My goodness this has been tough! How many times have I had to rework the order?! Such a great list of games. I hope you like them as much as I do.
Here are the final choices for #40-31….
BOX OF DELIGHTS TOP 100 SOLO BOARD GAMES
40. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game : Rise of the Runelords (Paizo Publishing)
This was a tough one to find the right spot for (it would be #1 on the list of games with the longest titles, if that helps? – Ed) I really like it as a festival of dice-chucking that’s very easy on the brain. It’s the perfect antidote to some of the other games on this list, which are real brain burners. The artwork is so-so, the game-play is not deep or challenging, even a little repetitive. But sometimes that’s exactly what you want. It has great ideas in this game, with the scope to be explored and developed. It’s crying out for a “legacy” version. It won’t be one that I’ll play and play, but it is one that delivers that story us soloists are sometimes looking for, and that no-nonsense old-school fantasy adventure romp. You’ll enjoy building your party of characters, and progressing through the campaign. Take your time with. Savour it like a good book or a hearty meal. You’ll get out what you put in with this one, so enjoy the story, and play along. If you just mechanically roll the dice and turn the cards, overlooking the artwork, the flavour text, the story, then you are missing out a large part of the game…
39. Shadows Over Camelot (Days of Wonder)
Solo? Yes, of course! Shadows is better known as a “traitor” game played co-operatively with one or more players secretly working against the rest of the players. Remove the optional traitor mechanic and we have a co-op that plays very well solo. You will have to manage a couple of players and you will lose that “co-operation” part (the meta-game that asks players to communicate successfully with each other to get the job done), but it still presents a decent challenge for the soloist. It has the exceptional production values you expect from Days of Wonder, and a classic theme. There are lots of decisions to make, and there are various ways the game is looking to end things for you, from surrounding Camelot with siege engines, to killing all your knights. More likely though, is that you’ll be defeated in the many quests the game asks you to complete, from seeking Excalibur, the Holy Grail, or Lancelot’s lost armour, to defeating the Black Knight in tournament or repelling the invasions of the Saxons and Picts. Each of the quests is an abstract puzzle, such as collecting a set of cards like a ‘full house’ or ‘two pairs’ in poker. This is the only down-side for me. These abstract quests feel a little disconnected from the theme. This is somewhat mitigated in the multi-player game via the traitor mechanism. As it stands though, this is still a favourite solo game, because of its multi-dimensional puzzle and rated very highly here on the top 100.
38. Doomtown: Reloaded (Alderac Entertainment Group)
Yes, you read it correctly… Doomtown: Reloaded solitaire. That just made your day, huh?! It’s the first LCG we see on this list because these games are rarely made for solo play. This time we have a self-penned variant. You can find the living rules here. I wondered whether it should fit on this list at all, but I play this solo variant lots, so decided to throw it into the mix. I don’t know anyone else who plays DT so it was a way for me to enjoy this fabulous game in the way it was designed to be played, except with a situational/scenario-presenting opponent called “Wyatt”. He doesn’t play like a regular DT player. Instead he throws Dudes and Deeds at you, and has some nasty surprises that you must be prepared for when you enter a shootout with his mercenaries. Wyatt thinks the town ain’t big enough for the both of us, and hires Dudes to help him build things up on his side of the street. You can vary his play-style by changing the balance of his deck, or just use one of the pre-made decks that come with the base game. It’s a great way to get into the game and try out the balance of your own decks. It plays along quite quickly. There’s no making decisions for Wyatt. Instead his plays follow a series of simple flow charts. It makes the list because I really love it, I play it as often as I can, and I will keep buying into this LCG now that I have this way to play. Do yourself a favour and go check it out!
37. Ghost Stories (Repos Production)
Ghost stories is the first of a few games we’ll see on the list that use a timing mechanism that says if you make your way through a draw deck before the game overruns you, then you win. It’s similar to what we saw in Les Poilus and in Friday. This is a very simple mechanism that works very well in solitaire games, because you have a clear objective that creates a mounting tension as the deck gets smaller and smaller. The key to a good implementation is that the game builds up the pressure on you gradually, timed in such a way that it builds with the depleting deck, so that if you do pull off a victory, you will do so by the skin of your teeth! Ghost Stories is a modern-day classic employing this mechanism perfectly. Some people find it too difficult, it is true. And even for those who can figure out how to beat it, there are ways to ramp up the difficulty, which is a necessity in games like this if any sort of re-playability is to be maintained. Many people will rank this a lot higher. It gets a high spot for me but, like Race for the Galaxy, it can seem like hard work at times, so I must be in the right mood for it.
36. Yggdrasil (Ludonaute / Z-Man Games)
This is a title to be reckoned with, and I don’t just mean the pronunciation. Like Ghost Stories, you are up against a timer deck, but one that is relentless in its brutality. It feels like Ghost Stories to play, but I much prefer the theme and the dynamics of Yggdrasil’s many moving parts. The threats are coming at you from different directions in this game, whether it be from the six Evil Forces of Fenrir, Loki and friends, and their relentless march towards the wall of Asgard, the door of Valhalla and Odin’s Residence, from the Fire Giants who are stomping through Midgard, or from the Ice Fortress where Frost Giants limit your powers. Your decisions are plenty, whether it be sending out the Valkyries to seek the souls of Viking warriors, calling on Frey to summon Elves to fight for you, or mastering the artefacts hewn from the Dwarven forge. The artwork is beautiful, and the game-play tense. It is very hard on the brain, so be prepared for it!
