Baxter's Top 10 - Solo Board Games

Heya heya fellow gamers! With the team so busy at the big events like Armageddon and Wellycon in recent weeks, I’ve been left largely holding down the fort here.  Which means I’ve been diving into a few solo games to keep myself amused.  I thought I’d share my thoughts on some of my favs, both old and new. So, here are my top 10 solo board games, I hope you enjoy the read!

 

10. Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars has been a fan favourite for years and is still going strong.  And, other than a few quibbles about the artwork or component quality, the game has stood the test of time and has even recently seen a Big Box upgrade which tackles some of the component concerns.  As much as I enjoy Terraforming Mars as a multiplayer game I feel its true strength is in its solo play.  Taking a less complex approach than the multiplayer game, for instance there are no Achievements or Milestones in the solo version, what the game lacks in complexity it makes up for by providing a more succinct experience.  You either reach the three target goals by the end of the 14 rounds, or, you lose.  Quick and painless. Playing solo means I get to play this marvelous game more often too, so there’s that!

 

9.  Fallout: The Board Game (with the expansions!)

The Fallout video games have always been a single player experience. Apart from Fallout 76, which, from what I understand, is not the best implementation of multiplayer the world has ever seen.  When I heard there was going to be a Fallout board game, I was excited to see how they’d manage it.  The final result was Fallout: The Board Game, a solid competitive experience but it felt like the game hadn’t put its best foot forward, however, with the New California and Atomic Bonds expansions, the game has settled into a comfortable co-operative groove that transfers nicely to single player.  The game feels right and with a lot more content to explore it mimics the best aspects of the video games.  Exploring the wasteland, completing objectives and avoiding or combating mutated horrors feels satisfying and thematic. It may be that war never changes, but thankfully board games can!

 

8.  Wingspan

Wingspan has been ridiculously successful, sorting two well received expansions and obtaining accolades from a host of board game alumni around the world, Wingspan found its greatest success during 2020 when the world needed more than ever to be reminded of the beauty to be found in the wild outdoors and sharing that experience with others.  That last part proved difficult for obvious reasons, but thankfully, like most Stonemaier games, Wingspan included a fantastic Automa mode that allowed me to hunt, er I mean, passively observe these peaceful, tasty creatures even when I couldn’t get together with my game group. The Automa player has its own AI deck and pursues objectives in such a way that emulates the experience of having another player present. I call her Maxine and she makes me feel happy.

 

7.  Arkham Horror The Card Game

In the world of Living Card Games, Arkham Horror The Card Game has been a stand out title. For years Arkham Horror has been providing endless hours of compelling story driven adventure in the world of Cthulhuian nightmares.  And as amazing as the game is with two or more, the game makes for a rich, and oddly more frightening experience when you’re alone.  The feelings of dread and isolation only intensify when playing by yourself and as the tension rises so too does the sense of excitement. Taking things at my own pace means the choices I’m presented with are mine alone to make and as such the reward of being able to step away and take my time with it, enjoying the slow burn of an unfolding mystery is mine also. But if I get too scared I set up Wingspan at another table so Maxine can keep me company.

 

6.  Robinson Crusoe

What a ride! It’s as though this game was made to be played solo.  Being stranded alone on an island is a fantasy or nightmare that people often talk about in jest, like “if you were stranded on a deserted island with only one board game what would it be?” *(comment below with your answer to that!).  But this flips things around with the board game being the island you’re stuck on.  In Robinson Crusoe, you need to survive each day on the island, forage for materials to craft into useful objects, fight the animals of the island for food and generally just Tom Hanks the crap out of this thing!  Robinson Crusoe is a challenging game and that’s as it should be.  Survival is tough, and this game epitomises it perfectly!

