The Rise of Solo Play Games
Why games you can play alone are hotter than ever
We’ve added a Solo Play Games Collection for all the fans of games you can play by yourself! This collection includes both games that are designed especially to be uniquely solitaire only, as well as games that have both solo and multi-player options. Why have we added this Collection? Its been requested by many of our customers and fans, so lets take a closer look at why Solo Games are more popular and in-demand than ever.
A New Demand?
With so many people spending unprecedented amounts of time at home in 2020 and getting less face-to-face time to play with their crew, its no surprise that Solo Play Games have become more in demand over the last year or two. In fact, requests for “Can you help me find a good game I can play by myself?” flooded in to us almost daily during the pandemic.
But even before the Quarantine era began, trends toward solo-play games were already on the rise. So why, if board games are traditionally aimed at playing with others, have they become so popular and requested?
Why Solo Games?
Many gamers found themselves in sudden need of new things to do that do not require direct social contact. Others often find that we simply WANT to do something by ourselves, or feel a sudden urge to play a game at midnight. Millions of introverted gamers around the world often want to play a game, but would simply rather not have to entertain company to do this, and video games just don’t have the same feel and tactile stimulation that physical games do. (Studies have shown that the act of manipulating these physical components in real-space improves mental pathways, aiding memory retention and positive brain stimulation.)
Planning and scheduling options for getting a like-minded group of friends or relatives together to play a game often presents a challenge for modern adults with busy schedules. As this comic by xkcd shows, plenty of us have felt the frustrations of trying to wrangle a group into a schedule that allows for a solid gaming session. And that’s no one’s fault – the more people who are involved in a plan, the more variables exist, and the more complex it becomes to stick to that plan. This author can attest to feelings of frustration when a game night plan falls through. So what’s a gamer to do, when your heart is set on some tabletop but no one’s handy to play? Bust out a solitaire game, of course!
For others, the call to a solo game may stem from becoming tired of playing against someone, and a desire to focus on their own thoughts and plans without interference. Some simply don’t enjoy the antagonistic feel of competitive gaming against someone. (Cooperative games are a great option for these folks both in solo and multiplayer settings.) Plus, there’s something very gratifying about seeing a result that was yours and yours alone. A plethora of games exist for groups, why shouldn’t there be games for just you and your brain?
So, where to start with building good stable of solo-game options?
Solo Game Varieties
Solo games come in several primary styles, with a huge range of flavors. But which is right for you?
1. Co-op Games can be converted to solo-mode by effectively playing as all the characters or roles. These games can often be played in a single sitting, though some in this category exist which play out as more of an extended ‘Legacy’ or campaign length, multi-session game. The challenge: Cooperative games played solitaire often require you to learn, remember, and control multiple mechanics in turn for the multiple characters you’re playing by yourself. Depending on the game, this can become quite complex! Examples of cooperative games include are Spirit Island, Zombicide, Forbidden Island, Mansions of Madness, and Pandemic. Read more about Co-op games you should try
2. War Games Hundreds of Solo-play War Games are out there to pit your armies against military scenarios! History buffs and miniature combat gamers can look for many hours of entertainment with involving games like Fire in the Lake, Pavlov’s House, D-Day at Omaha Beach, and RAF, not to mention others we recently featured by Vuca Similations, and The Lost Valley – The Siege of Dien Bien Phu.
3. Adventure Campaigns and story driven dungeon diving style co-op and semi co-op games often make great long-play ‘Legacy’ style games. Legacy games refer to games where you can continue the story as the whim strikes you, for many hours of extended play. Many Legacy style games can take dozens of hours to complete, and that’s part of the appeal! Fantastic examples of these are games like #1 top game Gloomhaven, The 7th Continent, Mage Knight, Mice & Mystics, Stuffed Fables, Robinson Crusoe, and Forgotten Waters.
4. Choose your own adventure style games We all remember the joy of flipping through books , picking our path towards victory or certain doom. That fun lives on with older favorites like the Fighting Fantasy solo RPG books, and more modern spins including Van Ryder’s series of graphic novel RPGs, and the recent Choose Your Own Adventure Games based on the 80’s teen classics.
5. Mystery/Crime Solving and Escape are another common format for solo play. What’s more satisfying than being Sherlock Holmes and solving a crime with only your wits and skill? These games focus on logic, puzzles, and deduction. This style of game is for those who really want to tease their brains and revel in discovery. Check out Sherlock Holmes – Consulting Detective, EXIT, Detective, and Chronicles of Crime for excellent examples of this style of game.
6. Fast Action quick play solo games are on the rise as well. This genre includes games like Friday, FUSE, and Onirim, as well as puzzle games such as Izzi, and roll-and-write style games such as Ganz Shon Clever and Cartographers. Also in the quick-play category are games like the Tiny Epic and Star Realms series, which can be played with two, but are great when played solo.
