17 January 2012

Games with single player possibilities

As I was struck down with a cold for pretty much the whole of last week it reminded me about how much this hobby depends on other people. It also reminded me about numerous comments on the blog and forums but also a few emails I’ve received since I started this blog about “solitaire gaming”. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have friends who are interested in miniature wargaming or boardgames. Or as I experienced last week, sometimes you can’t even go out and meet other people.

So I thought that it would be kinda nice to put a post together about boardgames and miniature wargames that you can play by yourself. Of course, nothing beats the interaction with a friend or a group of friends whom you are playing with but just going through my own collection of games I found a few that you can play by yourself either because of game design including a single player option, or because the game is written in such a way that it can easily be played on your own.

Each entry below will be a short description of the game and a rating of how well it plays as a single player experience and a fun rating for single player games. You can find detailed reviews of all games mentioned by clicking on the title in each entry.

Arkham Horror
1-8 players. This boardgame is based on H.P.Lovecraft’s novels and the lore surrounding those tales of ancient evils, cults, monsters, unspeakable horrors and people investigating mysteries only to go mad from what they discover. Arkham Horror is  a game about moving about on the board, collecting “clue tokens” which are spent to close down portals to other dimensions. Players have to fight monsters spawned by these portals, travel to and investigate other dimensions, prevent too many portals from opening in the city Arkham – and sometimes when everything fails – fight the big bad boss monster which appears and wants to take over/destroy the world.

This game is extremely geared towards co-operative play, players always have to talk what to do, who will do what, and really work together to beat the game. As such the game works extremely well when playing solo. It clearly states it is a 1-8 player game on the box, and is probably the game on this list which is best when it comes to single player.  Playing this game solo means you are playing it by yourself – but you will have to take control over multiple investigators (3-4 recommended) as the game is not meant to be played by a single investigator character. This on the other hand does not pose a problem, and you may find the game flows smoother when you don’t have to consult with other people on what to do next. (It is still one of my favorite multiplayer games though). There are numerous expansions to this game, and they all add additional themed content which sticks to the formula of the core game and can still be played by a single person. Only problem may be to keep track of all the cards, abilities and stuff going on with your characters if you play this on your own.

Single play functionality 8/10
Single play fun factor 8/10

Incursion: SNAFU expansion
1-2 players. Incursion is mainly a 2-player game, a Weird War version of Space Hulk would perhaps be the closest and most frequent description of the game. But it stands on its own with additional features such as the battle deck (cards of events and perks). Incursion on its own is a pure single player game, but the SNAFU expansion book contains additional scenarios and among them there is a single player section containing a bunch of varied and fun single player scenarios that are very well written for the purpose of single player.  One team is controlled by you, and the oppositions is completely controlled by “AI rules” so you don’t have to experience the “playing chess with myself” syndrome.

This might be a economical long shot for the single player alone, and my recommendation would still be to get this game primarily for the 2-player mode which dominates the content. Though if you have a lively imagination, the game mechanics are of such character that it should be possible to design your own single player scenarios if you put some thought into it. As each single player mission have a completely new set of “AI rules” and requires working out a new battle deck it takes some time in between scenarios and disrupts the flow of the game if you plan to play multiple scenarios in a row.

(Based on the single player section alone)
Single play functionality 8/10
Single play fun factor 9/10

1-4 players, this game is actually made for game with a single character if you wish to play single player and only have control over 1 character. The nature of the game is also more geared towards random fun and “trying to survive” which makes it a light hearted and quick paced gaming experience. The game is about dungeon crawling, trying to find your way to the middle and steal some of the dragons treasure. Your toughest opponent is the random nature of the game, as dungeon tiles are generated randomly, meaning you could generate a labyrinth that goes in circles or moves around the center of the board. It’s also a race against the clock as you only have a limited amount of turns to get to the center and to get out before the doors to the dungeon become sealed for the night.

This is also a game where, if you play with multiple players, you kinda compete against each other – the player who survives and exits the dungeon with the most loot will win. A single player experience with only 1 character will as such be robbed of the fun you can have when 3 out of 4 players have perished and the last player is robbed of his victory 1 square away from the exits by stepping into a trap. There is very little to keep track off in this game making it easy for a single person to control multiple characters.

Single play functionality 10/10
Single play fun factor 6/10

Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon
1-5 players. Another co-operative game which makes it a perfectly suited candidate for this list. A fantasy dungeon crawling game, a lot more sophisticated than DungeonQuest though. The game comes with a campaign book filled with scenarios, all of which can be played single player. But just as with Arkham Horror it is advice to use multiple characters  unless the scenario clearly states you should play it with 1 character alone. Just like Arkham Horror this game takes lots of planning, discussion and co-operation when played by more than 1 person, this is not an obstacle for single play though.

It can be a bit of a hassle to keep track of every character and the monster attached to it, as the game design uses special rules for when each particular monster activates and sometimes you swap monsters between characters and such. This is a bit easier to keep track off when playing more people, but should not prevent you from having a good time if you play the game on your own. 

