Continuing the run-down of the Box of Delights top 100 solo games, let’s look at #80-71. These are getting real good !
BOX OF DELIGHTS TOP 100 SOLO BOARD GAMES
80. Lord of the Rings (Fantasy Flight Games)
This game is something of a classic now, which sounds strange to say for an old fella like me, because it was first published in 2000. So not only did that year see in a new century, it also saw a new phenomenon in board gaming as one of the first popular co-operative games. Since then, co-ops have become a strong staple for soloists, since most (excepting those with traitor mechanics or hidden information) translate well to a solitaire experience. This game is card-driven, and victory can be achieved by playing your cards at the right time, choosing the right path for Frodo and his companions as they journey to Mount Doom. This one tells a wonderful, though familiar, story and the climax to the game is so sweetly designed (it is Knizia after all) that it never fails to disappoint. A great gate-way to introduce new players to the co-op phenom, this is a solid choice to have in anyone’s collection.
79. Onirim (Z-Man Games)
If you’re a solo gamer then you surely can’t have failed to hear about Onirim. It’s a small deck of cards with various ways to play (expansions add more variety) and you’ll be wanting to play ‘just one more time‘ trying to win. In Klondike fashion you are somewhat at the mercy of the card order, but as you try to collect sets of cards and play them in a timely order, you’ll get the feeling you can still pull out a win all the way down to the last card. The artwork is very easy on the eye, with its dreamlike quality. There is a simple elegance in its design and you’ll find the challenge both frustrating and joyful… The game has follow-up designs in Urbion and Sylvion, which I have yet to try, with the similar dream-like artwork and the same 1-2 player count.
If I say, “Crystal Maze”, you may know what I mean and then you’ll know how I’m describing this game. It’s subtitle is “Run, Survive, Escape“. You’ll be looking to escape from maze of rooms, some of which will trap you, kill you, or in some way hinder your progress. You will need to control many characters to play solo, and this can be a bit fiddly, but it still deserves its spot on the list due to the originality in theme and design. I am hoping to get hold of the expansion, Season-2, as this will spice up solo play tonnes. It’s still a solid game with just the base set, but you may not play too frequently in order to keep it fresh when you do. You WILL need a good memory when playing solitaire, so if this doesn’t float your boat then you may want to try a different room….
Renaissance Man took me a little by surprise. What’s good about its solitaire variant is that it plays so similarly to the multi-player game, making it a real good way to hone your skills. And it offers a good level of challenge. As with many of these types of solitaire card games, they have their roots in Klondike-type play, where you are governed a lot by the draw of the cards and how you choose to lay one upon another. This time you are trying to build a pyramid, with rules dictating which card can be laid upon another, and your options get more and more restricted as you head up the pyramid and it gets narrower and narrower. What sets RM apart, claiming such a high spot for this type of game, is that it gives you a diverse set of supporting mechanisms to let you mitigate the draw, grab some supporting cards when you can, deconstruct the pyramid and change tac part-way through, and it gives you a control over your strategy by allowing you to plan ahead and build the pyramid how you wish it it go. Yes, there’s real strategy here!
76. Chrononauts (Looney Labs)
Chrononauts must be one of the first popular solitaire card games. It plays 1-6 and was designed and published in 2000 by Looney Labs. The premise is that you are a time-traveller, but the theme is really only incidental. This one plays like a real puzzle in solo mode as (kind of like ‘Spiel..so lange du kannst!’) you try to sequence your card plays to earn the victory. In both those games, a better memory for which cards have come out will help you reach victory. What I like about Chrononauts though, is both the story it delivers and the way the cards interact with each-other. It’s a neat design that plays quickly and has a few expansions to keep you occupied. Meanwhile, there appears to be a Back to the Future re-implementation, though I’ve not seen it yet.
75. Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy (Portal)
We’re heading into real quality and originality territory now. When Portal published Legacy with a solo variant straight out of the box I was VERY impressed. In fact there are two variants, and each is a standalone game from the multi-player rules. This presents me with mixed feelings: firstly it’s great (!) but secondly I wonder if the solo variant will have as much appeal for the folks who enjoy the multi-player game. The game sees you building your family tree, with mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, husbands and wives. There really is nothing else like it in my collection. It’s not the best solo game in the world (we are still here at #75), but to be in my top 75 ranks it pretty highly all the same. It’s a game I am going to play infrequently, but when I do I will enjoy it, because although there is freshness in the design, infrequency will necessarily keep the gameplay fresh. The game shines in its multi-player form and with the fun that can be had in a group with its theme. It’s scoring lots of points for its originality and attention to the solo rules.
