- Ways to play solo out of the box
- Unofficial solo variants
- Scoring, wining or losing a solo game
- How to continue?
There are a lot of reasons to consider playing boardgames by yourself. Maybe you have a partner who doesn’t like games, friends who aren’t close by enough to regularly play or you want to get into this hobby but don’t know where to start without walking into a random boardgame café. For me it was all three of these things, plus having a baby who naps a lot so ample of time to actually enjoy playing games but only at certain times and without a reliable end time. Solo games where my solution, I can still play a lot of boardgames and enjoy them thoroughly but I can do so on my own terms and time, it’s perfect!
But how do you get into solo boardgaming? It obviously depends a lot on your previous experience with boardgames. If you’ve already played a lot of games, you probably know what you like or don’t like and can go from there. If you’re completely new it might be a bit overwhelming to pick where to start. That is why I’ve written this article. I will explain the different ways in which you can play solo games, win or lose them, and how they differ. This will hopefully give you a good idea of where you might start. Or, if it doesn’t, give you an idea of which games you can try to find your favourite mechanisms.
Also, don’t forget things like theme and subject matter. Although this obviously isn’t unique to solo games, the theme can make a big difference in how much you enjoy your playtime with a game. I’ve tried to recommend games with different themes for every category, so definitely look into the games and see if the subject speaks to you.
Ways to play solo out of the box
These days a lot of games offer the possibility to play a game alone. However, there are big differences in the ways you can play games on your own. Here are a few of the most common ways to play games solo out of the box, so without doing anything extra, just open the box and use the items included to play the game.
The easiest way to start with solo gaming is by picking a boardgame that is solely meant for soloplay. Because it is meant to be played with one person you will not need to learn any additional rules, or handle a fake opponent. Just learn the rules as included in the box and you’re ready to go.
Some of my favourite true solo games:
- Under Falling Skies
Cooperative games are boardgames where the players collectively play against an opponent. This opponent can be an antagonist or an upcoming problematic event, like a virus, a flood or extinction. Because you play against an opponent that’s already a part of the game you can play these kind of boardgames just as easily by yourself. You will just need to control two or more characters (usually), representing the two or more players that would play the game in a multiplayer session.
Some of my favourite solo able cooperative games:
- Gloomhaven (Jaws of the Lion)
It is good to add that more and more cooperative boardgames are designed in such a way that you don’t necessarily need to play two characters or more to play the game alone. These games support true solo play, where you can play the game with just one character.
Some of my favourite true solo cooperative games:
- Aeon’s End
- Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
- Spirit Island
Games with an opponent/automa
Boardgames with an opponent have an opponent, which is often called an automa, that you control according to set rules and which will do actions like block you from doing certain things, take resources and/or score points for itself. The way in which this opponent is operated will differ but there are a few common ways: 1. The opponent will take actions by flipping cards in a special deck and doing the corresponding action. 2. The opponent will always react when you do a certain action, for example when you grab a card the opponent will also grab a card. 3. The opponent will follow a certain pattern to take actions, kind of like a flow chart.
Some of my favourite games with an automa:
- Paladins of the West Kingdom
- Lost Ruins of Arnak
Games with additional rules to play solo
Some games don’t have any kind of opponent to play against but instead have additional rules or goals to accomplish whenever you play solo. The way in which these boardgames handle solo can be very different, but I will give some examples here to illustrate the possibilities. In a game like Castles of Burgundy you will find a specific player board for solo with specific goals to accomplish (fill the whole board with tiles). All the other parts of the game are the same as with a multiplayer game but instead of being the player with the most points you will play the game with the goal to fill the entire board. In a game like Terraforming Mars you will have to reach all the objectives (just like in the multiplayer game) but you will have a limited amount of generations (turns) to accomplish this goal. Only when you reach all the objectives within this amount of turns you will count your score and see how you did.
Some of my favourite games with additional rules to play solo:
- Castles of Burgundy
- Terraforming Mars
- Underwater Cities
Roll-and-write or flip-and-write games are games in which player write on their own sheet of (laminated) paper to take actions based on dice rolls or flipped cards. I’ve placed these in a separate category because roll-and-write games are usually very suited for solo play with minimal rules changes. Because players often will primarily focus on their own sheets, with minimal player interaction, these games often will have a build in solo mode that doesn’t require a lot of extra work or rules changes.
Some of my favourite solo something-and-write games:
- Hadrian’s Wall (click to read my review)
- Ganz Schon Clever
If a game has no information that you would have to keep hidden from your opponent in a multiplayer session, you can also play the game multi-handed. This means that you will play two or more characters yourself and play them against each other. Another way to play multi-handed is to play a cooperative game (see cooperative games).
