With so many of us working, playing and living our lives from home under lockdown, there”s a lot to be said for those special kinds of board games that can be played solo. Bringing the spirit of solitaire to a whole range of gametypes and genres. We”ve ammassed the best solo board games you can play by yourself below, and considering that playing tabletop games alone has gone from sad to rad, it”s worth getting on board! No pun intended.
But what makes a great solo board game? Obviously, it has to be just as fun as playing it with other people (or, if it’s a one-player board game, as fun as playing any game with other people). But whether it”s one of the best co-op board games or beginner games, it must also not feel like its solitaire mode is an afterthought, or that there’s something missing – especially in the case of experiences designed for many players. Often, it will have an immersive theme that fits a solo character; it won’t ask you to handle too much in the way of dummy player actions; there will be minimal rule changes; and it won’t take forever to setup.
So, whether you want to explore a distant land alone, defend a kingdom against demons, solve an Elizabethan mystery or just be the best scientist you can possibly be, here’s our pick of the best ways to board-game alone.
Adventure across a mysterious land to cure your curse
An adventuring fantasy game about exploration, discovery, and the great unknown.
In the credits for Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter’s narrative-driven card game, you’ll find a very revealing dedication: to Gary Chalk, Joe Dever, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (among others) for their “inspirational work”. These writers were behind the adventure-book boom of the mid-’80s, and their influence on The 7th Continent oozes from every card.
Casting its player (or players; it works with a group, too) as an early-20th century explorer trying to lift a deadly curse in a distant, mythical land, it doesn’t only replicate the story-fuelled, explore-and-survive atmosphere of an old-school Fighting Fantasy-style book. It also elegantly translates that into a slick, easy-to-learn, map-building tabletop experience, with no leafing backwards and forwards through text-heavy scenarios.
Even better, it replaces constant dice rolling with judicious deck and hand-management, making it far more strategic and less reliant on chance than those gamebooks of old. But the best thing about it is the thrill of discovery it creates, as you venture forth into its wild unknown. Powerfully compelling.
Buy The 7th Continent directly from publisher Serious Pulp.
Crunchy combat in a fantasy epic that”s best enjoyed solo
A tougher, more rewarding kind of game with nuanced combat and tactics.
These days, Vlaada Chvatil is best known for his highly accessible party game Codenames. But for serious gamers, his magnum opus remains this 2011 deckbuilding epic, which demands the absorption of a knotty ruleset and rewards you with a game whose multi-layered, fine-tuned mechanisms translate into a fascinatingly challenging fantasy adventure.
The problem is, it is such a thinky game it leads to a lot of downtime. Which is why many Mage Knight fans agree it’s actually best appreciated solo. Freed from the sighs and foot-taps of other players, you’re able to spend as long as you like over each of your turns, carefully playing down your cards in just the right order to maximise your actions, and better guide your spell-slinging warrior through a treacherous landscape towards city-conquering victory.
Buy Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition from Amazon UK/Amazon US.
Build a luscious paradise on the next world
A sci-fi resource-management experience about commandeering the red planet.
Terraforming Mars can be played by up to five players, but it”s perfectly tailored for a great game experience no matter how many you choose to play it with, and works just as well with one. Start off on a dusty wasteland, then use harvested resources to grow greenery, craft the necessities, earn money, and just make sure that there”s enough oxygen to keep everybody breathing to the next turn. Not only that, but there”s a whole load of expansions to enhance the game and give it further nuance. I know where I”m booking my next holiday.
Buy Terraforming Mars from Zatu or Amazon US.
Fight off invaders as a powerful defender of nature
A colourful, complex experience about battling back colonisers.
Smartly flipping the colonial conquest theme of classic board games such as Catan on its head, R. Eric Reuss” Spirit Island is all about taking control of furious forces of nature and co-operatively using their powers to scare off a violently invasive European force. Like Mage Knight, it has a high complexity level which makes for very long group sessions, but also like Mage Knight it scales perfectly down to a better-paced single-player experience.
This mostly involves a lot of very focused concentration, figuring out the puzzle each turn presents you, in terms of how best to employ your gradually thickening deck of elemental powers and send those pale ravagers back across the waves before they overwhelm your precious home.
Buy Spirit Island from Amazon UK/Amazon US.
Questing in a dark fantasy world
A D&D-inspired epic about progressing through a dangerous world of demons and monsters.
