I have a confession to make - despite having a cupboard full of games, before the current situation I had never played a board game solo. However, with a lot more time on my hands now, and with my usual board gaming partner somewhat busier than me; it seemed like the ideal opportunity to explore solo gaming.
Now i have discovered solo gaming, these top 5 are games i would happily play solo at any time. I think I may have even piqued my husband’s interest to try some of them solo!
None of the games on this list are solo only games. These are all games which are primarily for more than one player, but which have solo variations. Whilst you can play co-operative games solo, I have focused on competitive games here.
Herbaceous, from Pencil First Games, is the lightest game on my list. In Herbaceous you are trying to arrange as many herbs as possible in a variety of different ways across your herb jars.
See the full review for the multiplayer version of the game here.
In the solo variant of the game you only play with half the deck, 36 cards. During set-up you place one card from the deck in the discard pile, two cards face up in the Community Garden and three cards face up in your Private Garden. Players can pot herbs on the first turn, unlike in the multiplayer variant.
Each round, instead of drawing two cards you now draw three. In any order one card is placed in the player’s Private Garden, one card in the Community Garden and one card in the discard pile. In addition, if there is ever a fifth card placed in the Community Garden, all cards from the Community Garden are placed in the discard pile. Therefore, you have to make sure to keep the community garden in check by planting herbs regularly to avoid them all being discarded.
The game ends if you cannot plant any more herbs, or if the draw pile is empty. You will have the opportunity to plant one more set of herbs when the draw pile is empty as long as you still have an empty herb container.
Given that the game only uses half the deck of cards in solo play, you can immediately play another game using the other half of the deck.
The artwork in this game is beautiful and just adds to the game experience for me. I found this a very enjoyable, light and puzzle-like solo experience. The decisions you make are similar to those in the multiplayer game which i like, as i enjoy the multiplayer game. Some people may not enjoy the fact that you are trying to beat a high score rather than winning or losing. However, I feel that this way of ending the game is well suited to the style of Herbaceous. Given its light nature this is a great game to bring out solo to quickly scratch the gaming itch!
In Villagers, from Sinister Fish Games, you are trying to build up your village, by attracting new craftsmen and specialists. A full review of the multiplayer game can be found here.
In the solo mode you are playing against a character called the Countess, who is also trying to build up her own village with herself as the queen,whilst trying to prevent you from building your village.
The game is set up like a two player game except all Special cards are removed and there are five cards in each stack on the road. You also have to set up the Countess. Shuffle the winter and summer events separately and place them in piles in the Countess’ playing area. Turn over the top summer event card, this will be in play on the first turn. Place the Countess card with the four gold side up (in a normal game) or with the blank side up (if you are playing at the beginners level of difficulty) Give the Countess one gold in her supply and place the Jester card next to your Village Square.
In the draft phase, when you draft a villager you must also give the Countess a face up villager from the road, before dealing new cards. The Countess does not need to unlock cards, nor does she build chains of villagers in the usual way. Each villager is placed separately in her village. The end of the draft phase is the same as a two-player game but the Countess does not place a coin on a villager. The Countess does not have a build phase, and the usual rules of building apply for you.
After the build phase there is a new event phase in the solo variant. This takes place before any market phase. The event phase is where the Countess’ event cards are resolved, although there are some cards which affect other phases. When the event card/s have been resolved (mostly they have the effect of the Countess taking money from you or the bank, or taking a villager) they are discarded.
The Countess then takes the top villager from the reserve and plays it in her village. If you are playing the beginner level then you just deal one new event card for the Countess. However, at normal difficulty, the gold or silver value of the villager depends on the number of event cards to be played. (three events for a zero value, two events for a one to nine value and one event for a 10 or more value villager).
The market phases work, and score as usual. The Countess plays summer event cards until the turn after the first market phase, when she then uses winter events. As these events can be very punishing or costly, you have a jester card. This is a one use card which can be played at any time to immediately discard an event in play.
At the end of the game, you win if you have more gold than the Countess.
There are some difficult decisions to make in this game, regarding what villager to give the Countess during the drafting phase. I find these to be interesting without being too punishing. The events add another level to the game, and whilst they are random, you do have the Jester card. I would strongly recommend playing at beginner level the first time or two you play the solo variant, to get you used to how it plays.
Overall, I feel that the solo variant is a little deeper than the original version of Villagers. It feels as if you have more decisions to make. I enjoy the original version so for me the solo variant was great, adding a little bit more complexity whilst ensuring a very enjoyable game. This is a game where, if i lose, i will often play “just one more game”!
Viticulture is a worker placement game from Stonemaier games. In Viticulture you are attempting to build a successful vineyard: planting vines, harvesting grapes and making wine to fulfil orders. All of this whilst making sure you have enough money for expansions and enough workers to carry out your projects.
You can find a review of the multiplayer game here.
In the solo variant the opponent is run by a deck of card - this is known as an automa. The automa starts at 20 victory points and does not move up or down on the victory point track. However, the game is limited to seven turns, at normal difficulty, so this adds a time element and to the challenge of the game. If, after seven turns, you have more than 20 points you win, if you have less you lose.
At the start of a turn, you still select where you want to go on the wake-up track. The catch is that in set up you place a glass token on each stage of the wake-up track. You can only go to a place on the track if there is still a glass token there. This means you can only go to each place on the track once and gain that bonus and acts as a reminder of the limit of seven rounds.
