SOLO GAMING IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
By Mark Stogdill
These are strange times we are living in. Staying safe means staying away from most of the people we regularly see. When it comes to board games that might mean taking a hiatus from our favorite hobby until everyone can get together around a table for a night of games and fun. As soon as the social distancing guidelines went into effect, I started looking at ways to continue enjoying my hobby without putting myself and others at risk. What I found has been a kind of weird (at first) and wonderful new way to play a lot of games I already loved: Solo gaming. Over the past month or so I’ve tried solo or “automa” modes that are either possible by virtue of the games design (pretty much all co-ops can be played solo) or designed specifically for solo gaming and the results have been…well, astounding. Apparently, I love playing games solo.
If you’ve played board games for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with Fantasy Flights’ Lovecraftian horror games. Thematically beautiful, with fun and challenging gameplay and enough variety to never get stale, I find Eldritch Horror to be among my favorite all time games. The game is narrative driven, set up with a Clue-like discovery system that sees your investigators travel the global solving ancient mysteries to stop the rise of an eldritch god intent of bringing about the Apocalypse. Yup, it’s cool. My wife and I have played Eldritch Horror at least once a week while we’ve quarantined, and the game always finds ways to challenge us and each play through feels varied enough that it doesn’t get stale if you’re into the story.
Like most co-op games, you can play single player simply by controlling 2 or more characters in the story. Sometimes that can feel artificial but in this game it’s a natural experience because the goal of the game is to solve the mysteries not to have the characters survive. If one investigator dies you can pass what they’ve learned to another, so the game becomes more about entrenching yourself in the goal and less about keeping your characters alive. Perfect for solo play!
ONE DECK DUNGEON
My Dungeons and Dragons group has moved from playing around the table to playing online, and while I like that, my RPG/Dungeon crawling itch is never fully satisfied. Enter One Deck Dungeon. It’s a card game designed for 1-2 players and a challenging yet rewarding single player experience. Using a deck of cards to represent monsters or obstacles, the player advances through each floor of a 3-floor dungeon on their way to a final boss battle. Burning through the dungeon deck acts as the advance mechanism and you have to balance how fast you get through a floor with how much leveling up you’ll need to do to tackle the next floor. The game features a neat linear leveling system and some truly epic boss fights.
It even has a campaign mode with an interesting progression system where your characters can play through multiple dungeons and level up with special abilities in the process that carry over to future playthroughs. One of the first truly solo experiences I’ve tried, and it still keeps me coming back for more.
Everdell can be described in a single word: Masterpiece. From the gorgeous artwork, to the elegant combination of worker placement and engine building mechanics, this is a must have for, well, basically anyone who plays board games. The theme of a woodland wonderland where critters gather resources to build cities is tight and represented beautifully throughout the game. Everdell is also interesting in that it has a dedicated solo mode, or Automa (a game with a dedicated AI opponent), where the player plays against Rugwort, a rat who is trying to duplicitously undermine your efforts while building his own city in Everdell. Playing against Rugwort has 3 different difficulty options that lets you ease into the necessary strategies to beat him. I recently played 10 test games against Rugwort, going 5-5 on the easiest mode, so he’s no slouch to beat.
Furthermore, the tactics to win differ a bit from the standard multiplayer mode, emphasizing special event achievements over standard event achievements, which adds a new wrinkle to the game if you’re already familiar with it. Overall, I consider this a must play.
Even just a few years ago solo gaming was either non-existent or a niche feature set buried within popular games. All of that has changed and the number of games you can play solo continues to grow new release after release. Since I can’t cover them all, here are some honorable mentions I suggest you put on your list:
● Scythe - a complex engine building game set in an alternate history 1920s Europe that has a sophisticated and downright vicious Automa mode for single play. A fun and interesting challenge for those familiar with the game, as the solo mode slightly shifts focus from building to conquering.
● Salvation Road - a post-apocalypse resource gathering co-op adventure with a deep theme and interesting mechanics for surviving the end of the world alone or with friends. As a fan of the Mad Max meets the Days Gone-inspired post-apocalyptic aesthetic I really love this one for the clever ways it ties in the theme, down to the polaroid picture location cards.
● Onirim – an abstract solitaire card game that looks like a drug-induced fever dream where the player is trapped in a dreamworld and must escape by unlocking doors before they are permanently waylaid by nightmare monsters. It’s fast and fun solo play and though it has a 2-player mode I found that the single player experience was actually more fun.
● Legacy of Dragonholt – Not really a “board” game per se so much as a story-based experience a la Dungeons and Dragons without a Dungeon Master driving the narrative. Instead players read through a “chose your own adventure” style storybook that rolls out a campaign that can last upward of 40 hours. Definitely worth a look if you’re missing your D&D group.
That about sums up my odyssey into the world of solo gaming and its many rewards. Hopefully everyone has a game they love that they can safely play during this time. If I didn’t cover any of your favorites please mention them in the comments section!
If you like what you read, or simply trust our opinions and want to pick up one of the games discussed today. Here are the Amazon Links.