7. Strategy and Worker Placement Games like these are generally designed for competitive group play, but many now include gratifying and challenging solo-modes. In recent years, publishers have taken real notice of the demand for solo play options. They’ve really hit their stride with fantastic top-ranked titles like Terraforming Mars and Scythe, which are considered some of the best solo options available for strategy and Euro-gamers. Others with great solo modes include Wingspan, Viticulture, Root, Agricola, and Tiny Towns.
8. Puzzles An evergreen classic hobby and game style of its own, puzzles have entranced players young and old for centuries. Jigsaw puzzles are what most people think of, but plenty of other Puzzle based games you can play by yourself are out there too! Another you’re probably familiar with is the Rubik’s Cube and all its challenging iterations. You may be less familiar with brain teasing spatial logic games like Dog Pile and Logic Dots. If you love logic puzzles, we might recommend Cat Crimes, which features an increasingly difficult set of ‘Who Dunnit’ puzzles that will make you smile at the adorably guilty kitties while straining the limits of your problem solving skills as each level becomes more challenging.
Our Favorite Solo Games
So what do we recommend? Of course it depends on what style of play suits you best. One thing we can always recommend is, talk to us! If you live near our store, stop by. Our staff LOVE to talk games, and are always happy to help you find the perfect game for you.
Here are a few of our top picks for games you can play by yourself!
Strategy Sci-Fi Board Game
1-5 Players Ages 12+
There are a lot of great games out there, but Terraforming Mars is our pick for perhaps the best all-around solo game for several reasons. Versatility: Plays just as well solo as in a group, so you can get multiple levels of engaging play from it. Replay value: High. With so many cards, several available expansions, and so many possible strategies for victory, this game is never the same twice. Quality: Meticulously design, well-balanced, challenging, and ultimately fun, this best seller is truly a game for the ages.
It may look a little beige, but it is filled with rich layers of strategy, engaging play that is both competitive and challenging, and allows you to both play your own game, but interact semi-cooperatively with other players (in a multi-person game) as you terraform the world together on the same map while competing for the best locations and round goals.
In the solitaire version, one thing we really like is that it plays exactly the same way as the multi-player. Sure, playing vs. an automata can be fun, but with Terraforming Mars, you don’t have to manage an automated opponent or change the way the game flows to play it alone. The only difference with the solitaire variant is that you have to terraform the entire planet on your own, and you have a set limit on how many turns you have before you either succeed or fail at making the planet habitable. Plus, with the timeline ticking down, it is actually difficult!
You’ll need to be far more careful about your choices, because the entire human population of Mars is counting on you alone for their survival, and no opponents means no one else is increasing the oxygen or temperature of the planet. If you’re looking for the kind of solitaire game you will always win, don’t get Terraforming Mars. If you like a game that really makes you plot and plan and just barely scrape out a win by the skin of your teeth, this is the one for you.
War Game War Game – American Civil War
1 Player Ages 13+
Designed specifically to be solitaire, In Magnificent Style depicts the final desperate Confederate attack on July 3, 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg. You command the Confederate brigades that made Pickett’s Charge. The game system features some new takes on the traditional “push-your-luck” mechanic and applies them to a war game setting. As General Longstreet, you must decide how quickly to press your advancing troops across the deadly open ground before allowing the men to regroup themselves for another bound.
But time is not on your side and the longer your stalwart soldiers remain in this maelstrom of enemy fire, the more dangerous it becomes and the less likely they will arrive with the verve and numbers required to carry the day. You’ll only have five turns to charge and reach your attack target, pushing your luck as far as you can in the face of overwhelming odds. With this turn limit in place, it means each game of In Magnificent Style takes only about an hour, so you don’t have to commit to a full day gaming session to get your war game fix in style. Good luck!
Fast Action Card Game – Science Fiction
1-2 Players Ages 12+
By Wise Wizard Games (Formerly White Wizard Games)
Designed by Magic hall of famers Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty, Star Realms combines the fun of deckbuilding games with the interactivity of trading card game-style combat. While the original edition was only for 2 players, and when added to another copy could be played with up to four, this “Frontiers” edition of Star Realms include Solo-play modes and unique challenges for 1-4 players all in one box! Upgrade your fleet by purchasing new units to add to your deck, and trying to remove the fairly useless cards you started the game with. But choose your cards wisely, to make your deck do more damage, gain more money, heal your damage, destroy enemy bases and do damage to your opponents. This game provides excellent solitaire options where you combat game-provided alien adversaries, each with their own traits, goals, and powers. Plus you can even add to your deck with expansions & booster pack options including high-powered unit additions and Command Decks.
Adventure Campaign Board Game – Fantasy
1-4 Players Ages 14+
One of if not the best rated games of the last several years, Gloomhaven is a hefty dungeon diver that’s almost D&D Lite. Players will take on the role of a wandering mercenary (or Mercenaries, if you’re playing alone, control several!) with their own special set of skills and their own reasons for traveling to this remote corner of the world. Work together or determine your own path to clear out menacing dungeons and forgotten ruins. In the process your characters will enhance their abilities and loot, discover new locations to explore and plunder, and expand an ever-branching story fueled by the decisions you make.
