On a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Every Night is Game Night, Jason Perez got some interesting comments on solo gaming from the Dice Tower guys. Tom, Sam, and Zee.
Although Zee has always been friendly to solo gaming, both Tom and Sam have historically been more reluctant to embrace this facet of the hobby. Tom has softened his position considerably since discovering his love of playing Gloomhaven...gasp...SOLO! And while Sam has not developed a personal interest in solo gaming, he certainly supports it as part of the hobby—I would know, since I do a solo segment for one of his YouTube shows, Throat Punch Lunch.
Why, might you ask, is this a big deal? It's a big deal because publishers have not always catered to solo players. Perhaps we haven't seemed like a great investment. Why spend all of that extra development money on a niche within a niche? As a solo player, I believe the more publicity we can get for our part of the hobby, the better.
That said, now is a wonderful time to be a solo gamer, and it all seems to be going uphill from here. Kickstarter is a haven for board games with solo options, and I've picked up several traditionally published games this year that are either solo or cooperative (and thus playable solo). More public support and enjoyment of solo gaming may lead to even further great options down the line.
I would also like to point out that Board Game Geek's current Top 100 contains a surprising number of solo or solo-playable games. Whether having a solo option boosts ratings, I cannot say. But the main conclusion I want to draw from this information is, if you are even remotely solo-curious, odds are you already have a high-quality game on your shelf—a game you love—that you can try by yourself.
And if you try one and have a good time with it... mosey on over to the 1 Player Guild on BGG to discover a whole new world of gaming possibilities.
Here is a list of 37 solo-playable board games that are in the BGG Top 100, as of 12/3/2017. I did not include unofficial solo variants, but if I had, we'd have a much longer list:
Pandemic Legacy (Rank: 1)
Can't find a reliable game group? Who cares? You can save the world single-handedly! Well, okay, you can save it by controlling multiple characters. Also, if you are an unrepentant alpha player, this option may be very satisfying for you.
Gloomhaven (Rank: 2)
This game is long, involved, and absorbing. And again, if you don't have a game group to go with you through every adventure, that is totally fine. Gloomhaven can be played solo as long as you're okay with controlling two characters (more if you feel daring). In fact, Tom Vasel has said that solo is his favorite way to play this game.
Terraforming Mars (Rank: 5)
This game was a huge hit among solo gamers. Not only is it playable solo, but playing alone is an intensely satisfying experience. If you've already enjoyed this one with your friends, you might well enjoy it next time you have a free evening to yourself.
Scythe (Rank: 8)
Scythe comes with a dedicated Automa deck that allows you to compete against another "player." It is also possible to get more than one Automa deck and go up against two AI players for an even more challenging game.
Caverna (Rank: 12)
Uwe Rosenberg games almost always have great solo options. Maximize your victory points by maximizing your productivity during the game. If you enjoy testing out different strategies and solving complex puzzles, you're going to have a great time.
Agricola (Rank: 15)
Another great Uwe Rosenberg game. Not only can you experiment with different occupations and improvements to maximize your score, but you can play Agricola on your iPad because it has a pretty nice app. I get addicted to this one on and off.
Mage Knight (Rank: 16)
Still the best solo game ever. (Even if they vote it out in the Top 100 list over at the 1 Player Guild this year!) Brain burning, adventurous, intense... solo gaming wouldn't be what it is without Mage Knight. I will warn you though, if you don't already have and like this one (or its reskin, Star Trek: Frontiers), the learning curve is steep.
Arkham Horror LCG (Rank: 18)
This relatively new offering from Fantasy Flight games is a cooperative game for two players, or for up to four if you get a second core set. But its solo rules are wonderful, and the game might even be better when you play it by yourself. You can go pure solo and play as only one character, or you can build two decks and play two-handed. Either way, you'll have quite an adventure.
Mansions of Madness 2nd. Ed. (Rank: 20)
This is a cooperative game with good app support. You can definitely enjoy the adventure and story even if there's no one else around to join you. (It might even be more fun that way.)
Mechs vs. Minions (Rank: 21)
Technically a cooperative game, but there is nothing to stop you from enjoying this one solo.
Imperial Assault (Rank: 22)
Very recently made solo-able thanks to an app! You can now be on the cutting edge of solo gaming, if you so choose.
Orléans (Rank: 24)
The Invasion expansion offers several solo variants, all of which are fun. If you also want to try the intense, cooperative "Invasion" scenario, there's nothing to stop you.
