Tabletop gaming is, at its core, a social activity. The vast majority of games are designed to be played by a group of people all gathered around a table working towards whatever goal the game, or game master, has laid out for you. The idea of playing a tabletop game solo can be very hard for some people to wrap their head around, even people who regularly participate in, and enjoy, tabletop gaming. It often surprises people to discover that there are games that can be just as much fun to play solo as they are to play with other people, but some games are actually better (in our humble opinions) when played without other people, and some games are specifically designed as solitaire games.
We often hear (or see comments online) from people who lament their inability to get in to hobby board gaming due to the lack of a suitable game group. The following list is our best effort to provide you with a list of games that range from really fun to play solo, to specifically designed as a solitaire game, to playing solo is the best way games. The following list is presented in no particular order and, somewhat ironically, this is the first time that members of the TechRaptor Tabletop team (Travis Williams and Adam Potts) have teamed up for an article. If you can’t find a group to play with, don’t know where to start, or are simply looking for recommendations for what we think are the creme of the crop for games to be played solo, there is almost certainly something here that will appeal to you. ~ Travis
Travis – Mage Knight
The first game that I’m going to recommend is a game that is designed as a multiplayer game, but is at its absolute best as a solo game: Mage Knight. Mage Knight isn’t specifically designed as a solo game, and is actually one of the rare games that can be played solo, cooperatively, and competitively in both teams and in free-for-all. The reason Mage Knight is so good solo is because the game is a skill-absolutely-required crunchy puzzle of brain burning hand and resource management. Thematically Mage Knight is a game about playing as a powerful fantasy character who rampages around the countryside increasing their own power, but mechanically it’s an exercise in risk taking and decision making that can see you try combination after combination of moves in a single combat in order to try to figure out how to succeed at the challenge you’ve just given yourself.
The rules specifically allow you to play and replay your cards until you either reveal new information (such as flipping a new tile or enemy), you are satisfied with the outcome, or you feel like you’ve exhausted your options and settle on a course of action. To the solitaire gamer this lets you really sink your teeth into the problems the game presents you and gain skill as you figure out how to stretch each and every point of movement, attack and defense. When played with other people you have to worry about skill disparity, and the game can grind to a halt if one player ends up trying to figure out just how they are going to work through their turn.
Mage Knight isn’t unplayable as a multiplayer game, and can actually be really fun if all of the other players are of the same skill level, but when you can sit and puzzle through each challenge at your own pace the game really shines, especially once you become familiar enough with the game that you can start succeeding at whatever mission/scenario you decide to play, and start to push yourself to try to beat your own personal best score. One added benefit to Mage Knight is that if you prefer sci-fi to fantasy you can always play Star Trek Frontiers and have nearly the same satisfying, challenging experience, but you do so in space fighting Klingons rather than in the countryside fighting dragons.
Adam – Dark Souls the Card Game
Dark Souls the Card Game is not only one of my favourite games of 2018, but also of all time and it’s even better with the recently released expansion Forgotten Paths. Dark Souls the Card Game is a solo/co-operative adventure card game based on the popular Dark Souls franchise of video games.
During the card game, players draw hands of actions and the resources to play those actions. The enemies are played onto a board and they follow a repeated predictable pattern of actions. This is what makes it such a great solo game, the enemy actions are consistent, meaning that there’s no AI to interpret, attacks happen regularly, in set locations and if your character is there, they get hit. The randomness and variety comes from the cards you draw, and the deck you build by adding cards with your rewards.
Once you’ve battled through the first few swathes of enemies, there’s a mini-boss fight and main boss fight to complete. These fights are conducted with each bosses’ deck of action cards, which also make their actions very cut and dry, and once you work out the pattern of attack, you can predict their actions and make sure you avoid them.
The whole game not only captures the feel of the video game franchise, in its darkness and difficulty, but feels like a video game, as much as a tabletop game can. Part of my own personal issue with solo games is that some tabletop AI is left up to interpretation, and playing it realistically, players will sometimes fix the results. Dark Souls the Card Game doesn’t give any room or randomness in terms of the enemies actions or attacks. If you’re in their zone of attack and you don’t have the cards to avoid or deflect it, you get hit.
It’s simple, brutal, easy to manage solo and most importantly, fun.