This is a persistent ‘Legacy’ style game that is intended to be played over many game sessions. The decisions you make in each scenario will determine how the story continues, a’la “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Fair warning though, this game has a LOT of little fiddly bits to contend with. In an ideal world, you would want to set it up and leave it out for the next session. Its a hefty game, and takes a fair amount of time just to set up and get playing, and sessions could run for hours. For many, this is ideal! For others, not so much. We highly recommend the Gloomhaven Box Insert for anyone picking up this game, it makes a world of difference for keeping it organized and easier to set up and break down. And if you want the feel of Gloomhaven with far fewer crunchy rules and much faster set up and play, try the new stand-alone / expansion, Gloomhaven – Jaws of the Lion, which is also fantastic. For even more in the Gloomhaven universe, the next in the series is coming soon, Frosthaven!
War Game War Games – World War II
1 Player Ages 14+
A brand new 2021 release recently Kickstarted, Stalingrad Solitaire is a solo game simulating the last weeks of the encircled German 6th Army in the pocket German troops nicknamed “The Cauldron” that formed in and to the west of the city of Stalingrad when Soviet troops broke through the Wehrmacht’s front lines in December 1942. You represent 6th Army’s commander, General Paulus. All actions of the Soviet commander Zhukov and subordinate units are strictly controlled by the game rules. As Paulus, you must do your best to save the trapped army in the Cauldron while at the same time cooperating with the high command (OKW) to preserve the integrity of the entire southern front in Russia.
Each game of Stalingrad Solitaire can from from 2 hours on up, and has a pretty high replay value and sustainability, despite being medium to light on rules complexity. The differing weather conditions and luck of the roll can vastly alter the course of each game. We also suspect that with a little bit of home-brew tweaking, this game could be adapted to a two-person game, turning the control of the Soviets over to your opponent. Check out our Unboxing Video of Stalingrad Solitaire
Co-op Board Game – Fantasy
1-4 Players Ages 14+
First released in 2011, this game has been beloved by solo gamers, cooperative gamers, and competitive gamers the world over for a decade! At it’s heart, it is a solitaire or cooperative (or competitive!) deck building and fantasy adventure campaign themed board game. It throws you and up to three other Mage Knights into the sprawling and ever changing world of the Atlantean Empire, a land that is but a distant memory since your transformation into a mysterious Mage Knight.
Explore the lands, delving into caves and dungeons, battling monstrous foes with your weapons and magic, and traverse the world on your quest for domination in a series of campaign adventures and challenges. Build your armies, defeat bands of marauding enemies, and eventually conquer cities in the name of the mysterious Void Council.
As a Mage Knight you must control your reputation and walk the line – or embrace the role of benevolent leader or brutal dictator. Accumulate Fame and experience to acquire powerful Spells and abilities, then use your power to influence units to join your ranks. Mage Knight features a variety of campaign options allowing you to play both competitively or cooperatively, has fantastic miniatures to paint, and plenty of expansions to keep your games fresh for decades yet to come. It’s great! Though, it does have a fair amount of set up to do, and can be a longer playing game. Not quite to the extent of Gloomhaven, but be prepared for Mage Knight to be the kind of game you want to set up, and leave out rather than pack and unpack for every session.
Engine Building Board Game – Strategy
1-5 Players ages 10+
Don’t let the pretty birdies fool you. This game is one of the top ranked and fastest selling board games ever, and for good reason. The game is played over the course of 4 total rounds, and in each round your job is to build a bird-based tableau that is better and more efficient than your opponents, while also competing for round goals and food resources. Each bird card you play out into your habitats provide different and widely varying effects, so making them synergize to provide exponential growth is the goal.
With a bit of a luck mechanic in the form of rolled dice (in a beautiful little bird house dice tower!) representing available food types, you’ll need to accumulate food to play birds, and more birds give you more eggs for points, more food for more birds, and more birds to eat your food. Its a vicious and competitive cycle, and each round you’ll have one less action cube to use, so make smart use of each play.
The solitaire version involves a clever little Automata system to play against you. While it might not make the choices a real human player would, its just as good as playing vs. a real opponent, and just as capable of messing up your turn by the choices and plays it makes.
You don’t have to be an avid birder to love this perfectly balanced, intelligent and stunningly fun game. But if you are, you can also enjoy the beautiful bird art, and each card not only features information about the actual bird shown, but each bird’s ‘powers,’ nest types, and habitats they can be placed in actually reflect the real bird. For instance, a Shrike card has an ability to cache Mouse type food for later, earning you end of game points. Kudos to designer Elizabeth Hargrave on this magnificent game, her first!
Make time for You
We hope this guide helps you find the perfect game for your self-enrichment time. Particularly in the most stressful times, its important to take care of your mental health and well-being. Sometimes, that means making sure to get plenty of social contact and talk to the people who care about you. Other times, it means taking a step back, and doing something special for yourself. Why not have some fun on your own, while keeping your brain stimulated?
More games designed for Solo Play are coming out all the time. For more great solitaire options, we will continue adding to our Solo Games Collection as new options are published. And as always, our staff are happy to help you find the right one for you, any time.