I have little experience with this way of playing myself as I prefer an automa when playing competitive games but there are some great resources out there about which games have no hidden information and can be played multi-handed solo.
A good starting point would be this list of possibilities:
– List of multi-handed solo games
RPG’s and adventure books
I’ve decided to make a separate category for RPG’s (Role Playing Games) and adventure books because they might not necessarily fall under board games. But there are some great options here to play solo!
RPG’s are normally played with a GM (Game Master) who prepares the story and decides what happens. In a solo RPG you play both the GM and the character(s). In order to make things happen in a solo RPG you use random tables and oracles. An oracle is a mechanic with dice or cards which helps you to answer questions (‘Is this room empty or not?’). A random table is a list of possibilities for which you roll dice to get a result (‘Characters to run into on the road’). I will probably make a separate article on playing solo RPG’s some day because there is a lot to unpack and a lot of ways to play. But there are a few RPG systems that have been especially designed to play solo and those will be a great first step into the system.
Great solo RPG’s to start with:
- A thousand year old vampire
Adventure books are usually first-person adventure novels where you will take your character through an interactive story. These books give you dozens of possible routes and every time you replay the book the story will be different. Often you will track your progress and effects of your choices on a character sheet of some sort and your character will evolve throughout the story. One of my personal favourites would be ‘Alba – an Open World Adventure Book’. With an honourable mention for ‘Four Against Darkness’, which isn’t truly an adventure book but it has a lot of the same mechanics and can be a great place to start with minimal rules and fun gameplay.
Unofficial solo variants
Of course there are also a lot of board games out there that don’t have a solo option included in the box. Luckily there are a lot of enthusiastic boardgame players and it is entirely possible to find great fan-made solo variants for games without an official one. My favourite place to look for these variants is BoardGameGeek (BGG). On BGG you can search for a game and then under ‘Files’ you can find extra files for the game. This includes things like translated rulebooks, rules summaries and if you’re lucky; solo variants.
Some of my favourite solo variants:
- Everdell – Everdell Unrigged
- Evolution Climate Solo – Climate Solo
- Splendor Solo Automa – Splendor Automa
There are also some great lists on BoardGameGeek with collections of solo variants for all kinds of different games.
Scoring, winning or losing a solo game
Often when you play a multiplayer game it is obvious when someone wins the game, they either destroyed their opponent or they’ve scored the most points. But how does this work when you play alone? There are a few different ways in which a solo game can end and this might affect how much you like a game (or not).
Win or lose
When a game has a clear objective that you have to achieve, like in most cooperative games, you will either win or lose at the end of the game. This works the same as in a multiplayer game, you either defeat the bad guy, escape the island alive or survive the war, or you don’t.
Highest score wins
When playing against an automa you will often end the game by counting both your and the automa’s points and the one with the highest score wins the game. Most of the time the automa will score in different ways than you, for example; the automa might score points for every goal you did not reach.
Beat your own score
This is the most straightforward way of ending a solo game, at the end of the game you count up all of your points and see how well you did. Often the manual will include a range of scores to which you can compare your own. And when you play more often you can compare your score with previous scores and see if and how much you are improving.
Solo board gaming is becoming more and more popular and there are a lot of great places to connect with other solitaire players and to find more information. Here are a few of my favourite places to connect, share and to find more awesome games:
- BoardGameGeek. The website itself is obviously already great for boardgamers. But I can especially recommend the ‘1 Player guild’. This is a guild about solitaire board gaming with a lot of members and activity. https://boardgamegeek.com/guild/1303
- Reddit. There are multiple Reddit communities dedicated to board gaming. My personal favourite would be the ‘soloboardgaming’ one. https://www.reddit.com/r/soloboardgaming/
- Facebook. There are a crazy amount of Facebook Groups about board gaming so you can join any that seem interesting. One I really like would be ‘Solo Board Gamers’. https://www.facebook.com/groups/231051537229325/
- Instagram. Instagram doesn’t have specific groups but you can find a lot of enthusiastic solo gamers under tags like #soloboardgamer and #soloboardgaming. No doubt you will find me there too!
How to continue?
Hopefully this article has given you some insight into the different kind of solo boardgames that are out there. As you can see there are a lot of options and it is definitely a great way to enjoy the hobby. Playing boardgames alone certainly doesn’t feel like a compromise or a lesser version anymore these days. So enjoy your dive down this rabbit hole and please let me know about your experiences!