We’re over the half-way line now as we head towards the sharp end. This side of the draw has been a little easier to put together. Every one of these is a gem in its own way, and is sure to please. I hope you enjoy the second half of this list, as it just gets better and better.
Here are the final choices for #50-41….
BOX OF DELIGHTS TOP 100 SOLO BOARD GAMES
50. Flash Point Fire Rescue (Indie Boards and Cards)
Flash Point Fire Rescue has a great theme. You’ll get to see from the rest of my list that theme plays a big part for me, which is perhaps odd when my number 1 game (non-solo) is Chess. In Flash Point you take on the role of firefighters, seeking to rescue civilians (and their pets) from a burning building. I was pleased to see both a basic game and an advanced game in the rulebook. The basic game works well as a family game, and the advanced rules for when you are solo. There’s not a great deal of depth to the game. It’s one of the earliest Pandemic clones, but it’s lightweight and has a warmer theme. I loved the idea of the d6 grid reference, whereby the roll of two dice pinpoint a location on the map board (depicting the layout of the building) the next fire will spring up from. The game is very visual, and the state of the board very readily shows the players where trouble is brewing as the tension mounts. They really did a great job with the graphic design. There are quite a few expansions available now, crowd-funded via Kickstarter, to add more layers of depth and variability.
49. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (Ystari Games)
Is there any other game like this? I don’t think so! There are 10 mysteries to solve, and lots of clues in the accompanying newspapers, interviews, directory and supplementary map of Old London Town. Such originality, such a fun experience, the closest thing you’ll get to a solitaire ‘party’ game (you can play this amongst a team of friends for the full-on experience), and a great alternative to reading a book (and a much better alternative to one of those murder-mystery weekends… shudder!). You can ONLY get out of this what you put in. Take lots of notes and don’t be tempted to cheat. It’s tough to beat, but don’t worry about winning. Spend as much time as you need to with each investigation until you are absolutely sure you know the solution. You only have one chance at checking whether you are right or wrong, and then the story is blown. Yup, there’s not much re-playability (unless you have a memory like a goldfish), but you’re getting a whole heap of entertainment in this box. My only complaint? I didn’t really buy into the idea of taking on the role of the “Baker Street Irregulars” and trying to beat Holmes to the solution first. Otherwise, top class!
48. Mound Builders (Victory Point Games)
Mound Builders is a ‘States of Siege’ title from VPG. It’s one of my favourites, but otherwise it’s pretty much as basic a States of Siege game as you can get. So why does it place so highly on my list? Lots and lots of re-playability. Yes, it’s States of Siege, but it has its very own feel, with a wonderful design of a “game of two halves”. The first half (actually it’s one third, but who wants to talk about maths?!) sees you building your culture without any of the familiar SoS brutality that has the siege tracks being constantly put under pressure by advancing enemies. Oh no, this one lulls you into a false sense of security. You have no aggressors for the first “half” of the game. You can build and expand in preparation for the onslaught you know is coming in the Mississippian and Spanish eras that follow. This is where the strength of your empire will be tested and you’ll be using your economy, built to provide trade, which in turn provides the capacity to react, to fend off the Spanish and ultimately survive to win the game. This means that this first era allows you to experiment a great deal with different strategies, without too much in the way of aggressive conflict restricting what you are able to try to achieve. It’s a real neat twist. Not only that, I like it for the historical value. I knew nothing about the Mound Builder culture before this game. I love history, and history of the Americas is something I know little about in general (me and my British monarchy..tut!), so every word of flavour text is devoured and enjoyed as much as the mechanisms of the game itself. Highly recommended, and a solid spot in my top 50.
47. K2 (REBEL.pl)
K2 is a bloody big hill. I aways wanted to start a sentence that way, and now I have. Forgive me. Yes, it’s over 8000 metres of snow, ice and blizzards. 8600 metres of crampons, goggles and lip balm. All from the comfort of a cosy arm-chair with a bottle of something strong. K2 is a lovely little game for the soloist. There are two routes up the summit, and two levels of difficulty controlling the weather. You’ll be looking to get your two climbers up, and safely back down. It’s not a simulation. The game is simple in its implementation. You’ll be using a card drafting mechanism to take and play cards to progress up or down the mountain, and to control your level of acclimatisation. That’s pretty much it. You have a couple of tents you can pitch en-route, which act as shelter from the elements, feeling very much like checkpoints to your ascent. Thematically it hits the nail on the head with such a simplicity. And that’s what makes it a joy to play. The balance of difficulty is perfect and it’ll tax your puzzle-solving mind.
