honest, it would be cruel to subject others to a no-win situation) where the theme draws me in and leaves me wanting to journey to Camelot with these famous figures.
This is heralded as a solo classic for a very good reason, and is the best of the solitaire deckbuilders out there (Shadowrift comes close, but I haven’t revisited that in ages since I loaned it to a friend, and I anticipate the announced expansion in 2020 for Mystic Vale will get that up here once it has an official solitaire mode). The concept of the game is extremely simple, but difficult to execute well because you start with a deck packed with mostly garbage cards. Not garbage like the normal deckbuilder where it gives you +1 of something, but garbage as in either +0 or -1 of your skill. And the last thing you want is to get further from your goal by flipping a card, so you need to thin the deck over the course of the game. Which you can do, but it requires both failing a test and spending your life points to accomplish this. And so it becomes this interesting dynamic of how aggressively you try to thin that deck early, and how to manage the aging cards as they make their way into your deck, which I absolutely love even more every time it hits the table.
Worker placement games are, as a rule, difficult to make an effective solo play mode for. Most of the time the solution they come up with is to give you a limited number of turns and tiers of scoring thresholds to determine the level of efficiency. And so when Shem designed a solo AI for a game I already enjoyed a lot, I was really pleased to find out that it played quite well. It puts pressure on the player to optimize their approach as much as possible, which isn’t going to be easy because it will block a new space every turn from the town. It clears spaces on the map with relative ease compared to a normal player, which is also good because it means you need to be clever and creative at times in how you tackle the basic strategies with the game. And even better than that is its ability to work with any of the expansions, or no expansions at all, makes this a great add-on to your Raiders collection.
This game genuinely surprised me when I first played it, because it was my first non-worker placement Rosenberg solo experience. And boy, what a difference it made because it delivered a game experience unlike what I had anticipated. I normally don’t like the beat-your-own score systems, and this marks the highest of those on the list. But when every point is hard-earned like it is in this game, it merits placement on the list. Rosenberg is my wife’s favorite designer, not mine, so I never expected to love his games so much. But this, and Glass Road, are anomalies in the Rosenberg world of design. The card system, and scraping every point you can over the course of the game, is what really makes this game shine for me. One of these days I might even score a 20 – what a joyful day that will be.
This game probably takes you by surprise with its inclusion on a solo list. I felt the same way when I learned that this game, which is a brain-burning 2-player dueling game, had a solo mode in one of the boxes. Learning that one of my all-time favorite games could now be enjoyed even when I don’t have a second player…that was a pure delight. I love that I can pull out a new character (because there are so many I haven’t tried still) and run them through a gauntlet of smaller battles on their way to a boss duel. And I really enjoy that you can purchase items to make your character properly “equipped” to handle the task in front of them, giving it a light RPG element that I think works well so long as you remember the presence of said purchases. This game lets you know what each monster encounter is able to do on a turn, but you’ll never quite be sure if you are safe so it is all about choosing the right attack pairs, and positioning, at the right time to try and take as little damage as possible as you clear room after room in their BattleQuest booklet. Which is something I really hope they expand upon, because I really dig the system that was introduced via BattleCON: Devastation of Indines..
This might be the most unique entry on the list, and one of the more recent additions. It certainly caught me off guard about how much I enjoyed this game, especially since I have never really been drawn to the roll and write fad that has taken over the hobby. But there is something about Cartographers that is just different enough that it fascinates me and makes me want to play it again and again (which means I’ll be picking this up soon so that I can, in fact, play it again and again). It has the clever use of four seasons, each of which activates 2 of your 4 scoring conditions so you’ll want to balance all four of them in some way to try and maximize your points. The Ambush cards are a good balance to foil your plans and operate relatively easily when they trigger. All in all, there isn’t much to dislike about this…apart from my strong desire to get a set of colored pencils to use for my map-making skills to make it at least a little visually appealing.
Welcome to the big, sprawling RPG-in-a-box on the list. No Gloomhaven. No Too Many Bones. I haven’t soloed either of those (yet), so this will have to satisfy all of our tastes. What I love the most in here is the combination of that monster creation system from a bag of abilities, combined with perfect information on how your stats function and what they can do. Enemy going to one-shot your hero? Find a way to reduce their attack or cleverly maneuver yourself so that you can deal damage without taking any in return. I’ve had dire, hopeless situations that I was able to puzzle my way toward a solution – and then it is on me to execute said solution. There is a good amount of content in this box, not to the level of a Gloomhaven campaign but more than enough to keep most gamers, solo or otherwise, content for many, many plays. I love and hate the character progression system, as you have complete control to min-max your character as they gain levels but there just isn’t as much to differentiate one character from another as I’d like. But for what its worth, this game is an absolute gem that I wish I could play more often.
