Solo gaming 101
Updated: Dec 10, 2021
A couple of years ago, I loved playing boardgames. But the people I played them with had lives and kids and work and didn't always have the time to get together, and I was the same. Then the pandemic hit, and I was scouring my shelves for something I could play on my own. I loved the puzzly Brains and Smart Games, but I missed the real boardgame experience, and as it turned out I didn't own any boardgames that came with a solo mode.
I emailed my FLGS. who emailed me back saying they had another bike round planned the same afternoon. For solo games I could look at a number of smaller games, and for a bigger experience maybe Everdell?
They came by 2 hours later, bringing Railroad Ink, Imperial Settlers: Roll & Write, Tokaido (which I needed for the Japan theme, obviously) and Everdell.
And so my foray into solo gaming began.
The next couple of weeks flew by, as I was busy playing all of the 48 different solo sheets Imperial Settlers r&w came with, throwing dice around to get my roads and railroads to connect, and putting together the Everdell tree to take it up with Rugwort, my first artificial opponent.
I really wanted to play Tokaido as well, but without a proper solo mode and with a boyfriend that was (and is) not partial to my love for boardgames, I had no idea where to start. And Tokaido wasn't the only game, because I'd seen so many cool boardgames that didn't have a solo mode. Then I saw someone on IG post about playing Tzolk'in solo. Wait, what?! That's a 2-4 player game!
And then I discovered the world of fan made solo content on Boardgamegeek.
Do I love playing board games on my own? Yes, I absolutely do. Will you love solo gaming as much as I do? I have absolutely no way of telling, so here are a few tips:
1. Look at your own collection first.
Chances are, you have some great games that already come with a solo mode. And if you don't? See if your favourite game has a fan made solo mode on boardgamegeek – on the game page, when you go to forum, select variants and scroll to see if someone added a solo mode, or go to the files section to see if a mode has been uploaded.
2. Start small.
Roll and writes and flip and writes have taken the boardgaming world by storm, and a lot of them can be played solo. If you don't find any satisfactory solo games in your own collection, roll/flip and writes are a relatively low investment to see if solo gaming is for you.
3. Change it up.
I play games like I eat my dinner: something different every day, and it won't always take the same amount of time or effort. I'll play a light strategy game like Cascadia, a medium brainy puzzle like Red Rising or a lengthy Star Wars: Outer Rim. Not all solo experiences are for everyone, so if you're able, try some of everything. A beat your own score, a win/loss condition based on a vp threshold, a race to a points total, a win/loss condition against an automated player. A light game, a medium game, a heavy game if that's what you'd normally play. A eurogame, a wargame or maybe a nice detective or escape game. All can be played solo.
4. Accept who you are.
You might not like to play solo, or you'll discover you only like to play light solo games
at lunch. That's ok, as long as you figure out what you like, and where your limitations lie. I hardly get to play heavier games these days, so I bought a boardgame adaptation of Scythe on Steam. No set-up time and it saves my game when the kids have a bad night. And Scythe is not alone, so if I want I can skip the set-up time for Root and Terraforming Mars, or play a quick game of Carcassonne on my own.
Expanding your collection
If you do feel the need to expand your collection, I can't tell you where to start or what games to walk past, but I'll share my do's and don'ts when starting sologaming. You might disagree, but then again, it might save you some money.
x Super-skill Pinball 4-cade: boring with way too much luck and no game arc.
x Trek¹²: not bad per se, but not so great solo. just meh.
❇ 5-Minute Mystery: do you know how hard it is to do everything yourself in time?! Loving the game, but not the best for solo play.
+ Café: so many choices in such a tight game!
+ Cartographers: great game with not too much player interaction to begin with, sign me up for solo!
x Sagrada: this solo mode is unbalanced and leaves you making one desperate choice after another.
x New York Zoo: I feel no connection to my own board. A bit of a Patchwork Doodle feel for me (which was also a x), although this one is a bit trickier to master.
❇ Architects of the West Kingdom: too much randomness in the AI-deck, too many chances to set the bot up for failure.
❇ Winterborne: good interesting game with a bit of an unbalanced solo on the scoring side of things.
+ It's a Wonderful World: such a clever simple solo solution to get the card drafting aspect into solo.
+ Nusfjord: takes the cake. what an elegant solo mode! Uwe, your Patchwork Doodle and New York Zoo slip-ups are forgiven.
A word of caution here, because I have not played heavy games that I think are bad. They might however be less suited to get your first solo play in.
x Barrage: the solo rulebook is the absolute worst. The solo actions are unclear and no, there's no overview for symbols.
❇ Tapestry: the bot management can be a bit cumbersome, especially when you're new to solo gaming. BUT those bots make sure you get an excellent and tight game in return.
+ Gaia Project: never have the time, but totally fell in love with this game the first time I played.
+ CO2 Second Chance: I mean, who needs teammates that make dumb decisions in this cooperative Lacerda?! No thank you, I'll save the world on my own.
Is that it?!
No it's not. I left out a lot of great games. So if you're interested in a particular category, in a certain mechanism or price point, or even in what games I like on Steam, leave a comment, or find me on IG, and I'll try my best to help you on your way.