I thought my top 10 was going to be easy, but you know, every day the games shift back and forth. In the end I had to set them down, and decided to order them according to how much joy they have brought me, as a solo gamer and games media creator. Those that made the top 10 work flawlessly, or if they have flaws they only add to their charm. There should be a game for everyone here, but all of them are games for me. Remember what I told you back in part 1 ? …. you will disagree, you should disagree, but if you want to know what has stood the test with me, then here are my final 10…
10. Historia (Geochix.it)
Historia is one of those games that delivers incredible playability with its solo variant. The rules are simple to follow and you get a great experience of the game. This is a civilisation game, and one that plays pretty quickly. There are familiar concepts: a world map, a tech tree, population cubes. But there is very little housekeeping. Dominating the play area is the military and tech tree, with a small world map governing area control and influencing our victory points. We’re tracing our civilisation through 12,000 years of history, plotting their development on the board, and commanding their development, in an almost deific manner, with a set of action cards. Game-play is all about prioritising your cards, timing which actions to play when, and managing the pace of your development against the threat of expanding neighbours. These neighbours are controlled by ‘civ-bots’, effectively controlled by simple AI and who, with variable difficulties, take on a character of their own. Very cleverly, these civ-bots will also compete against each other, as well as the soloist, and you’ll often find one of those five civilisations emerging as your biggest rival for the final victory point tally. An epic game that is tense from the start, rich with its theme, as you develop your civilisation with new powers and neat tricks earned by building wonders of the world, Historia is everything you need for a streamlined solitaire civ. What a treat to kick off our top 10!
The most enjoyable play-through I think I’ve done on Box of Delights was for this game, Cruel Necessity – The English Civil Wars. It’s back in States of Siege territory, but feels very different to others in the series. I’m a history-buff, and this one really delivered. John Welch is a high school history teacher who really knows his material, or at the very least has done a great job researching his material. The game is packed with flavour text that unveils the story behind the action being played out on the board. The story of Charles I and Cromwell is so compelling that a game that allows you to play out this long campaign was always going to be a winner for me, but it needed the gameplay to back it up to get it placed so highly on my list. The the main story sees you defending London from the encroaching Royalists (and their allies), in true States of Siege style. But supplementing this, and making this a stand-out game in the series, are the political tracks, the battle map where we focus in on the battles being played out on the map, and the Achievements that give you rewards and allow you to build your victory point score. In particular, the Achievements give the game its layer of re-playability, because it’s these that can alter your strategy as you divert attention from the Royalists to the demands of those achievements. The order they come out and how they line up can give you a very different game experience and are a lovely and gentle touch to the game. There are nuances with the smaller scale battles, but I love them all the same. Set amongst the context of the bigger game, they take on a level of significance that adds to the tension of every die roll. It’s a great piece of work, and for me is the highlight of the SoS series.
8. RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940 (Decision Games)
I’m very inexperienced when it comes to war games. I know next to nothing about the genre. So I am coming at this game as a non-wargamer, like a new-born entering a strange and daunting world. What I do know is, I like it! As primarily a thematic and euro-gamer, I found the game to be very heavily scripted, and this put me off for quite some time. By ‘scripted’ I mean that for a great deal of the game time you are acting out events, not making decisions. But, there is a very justifiable spot on my top-10 for a heavily scripted wargame. It gives a totally new experience compared to the rest of the games on the list, and that’s why I love it. So, why RAF:The Battle of Britain 1940, and not some other war game? Battle of Britain is event card driven, like many of the thematic games we have seen on this list; the dice rolling is kept to a minimum; and when you see the battle play out on the map, as you follow the script, it never feels like ‘down-time’. This is where Battle of Britain shines, as a full-scale campaign over many game days, watching the ebb and flow of the battle, and feeling like you are in command. Although the game appears very abstract, and you do not have to deal with minute details of plane dynamics or the minute by minute tactics of the battlefield, it is very well connected to its theme. You are instead, making the strategic decisions of a commander in the war room, with the high-level perspective this brings. The war room in front of you feels as real as it can get, with the intel coming back to you and enacted on the battle map. It is so very deeply engaging. If you thought you didn’t like war games, then give this a try. With layered rules, and an added 2-player game, you can’t go wrong with a bit of Butterfield.