The game that started it all for me so many years ago. I miss this game in my collection, although it was part of what sent me to Gen Con so I can’t be too upset. Plus now that there is a 2nd edition out there, it’ll be better than before when I finally get around to picking it back up. Because this remains a wonderful solo game with a brutal solo AI system to play against that forces you to play efficiently instead of seeking those amazing combos. If you ever wondered about the value of half the cards in the deck, they take on a whole new perspective when racing against the clock of the solo AI’s engine…even on Easy in this. My win rate is embarrassingly low, and I love that fact.
I delight in the engine building of this game with multi-use cards. And thanks to the scenarios via expansions, this game squeezes past the game that started my love of solo gaming using “similar” mechanics. But oh, how I truly enjoy pulling off an efficient chain of production in this game. It provides just enough limitations to force you to pursue sub-optimal strategies in order to accomplish your objectives in the time allotted to you, and has some wrinkles it’ll toss in to try and slow you down. Plus that press-your-luck mechanic is a source of incredible joy and intense despair – sometimes a turn apart – as you try and squeeze the most out of every opportunity. This was the game that put Pfister’s games on my radar, and I can’t wait to get to try some of his other titles solo in the future.
One of these games is not like the others, and that game is Agricola, Master of Britain. I danced around dabbling in wargames for years but never could quite find the right one for me. I think that was because I was trying to find a game where it was a “play both sides” solo experience and that just lost the “interesting” factor in the same way that playing Dungeons & Dragons as both the GM and the party would get boring. This game solved that problem with the clever cup system and pulling chits. There are so many ways to lose the game to where you always feel like you are one bad decision away from a cascading loss. I’ve played this game’s big brother, Charlemagne, but haven’t gotten enough exposure to it to know where it would fall (and thus left it off this year, even though it probably should merit a spot) or even to know if I like it more or less than Agricola. So for now I’ll heap praises on this small game with so many fun, interesting, challenging decisions that it won me back over to enjoying the occasional wargame outside of War of the Ring.
This game might take some people by surprise, as few folks think of this as a solo experience. The Set Rotation expansion introduced bosses to play against, which opens up the solitaire experience to players and, surprisingly, it is both fun and good. The challenge level is ridiculously high at times, as it feels like they can score buckets of points while you’re scraping combos together to try and get more than 10 points at a time (sometimes) – which is part of the beauty here: learning the boss deck’s emphasis and capabilities and trying to counter them. All four feel very different to play against, and when that becomes “easy” for you, there is a mini-expansion that cranks all four of them to the next level. I can’t wait for Collusion to deliver in 2020 so I can have more bosses to lose to. And, of course, part of the fun of Millennium Blades is recreating that old CCG experience of patching together the best deck you can with the cards you get from those packs you’ve opened. Which is what keeps me coming back to this game time and time again.
Oh how this game came out of nowhere for me. Honestly, I had heard word of it but felt no strong desire to try the game. And then a friend was selling his all-in collection because it played best at 1-2, which caught my attention. After all, I specialize in 1-2. Sadly, he sold it before I could even get together to try it, but that didn’t stop me from jumping on a really good price for Origins a few months later. Well, the rest is history. It is absolutely a light, tactical, dice-chucking romp. But it is so much fun, and has a decent amount of variety even in the “small” box version I own. The Trials are a fun and interesting system, so much so that I am considering doing a series of videos on my YouTube channel in the near future where I attempt each of the trials in the game. This game doesn’t need more content, but there are a lot of packs of extra combatants you can pick up from Chip Theory Games that will expand your variety to enhance a game’s replay value that already has strong replay value. Did I mention that games are often 10-15 minutes or less, making this an easy game to pull out and play on any given night?
Speaking of endless replay value, there’s no surprise here about my #1 game. It offers so much variety once you expand beyond the core set, and even then you don’t need to own everything to have a lot of space to explore in deck construction. With over 100 quests now out there between all of the product, and nightmare modes of most of them, this game has so much endless variety that, at around 150 plays, I still have a ton of quests I need to try and deck archetypes to build that there is no shortage of opportunity to get another thousand plays out of this collection. This game is so much fun and, as a Tolkien super fan, this is the one game I would choose if I could only take one game with me to a desert island and the one game I would save if I could only retrieve one from a burning building. Yes, it requires investment to grow beyond a Core Set and investment in time to build your decks, but it is worth it. One of these days that 30-31% win ratio will hopefully creep back up to 33%, which is about where I like this game’s win/loss ratio to reside because it often pushes me, and my deck construction abilities, to the limits.