Travis – Nemo’s War Second Edition
Nemo’s War Second Edition is the one game on this list that is actually designed as a solitaire game. There is a variant in the rulebook to play this game with other players, but it might as well not exist because playing solo is the only way to go. This game is so good that it actually took home our Board Game of the Year award for 2017, and it is slowly getting more and more content over time.
The main goal of Nemo’s War is dependent upon the Motivation that you choose at the start of each game, and each motivation has a few different story blurbs associated with it based on how well you do in any given game. The Motivation determines when you need to accomplish in order to succeed, and changing Motivations changes the feel of the game significantly. Even though card-draw and dice rolls are essential parts of the game, player skill, and wise decision making are far more important than luck, and familiarizing yourself with the path to victory for any given goal, and then executing on that familiarization is difficult, tense, exciting and fun.
Even if the game only had a single motivation it would be worthwhile as each Motivation takes an entirely different mindset, and a different tactical approach from the others. Achieving victory in any on Motivation takes time, skill and a touch of luck, and if you are determined to reach the best possible ending across all Motivations then you are in for hours and hours, and play after play of Nemo’s War. Setting the lofty goal of a ‘best’ ending, and then accomplishing it is incredibly satisfying, but the game is still excellent and fulfilling even if you bounce from Motivation to Motivation and just play to see where each game’s adventure takes you.
Adam – Warhammer Quest Blackstone Fortress
Warhammer Quest Blackstone Fortress is a recent release for Games Workshop, and the first time the Warhammer Quest brand has taken to the stars. In previous editions Warhammer Quest has been a purely fantasy setting, but this version sees it taking place in the Warhammer 40K timeline. We’ve recently previewed the game components and also covered our first impressions in an On The Tabletop article, which should give you an idea of how it plays.
In Blackstone Fortress, players divide four characters between the available players, so if you’re playing solo, you’ll be controlling all four. There are eight characters to choose from, so there’s a few variations in team construction and each character brings their own abilities to the table. Finding a combination that works for you is part of the fun. But don’t get too attached to the characters though, as the expedition is all, and some characters will probably die along the way. The team can change from mission to mission, so you’re not set on playing the same character all the way though, unless of course you want to.
Gameplay is a mix of combat scenarios played out on maps created with the game’s map tiles, and challenges that are detailed on exploration cards.
The game’s AI is worked out on a dice roll, and compared against a table. The adversaries react depending on their position to the heroes, so if they’re out of sight, they will act differently to those of the same type that are already in combat with you. The AI isn’t full-proof and sometimes the enemies do strange things, but as there’s usually quite a few of them, the swarm effect overall does act like a competent opponent.
The swarm of enemies is what makes this game work so well as a solo game. If it was one or two equally powerful enemies against the same number of heroes, set tabletop AI is rarely a match for a human mind, but battling through swathes of enemies, acting randomly on the dice rolls provides an interesting combat experience. It also means that it feels less like a grind during the mid campaign, as the missions are usually always challenging as higher-level enemies get added to the mix.
The between mission character development is mainly gaining equipment, but this helps maintain the flavour of the individual characters and means that game selection is about who works well together, rather than who’s had their stats boosted the most. There’s a lot of play out of the main campaign. You need to collect 4 clues to explore a stronghold, and beat 4 strongholds to access the main vault. Clues are randomly drawn with other equipment, so you can be lucky and draw 3 or 4 per mission, but it will average out at around 1 or 2.
The game’s components are Games Workshop’s usually high quality, which combined with the solid campaign, a fairly robust AI system and the great hero choices, puts Blackstone Fortress high on my solo play tabletop games’ list.
Travis – Kingdom Death Monster
Kingdom Death Monster is my favorite game ever, across all forms of media. The game is intended to be played with up to 4 players, although it’s awesome with 3, wonderful with 2, and excellent solo. The game is so good solo that that’s how I chose to play it for the Diary of Death campaign that I wrote right here on Techraptor, and while the rich, deep and engrossing stories that the unfold as you play the game are wonderful when you share them with your friends, the game takes on a different feeling when you play by yourself.
The goal of every campaign of Kingdom Death Monster is to guide your settlement through the game’s brutal landscape, taking your survivors from frightened, lost individuals who don’t even have a shared language to a battle hardened, robust society who is prepared for everything this nightmare world has to offer. When played with other people you each control one or a few survivors and you work together to make decisions about the way your settlement will grow and develop. It’s painful to lose a favorite survivor, but you always have other people watching your back.
