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Considering board games are seen by most as a social pursuit, it might surprise the uninitiated that playing them solo is a thing at all. But what they don?t understand is: we tabletop gamers are addicts.
Sure, fool yourself that solo gaming keeps your mind honed and is a worthy alternative to a good book, film or video game. But everyone knows you just can?t help yourself, and it beats the shame of begging for a hit.
?Oh, go on. Play a board game with me. It doesn?t have to be Twilight Imperium or Gloomhaven. It can be, erm? Carcassonne? Oh go on! Please! Catan?? I?ll play anything!! I?ll play? Monopoly!!?
You dirty bastard.
Best you get yourself down to your local fun-dealer for some mono-player action instead. Have some self-respect.
What?s more, with the forced isolation of a COVID-19 lock-down upon us, which often means confinement with non-gaming muggles , we have little other recourse than self-help. So a little adventuring escapism is just the thing to beat the quarantine blues.
Whether you?re in the mood for smog-choked London streets, a desert island, a haunted house, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a trap-filled dungeon or even a cheese-filled belly, we?ve got you covered.
HELLBOY: THE BOARD GAME
Abe Sapien: Touched you five seconds, laid three eggs.Hellboy: Didn?t even buy me a drink.
If none of the adventuring scenarios outlined above appeal to you, then perhaps sir or madame would enjoy a healthy diet of smashing Nazis repeatedly in the face with a great big red fist?
Actually the majority of the enemies you?ll be facing in your first few scenarios of Hellboy: The Board Game will probably be huge, frog-like creatures (let?s face it, Deep Ones), but they?re almost certainly Nazis too. They?re definitely eminently punchable.
Image: Mantic Games
Without wanting to dwell too long over you fisting your way through legions of Teutonic ne?er-do-wells, Hellboy: The Board Game is a dungeon-crawler romp like no other. Don the mantle of an agent of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D) and vanquish Hitler?s hidden occult war machine.
With evocative Mike Mignola art spilling over into every component, you really feel like you?re fighting your way through pages of one of the comic books. So much so that it doesn?t bother to explain much about the Hellboy lore for newcomers.
But for established fans or players just wanting a refreshing change from the usual dungeon-crawl, this is a no-brainer.
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo Player Characters: 2More players? Yes. Up to (and best with) 4WANT IT?
MANSIONS OF MADNESS [2nd EDITION]
Yes. Because screw you all. I?m going to play a solitaire 3D-Haunted-House-Horror game over the entire dining room table, wire the companion app through the surround system and crack open the vintage port and cigars.
This is deluxe solo gaming. I mean why do things by halves?
Sure, I have problems with it: there are some fairly dodgy miniatures on some ludicrously large bases, and you get an inexplicably massive piece of folded cardboard in the box for free (an ?insert? apparently).
But then you?re paying premium price, so you expect quality.
Image: Fantasy Flight Games
However, there?s no denying it?s thick with atmosphere and top-heavy with 1920s Lovecraftian horror. It might not pack quite the investigative punch you hoped for, but as a co-operative Run-Screaming-From-Mind-Bending-Horrors kind of gig, it?s tough to beat.
Be prepared for LONG games, but the companion app can save the game for you. Just as well really, as playing with yourself for six hours straight is a recipe for blindness and hairy palms.
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo Player Characters: 2More players? Yes. Up to 5. Co-operative.WANT IT?
ROBINSON CRUSOE: ADVENTURES ON THE CURSED ISLAND
Have you ever entertained romantic ideas about being a castaway on some tropical island, surviving by your wits and knowledge, and living at one with your environment?
Then best leave such fanciful tripe at the door and get real.
Robinson Crusoe is tough, in a starve-to-death-or-die-in-any-number-of-inventive-and-painful-ways kind of tough. Therefore it?s almost certainly not recommended for the new or casual board gamer. But for those looking for the harshest of solo tabletop challenges, this is tough to beat.
Image: Portal Games and Board Game Family
So it?s hard. Cruel even. But boy, does it immerse you in the story. You?ll practically feel the sand between your toes and the ribs showing through your skin.
