2021 has been another year of lockdowns and social distancing which has meant that often I find myself wanting to play a game but not having a physical opponent to play with. This has led me to playing a lot more solo games. These are the ten games I have played solo the most this year.
10. Roll Camera
Roll Camera has had a single solo play this year, although I’ve played it a couple of times with friends. I just found myself with 30 minutes to spare one night and really felt like shooting a movie. So that’s what Roll Camera is, a cooperative game about filming a movie.
The game plays the same solo or co-op, with only some cards not being used in the solo game. Players roll dice and assign them to actions on the board allowing them to pitch ideas, build sets, solve problems and shoot scenes.
The game plays fast in a solo setting, it’s not overly difficult either, which gives it a nice satisfying puzzle solving feel, overall Roll Camera is a very pleasant and thematic co-op experience.
Everdell got to the table this year for a simple reason, I backed the Collectors Edition on Kickstarter. I essentially busted Everdell out to see if I still like it. I do, a lot. I prefer it as a multiplayer experience, but the solo isn’t too tricky to manage.
Everdell is a worker placement, tableau building style game. You begin the game with two workers, which really doesn’t feel like enough, but turns out to be plenty. The game is then played over four rounds and the aim is to build a tableau of 15 cards to score the most points by the end of the game.
Everdell drew my attention first with just how gorgeous it is. The art on the cards is enchanting but the game itself also looks stunning on the table, with the giant Evertree and the wonderful realistic resources. But the game play is good too as you try and develop an engine to score points by building buildings or hiring critters.
In the solo experience you play against Rugwort who will block areas and cards as you play, simulating a second dummy player in the game. And while Rugwort offers some challenge, playing Everdell, for me, is more about the experience than the winning or losing.
8. Super Skill Pinball 4cade
Super Skill Pinball 4cade may only be my number 8 in terms of number of times played, but this is one of my favourite games of the year. I worried this one might feel repetitive over multiple plays but I’ve found myself coming back to it, time and time again!
Super Skill Pinball is a roll and write style game based on Pinball. Each round two dice are rolled and each player chooses one of the two numbers to use, checking off a corresponding box on their player board.
Each round the pinball drops to a new region and eventually it will drop all the way to the flippers, at which point players will activate their flippers to push the ball back to the top. Eventually you’ll run out of boxes to check off on your flippers and thus will lose the ball, moving onto the next round. The player with the highest score after 3 balls is the winner.
Super Skill Pinball makes a great solo game, because that’s what it is. In the multiplayer game you just try and beat your friends' scores, but you can’t interact in any way, whereas in solo you simply try to beat your own score. Thematically this one really works for me and the four different tables included in the 4cade box do offer lots of different experiences even while the mechanics of the game remain the same.
7. Forgotten Waters
Forgotten Waters ended up down here at number 7 only because I had to force myself to stop playing it to save the stories for when I can get my game group back together… I love Forgotten Waters!
This storytelling pirate game from Plaid Hat Games ships with 5 scenarios, each in two chapters that play out over 2 hour sessions, give or take. The game uses a website to track the story as you play, which is fully loaded with audio files that reads the narrative to you. This is fantastic, the voice acting and sound effects are great and the story is really funny and engaging.
The game itself is largely a point and click-esque adventure as players visit pages in a storybook and place their pirates on the activities they want to undertake. These are then resolved top to bottom with those pirates making skill checks to see what happens next. This lighter game play allows the story to take the limelight, rather than bogging the game down with complexity. And the use of the app allows you to add near unlimited variability to the outcomes players experience, without filling the table with additional books or decks of cards.
While I loved my plays of Forgotten Waters as a solo experience, I think I’d rather play the game with others, if only to share that experience with them.
6. Under Falling Skies
Under Falling Skies is one I really wanted to get my hands on at the start of the year, that I just haven’t played as much as I thought I might. I got really excited at the concept of a space invader’s style game with powers and upgrades and an evolving campaign, but I never finished the campaign as the game began to feel quite samey with each play.
Under Falling Skies was originally produced as a print ‘n’ play game but was then picked up by CGE and turned into a full retail release. It is a dice placement game where the higher the die you use the better the action but also the faster the ships attacking the base will come. To win you need to excavate your base to unlock more powerful actions and boost up your research capabilities to ultimately take down the mothership. However, turn to turn you need to manage your energy production and you need to calculate your die placements to ensure you can line up the enemy aircraft with your flak cannons.
It’s a really cool puzzle, but it is one that stays largely the same from game to game, even with the campaign elements. You can get hosed if the dice come up badly, but forward planning plus the built in reroll mitigation can help overcome the worst of this. Ultimately Under Falling Skies was a game I enjoyed and one I’ll go back to, but perhaps it was one that didn’t really need a campaign. That said, I think you could use the campaign components to just add modularity if you wanted instead.