Though it looks and plays like a blend of Talisman and Forbidden Island – one of the best family board games to play at Christmas (or anytime of the year, for that matter) – Gloom of Kilforth’s roots are very firmly in Dungeons & Dragons, being based on designer Tristan Hall’s own teen-years campaign for the venerable RPG. And it does have the feel of an entire campaign boiled down into a two-hour game, with your character given a “saga” to complete, levelling them up in a card-grid kingdom via quests for keywords, before you’re ready to destroy the hideous demon who’s gradually casting the land into deadly shadow.
Unlike many solo variants of some of the best co-op board games, which require you to take two or more party members, Kilforth allows for a true Lone Wolf experience, weaving a tough but satisfying, one-person-against-mounting-odds story with each solo playthrough.
Buy Gloom of Kilforth from Amazon UK.
Fight to keep your sanity (and your organs) as you battle ancient gods and worse.
Cthulhulian craziness abounds in this dark and fascinating deck-building game.
Arkham Horror can be played with one or two players, and though it”s technically easier with two, it”s far, far more tense with just one, as you strive to do everything you can to keep extra-dimensional horrors firmly stuck in their own extra dimensions.
Here the focus is on building whole campaigns and escapades, developing your character, the threats against them, the best ways for you to confront whatever menace approaches. You can use pre-constructed decks or build your own as you begin to learn all the little nuances of the system, and when you do get the chance to play with a friend, it”ll add a whole new flavour to the game!
Buy Arkham Horror: The Card Game from Zatu.
Survive a siege in the heart-wrenching video game board game
A powerful game about the unending challenges of a realistic warzone.
As a tabletop adaptation of a video game, it should come as little surprise that This War of Mine: The Board Game works well with a single player. But what makes it really stand out is the stark boldness of its theme, where you have to manage actions, workers and resources to survive in the rubble-strewn heart of a modern-day war zone.
It also proves to be a strikingly emotional experience, thanks to the ethical dilemmas it presents and the strength of its (branching) narrative elements, which are enshrined in the game’s Journal and Book of Stories, drawing extensively from real, historical events.
Buy This War of Mine: The Board Game from Amazon UK/Amazon US.
See how you”d fare after a shipwreck in the classic tale of endurance turned tabletop
A shipwreck saga based on one of the greatest survivors in all of literature.
Given it’s based on one of the best-known individual-against-nature stories, it’s hardly surprising Robinson Crusoe should be so highly regarded as a solo game. The survivor of a shipwreck, you need to carefully plan out your actions to eke out some kind of life on a desert island, having to find shelter and food, while fighting the fauna and the elements, and also exploring, drawing from a reassuringly thick event deck to find out what unexpected boon or hindrance lies behind the next palm frond.
It benefits from a strategic depth which justifies its complexity, but be warned: it can get pretty brutal, and will likely take several attempts before your score your first win.
Buy Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island from Amazon UK/Amazon US.
Join genius scientists in pursuit of knowledge and invention
A gentler, but no less rewarding game based around renaissance-era scientific discovery.
Despite its theme of rivalry in the 17th-century scientific community, the pleasingly intricate Newton is a relatively gentle engine-builder, with very little player interaction. Which means it translates smoothly and painlessly to a single-player mode, with barely any rulebook exceptions.
With so many routes to success enshrined in its sprawling boards, and a pleasing mix of puzzles, which combine point-to-point movement, tile placing, deckbuilding and judicious hand management, it proves to be a tight, neat and engrossing solitaire experience.
Buy Newton from Amazon UK/Amazon US.
It”s you against a spaceship full of aliens in this sci-fi horror board game
Get your Giger going and escape game over in this terrifying sci-fi defence game.
A very recent entry, but one which earns its place through the game’s engrossing, Alien-style sci-fi horror-survival theme. (Although it”s not actually based on the film, so it doesn”t quite qualify as one of the best movie board games that are actually good.) Though much of the drama of its multiplayer core game comes from the fact that each player has a secret objective, the absence of this agenda-conflict element in solo mode is more than compensated for by the way it so effectively weaves an atmosphere of ‘one person alone in a vast spaceship full of deadly aliens’.
Having been rudely awoken from hibernation, you must race against time — and combat deadly, slimy extra-terrestrials — to complete a solo-calibrated objective, trying to move around the ship as carefully and silently as possible, as noise attracts the nasties. It’s this tension between stealth and speed which really creates the drama in Nemesis, though the quality of the board and miniatures certainly doesn’t hurt.