The Top 10 Best Solo Board Games (for Coronavirus Quarantine)

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Board games have been wildly successful in the last ten years. Much of this can be attributed to people’s need to socialize in person. That’s why many are surprised to hear that solo board games not only exist but are very common.

Good thing, too. In 2019, no one could have predicted that we all have to isolate ourselves in our homes to hide front a yet-undiscovered virus. At the tail end of the year, the coronavirus was just starting to spread in Wuhan, China, and now people across the globe are sitting six feet apart, looking for ways to entertain themselves.

Odd little world we live in these days. To help you survive not only the virus but the stultifying boredom of being stuck in your own home, I’ve put together a list of the very best solo board games in the world.

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How I Chose the Top 10 Solo Board Games

First things first, I want to go over how I chose the top 10 best solo board games. As you can imagine, any “top 10” ranking of any sort is subjective by nature. To keep things as fair as possible, I referenced Board Game Geek’s Top 100 best board games.

From there, I started at the top of the list and worked my way down, finding the highest-ranking board games with solo modes. Of the top 25 board games, 12 – almost half – had solo modes. As such, this list has a lot of overlap with The 10 Best Board Games of All Time.

Is there a better way to pick the best solo games? Oh yeah, definitely. And in fact, I’d love to hear your favorite solo board games in the comments below. We’re going to inevitably miss some phenomenal solo games in this article. There are too many to choose from!

10. A Feast for Odin

A Feast for Odin is a truly epic game: it takes a while to play (usually) and it’s got a whopping 3.83 out of 5 complexity rating on Board Game Geek. That means all the satisfying strategic maneuvering that hardcore gamers appreciate is present in this game.

The publisher describes it as a “saga in the form of a board game.” In it, you play as a viking tribe that explores and raids new lands. The end goal: accumulate the most material wealth.

While generally considered a multiplayer game, A Feast for Odin can easily be modified for solo play. In the robust solo mode, your goal is simple: achieve the highest score you can.

9. Wingspan

Photo by PZS69, CC-BY-SA 2.0 license. Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/4647501/wingspan

Wingspan is one of the most recent board games by Jamey Stegmaier, whose name you will see a few more times on this list. It described on Board Game Geek as a “competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game.”

Despite the avian theme, Wingspan has a lot in common with another perineal strategy gamer favorite: Terraforming Mars. It is an easy to approach, relatively quick-playing engine-building game.

In Wingspan, you use the Automa Factory when flying solo. After each of your turns, you flip over Automa cards, resolve the effects, and then proceed with your turn. The effect is that game builds an engine all on its own while you are. It’s pretty challenging too!

8. Viticulture

This is the second of three Stonemaier Games that you will see on this list. Much like Wingspan, Viticulture also has an off-the-beaten path, natural world theme. You and other players now have vineyards to run in the Tuscany region of Italy.

Over the course of the game, you allocate your workers and resources in different ways. This lets you slowly change your vineyard to take advantage of different seasons, create more attractive winery tours, build structures, and plant vines. Your goal: run the best winery in Tuscany.

When playing solo, you again have an Automa deck just like you do with Wingspan. Your goal is to score more victory points than the Automa. What makes Viticulture remarkable in this regard is that there are five different difficulty levels, and you can also use an “aggressive variant” that changes how scoring is calculated. The means you have a remarkable variety of options.

7. Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Arkham Horror is based off of the terrifying works of H.P. Lovecraft, complete with “mystery, monsters, and madness.” In the game, your characters reside in the New England town of Arkham where things are not quite as they ought to be, what with the haunted houses and hellish creatures…

The game itself is a living card game in which you can create custom decks of cards. The multiplayer game is cooperative. You’re playing against the evils of Arkham.

Now beware, solo gamers. It’s said that playing alone is very similar to playing in a group, but you lose the player interaction. For this reason, it’s said to be very difficult, but very satisfying to win!

6. 7th Continent

Imagine this: it’s the early 1900s and after a sailing voyage, you discover that there is an entirely new continent that no one has ever seen before! But after you visit it, you are cursed and you must go back to the continent to have the curse lifted.

Like Arkham, 7th Continent is a solo or cooperative game. It’s also an exploration game in which you must create tools, weapons, and shelter to survive. It’s also a brutally difficult game that will kill you again and again and again.

Similar to Arkham again, 7th Continent does not change much at all when playing solo. All you lose is the ability to rely on others to back you up. The game itself is largely unchanged!

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5. Spirit Island

Spirit Island is another cooperative game, but what really sets it apart is its unique theme. In this game, you play as an island spirit with unique elemental powers. The villains in this game are colonizers who wish to exploit your lands for profit. (Which they won’t if you have anything to say about it!)

