Board games have always been a social hobby. Unlike video games, which often are played alone, or with others via a network, board games are typically played with at least 2 people in the same room as each other. More and more, gamers are trying out solo board games. Most people are familiar with the classic card game Solitaire or one of its many variations, and these board games for solo players take it to the next level.
Times have changed, playing a board game by yourself is no longer stigmatized and in fact, many new single player board games are being developed, and even multiplayer games now come with a publisher developed variant for solitaire play. Even if they don’t, players themselves will often create their own solo board game rules variant and upload it online for others to enjoy.
With that in mind, let’s get the feelings of shame, sadness or whatever you think “playing by yourself” implies, and treat it for what it is: a way to flexibly enjoy your hobby without needing another person around you at all times.
Here are some of the best solitaire games that money can buy. Note: a couple of the games on this list can be played with more than 1 player, but those modes feel so tacked on to what is clearly meant to be a solo experience.
12. Palm Island (2018)
- Time: 15 Minutes
- Designer: John Mietling
- Publisher: Portal Dragon
- Mechanic: Hand and Resource Management
|Palm Island Deluxe||$24.99||Buy on Amazon|
The name Palm Island is quite literal here. You are building an island in the palm of your hand using 17 cards. You are doing this by taking the top card from the deck and selecting an available action to do with it. You can store resources to upgrade buildings and use upgraded buildings to access new abilities. You will be flipping and rotating cards and holding them all in the palm of your hand. You will play through 8 rounds and count up your victory points to gauge your success.
The game itself does come with a couple of variants to play with 2 players either cooperative or competitively but these are definitely the weaker of the game modes. The solo mode is where this shines and that’s why I made it eligible for this list.
The truly neat thing about this game is the mobility. You can literally play this game anywhere in the world because it is just a small deck of cards and does not require a table.
11. Maquis (2013)
- Time: 20 Minutes
- Designer: Jake Staines
- Publisher: Side Room Games
- Mechanic: Worker Placement
|Maquis Board Game: Solo Worker-placement Game||$24.99||Buy on Amazon|
This game was originally made available as a print and play game, it was a nominee for best print and play board game in 2013 by boardgamegeek. This game puts in the role of the French resistance fighting against the Nazi occupation.
This game offers an emotionally deep experience because the sobering theme comes through very well. You will be placing workers down to fight the Nazi occupation by blowing up trains, publishing underground newspapers, etc. However, you’re workers will try to make their way back to the base after finishing their assignment. This is no easy task since there will be Nazi officers roaming the board and capturing your workers.
The worker placement mechanic is a difficult one to use for a solo game because it often requires player interaction to make your decisions truly meaningful. Somehow, this game manages to make it work with the combination of a dramatic theme and the fact that there is a game managed “opponent” to disrupt your plans.
10. After the Virus (2017)
- Time: 30-90 Minutes
- Designer: Jacob Fryxelius
- Publisher: FryxGames
- Mechanic: Deck Building
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You may recognize the designer of this one as the designer of the ever-popular Terraforming Mars. This game is vastly different but has a really neat mechanical twist on deckbuilding.
As you may have guessed, this is a post-apocalyptic zombie game and this one actually plays cooperatively up to 3 players, but again, this is a tacked-on version in my opinion and this game was designed for solo play.
The neat twist on deckbuilding is the balancing act. Normally, in deck builders, you are attempting to get a very thin, but powerful deck. However, in this game it is slightly different because every time you shuffle your deck you will be adding another zombie into your deck. So if your deck is too thin, then you will see zombies more often and be more likely to get attacked and die.
Check out this review from Liz Davidson for more information:
Also, in order to to kill off zombies, you will need to play cards from your hand and prepare the cards for combat, meaning again, your deck is also getting thinner while you prepare for zombies.
The game is scenario driven and has 4 unique characters to offer a relatively deep experience despite having not so much card variety. I think the only thing that holds this game back from being higher on my list is that the artwork seems amateurish and frankly grotesque.
9. Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden (2016)
- Time: 10-20
- Designer: Todd Sanders
- Publisher: LudiCreations
- Mechanic: Drafting, Placement, Set Collection
Speaking of grotesque artwork, this one features these disturbingly realistic Victorian anthropomorphic vegetables and it honestly looks like something you’d see in a creepy re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland. However, it is weirdly charming at the same time because the art style and the sense of humor all sort of work together.
You are caring for your garden in an attempt to win the blue ribbon in this year’s gardening competition however, whenever you go on holiday, your nosy neighbors will come in and attempt to steal your vegetables. It has a neat drafting mechanic and spatial puzzle that is quite satisfying.
