So you’ve been asking for a new top 10… How about a top 100? And my goodness, this was difficult. I’ve pained over the list, it’s been toying with me, each game has been sweetly whispering its secrets to claim its place amongst publishing giants like Fantasy Flight and Days of Wonder. First lets lay the ground rules and see what is not included…
The list won’t include multi-player competitive games that people like to solo by playing both sides. It will contain multi-player co-operative games that can be played solo (i.e. have no traitor variant). I’ll try to avoid fan-made solo variants of games, as I want this to be a reflection of games as designed and published… but a few have slipped through. Never say never, right ?! I’ll also not include expansions, unless an expansion explicitly introduces solo play.
And finally, it is purely personal choice. You will disagree. You should disagree. A gamer’s top 100 is [almost] as complex as their DNA. But it may help someone who doesn’t know where to begin with solo gaming, or someone who is looking for some inspiration.
The list is as diverse as it is long, so I hope you’ll find something here to interest you, be it family, wargame, card game or dungeon crawler. Your favourite game might be missing. I will only include games I own and have played, otherwise my opinion is meaningless. So, I know there are some obvious omissions: Ambush! ? At the Gates of Loyang ? If they are your thing, I’ve not had the pleasure…. but of course I would love to at some point. You’ll notice, too, an absence of wargames and things like the DVG Leader Series, and many GMT games, like the COIN Series, that I’d love to get hold of… I just can’t get those things over here in the UK
So that’s it: my personal 100 favourites from those I own. Let’s start with #100-91 ….
BOX OF DELIGHTS TOP 100 SOLO BOARD GAMES
100. Zombies Keep Out (Privateer Press)
Zombies Keep Out is an interesting choice, and perhaps not an obvious one – the game is not well known, though it does have an expansion now. Privateer Press are best known for their Warmachine and Hordes miniatures series, and they’re damn good at it, but they have been putting out quite a few ambitious, and well produced, board and card games, and they often keep the soloist in mind. Were they cashing in on the zombie theme or is there something worth looking at here? It’s like one of those tower defense games, with zombies coming at you in a never-ending stream. But PP have given the mechanics of the game some thought and come up with an interesting concept that I’ve not seen elsewhere, and it does indeed give the soloist a nice little challenge. Whilst keeping the zombies from the door, you are trying to build contraptions to win the game. As a consequence it takes on a pleasing resource management concept: do I defend, do I attack, or do I invent? Every choice is a painful one, and there’s never an obvious optimal move (randomness does play its part). The sense of danger is ever present, keeping the tension mounting as the game progresses. I’m not a big fan of the cartoon presentation, or the idea of playing angry goblins defending their workshop, but fun none-the-less. The only thing that lets it down as a solo game is the way you are wounded: two bites and you can’t build contraptions, which may result in a dead-end game that makes you want to hit the restart button. It finds a spot on the list for its concept, despite the dead-end possibility, and despite it being a little repetitive. It’s quick, it’s fun, and you can play co-op with the kids!
99. Space Alert (CGE)
You’re probably not surprised to see this on my list, though you may have thought it would be placed higher. Check out my video and you’ll see how this plays solo, and what a blast it can be. It finds its spot on the list because it is one heck of a solo hit. But its not one I will take too often! I’ve traded this one away now, but it had a good spot on the shelf for a while. It just doesn’t fit in my collection anymore. It’s live action, intense, and challenges you to think quicker than Einstein on a speeding bullet. You have to give it go. You won’t forget it. But you may want to bring a few friends along for the ride next time…
98. Castle Panic (Fireside Games)
I like this game. Like ‘Zombies Keep Out’ it is a tower defense game, but it has you defending a castle this time, from hordes of goblins, orcs and trolls rolling ever closer to your walls. The decisions are much more obvious this time though, so it’s not so demanding on the brain (actually not demanding much at all), and it is more fun with the kids than it is as a solo game. But it is an easy way to unwind, like doing a jigsaw puzzle. The theme works better, it has no fiddly rules, and the additional expansions make it heaps better. Simple, approachable, good as a gateway, and still holds a decent spot in my collection. Despite the expansions making it more viable for the soloist, it does go on a bit too long…..
97. Steam Donkey (Ragnar Brothers)
This time we have a variant that didn’t come in the original game box. And for the sake of disclosure, yes, I designed the variant. But it works really well, and the guys at Ragnar Brothers did their thing to make it better. They published the solo rules here on BGG. Steam Donkey is a set collecting card game, and this variant has you competing against a timer deck that is racing to the end state as quickly as you are. The theme is wonderful, and the card-play is addictive. Set up a few hands and you can happily while away an evening trying to beat the game to create the perfectly formed seaside resort. Owning the game is a pleasure, and even more pleasing to play.
