Are you excited? I am! Let’s hit the Top 30! Every game is a joy, and they are a diverse set of choices, each for different times and different moods. Today’s 10 sparkle with playability. So much so, the Top 30 is a must-have list for the soloist. Enjoy….
Here are the final choices for #30-21:
BOX OF DELIGHTS TOP 100 SOLO BOARD GAMES
30. Darkest Night (Victory Point Games)
A great way to kick off the top 30 is with a VPG title. Darkest Night beautifully captures the solitaire co-op genre with simplicity and playability. There are a few games of this genre to come – we’ll see some others higher on the list – but what VPG does so well is keep all the rules very tight and playable. There are a heap of expansions for this one too, and before you know it you’ll have great stacks of cards driving the events that occur, the monsters you will fight, or the quests you must complete. You’ll also have a tonne of different characters to play, each with their own deck of skills and powers they can use in this magical land. You will develop your heros throughout a game, gaining new cards from those decks, keeping the game balanced as the difficulty increases. You will have to manage 4 heros in this one – no more, no less. But what I particularly enjoy, as well as the fast pace of the game, is how despite the apparent randomness, the structure of the game is very much controlled. What I mean is, although the minutiae may be random (i.e. which monsters you fight, how murky the dangerous graveyard is, etc.) the whole game does not turn on one of those card draws. Oh no, the pain creeps up on you slowly, bringing you a wonderfully tense experience.
29. Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp (Victory Point Games)
We follow with another VPG title, and one that has made the crossover to digital form (you can find Infection in the app store; and do, because it’s a treat to look at). Designed by John Gibson (aka James Baron), this one sees you working in the lab, seeking a cure for the infection that is wiping out humanity. This game has a clever design that really knows what it’s about. Our industry needs publishers and designers that are willing to push boundaries and deliver something far from the norm. It plays like an abstract puzzle with the randomness of chit draws and the risk taking that comes with it. The game is supported by a deck of random events that deliver a thematic story, and power-ups from Equipment and abilities from Lab Technicians, that can be bought with funding that is given as you develop more anti-bodies to the mutating and evolving virus. You’re never sure what’s coming next, yet solid play and mitigating strategies are rewarded. It’s a fine balance to be struck, and Infection does it really well.
28. Shadowrun: Crossfire (Catalyst Game Labs)
Another game that’s full of great ideas and that isn’t afraid to take a risk with its design. I know nothing of the back-story, and when I first read about this game I was really uncertain of it. But I pulled the trigger and found a box of mechanics to please any soloist. It’s a deckbuilder at heart, but the way you must find ways to combine the cards into a desired sequence to complete the objectives thrown at you, is a real treat for your problem solving mind. I do have one problem with the game, and it’s not the way you sticker your heros as they advance in capabilities. My problem is the swingyness of the setup – the game might just as easily deliver you a sequence of simple objectives as a set of the toughest. There is an effort to level these objectives, but they are still scaled too broadly in my view. But, the idea is that you still earn experience from a tough set of objectives, even if you lose, allowing you to level up. It’s a small point, because that aside, the gameplay is great fun. On the plus-side, the cards you get to add to your deck are all delightful and meaningful. You’ll love finding ways of using new cards and you’ll soon have your favourites (like Lightning Bolt) You have lots of choices and the game will always leave you feeling like you could have done better, inviting you to play again. We are just starting to see the real expansions arriving, giving the game longevity, though the base game is already loaded with gameplay.
27. Viticulture (Stonemaier Games)
And now for something completely different! Yes, it’s worker-placement. Not my favourite mechanism. But Viticulture does it with finesse. The gameplay has you building a vineyard to grow grapes to sell or make into wine and fulfill orders. You have to balance short-term gains against a longer term higher return on your investment, all in a fixed-length game. Setting it apart and delivering the solo variant is the “automa” by Morten Monrad Pedersen (who is set to deliver the same again for the upcoming, and much anticipated, Scythe). His automaton work really well as they offer a very playable alternative to a completely random or wholly heuristic approach for emulating a ‘dummy’ player. It’s a really satisfying approach for the soloist : just flip a card, pick the decision representing the current game-state, then it’s back to your turn. Such a great solution to the solo-variant for worker placement that I’m not surprised Stonemaier Games have chosen Morten to replicate this for their other games. You’ll need the Essential Edition to get the Automa cards (or a copy of Tuscany), though I just grabbed the small box upgrade pack (a short print-run) to replace my print-and-play version.
26. Imperial Settlers (Portal Games)
51st State is one of my favourite 2-player card games. We’ve already seen its solo variant appear on this list. However, with Imperial Settlers, Ignacy Trzewiczek appears to have taken the experience of 51st, and the subsequent New Era, and redeveloped the game into a more approachable version, with a re-theme and a built-in solo variant. The games are pretty much identical, except that Imperial Settlers has removed any difficulty that the graphic design, iconography, and point scoring of 51st presented. I might have mentioned the darker theme of 51st and New Era, which sets Imperial Settlers in a brighter light, but I rather like the post-apocolyptic theme of those earlier games. This time, though, we go back in history to take on the role of the Romans, the Egyptians, and the like. Imperial Settlers scores very highly on playability and has classy production values, reflective of Portal’s growing success in recent years. The automaton that controls the game’s interference (in the absence of another player) has shades of Pedersen’s approach in Viticulture, though much simpler. The game trots along at a good pace and is a joy to play. You can’t fail to be cheered up by a game of Imperial Settlers, but don’t let the lighter theme fool you into thinking it’s a light game.
