The following is a guest list from contributor Anthony Ball.
I play a lot of solo games. They help take my mind off of things and are a source of relaxation. An ideal solo game provides a good challenge, feels like you’re playing against an opponent, and preferably is one where you are not simply attempting to beat you own score. These are currently my top 10 solitaire games.
10. Terraforming Mars
This engine building game plays really well at lower player counts, and I would go as far to say that it plays best solo. Terraforming Mars’s solo mode is the same as the normal multiplayer game, except a game only lasts 14 generations, and you must fulfill all of the objectives. A game begins with selecting one of two starting corporations. After that, you decide how many cards you’d like to purchase each round. Before you know it, you’ve been playing for about 45 minutes, and you’ve either won or lost. Due to the sheer number of cards and shortened game length in a solo game of Terraforming Mars, it is unfotunately very susceptible to the luck of the draw. If you wind up without production or event cards early-on, it can be an uphill battle, and may cause you to lose the game. This is one of the things preventing the game from ranking higher for me, as luck is significantly higher compared with a multiplayer game with card drafting.
9. Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (Preferably with the X-Men Expansion)
Legendary is a deck building game where you are fighting a different scheme and adversary combination each game. On your turn, you will recruit heroes and fight off villains (potentially even the main mastermind) while making sure you don’t lose the game. One of the main selling points of this as a solo game is the high variability in gameplay. There is almost an endless combination of schemes, villains to fight against, and heroes to use. No two games are going to be the same. The game itself is very easy to learn and features two different variants for solo play so you can choose the difficulty you’d like to play. I prefer playing with the X-Men Expansion. It adds to the game’s difficulty and gives you the ability to use some of the older, weaker mastermind cards with increased attacks and limits, such as fewer cards in your hand (only alters mastermind and not villain cards). The one major drawback to Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game is the setup time. Due to multiple decks needing to be made and choosing heroes that have synergy together, the process can take longer than some may like.
8. Ex Libris
Ex Libris is a worker placement game where you are building your own personal library made up of book sets found on various cards. In the solo game, it is just as important to consider cards you discard as the cards you play. As a result, you’ll find that the solo gameplay feels a bit different than the multiplayer version. Every card you discard go to the public library (which represents the opponent you are trying to beat). Just as you have your own scoring objective, so does your opponent. Because of this, it is important when discarding cards to make sure that you are not giving your opponent the books he needs to complete his. The location tiles diminish over time, so the game actually becomes more difficult as the game progresses, a game state that is rarity among worker placement games. The variety of player powers, random location draws, and different objectives make the game highly replayable. With awesome gameplay, a playtime of only 20 minutes, and different difficulty levels, you have an excellent solo game
7. Clank! In! Space!
The solo mode for this deck building game is run completely by the free Renegade app (iOS/Android) and takes place over 5 chapters. The main aspects of the multiplayer game, the deck building and travelling through the ship in an effort to earn victory points remains the same in the solo experience, but additional objectives are also added. The different chapters force you to take specific paths and visit certain locations before you can obtain the artifact and evacuate the ship. The app also removes some of the available cards each round, giving the solo game the feel of a multiplayer one. Some of the chapter are very difficult, especially so if there are a lot of boss attacks occurring. Unlike in a multiplayer game, there are only your own cubes in the bag, which makes you more susceptible to damage. One of the things keeping this from being higher on my list of solo games, is the setup and teardown time. It takes nearly 20 minutes.
This is a worker placement game in which you feed vegetables to tourists who visit your village in Iceland. Every round you will use worker actions to plant and harvest vegetables with the aid of your greenhouses. The solo game takes place over 5 rounds (opposed to the 7 rounds in the multiplayer game) with the goal of earning a certain amount of points on the scoring track. There are only 10 actions you can take with your 3 workers. After placing a worker, it remains on the board, and blocks an action space on your following turn. This blocking adds weight to your decisions without the need to simulate another player. You’ll need to plan ahead, considering if you will need a particular action next. The solo game is exceptionally tight and getting to the winning position on the scoring track is rather difficult. There is a lot of replayability in the solo mode, especially with the added campaign mode. The campaign mode adds a variable setup, certain objectives to complete, and various “improvement cards” that you can get during each game. The only downside of the solo Reykholt in my opinion is the event deck that comes with the campaign mode. The negative events can be harsh and the positive ones are very situational. This makes for a game dependent more on luck than I typically enjoy.