Single play functionality 8/10
Single play fun factor 8/10

Gladiator (by Warhammer Historical)
I think some miniature wargames can be played solo as well.
The Gladiator rules are clearly written for 2 players, but the game is meant to play on such a small playing area, with so few models and with such simple rules that this game can be played single player if you want to. It does take a bit of “split personality”-mode since you have to control both teams by yourself. There are though a few things that can improve the single player experience – such as playing the game as a campaign to give it more meaning – it will also allow you to tweak and work with 2 gladiator teams at the same time.

You could also make one of the teams your “own” and the opposing team something of a “obstacle” filled with high end boss type gladiators, animal fights, high odds etc to make it more fun and experimental.

Single play functionality 7/10
Single play fun factor 7/10

Strange Aeons
Another miniature wargame meant to be played by 2 players, but which I think would work as a single player experience as well. This is mostly due to the nature of the game, where one team play the good guys in campaign mode while the other team is generated anew in each new scenario to match the point’s value of the “heroes”.  As such most of the focus is put on one player (Threshold team) and the restricted playing area, skirmish level amount of miniatures and easy but solid rules for gameplay and campaign mode makes this an easy game to play by yourself – if you care to control both sides.

This game is really fun when played by 2 players, and you will miss out on not being able to share crazy stuff such as dice rolls sending heroes into crazed panic or lowly minions killing mighty characters . But that does not mean you can’t play this on your own, if you play this with a predetermined “goal” for your heroes at the end of the campaign it can be satisfying enough.

Single play functionality 7/10
Single play fun factor 7/10


  1. Good read! Been keeping an eye on some of these games at a few of the LGS.

  2. There might be a bunch of others - if anyone reading have an example of their own feel free to post the name of the game in the comments :-)

    I think it is something rarely considered in the boardgame/wargame industry. I do think it's a huge plus if a game can be played solo as it allows you to pick up the game and not depend on other people's interest. There have been a few games in the past which I have picked up that no one was interested in at all in our game group. Now if it was possible to play those games in single player then at least I would not have felt as if I had wasted money and could have enjoyed the game by myself.

  3. CmdrKiley on TMP forum wrote

    "Fortune& Glory by Flying Frog.

    It has solo, competitive, and team play modes.

    And it's pre-war pulpy action too!"

  4. Heck, if you're counting miniatures games as well then all the Two Hour Wargames stuff are designed for solo, same side, and competitive play.

  5. The old, OOP Tomb Raider TCG might not appeal to those who dislike the franchise and the art is not very good (mostly screenshots from the game(s)), but it makes for quite a decent dungeon crawler, that can also be played solo. The price is hard to beat too, though the last expansion or two are harder to get.

  6. Armageddon Hour by Ganesha Games is a solo boardgame in which you have an hour of actual time to finish the mission. Most of their miniature wargames are also quite playable solo and come with practical suggestions on how to do it.

  7. So many awesome options I agree! Incursion is great for solo - I have adapted the Space Hulk solo rules, and the event card mechanism adds a degree of unpredictability that Space Hulk doesn't have.

    Strange Aeons would work well too (I think from my limited experience), particularly if you use random entry points and similar mechanisms to mix it up a bit

  8. The new Mage Knight boardgame is pretty much perfect for this. It's 1-4 players, and works great with any number - solitaire isn't tacked on. Co-op, competitive, and a bit of both depending on the game mode - there's good PvP if you want to play it that way! It's a bit like King's Bounty on the PC, or maybe Heroes of Might & Magic. Explore a new land, raise an army, fight monsters, maybe burn down a monastry if you're dick. It simply and elegantly tracks your reputation, so you can win as a complete monster who no-one wants anything to do with, and who threatens every village into compliance, or a hero who defends poor villagers from orcs and has them flocking out to join up as a militia under your command. Lots of different and awesome locations - villages, monastries, mage towers, magic crystal mines, magic glades, dungeons and lairs and tombs and all that awesomeness.

    Gears of War is also an amazing guncrawl that I really hope the next generation of dungeon crawl boardgames learn from, and again is good solo, with the rules handling 1-4 characters. For solitaire 2 characters seems a bit better than 1, but the rules not only handle 1, they have specifically marked the action cards that don't work well with less than 2 players so you can redraw them, and the scenarios and locations have monster spawn numbers for 1-4 players.

    Gears is better than Space Hulk and the modern D&D boardgames combined, and I loved Space Hulk and love CR/WoA.

    Both games come with minis - four prepaints (and four prepainted city models) for Mage Knight, and a bunch of unpainted but very detailed ones for Gears.

    Two Hour Wargames are better than both, mind.

  9. Oh yeah, Gears of War - read a very nice "single player" tuturial about it on a Swedish forum. It seemed to work really good in single play with AI characteristics and spawn points somewhat similar to the D&D Ashardalon boardgame.

    Thanks for all the additional tips guys, keep them coming if there is something else that could be added to the list.

  10. Another recommend for Gears of War from me - particularly if you're a fan of the video game franshise. It feels like a natural progression from the Death Angel card game (same designer), another nice solo or co-op experience.

    I've recently started looking at Nuts! which purports to be solo-focused (using a reaction mechanic like that in Infinity). It also has the War Without End supplement for SotR style Weird War goodness.

    Btw, loving the blog, having stumbled by it the other day. Seems like we have very similar tastes in games.


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