Solo Gaming 2021: The First Four Months

I’ve written a good bit about my solo gaming over the last couple of years, both for the Opinionated Gamers and for my personal blog

…so I decided that I’d continue that trend into 2021 by doing a solo gaming post every four months. What you’re reading is the first solo gaming post of this new year – which is, for all but the last week or so of March, before your intrepid writer got his first vaccine shot. 

Interestingly, there’s been a LOT more solo gameplay over the past 90 days – almost 45% of my gaming was solo. For comparison, the yearly total for 2020 was 19% and for 2019 was 6%. 

I’ll repeat my same caveat as each previous report:

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. 

So, what follows are my thoughts on a variety of solo games I’ve played over the past three months – ordered by number of solo plays. (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 two times this year… so far.)

It’s a Wonderful World (12 plays – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

You get four pairs of five-card “packets” (with the option to discard 2 cards in order to look at five & keep one)… which makes for a great solo version of this card-drafting game. This excellent game was augmented early in 2021 by the release of the Corruption & Ascension expansion as well as the War or Peace and Leisure & Decadence campaign boxes. My younger son & I played through both campaigns… and then I played through the same campaigns (5 games each) solo. (I wrote a review of the new expansions last week for the Opinionated Gamers.) I fully expect this to reach 20+ solo plays by mid-summer.

Tiny Towns (10 plays – approx. playing time: 15 minutes)

This Christmas present was on my wishlist in hopes that my wife might enjoy it… well, I haven’t got her to play it (yet!), but I’ve become intrigued by playing it solo. It’s short, the puzzle is interesting, and I love the chunky wooden pieces. I went ahead and picked up the expansions when I found them on sale… and they add some nice twists to the decision-making.

CloudAge (7 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

I played solo through the entire CloudAge campaign in a couple of weeks after buying this one with some extra Christmas money. Pfister has traveled these waters before – creating a solid game engine intertwined with an ongoing solo campaign that drips new cards and objectives into the system. 

The solo game (and campaign) are similar in design to the multiplayer game – with a small solo action board helping “simulate” the additional actions other players might take that would affect your decisions. Having multiple missions to deal with forces you in certain directions… or, sometimes, you just choose to go your own way and take your lumps. 

Solo campaigns are scored in a similar way to multiplayer campaigns – you receive a number of stars per chapter based on your point score. However, any missions you do not manage to completely fulfill cost you a star. A campaign win is 30 stars (out of a possible 37).

I’m likely to play the campaign again in six months or so… a few surprises will be gone but the game still retains a high level of replayability.

Oh My Goods! (6 plays – approx. playing time: 25 minutes)

Solo play requires the Longsdale in Revolt expansion… but there are some clever things going on in this tricky little card game. I received the Escape From Canyon Brook expansion for Christmas – which adds more story and more campaign. Oh My Goods ranks up with Friday and Palm Island for the best games for solo play in small places (like hotel room desks).

Hadrian’s Wall (5 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

I’m currently working on a full review of Hadrian’s Wall as a solo game – it will be published later this week here on the OG. While the two-page layout of this flip-n-write game is intimidating at first glance, it actually has a solid theme and an interesting variety of paths to success at building your part of the famed Roman wall. 

Terraforming Mars (5 plays – approx. playing time: 70 minutes)

One of my birthday gifts last 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 now 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. (Of course, I’m waiting on pins & needles for my big box expansion with the cool molded tiles.)

Wildlands (5 plays – approx. playing time: 35 minutes)

The expansion for Wildlands (an excellent card-driven miniatures skirmish game) that implements cooperative and solo plays – The Ancients – finally released early this year. It introduces a new group of ancient shard-obsessed bad guys who can be played as a team (in a multiplayer game) or used as the Big Bad in a solo or cooperative game. The AI for the Ancients is well-built… they take mostly reasonable actions and act as a continual hindrance on the player(s). I’ve played against all five baddies – winning a couple of games by the skin of my teeth. If you’re a fan of the original game, I highly recommend this expansion.

Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North (4 plays – approx. playing time: 40 minutes)

While I’m a big fan of 51st State: Master Set, the dark apocalyptic tone makes it a little tough to get to the table sometimes. Add that the solo module for it not enjoyable and it hasn’t seen much play in the last couple of years. (Note: very excited about the Moloch expansion deck coming this summer.)

This frustration led me to Empires of the North, the cleaner, friendlier, and more coherently put together cousin to 51st State and Imperial Settlers. Two player is quite enjoyable… and so is the well-thought out solo mode. (And the plethora of expansions just means you have lots of options in how to try each solo scenario.)

Minigolf Designer (4 plays – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

I liked this look of this game – a tile-layer with a strong theme of building a miniature golf course – but once I finally scared up a copy, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the puzzle of the gameplay. In a multiplayer game, tiles are drafted in a similar manner to Kingdomino… while in the solo game, the player picks two tiles and places one of them. Both the solo game and the multiplayer game are fun – they are slightly heavier than Carcassonne with a greater variety of scoring decisions.