The invaders act in ways dictated by the game itself, spreading across the island and attempting to build an engine. Meanwhile, you spread to other parts of the island, seek to increase your powers, and then eventually wipe the invaders off the map.

While many recommend playing Spirit Island with 2 or more players, it is a perfectly serviceable one-player game. You don’t have to change anything about the game itself in order to play it alone. You just don’t have backup when you may want it!

4. Scythe

The final Stonemaier game on this list is a big one: Scythe. A ton of physical and digital ink has been spilled to describe this game and I don’t know if it’s ever fallen off the Board Game Geek Hotness list in the last four years.

To borrow directly from the Board Game Geek page: “it is a time of unrest in 1920s Europa. The ashes from the first great war still darken the snow. The capitalistic city-state known simply as ‘The Factory’, which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries.”

This is an engine-building, competitive game at its core. Every single aspect of the game has some engine-building element to it. There is also very little luck in the game, making in the kind of brain-burning, crunchy game that hardcore board gamers adore.

Scythe relies on an Automa deck for its solo mode. Each card specifies what the Automa player gets, does, or deploys. In short, the game builds its own engine while you do the same. Some even describe the Automa as being aggressive, so in many ways, the game will feel like you are playing against other real people!

3. Gaia Project

As if Terra Mystica weren’t a fantastic achievement in board gaming in its own right, Gaia Project is a souped up version IN SPACE. It doubles down on everything that made Terra Mystica brilliant – the complex decision making and the epic theme of expanding civilization. Then it marries the game to a theme board gamers have demonstrated time and time again that they love – science fiction.

Gaia Project is a picture-perfect study on how to “fix something that ain’t broken.” The game’s existence is proof that the creators were listening to feedback on a deep level, addressing gamers’ basic needs while taking the game in a surprising cosmic direction.

The 10 Best Board Games of All Time and What We Can Learn from Them

Gaia Project uses an Automa deck to play solo. The Automa takes one action per turn and slowly builds its deck by adding random cards. Much of the surprise comes in how familiar cards are used in odd and new ways. The clever chemistry between different cards keeps the game fresh for a long time.

2. Terraforming Mars

In Terraforming Mars, you and your opponents play as different corporations. Each corporation does its part to make Mars a more liveable place by raising the oxygen level, creating oceans, and increasing the temperature. You can do this through clever allocation of resources as well as the use of different project cards.

Terraforming Mars has so many unique cards that no two games feel alike. This penchant for creative play is extended to the solo mode as well. The board starts with a couple of neutral cities and greenery, whereas it would normally be completely barren. You have 14 generations to terraform Mars to a livable state. That’s not much time, and you have to be very efficient to make it happen.

1. Gloomhaven

Photo by Daniel Mizieliński. Found on Board Game Geek under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Last but not least, we have the ultimate in all epic games, the #1 on Board Game Geek for two or three years running: Gloomhaven.

Goodness, where do you begin with describing this game?

You play as a wandering adventurer in a dark, menancing world of dungeons and ruins. The story branches and unfolds in unique ways that always feel fresh no matter how many times you play. Many people have likened it to “a choose your own adventure” book in board game form.

Gloomhaven is a cooperative game based on dungeon crawling and hand management. It’s a heady, complex game for people who love complex games.

When you play solo, you act as two or more characters at once. Not only can you play the game with minimal changes to the rules, but you don’t even see many changes to the gameplay itself because you take on multiple roles. Gloomhaven is a formidable challenge in solo mode, and that makes it quite possibly the perfect game to learn while under lockdown!





What confuses you most about board game development?

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Board game development is incredibly complex. To create a board game from start to finish, think of everything you have to do:

  • Come up with a board game idea and design a game around it.
  • Create rules and mechanics that help you express your idea in the best way possible.
  • Play-test the game until it feels right.
  • Find artists.
  • Create digital print files of your game.
  • Figure out manufacturing and fulfillment.
  • Figure out marketing and promotion.

Needless to say, this is extraordinarily complicated. I’ve covered this topic from different angles for the last three years and I’m amazed even still by my blind spots.

With that in mind, this blog exists to serve you. I want to create information that is necessary and useful for every struggling board game creator who happens to stumble across this blog.

I have just one question for you today, and I’d like for you to answer in this post’s comments. I’ll use your questions as inspiration for posts coming in April, May, and beyond!

What confuses you most about board game development?

