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.
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.
Wingspan is one of the most recent board games published by Stonemaier Games, a name you will see a few more times on this list. Designed by
Elizabeth Hargrave, it is 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 perennial 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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
Honorable Mentions (August 2020 Update)
This post got a bit more attention than I expected when I posted in April 2020. Here are a handful of favorites mentioned by commenters along with their short BGG descriptions. Carl King left a big list, including:
- Nemesis: Survive an alien-infested spaceship but beware of other players and their agendas.
- Everdell: Use resources to build a village of critters and constructions in this woodland game.
- Anachrony: Venture into the wasteland, or back in time, to gain resources & avert the cataclysm.
- Rurik Dawn of Kiev: Claim your father’s throne! Build, tax, & fight through unique “auction programming.”
- Barbarians the Invasion: Enter the mysterious World of Thunmar, a place where barbarian clans rule the wild lands and corrupted civilizations live in their decadent cities.
- Raiders of the North Sea: Assemble and prepare a formidable crew of vikings to pillage towns and gain glory.
- Architects of the West Kingdom: Will you be a virtuous or nefarious servant of the king? Build your way to glory.
- Paladins of the West Kingdom: Invaders are coming from everywhere. Keep the faith and defend your homeland.
- Bag of Dungeon: A dungeon crawling tile-based game harking back to the good old deadly days of exploring dungeons, slaying monsters and stealing treasure.
- Mythic Battles Pantheon: Gather your team from the vast Greek pantheon and fight to the death!
Everett So recommended Hellenica: Story of Greece, which is where you “lead your city-state to become the preeminent symbol of Greece in this 3.5x game!” Wicaksono Adi recommended Mage Knight, a game in which you “build your hero’s spells, abilities, and artifacts as you explore & conquer cities.”
Honorable Mentions (March 2021 Update)
Good grief, COVID is still a thing?
I’m updating this list as of March 2021 in hopes that this final edit will be enough to see us through to the end of this pandemic!
Though not technically a solo game, commenter Mau is fond of Carcassonne. Daniel Scott is a fan of Marvel Champions in lieu of Arkham.
Justin Leingang recommends Lost Expedition, Maquis, and Aerion. Ian Walton is a fan of Town Builder: Coevorden and, of course, Pandemic (though you’ll have to play as multiple players).
Kager suggests giving The Drifter a little love, and Alex wisely shouted out Plague Inc.
Finally, Will Reardon provided a list which could be an article in its own right:
- Thunderbirds (with Tracy Island and Above and Beyond Expansions)
- Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
- Atlantis Rising
- Back to the Future – Back in Time
- Black Orchestra
Want me to include more games? Let me know in the comments below! I’d like to keep this list updated so that nobody gets bored during this pandemic.