Irregular Evils #42: Ranking my solo board game collection

Introduction

Let’s do something different from the usual ArkhamLCG stuff today. First i’ll give you a little look at my game shelves to see what we are working with. I was recently reorganizing my board games because they didn’t fit their cabinet anymore so i had to move stuff around. So most of the big boxes moved on top of it:

Literally stacking board games to the roof

This led to me now having more room for games inside of the cabinet:

So much empty space. This will not last.

Oh, and then there’s also the FFG shelf, of course:

Again, the roof is the only limit.

While moving things around i realized that i do own quite a few solo-playable board games and started reflecting on how much i like them for that. So… here’s a ranking. It’s a total of 17 games that fit the bill, let’s just jump straight in with …

#17: Aventuria

The components are nice, at least. And it came in a fancy wooden box.

I grew up on pen&paper RPGs, most importantly Shadowrun and The Dark Eye. So when a card game was announced that was based on The Dark Eye, i was immediately in. Sadly this is one instance where i do regret going all-in on a Kickstarter as i don’t think the game ended up being all that great. Thematically a mess, very shallow card pools and overly reliant on chucking D20s around. While that last thing is meant to be a throwback to the pen&paper game, it just makes the game a wildly random affair. Also rolling dice for everything (EVERYTHING) gets old really, really fast. Out of the games on this list this is the only one that i would call a “bad game”.

#16: Zombicide Black Plague

The first game i painted, the quality of the paintjobs span from awful to almost tolerable

This was actually fun for a good while, between playing through various scenarios (six handed solo!) and painting all the stuff i definitely got my money’s worth here. It’s just that it’s ultimately not much more than throwing dice around and i don’t find that terribly interesting anymore these days.

#15: Elder Sign

This game has the tiniest tokens ever.

Good game. But it has a better app so it stays on the shelf. That’s really all there is to it. I do actually enjoy the dice rolling here because there’s enough ways to mitigate it and/or plan around failure. But i don’t really see a reason to put this on my table when i can play it much more conveniently on my phone or PC.

#14: Too Many Bones

Look, i know it says so on the box, but this is just way too many bones.

Sigh. I wish i would be able to get into this more. Obviously the game components are a delight to handle and it’s not like the game is bad. It’s just… weird. I can’t actually put my finger on anything it does wrong specifically but somehow TMB doesn’t work as well for me as i’d like. Part of it is how difficult it is to get back into the specifics of the game after not touching it for a month or four. So many edge cases to everything and for every character one has to almost relearn the game. Probably really great when one gets into it to the point where one makes it their main game and spends the sort of time on it that i spent on other games.

#13: Revive

There is no such thing as “overproduced”. Every inch of cardboard is essential to the experience. I swear 🙂

Revive is a great game that i do enjoy a whole lot … when played in a group. As a solo game it’s not really my thing. It’s an interesting optimization puzzle with lots of replayability but chasing a high score instead of defined win/loss conditions just doesn’t do it for me. If playing for a high score doesn’t bother you (or you actively enjoy it), then give Revive a try for sure. You will probably like it for all the meaningful and interconnected decisions you have to make.

#12: APEX Theropod

A beautiful game. As long as you like looking at giant lizards.

This is the first game on the list that i actively enjoy playing solo. Like, if i sat down to kill a few hours right now, everything from Apex and up are games i could see myself going for. Apex is a gorgeous looking deckbuilder with a very unique win condition and lots of replayability. Of course, you got to like dinosaurs. This is a game that was explicitly designed for being played solo and it shows. It also shows in the multiplayer rules that were tacked on but we aren’t talking about those 😉 Apex would be way higher on my list if Legendary Encounters wouldn’t steal most of its thunder.

#11: Death Angel

This game contains more horror in a tiny box than Arkham does in three full expansions

I think this is the game that packs the most drama in as little time as possible. A vicious and difficult game that doesn’t waste your time with any chaff at all. It does one thing and it does it well. The red die that comes with the game is notable for being the only inanimate object I have ever been angry with. I am not kidding, it almost went out of the window.

#10: Marvel Champions

After initial disappointment, my enjoyment for this game has gone up recently… so the stack keeps growing

The newest of the LCGs, but in my opinion also the weakest. That doesn’t make it a bad game, but it’s a step back from LotR and Arkham for sure. It’s more simplistic, has shallower deck building and almost no campaign elements. Of course its low complexity when compared to Arkham and LotR is actually a feature for many people… but i do play this a lot less than the other two for that reason. Great for just a quick game here and there between campaigns of bigger games. I play this two-handed solo.

#9: Terraforming Mars

It wasn’t cheap, but the Big Box is soooo worth it.

TfM ranks among my favorite board games to play in a group which is why i shelled out to get the fancy big box. Since i already owned it, i tried it solo… and what do you know, it’s actually not bad at all when played alone. Lots of replayability and an enjoyable puzzle with a clear goal make this a surprisingly nice game in solo as well.

#8: Mage Knight

Getting slight anxiety just from looking into the box

Mage Knight suffers for me from a similar issue as i have with Too Many Bones: If i didn’t play it for a while, it’s really hard to get back into. I will say though that it’s a really great game during those phases where the rules are fresh in your mind and you can concentrate on the actual game instead of just trying to remember arcane interactions and iconography. I enjoy this one a lot, but it’s just a big hassle to get it to the table because when i do i will want to commit to keeping it there for the next week or two and get a series of games in to make the most out of it.

#7: Shadowrun Crossfire

Wake up, Samurai.