How a Failed Kickstarter Set Me Up For Success 2 Years Later

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Almost two years ago today, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for a board game called Highways & Byways. It was a deeply personal project for which I had high hopes. When it wound up being just another failed Kickstarter campaign, it hurt badly.

I learned a lot from that experience. From it, I went on to write Why the Highways & Byways Kickstarter Campaign Crashed & Burned, which remains one of the most popular posts on this blog, even two years later. To save you a click: it was a product made for no specific audience in mind at a price point that was unresolvably high. Needless to say, I learned a lot in the first few weeks after that campaign.

But it was still raw then. So unbelievably, painfully, humiliatingly raw.

Yet two years later, when I look back, I see how its failure ended up improving my life and my business in a number of ways. With the benefit of hindsight, I will now share my experiences with you.

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Failure, Success, Luck, Skill, Ruin, and Reward…

Further along in the post, I will talk about specific ways that the Highways & Byways Kickstarter campaign failure made my life better. But first I want to talk about a few things I’ve learned about failure and why I think my experiences clash with common narratives that I’ve read online.

The Road to Success is Not Linear

I don’t think people write about failure enough. When they do, they write about how to avoid it or they write superficially about failure in the empty headed Silicon Valley way. Fail faster. Fail harder. More failure is good! Fail, fail, fail.

Give me a break.

Refusing to talk about failure is bad, but so is over-correcting and deifying it. Failure isn’t intrinsically good. It’s more like a powerful flame that does away with illusions and excuses. It’s a purifying, important force in business, but – yes – it will burn you. And it will hurt.

The oh-so-chic self help bloggers will tell you that failure is necessary to success. They won’t tell you how. Understanding how failure will help you makes all the difference here, and I’ll get to that shortly.

Even still, the undeniable fact that the road to success is nonlinear, complicated, and often unpleasant. If you’re a creator or a business owner, remind yourself of this every day. Remind yourself even when you know it intellectually to be true, because emotionally you may still feel that it is not. Tell yourself every day that the path to success is nonlinear so your heart will not ache from the heavy burden of unrealistic expectations.

Failure Probably Won’t Ruin You

Don’t risk anything you can’t afford to lose, obviously. Life isn’t the Greatest Showman. You need to mitigate risk as much as you can. Stories of people who came back from bankruptcy typically suffer from one of three flaws:

  1. Family wealth propping up the protagonist.
  2. Hollywood outright fabricated the story.
  3. Sheer luck and survivorship bias.

That said, if you’re a member of the unflashy 99% like your humble narrator, that doesn’t mean you can’t play with stakes. You need to invest in your games, your business, and yourself. You will occasionally lose. But as long as you’re not taking out massive debts, a failure probably won’t destroy you.

Most people, when they fear that failure will ruin them are worried about some kind of profound damage to their reputation. But honestly, basically every board game designer, corporation, musician, artist, and even employee has flopped at some point.

Not everything is going to be your best work, and you can’t even reliably predict what people will latch onto. That means the only way you, as a creative force, can survive is to keep creating. If you keep creating for long enough, you will, by sheer probability, make something bad or too weird for a mainstream audience.

Guess what: as long as you still have cash in the bank, you will have a chance to make something new.

Most of Life is Luck, But You Still Have Agency

Don’t get me wrong. When I say failure likely won’t ruin you, I’m still fully aware that different people have different levels of, for lack of a more precise term, privilege. Where you’re born, who you’re born to, and your formative years determine a lot of your life. After that, social mobility is possible, but difficult and this is true no matter where you go.

Random things happen. Family members get sick or injured. Bills come out of the blue. Projects fall apart. Roofs spring leaks and landlords don’t keep their promises.

Even through all this, you broadly have one choice to make: try or not try. Trying doesn’t guarantee success and not trying doesn’t guarantee failure. But if you at least try, your odds of living a happier, more fulfilled life improve.

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How a Failed Kickstarter Made My Life Better

Everything I’ve said so far has been about failure in general. That is: clarifying misconceptions, talking philosophy, and so on.

But now I want to talk about specific ways the Highways & Byways Kickstarter campaign wound up making my life better. Some of these ways have been predictable and some of them have not. But all of them suggest that the most important thing you can do is try to chase your dreams, even if you think they’re silly.

How a Failed Kickstarter Set Me Up for Marriage

Yeah, I bet you didn’t expect me to lead with that!

I’m engaged to be married in October to a wonderful woman named Maria. We met on Match.com, like nerds, and one of the first things that we bonded over was board games. I was working on Highways & Byways at the time when we first started messaging. That gave us plenty to talk about, and led to a date, then two, then three. Many months passed, diamonds were purchased, and now we’ve just sent out Save the Dates.

