There are times when you just miss the tactile nature of physically playing a game—the dealing of cards, the rolling of dice, the organising of your resource cubes. But how can you play board games by yourself, whether it’s because everyone is busy or you just want to eschew other human beings for a spell? Are you reduced to another stirring round of Solitaire? Will you bean-count as you shift those stones in Mancala? Fear not, intrepid adventure-seeker. A number of multiplayer board games have supplied rules for solo play, allowing you to embark on desktop expeditions with only yourself against the world.
Tiny Epic Quest
Game Design by Scott Almes
Published by Gamelyn Games
Release Date: 2017
The Tiny Epic series of games by Gamelyn Games prides itself on being a lot of fun with a small footprint. Coming in boxes similar in size to a pack of greeting cards, they are easy for travel and can be set up anywhere with a flat surface. Each game has a different theme and a fun unique mechanic differentiating it in the series.
In the case of Tiny Epic Quest, you are whisked into a fantasy foray for magical artifacts and magic spells, fighting off invading goblins and earning buffs from completing quests with a band of three Meeples at the players’ disposal. Each round comprises of a day phase and night phase. During the day phase, players move their Meeples around to acquire quests, set up for learning a spell, or beginning their temple delves. The night phase is the Adventuring turn—players learn spells, explore temples, and fight goblins, then set the board again for the next round’s day phase.
The game introduces ITEMeeples—tiny little items that can clip onto your Meeples, one for each item that can be earned in-game. Players can earn Legendary Weapons (also represented with ITEMeeples), following the guide on their player card (each player card has a different pathway for this), which will aid in questing as well as earning more points during the final scoring phase. Players are scored on quests completed, goblins killed, spells learned, and Legendary Weapons acquired. Whoever has the most points at the end, wins—unless you’re playing “The Legend of the Chosen One”, the Solo Run ruleset.
In this mode, you choose a difficulty level at the beginning, which will determine the Victory Points you need in the scoring round. There are also small variations to how movement, spell acquisition, and the night phase work, but the mechanics don’t change much. This mode can be a challenge compared to the multiplayer one. Whereas multiplayer requires you just to beat the score of the people beside you, Solo requires beating a definite threshold. You’re playing against the game, and may require a different approach in order to best it.
Fallout: The Board Game
Game Design by Andrew Fischer with Nathan Hajek
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Release Date: 2017
Dark Souls, Bloodborne, This War of Mine, XCOM—what do these titles all have in common? Are they grim post-apocalyptic horrorshows meant to crush your spirit (either by bleakness or just sheer grueling difficulty)? Well, yes, but that’s not all! They’re all video games that have become board games. And joining their ranks is Fallout.
Based on the Fallout game series, particularly Bethesda’s revival with Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, Fallout: The Board Game sees each player taking control of a wasteland survivor. Each survivor is unique from playthrough-to-playthrough—they have one set skill based on their type, but they also get a random skill at the start of each game. These skills make up their S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats, Fallout’s flavour of ability scores. Also forming your character are perks, one-use special abilities that can turn tables, and traits, tokens that may sway how your survivor reacts to the game world and vice versa.
To start a game, players choose from the scenario deck and set up the game board tiles accordingly. The scenario will have a main objective, as well as outlines on the activity of two warring factions. The players must complete the objective whilst avoiding either faction gaining the lead. If one faction gains too much power, it’s game over for everyone. As they explore, players can pick up sidequests. These can change how their story progresses, but can also yield Influence. Influence is the scoring currency of the game and the first player to reach the designated goal wins the game. One of the intriguing asides to winning is that you must declare that you have enough Influence to reach it. But this means you can choose to NOT declare it, wait for someone else, and then reveal after they have won that you also have enough and thus share in victory. It’s an interesting twist to the “first one there wins” mentality we’re used to seeing with games.
Solo Play rules are very similar to standard group rules, with only a couple mechanic exceptions that usually need other players. The winning requirements are still the same and whilst you do not have anyone trying to sabotage you, you also do not have anyone else aiding in keeping the factions at bay.
Legacy of Dragonholt
Game Design by Nikki Valens (Additional Design by Daniel Lovat Clark with Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda, Greg Spyridis, and Tim Flanders)
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Release Date: 2017
If Dungeons & Dragons had a baby with Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, that baby would be Legacy of Dragonholt. Using the new Oracle game system, Legacy of Dragonholt lets players create characters an adventure without a Game Master present. With no traditional game board, the game is played out through character sheets and the many quest books. Much like CHYOA narratives, players will read through a quest book, be presented with a choice with a page number, and follow through on the designated page. Some choices will tell you to mark certain Story Points in the campaign tracker. You may find that later choices will ask if these Story Points are completed, leading to different results. Some choices may also require specific character skills, such as thievery. Once you finish one of the quest books, your character is taken forward onto the next one. The system is made so that you can take one character through the whole campaign of quest books, just like in a traditional tabletop roleplaying game campaign.