When you play by yourself every choice is yours, and you feel the ramifications, and successes, of those choices all the more viscerally because of it. Every survivor who is driven mad, loses a limb, or is killed is your survivor, and you are the only one to blame when you lose them. The sense of ownership over the settlement and your survivors is more profound when you are the only one playing, and the story that you craft as you play feels unique and personal.
There is a lot of paperwork to keep track of while playing solo, especially in showdowns when you have to track four separate survivor sheets, so it can be a touch intimidating at first, but it only takes a short time to get used to how things go, and playtime is actually significantly increased as you don’t have to worry about how anyone else thinks the settlement should be run, what gear to craft, or which decisions need to be made. Solo play is also great for trying out crazy tactics or group layouts, since you don’t have to worry about one player being relegated to support, or having their survivor killed early as you use them as a sacrificial meat-shield.
An added benefit of playing Kingdom Death Monster solo is that you can get it to the table much more often. With campaigns taking anywhere from 20-30 lantern years, and each lantern year taking from 60 – 120 minutes, it can take a while to play through the game, but when you don’t have to worry about coordinating your time with anyone else, you can play the game much more often, and the more often you can play Kingdom Death Monster the better.
Adam – Warhammer Quest the Adventure Card Game
The Warhammer Quest the Adventure Card Game is now out of print. It was one of the casualties of the Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) / Games Workshop split when they stopped making games together. It managed only the release of the core set, plus two additional characters before FFG were unable to make any more expansions, but it had such great promise. FFG have recently released Heroes of Terrinoth, which uses much the same system as the Warhammer Quest Adventure Card Game, but is based on their Runewars setting. We will be reviewing this soon and we’re keen to know if it works as well as the original game and there’s an interesting mechanics/skin debate to be had afterwards.
Warhammer Quest the Adventure Card Game uses a selection of cards for players and their abilities. As your character develops, they gain access to new equipment and abilities cards and they get added to your play area. For the most part, the heroes actions are fixed and the variety come from the dungeons and quests you enter. When playing a game, the player (or players) decide which quest to attempt and then create the location, enemy and loot decks based on that quest. Most quests also have a boss to defeat, who can have an effect throughout the game and all the enemies that players will face feel incredibly thematic.
There are some wonderful mechanics, like characters having access to four actions, one of which is available all the time, the others exhaust and don’t refresh until you use an action to Finding the balance during gameplay, between your selected team of characters is a challenge. All the enemies also operate differently, using the different areas of the battlefield. If an enemy is engaged with a character, the card will be in front of their character card, otherwise, it may in the in the shadows at the back of the board, attacking from range or rushing out to attack an unsuspecting character. Finding the rhythm to defeat the different combination of enemies, and work your way through the different stages of the dungeon is what made Warhammer Quest the Adventure Card Game great.
Playing solo actually allows you to find this rhythm, you won’t have the fun and communication that you get with other players, but working your characters together to beat the dungeon doesn’t lose any of it’s joy when played solo.
Before this, FFG had released some fantastic solo card games and it felt like this was the culmination of all the experience and testing of those previous games. When I first reviewed it in 2015, I thought it felt like the Lord of the Rings LCG lite, as it didn’t have the player decks, but it soon became apparent that this wasn’t the case. It’s such a shame that this wasn’t able to grow, the two extra character expansions that were released were fantastic, and if they game had released more enemies, loot and dungeons to explore, who knows what this game could have gone on to achieve.
I’ve spent most of my gaming life involved in the tabletop and video game industry, so playing games solo has been a part of my development process for a while, but even then, that was never the enjoyment for me and has always been the difference between when I’d play a tabletop game and a video game (in when I had friends available and when I didn’t). This has changed in recent years as the quality of games being produced has improved, along with deeper solo mode experiences is fascinating. The AI seems to swing between solo/co-op swarm mentality (usually zombies from Zombicide, Zombies!, The Walking Dead All Out War) to video game systematic control using randomised decks/tables (Lord of the Rings LCG, Warhammer Quest), to quite complex systems of AI pre-programed into units/heroes (Fallout Wasteland Warfare).
Solo gaming may not be your preferred choice of gaming, or you ay not have considered it before. But the growing popularity and demand for solo/co-op rules and features in games speaks volumes for it’s popularity and I hope to see this side of the hobby grow and grow. ~ Adam
What’s your favourite Solo tabletop game? How many off our list have you played? Let us know in the comments below.