This is a worker placement, hand management, and action selection game with multiple paths to victory. During your turn you will swap a card from your hand with one on the board and take the corresponding action if it is of a higher value. Or if it a lower value, pay workers. The solo mode is run by an automa. The AI plays as another player would, by swapping cards and taking actions. Afterwards, it takes several bonus actions in order to maximize points from its available workers. The board changes just as it wold in the multiplayer game, and as a result, the game is just as tactical solo. The automa provides a real challenge as an opponent, playing almost exactly like a 2-player game. This speaks volumes to its design. To feel like a real 2-player game is impressive. The downside however is that it can be a little fiddly. You must remember to do your own actions, the automa’ actions, and the automa’s bonus actions each turn.
4. Teotihuacan: City of Gods
Teotihuacan: City of Gods is a rondel game where you collect resources, use them to build a central pyramid, decorate that pyramid, and worship at various temples over 3 phases. The solo mode for this game is run by a set of tiles where the action it chooses determined by rolling two dice and using their combined value. The system allows you to predict what the solo player might do on their turn, and how likely it will be to succeed. You can plan ahead and make sure the bot doesn’t make locations in the game too expensive to visit. The solo game has the feel of a regular 2-player game. The bot is difficult to beat and requires you to strategize, thinking multiple turns ahead in order to prevent it from advancing the game to your disadvantage. Unfortunately, the bot does require a lot of maintenance, which you do get used to, but still increases the complexity of turns.
Agricola is a classic worker placement game in which you build a farm in the 17th century. Over 14 rounds, you will grow your family, gain livestock, and improve your facilities using various cards. Much of Agricola revolves around the card play. You are dealt 14 at the start of the game and you must decide how best to use them, gaining the necessary resources, and timing your cards for the maximum benefit. The game is best played solo by doing a campaign. Each game in the campaign requires more points to win than the last, with an increasing number of occupations remaining in play from game to game, with the cumulative effects of these cards persisting. This adds engine building to a game that typically has very little of it. As there are so many cards in Agricola, the replayability is very high.
2. Viticulture: Essential Edition
Viticulture is a classic engine-building, worker placement game where you have to run an Italian winery. First you plant grapes, then you harvest them, and finally you make wine in order to fulfill orders. The solo mode is run by an automa deck that blocks worker spots during two phases each turn. You have just seven turns to exceed 20 points, further aided by bonus tokens that enable you to increase the effect of your actions. These include effect such as playing an extra card and getting a discount on certain spots. The real selling point of this solo mode is the ease of play. It is incredibly easy to read the automa cards and understand where to place the workers. A solo game of Viticulture only takes about 30 minutes to play. The game also comes with an excellent campaign mode that gives you various win conditions and forces you to play the game differently and explore various strategies. It’s also highly replayable with numerous solo variants.
1. A Feast for Odin
A Feast for Odin is a huge, sprawling Viking adventure of resource management and worker placement. The primary aim is to fill boards with items that can be crafted, pillaged, and upgraded in order to earn and reduce negative points. There are 60 worker placement spots which vary in power level, with better actions costing your more Vikings, but allowing you to play cards from your hand. In a solo game of A Feast for Odin, you play two different colored vikings, alternating between the two each round. The Vikings you place in this round remain there for the next one, blocking action spaces. You would think that with so many potential places to put workers, that blocking these locations wouldn’t be much of a problem, but it is. It makes you consider not only the current turn but the next as well. The reason I think this is the best solo game that I have played is because of the elegance of it. Blocking yourself from taking actions leads to much deeper choices with each placed worker. There are so many ways to score points in the game, that each game can end up being completely different the one before, especially considering the variability added by the 200 or so cards that come in the box. There is also an entire 18 chapters of a highly thematic solo variant available on BGG that can further add to its replayability. It’s fantastic.