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Steve’s Top 5 Solo Games

by Blog, Fives

Game like nobody’s watching…

There are plenty of times when our game group can’t get together to partake in my favourite social past time. There are other times when I just want to be alone and get lost in the sacred ritual of gaming: opening the box, setting up the game carefully and methodically and then getting lost in the stories that unfold on my tabletop. When I want the solitary experience that board games provide, here are my go to games:

Race for the Galaxy

This game has you settling or colonizing worlds, producing and trading resources, investing in advanced technologies and trying to do all of the above better and faster than your opponent. For solo play, a very clever AI board dictates your opponents move and is very hard to beat. My favourite aspect of this game is the giant deck of cards that are essentially the galaxy and all of its planets, alien races, and advanced technologies. I love the unique stories that unfold as I explore the Galaxy. Will I be the ruthless military tactician that is mercilessly colonizing worlds or will I be the frugal archaeologist who is uncovering and breathing new life into lost civilizations?


Wild animals. Cannibals. Pirates. Nobody ever said it was easy to survive on a deserted island. Friday is a brilliant little deck builder. Like Robinson’s dire situation as he tries to survive alone, the game feels impossibly daunting. You will most likely lose your first attempt but, upon repeated plays, the game reveals itself to you as the island reveals itself to Robinson. Eventually, you will finally make it to the point where you can confront the pirate ships looming in the distance and take part in one of the most rewarding gaming experiences: filling the table with your deck of cards as you chain combos together, drawing and discarding and counting attack totals until

…you win.

Then try it all again on the next level of difficulty.

Terraforming Mars

Capitalism and the corporate world has never been a theme I’ve been pining for in a board game. I mean, we’ve all had our fill of Monopoly right? Well, Terraforming Mars not only features corporations but has you donning the role of one as you attempt to terraform our dusty red neighbor in just fourteen generations. It’s an absolute blast (literally, in some instances, as you slam comets into the planet just to raise the temperature)! As I draft cards each round detailing the type of industry or technology I can potentially invest in, I like to imagine myself as a CEO confidently approving projects while trashing other pitches. “Indentured workers? Pass. We’re not that kind of corporation. Space Elevator? Hmmmm. File it under maybe. Domed crater? Ok. Now we’re getting somewhere. A city on the moon? Yes, please. Also, the nuclear option is back on the table. Speaking of the table, could you please cover mine in fine foods and expensive alcohol? That will be all. Thank you, robot butler.”

Sorry, I got carried away there.

Thunderstone Advance (& Quest)

My love for these games is professed elsewhere on this site, so I’ll control my gushing. Simply put, Thunderstone is the game that revealed to me what modern tabletop gaming is capable of. It provided me with an RPG experience akin to my old Final Fantasy games: strolling into a town, recruiting party members and upgrading equipment until we could take on and destroy the big baddies that were trying to doom the world. This game also solidified that deck building and card comboing are a couple of my favourite board game mechanics. Nothing quite excites my gaming brain like a continuous chain of drawing cards that transform my hand of cards from a couple of “Regulars” with longspears into a dozen, strong comrades with spells and weapons bursting from their armor. To be fair, I haven’t played Thunderstone Quest solo yet, but the solo expansion is coming my way in April and it has you protecting and barricading the village from encroaching monsters and the Guardian, whose behavior and attacks are dictated through big, chunky custom dice. I can’t wait.


Pick a class, name a character (or two), create a party and buy some gear. The next thing you know, a local merchant will have sent you off to investigate a Bandit Hideout and the Gloomhaven universe will begin to slowly reveal itself to you. New locations! New Items! New Classes! New enemies! The game has a ton to offer and, once you wade through all the flash and sealed envelopes and unopened boxes, there is a very solid, card/hand management, tactical combat game that drives the experience. I’ve never been more attached to board game characters than my Gloomhaven creations. I just retired my first character and, as excited as I was to open up a box containing a new class of character, I was sad to see her go. My Scoundrel, Red, backstabbed and shivved her way through 30 + missions and I was saddened when she felt a sense of personal accomplishment and hung up her Boots of Swiftness for the final time.

As I try out more solo games, I expect this list to change and evolve. For example, I recently began digging into the solo campaign for Imperial Settlers and it is such a fast and fun romp that I expect it to get a lot of play in the coming days. Similarly, I stumbled upon an old deck builder called Shadowrift that might give Thunderstone a run for its money in terms of solo play. I am also very excited about a little game called Unbroken that I kickstarted last year that seems inspired by excellent games like Friday and One Deck Dungeon. Crazily enough, I didn’t put Mage Knight on this list either, which is undoubtedly one of my favourite solo games. I’m going to leave the list as is, because these games jumped into my head before Mage Knight, but it could easily land itself in my top 3 in the future. It is a good time to be a solo gamer.

About The Author


Steve Haley is a musician and high school teacher with a penchant for comic books, RPG video games and exploring the world of craft beers one (or two) bottles at a time. His favourite game mechanic is deck building and he gets a bit light-headed when he is able to chain together more than three cards in a hand.