46. Mistfall (NSKN Games)
Mistfall is probably the most complicated game on the list so far. Complicated can be good, and complicated can be bad. Here it’s good, but it walked a fine line. Mistfall so very nearly made it higher on the list, because I love some depth and complication. It started up in the top 20 but for me, the rules were just not streamlined enough to make it feel like the polished product I wanted it to be. For example, the reinforcements rules could have been taken away, and I’m not wholly convinced by the effort involved in managing the Enemy Focus tracks. But, that’s the down-side over with. The plus-sides are big pluses. The overall feel of the game, the exploration, the adventure, the variety and the card-play are all excellently engaging. Managing your card effects is, I would say, definitely more for the hard-core gamer. You need to have your wits about you to understand how everything fits together, and maybe that’s where a lot of the challenge is. At points you have to stop yourself over-thinking everything, because you can get a bit stuck wrapped up in the mathematics of it and stall your progress. Instead, sometimes you just need to just swing your sword and see what happens. I’m never going to take this one to game night and invite other to play co-op with me because of this. For me, this will remain a solo game. Managing multiple characters hasn’t proven very easy (and yes, you are going to have to use multiple characters). You can spend more time solo thinking about how your characters can work better together as a team. This team-work aspect of the game is where it shines, and where it begs to be played co-op. Tremendous fun, stunning artwork, fantastic work on the graphic design, and a good balance of play, even if it is a bit unrefined. It’s a really great adventure game with some satisfying depth. A second edition would be a great addition to the gaming world, and I expect good things for this in the future.
45. Lembitu (2D6.EE)
Here’s one you probably haven’t heard of. I found this game at the UK Games Expo in 2015 (after enjoying a demo of Mistfall). I’d jotted down the name of the game after it was mentioned in the UKGE brochure as supporting the soloist (and there really wasn’t much on the scene supporting 1 player this year). I spotted the 2D6.EE stand. It was quite a lonely place. The aesthetics weren’t drawing in the crowds. It was easily overlooked. So I stopped to have a chat with Aigar Alaveer to find out what it was all about. Aigar came alive with enthusiasm for his design. He was very modest, but loved answering my questions. So I bought a copy, he threw in the Heavy Cavalry expansion, and I keenly took it away to pull apart and understand all its workings (like I do) to see if there was anything there. It looked too simple. It wasn’t getting much attention. It was a new indie designer, using the old-fashioned production model of building it and selling it. None of that fancy Kickstarter business. I was more than happy to part with my money even if the game wasn’t up to much. But it was great! It’s one of those games that has a small set of simple rules and a tonne of strategy emerges. I have added a variant of my own to the setup to get what I think is the most from it (just keep rolling during setup until at least one army is in the red zone). This is because the setup can make the game swing towards being too easy. What makes it so good for me is that it is very quick to set up and tear down, it plays along at a pace, and I can muse over it like an abstract. If you’ve not heard of it, seek it out, and show some love for the independent.
44. Shadows of Malice (Devious Weasel Games)
Shadows of Malice is a co-operative thematic fantasy adventure game with some big twists to set it apart from the crowd. Like Lembitu above, its aesthetics does not turn any heads, but that’s not where the game shines. In fact, the mechanisms are quite complicated, so the very streamlined, you could say ‘abstracted’, artwork and graphic design allows the player to focus on getting everything operating correctly. It does lose some immersion as a result. But the inventiveness of the design earns it a strong position on the top 50. There are a couple of stand-out mechanisms for the soloist, First is the random “creature generator” function, that means you’re not simply drawing a card with stats for a goblin, or an orc, or a fire-breathing dragon. Instead the game is inventing a new monster for you to face each time you encounter an enemy. This might be a shape-shifting, desert dwelling Reptilid, or parasitic swamp mammal. Too much fun! The second USP is Xulthul. You know he’s going to be mean with a name like that, right?! Xulthul has shadows that manifest on the map, as phantoms of his evilness. Your job is to unseal Light Wells before these shadows get to them before you. If you fail then Xulthul himself will manifest and you must face this deadly foe. That’s the story behind the name, but the thing that you’ll enjoy is the mechanism that drive the shadows, which bubble up from the Shadow Realm where Xulthul prowls in hibernation. The Shadow Realm sits off to the side of the game, in its own little world, but you can see trouble brewing there, giving a cloud of tension that hangs over the game and gives it the atmosphere that the artwork didn’t deliver. It works well, and it will keep you on the edge of your seat.
