Traditionally a group activity, board games are a great way to spend an evening with friends and family, engaging in conversation and friendly competition. But sometimes assembling a group of adults with conflicting schedules can be tough. Luckily, more and more board games are being designed with solo play in mind. From cooperative board games that scale down well to one player or let a single player play two-handed, to board games designed exclusively to be played solo, it’s official: it’s no longer weird to play a board game by yourself. So grab your favorite drink, turn on a podcast or playlist, and crack open one of these great single-player games.
Despite it being one of the best strategy games of recent years, you might be surprised to find Dune: Imperium on this list since really it needs three or four players to shine. However, the need to also cater for two-player board games led the designer to include an automated opponent, House Hagal. Despite this being a fairly interactive game, House Hagal is simple to administer yet still manages to block out board space, steal resources and send in troops to contest territory, just like a real player. Solitaire you face two of them, with varying difficulty levels, which feels a lot more satisfying than just playing for a high score, as well as letting you experience this excellent game without roping in your friends. Read our Dune: Imperium review for more info.
Perhaps the largest and most involved game on this list, Gloomhaven is ideal for those pining for a grand fantasy adventure on the tabletop. In this legacy-style undertaking, you’ll guide an adventurer across a sprawling fantasy world teeming with dungeons and monsters. Card-driven tactical combat is at the heart of Gloomhaven, and each turn you’ll have to carefully consider what to play from your hand. The fact that you can lose cards permanently gives each decision significant weight, and the persistent world makes your experience vastly different from others’. Gloomhaven is a vast yet personal game that is just begging to be explored over several sessions. If the scale and price are too much for you to play alone, consider the cut-down but still excellent prequel Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. You can check out our Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion review for details on that standalone game
In the years since its 2011 release, Mage Knight has become synonymous with solo gaming. A sprawling fantasy epic from famed designer Vlaada Chvátil, Mage Knight was designed for 1-4 players, but it shines particularly well as a solitary experience. It’s a great choice when you’re in the mood for fighting monsters, upgrading your character, and exploring a fantasy setting. Make sure to set aside a large chunk of time, though, because games can last upwards of three hours, and each turn presents you with a puzzle-like series of actions that require a great deal of optimization.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
Step into the shoes of literature’s greatest detective in this board game equivalent of a mystery novel. Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective includes a number of scenarios and fun props that really sell the experience. There’s a map of London, an address directory and a newspaper, each offering clues to hunt down and suspects to interview. Be warned, however, that this game does not hold your hand; each adventure presents a small amount of setup and exposition, and then sends you out into the city without much direction, leaving you to decide what locations to visit and who to accuse. This game gives you the chance to live up to Holmes’ reputation, which is a tall order given how though the mysteries can be.
Under Falling Skies
While solo options are fairly standard on most games nowadays, they can’t quite match those rare titles that venture to be solo only, such as Under Falling Skies. It’s a riff on Space Invaders as alien ships descent ever closer to the base you’re trying to protect. Under the pressure of their advance, you’ll have to balance a limited pool of dice between shooting them down, building your base and researching a final end to the alien menace. But there’s a beautiful catch: the higher the dice you use, the better the effect and the faster the alien above descends. With a variety of scenarios that can be recombined into a campaign, this is a simple concept that will keep you gaming for a very long time.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island casts players as shipwreck survivors on an island that is actively trying to kill them. There are several different characters to play as, each with various strengths and weaknesses. You will find yourself scavenging for food, building and upgrading shelters, and exploring perilous locations on the island. The game includes rules for a solo variant, but the general consensus is that it’s easier for a single player to simply take on the role of more than one character. There is a lot going on in Robinson Crusoe and the ample iconography can be a bit overwhelming, but those that stick it out will find a rewarding adventure that begs for return trips.