At the start of summer and winter only (in Viticulture Essential Edition) or at the start of every season (in Tuscany Essential Edition) you turn over the top card from the deck. This card tells you where the automa will place workers in this season - a yellow or green background shows which workers are to be placed in the summer and a red or blue background shows the workers to be placed in winter. The automa will either place nil, one, two or three workers depending on which version you are playing. These act as other players markers do in a two player game, blocking you out of slots. You can still place the Grande worker to use these slots though, as in the multiplayer game.
The player can use the glass tokens picked up from the wake-up track as bonus tokens throughout the game. You can only use one token each turn. The tokens allow you to take the bonus action (as shown on the middle space) of the action you have taken that turn. These can be very beneficial.
The automa is easy to run and does not distract from the gameplay at all. It does enough to block spaces, simulating another player, without restricting your options too much. I enjoy trying to work out how to optimise your strategy to get enough points from the cards you have. I also feel that the time limit helps me to stay focused on having meaningful turns. The rulebook also sets out ways to make the automa easier or harder, which I like as you can change the difficulty to suit you.
There are several different variants for the solo game at the back of the rulebook. I have not played these yet, but they look interesting and I'm excited to give them a go.
Caverna: Cave vs Cave is the two player version of Caverna, by Uwe Rosenberg. The game also comes with a solo mode. (I am aware that Caverna also comes with a solo mode but have not played it yet).
In Cave vs Cave you are a member of a dwarf tribe, working to build your new mountain home in a cave system you have found. To do this you need to collect building resources and food, excavate the cave and furnish rooms in the cave to score victory points.
A review of the two player version of Cave vs Cave is here.
In a standard game of Cave vs Cave you are competing to score more points than your opponent. There is no opponent in the solo variant, it is just you against the game. The goal is to score more than 50 points, with a score of over 60 points being “a truly remarkable score”.
The gameplay of the solo variant is very similar to the two player game. However, during set-up you remove three of the starting rooms (with a light grey background) from play. The nine rooms not on your board are placed in a draw pile next to the play area. The Breach action tile is removed from play and the action track is turned over to show the track with the single dwarf at the start.
When playing the game, every time you excavate exactly one tile, you also add the tile from the top of the room draw pile to the play area. Additionally, you can use the Rennovation action tile without worrying about how much gold you have. Otherwise you play Cave vs Cave exactly as you would in a two player game.
I really enjoy the quick gameplay of Cave vs Cave as a solo game. Whilst you are not playing against an opponent and are just trying to beat your own score i feel that works well in this puzzle style of game. I like looking at all of the options in front of me and trying to work out an optimum strategy to score the most points. In addition, it does not take up too much tablespace with a limited number of components, which can be great if you don’t want a long set-up and tear down. This is definitely one of my go to games for a quick yet puzzle-y challenge.
Wingspan is another game from Stonemaier games. In Wingspan you are building up your habitat with birds, trying to score the most victory points. Victory points come from a variety of sources including the birds you play, fulfilling bonus goals and laying eggs on your birds.
For a full review of the multiplayer version see here.
As with Viticulture, there is an automated opponent, an automa, run by a deck of cards in Wingspan. Firstly, the automa does not have a board, and is not constrained by the usual rules of play. The automa set-up is relatively straightforward. The automa cards are shuffled and placed in a draw pile. The deck does come with a round marker to show which row of actions take place each turn. You do not need to use it as each round number is also printed next to the relevant row on the card.
The automa is also dealt a bonus card. It does not score for the bonus card but this determines which cards are taken in certain actions. Finally, give the automa all cubes of one colour and the automa round bonus card. It is recommended that you play with the green ranked points side of the round bonus card rather than the blue non-ranked points side.
You can decide which level of difficulty you want to play. This only affects end game scoring and not gameplay. There are three different levels Eaglet (beginner), Eagle (normal) and Eagle-eyed Eagle (hard).
There is a small deck of automa cards and each turn you take the top card and perform the indicated action for that round. Actions the automa can take include laying eggs (these do not go on a bird card but go in a supply), taking bird cards, or gaining food from the birdfeeder. The game comes with a separate automa rule book which sets out the actions but most of the symbols are easy to understand. In addition to the actions, on some automa cards there is either a cube symbol or a cube with a cross through. A cube symbol means you take a cube from the automa supply and place it on the round bonus area for the current round. A cube with a cross through means you remove a cube from this area.
You play your turns as normal, remembering to turn over a new automa card and complete that action for the automa each turn. At the end of the round you remove the automa card which only has one, two or three round spaces printed on it respectively. You then shuffle the automa discard pile and deck to form a new deck. End of round scoring is resolved. The automa cards come with a round bonus card which tells you how many of each specific item the automa has this round. Simply find the number for symbol matching that of the bonus tile and add how many of the automa’s cubes are on the round bonus area. This is the total number of items it has this turn. You then determine how many of the item you have and award first and second place accordingly.
Rounds then continue to play in the same way as above.
At the end of the game you calculate your points as you would in a multiplayer game. You then calculate the automa’s points. The automa scores one point for each egg in it’s supply, points from the end of round goals as stated on the board, points printed on each face up bird card it has and either three, four or five points for each facedown bird depending on the difficulty you chose. The automa does not score its bonus card. If you have more points than the automa you win, if not you lose. The tiebreaker is the same as the multiplayer game with the automa having two food tokens.
Wingspan is the most challenging game on this list, as you have to concentrate on maximising your points to beat the automa. However, I have found this to be an interesting challenge. I enjoy trying different play styles to try and get the most points, being guided by the bird cards in my starting hand. Wingspan is my favourite game, at the moment, so it has been great to be able to play the solo mode and get it to the table.
I hope this top five has inspired you to try the solo variant of some of your games. Keep safe and keep gaming!