Board Games – Playing Single-Player Board Games

January 12, 2009 at 10:30 pm Leave a comment

Author – Jimmy Okolica

I love to play games.  While many people lost interest in games when they left Sorry and Memory behind, I have always been on the lookout for new interesting games to play.  While some people might think continually finding new interesting games to play would be difficult, what I’ve found more difficult is finding people to play them with.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I do have friends (and a wife) and I can even get them to agree to play games every couple of weeks.  However, for me, that just isn’t enough.  So, what is a gamer to do?  Although once upon a time, the only game a person could play alone was the card game of solitaire, that is no longer the case.  There are many games specifically designed for one player and many more that can be easily modified to be enjoyable solo games.

“Personal Best” Games

There are basically two different types of solo games.  The first are “personal best” games.  In these games, the object is to beat your personal best.  Many traditional board games can be played solo.  For instance, in Scrabble you can play with one set of tiles and try to beat your own personal best.

“Race Against Time” Games

The second type are “race against time” games.  For instance, in Arkham Horror, the object is to close the inter-dimensional gates in Arkham before the Ancient One wakes up and destroys humanity.

Within these two categories, there are also several different themes of games.

Abstract Games

The first theme is abstract.  These are the traditional puzzle games like the traditional Peg Solitaire where you keep jumping pegs until you can’t jump anymore.

Story Games

A second theme is story game.  In these games, which are generally of the “race against time” sort, after each move, you read either a card or a paragraph in a book that develops a story as you play.  While not a solo game, the traditional Dungeons & Dragons games are one of the best known story games.

War Games

A third theme that, although it fits within story game, that is usually separated is war game.  These use the same mechanic as story games, but due to the size of the genre and the time to play, they are usually separated.

Games Based on Mechanics
Finally, many solo games do not fit into any of these themes and are known by their principal mechanics, or by how they work.  For instance, resource optimization games reward you based on how few of something you use.  For instance, in Agricola you are a farmer who must use your scarce resources to feed your family and increase the size of your farm.

Another mechanic common to card games is hand management where you must make optimal use of the cards in your hand to either maximize your score or avoid disaster.

Co-Operative Play

A final mechanic that is helpful in finding games that work well solo is called cooperative play.  These are multi player games where the object is to work together for a common goal.  In these games, either everyone wins or everyone loses.  As a result, these are very easy games to convert into solo games.

Length of Time to Play
The last characteristic that is important to solo games is how long do they take to play.  War games can be fun but unless you have somewhere between 2 to 6+ hours to spend, you are out of luck.  Other games, like the traditional card of game of solitaire, can be played in a 10 minutes.

Here is a short list of a few of the solo games I’ve played in no particular order:

  • Arkham Horror: a cooperative multi-player where the goal is to save humanity by closing the interdimensional gates before the Ancient One awakes; race against the clock; story based; 2 – 4 hours
  • Lord of the Rings: a cooperative multi-player game where the goal is to help the hobbits destroy Sauron’s ring in Mount Doom before he can resuce it; race against the clock; hand management; 1 hour
  • Pandemic: a cooperative multi-player where the goal is to save humanity by curing pandemics before the Earth’s population dies; race against the clock; hand management; 45 minutes – 1 hour.
  • Ghost Stories: a cooperative multi-player where the goal is to save the village by killing ghosts and the evil Wu Feng; race against the clock; hand management; 1 hour
  • Red November: a cooperative multi-player where the goal is to stay alive aboard a submarine by fixing broken systems until help arrives; race against the clock; hand management; 1 hour
  • Battle Hymn: a solo game where the goal is to complete assigned missions without dying; race against the clock; war game; 1 – 4 hours
  • Agricola: a multi-player and single player game where the goal is to build the best farm over four years; personal best; resource optimization; 1 hour
  • San Juan: a multi-player game where the goal is to build the best town; personal best; hand management; 1 hour.
  • Dungeoneer: a multi-player game that can be adopted for single player where the goal is to complete 3 quests; race against the clock ; dice rolling and hand management; 1 hour
  • Set: a multi-player and single-player game where the goal is to complete sets where 3 cards either all have one thing in common or all have one thing different; personal best; abstract; 1 hour
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