 

5.  Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon

This next entry from Awaken Realms is a story driven adventure set in a dark retelling of Kamelot (the K means its a gritty reboot!). In Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon, the realm of Avalon is being slowly consumed by darkness and the menhirs that must remain lit to keep the darkness at bay are going out one by one.  Great heroes were sent out to put things right, but they never returned.  Now, you must take up the mantle of hero, you who were decidedly NOT the people’s first, or perhaps even second choice.  What I love about Tainted Grail is that way the world feels alive even as it is slowly dying.  The locations you visit and the people you speak to all take on a grim, real world quality, and playing alone allows me to enjoy the story without the pressure of other players’ decisions waiting for my turn to jar me out of the experience.  I can put my head down and focus on the story, making the choices that I feel are best, or even taking the darkest path to victory just to see what happens. 

 

4.  Nemo’s War

Nemo’s War is the only dedicated solo game on this list and while the latest edition of the game does state it supports multiplayer co-op, don’t do that.  It feels tacked on and frankly adds nothing to the game and may even detract from the experience for many. Nemo’s War follows the infamous captain of the Nautilus as he traverses the seas, gaining notoriety, fulfilling objectives and battling the warships sent to hunt him down. Taking on the role of Nemo in a single player adventure works very well.  You feel singularly responsible for your mission, as well as the wellbeing of your ship and crew.  One way you can lose the game is if you lose all your crew members, so it’s in your best interest to look after them as you would any other aspect of your vessel.  If they really wanted a true multiplayer version of Nemo’s War I’d be keen to play one where the players take on the roles of the warship captains trying to hunt him down.  I’d call it Finding Nemo.

 

3.  Gloomhaven

You can hardly whisper about single player board games without Gloomhaven popping his head in the door having sworn he’d heard his name. There’s a reason the colossal RPG appears on so many of these lists, it’s quite simply a staggeringly good game. The problem I often had was finding the time, space and most importantly the players to endure this behemoth alongside me.  That’s why my preferred way to experience all Gloomhaven has to offer is as a solo player.  Providing I have the space, Gloomhaven is quite content to be left set up on a table, allowing me to take my time, playing a scenario here and there whenever the mood takes me. After a while it feels like part of the furniture. The same is true if I find the time to dedicate to a 10 hour gaming marathon, there’s no one else I have to defer to, I can play to my little heart’s content!

 

2.  Sleeping Gods

This is the latest game to make my list and, in my opinion, one of the best.  Sleeping Gods by Ryan Laukat is a narrative rich exploration game set around the crew of the Manticore, a vessel that has been lost from our world and found itself navigating the unfamiliar isles of a mysterious sea. Playing solo presents its own unique challenge as you have to manage the eight crew, plus the captain on your own.  This can result in a lot of housekeeping, but has the advantage of allowing total control of each encounter.  Choosing which crew member to exhaust or which actions to take puts you in the shoes of the captain and gives a sense of singular command that isn’t present when playing with others.  Additionally, I can choose any story options, map direction and course of action I like.  I’m freeeee to do what I waaaant, any old tiiiime!

 

1.  Mage Knight

Take a look at any similar list out there and you’ll see this gem holding its own against some pretty strong contenders. Mage Knight is frequently referred to as one of the best single player board games of all time. So much so that it’s often played more as a single player game than it is with others. One possible reason for this is that it harkens back to the old school top down RPG PC games in the style of Baldur’s Gate, Fallout and other similar open world exploration games.  The go anywhere, do anything approach is difficult to pull off in a board game for multiple reasons, not the least of which is the limitations of the physical format.  But Mage Knight manages it and makes it look easy; the game is exploding with quests, map tiles, pre-painted minis, dice, monsters, heroes, cards and tokens. 

BOOM!

Characters level up by way of a deck building mechanic and the rate of character progression feels fair but fun. Each time my characters gained a level I felt sufficiently rewarded for my efforts and eager to dive into the next stage of the adventure to test my mettle.  That’s not to say Mage Knight is not without its downsides of course.  The game is notoriously complex, an issue further confounded by its rather messy rulebook and a reference sheet that looks like someone threw random clippings from the main rules on an A4 sheet and called it a day. However, if you can get past the rough edges, you’ll delight in a wonderful single player adventure that will serve you well for countless hours.

 

And so passes another Top 10 Tuesday.  I’m eager to hear your own picks for this list, so please comment below.  In the meantime, thanks for stopping by as always and I look forward to seeing you again next time!

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