74. Hapsburg Eclipse (Victory Point Games)
If there’s one company that understands the solo gamer then it’s VPG. Even their non-solo games have a “solitaire suitability” ranking on their box. And these next two in the list show you the type of games that come from the VPG stable on a regular basis, specifically designed for the soloist. I’ve picked these two for their approachability and for the fun factor they deliver. Hapsburg Eclipse is ‘States of Siege‘ epitomised. It’s no-nonsense, easy to learn and play, and delivers that tension you expect from a game in this series. This time we’re the Austro-Hungarian empire during WWI, defending against the invading “Russian Steamroller” on many fronts . The off-map battles are real simple, and the National Will and foreign country Loyalty tracks float during gameplay to step up the threat. These additions together give you the extra dimension that each game in the series brings, and in this case they play out quickly and simply. I would highly recommend this one as a jumping-in point if you are yet to explore the series. If you like it, you can then take a look at Ottoman Sunset, which is its sister game, and either can be played stand-alone or combined. The bonus is that this has a pretty small footprint. Have a go at the historical sequence of events variant and you’ll enjoy the unravelling chronology.
73. In Magnificent Style (Victory Point Games)
Continuing to illustrate the other dimension to VPG’s solo games (though this one can be played PvP also), we have a game from their ‘Death or Glory!’ series, and this time we are wandering into wargame territory. It’s more akin to the DVG Field Commander series though, and less like full-blown wargames like D-Day at Omaha Beach. It is lighter still, than the DVG games, making it a great introduction to games in the wargame direction. It will appear as more of a push-your-luck dice-rolling game to us boardies, depicting Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg . You’ll be marching your armies, like some kind of pawn advance, towards your enemy, and when you feel like you’ve pushed your luck far enough, your units will hold their ground and wait until a later turn to move again. If you continue to push and fail, your units will fall back to where they last advanced from. All the while they are being bombarded by enemy forces. It’s great fun, and you’ll need to keep your wits about you as you decide which column to advance with and how to time the plays of your commanders’ specials. What sets it apart from games like the classic Can’t Stop, which uses a similar push-your-luck system, is that you will be dealing with wargame-like mechanics, like shaken troops, and terrain penalties.
I’ve compared a few of our solo card games on this list to Klondike so far. Well SOS Titanic is Klondike! But, of course, it adds new dimensions. Instead of placing 2s on Aces and 3s on 2s to work the cards out of the game, we are rescuing passengers from the ill-fated HMS Titanic. The theme fits so very well, it’s brilliant! And with the theme come all the extra mechanisms that make this a deeply engaging solitaire card game. You’ll wonder why you’ll ever need to play Klondike again. You’ll have crew members each with their own special ability; You’ll have an array cards (on which to ‘queue’ the passengers as they wait to board lifeboats) that grows ever smaller as the ship slowly sinks, so it no longer stays as the row of 7 columns you are used to in Klondike. A wonderful distraction with beautiful components, that should be a staple in any soloist’s collection. Get yourself a copy and save your 52-card-deck for bridge-night!
71. Mice & Mystics (Plaid Hat Games)
The pick of today’s 10 is another thematic co-op (get used to it, we’re going to see lots of them!), but this time one that ranks very highly on BGG at number 25 in the thematic rankings. Many people will have this in their top-10 list of solo games. It’s on my list, but not nearly so highly. It’s beautiful, it has wonderful components, an engaging story and a sumptuous narrative (I ran out of superlatives!). It does better than many thematics, absolutely. But does it shine as a solo game? It plays much better with other people, if you can get past the setup time. Yes, you’ll need to set this one up ahead of time if you want to play this during family game-night. The setup is one reason it doesn’t rank so highly on my list, but also because I find it very tricky to manage multiple hands playing solo. Rarely does a thematic game draw you into its world as well as M&M does. The story is brilliant, the theme engaging, but solo it loses that shine. It’s fun to play, and it deserves its place for the rich experience. But it won’t get anywhere near my top-10 of solo games because of the loss of engagement that affects it more than most when trying to manage multiple characters. But you gotta adore those little mice, right? So cute!