…so I decided that I’d continue that trend into 2022 by doing a solo gaming post every four months. What you’re reading is the first solo gaming post of this new year – the 2021 end of year review is available at the Opinionated Gamers link in the paragraph above!
And even though I have (since being vaccinated & boosted) been out playing games with friends, there’s still been a LOT of solo gameplay over the past few months – 30% of my gaming was solo. For comparison, the yearly total for 2021 was 33%, 2020 was 19%, and 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.
I’d also add that board game apps must – for perfectly understandable reasons – hide portions of the game from you. One of the delights of a physical game is that the whole thing is spread out across the table where you can soak in whatever details you need. This is true, BTW, for solo or multi-player play. (Example: I’m enjoying the Maracaibo iOS app a lot right now – but “seeing” the game status is really tricky between the various sideboards which I have to remember to access and check.)
So, what follows are my thoughts on a variety of solo games I’ve played in the first four months of 2022 – ordered by number of times I’ve played them. (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 I have only played it once this year – so far!)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (5 plays – approx. playing time: 75 minutes)
This specifically solo game design from Daryl Andrews & Morgan Dontanville was a Kickstarter that arrived early this year… and I played one game to figure out how many rules I’d misplayed (more than I’d like it to admit) and then a four game campaign (which I won, even though things looked really dice-y near the end of the second book/game.
I’d put The Dark Knight Returns in the same complexity range as the Pandemic Legacy games – while the rules are clear and filled with examples to make learning easier (particularly with the combat system), there are a lot of plates to keep spinning as you play – a Doomsday Clock that ticks toward Armageddon; Batman’s Grit, Health, and Sanity; the number of riots that have broken out in Gotham; and successfully finding and defeating the villain in each game (Two-Face, Mutant Leader, the Joker, and – spoiler alert – Superman) before time runs out.
This means that the best audience for this game are folks who (a) have read and enjoyed The Dark Knight Returns, AND (b) enjoy learning and playing relatively complex board games. (I count myself a part of both groups.)
I’m looking forward to playing through the campaign again sometime in the next couple of months… and I’m working on a review for this website!
For What Remains: Streets of Ruin (5 plays – approx. playing time: 40 minutes)
My oldest son played a game of this solo/2 player skirmish game with me and quickly declared that it felt like playing the X-COM video game. Having never played X-COM (the video game), I just have to trust him.
For me, I really like the immersive storyline/background of a world struggling to contain the breach opened up to The Basement (another dimension) by underground nuclear testing… and the inevitable battles between factions that make up the three stand-alone boxes of the For What Remains game system.
I also that the chit-pull system for activation works brilliantly here – and the solo system makes solid decisions for your opponent and challenges you to think tactically in order to survive. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the mythology and play styles as you can choose between the six different factions, each with their strengths and weaknesses.
Designer David Thompson has really shown up on my radar in the last few years – what with this game, the Undaunted system, War Chest, and my old favorite, Armageddon from Queen Games.
It’s A Wonderful Kingdom (5 plays – approx. playing time: 30 minutes)
This solo/2 player card drafting game is a stand-alone cousin to It’s a Wonderful World… but uses a “you cut/I choose” mechanic in the 2 player game which is morphed into a press-your-luck mechanic in the solo mode.
It’s a game that rewards multiple plays, as it is swingier than Wonderful World and learning how to ride the development wave is a bit trickier. The different modes all work well – but I think I’m partial to Advisors or Conquest for solo play.
I wrote a pretty extensive review of the game for Opinionated Gamers earlier this year.
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale (4 plays – 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!
I’ll also throw in kind words for the Heroes stand-alone expansion & the three new map packs (which were all under the tree for me this last Christmas)… they add some variety to the game without overly complicating the system. (And three more map packs have been teased by the publisher for this summer!)
Dune: Imperium (4 plays – approx. playing time: 70 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.
The addition early this year of the Rise of Ix expansion just added to the fun – I like the new variety of cards and technologies… and it feels like the AI is even stronger with this mix of choices.
Roll Player (4 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.
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!). 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.
I have had the chance to play with the Ferry expansion maps now, and they add a couple of small twists without doing any damage to the very solid base game.
Undaunted: Normandy (4 plays – approx. playing time: 40 minutes)
One of the last Christmas boxes to arrive in 2021 was a copy of Undaunted: Reinforcements… the expansion that offers extra units, new scenarios, 2 vs 2 play, and – most importantly for this recap – solo play. The AI is smart and keeps me on my toes… and while it takes a minute to figure out how to set up and run, it’s worth the time. I’ve been slowly working my way through the Normandy campaign and enjoying each time it hits the table.
Wreckland Run (4 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)
The newest game in the Renegade Solo Series was on Kickstarter earlier this year (weirdly enough, at the same time as Restoration Games thematically-related reboot of Thunder Road). In my preview here on the Opinionated Gamers, I described it as “a tower defense game… if the tower was barreling down a dirt road at 60+ mph while being fired upon by the cast of all four Mad Max movies and a couple of scary refugees from a Michael Bay film.” That just about covers it for this dice-allocation game/campaign.
I liked it enough that I went ahead and backed it so I could have a production copy.
Xia: Legends of a Drift System (4 plays – approx. playing time: 120 minutes)
Xia is a sprawling nutty over-the-top wonderful mess of a space exploration/trade/piracy game… and the system for solo play is very enjoyable. It’s not for the faint of heart – a full 20 point game can last 2-2.5 hours for solo play & cover most of my gaming table with pieces & cards. (I think it’s much better solo than the similar Star Wars: Outer Rim – and much more open world than Outer Rim.)
Late last year, I started the solo campaign… and I’m having a blast with it. So far, I’ve accomplished 2 of the 10 objectives and still have a positive score… but I’m guessing it will take another 10-15 games for me to finish the campaign. I’m up for that.