Parks (4 plays – approx. playing time: 35 minutes)

The production quality on Parks is top-notch… but so is the solo gameplay. They’ve designed a nice AI that forces similar difficult decisions as the multiplayer game. 

I like the Nightfall expansion – especially the new way of getting bonus point cards – but I’ve only managed to play it once as a solo.

Civilization: A New Dawn (2 plays – approx. playing time: 150 minutes)

My younger son is a big Civilization computer game fan – so I hoped I could get him to join me in the newest version from FFG. I think the action system is really interesting and keeps players from over-focusing on one particular element of developing their civ – which may be a good tactical play but isn’t interesting to play against.

However, once we added the expansion, my son has showed less interest – so I’ve been using the solo AI rules developed by FFG and adapted for the expansion by Stahre on BoardGameGeek. It’s long… but the AI is smart and plays a tough game.

Core Worlds (2 plays – approx. playing time: 60 minutes)

Part of the Core Worlds: Empires Kickstarter earlier this year was the Nemesis deck expansion for the original Core Worlds game… and it is a very solid solo AI that (so far) has pounded me pretty hard. (Nice touch: the deck is set up to vary difficulty and work with any combination of the original expansions.)

Lost Ruins of Arnak (3 plays – approx. playing time: 40 minutes)

My pick for Kennerspiel this year is a fantastic multiplayer game of adventure… with a myriad of pathways to win. The solo module (included in the game) works like a charm… and CGE even posted an update to that module that adds increased difficulty and challenge. For variety, you can even play on the more difficult Snake Temple side of the board.

Nemo’s War (2 plays – approx. playing time: 70 minutes)

This solo game is 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. My last game seemed like a cakewalk – but that’s because I wasn’t pushing hard enough to accomplish Nemo’s goals – and I ended a single point short of avoiding failure.

NEOM (2 plays – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

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.

Roll Player (2 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

One of two “RPG character creation” board games I acquired in 2019 (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 multiplayer 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 – it adds some complications but builds on the good ideas in the M&M expansion.

Small World (2 plays – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

Sadly, the Small World solo variant published online by Days of Wonder is, well, not wonderful. It just kind of sits there. I played the rules wrong the first time so I tried it again… and it just wasn’t that interesting.

The Few and Cursed (2 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes) 

I love the graphic novel Deadlands & Jonah Hex (the comic, not the awful film) vibe of The Few and Cursed… but the rulebook is a mess and the solo game – even after trying two different scenarios – wasn’t particularly interesting.

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale (1 play – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

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… adding a set of colored pencils makes my maps look even better!

Core Worlds: Empires (1 play – approx. playing time: 120 minutes)

I had the privilege of playtesting Andrew Parks’ newest design, a board game set in the Core Worlds universe. It’s coming later this year and is well worth your time to look at both as solid space epic/worker placement multiplayer game AND as an excellent solo game, thanks to a deck mechanic similar to Dungeon Alliance.

Dice Settlers (1 play – approx. playing time: 60 minutes)

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.

Marvel Champions: The Card Game (1 play – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

I still 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.

Tip: there’s a great site with deck “recipes” (https://marvelcdb.com/) – I particularly recommend the Captain America Stun Lock 2.0 deck if you’re going to play Steve Rogers by himself.

Warp’s Edge (1 play – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

Warp’s Edge is a bag-builder space combat game that is designed for solo play. So far, I do pretty well against the weaker motherships… but the higher rated ones turn me to space dust. I wrote a review of Warp’s Edge on the Opinionated Gamers website late last year.

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, Warp’s Edge, and Friday. For those with a bit more gaming under their belts, I’d go with It’s a Wonderful World, CloudAge, Lost Ruins of Arnak, Nemo’s War, Terraforming Mars, Under Falling Skies, Expedition to Newdale (board game version of Oh My Goods), and NEOM. 

Note: I received review copies of Hadrian’s Wall, Core Worlds: Empires, the Core Worlds Nemesis deck, and Warp’s Edge.

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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3 Responses to Solo Gaming 2021: The First Four Months

  1. Lisa Medley says:

    Thanks for the advice. I haven’t really ventured into solo play, but I may have to since my family just doesn’t play with me nearly as much as I want to. I really liked Terraforming Mars the two times I played it with friends. I may try that one solo si ce fee want to put I. The four+ hours it takes.

    • Kosteri x says:

      Since Solo became a thing around 2017 or so and became big in 2020, I tried a few solo games but I’m still hesitant and find it not addictive UNLESS it has short setup, and is not fiddly.

      The good thing about solo games is that they’re usually very cheap and easy to build. For example, the Tzolk’in AI consists of just 3 pages of A4. Also good is that if they’re not addons but standalones, like Dungeon Flee, DNGN, One Card Dungeon, Under Falling Skies, Build a Cure, and golden oldies like Friday, One Deck Dungeon, are all small boxes that easily can be shelved again.

      It’s sad really, when I set up any game, I’m impressed, and full of admiration, then I play, shelve it, and forget about it. Last happened with Sleeping Gods. Labeled everything and played for 3-4 hours on end, boxed it up and haven’t touched since.

      I really should stop building/buying games…

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