25. Thunderstone Advance (Alderac Entertainment Group)
Still in my top 25, Mike Elliott‘s Thunderstone is now a collection of sets and expansions under the ‘Advance’ banner, though we haven’t seen anything new this year and everything else is out of print. Maybe we saw the last with World’s Collide which was a brilliant expansion – you could think of it as like a ‘greatest hits’ collection, with some of the best cards from the original pre-Advance series brought up to date and delivered in one big box. But, Towers of Ruin was my starting point, and where I would recommend anyone to start, with its diversity and comprehensiveness. If you can find Root of Corruption, that also has a new solo variant to play. It’s a deckbuilder at its most self-indulgent, with a trip to the village to purchase the next best thing for your deck being a real joy; it’s retail board game therapy! The continual parade of enemies in the solo variant is not terrific, but being able to put your newly purchased weapons, spells and heros to the test is great fun. Spice up the solo game with the Epic variant and you’ll be having a whale of a time!
24. Elder Sign (Fantasy Flight Games)
I’ve played this game over and over. You already know I like dice from time to time, and this one is all about the dice. It has Yahtzee-like mechanics but with a whole heap of theme layered on (the familiar Cthulhu mythos created in the 1920s of H.P. Lovecraft). There are many many ways to get re-rolls, additional dice, or be able to change the face of the dice as you push your luck to complete adventures in a museum in order to collect Elder Signs and defeat the Ancient One. Different enemies and different player abilities are thrown into the mix, giving the game layers of variability and difficulty. This game has made a successful transition to digital form too, so you can get your fix on your mobile device. But there’s nothing like the tactile experience of the physical game and the joy of racking up those dice, though the setup can feel a little cluttered once you get used to the digital version. The stand-out mechanic for me is the ability to save dice from one roll to the next. It’s the toughest choice and the one that delivers the drama to the dice that remain to be rolled. It’s my top-most ranked dice-roller and it’s sure to be a popular choice on the list.
23. Gears of War (Fantasy Flight Games)
Gears has a special place in my heart, as it was the first solitaire co-op dungeon crawl type game I played. I was dazzled by the way it controlled the AI of the aliens, the first time I’d seen the short decision-tree approach, which has since been replicated many times. Once more I was unfamiliar with the theme, but had seen the game being played on YouTube channel Black Belt Gaming. This, together with Rodney Smith’s Mansions of Madness play-through, were what inspired me to start Box of Delights. I’ve played and enjoyed this one a whole heap. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a copy (I no longer have mine), but you still can find it around. There is awesomeness everywhere in the game, and you’ll be ducking and running from cover to cover in a shoot ’em up on your table. Squad tactics and strategic co-operation is the winning formula. Your hand management becomes critical as the hand of cards also reflects your health. When your COG is down and out of cards, you’ll genuinely feel the desperation of his situation. And once you see the might of the Berserker bearing down on you, the desperation will be real. It’s a beautiful game, and one I wish I still had, because it is so much fun to get to the table and see some action with it. Great thematic edge of the seat game!
22. A Touch of Evil : The Supernatural Game (Flying Frog Productions)
The most deeply atmospheric thematic game in the collection. In typical FFP fashion, they do something very different with the artwork, using real photographs of folks in costume. Is it a bit am-dram ? Possibly. Very B-Movie. But I love it. Nostalgic for the Hammer Horror movies, and the monsters of my childhood dreams, like the Headless Horseman, Werwolves and Vampires. Alongside them are the self-serving and secretive town elders, living up to their stereotypes. And lastly the archetypal heroines and valiant heros who will make up your cast of characters. For me it’s the best of thrilling themes and the supporting cast is tremendous. From the eery locations, like the Crossroads hidden in the haunting shadows of a copse, the Manor House with stories told behind locked doors, or the Abandoned Keep with secret ways to smuggler’s caves, to the location cards which throw events, encounters, enemies and rewards at you. It shares many similarities to Darkest Night, though the theme is more familiar and the story better told. Great for gamers and non-gamers alike, this is a wonderfully atmospheric romp, and to help you press home the theme they even included a soundtrack!
21. Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game (Wizards of the Coast)
There are now four games in this series: Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, The Legend of Drizzt, and just this year was added Temple of Elemental Evil. I’ve not played the latest game, but the former three do all play alike. What you are getting with each game is a different mix of heros, monsters, items, encounters and scenarios, but the basic game engine and rules are the same. The miniatures are terrific, the cardstock top notch, and it all plays really well as a basic, though sometimes tough, dungeon crawler. It took me a while to be convinced about the random drawing of dungeon tiles, and the repitition of move, explore, draw a monster. But actually, it plays so well that it does feel like a real adventure with everything you expect from a D&D universe. It is extremely playable. The number of scenarios is excellent. And the way you can combine the games or even add content from the supporting series of painted miniatures and additional cards in Dungeon Command (which is also its own stand-alone competitive miniatures skirmish board game) gives it lots of replay value. There is very little down-time, so you can just get on with the adventure, with simple mechanisms, a light touch of story, and a jolly good mix of slashing and spellcasting. I picked Castle Ravenloft as the stand-out of the series, not just because it was the first, but also because I like the mix of monsters you must face, like the old-school kobolds, skeletons, rats, spiders and vampires. Gets me every time!