Lost Ruins of Arnak (3 plays – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)
My pick for Kennerspiel last year was this fantastic multiplayer game of adventure… chock full 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.
Additionally, 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.) I’m currently working through it a second time and enjoying it again.
Note: I don’t have the Expedition Leaders expansion yet, but I’ve ordered it.
Minigolf Designer (3 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.
There’s now a mini-expansion (“Putt of No Return”) to the game that adds new tiles, better artwork cards(!), and double layer boards for tracking par.
Unfair (3 plays – approx. playing time: 50 minutes)
I found a copy of Unfair for a great price – and as I’m a fan of the “idea” of a game that imitates Rollercoaster Tycoon/Planet Coaster, I was willing to give it a try. Turns out that my son and I like it a lot as a 2 player game… and the newest expansion that was on Kickstarter this spring will include a solo mode.
Part of that KS released the print’n’play files for the solo mode… and I’ve been poking at it a bit, trying to figure out how to get close to beating it. So far, no success – but I like the tableau building puzzle of the game.
Era: Medieval Age (2 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. The collector sets became available again through Plan B Games right before Christmas and I hit the “splurge” button… both solo games this year have been kitchen sink games with nearly everything thrown in.
Final Girl (2 plays – approx. playing time: 40 minutes)
My younger son decided to get himself a solo game… and, despite not being a particularly big fan of horror films, went with Final Girl – which takes the base system of Hostage Negotiator and adds layers of variety and theme. He’s a big fan.
So, of course, I asked to learn how to play. He’s sat with me in both games I’ve played (against Faux Jason and Faux Freddy Kreuger) and I have to say it’s a really solid game system with enough twists and turns to more than justify its existence. I’ll be playing more of this throughout the year.
Honshu (2 plays – approx. playing time: 15 minutes)
A cheap thrift store copy and some solo rules downloaded from BGG… and this makes for a very compact travel solo game/puzzle. I’m still not particularly in love with the game as a multi-player… but it’s clever and workable as a solo exercise.
Stop Thief! (2 plays – approx. playing time: 20 minutes)
Yes, the new edition. Yes, played solo. Yes, I’m REALLY bad at this game… which makes me want to play again and figure out why I’m so bad at it.
Call to Adventure (1 play – approx. playing time: 40 minutes)
The original 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. This time, I tried a more extensive ruleset posted on BGG… which was better, but still didn’t work as well as I wanted it to.
I’m hoping that the new Epic Adventures box coming this summer will help fix this… as I love the way the game plays and how the theme unfolds each game.
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. The published copy finally arrived 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.
I like the huge play space – not the really big map, mind you, but the variety of heroes, units, events, etc. that make each game have a different flavor.
Civilization: A New Dawn (1 play – 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 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.
Habitats (1 play – approx. playing time: 25 minutes)
A one-time experiment using a ruleset for the ‘Geek… it was just OK. Again, I’m sad because I’d love to play this game more.
Hadrian’s Wall (1 play – approx. playing time: 45 minutes)
I wrote a positive solo review for the OG back in May 2021 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 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 in more plays in after that.
Imperium: Classics/Legends (1 play – approx. playing time: 85 minutes)
My birthday last June was filled with goodness from Osprey Games… including my favorite new game of 2021. Want more detail? I wrote an extensive review for the OG this summer!
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 (which I still haven’t tried).
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!
I was very excited to see Imperium: Classics recognized in the most recent Golden Geek voting!
Nemo’s War (1 play – approx. playing time: 70 minutes)
This solo game somehow got left out of my top 100 games list… which is a complete mistake on my part. 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 copy of the new Journey’s End expansion arrived last month and I’ve only got to play with it once… but it dramatically expands the number of possible adventures, adds two more objectives, and has a rewritten rulebook that makes the game easier to learn and play.
Sentinels of the Multiverse – Definitive Edition (1 play – approx. playing time: 55 minutes)
I’m a big fan of the original Sentinels game… and both of my sons decided to get their own copies of the new version as they get ready to leave the nest in the next couple of years. In preparation for a review of the new game, I got in one solo play (as well as five plays multi-player).
The game ramps characters and villains up faster than the original game – and in many cases cleans up characters with confusing and/or uninteresting card choices. So far, I don’t feel like the changes are negative in any way.
Solo works just like solo worked in the previous incarnation – you play multiple characters against the system. I’m unlikely to do that with the new box much when I’ve got the excellent iPad app to play original Sentinels with.
Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (1 play – 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.
I keep waffling back & forth on this one… I considered selling/trading it, then decided to keep it. My most recent game was really enjoyable – which convinced me to wait and see if the upcoming expansion modules push the game from “like it” to “love it”… or if it ends up on the trade pile.
Tiny Towns (1 play – approx. playing time: 15 minutes)
This 2020 Christmas present was on my wishlist in hopes that my wife might enjoy it… well, I still 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.
Voyages (1 play – approx. playing time: 20 minutes)
This print & play game system just got published via Kickstarter right before Christmas 2021… and the portability (I played both paper/pencil and using a paint app on my laptop) is extremely high. They’ve already published three more maps, each with their own set of rules. (This would be an excellent Zoom/Teams game, btw – for those who enjoy gaming online.)
Note: I received review copies of Core Worlds: Empires (prototype – but I bought my own copy of the published game), Hadrian’s Wall, and Wreckland Run (prototype).
Second note: in case you’re curious, the games pictured at the top are:
- First row
- Final Girl
- Wreckland Run
- For What Remains
- Second row
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
- Trails to Tucana
- Third row
- Undaunted: Reinforcements (Normandy)
- Dune: Imperium
- Xia: Legends of a Drift System