I’m not saying that chasing your dreams is going to help you find your soulmate. That was pure luck for me. But chasing your dreams, even if they seem silly, will give you something to talk about.

People are drawn to passion. They will be much more likely to listen to you and they will be more likely to want to be your friend. The act of publicly working on a passion project will grow your network and that can have profound, hard-to-measure, hard-to-predict positive impacts on your life in the long run.

By the time the campaign failed, we were already in a committed relationship, and after a few weeks of conspicuous self-pity masculine brooding, I moved on to the next thing, but this time, I wasn’t alone.

How a Failed Kickstarter Increased This Blog’s Reach

Shortly after I Kickstarted War Co., I launched this blog. After one campaign’s success, I was already writing Start to Finish, a long guide on how to create board games for the first time. It was detailed and ambitious, if a bit premature since I had only one game under my belt at the time.

This blog didn’t start seeing meaningful traffic until 2018, but it really took off after the Highways & Byways campaign failed.

Wait, what?

If you look at the chart above, you can see a quick succession of traffic spikes in late March to early April. Those spikes in traffic can be attributed to:

The ultimate result? The Crashed & Burned post, which talked about all the ways the Kickstarter campaign went wrong, was my most popular post yet. I got a ton of email signups, got a bunch of social media attention, and ever since the creation of that post, the amount of pageviews went up permanently and never dropped.

In short, the failed Kickstarter made this blog a lot more popular. Having regular readers makes it far easier to succeed in future endeavors.

How Highways & Byways Made Tasty Humans

Speaking of future endeavors, you know how I described failure as a “clarifying experience” a moment ago? Here’s what I mean specifically in the case of this failed Kickstarter.

  • I realized that every game needs to be made for a specific audience.
  • Because the Highways & Byways price was way too high, we created Tasty Humans in a way that made it as cheap to print as possible.
  • I started working in a team because working alone was causing me to split my attention too many ways.

Without the Highways & Byways experience, I would not have learned about the vital, unavoidable importance of product-market fit. That is, creating products that are tailor-made for a specific audience. I wouldn’t have learned cost-cutting tricks needed to make games cheaper. I would have continued working alone instead of delegating responsibily.

Pangea Games would have continued cranking out sub-optimal work and making small profits. Tasty Humans would have succeeded on theme, but probably would have made a lot less money and generally been a much worse game. That is, if it existed at all.

How a Failed Kickstarter Taught Me What I Needed to Make a Profit

Speaking of profits, we did not make one in 2018. Oh, no sir. We posted a loss of a few grand in 2018, followed by a much larger profit in 2019. So how did this happen?

First, because Tasty Humans was a much better project and game, it was actually profitable. Without Highways & Byways, this would not have happened.

Second, I realized that board games alone were not the ideal way to run a business. In addition to making board games, I also run Pangea Marketing Agency, which is quite profitable. This diversified the sources of this business’s income, making it much more viable in the long run.

Much of our success in 2019 came from landing Fulfillrite as a client. With the privilege of their business, we were able to land some smaller clients as well. And how did they find us? Through the blog, which saw a massive traffic spike that began with the failure of the Highways & Byways Kickstarter campaign.

How a Failed Kickstarter Made Me Care Less About Unimportant Garbage

One of the most underrated blessings of failure, by far, is that you finally have permission to stop doing stuff that doesn’t work. Yes, you can do this at any time, but let’s be real: you’re probably doing a lot of work that you don’t actually see the value of but you’re afraid to stop for fear that something bad will happen.

If that sounds like you, then something bad happening can be a real relief. Tweet five times a day, go to a convention every month, post on all the Facebook groups. Blah, blah, blah.

When you really get down to it, marketing comes down to two basic tasks. One: make something worth selling. Two: tell people you’re selling it. You have a lot of leeway in how specifically you choose to do that. That means if you hate Twitter, then you don’t have to use it.

After the Highways & Byways campaign failure, I shuttered at least eight social media accounts and stopped writing twice a week. I started focusing on doing less, but better. I got off the constant networking / content creation treadmill and dedicated myself to what matters. Without failure, I’d probably still be performing the same nervous rituals, dancing in faint hopes that I could make it rain.

Final Thoughts

Failure is kind of like a hangover. It feels really bad, but it gives you a very compelling reason to be better tomorrow. Powerful, painful emotional moments give us the psychological fuel and practical experience to create something better.

Chase your dreams. You might succeed, and even if you don’t, the clouds of your failures could have incredible silver linings that you wouldn’t otherwise see. It’s worth a shot 🙂