Solo Gaming in the Time of Covid-19

I started doing a lot of solo gaming when my oldest son (and chief gamer buddy) left for college in August 2019. Even with him home during this extended time of quarantine, I’ve still been playing solo games. And with him returning to campus a couple of weeks ago, the solo gaming has picked up again.

I know, I know – there are plenty of board game apps on iOS and Steam… and I own many of them. But there’s something really satisfying about physically playing a game: shuffling cards, moving pieces, seeing it all spread out in front of you. 

And, because I’m “that guy”, I crunched the numbers and found that 20%+ of my gaming this year was solo (compared to 6% last year). I expect that number to rise this fall.

So, what follows are my thoughts on a variety of solo games I’ve played over the last 8 months – ordered by number of solo plays in 2020. (Note: this is not necessarily how much I like a particular game for solo play – for example, I think Nemo’s War is a brilliant design but only played it twice this year… so far.)

Oh My Goods! (15 plays)

Solo play requires the Longsdale in Revolt expansion… but there are some clever things going on in this tricky little card game. I’m still looking for an affordable copy of the second expansion (which has more scenarios for solo play). Oh My Goods ranks up with Friday and Palm Island for the best games for solo play in small places (like hotel room desks).

NEOM (14 plays)

I love this multi-player game that mixes city-building and 7 Wonders-ish drafting… and the solo game manages to capture most of that feeling through the clever use of “packets” of tiles. I typically play 2-3 games of this at a shot… since once you’ve got it laid out, it’s easy to reset and try again. I’ve defaulted to play with all the tiles in, which offers more variety and some interesting decisions since you know that you can (sometimes) wait for the tile you need.

Dice Settlers (9 plays)

I bought this from a friend (hi, Janna!) primarily for solo play – and while I’m still having to fiddle a bit with the scoring numbers to make the AI competitive, it actually flows really well as a “big” solo game. I was pleasantly surprised that it works well as a 2-3 player game too. I managed to find a copy of the Western Sea expansion – which really ups the variety and makes the solo game more compelling.

Super-Skill Pinball: 4-Cade (9 plays)

I blogged about this earlier this spring at the Opinionated Gamers site… and Dale just posted a review as well. This is a really great roll’n’write design that was very enjoyable solo and multi-player. I think the best table is Dragonslayer, though Cyberhack is really close. (Note: I helped proofread the rules for this game prior to publication.)

Terraforming Mars (9 plays)

One of my birthday gifts this year was a copy of Terraforming Mars… and I quickly discovered a thriving community of folks on BGG who love this game as a solo exercise. I don’t own all the expansions… but I think the best solo configuration for me (so far) uses just Prelude. My win rate is about 50%, which seems right for this style of game.

Expedition to Newdale (7 plays)

Another birthday present… and like Terraforming Mars, a multi-player game that works surprisingly well as a solo adventure. This is Oh My Goods: The Board Game… which is a very good thing. I’m about ½ way through the solo campaign and look forward to the new twists that are added each new scenario. (Note: my play of Oh My Goods fell off once I acquired Newdale – I think the board & the game structure are more sophisticated.)

7 Wonders Duel (5 plays)

The nice folks at Repos Games created an interesting AI for solo play this spring… with five different “characters” for you to challenge. The structure reminded me a bit of the original analog Race for the Galaxy solo AIs in the way that they attacked the game system in particular ways that made it difficult for you to win. More of a solitaire puzzle in the 7 Wonders universe, but enjoyable.

Friday (5 plays)

Friedemann’s wacky deck-builder about keeping Robinson Crusoe alive is still one of the best 1 player games out there. I can’t recommend it highly enough. (It was on my Top 50 games list earlier this year.)

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale (4 plays)

An incredibly pleasant flip’n’write game that works like a charm as a solo game… and will also work well as a “over Facetime/Zoom” game if you use the solo rules for monster attacks.The Skills mini-expansion adds another level of decision-making that works well. I’m glad the game is in my collection… and I’m looking forward to the Kickstarter for the stand-alone expansion (Cartographer: Heroes), which is going to also include new map sets!

Dungeon Alliance (4 plays)

For me, Dungeon Alliance solo with the Adventure Packs (a very creative expansion idea) is substantially more enjoyable than the still very good Mage Knight Board Game. For starters, it’s a four game campaign… and then there’s the mixture of characters and storyline that feel like you’ve been dropped into the middle of the story. 

Palm Island (4 plays) 

This is a weird little deck-builder[?] that I’m not sure entirely works… you hold your entire deck in your hand (17 cards) and flip and turn cards based on resources on the cards. It’s kind of fiddly and I’m not sure I know how to get a better score… yet I keep playing it.

It’s a Wonderful World (3 plays)

Another birthday present, another card-drafting game, another wise use of “packets” to make the drafting game work solo. The provided solo scenarios add challenge… I need to pull this one back out and try to conquer them.

Marvel Champions: The Card Game (3 plays)

While Fantasy Flight struggled to get the hero and villain packs in the early part of the lockdown, that seems to have improved. I love the really straightforward design of the game and the way it captures the theme. I tend to play 2 heroes when playing solo – though the game is designed to play with a single hero. For those who’ve played other LCGs (Living Card Games), this is less complicated than any of the others… some would say “dumbed down”. (Sigh.) I find it the easiest to play and teach, due to clear card wording, distinctive superhero graphics, and card design that is relatively easy to read across the table.

Roll for Adventure (3 plays)

A recent co-op game from Kosmos with built-in expansions to increase the difficulty/change the puzzle. It’s a dice-driven push-your-luck game with a fantasy theme draped over it. I typically play solo with two random characters. (BTW, solo or multi-player, I like this game much better with 2-3 players/characters than with 4… it feels like the game plays you with four players.)

