Solo Games for Lonely Hearts
on Feb 8, 2018
Let's face it- like Virginia, Valentine's Day is for lovers. But not everyone has a significant other, partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, soulmate, ball-and-chain, whatever. Let alone one of those that is willing to sit down and play Mage Knight for 4 hours. With that in mind and "One is the Loneliest Number" playing on the Hi-Fi, this month's feature theme is solo games. We've covered this niche of the hobby before, but the fact of the matter is that over the past couple of years there has been something of a renaissance of solitaire games, as if the notion of playing a board game alone has gone from something slightly weird and possibly even desperate to a very common and widely accepted thing. Me? I've been playing games by myself for my whole life, going back to setting up Risk and playing all six sides. And I still love setting up and playing games- even multiplayer games- by myself, if only to see how they work.
Here's a few of our writers' picks for great games to play this Valentine's Day if you find yourself without a date!
Review Corner Editor-in-Chief
I specifically told the crew not to write about Arkham Horror LCG in my assignment not only because I knew that at least three of our writers would pick it, but also because I wanted to have a chance to write something about it since I have not reviewed it to this point. This game is absolutely fantastic- a true RPG-like experience with heavy narrative, character development and a consistently surprising use of the LCG format to generate varied, compelling adventures. I think this is the strongest game in this line that FFG has produced to date, and it solves many of the issues I had with the Lord of the Rings LCG. And, of course, it plays magnificently as a solitaire game. I prefer to run two investigators, and I've found immense pleasure in developing their decks and working through the Dunwich Legacy campaign in particular. I've been surprised, delighted, and challenged at every turn, and I haven't even played this game with another person yet. This is one of the best solo options on the market- and the fact that it is quick to set up break down makes it all the more appealing when you are on your own.
No big plans on Valentine's Day? Well, maybe not in this galaxy, but a solitaire adventure awaits you far, far away with Imperial Assault. I bought this game for the campaign, and have bravely fought the Empire using print and play Imperial AI cards since the dark times, before the app. But now that the Legends of the Alliance companion app has arrived, adventuring Solo (see what I did there?) is easier than ever. And unlike the real, not Star Wars world, you never actually lose in Imperial Assault, except maybe at the end. But in between there are lightsabers.
Light some candles, pour yourself a glass of wine, and get ready to fall in love with One Deck Dungeon. While it's not a real dungeon crawl by any means, there's enough of a theme-setting connection that you'll forgive its many abstractions. The cool part is that every enemy you defeat can be transmogrified into a new skill, a shiny new item, a tasty potion, or a pile of experience points. So you'll gradually get better and better, until you inevitably fall to a gelatinous cube or a death blade trap, just like in real roguelike games. A campaign mode allows you to slowly get better at running the gauntlet until you finally beat the big bad. It's love at first death.
It's rare that a tabletop miniatures game works so damn well solo, but that's how Walking Dead: All Out War rolls, er...shambles. This is a minis game that's confined to a small 20" x 20" play area and you get the full experience relying on the included 2D terrain. This means it's economical, quick to setup, and not at all intimidating.
The real asset that pushes this one to the top of the heap is the narrative scenarios included in the expansion content Miles Behind Us and Days Gone Bye. These allow you to play through the stories we've read in the comics in either a solo or co-operative format. This decision to rely on the built-in story while enabling players to forge their own outcomes is gripping and addictive.
Playing a solo game sometimes means that half hour before bed or on your lunch break. While heavy hitters like Gloomhaven are the MVPs of my solo library, smaller games like SUPERHOT are the bread and butter. This unique twist on deckbuilders takes a couple of plays to wrap your mind around--you aren't so much building a deck as balancing two of them simultaneously--but once it clicks, it's rewarding and addictive. Stay alive as long as you can (but never more than 30 minutes) while completing objectives and slashing flying bullets with your katana in this built-for-solo take on the time-bending indie PC game.
Perhaps one of the loneliest hearts ever was that of Percy Fawcett’s as he finally succumbed on his ill-fated 1925 Amazonian expedition in search of the Lost City of Z. After all, he was never heard from again and his ultimate fate is still unknown. Most likely, his remains probably lay out there deep in the forest somewhere. Alone for eternity. Now you can follow in his steps, hopefully with more success, in The Lost Expedition.
Reaching the legendary City of Gold will be difficult. Just ask Percy. You must navigate a treacherous jungle path by overcoming obstacles with survivalist skills, supplies and healthy constitutions. Entirely represented by cards and some small tokens, you must utilize that expertise and your meager resources in order to meet the icon requirements moving along path cards constructed from your hands. If all three members of the party succumb to a series of various perils before reaching your deep jungle discovery, the world will never know of your fate. What makes the solo game so intense is that the path is built with cards from your hand and also randomly from the deck. While increasing the challenge tenfold, it recreates the sense of discovery and the unknown by which such quests were fraught. It’s a compelling design that models the combination of skilled determination, careful readiness and the deadly uncharted. While available to adventure cooperatively with up to five, this surprisingly thematic gem really shines through solo play, as the relentless jungle and its mix of dangerous indigenous life seemingly leave you forsaken and abandoned to your own loneliness.
Solo games are typically the refuge of last resort for those looking to get their cardboard fix. And that's because so many solo games are subpar. They have to walk a tight line. Too formulaic and the game becomes a solvable puzzle. Too random and the player feels at the mercy of the dice or cards. But one of the absolute best solo games manages this balance effortlessly. Mage Knight is not only a multiplayer competitive or cooperative game, but it works amazingly well solo. From the first turn, you are presented with important and consequential decisions. And without those other pesky players around, you can sink deep into the thematic world of ravaging orcs and strongly defended cities. The solo gamer will get a rich, satisfying adventure in each and every play. It's so good that it isn't just a "next-best-option" when game night falls through. It's an amazing experience in its own right.
Scythe is a great game for a solo play through. You can play as different factions, and try out the different abilities. The variety of player boards can completely change your strategy, and provide an exciting game play time and time again. With a completely separate rule book and components for solo play, it is clear that the time was spent to really design a well thought out solo play.