As I discussed in a recent podcast episode (Once Upon A Die, Episode Beta), solitaire gaming is something that is becoming a more enjoyable activity with the current trend of cooperative games, as well as a few solo play-only games that are coming out.
With that in mind, I wanted to list five of my favourite games to play solitaire, with a little description of each, and why I think they are good for one player. I am also including podcast episode numbers for those I have covered already on my podcast – all other games on this list will be covered in the future. Without further ado, let’s jump in.
Hostage Negotiator by A.J. Porfirio
This is a game that I discovered recently. Combining deck-building with a tight economy, and some really tough decisions, Hostage Negotiator is a one-player only game that has some serious bite to it. A single game takes up to about twenty minutes if you play it through to the end, though they frequently run shorter. The player is a police hostage negotiator trying to talk down an abductor who has taken many hostages. Cards are bought from a tableau straight into the player’s hand, used to attempt to calm the abductor down, rescue hostages, or gain credit to buy more cards next turn, and then discarded back to the tableau. You never have many cards available to use, and this makes the game’s economy of when to try for credit, rescue, or calming down the abductor all the more important. Success with the cards is also determined by a dice roll, the number of dice being dictated by how angry the abductor is – the angrier they are, the fewer dice you have available. The game plays differently every time, and while it comes with three abductors, there are multiple expansion packs available that not only introduce new abductors, but new mechanics to work with.
Arkham Horror by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson, published by Fantasy Flight Games
Once Upon A Die Episode 001
The heaviest game on this list, by far, Arkham Horror is steeped in the Cthulhu Mythos developed by H.P. Lovecraft. Once you work out what is going on in this game, you find yourself becoming invested in your characters as they explore the town of Arkham, trying to find clues to help them seal the gates that are pouring monsters into the world, and eventually defeat the Great Old One for that particular game. Playing solitaire involves playing multiple characters, but getting into the story you develop for them can be incredibly satisfying. The gameplay proceeds systematically, with a strict phase structure, but the variety of what can happen within that structure keeps this game interesting, especially with the plethora of available expansions. Characters can suddenly be thrown into another world, find themselves attacked by a flying beast because they were foolish enough to stop in the streets, or even be inducted into a secret society. There is a lot of management to be done here, but the theme is strong enough to overweigh this for me. There are other games in the series – such as Eldritch Horror and Elder Sign – which can be played solo, but Arkham Horror still stands above them for me. That said, the new edition of Mansions of Madness has an app-controlled bad guy, allowing solitaire play, and that might just win out once I have played it – we will see!
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 by Matt Leacock and Rob Daviau, published by Z-Man Games
A fantastic version of Pandemic, with wonderful storytelling built in. When I started playing my first campaign (I am playing a second time with a group), I knew that I was in for a wild ride, but some of the twists and turns – both scripted by the story and due to decisions I made in game – were truly incredible, and there were definitely a few moments where I sat there with my mouth open for a couple of minutes! This is definitely an experience that is worth sharing, but I got a great deal of enjoyment playing solitaire, and it has not diminished my experience playing again – in fact I am enjoying telling the story, with the foreknowledge of the surprises that are in store, and the discovery of new things as the game plays out in different directions to my previous one. The one downside of solo play is that there is no-one there to catch the possibility of a better move, and there were times where I realised I could have gone another way that I hadn’t seen, or messed up something I was trying to achieve by going the wrong way. This is true of all cooperative games played solitaire, but is a sensation enhanced when you have to make a permanent modification to the game as a result.
XenoShyft: Onslaught by Keren Philosophales and Michael Shinall, published by Cool Mini Or Not Games
Upon opening XenoShyft: Onslaught, you see a plethora of cards, and you know that you are in for a feast of variability and new experiences each time you play. A fairly heavy deck-building game, XenoShyft has you defending your base against The Hive, the insect-like aliens that are assaulting it. Your base has limited damage that it can take, which scales in proportion to the number of players, and it is likely to suffer a fair bit in the first couple of turns of the game, so the challenge level of this is high. You have to survive nine turns in this game, and it is definitely a challenge. I will say that one element of this game is lost playing solitaire. Each character (player) has their own section of the base to defend, and during the game you can play cards on other characters, allowing them to use them against their own batch of aliens they are fighting, and then that card is in their deck. While you still do this if you play solitaire with multiple characters, there is something about the banter between players that is lost when you are on your own. Nevertheless, this game is phenomenal, and there are so many combinations of equipment that can come up to be used. The soldiers you can employ are always the same, but different combinations of items change the nature of the game each time. There is also an excellent app version of this game. I am yet to beat it either with physical cards or on my iPad, but each time I return, I know that I am in for a great game.
XCOM: The Board Game by Eric M. Lang, published by Fantasy Flight Games
Once Upon A Die Episode 004
The XCOM series of video games is something I’m a big fan of – both the 1980s games, and the new reboot. When the board game based on the series was announced, I knew that it was going to have to do a lot to impress me, and this game delivers enough and more than enough to do that. The combination of hurried, real-time decision making and methodical resolution keeps the tension high without burning out the players. The game is controlled by an app that never intrudes on play, but rather delivers a tailored experience for that particular game, and allows functionality that would be tricky to implement without digital assistance. Playing solitaire in this is very hard, as you have so much to keep track of, but it is a very rewarding experience once you know the flow of the game and the cards in the research deck. It is definitely not a game that is easy to beat on Medium difficulty, and I certainly haven’t tried Expert yet, but it has never felt like a let-down if I do lose. This is a game I frequently pull out as setup is not too long, and it delivers a different and excellent experience every time I play.
Five Honourable Mentions
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island by Ignacy Trzewiczek, published by Portal Games
An amazing worker placement adventure game, with some wonderful mechanics, especially the cards that resolve once and then may come back later – not on the list only because I haven’t beaten the first scenario yet.
Pleasant Dreams by Aerjen Tamminga, published by Aerjen Games
This is a fantastic push-your-luck game for one or two players and some genuinely creepy artwork. I am yet to play with two, but it is a superb filler game – not on the list because it can’t be replayed too often, and I don’t play filler games that often.
Mage Knight Board Game by Vlaada Chvátil, published by Asmodee
An amazing hand management adventure game, which is worth the time it takes to play and feels very dramatic, based on the Mage Knight role-playing game – not on the list because it doesn’t hit the table as often as I’d like due to the sheer scale of the game and the length of its setup.
Samurai Spirit by Antoine Bauza, published by Fun Forge
A great logic puzzle defence game, in which you try to stop bandits from overrunning your village while balancing the damage that your various samurai take each turn – not on the list, but could very well have been had the five games on it not been there.
Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crécy by Michiel Hendricks, published by Portal Games
Once Upon A Die Episode 006
A great worker placement with the option to play the regular game solo, but with an even more compelling solitaire variant that is part logic puzzle as well – not on the list, but again could have been there were it not for the other games just above it.