Bringing a board game to the tabletop isn’t typically something that’s done solo. Most games focus on player interaction, story-building, and strategy that is amplified by having a few of your buddies playing along with you. Sometimes that’s not possible though. Not to mention, with 1 player you won’t have to convince anyone of which game to bring to the table.
In fact, most of my time playing board games has been solo. It’s pretty difficult setting up a time when everyone can get together. Luckily, there are some fantastic games that not only lend themselves well to single-player, some are entirely built as a solo experience.
We’re not talking some version of solitaire (or equally drab game). These are some of the newest board games out and most are standout games in their own right, played solo or with a group.
#1: Mage Knight
This game is an epic RPG dungeon crawl with some of the best solo play of any board game out there. You control a powerful Mage Knight and try to conquer the cities of an evil empire.
A word of caution: this game is huge, and definitely fits best with someone that really loves tabletop games. There’s a lot of setup and an encyclopedia of rules surrounding the gameplay.
However, this game totally pays off and gives all of that time you put in right back to you in just how much replayability it has. In fact, all of that replayability and depth is the reason it is one of the most highly rated games you can get (in any category). It’s often compared to Gloomhaven in its gameplay which is saying a lot since Gloomhaven has dominated the top spot in board gaming for years.
Suffice to say, Mage Knight wraps up a great single-player experience inside this heavy RPG game.
Unlike the game that takes our top spot, this is one of the best strategy games that has come out recently. In Scythe you play 1 of 5 factions attempting to rule the lands of Eastern Europe. The base of the game is engine-building, which is a type of game that requires players to strategize their faction building in a way that produces more goods or power for their factions as the game goes on.
Normally, you have several people playing the different factions. However, the guys at Stonemaier Games have a clever system in many of their games which allow them to be played solo. This system is called Automa, a kind of AI that determines moves for the game to play against you.
Throwing the word AI around makes the game seem like it might feel hollow and less surprising than playing with a human opponent. However, it feels surprisingly similar to playing with another person, the decisions the game makes can be unexpected and really makes the single-player version of the game interesting to play.
Taking one of the best strategy games on the market and attaching a top-notch AI to make solo play possible definitely earns this game one of the top spots on the list. On top of that, the Automa system works with the expansions to the game and some expansions even add more Automa cards, which adds a lot of replayability to the solo mode.
#3: Spirit Island
This is one of the few co-op board games on the list. Being a co-op game makes it a great solo board game naturally, there aren’t any new rules to learn. It’s the same as the multiplayer game, you just don’t have anyone else sitting at the table helping you make decisions.
Spirit Island places you as one of the spirits of nature defending an island that is being overtaken by colonization. It’s kind of the reverse of Catan.
This game is pretty difficult even with other people and requires a lot of strategy to end up winning. It can be beat playing as 1 spirit but most people recommend playing 2 spirits to make the game slightly easier to win, at least until you understand the nuances of how to beat this game.
Once you’ve taken a few victories playing as 2 characters you can step up the challenge and play only 1 spirit, which pretty much sets this game in hard mode.
Overall, this is a fantastic co-op game which meshes perfectly into the solo board game realm.
This is board game royalty. Sitting atop the throne of the #1 board game for a few years now, it’s hard to argue this should be so low on the list. However, it doesn’t quite overtake Mage Knight in solo gameplay and sinks a little lower since there are some games that just do so well with adapting to solo gameplay. However, Gloomhaven does nail a good solo experience at the table.
The game centers around playing an adventurer on a journey in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons with a little more guidance and no need for someone playing a Dungeon Master.
Since this game is a co-op game, it lends itself towards solo play pretty easily but can be pretty difficult if you’re playing only 1 of the starting characters. Generally, it’s best to pick up 2 characters (as if 2 players were at the table) and play them both.
Here’s the thing: adding characters adds some time to choose their actions and general gameplay. So this one can be a time sink in the solo mode. All of that time put into it pays itself back across the crazy 300-hour storyline of the game but not everyone is interested in sinking that much time into a tabletop game.