The other callback to my pen&paper days, this is thankfully a lot better than Aventuria. Shadowrun Crossfire is based around a really neat system of having to build your deck(s) towards matching icons on enemies and obstacles with those your cards. It’s a system that makes me wonder why nobody copied it yet, it’s brilliant. I play this one four-handed. You gain experience over your repeated plays that you can cash in to buy special abilities for your characters. That gives it a sense of (slow but steady) progression that i do like. It’s also suitably difficult but with lots of ways to scale it to your liking.

#6: Dune Imperium

There’s still so much room in the box. Really looking forward to the expansion.

Dune made a huge impression on me when we played it in our group to the point where it almost rivaled my love for Terraforming Mars. While it doesn’t quite get there in group play, it does surpass TfM in solo for me thanks to a very well though out dummy player system that simulates two other players. It’s difficult, it’s scalable and allows you to play the game just like you would in the group. Most solo variants i experienced for games like this do feel considerably different to their regular version (like is the case with TfM and Revive, for example). Soloing Dune feels just (well, almost) like the group thing, and i feel like that’s a real achievement.

#5: Friday

Robinson is the most lovable idiot i have seen in a board game.

Ah, so much play in such a small box. So far i’ve only beat it three times, and that’s out of 30ish plays? Probably more? The game flows extremely well, doesn’t take much time and to be honest i just enjoy seeing Robinson evolve from “complete buffoon” to “almost competent” over the course of the game. This compares to Death Angel in that it packs a lot of drama into a small timeframe, but I’d say it’s fairer about it. Well, at least a bit. Being fairer than Death Angel is sort of a low bar.

#4: Legendary Encounters: Alien

I can fit almost everything from Alien, Predator and the two expansions into one box. It’s a clunker.

I will freely admit that the Alien license is doing some heavy lifting for me here. That being said, the game does pack some great twists and turns, is super replayable and can be finished in a reasonable timeframe as well. My most played game aside from the LCGs because it’s just so easy to setup and play through a round. I play this one two-handed and i do use a randomizer for what cards to use (unless i want to play through a specific movie because i am in the mood for it). I do also have LE: Predator, which i mostly view as an expansion for LE: Alien. Alien is a lot better than Predator mechanically (and thanks to having two expansions while Predator has zero), so that’s the one i will rank here.

#3: Lord of the Rings LCG

“wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant”

This is the game that started me on this solo gaming path, the one game that offered me what i was missing after our local Magic: The Gathering scene collapsed. Very deep deck construction, great scenario diversity, a super strong license that i enjoy and absolutely gorgeous artwork. Playing through the Saga boxes that follow the books was a particularly amazing experience. If this game had a campaign/progression element in it the way that Arkham has, you would read this article on an LotR fansite today instead of an Arkham one. This is another game that i play two-handed.

#2: Gloomhaven

It looks so tiny on this picture!

I played through (most of) the Gloomhaven box solo, trying all party sizes and settled on using three characters at the same time as my sweet spot. And it probably was the best boardgaming i’ve done. Great cardplay mechanics, decisions to immerse yourself into, a campaign to go along with, lots and lots of unlocks that shake up what you were doing so far. Truly, what an epic journey to look back on. Placing it on the ranking is a bit tricky, though. The thing is i am no longer playing it. I’ve gone through most of it, unlocked most of it and i consider it pretty much “Done” now. I still feel like i need to put it here on the list, near the top just to recognize how amazing this game is.

#1: Arkham Horror LCG

The chest of player cards. On the side: Vincent and Wini waiting for Scarlet Keys to arrive

Well, duh. Arkham LCG is the gift that keeps on giving. With the available card pool these days its deck building starts to rival that of LotR (not quite there, though). But what really puts Arkham over the top is the campaign play. Starting out with an okay level zero deck and then developing that over time is exactly what i am looking for in a solo game. Mechanically, i also think that making the jump over to using location cards to simulate a board to move around on was brilliant and a huge step up from LotR.
What else is there to say? I enjoy this game and the design behind it immensely, to the point that i threw a frankly insane part of my free time towards establishing a fansite that started out as a way to divine the designer’s intents behind their excellent campaigns and has grown ever since.

Final Words

I am quite happy with my collection. Leaning strongly towards games with some sort of progression, be it a campaign, deck building or engine building. The bottom five i don’t play regularly anymore, but at least Revive is a game that will see play in our group instead.
This post turned out to be some parts TopX ranking and some parts “Check out my stuff” in the end. Seems fine to me 🙂 There’s a few more games in the pictures that are not ranked here, of course. Stuff that is for group play only. Not a whole lot, someone else in our group does the heavy lifting on that front so i get to mooch off of their collection.
Hmmmm. Now i need only to find something to do with all that empty space in my shelves… Wait, what’s that? Someone at the door? A package for me?

Oh my.

4 Replies to “Irregular Evils #42: Ranking my solo board game collection”

  1. I play quite a lot of “Mage Knight”, mostly 2 or 3 players coop, which helps, to check, if somebody has forgotten a rule. I will say, though, it’s far less fiddly, if you get used to using the cards for reference, only in rare cases the booklets. You need to have a good overview of the rules in general, but the most common questions, like: when is the site revealed: only at day or at day and night, only, when adjacent, or even only after an assault, is it fortified, do your units join, are undefeated enemies stay to be challenged again, or leave and be replaced by new ones. All these tiny questions are written on the cards, and much easier and faster referenced there.

    1. Spirit Island did indeed make an amazing first impression. Still feeling out the spirits and how they play solo to just get an idea of how they work. Makes for a deep game, easy and fast to both set up and play. Between Scarlet Keys being hot (and the Final Girl KS also arriving!) I didn’t have time for more than scratching the surface so far yet though. I plan on eventually moving to two-handed, something that sounds like it would be incredibly involved but should be super interesting.

Leave a Reply