When drafting you can choose the card in the middle for free, choose the card on the left and gain a bee, or choose the card on the right and spend a bee. Over time the bee supply will shift and you will have more or less flexibility depending on how well you manage this.
In addition you need to ball-parking the odds of which neighbor will visit your garden and attempt to swing those odds in your favor, because one will only visit if they are the only one visiting. Thematically, I guess they get caught up in some weird Victorian vegetable gossip before they can reach your garden. Lastly, when placing the vegetables into your garden, you need to be careful how you place them because vegetables like to be in patches with like vegetables and in addition there are “bonus” shapes you can form in your little garden grid that will score you extra points.
This game also has that typical tacked on 2 player mode, but honestly, the game is much more satisfying as a solo experience than it is as a 2 player experience. The game is best described as quirky and charming and it is definitely worth a look even if you find the artwork a little disturbing.
8. Black Sonata (2017)
- Time: 30 Minutes
- Designer: John Kean
- Publisher: Side Room Games
- Mechanic: Hidden Movement, Deduction
I know what you are thinking, how in the heck does a single player hidden movement game work?! Well, it requires a lot of creative design choices, that’s for sure. This game has players in Shakespearean London pursuing the Dark Lady. You will be moving around attempting to catch glimpses of the Lady in order to gain clues of her identity.
However, the Lady won’t just stand there and wait to be found, she will be moving around and difficult to track. There is only one possible solution to the game and logical deduction is essential to winning.
Black Sonata uses this very unique set of components including location cards with holes punched in them. When searching for the Lady at a location, you will have to overlap the card from that location and the card which you initiated the search with. If she is at the location, you will see the dark lady through the punched out hole in the location card. If you were correct, you get a clue about her. You will then use that information to eventually deduce the woman you are looking for.
The hidden movement and the logic puzzle in this one is truly delightful and innovative, my only gripe with the game is the replay-ability, because if you play too frequently, you will have a slight edge due to familiarity with the clues.
7. Onirim (2010)
- Time: 15 Minutes
- Designers: Shadi Torbey
- Publisher: Z-Man Games
- Mechanic: Hand Management, Set Collection
|Onirim||Buy on Amazon|
This is a classic as far as solo games go. You are attempting to unlock a set of doors to get out of this mysterious labyrinth and to do so, you need to manage your hand and deck quite successfully.
During the game you will be playing 1 card from your hand into a line of cards and drawing another card. If you manage to play 3 consecutive cards of the same color, with no-two alike symbols adjacent to each other, then you automatically unlock a door of that color. Alternatively, if you have a key of that color in your hand when you draw that color’s door card, you can cash in the key to unlock the door. The object is to unlock all the doors to win.
However, there are these nightmare cards that will force you to discard your entire hand, a door you’ve previously unlocked, or a certain number of cards randomly from the deck.
This creates a really fulfilling and difficult solo puzzle that you will want to play it over and over again. Which is actually it’s biggest flaw as well. The game requires an exhausting amount of shuffling and therefor I actually recommend the app version of the game over the physical version.
Check out the best board game apps below for more information about the Onirim app.
*link coming soon!*
6. Hostage Negotiator (2015)
- Time: 20 Minutes
- Designer: A.J. Porfirio
- Publisher: Van Ryder Games
- Mechanic: Drafting, Hand Management
|Hostage Negotiator: N/A||$24.50||Buy on Amazon|
As the name suggests, you will take on the role of law enforcement performing hostage negotiations to deal with a hostage situation. The game has a very dense theme that includes your choices (and dice rolls) directly influencing whether hostages live or die. You can mitigate the chance of hostages dying by saying the right thing at the right time, but sometimes, the baddie just wants to send a message that they are serious.
This game has grown pretty big now, featuring a big box expansion, multiple scenario packs, and a just recently Kickstarted “Career” expansion which will have you play through an entire campaign of games where things can carry over from game to game, making your decisions all the more meaningful.
What makes this game really good is the balance between control and luck. Because it uses dice, there is an easy tendency to assume it is too luck based, but there never feels like you are completely a victim to bad luck as you can mitigate it in various ways. Also this game has so many options between various enemies, scenarios, and negotiators to choose from, that it is almost endlessly replayable if you have everything made for the game.
While the theme is heavy, they manage to abstract things just enough and keep the game just light enough so that you don’t feel overwhelmed by playing a game with such an intense theme. This one is highly recommended to any players who can either enjoy the theme or manage to look past it for a solid solo experience.