Seafall (3 plays)

I took advantage of an excellent Amazon sale to pick up a copy of Seafall to play through the game solo. It is NOT a solo game – but I’m playing all five provinces and just enjoying the chaos and the story. (Note: My boys and I were playtesters on the earliest versions of the Seafall prototype.)

The Pursuit of Happiness (3 plays)

I continue to adore this gamer-friendly version of The Game of Life… and the newest expansion arriving required me to pull it out and play both multi-player and solo. The solo mode is well-thought-out.. players must beat a particular long-term happiness score as well as complete 3 life goals – which can be challenging. (The new expansion and the various Kickstarter extras just continue to add content and variety to this robust system… the delight of creating a life story is a lot of fun.) You can read my original review here.

Clank: A Deck-Building Adventure (2 plays)

Personal take: the Clank! In! Space! solo campaign on the app is more interesting than the one-off solo mode for Clank… but both are enjoyable. Then again, the Clank system is beloved in our house and I get plenty of chances to play multi-player.

Desolate (2 plays)

A print’n’play space survival game… the files are now free from PNP Arcade. It’s a lot of inkjet ink for a pretty straightforward solo game. I like it best with the two expansions thrown in – I think there’s more decision-making involved and it’s easier to set the difficulty level using the characters.

Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy (2 plays)

While I enjoy the multi-player game, I found both versions of the solo game (standard and The Testament) to be overly fiddly and not particularly interesting. 

Nemo’s War (2 plays)

The other solo game that was in my Top 50 games list… it manages to blend Euro mechanics and old-school wargame elements along with a compelling theme. On top of that, the various objectives change the game and how you play by just changing the scoring to reflect Nemo’s vision of a “better” world.

Roll Player (2 plays)

One of two “RPG character creation” board games from last year (the other is Call to Adventure)… but with the Monsters & Minions  expansion added in, Roll Player is the best choice for solo play. (In fact, I think this is one of the “required” expansions for multi-player play as well… it offers more variety and more options for players on their turn. Most importantly, it gives the game an ending via fighting the big boss that is much more satisfying than “hey, look – I built a character”.) The Fiends & Familiars expansion is also quite good.

Unbroken (2 plays)

Not related in any way to the excellent WWII biography… this fantasy survival game has nice production (for a solo game) and is in the same vein game-wise as the aforementioned Desolate: make decisions on what to face, press your luck, and try not to run out of supplies. It works… but I wonder if I’ll be played out on it after 5+ plays. (Note: I’ve only played it twice and haven’t brought it back to the table in 4+ months.)

51st State: Master Set (1 play)

As much as I love this game, I really detest the solo version – it pretty much kills what I like about the game. (That said, really looking forward to getting this back in rotation soon as a multi-player game.)

Call to Adventure (1 play)

The rules for solo and cooperative play feel rushed and tacked on – which is disappointing, as I really enjoy this character-building/story-telling game with multiple players.

Monster Lands (1 play)

The basic game is pretty fiddly… but I give it that for the fun it creates. The solo game is just fiddly, which is sad.

Nations: The Dice Game (1 play)

I’d rather play this with more players… but the solo game works well. If I didn’t have a number of better options (see above), this would hit the solo table more often.

Fresco (1 play)

I made an unbelievably unsuccessful attempt to create an AI to play Fresco against. Lots of work but no fun to play. Youch.

Sauerbaum (1 play)

This is THE original co-op game… it actually won a special Spiel des Jahres recognition as a cooperative game back in 1988. The problem is that I never feel like I have much control of the game.

Star Wars: Outer Rim (1 play)

My oldest son and I both love playing this dive into the Star Wars universe – it’s a pick up & deliver game with copious thematic elements. The game comes with a solo AI card deck that works… but it isn’t a particularly compelling way to play. I’m not likely to solo this one again – but it will hit the table as a multi-player.

Under Falling Skies: A 9-Card Print-and-Play Game (1 play)

In anticipation of the CGE release of this game, I printed my own copy to get a feel for it. I like the ideas but am hoping that CGE will clean up the rules & graphics to make it easier to grok. (Historically, they’ve done a great job with stuff like that, so I’m excited to see the release later this year.)

Games I Own That Still Need to Come Out to (Solo) Play

  • Adrenaline (CGE published a solo variant)
  • Agricola with Farmers of the Moor
  • Hotshots
  • Sanctum (CGE published a solo variant)
  • Space Cadets: Away Missions
  • The 7th Continent
  • The Colonists

Recommendations

Thinking about buying and/or trading for some new games based on my post (and how long you’re likely to be practicing physical distancing)?

If you’re new to solo gaming, I’d suggest Cartographers, Super-Skill Pinball, and Friday. For those with a bit more gaming under their belts, I’d go with Nemo’s War, Terraforming Mars, Expedition to Newdale (board game version of Oh My Goods), and NEOM. 

This post is based on a blog post I wrote for my personal blog back in April 2020.

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 44 as he did at age 14
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4 Responses to Solo Gaming in the Time of Covid-19

  1. bertybobby says:

    Check out Spirit Island for excellent solo play.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation… but my read-through of the rules left me cold. (It’s not the publisher – I adore Sentinels of the Multiverse.)

  3. Luke Ray says:

    A Feast for Odin

  4. seisyll says:

    Sweet! I recently played the Longsdale in Revolt campaign and had a jolly time. Also been dabbling with solo Roll Player + Fiends and Familiars, which has been cool.

    Friday (and Finished by the same designer) really only held me for 5-10 games before I felt that there wasn’t a new experience there I wanted to repeat. (This isn’t a criticism – they are definite upgrades to the blockbuster solo hit Klondike.) I do like playing solo Jump Drive sometimes if I just want to chill.

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