As the world comes to grips with this awful pandemic our day to day lives are changing dramatically. Great swathes of the population are being encouraged to practice social distancing. Many of us will find ourselves spending an unprecedented amount of time at home.
Now, there’s a silver lining here. If you are reading this blog it’s highly likely that you find yourself isolated along with a lovingly curated and extensive board game collection. Boon! But of course there’s bad news too. Many of us will find ourselves distanced from the very friends and groups that we usually enjoy aforementioned games with. Hmmm!
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to explore those automa’s and solo modes that you’ve always shied away from. Unsure if you’ll enjoy the hobby solo? Nervous about learning solo rule variants to games you already know? Fear not solo noobs, the Zatu blogging team have your back. Below is a selection of our favourite one player wonders to pique your interest and give you an idea where to start:
By Thom Newton
I wouldn’t really call myself much of a solo gamer. I tend to prefer the interactions of friends and family with my games. The one exception to that rule is Mansions Of Madness. It is a great game for 1-5 players where you will work together to solve a mystery before the world tears itself apart. In solo play because of app integration you can be up and running in minutes. Just choose an investigator, grab their unique cards and the scenario starter tile and you are away.
The game will unfold over the course of an hour or two and with the randomisation's added in by the app it is always fresh. Another nice aspect is that the app takes into account which expansions you have. It can retheme the story to add in some of the expansion components be they monsters, characters, puzzles or room tiles.
The game is a lot of fun. There are some genuine challenges to be had and the solo mode plays near identically to the multiplayer version. It doesn't feel like too much of a lonely experience. It feels like you are trying to best the game and everything that it can throw at you. The only thing I miss from playing this game with other people is the madness system. If a player loses all their sanity they take a madness card. This will alter the way they play, possibly even turning them against the rest of the players. That obviously doesn’t really work solo, so a lot of the more interesting cards are removed. Still, it’s a small price to pay to be able to play such an epic game in such a small amount of time.
By Tom Harrod
Teotihuacan: City of Gods is in my Top 10 games. That’s high praise, and it’s thanks to the designer Daniele Tascini. I’m a fan his other games too. Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, and The Voyages of Marco Polo, to name but a few. The solo variant for Teotihuacan is by a different designer, though – David Turczi.
Players build and decorate a 3D growing pyramid in an ancient Mesoamerican city. Teotihuacan is a modern Euro-game smash hit. It features a wonderful medley of mechanisms, blending a giant rondel and ageing workers. Yes, your dice ‘age’, gaining experience as they complete tasks for you. They even ascend (ahem, die) when they reach ‘level 6’, but they re-enter the game at level 1. The solo variant sees you face the Teotibot over the course of three eclipses (rounds), as per usual.
The Teotibot has its own pyramid of actions available on its turn. These come in the form of six ever-changing action tiles. You position six out of seven available action tiles in three tiers (one above two above three). One sits aside for now. On the bot’s turn, you roll two of the excess dice. The sum (2-12) equates to which of the tiles the bot activates on its turn. Rolling a 6, 7 or 8 – the most likely outcome for 2d6 – for example, means you activate the top-most tile. Rolled a 2 or a 3?
That triggers the bottom-left tile, instead. Each tile triggered corresponds to one of the Action Boards. It depends on the bot having a die on said Action Board and having set resources to complete actions. Even if it doesn’t, it still gets a diluted equivalent of that action. At worst, it receives cocoa. And this bot doesn’t have to feed its workers. Instead, it can cash in cocoa for straight-up points if ever it collects more than 10 of the stuff!
The die always ages and moves on one or two Action Boards afterwards. Then, the activated tile leaves Teotibot’s pyramid. All tiles slide up one space, refilling this three-tier system. This leaves a space, now completed by that seventh tile. The pushed-out tile waits, and enters the bottom of the pyramid on the next turn. This constant ever-shuffling pyramid is something of a meta nod to the theme of Teotihuacan in itself. It’s a marvellous, modular challenge.
By Tom Gorner
Unfortunately for me, I am currently down in London on business and confined to my hotel room in the evenings. On a positive note, room service has been a god-send! Thankfully, I managed to pack Coffee Roasters before leaving. I managed to try it out properly while relaxing of an evening.
Coffee Roasters is a solitaire, bag-builder where you take on the role of a coffee roaster and barista. You must roast beans and flavour your roast by exchanging tokens for perks that will be used in the tasting round. Once you have roasted enough beans, you then move onto the tasting phase. Here you pull tokens from the bag and use them to fill your cup, giving you a cup of coffee that will hopefully fit the criteria set out by the recipe card. The closer you get to matching the three criteria and avoiding minus points, the better the roaster you will be! Be careful though, as you only have a few spaces available to discard unwanted beans. If they are full, the bad beans will end up going into your brew and thus ruining your score!
This is a really neat solo game and the game merges with the theme beautifully. If you are self-isolating, love coffee, and need a great solo game, then this is what you need!
