As we hunker down for weeks or months of social distancing, refrigerators stocked and extra toilet paper on hand, it’s okay to allow ourselves a little time for fun and games. Today we’re talking about solo games. Whether you’re by yourself, or needing a little alone time, here are some board games and tabletop roleplaying games to try out.
This is the first in a series where I’ll be profiling board games and tabletop roleplaying games for folks to try out at home—starting with single-player-friendly games (sometimes referred to as solo or “solitaire play” games), then moving onto two-player games and unique family-friendly ones. I’m including a mix of physical games and digital versions—Steam versions of existing games, or PDFs of various RPGs—for folks wanting options that don’t involve home delivery. I’m also highlighting game developers’ websites for purchasing over Amazon, unless that option isn’t available, but make sure to communicate with potential sellers about their delivery situations.
And as always, be sure to leave suggestions in the comments about games that you’re trying out, especially if you’re got ideas on how to convert other games into solo adventures. Be safe, and play happy.
Nemo’s War is a single-player board game inspired by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Playing as Captain Nemo, players explore the vast oceans in the Nautilus, finding treasure, fighting enemies, and discovering amazing world wonders. It’s a very story-driven strategy game with roleplaying elements, making it a great one for folks wanting a strong personal connection to their solo games. Nemo’s War costs $75 and is available on Victory Point Games’ website. The company has a great collection of other board games with solo play, for those interested in finding more.
Fantasy Flight Games’ Arkham Horror: The Card Game has players taking on the role of investigators struggling to find the truth because a series of Lovecraftian-style arcane mysteries. It’s a great one for the long haul of staying at home because of how expansive it is. The main game comes with a single, three-part campaign that can be played multiple times—I’m currently playing through it myself—but as a Living Card Game it features dozens of campaigns and expansions to keep things fresh for a long time. The base game is $40 (it’s set to increase on May 1) and is currently available on Amazon. For more information on available expansions, visit FFG’s website.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island, from Portal Games, is an adventure game where players are stranded on a deserted island and have to build shelter and ward off dangers while completing a series of missions. The game comes with seven scenarios, each of which can be played multiple times. Robinson Crusoe is $65 and available at Portal Games’ website.
I decided to combine the various Escape Room or murder mystery-style games with solo play into one post. These are games where players have a set amount of time to complete a puzzle and either solve a mystery or escape a location. There’s Unlock!, a series of games that use cards and a phone app, as well as the Exit the Game franchise, which is a more tried and true pen-and-paper game. Both of these are designed to only be successfully completed once, but if you give enough time between plays you might find some new angles. I was also recommended the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series, which is more in-depth, but the only place I could find it was through third-party sellers on Amazon, and those sales have been suspended through April 5.
Rio Grande Games’ Race for the Galaxy has players building galactic civilizations using cards that represent different discovered or conquered worlds and societal developments. An expansion called The Gathering Storm added a solo player modification where players face off against an AI opponent. Both sets are required to play this, which costs about $45 if bought through Amazon. For those wanting a more affordable option, there is a digital version of Race for the Galaxy on Steam, with a package that includes The Gathering Storm for $12.
Scythe, an engine-building game, takes place in an alt-history version of 1920s Eastern Europe after a massive war left the world devastated and giant mechs roaming around. Players are tasked with leading their faction to power through gathering resources, conquering territory, constructing settlements, and activating mechs. Solo mode uses the Automa deck system, using the character, mechs, and workers of a chosen faction to build a deck and craft an opponent for the solo player to face off against. It adds an extra challenge because the opponent’s movements are random, so it’s hard to predict what they’ll do in response to your actions. Scythe costs $90, making it the most expensive solo game on this list, and is available on Stonemaier Games’ website. For those wanting a more affordable option, there’s a digital version on Steam for $20.
Knights of Pen and Paper is a video game available on Nintendo Switch and Steam for $10. A single player recreates their own tabletop roleplaying group on the small screen, enacting both the players and the GM. It combines the tabletop experience with Final Fantasy-style combat and exploration, making it a fun sit-down experience that can be picked up whenever. In a similar vein, there’s One Deck Dungeon, a digital roleplaying game available on Steam for $10. Players venture into a dungeon trying to gather loot, defeat enemies, and stop a dangerous dragon. It’s a fun and compact way to quickly get to the best part of the RPG experience: the dungeons.
Onirim is a card game that’s pretty hard to find nowadays—but luckily, it also has digital versions for the iPhone and iPad, and Android devices. Players work their way through a dreamlike labyrinth by playing or discarding different location cards, trying to find enough doors to make it out before being attacked by terrifying nightmares. The cards are beautiful, and it’s a tense but calming way to play a card-based game wherever you are at home. Onirim is free-to-play (with in-app purchases) on the App Store and Google Play store.
Game designer Peter Rudin-Burgess has created several solitaire expansions that convert popular tabletop roleplaying games into solo adventures—a great way to turn an existing co-operative or multiplayer game into one you can play by yourself. These include Mutant: Year Zero, Fate, Stars Without Numbers, Blades in the Dark, and several others. He’s also published a zine called Crossroad Chronicles that is dedicated to helping solo players learn and grow their GM-less games. You can find more of his solitaire engines on DriveThruRPG.
Tunnels & Trolls was originally developed in 1975 by Ken St. Andre, a librarian who thought the rules of Dungeons & Dragons were too confusing—and thus, one of the biggest initial competitors to D&D was born. Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls is a fantasy saga in a similar vein to Lord of the Rings, open to a lot of interpretation and expansion. What really sets it apart is the solo play; this RPG is designed with it in mind specifically and includes several solo adventures. Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls is on sale right now as a digital PDF for $20 on DriveThruRPG (it normally costs $40).
Word Mill’s Mythic is a tabletop roleplaying game that doesn’t require a GM—or any other players at all. The standalone adventures are meant to be played with minimal preparation, with the player deciding on an opening scenario and maybe a couple of details before diving in. All of the action comes from answering a series of “yes or no” questions and consulting the book, which move the adventure along and provides for different events and surprises. Mythic is available as a PDF for $9 on DriveThruRPG, and there is a print edition.
This one is slightly different, in that it’s more about exploring yourself than playing a game. The Adventurer is a solo narrative tabletop RPG created by James Chip, where players use a journal to chronicle their adventures in a fantasy world of their own creation. Similar to Journey Back, a solo journaling RPG currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, players use a deck of cards to randomly create scenarios and conflicts, choosing how to respond to them in your journal. Given how much is going on in the world right now, it might be a good time to start journaling–even if it’s to make up an adventure for someone else. The Adventurer is available as a PDF on itch.io, and purchases are donation-based.
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