35. Pandemic (Z-Man Games)
I suspect that many soloists, like me, were first drawn to the idea of playing a co-operative game solo via Pandemic. Pandemic works as a template for many a good solo design. It has everything you need from a gateway game, when ‘gateway’ doesn’t mean ‘easy’. There’s no reason at all that a gateway game can’t be difficult. What makes Pandemic a great gateway game is that the theme can be widely appreciated, the game is co-operative so there’s no animosity between players, and the rules are very simple. So how about solitaire? It’s a great puzzle. It delivers the building tension we saw in Ghost Stories and Yggdrasil, but this time via the spread of a virus that turns you into a risk mitigator, trying to stem the pandemic in one part of the world whilst watching it rise up in another. It’s very satisfying to play, satisfying to win, and not as much hard work as the aforementioned games. I believe this is because, for me at least, the game-state is very visible. The boldness of the coloured cubes on the map, where their influence is strongest, and where the virus is becoming a risk, is very clear to see at a glance. This simple design idea is genius. It cuts through the clutter, there’s no text to read, it’s right there in front of you and this makes it a joy to play. Every soloist has to play Pandemic.
34. Defenders of the Realm (Eagle-Gryphon Games)
Defenders of the Realm takes Pandemic and does a few things with it. It changes the theme to a familiar fantasy setting, it adds character and depth to the enemies and playable heros, and it creates sub-plots that distract you from the main quest. What makes this game pip Pandemic, is that it has more to offer the soloist. For a game group, or as a gateway game, Pandemic wins every time. But a soloist is often a veteran gamer looking for a little more depth. As a soloist I am happy to slow down the pace of the game to get that depth. I do, I’ll admit, prefer the theme of Pandemic. Defenders of the Realm is not giving us something we haven’t seen a hundred times before in terms of theme. But what it does so well, is translate Pandemic into this theme, and gives us the story to go with it. You’ll be visiting inns and picking up rumours, you’ll be completing quests, and battling army generals. We also introduce dice-battles as we try to fight the minions that are seeking to overrun our realm. How fun is that?!
33. The Witcher Adventure Game (Fantasy Flight Games / CD Projekt Red)
Another self-penned solo variant. I just can’t help myself! But this one is as simple as it gets. You can find the rules here. All you are doing is racing to get to 50 points (or 30 for a shorter game) against a track which is advancing 2 points every turn. The game doesn’t get much praise from reviewers and gamers, citing it as nothing more than move, pick up clues, fight, move again. Okay, there is something to that conclusion, I don’t disagree. But the game does tell a fair story and you need to immerse yourself in it. The attraction are the quests. You must make decisions to allow you to complete these in the most optimal way. It will be about route planning, but the decisions you make are heavily impacted by what threats lay in your way. To be engaged in this optimisation fully, you must be under some pressure. In a multi-player game, this pressure comes from the other players. This means that you may have a bad experience if everyone is playing in such a way that there is no threat – e.g. developing their characters and not scoring points. The beauty of the solo variant is that it delivers the pressure necessary to make you play to complete the quests. What you lose is the ability to scupper your opponents by clever threat placement and the competition over resources.
32. Asgard’s Chosen (Mayfair Games)
An area control game! We’ve not seen much of these, but here we are! I will admit it was partly the theme that drew me to this game initially, but also because when this was being developed, I was at the same time developing Renegade, and Asgard’s Chosen shared some ideas with the game I was developing. This made me curious. You know every time you think you have something original someone else is thinking the same, right?! The concept I was intrigued by, because this was what I thought I was developing uniquely, was the idea of combining deck-building with euro. We’ve seen other games do it since, and indeed there were other games that did it prior (e.g. Trains, although only published later by AEG, was first published in Japan by Okazu). There are a few things that stand out for me though, with Asgard’s Chosen. Every card has a number of ways it can be used and in very different areas of the game. The hand-management is continuous, forcing you to make decisions about which cards to use for which effects, and which to save for later, at every turn. The ability to build out a deck with cards that deliver that many decisions is, I think, a design revolution. The rules are pretty tricky. The solo rules are tricker still. But stick with it. There is one heck of a game here.
31. Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (Upper Deck Entertainment)
Marvel Legendary was much higher on my 2013 solo list. It was top 10. So why has it fallen, and what keeps it at such a high position now? Spiderman is awesome. I still love the gameplay. The production values are great. I enjoy the characters, the artwork, and the interplay of the cards. I love the variability and re-playability. Spiderman is awesome. (Did I say that already?) The in-game deckbuilding is not the best, but you also have deck construction as the pre-game meta, allowing you to try various hero combos. Putting together card-combos is really where this game is at. There are also a variety of villains of differing difficulties to keep you challenged for some time. Great stuff! So why lower? The main reason is that it’s not getting so much game-play anymore. One game in particular has pushed this one to the back of the game-shelf, and we’ll see that later on this list….
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