There's something about the sound of dice rolling, the feeling of moving pieces around a board, and the feel of cards in your hand that make board games so magical. If you can't get enough of that experience, or can't get a group together to play, these games are great to play on your own, whenever you want.
Mage Knight photo by Farley Santos.
The Real Key to Enjoying Solo Board Gaming
Playing solo eliminates the need to fight over a favourite character or rules, gets you away from screens and monitors, and can be quite meditative. But because you're playing by yourself, there are some essential guidelines you need to follow to guarantee you enjoy the experience.
For starters, you need to pick a great game for solo play (we have some suggestions below). Basically, you want something that is meant to be playable by one person, or can be played solo with a few tweaks and minor fudging of the rules. Solo Monopoly and Risk will only be fun if you can convince your other personalities to play too.
Now that you've got the game ready, treat yo' self. This is your time, so get yourself some snacks and put on some music or ambient sounds. Or, if you prefer, relish in that all too rare silence.
Lastly, and most importantly, don't cheat! Sure, you could give yourself an extra edge every time something gets difficult. Nobody would know. But cheating will ruin the experience. Remember why you like to play games to begin with: they're challenging and unpredictable. Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose. That's ok.
Great Games for Playing Solo
A great solo game should also leave you wanting more after each game. You want an experience that will be different each and every time you play. If you use Solitaire as an example, the rules are simple, but no two games are ever the same. The same principle applies to good solo board games. You want that feeling of "I'll win next time" or "I wonder what would have happened if I used that other character?"
Here are some game suggestions to get you started. Some of these are designed to be played alone, but others can easily be converted to solo play with a few tweaks.
Friday is a unique card game because the maximum number of players is actually just one — you. You're helping "Robinson," a dude who found his way onto your island, survive against the many hazards and harsh conditions of your home.
Robinson and his ability to survive is represented as a stack of cards that you gradually improve throughout the game. Robinson starts out hopeless and not very skilled, but based on your decisions he gains experience and becomes a stronger survivor. It's hard to pass on a solo game that's designed to be a solo game!
Like Friday, Robinson Crusoe (this guy should not travel) involves shipwreck survivors who are lost on a deserted island. In order to survive you'll have to build shelter, find food, fight beasts, and battle the elements. There are multiple scenarios and hundreds of event, object, and structure cards that make every game a different survival situation.
As the game progresses you can build up walls around your home, domesticate animals, construct weapons and tools, and explore deeper into the island. You might find pirate treasure, abandoned villages, or even a cursed temple.
This card game, which is one of my personal favourites, is perfect for the logic-oriented or mathematically inclined. The object of the game is pretty straightforward, discard all 98 numbered cards into four different piles in the proper order. You have to play cards in ascending order in two piles and in descending order in the other two piles, and you have to play a certain number of cards from your hand each turn before you're allowed to draw more. Sound simple? It is, but winning doesn't come easy.
Every card you play matters, and a single misstep can throw off your chances of achieving a perfect game. There are also tons of difficulty tweaks you can make to keep things fresh. It's kind of like Solitaire on steroids. Easy to learn, but tough to master.
These are two different games from the same publisher, Fantasy Flight Games, but I've put them together because they have fairly similar mechanics. You play as an investigator, or team of investigators, that's trying to keep nasty Lovecraftian monsters from destroying the city or the entire world. Investigator characters have different characteristics, stats, and skills, and each investigator has their own inventory of useful items to fight off the nasty things.
In a nutshell, Eldritch Horror is about globetrotting investigators instead of local investigators and a little more refined than Arkham in terms of mechanics. So it just depends on what sounds more appealing to you. Both games, however, have fantastic expansions to sink your teeth into.
If you're hankering for some tabletop RPG action, but don't have a group to play with, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is for you. You're given a unique character that has a specific deck of cards and stats. You can be a fighter, wizard, rogue, etc., and as you play you'll get to find some tasty, tasty loot.
The game plays like an RPG adventure module with characters, locations, and quests. You'll acquire allies and gear to customise your character's deck and become the character you want to be. Everything you need to get started comes in the base set, but there are also expansions and extra Adventure Decks to continue your character's quest for glory.
Legendary Encounters: Alien is a deck building game that has you constructing the best deck of cards you can in order to take on scenarios from all four films of the Alien franchise. You'll be battling face-huggers and other Xenomorphs with characters like Ripley, Dallas, and Bishop, as well as using familiar equipment in familiar locations.
In Mage Knight, you're a, well, a Mage Knight that explores an ever-changing world, builds armies, fights enemies, and conquers cities. No two games, or board layouts, are ever quite the same, and you must make tough decisions as you go on adventures, cast spells, and become a powerful leader.
Word to the wise, learning to play Mage Knight is no walk in the park. It's what many tabletop enthusiasts would call "heavy" or "hardcore." You'll definitely need to spend some time reading the rulebook, and your first game will probably move along pretty slowly. That said, when you get the hang of things, it's one of the most rewarding and highly-recommended solo experiences out there.
Keep in mind, these are all just suggestions. There are a ton of other games out there that are great solo, and there's no way they could all fit on this list. Notable games that are missing, but are worth checking out, include Star Realms, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Ghost Stories, Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game, Elder Sign and many others. If you're looking for more recommendations, check out these great lists for the top 100 solo games of 2014 and top 100 solo games of 2015 from Boardgamegeek.com.