96. XCOM : The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games)
FFG did a great job of fusing board game with digital app here. Like Space Alert, the game is played in real-time, but with an app that controls the AI and the random events, it brings the genre into the 21st century. The development is incredibly polished, and the components are of the high quality we come to expect from Fantasy Flight. There is no rulebook, however, as everything is taught via the app. So, unlike space alert, there is no analogue way to play. But the immersion in the theme is solid, and although you’ll need a few practice runs, you’ll be ticking like an XCOM general in no time. It is frantic, and co-op is going to give you a better immersive experience. Possibly the best digital/cardboard hybrid? Could be. But more often than not, I’ll be reaching for something a little more tranquil.
95. Fungi / Morels (Pegasus Spiele)
The second of our choice of solo card games, and you may find a few more to come on this list. First off, I love the theme. What?! It’s about fungi! Yes, but what’s more releaxing than a stroll through the woods picking some fruits of the forest and taking them home to fry up with some butter, a little garlic, and accompanied by a glass of wine (bottled by Viticulture)? The solo rules I use are those by BGG user GameRulesforOne. You’re looking to get a high score, a personal best. The rules are a little fiddly, but easy to manage once you get going, and they do capture the essence of the 2-player game. The rules could be more streamlined perhaps, and as a result the variant doesn’t get as much play as some others.
94. Tannhäuser (Fantasy Flight Games)
Tannhäuser is now out of print, and you are going to struggle to find the expansion Daedalus that includes the solo variant for the base game. The good news is you can watch my film to find out how it works! The solo rules have pre-defined routes for patrolling guards, making it feel like the video game Wolfenstein (from the early 90s). It’s great to be able to break out the minis, the super simple rules, and the customisation of your characters in a solo skirmish. The downside? You’re not getting the best out of the game. You’ll want to play PvP. The solo variant has limited legs, but it is a blast every once in a while. If you feel up to it, you could get other maps and create your own custom routes for the robotic guards. One thing to look out for: the guards are doing circuits which cross some paths in both directions, so do try to remember which way they were going when you come to move them. So, not the best out of the box solo variant, but it works well enough to give you a good game.
93. Dungeon Roll (Tasty Minstrel Games)
Dungeon Roll is a no-nonsense dice chucking push-your-luck game. It doesn’t try to be too clever, it doesn’t ask too much of the players, but is small and neat and gives you a dose of solo dice-rolling fun. It’ll be a Marmite choice, but for folks who like games like Cosmic Wimpout, you’ll know why I enjoy Dungeon Roll. There are interesting choices to be made, and you’ll make of the game what you will. For me it does its job well, and fills that gap of an unadulterated, simple as snakes, dice-rolling solitaire.
92. A.D. 30 (Victory Point Games)
Victory Point Games have been championing solitaire board games for some time now. Few do it better. You’re going to find more of theirs on this list. But my first pick is one that stands out from the rest of their States of Siege series, not just because of the theme, but also because of its gameplay. VPG do not list this as a SoS game, but it is very much inspired by the series, which is typified by ‘enemies’ that march inextricably forward. Some folks are sensitive to theme: should a game be made that reflects the life of Jesus? The question seems unavoidable when talking about A.D. 30, but the designer has written a well presented paper on the subject. For me, a history buff, I’ll happily see it as a game design first, a history lesson second, and anything beyond that is not relevant to this forum. It plays relatively quickly for a VPG solitaire, has a small footprint, and is wonderful to look at. There is some dice rolling, but the game never succumbs to a feeling that luck was the only factor. You can get better at the game, and there are some real tight tactical decisions to be made. I find it very engaging and a great little diversion.
91. Bremerhaven (Lookout Games)
You’ll find that Euro-games don’t feature often. For two reasons: firstly, they often feature worker placement, tile laying, drafting and auctions, which are all mechanisms that I don’t normally enjoy, and secondly, euros are more often than not very strategic, and creating a solitaire variant is difficult without losing the essence of the game. However, Bremerhaven is one of the few that does it successfully (there are others and we will see more on this list) right out of the box, by actually building in components and rules specifically for solo play. What impresses me most is that this game includes both the auction and worker placement mechanic, and the solo design successfully solves both of them. I also like economic games, so this grabbed my attention and got me to take a second look. A deck of Newspaper cards controls the biddig of a dummy player (imagine the market is responding to newsworthy events) and its deck of Influence cards program its actions. For the most part Dummy is just creating an external force, affecting your end-game score. A lot of people don’t like a solo game with a score, and prefer a definitive win or lose state, but I am happy to have a scale of victory, and for an economic game it fits well. If you like economic euros and thought a solitaire could not exist, then take a look at this oft-overlooked paragon.