So this is a fantastic game that can be played solo but maybe not the best solo game.
#5: Arkham Horror: The Card Game
This is a great multiplayer game that absolutely shines as a solo game as well. Arkham Horror: TCG is a romp through a Lovecraftian horror story filled with weird creatures and a crazy story that draws you in like a good novel.
This is a Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games that has add-on story’s which you can buy once you finish the base game to dive a little deeper into the world they craft.
The stories are the core of this game, which means that the replay value isn’t the greatest for the base game. That’s no reason to write this game off though because it has some of the best storylines and worlds building that you can bring to the table.
The great story’s and environment around this game make it a must-buy for any solo board gamer.
#6: Marvel Champions: The Card Game
If you’re into Marvel, look no further for a solo game. This is calling out your name.
Marvel Champions places players as one of their favorite superheroes fighting against classic Marvel villains in storylines crafted in the same fashion as the other games from Fantasy Flight Games “Living Card Game” genre of games.
Since it’s a living card game, there are several stories to purchase once you’ve worn out the base games campaign. There are several superheroes to play, different characteristics, and villains to change out which make it pretty replayable. There’s some longevity to the base game.
There’s a strong theme to this game and some strong strategy is needed to beat the game. Overall, this is a great buy for any Marvel fan or anyone looking for a good strategy game.
#7: Terraforming Mars
This is another game that involves some deep strategy and good engine-building. Terraforming Mars sets you as one of several large corporations trying to fix the Red Planet up to be livable for humans. Just like with the other games on this list, normally you play against other corporations that other people control.
However, there is a good solo mode with this game that gives you 14 generations to completely terraform the planet. Now, there isn’t a fancy AI system or a dedicated script to the solo gameplay so it doesn’t feel quite as fleshed out and nice as some of the other games on the list.
However, this game holds its own when playing solo. It is fun to try to beat the game in the scenario given and definitely takes quite a few tries to succeed.
Unfortunately, the solo play on this game will get stale eventually. The expansions will add a little life back into the solo gameplay once the base game starts to get boring but the expansions will also start to feel a little hollow to win against in solo play.
So it’s a great game to get with multiplayer in mind first and solo play as just a bonus.
If you feel like this list has mostly been made up of medium/heavy games, that’s because it has.
Here’s one for anyone looking for a lighter game that is just as fun to bring to the table. Friday has you play as Friday, a guy trying to help Robinson Crusoe survive on and island and eventually defeat pirates that show up.
This is a fun little card game that requires some strategizing and playing with probabilities, with an emphasis on “little”. The game box is an 8-inch square with a 2-inch depth. It’s perfect for throwing into a backpack for travel. It doesn’t take up much space on a table, is quick to set up, and only has a solo mode. So it’s practically made for travelling around.
This is definitely one of the simplest games on the list but it’s worth looking into adding to the collection. On top of that, it’s the cheapest game on the list as well.
This is another game that relies on the Automa, the board game AI made for several of the games published by Stonemaier Games, to make its solo gameplay work and it plays really well.
Wingspan puts players in the shoes of a conservationist trying to build habitats for birds. Birds are collecting from building up habitats and give you the ability to generate more resources for future birds.
This is another game that falls squarely in the engine-building genre. It’s a pleasure to play: the pacing of the game is perfect since it ramps up very quickly and there is definitely some strategy to getting those birds to come over to your area.
The Automa make this possible to play in a solo setting, but it really shines when played with other people which is why it sits lower on the list.
This is another light card game that is best for someone looking for a more simplistic game that is easy to set up and can go anywhere with them.
This is a solid game to pick up if you’re looking for a quick, lightweight strategy game. Onirim is a card game that centers around finding “door” cards before the deck you are drawing cards from runs out. It’s a careful balance of deciding the most efficient way to play the cards that are in your hand.
I actually bought this game digitally instead of physically and played it a ton since each game lasted only about 15 minutes. There are great adaptations of this game on both Android and iOS (both of which are free) and I would recommend getting the digital version over the physical version for convenience and for the price.