Viticulture Essential Edition (Rank: 25)
The Tuscany expansion and Essential Edition both come with Automa decks, meaning you can compete to your heart's content against an AI player who still somehow knows how to frustrate you.
Robinson Crusoe (Rank: 29)
A solo gaming classic. There are specific rules for a solo player, or you can play multiple characters using the co-op rules. Experiment, die a lot, and have a great time.
Le Havre (Rank: 32)
Another Uwe Rosenberg game, another puzzle in which you maximize your resources. If you're into Rosenberg games, you'll have fun.
A Feast for Odin (Rank: 33)
Is this the most extravagant Uwe Rosenberg game yet? Imagine any of his other games, but on steroids. A solo player will spend forever just exploring all of the point-generating options in this game.
The 7th Continent (Rank: 40)
This is a choose-your-own-adventure book turned into a board game. You can play it with others, but you can also hog the story for yourself and make it entirely your own. (I plan to.)
Eldritch Horror (Rank: 43)
Choose two or more investigators and enjoy the ride! This is one of those cooperative games that works perfectly well as a solo experience.
Race for the Galaxy (Rank: 44)
If you pick up the Gathering Storm expansion, you will find an excellent and challenging bot to play against. I love this game, and I appreciate the extra development time that made it possible to play solo.
Kingdom Death: Monster (Rank: 49)
I haven't played KD:M, but from what I understand, the frustration of inevitable and constant death, the bookkeeping, and the general complexity of this game might mean that it's better when played alone. Also, you will find yourself deeply absorbed in the story the game generates whether or not others have joined you.
Dead of Winter (Rank: 53)
This is a cooperative game when played without the traitor mechanic, and it's still not always easy to survive all those zombies. If you've already enjoyed it with friends, give it a whirl on your own.
Fields of Arle (Rank: 54)
It's an Uwe Rosenberg game for 1–2 players. If you already know you like his stuff, knock yourself out!
Clank! (Rank: 56)
Playable solo with the app.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (Rank: 58)
Probably better solo. Technically this game is billed as cooperative, but since it's a game that is heavy on reading and thinking, it's more enjoyable if you are solving the mysteries by yourself.
Pandemic (Rank: 65)
Pick your favorite characters with your favorite skills and save the world!
Descent (Rank: 68)
Descent has both an app and a few cooperative scenario expansions. You don't have to wait for other people to be in the mood for a good dungeon crawl.
The Gallerist (Rank: 69)
Battle it out against a bot player named Lacerda—after the game's designer!
Castles of Mad King Ludwig (Rank: 71)
This game comes with a simple solo variant, enabling you to still have the satisfaction of honing your skills and creating something beautiful even if no one else is there to see it.
Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deckbuilding Game (Rank: 79)
When played alone, this game is a brutal and deeply engaging experience. Also, Aliens. The only real issue is that you lose the power of cards with coordination abilities unless you play multiple hands.
Ora et Labora (Rank: 80)
More Uwe Rosenberg. If it's up your alley, you'll love it.
Star Realms (Rank: 81)
The Gambit (NOT Cosmic Gambit) expansion has two solo/co-op scenarios. These scenarios are a lot of fun, and I can't wait to have more of them to choose from. (More will be coming with the release of Star Realms: Frontiers.)
Suburbia (Rank: 82)
Enjoy Suburbia? Don't wait for your friends to agree to bring it back to the table—there's a solo variant.
Nations (Rank: 83)
The game comes with rules for a dummy player to pit yourself against.
Lord of the Rings LCG (Rank: 95)
Still one of the best solo experiences out there. Play pure solo or two-handed, but either way you're in for a great challenge. This game also scratches my deck construction itch, since I can't afford to keep up with Magic: The Gathering.
La Granja (Rank: 97)
If you like euro-style farming games, this is another good option. Solo play is smooth and gives you plenty of ways to explore the cards.
Anachrony (Rank: 99)
This game has a very well-thought-out AI system to play against. It'll take you beyond "score the most victory points" and into more challenging territory.
Age of Steam (Rank: 100)
I actually never hear anything about this one, but BGG lists it as a 1–6 player game. I'll have to look into it!
12/4/2018 09:08:19 am
7/1/2020 10:26:29 am
Great article! Would like to see an update for 2020. For example this misses the really great 2 new CYOA games that are based upon the book series. They'd be a great solo game for someone who really enjoys a good story along with their game play. I really liked how they designed the board play elements & cards to change it into a game and keep you guessing.
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My name is Liz Davidson, and I play solo board games. A lot of solo board games...