Solo Gaming 2021: 8 Months In

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 second solo gaming post of this new year – the first is available at the Opinionated Gamers link in the paragraph above! 

And even though I have (since being vaccinated) been out playing games with friends, there’s still been a LOT more solo gameplay over the past eight months – 37% 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 eight months – ordered by number of times I’ve played them in 2021. (Note: this is not necessarily how much I like a particular game for solo play – for example, I think Roll Player is a brilliant design but I have only played it two times this year… so far.)

The Twelve Solo Games I’ve Played the Most Times in 2021

Originally, this section was supposed to be the top ten… but 10th place is tied with three different games at 6 plays each.

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 for the Opinionated Gamers.) 

Imperium: Classics/Legends (11 plays – approx. playing time: 85 minutes)

My birthday this June was filled with goodness from Osprey Games… including what looks like will be my favorite new game of 2021. Want more detail? I wrote an extensive review for the OG last month!

One of the things that caused me to put the Imperium boxes on my birthday list was the promise of a robust solo play system – and David Turczi (who is specifically credited on the cover of the solo play rulebook) delivered.

Each civilization has its own AI set of tables. Five slots are set up and numbered (with provided cardboard counters).The die included in the game (only used for solo play) is rolled and that eliminates one of the slots (or doesn’t – sixes are not a friendly roll in solo play)… and then the remaining cards are revealed and dealt with in order. Impressively, each AI civilization retains a good bit of its character… for example, Egypt accumulates materials in the early going, uses them to attract hordes of population, and then, if conditions are right, converts those masses into Progress. 

In the meantime, the player civilization is running by the exact same rules as the multiplayer game – allowing you to learn the ins and outs of the various decks as well as consider different tactical and strategic decisions.

There is also a simple way to vary the difficulty of solo play… and even a campaign mode in the solo rulebook.

My only complaints about solo play? Putting the charts for resolving the AI behavior in the rulebook rather than providing them as large cards. Thankfully, a BGG user (props to DocZagreus!) has taken it upon themselves to fix this problem and posted files that do just that. The other issue is that the Qin charts needed to be changed – and the files I just linked to have the changes needed!

Terraforming Mars (11 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. (The arrival of the Big Box expansion makes it even more enjoyable… there’s just something magical about 3D terrain rising from the Martian surface!)

CloudAge (10 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).

As I predicted back in April, I’ve started the solo campaign again… like I wrote four months ago,  a few surprises are gone but the game still retains a high level of replayability. (And it’s kicking my butt right now.)

Hadrian’s Wall (10 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

I wrote a positive solo review for the OG back in May of this flip’n’write game. I’m intrigued by the choices I have as a player and the myriad pathways you can attempt in your quest for accolades and glory. After the first couple of plays that ran about 60-70 minutes, I’m now (just finished game #8 last night) knocking out games in about 35-40 minutes.

The same kinds of resource management issues that draw me into games like Terraforming Mars, Oh My Goods (and it’s cousin, Expedition to Newdale), and Empires of the North are an integral part of Hadrian’s Wall as well. (I’m not saying it’s just like those games or “if you love TM, you’ll love HW”.) These kinds of decisions make for solid solo designs – and Hadrian’s Wall has a lot of them.

In addition, the set-up/tear-down time (due to the flip-n-write design) is minimal, meaning a large chunk of your time is spent actually playing the game. And it has a relatively small table footprint, which means it will work well in my travel kit when I’m stuck in a hotel and need something to play on a less-than-roomy hotel desk.

Finally, it’s always a good sign when you’ve played a game 8 times before reviewing and still get a couple of more plays in after that.

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.

Fine Sand (8 plays – approx. playing time: 15 minutes)

My younger son & I found an inexpensive copy of Friedemann’s weird little deck deconstructing game at a board game flea market… and in addition to playing the game itself, I worked my way through a solo campaign (unsuccessfully, I might add). I think, like many of Friedemann’s designs, the clever outweighs the enjoyable, but it’s short and easy to play while watching TV sporting events. (Note: Friday, also by Friedemann, is one of the best small box solo games out there.)

Lost Ruins of Arnak (7 plays – approx. playing time: 40 minutes)

My pick for Kennerspiel this year was this fantastic multiplayer game of adventure… chockful 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.

And then earlier this year, they released the long-promised solo campaign – a 4-game series with interesting rules twists and an online app (which I had some struggles with, so I resorted to printing out the files and building myself a paper set.)

Minigolf Designer (7 plays – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)

I liked the 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.

Dune: Imperium (6  plays – approx. playing time: 65 minutes)

I’m not really a Dune fan – oh, yeah, I read the first three novels back in high school (late 70s/early 80s) like every well-behaved sci-fi/fantasy nerd – but it was never a world or story that captured my imagination. And, yes, since I’ve been a gamer for a very long time, I actually owned the AH version of Dune (aka “Cosmic Encounter meets the Spice Worm”).

Fast forward to 2020/21 and all the hype about the upcoming Dune film… and just enough people said nice things about Dune: Imperium to get me to take a chance on it. 

And – wow! – it was worth it. Much like Lost Ruins of Arnak, Dune: Imperium blends deck-building and worker placement to evoke the feel of the novels/film in an incredibly playable format. Particularly for solo players, the solo deck works like a charm – and Dire Wolf also posted a free app to automate the solo process.

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).

Wildlands (6 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.

