Solo modes are becoming the norm for many board games. Indeed, it is rare now that a game does not have a solo mode and the absence of one is often cause for comment, particularly on crowdfunding campaigns.
“Is it worth it for solo?” Is a common question asked of many multiplayer board games that also have that magical ‘1’ in their player count. It gets asked, as publishers are adding solo options to more and more games and it’s fair to say some of them are decidedly lacklustre. They appear tacked on and provide you with a fraction of the fun and enjoyment provided by the main, multiplayer way of playing.
Fortunately, this isn’t the case for some games and here I’ll give you five multiplayer games that are absolutely worth it for their solo modes alone. Each of these titles provides an exceptional experience when playing solo and I am happy I purchased them for purely solo play. Here they are: 5 multiplayer games that are absolutely worth it for solo.
Ares Expedition is a great example of an engine building challenge. You have a limited number of rounds (25 turns all told) in which to fully terraform Mars. It plays in under an hour and the general rules for a solo player are the same as in the multiplayer game.
I love the action selection and card play mechanisms and the dummy hand of action cards does an excellent job of mimicking an opponent. Ideally, you want to select a different action from the bot in order to maximise your turns and this creates an interesting push-your-luck dynamic. Do you take an action the bot has already played, thus guaranteeing you’ll get 2 this turn? Or do you take the ideal action for you, knowing the bot may also choose it?
The only thing you lose playing solo is that cards that grant victory points are of little use - it’s all about building your engine and terraforming. Luckily you can mix it up with the excellent Ares Expedition Crisis expansion, that makes these victory point granting cards much more useful. There really is a lot to enjoy on Mars for the solo player!
The solo games mode in Arnak sees you playing exactly as you would multiplayer. The bot (known as your rival) is lightening quick to operate, through a system of action tiles, and does a great job of blocking spaces, racing you up the research track and pinching cards from the market.
If that wasn’t enough, there is a free 4 mission solo campaign, the search for Professor Kutil, available via a web app. Want still more? Well, both expansions are exceptional and the recent Missing Expedition contains a superb 6 mission solo campaign that fleshes out ideas introduced in the Professor Kutil campaign.
The Expedition Leaders expansion is also worth getting for the solo player, as all of the asymmetric leaders are excellent and the new research tracks mix up the challenge still further.
The only reason this isn’t further up the list is that the out the box solo opponent is maybe a touch easy. If this concerns you, then the web app even addresses this, with a further later of difficulty added in the form of round challenges and a harder level of rival action tiles.
You also need to be aware that to get the very best out of Lost Ruins of Arnak solo, you’ll probably eventually want to get in both expansions, making it close to £100 investment. Given the hours I’ve enjoyed playing it, I’d consider it money very well spent.
The solo mode of Paladins of the West Kingdom is the 2 player version of the game vs the bot. The bot is controlled by a small deck of cards that dictates its action each turn. This does a very good job of mimicking a human opponent and, with 3 levels of difficulty, provides a great challenge.
I’ve played Paladins at 1, 2, 3 and 4 players and, whilst I love the game at all player counts, solo is my favourite. This is because you do not lose anything (aside from the social interaction) by not having other players at the table. Playing Paladins solo allows you to take your time over your turns and get to grips with this cerebral worker placement puzzle.
It has a significant amount of setup and it is a lengthy game at 2 hours or so, but Paladins never fails to delight and is one of the titles that helped me fall in love with solo gaming.
2. Pax Pamir
Pax Pamir is my most recent acquisition and one I’ve swiftly become enamoured with.
Everything about this game is a high quality experience. The components are beautiful, the art of the historical figures is stunning and I find myself totally immersed in the period theme.
Here is another example of the solo opponent (called Wakhan in this case) utilising a deck of cards for their actions. Pax Pamir is fairly complex, with multi use cards activating a variety of effects. As such, the quality of how Wakhan takes their moves is pretty remarkable. The challenge is there and I find myself having to think very hard about how I can get the best of Wakhan and their political machinations.
Working out priorities when Wakhan needs to choose a card is done by means of a table and this is probably the most complex part. Other than that, playing Pax Pamir solo is very smooth. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to play it multiplayer and see how it compares, but I am thrilled to have it as part of my solo game collection.
Imperium Classics (and Imperium Legends, though I’ll just refer to both games by Classics from now on) is a civilisation themed deck building game. It is not a quick game and it is not beginner friendly; there are a lot of key words, symbols and different card types to consider (don’t get me started on some of the more complex civilisations). Scoring at the end is also quite involved and a bit fiddly. Yet it is also a phenomenal experience and is my all time favourite game.
There is a lot of variety to enjoy amongst the 8 (16 if you get both sets) civilisations and learning the strengths of each is key to doing well.
Imperium Classics plays at up to 4, though you should not hesitate to pick this up knowing you will only ever play it solo. The bot is very well designed, using a table unique to each civilisation. I won’t go through the nuances of it here, but after a couple of rounds, the bot turns are carried out very quickly, allowing you to get back to the fun of taking your own turns.
The more I play Imperium Classics, the more I enjoy it. I know the market deck thoroughly now and understand which cards combo well with each other. I’m also aware of what the bot opponents will try and do and try to plan and adapt my strategy accordingly. Imperium responds to player improvement with its 5 difficulty levels, keeping the game challenging. Difficulty 4 of 5 is my sweet spot.
The solo mode of Imperium Classics is so good, I would happily never play it with other humans ever again. I have played it 2 player several times and enjoy introducing my favourite game to people, yet, again, aside from the social aspect, I find there is no difference compared with playing it solo.
Imperium Classics is absolutely worth it for solo and I can’t think of a more worthy game to top this list. I’ve played nearly 70 solo games of it and it is still an effort to drag myself away and give some of my other games some table time. At well under £30, I’d argue Imperium Classics is by far and away the best value on this list too!