Dinosaur Island: Rawr N’ Write
Roll and write games, like co-op games, often make very good solo fare because even multiplayer you’re all competing to make the best use of the same set of dice. Most, however, are too fast and simple for a compelling solitaire experience. Dinosaur Island: Rawr N’ Write is longer and more complex than its peers, but it pays off in a deeper, more satisfying game. Your dice rolls generate a wide variety of resources that you’ll need to balance carefully to build and run your Jurassic World style theme park. You even draw out the buildings on a grid and run tours through it but beware: if your security isn’t up to scratch, you may end up with fewer tourists than you started with.
Arkham Horror: the Card Game
Though the prospect of facing down an eldritch horror on your own may sound daunting, Arkham Horror: The Card Game a tense and brilliant solo experience. The base game comes with a small handful of scenarios that send you directly into the jaws of cosmic mystery. You can use the suggested starter decks, or build a custom one centered around your chosen investigator’s special abilities. Gameplay sees you hopping from location to location to search for clues in order to advance the story while attempting to impede the deadly Mythos deck. Your investigator will inevitably take damage and acquire weaknesses over time that can affect future games in the campaign, making Arkham Horror: The Card Game one of the most thematic games on this list.
While Cascadia is one of the very best family board games, at first glance it doesn’t seem to offer much to a lone player. Sure the wildlife theme is appealing. And the simple yet addictive gameplay, where you choose pairs of random terrain tiles and animal tokens to add to your nature reserve to satisfy a range of scoring patterns, is fun enough. But what elevates it as a solitaire game is the list of achievements in the back of the rulebook. These task you to approach the game with different setups and rule tweaks, trying to reach particular score thresholds. Easy at first, the difficulty soon ramps up, giving you lots of varied challenges that are supremely satisfying to tick off, one by one.
Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
A roll-and-write where the dice are replaced by cards, Cartographers casts you as a royal surveyor seeking to map unexplored land in the name of your queen. Each turn, you’ll flip over a card that depicts both a terrain type and a Tetris-esque shape. You have to draw that shape and its terrain onto your grid map in a way that meets the random scoring conditions. The 16 possible goals include building a large contiguous village, completely filling out rows and columns of your grid, and drawing forest spaces on the edge of the map. Beware, though, because you may get ambushed by monsters at any time, and be forced to draw an inconvenient shape onto the map, forcing you to improvise in the future.
In this heavy Euro-style game, you’ll help make the Martian surface hospitable to human life by increasing the oxygen levels in the atmosphere, raising the temperature from below freezing, and by building man-made oceans to sustain life. This is done through a combination of resource management and tableau building. You’ll take on the role of a mega corporation looking to profit off of humanity’s foray onto the red planet. add In the solo game, you’ll race against the clock to maximize each of the three end game parameters. Every turn, you play new cards from your hand, meaning your list of available actions will grow until you’ve assembled a sprawling tableau of action cards that can combo off of each other. It’s a very crunchy game experience, which is perfect for those who appreciate a good optimization puzzle. There are also a number of expansion scenarios available, making Terraforming Mars one of the best solo experiences available.
By their nature, cooperative games make for great solo experiences. Because of the players-versus-the-board structure, co-ops easily allow one person to control two or more players. One of the best co-op games in recent years is Spirit Island, a game about protecting your land from waves of vicious colonizers. You control island spirits, each with their own deck of power cards that help destroy settlements and repair land that’s been ravaged by agriculture. The strong theme and combo-heavy card play combine into one of the most robust cooperative experiences we’ve played. It just so happens to make an ideal solo game as well.
This novel puzzle game has a seemingly impossible premise of recreating the high-stress environment of a bullet hell shooter on the tabletop with the aid of a timer to add pressure. You draw bullets at random from a bag onto an ever-filling grid, trying to manipulate placement rules and your character’s special abilities to match pattern cards in your hand. You can then remove those bullets and hand them to the player next to you to escalate the tension. You might imagine that the solo game would feel weak without that, but a clever rules tweak keeps piling the pressure on as the timer ticks down, leaving you to build bigger and bigger combos as you try to keep up. You can play for a high score or try to defeat a variety of nasty bosses, just like an actual video game.