With an average game time of around 2 hours it?s also a good play length for a hearty adventure, without losing your entire evening. Like an interactive, incredibly harrowing movie.
If it wasn?t daunting enough, there?s even the new Mystery Tales expansion with such delights as a horror mode and rules for Sanity (or lack of it). Nice.
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo player characters: The suggested number is one character + Friday + Dog, but many solo with two characters.More players?: Invite up to 3 of your friends to join you in this masochism.WANT IT?
DARK SOULS: THE BOARD GAME
Yeah, yeah? I know you probably think this game is shit, and at 2?4 players perhaps you?re right, but solo it?s a blast. Maybe it?s the solo mode soul boost, or not having to juggle aggro between characters. Or maybe I just rolled well?
Whatever. All I know is that it?s a nice little dungeon bash with almost puzzle-like combat elements. The Boss battles are pretty unique and conjure up well that feel of an end of level baddie from a video game.
Especially when said Boss uses their programmed movement to start attacking a wall.
My main gripe with the game is the excessive price, but I guess those giant plastic boss minis don?t grow on trees. If you like it though (and after laughably long delays from publisher Steamforged Games), there?s now expansions to bring you things like new characters, environments and bosses.
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo player characters: 1More players? Yes. Up to 4. Co-operative. Needs house rules to not suck.WANT IT?
I?m not comfortable when games put me in tricky situations without being tooled up with a personal arsenal. Even less so when I find myself in my best baggy pyjamas, guarding some creepy village, attacked by ghosts and demons and armed with a sword that?s not half big enough.
Fortunately, the four Taoist compadres you control in this game possess the kind of kung-fu that could kick the face off an old lady.
Image: Repos Productions
There?s few games that fill your heart with more dread when a particularly gnarly foe appears (The Black Widow in this case) and it?s positively exhausting from the relentless onslaught of bad guys.
From the get-go this is ferociously hard. Expect to get mauled the first couple of games, but as you learn how best to coordinate your team, life will become at least bearable.
Note that I didn?t say life would become easy ? with Ghost Stories it?s never going to be, especially if you add in the two expansions (White Moon and Black Secret).
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo player characters: 4More players? Yes. Up to 4. WANT IT?
51st STATE MASTER SET
Seems like a happy chap [Image: Portal Games]
When designer Ignacy Trzewiczek isn?t torturing you on Robinson Crusoe?s island, he?s dishing up a big plate of post-apocalyptic, card-drafting, hand-management, worker-placement craziness. 51st State totally rocks with up to 4 players, but it?s a hoot solo too.
What?s more, when checking out the availability of the games in this list I found you can pick this up for 35. 35!!! It?s a deal, it?s a steal. It?s?
Image: Portal Games
You?ll craft a new Eden out of the wasteland, gathering resources, hiring leaders, sending your minions out to work, building up locations? and then tearing them down again for more resources. Like you do.
Cool card art, nice components, great gameplay and includes both the New Era and Winter expansions in the box. And it?s 35 ferchissakes! What are you waiting for? Oh, you?ve got it already. Good for you.
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo player characters: 1More players? Yes. Up to 4 but best with 2.WANT IT?
CTHULHU: DEATH MAY DIE
If you fancy some miniatures-heavy, Lovecraftian, house-of-horrors shenanigans, but Mansions of Madness is a little too serious for you (or you just don?t like the idea of a digital app spoiling all your analogue loveliness), then you might want to check this out.
It?s utterly absurd in a way that even Mansions of Madness?s dealing-with-a-Star-Spawn-with-just-a-shotgun doesn?t touch. Like punching Cthulhu in his tentacled face absurd. It?s disrespectfully non-canonical and totally bonkers.
And therefore hugely entertaining.
Your merry band of investigators are literally fuelled by madness, gaining powerful new abilities the more horror-struck they become, meaning the game?s mayhem steadily accelerates to a final crescendo of death, madness and, usually, lots of flames.