7. Greenland (Sierra Madre Games)
What the solo variant failed to do in Megafauna, Greenland succeeds at. Greenland is one of Eklund’s designer card game simulations. With echos of Pax Porfiriana and Bios, Greenland is a “science-adventure” card game that spans five centuries of the Tunit, Thule and Norse peoples, evolving their skills to survive in the arctic of Greenland. I’m one of the people who love Phil’s graphic design, and although the 2nd edition is cleaner and more approachable, supported by the artwork of Karim Chakroun, I’m am lucky enough to have Phil’s first edition and will cherish it for a long time. You’ll play all three tribes in the solo variant, seeking to balance their demands on the enviroment by diversifying their skills and creating co-operation between them using tactics such as marrying their sons and daughters. You will learn hunting skills, navigational skills, and ways to keep warm and find materials. You’ll trade with passing norsemen, and learn to exploit the biodiversity of the tundra. It’s a captivating story with captivating gameplay. There are no easy choices, and the compromises you make and where you invest your time and effort developing your tribes will pay-off as you see them survive generation after generation. It’s not a quick game to play, even solo, so take your time with it and relax into the unfolding story. Apply consideration to each decision and to the evolving landscape. There is plenty of flavour text to delight you, and a wealth of variability with each play. If you struggle with the rulebook, because it is possible you may, check out my tutorial. It will be well worth the effort!
6. Arkham Horror (Fantasy Flight Games)
Arkham Horror has grown in my affections as time has passed. There is a small element of nostalgia, but much of it has to do with the replay value, the variety of expansions, the story the game continues to tell, as well as the ongoing struggle to get the better of this game playing solitaire. I still remember that my first plays were not wholly successful. As one of the first hobby games I played, I did fully understand the objective or the nature of play. I was more accustomed to abstracts, like chess, or roll-and-move games that required little thought. As my hobby ‘career’ developed, Arkham Horror grew and grew in my estimation, as I began to understand the mechanics of event card play and character development, and as I began to appreciate more and more how a board game could tell a good story. Arkham Horror captures the atmosphere of its theme better than any other solo game I know. If we compare it, for example, to its sister game Eldritch Horror, what you’ll find is that Arkham gives you a much more claustrophobic, more ominous atmosphere. The foggy humid streets, the dank dark locations, the chilling encounters, will set your spine tingling. You can feel the unnerving tension of every die roll, and the sinister smouldering of the gates to the “other worlds” where the Ancient Ones stir in their slumber. You will become the characters you play, you’ll share their dreams, and the game will leave your with their nightmares.
5. Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game (Upper Deck Entertainment)
One of my favourite franchises of all time. I have watched the Alien movies over and over, and love Sigourney Weaver’s depiction of Ripley. When Upper Deck announced this game, I was all over it. I already loved the ‘Marvel‘ Legendary game, and if this was a re-theme then I knew I’d enjoy it. However, deck-building had moved on a little since the original Legendary title, so would there still be enough appeal to get this to the table as a distinct and original game? Could it live up to my expectations and deliver? Designers Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel went one better. Not only was it a successful re-theme, but they added so much more to the game, especially for the soloist. This is why Encounters has replaced Marvel in my top-10; it’s not just about the theme, but the expanded game-play. You’ll be presented with a set up scenario-based objectives, and you’ll need to figure out how to beat each one. The scenarios tell you how to construct the decks to use in each scenario, for you will be using a subset of the cards. Your job during the game will be to purchase and purge cards for your deck in order to develop a deck capable of completing the objectives and surviving against the aliens as they scramble through the ship. The artwork is adult comic-book (or graphic-novel), successfully capturing the dark atmosphere of the movies. Most terrifying are the face-huggers that will leap at you and cripple your card-play. More than just Legendary in space, more than just a re-theme, this is more terrifying and more demanding, and plays perfectly solitaire.
4. Lord of the Rings: The Living Card Game (Fantasy Flight Games)
If you’re looking for a Living Card Game for solo play, then look no further. If you are looking for a deck construction deck to play solitaire, then this is the game for you. There are no other contenders. Out-of-the box, this game was made for you. There’s a good chance you know the background story, unless you’ve been living under a stone-troll, and an almost equal chance you’ll enjoy the theme, popular as it is. There are a wealth of cards to choose from, with monthly adventure packs and larger box ‘Saga’ expansions being released on a regular basis since its 2011 release. Not to be confused with “deck-building”, the game instead uses the “deck construction” meta-game, where you create your play-deck from amongst all released cards and take that into the game with you prior to setup. i.e. you don’t have an opportunity to evolve your deck as you play. This means there is always an opportunity to think about the game, tweak your decks, or create new ways to try to defeat the adventures that await you. Some adventures are good for cutting your teeth with (like the opening ‘Passage Through Mirkwood‘) whilst others are fiendishly difficult (like ‘Escape from Dol Guldur‘), especially when running just one deck, for this is also a co-operative game, in which 1 or 2 players can take on a scenario together, meaning the soloist can also play two decks alone against an adventure. Like Magic the Gathering, there is often little opportunity to see all cards in your deck in a single play, so there is some art to building your deck without reliance on a few cards. Search the forums and check out the Card Game Database to get deck ideas, and a view as to which expansions you may wish to pick up. This a well played and well-loved LCG, and as my number 4 game is highly recommended by Box of Delights!
3. Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island (Portal Games)
If a game was ever developed to fit a thematic idea then this was it. Robinson Crusoe, the name, is used to conjure up an image of what the game is about before you even begin. We all know of the man and his story, so immediately we have images of being stranded on a desert island, seeking to find food, making a fire, building a shelter. However, the Robinson theme is short-lived. It merely establishes the preconceptions. Once we are on the island there will be all sorts of mysterious adventures, with a whole host of characters, none of whom are called “Robinson”. We do have Friday, a faithful servant to whoever ventures on the island, but we also have many scenarios that offer us stories, new and old, from rescuing by raft a girl called Jenny, to facing the legendary King Kong. In the expansion we even get to enact the adventures of Charles Darwin on the ship The Beagle. The game uses action selection to perform tasks on the island, like exploring for and gathering resources and later using them to craft inventions like an oven, a map, or perhaps some medicine. Some gamers find the rules a bit sticky, and they can be. They are certainly not as strict and definitive as a lot of gamers are used to. There are some situations that encourage players to assume the correct response, and the way the rules are written can sometimes invite ambiguity. But these are part of the game’s charm. Ignacy’s intention was to build a game that tells a story, and necessarily asks the players to invest their imaginations into the game and just go with the flow. This game is about having fun with the story, not about mini-maxing an optimal solution from a concise set of rules. The design is one that reaches new heights in story-telling. The genius is in the ’cause-and-effect’ event cards, which both drive the passing of time in the game and present the players choices with consequences – a short term gain for a potential longer term consequence. For example, you are tempted with some tasty mushrooms, to satisfy an immediate hunger, but this card may now appear later as a poisoning sickness unless you can find a cure in the meantime. This brilliant mechanism means the game gives context to it’s unfolding story, with the events it throws at you being a consequence of something that happened earlier in the story, not just a sequence of completely random events. The game is challenging, but win or lose you will have a bucket full of fun with its rich story and engaging immersion.
2. Mage Knight Board Game (Wizkids)
Let me start by answering the first question: why isn’t Mage Knight #1 ? Mage Knight is as good as it gets. Mage Knight is the epitome of solitaire gaming. It should be number one. The throne has Mage Knight written all over it. Mage Knight should be wearing the #1 crown. It lost it for very little, and very personal reasons. But let’s make no mistake, this is the number 2 spot in a top 100 list. How epic is that?! Let me give you the three reasons, and then we can talk about our top two games. The first reason is that it just doesn’t get as much game play as the game sitting at the top. Mage Knight has quite a bit of setup and tear-down time and sometimes this stops me playing it. Secondly, the game in the number one spot wins on production value and love and commitment – sorry Wizkids, you have a gem here and it should be coveted. Thirdly, and this was the real decider in the end, if I had to give up one game for the other, I’d let Mage Knight go first. You’d have a fight on your hands (!) but I have forced myself into making a decision, so here it is. So what is it that makes MK such a great game for me as the soloist? I like the glory you get from solving problems. I love the feeling it gives me to create a solution and see it play out as I planned it. I enjoy the idea of stringing a series of small effects, impuissant on their own, into something that creates an explosive effect in their combination. This is what Mage Knight delights me with. It gives me the opportunity to seek out those magical moments of discovery and invention in a game. It will throw seemingly insurmountable obstacles in your way, as you explore its depths, and challenge you to crush them with your problem-solving mind. Mage Knight offers the soloist the greatest challenge of any other game on this list. The only game that stands in its way is my number one game. The number one game has relatively simple rules, is more abstract in its play, and takes me back to my roots in gaming. And it is…… well, not quite….
What is the game that toppled the mighty Mage Knight from its throne? Which is my desert island game? If I had to forsake all other games and keep just one, which would it be? Which game, amongst all others, will you be tearing from my cold dead hands? I’ll let you know next time with a full page dedicated to this one game ….