5. Friday (2011)
- Time: 25 Minutes
- Designer: Friedemann Friese
- Publisher: Rio Grande Games
- Mechanic: Deck Building
|Rio Grande Games Friday||$18.05||Buy on Amazon|
In this game you play as Friday attempting to help Robinson Crusue survive his time on the island. Each card in the game consists of a hazard side and a resource side.
In this game, you will face hazard cards from the top of your deck. You will then draw a specified number of cards from your hand in order to manage the hazard. If you manage it, you successfully acquire the other half of that hazard card which now gives you a positive effect since it is in your deck.
When managing hazard cards, you can always spend life points to draw additional cards. This is where the game’s real satisfaction comes from, is knowing when and when not to push yourself the extra bit to try to acquire a card, versus when to just accept defeat against a specific hazard and move on.
Once you have gone through the deck 3 times, you will face off what essentially amounts to “bosses,” these will be bands of pirates or other things that require a lot of cards to defeat. You had better hope you have built up your deck by this point, otherwise you will lose life points extremely quickly and lose the game.
4. Shephy (2013)
- Time: 15 Minutes
- Designer: Pawn
- Publisher: Bouken
- Mechanic: Hand Management, Set Collection
|Shefi (Shephy)||$36.63||Buy on Amazon|
This is probably the most traditional “solitaire” style game on this list, but it is so quick and so satisfying to play that it deserves a spot despite it’s old fashioned feel. The object of the game is to get 1000 sheep into your field by starting with only 1 sheep, using cards to acquire more, use special abilities, and unusually abstract mating rituals to get more into your field.
The complication is that there are a lot of negative events that will actually take sheep away from your fields and this makes it a quite challenging solitaire card game.
The game usually takes about 10-15 minutes and it has some nice decision making throughout that keeps you feeling challenged. It also has brilliant simplistic and charming sheepwork (artwork with sheep).
The only concern with this one is the replay value because there is very little variability from game to game, but the randomness of the shuffle often is enough to keep the game feeling fresh enough to play a quick game every now and then.
3. Nemo’s War (2009)
- Time: 60-120 Minutes
- Designer: Chris Taylor
- Publisher: Victory Point Games
- Mechanic: Action Point Allowance, Dice Rolling
|Nemo's War 2nd Edition||$89.99||Buy on Amazon|
This game got a new edition in 2017 which took the game from relatively “niche” to a hot commodity. It is beautifully illustrated by Ian O’Toole and the gameplay and graphic design has been overhauled and streamlined. In Nemo’s War, you will be playing as Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
This is by far the heaviest game on this list and the only one that offers a truly grandiose experience exclusively for a single player. You will be completing missions in science, exploration, anti-imperialism, and warfare, each type of scenario will cause the game to play out differently and your strategy to change dramatically.
The game revolves heavily around dice rolling, however, you will be able to take risks to modify your success rates. You will also have similar mechanics when fighting against other ships in the sea.
This game is quite complex and there are a lot of cogs in the puzzle to manage if you want to achieve a “happy” ending to your adventure, however, the game flows fairly smoothly despite having it’s complexity. In addition, the story, the characters, the narrative, and thematic flavor text really invest you in your journey and will keep you coming back for more.
This game supposedly plays up to 4 players cooperatively, but it is really not meant to be played this way and you will probably have a bad experience if you don’t play it solo.
2. Arkham Horror: The Card Game (2016)
- Time: 60-120 Minutes
- Designers: Nate French, Matthew Newman
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
- Mechanic: Action Point Allowance, Dice Rolling
|Arkham Horror The Card Game | Horror , Mystery Game | Cooperative Card Games for Adults and Teens...||$33.72||Buy on Amazon|
This is one of the most popular games in the hobby at this point and it technically does play 2 players and unlike most of the games on this list, it actually plays it well. In the end though, this is a 1 player game by design and the second player just adds replayability in my opinion. Once you have played through it solo, you will likely play it again at 2 players just to introduce this amazing game to a friend.
This game is set in the H.P. Lovecraft universe and is what is called a Living Card Game (LCG). This means 3 things, there are a ton of cards and expansions for this game, you can build your own deck of cards to play with, and you will spend a lot of money if you are a completionist (like me).
The way the game is released is in stages or cycles, each cycle is a different story featuring multiple adventures and expansion card sets. Each adventure in a cycle is only part of that cycle’s bigger campaign, and each adventure will have lasting consequences to your actions throughout the campaign.
The system here is really extraordinary and while it can be a massive money-sink to own everything that Arkham Horror: The Card Game has to offer, I would argue that it is worth every penny. It is a narrative campaign that is extremely thematic and strategically satisfying and it is by far my favorite game set in the H.P. Lovecraft universe, despite there being dozens upon dozens of them out there.