43. Race for the Galaxy (Rio Grande Games)
No solo list would be complete without RtfG. But my goodness I struggled to find the right place for it on this list. It was always going to be top 50, for it’s a modern day classic, and the solitaire mode, added by The Gathering Storm expansion, is legendary in its short life. It is going to be a top 10 contender for many many people. And that’s why I struggled. I respect the design. I can see how clever it is, and every time I play I enjoy watching the robot AI in action, and enjoy trying to figure out the right strategy to victory. But, and here’s the reason why it’s down this end of the top 50, I really have to be in the right mood to play it. If I’m not, if I’m a bit tired and want something more thematic or more puzzle-like (and that doesn’t necessarily mean I want something ‘light’), then this isn’t going to get pulled off the shelf. I struggled to pin it down. What was that something that sometimes made it feel less like a game and more like hard work? Maybe it’s because it’s an odd hybrid of euro and card game, with its high production value and great artwork, its tricky iconography and tangle of rules. My conclusion as to why, is that it is very tight. It’s like walking a knife-edge keeping up with the robot. And that’s why it’s not always right for me. I have stressful job and this carries over at home. Gaming helps me relax, and RftG is not one I feel relaxed with. When I’m in the right mood to play it, when I’m clear-headed and eager, not trying to grab time at the end of a long day at work, then I love it. So here it is, at number 43, and it feels right. Everything above it on this list will get more plays, and everything below it just wasn’t good enough to knock it down.
42. Lewis & Clark (Ludonaute)
Another Euro to follow on from RftG. It won’t be the last, as there are a growing number of Euro games being adapted for solitaire play. Lewis & Clark is one that comes complete with a solo variant right out of the box, as you (Lewis & Clark) race Alexander Mackenzie across North America, east to west from St Louis to Fort Clatsop on the Pacific coast. And the solo variant is as simple as it gets. You play the game just as you would a regular game, and Mackenzie is simply a pawn that moves forward one space (up river and westward) with every action you take. So it’s a simple race against a timer. You’ll see this same method used in other solo variants as we continue the countdown. I love the theme, I love the worker-placement of the Indian village, and the game looks great setup in all its colour. The artwork of Vincent Dutrait is great, particularly when you look through the 54 card Encountered Characters deck. That’s 54 different cards, each with its own unique portrait, its own ability and associated cost, and a backstory in the rulebook that gives an account of how this real-life character fitted in to the Lewis & Clark story. It’s a story every American schoolkid is told, but one we’re not all familiar with over here in the UK, so it was a good history lesson to learn about these characters. But in game terms, this deck gives a whole lot of variability to your games. I find the game depth to be on the lighter side, and the theme becomes a little detached from the game play as you work with the economics of managing your cards and resources. Despite this, it is a good hame to get out and play now and again, and you can play it lightly or with mote analysis as suits your mood.
41. Archipelago (Ludically)
Archipelago is just beautiful. It is wonderful to look at, and wonderful to sit down with and play. Like Lewis & Clarke, it is a game bursting with colour and has a similar worker placement mechanism. However, Archipelago has many more dimensions to its game play and the exploration nature of the game brings it closer to its theme. Worker placement together with creating a connection to the game’s theme, I find, is tough to pull off, but Archipelago does it better than most. This time, however, you won’t get a solo variant with the base game. Rather, this is added via a mini expansion. So what are these extra dimensions that set it apart and elevates it above the other games we’ve seen on this list? The stand-out feature is not the worker placement ‘action wheel’, representing a Renaissance port. This acts as a command center for the exploration of a caribbean archipelago, seeking out villages for occupation and expansion, and gathering resources for trade and wealth. It’s pretty, but does a familiar job. Instead, what gives this ‘euro at heart’ game its multi-layered dimension is firstly the modular tiles which gradually get placed revealing the islands as we explore. And secondly, are a set of narrative Evolution cards whos costs evolve from turn to turn, offering both a new level of strategy as well as a stength of story and theme. All the while, you have an economic dimension as the game monitors the feality of the natives, and the fluctuating domestic and foreign markets where cattle, fruit, fish, wood, stone and iron are traded. Specifically for the soloist, the expansion provides you with a set of objective cards that define how long you have, and what targets you must meet, as you explore, gather and trade. It has a lot of gameplay, next to no downtime (which for a solist is time spent following the game’s script) because there are so many decsiopns to make, and so many points of interraction with the game. It really is a great experience.