Games Played Less Than Six Times (so far!) in 2021

Era: Medieval Age (5 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)

I found an incredible deal on this Matt Leacock 3D design (and the expansion)… and didn’t really think about the solo mode until it arrived. It’s actually a lot of fun – and it’s just stinkin’ cool to build your city, especially when you add the rivers and roads.

Note: I haven’t seen it as cheap again – so this isn’t really an impulse buy, but I’m glad it’s in my collection.

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

As a member of the IGA (International Gamer Awards) jury this year, this newest outing from Uwe Rosenberg went onto my “need to play” list… and a positive review from our Grand Poobah here at the OG (thanks, Dale!) encouraged me to pick up my own copy.

Which turned out to be a great choice, as I’ve played it solo five times in less than 3 weeks. While it covers some familiar Uwe territory (farming, resource exchange, worker placement, plethora of cards), it feels different than Agricola or Caverna.

While I’m looking forward to playing this game multiplayer, I think it’s an excellent addition to my solo gaming stable.

Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North (5 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 is not enjoyable and it hasn’t seen much play in the last couple of years. (Note: very excited about the Moloch expansion deck that just came out.)

This frustration led me to Empires of the North, the cleaner, friendlier, and more coherently put together cousin to 51st State and Imperial Settlers. The 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.)

Monster Expedition (5 plays – approx. playing time: 10 minutes)

I’ve been on a bit of an Alexander Pfister kick in the last couple of years… and this fantasy-themed dice game (which has some similarities to Knizia’s Pickomonino) has been a hit with friends as a good opener/closer. (I’d also like to say nice things about Carnival of Monsters, a drafting game set in the same fantasy universe designed by Richard Garfield.)

Monster Expedition also has a series of solo puzzles – which, while not a perfect solo game, do make for a good little filler when you’ve got a few minutes to play.

Parks (5 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 – including the time pressure and the need to use your campfire power wisely.

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

Nemo’s War (4 plays – approx. playing time: 70 minutes)

This solo game remains 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 most recent game as Nemo the Anti-Imperialist resulted in a lot of sunken ships but too much damage to the Nautilus – and failure.

And, yes, I’m waiting breathlessly for the Journey’s End expansion later this year.

Proving Grounds (4 plays – approx. playing time: 20 minutes)

Another board game flea market find… a real time solo dice game with decent puzzle potential. (Again, the Poobah reviewed it back when it first appeared.) It hasn’t come out as much as I’d expected, but is a solid game in this genre.

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (4 plays – approx. playing time: 70 minutes)

The much-discussed card game version of the board game hit Terraforming Mars – which, quite honestly, really does feel and play like you crossed Race for the Galaxy with TM. It’s a competent solo game that doesn’t take up nearly as much table space as its big brother… and I appreciate them upping the quality/consistency of the artwork. That said, I’d rather be playing the original game with my 3D pieces.

Trails of Tucana (4 plays – approx. playing time: 20 minutes)

A really lovely little flip-n-write route building game that I found courtesy of a Twitter friend (hi, Daniel!)… and in just a few weeks, I’ve played it both solo and multiplayer. Less rules overhead than Cartographers, but with the same “make the best of what you get” vibe. I look forward to playing this one a good bit more.

Dungeon Alliance (3 plays – approx. playing time: 150 minutes)

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. There’s deck-building, there’s crunchy puzzle-solving, there are quests to undertake… and an underlying plot/narrative that bubbles to the surface and helps hold it all together.

I’m currently nearing the end of a VERY successful campaign using the third adventure pack… Krom & his half-brother the paladin make a pretty effective team!

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.)

Flip City (2 plays – approx. playing time: 20 minutes)

Tight little deck-building/deconstructing game that ends up being just this side of too abstract.

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.

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 a solid space epic/worker placement multiplayer game AND as an excellent solo game, thanks to a deck mechanic similar to Dungeon Alliance.

Non-solitaire note: I had the opportunity to play a three player game earlier this summer… and it was excellent. I can’t wait for my “real” copy to arrive!

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.

I think I might play this more solo if my younger son and his friends didn’t love it – thanks to them, I get it to the table more often with multiple players.

Palm Island (1 play – approx. playing time: 20 minutes) 

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.

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.

Games I Played That I Would Not Recommend For Solo Play

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.

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

Too fiddly and too processional to make for an interesting solo game.

Reavers of Midgard (1 play – approx. playing time: 75minutes)

Played using a homebrew solo mod from BGG… while I love the multiplayer game, I don’t think there’s an adequate way to make this one an enjoyable solo game.

Recommendations

Thinking about buying and/or trading for some new games based on my post?

If you’re new to solo gaming, I’d suggest:

  • Cartographers
  • Super-Skill Pinball
  • Warp’s Edge
  • Friday
  • Trails of Tucana

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
  • Imperium Classics/Legends
  • Dune: Imperium
  • NEOM

Note: I received review copies of Hadrian’s Wall, Core Worlds: Empires, the Core Worlds Nemesis deck, Embarcadero, 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
This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Solo Gaming 2021: 8 Months In

  1. Mark, you made me start a Google Doc….

  2. Brian says:

    Totally agree with regards to Dungeon Alliance. Has moved into being my favorite board game passing Agricola last year. I feel I have more control over the game outcome than I do with Mage Knight. MK is still very good but I would rather play it multi-player than solo. The deck building in DA needs to be used more out in the wild. Deck builders need more control. The adventure packs are almost a required add on. The amount of additional material they add is great.

    Highly recommended and a great choice.

    There is a better Small World solo variant out there. DoW also messed up the 5 Tribes one, thankfully there is a better one for that one too.

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