1. Coffee Roaster (2015)
- Time: 10-30 Minutes
- Designer: Saashi
- Publisher: Saashi & Saashi, DLP Games
- Mechanic: Bag Building
|Coffee Roaster||$41.40||Buy on Amazon|
I discovered this game when I visited Japan back in 2017, I thought the artwork was charming so I bought it on a whim as a birthday present to myself, and boy am I glad I did. Fast forward a couple years and now this game has finally gotten a much deserved international release thanks to DLP Games. The new release does not feature that amazingly charming Takako Takarai artwork, so you’d have to try to get the original Japanese version to enjoy that part, but the new version looks good as well and the gameplay is virtually identical.
This game puts you in the role of a coffee roaster. You’ll be roasting coffee beans, mastering various types of coffee attempting to acquire the perfect roasting level, amount of flavor, acidity, and body to pass the cup test.
At the beginning of the game you’ll start with a certain number and type of beans, water, and some additives. As you pull out tokens from your bag, they get roasted, the water evaporates, the beans get darker, and the additives can be used to activate special abilities and manage your roast.
Whenever you feel you have a good ratio of beans in your bag, you will move on to the cup test and this is where you will be going through the bag and adding beans to your cup, throwing them others in the waste, or using special abilities you earned throughout the first phase of the game. You will then score based off the coffee’s recipe card and move onto another recipe (if you wish).
The game has a great flow to it, it moves a fast pace, but you are completely in control of when you actually move onto your cup test and it is a very difficult call. You want to make sure you have enough darkly roasted beans and additives in your bag to have a successful cup test, but there is a truly fine-line and taking 1 less or 1 too many turns can cost you big.
This game is tremendously rich with charm and features very smooth gameplay and tense decision making. The game gives the players a lot of control and manipulation of the game state, and yet there is enough randomness to keep things interesting. All of this adds up to Coffee Roaster earning honors as our top solo board game.
The Future of Single Player Board Games
I expect to see this list grow a lot over the next few years. People are beginning to drop the idea that it is “weird” to play board games by yourself. Honestly, I think it is awesome to have the option to pull out a game and play even if you currently can’t find another player to enjoy it with.
Also, from a designer’s perspective, creating a solo game offers a different and interesting challenge to have zero reliance on the interplay of a human opponent and their choices. That being said, it is also much easier to get playtesting done when you only need a single player.
So what do you think? How do you feel about playing and designing solo board games for one player? Are there any other good solo board games that you would have included on this list? Do you think we’ll see a boost in solo games over the next few years? Sound off in the comments below.
Anno July 2021, we have certainly seen already a surge in solo bg products. We’ve seen a surge in interest by a short Youtube hit performance by a German girl called Livi, who built the solo pnp products of bgg 2020. While I don’t subscribe to bgg, and most of the products weren’t even games, the numbers 1 and 2 did end up in the form of a tangible product you can order online (www.thegamecrafter.com).
Some products end up on PnPArcade (www.pnparcade.com), Again, most are below-par, but some are certainly fun.
Retail-wise I expect a slight, temporary increase in 2022 as most games take 1-2 years to fully balance and test, then produce. After 2021, boardgames will revert to targeting 30-yo gamers-with-friends audiences.
I have however changed. Pre-pandemic I made sure nobody was in the house before I sat behind my chess computer. And I still feel uneasy when setting up the table, because well, I claim that space for the next few hours.
So I do play sometimes board games, hell, I even sold off some games because there was no solo for it. Soon we’ll be able to play together with friends, but a boardgame with friends is no longer the norm, I even feel anxious about the prospect.
I agree with most of your entries, but there are some remarks to make.
1. Shephy. There is a royalty free version you can pnp. It doesn’t come with rules, but I posted my rules and campaign as well in a word document to complete it.
Shephy official is OOP and very expensive. I bought it, posted a video about it, and it DOES NOT come with Post-love (the campaign). Post-Love is a digital only version. Shephy is free on Android and iPhone, costs about $1 on Steam, and about $5 on Switch. Get the iPhone/Android version first before spending fortunes.
2. Friday. Friday has the worst rulebook ever. I rewrote the rulebook (file is on bgg still) about 35 pages of details and clarifications. I studied the German original rules to get to the bottom of it even. It’s a very rich, strategic game. Its designer even posted an update 7 years post-release (you lose the game now in 4 ways, not 3).
3. I see nemo’s war and that’s far too expensive wrt Ottoman Sunset. Why is OS not on the list?
4. Dungeon Flee is missing, as is The Phantom: The Card game, and One Deck Dungeon.
5. And finally you totally missed the Solitaire variants. La belle Lucie, and Penguin. Both are a blast.