You don’t always need an opponent or partner to enjoy a good game. You just need some solid one-player options, the kind of solo board games that require nothing more than your own brain and a bit of free time.
We’ve recently been talking to game store owners and managers across the country to get their best recommendations. After all, they’re the ones who see the most games and who are constantly fielding questions from customers. Jason Garvin is the manager of Total Escape Games in Broomfield, Colorado. He chatted with us on Zoom recently to give us his top picks for solo board games, especially those with plenty of replayability. Here are his selections.
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Garvin Says: “The solo player experience is just as good as the multiplayer one. It’s nice to have a game that can be one player or expand up. It can handle all different levels and still be challenging.”
Take on the role of a wandering adventurer as you defeat monsters and clear out dungeons in this card-based legacy game. The more you play, the more the story expands, with your choices fueling the plot. A typical game takes an hour or two, but ultimately the full campaign unfolds over many sessions. (1-4 players, ages 14+)
Garvin Says: “It’s full of miniatures and different scenarios. This company makes really great multiple-player games, and they are also really good at making them good for single campaigns as well.”
Create a hero and enter the underground lair of Darkness. There, you'll battle minions like goblin warriors and giant spiders, using abilities that change in Light and Shadow. Take on quests to follow the storyline, or create your own adventure with the game components, including detailed miniatures. (1-6 players, ages 14+)
Garvin Says: “I really like it because it reminds me of the old sci-fi movies and aliens. You're trapped in a spaceship and are trying to defend yourself.”
Sci-fi fans, this one's for you! You're traveling on a spaceship that has suffered critical system failure. It's up to you to repair the ship, but that's not your only problem. Crew members are turning up dead, and strange noises haunt the corridors! Many players say the incredibly detailed miniatures are their favorite part of this game, but the gameplay itself gets top marks too. (1-5 players, ages 14+)
EXIT: The Game
Garvin Says: “They’re great for travel and are compact. They are a great way to have an escape room experience without having to go to a physical room.”
If you're looking to recreate the escape room experience at home, these are some of the best solo board games around. Each contains a series of codes to crack and riddles to solve as you work to figure out the mystery. Note that each 1-2 hour game can only be played once, because you'll need to write on, fold, and tear up various game pieces. (1-4 players, ages 12+)
Garvin Says: “It’s a really interesting set-collecting game as you try to escape a labyrinth. It’s going to feel like a new game each time. I also like it because it’s a lighter game without a lot of rules or setup.”
Onirim and the other games of the Oniverse are perfect when you're in the mood for a quick bit of fun. These tower-defense games take 15-30 minutes, and feature beautifully-illustrated cards you'll use to escape a labyrinth, defend a forest, and more. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the Oniverse. (1-2 players, ages 10+)
Garvin Says: “I like this card game because it always has something new to do. There are lots of expansions you can add on and lots of options where you can pick and choose your favorite scenarios. You're investigating as you go, and it captures that thriller/horror genre really well."
If your bookcase includes a collection of Lovecraft novels, this game will be a welcome addition to the shelf. It blends roleplaying with a living card game, turning players into investigators with their own sets of skills and flaws. Face down ancient creatures and unravel terrifying mysteries, continuing your adventures with the many available expansion packs. (1-4 players, ages 14+)
Garvin Says: “It’s more of a leisurely worker-type of a game. It was one member of our staff’s regular recommendation for a while. It’s very calm and good for people who like setting things up, collecting resources, and managing.”
Pour a glass of merlot and travel back a few hundred years to the Tuscan countryside. It's your job to turn a struggling vineyard into a thriving winery, allocating your workers and helpful visitors to tackle various tasks throughout the seasons. Viticulture comes with additional cards and rule tweaks specifically meant for solo-play; expect an average game to last 45-90 minutes. (1-6 players, ages 13+)
Clans of Caledonia
Garvin Says: “It’s another good worker-type game. It’s set in Scotland and involves a lot of importing and exporting throughout play.”
When your heart's in the highlands, pull out Clans of Caledonia for a braw bit o' fun! This economic game transports you to 19th century Scotland, where players represent historic clans and work to transition from an agricultural society to an industrialized one. Collect resources and build your whiskey empire on the modular board. A session takes an hour or two, and the game has good replayability. (1-4 players, ages 13+)
The Isle of Cats
Garvin Says: “It’s adorable. It’s a game about cats, and you need to get them off an island and onto your boat. It’s a light game that you can play with multiple players or solo. It’s also a kid-friendly game.”
Set off on a rescue mission to the Isle of Cats, where your goal is rescue as many feline friends as possible before the evil Lord Vesh arrives! Fit the polyomino game pieces onto your boat, trying to keep cat families together. Rescue cats, find treasures, and read ancient lessons to score points in this light and engaging game. (1-4 players, ages 8+)
Under Falling Skies
Garvin Says: “I’ve recommended it to a lot of my players that are collectors. Essentially, you are the government and are trying to protect the world from aliens. I hear from a lot of my customers who really enjoy it.”
Players call this one of the best solo board games on the market! Use dice placement to stop space invaders from landing in your city. Simple rules and a compact game setup make this a favorite you can take and play pretty much anywhere. (1 player, ages 12+)
Do you consider yourself an amateur sleuth? Check out these 10 Whodunnit Mystery Games Like Clue!