Coming from a combination of designing genii Rob Daviau (Pandemic: Legacy) and Eric Lang (Blood Rage) and slick developer CMON (Zombicide) you can be sure you?ll get your money?s worth.
There?s also a Season 2 box if you can?t get enough of it, plus extra Old Ones to face off against, for replayability of your existing scenarios.
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo Player Characters: 2More players? Yes. Up to 5. Best at 3 or 4 though.WANT IT?
MICE & MYSTICS
Image: Plaid Hat Games
If poncing about as a Human/Elf/Random Small Person in Dungeons & Dragons has become a bit passe, then try testing your mettle facing a dungeon as a mouse, when all it takes is a cockroach to spice up an encounter, a rat to make things decidedly tricky and a tabby cat to totally ruin your day.
Part of this game?s problem is that it?s fiddly. Often too fiddly for the kids and even the muggle adults you imagined you might introduce it to when you bought it. But if you ditch the familial dead weight and get serious with some solo mousing, Mice & Mystics really starts to shine.
Sure, you?ll still have to occasionally reference a well-thumbed rule book, but compared to juggling that with keeping a squabbling and delinquent kid/spouse combo entertained, it?s a breeze, and suddenly the story and game start to gel.
If you?re still thinking that pretending to be a cheese-scoffing mouse is a bit childish, I think you?re possibly in the wrong place. Grow down already.
If this really flicks your switch you?ll be pleased to know there?s expansions to keep your story alive and the cheese rolling in.
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo player characters: Depends on the story chapter ? usually 4.More players? Yes. Up to 4 (see above!).WANT IT?
SHERLOCK HOLMES CONSULTING DETECTIVE: THE THAMES MURDERS AND OTHER CASES
Elementary, my dear Watson.
Or not, because Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is anything but easy and as a mental work-out many of the cases will see you coming out of isolation with your brain as ripped as a gym nut?s abs.
Admittedly the difficulty level/game length of cases seems pretty arbitrary, and there?s a few errata here and there, but thankfully most of these have been ironed out for the 2nd edition and there?s a wealth of community support for this well-loved, deer-stalkered classic.
With a splendid map of Victorian London and thematic newspapers to bring the whole affair to life, all that?s missing is some scruffy urchin on your doorstep, calling you ?Mister ?olmes?and itching to be dispatched across town tailing dangerous criminals for a paltry sum of money. Those were the days.
What?s more, these days there are not one but two follow-ups, so if you enjoy this challenge to your grey matter, there?s plenty more where it came from. Also, if you like your Lovecraft you?ll be pleased to know there?s an Arkham/Professor Armitage based version.
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo player characters: 1More players? Yes. Up to 8. Probably best at 2.WANT IT?
THE WARLOCK OF FIRETOP MOUNTAIN
In my opinion, no list of solo games is really complete without giving a nod to Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson for bringing us Fighting Fantasy.
Not only was The Warlock of Firetop Mountain the first experience of solo gaming for many of us, it was also our first experience of fantasy adventure gaming, full stop, which led us inevitably to the likes of D&D, Warhammer, Talisman and that slippery slope to a room of box-crammed Kallax shelves.
Thanks Steve and Ian, for costing us so much money over the years!
Fighting Fantasy books spawned a whole host of pretenders, notably Steve Jackson?s Sorcery series, and Joe Dever and Gary Chalk?s excellent Lone Wolf adventures, but it was The Warlock of Firetop Mountain that started it all.
Of course these days you can play it digitally, but there?s a lot to be said for grabbing a couple of dice and a pencil and curling up on the sofa with an interactive novel for company.
If you?ve never played this classic, or any FF novels, then I?m not sure we can be friends until you have.
[HOW TO PLAY]
Solo player characters: 1More players? Only if you revel someone reading over your shoulder.WANT IT?
Remember, pretty much any fully co-operative game can be played solo, so if you have a shelf full of co-op games, and bored with the tripe on TV, dust one of them off, pour yourself a glass of your favourite tipple, and get adventuring!