By Joe Packham
For me Tiny Epic Galaxies is the perfect solo game. It’s compact and very quick to set up. You, the player can play in exactly the same way you would against human opponents, which is great. It’s challenging for sure, but the difficulty comes in 5 separate and distinct levels. Each player mat has a different Rogue Galaxy AI set up on the reverse side. So you can make the game as hard as you fancy. Feeling delicate? Try the beginner Rogue Galaxy. Positively masochistic? Give the Epic Galaxy a go!
The Rogue Galaxy sets up in a similar way to human players. It starts at Empire level 1 and rolls 5 dice. AI dice roll and resolve one at a time. It will either:
- Move a ship
- Advance a colony
- Get resources or
- Utilise a colony i.e attack you, the player!
When the Rogue maxes out a resource it either takes another go or upgrades it’s empire. Be careful if it upgrades to level 6 the nefarious nebula wins! It can also win the normal way, by beating you to 21 points.
TEG’s solo variant gives you all the planet collecting strategic fun of multiplayer in a speedier if lonelier way. The fact you can force the Rogue to re-roll by spending an energy and culture even adds another level to the resource management. I’m not going to lie, I still haven’t beaten the Easy Rogue Galaxy, so this game alone should keep me busy for a good little while.
By Carl Yaxley
I'm not generally taken with solo gaming, I'll admit that right now. I would tend to do it only when learning a new game, or reminding myself how to play an unloved one. However, with the world feeling like a live action simulation of Pandemic, we all need to consider social distancing. With that in mind, if I'm to feed my tabletop addiction, solo gaming is looking more appealing.
Fortunately I have a small selection of games in my collection with solo gaming modes: Agricola (Revised Edition), Terraforming Mars and Everdell all feel like they could be fun to try. However, it's Arkham Horror and Elder Sign that are looking like my main contenders, Elder Sign in particular.
Elder Sign is a 1 - 8 player dice and card driven, cooperative game. Players are investigators, attempting to stop an Ancient One awakening. Ancient Ones are bad news, if one awakens the world is doomed. Players will be exploring the Miskatonic University and solving tasks (depicted by Adventure cards). Along the way they may gain items, spells and allies to aid them in their endeavour. The ultimate goal is to uncover the fabled Elder Signs, and acquire enough to lock away the Ancient One. The base game comes with 8 Ancient Ones, 16 Investigators, 48 Adventures and 8 Other world (adventures). Alone, the game has great replayability, which is perfect for a prolonged period of self- isolation.
Replayability and variation can be increased further by picking up one or more of the expansions. Unseen Forces will add more content and an interesting new gameplay mechanic. Gates of Arkham will take players beyond the University and into the city of Arkham, with a new game mode. Whilst Omens of Ice, Omens of the Deep and Omens of the Pharaoh will introduce new locations and challenges.
Elder Sign is going to be my solo gaming experience of choice for the weeks ahead!
By Will Moffat
I’m blessed with 38 games that can be played solo! In my collection have 10 games specifically designed for solo play – these include all titles from Shadi Torbey’s surreal Oniverse, including the hit Onirim and the most recent Aerion. Friday is also a classic solo game that I always can’t fail to enjoy when on the move.
I have 11 cooperative games that can be played solo – five of these are games in the Pandemic franchise, but my co-op assemblage also includes such titles as the CMON games, Zombicide: Black Plague and XenoShyft: Dreadmire.
And finally, I have 17 multi-player games that have a solo variant in the rulebook/box. These include Raiders of the North Sea, Dice Hospital, Sagrada, Masmorra: Dungeons of Arcadia, FUSE, Nusfjord and the game I always most look forward to playing whenever in isolation, which is Terraforming Mars.
In a regular multi-player game of Terraforming Mars, you and the other players take on the roles of rival near-future corporations all attempting to terraform Mars for human habitation, but trying to do a better job of raising the global parameters of oxygen, temperature and oceans than your rivals. It is a wonderful game of drafting and hand/resource management.
In the solo variant you’ll be terraforming the planet on your own, but must do it in 14 generations (or 12 generations if using the Prelude expansion). If you fail, you fail. But if you win it may be by the skin of your teeth or you may want to compare it to your previous scores. There is a slightly different solo variant in the Prelude expansion where instead of focusing on raising the global parameters you are simply looking to get to a Terraforming Rating of 63 (points) before the end of the game.
The one thing I love about Terraforming Mars is that even in the solo game, by the end of it, win or lose, you really feel like you’ve had a full experience and that your corporation has told a story. There aren’t many better ways to kill a few hours when isolated.
Hopefully this selection has given you some ideas for dipping a toe into solo gaming. There are of course a huge range of games with 1 player options. These include the popular Stonemaier games Scythe, Wingspan, Viticulture and Tapestry. Some games without official solo variants have received fan made rules to facilitate lonesome gamers too. These include Space Base and Kanagawa and you will find these variants on BGG.
If Automa’s really aren’t your thing of course there’s plenty of other ways to enjoy this great hobby during social distancing. Online tabletop simulators, Skyping your game nights or introducing family members to new games are all valid options. This article is part of a series of Zatu blogs to inspire folks to stay entertained through a difficult time. Be sure to check out the other articles for more great ideas for stuck at home cardboard addicts.