When starting a new campaign, the first quest book will outline what changes are needed between playing with one player or multiple players, such as if you start with alternate stats. The largest differences are choices and skills. When playing solo, you are the only one that needs to make decisions. Multiplayer, however, requires the use of activation tokens. Each player gets one and starts with it set to active. When presented with a choice, the group decides who will make the decision. That player then makes the decision as they see fit and turns over their token. They are now deactivated from choices until all player tokens are refreshed. Once all players have exhausted their tokens, they flip them back over to active and repeat the cycle.
There is a trade-off to this. Where playing solo means you don’t have to answer to anyone else, it does also mean that you are limited to only your own skills. If you chose to play a mage, you won’t be able to perform the skills that require a thief. So whilst you are able to make all decisions, there will be some choices you simply can’t choose because you don’t have the skillset in your party of One.
Game Design by Isaac Childres
Published by Cephalofair Games
Release Date: 2017
Folks, what we have here is the Mac Daddy of recent tabletop games. Following two successful Kickstarter campaigns for the first and second printing, followed by a third printing, and a planned expansion in the near future, Gloomhaven has been the hot new kid on the block. Gloomhaven is a campaign-driven tabletop roleplaying game. Similar to Legacy of Dragonholt, it is made to be played by persistent characters in an evolving setting. The choices you may along the way changes the world around you.
Whereas Legacy of Dragonholt leans towards the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book style, Gloomhaven leans more towards traditional board game with a plethora of cards, board pieces, interlocking map tiles, and player figures. This box is BIG, all caps. And that space is filled to the brim with stuff, with the box weight clocking in at just over 20 pounds. As the game progresses, players place stickers on the world map and player mats to show discoveries and progress. Whilst the stickers are meant to be permanent for a long-haul campaign, some players have managed around this with sticky dots, reusable stickers, or tracking progress outside of the supplied game materials entirely.
Playing this game solo is virtually no different than with other players. Instead of multiple players controlling characters, you control multiple characters yourself. It’s more like a video game RPG in that sense, where you the player has control of a full party. Because of this, the game rules suggest that for whatever scenario difficulty you run into, increase the difficulty level by one. This is because part of the challenge in multiplayer is that you don’t know what the other player will do, whereas playing all characters removes that difficulty. This is, of course, at your discretion—it’s your campaign to play.
With a large story campaign to plow through and a striving creation community with the game designer’s blessings, there is a lot of playtime to get out of Gloomhaven. There are a few caveats to keep in mind. Firstly, this game is ridiculously hard to find. I only found it when I went abroad to the US during the summer. There were three copies in the shop, one of which we bought. When we went back to the store two days later, the rest were gone and no more expected to come. Secondly, even when you do find it, the price tag may give you a heart attack. Retailing at $135, you can believe I sure had one (and then blew through my luggage weight limit, so add $50 shipping on there). And that’s for when it’s being sold in stores. On marketplaces like eBay or Amazon Seller, new undamaged copies will easily cost you over $200.
It’s a steep price tag, especially if you intend to play the game solo. However, if you can find somewhere to give it a try and you really enjoy it, the sheer amount of stuff is a wonderful treat for those that appreciate quality game pieces and props. And for being a campaign game you can play on your own, you have everything you need in one box. For me, I was able to justify the cost because we could not find this game back here in the UK and it was my birthday, so we treated ourselves. It ultimately comes down to your priorities as to whether or not it’s worth it. And you can always wait for the video game to come out early next year, developed by Flaming Fowl Studios and published by Asmodee Digital.
This is by no means an exhaustive list – far from it! There are more in the Tiny Epic series in different flavours with Galaxies, Zombies, Westerns, Defenders, and upcoming title Mechs. Other board games based on video games are those listed previously, as well as other genres like Sid Meier’s: Civilization, Plague Inc. and Portal. For narrative-based games, you have series like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Mice & Mystics, Eldritch Horror, and The 7th Continent. And for those that want lots of bits and bobs to play with, you have games like Scythe, The City of Kings, Agricola, Gaia Project, and Suburbia. These games are all possible to play either on your own or with/against others, so you get twice the mileage out of them. Whether everyone’s busy or just you need a bit of me-time, you don’t need to let a lack of players stop you—claim that whole table for yourself and embark on your own personal adventure.
An American specimen (subspecies: Michigander), now under research in the United Kingdom. Subject appears to sustain itself on video games and webcomics. Favourite flavours are fantasy and sci-fi, with a slice of life on the side.