5. Imperial Settlers
Imperial Settlers is one of my favourite engine builders of all time, so when I found the campaign expansion on clearance for £11 this year I decided to take a punt. It’s fantastic! In Imperial Settlers you take on the role of a classical civilization, such as the Romans, Egyptians or Japanese. Players then compete to build the best empire by drafting cards, gathering resources and building buildings.
Players can build common buildings, these are available to all players, or they can build their own unique faction buildings, which give their faction a unique flair and style of play. The player with the most victory points at the end of five rounds is the winner. In the case of solo you win if you have more buildings than your dummy opponent, if you do you compare your score with a chart to see how well you did. Like with Everdell above, I play Imperial Settlers solo because I enjoy engine building, rather than to win or lose against an AI opponent.
The Rise of the Empire expansion adds a lot to the experience in my opinion. Firstly it introduces objectives, which must be completed in order to win the solo game, which adds more challenge than the AI opponent. Each completed objective raises your standing on a certain track, military, culture or wealth. Getting to the end of any particular track triggers a change of era, but also the further along a track you progress the more in game bonuses you unlock.
At the end of each game you earn a new province building, which you must pay upkeep for in points but will give you a permanent bonus to begin the next game with. You’ll also earn innovation cards which improve as you progress through the eras, granting you even more bonuses.
Lastly the expansion also shortens the game to four rounds, making it even quicker to break out and play. If there is a negative side to Rise of the Empire, it is that the campaign does run a little long. I’m ten games into my campaign and I’ve still got a game or two to go and while the campaign adds some cool stuff to keep things fresh, your faction will play largely the same from game to game, unless you also use the deck building rules to change things up.
4. Thunderstone Quest
Oh boy… I fell down a rabbit hole this year with Thunderstone Quest. Having initially passed it by, not wanting to jump back on the Thunderstone bandwagon after having bought everything for the previous 2 editions, I ended up… well… buying everything for this edition too… and I absolutely don’t need it all and I have no idea where I’m going to store it all, but it’s coming… soon!
Anyway, while I wait for that box of goodies to turn up I’ve been playing the base game with the Barricades expansion which is the solo way to play and honestly, it would be really good, if it weren’t so hard! Thunderstone Quest is a deck building game where players have a small deck of cards, filled with adventurers and equipment and they use these to progress through a dungeon to find keys and eventually fight a big boss.
On their turn a player can either visit the town, where they can shop, recruit heroes or level up their characters, or they can go to the dungeon and fight enemies for points. In Barricades mode however, the players can do both on their turn. In Barricades mode the boss doesn’t sit in the dungeon just waiting for the heroes to attack it, instead it launches blistering attacks on the village and heroes.
So far I’ve played against the two easiest bosses and I have a win ratio of less than a third and against the second boss I have yet to win at all. Barricades Mode is really cool, you have a whole additional player board of powers and abilities to unlock and you can upgrade the village with barricades to protect it, but the difficulty level is insane, and because the boss functions by rolling a bunch of 12 sided dice to determine their actions, it is super random too. Those dice can be uber punishing or, they can actually reward the heroes with good stuff, which can lead to very swingy games, where your fate is in the hands of lady luck.
3. Batman the Animated Series Adventures
Batman the Animated Series is set in the Adventures Universal Game System or AUGS. This is IDW’s IP spanning game system that began with TMNT and then prematurely ended with Batman when IDW Games folded. Originally designed by Kevin Wilson this system was then picked up by a group of very enthusiastic fans and further developed with the team at IDW.
In BTAS players control a team of four heroes undertaking missions based on classic episodes from the beloved TV show. Each character rolls a set of custom dice, arranging them above their character card. The die on their left they share with the player on their left, the die on the right they share with the player on their right. These action dice determine the actions the players can take on their turn and this dice sharing mechanic allows players to cooperate, granting needed actions to their neighbours.
While BTAS can be played solo with a single player controlling 4 characters, the game can also be played in Dark Knight Mode, where you simply control a more powered up Batman instead. In this mode the dice sharing mechanic is slightly altered with the addition of some wild icons and Batman can activate 3 times per round. And this is the mode I’m playing it in right now.
Attempting to control 4 characters in this game while also running the AI for the villains is a little overwhelming, so cutting that down to a single hero makes this so much more manageable as a solo experience. It’s a shame that Dark Knight mode only works with Batman, although I’m sure you could homebrew a way to use alternative characters.
So far I have really been enjoying my playthroughs of BTAS, the difficulty level might be a little low for some, with almost no losses in my plays so far. My main issue however is that you live and die at the whim of the initiative deck. This deck randomises the turn order and there've been many games I’ve won by the skin of my teeth because my initiative card came up first.
That said I’m really enjoying the tactical choices in the game, for example, ending your turn out of line of sight of any villain means no villains will activate on their turn. This really feels like those moments in the animated series where Batman strikes from the shadows, and vanishes again, leaving the goons firing aimless into the darkness. The addition of gadgets to the system allows you to change up your load out and build your character specifically for the mission. Facing Scarecrow? Grab a gas mask and an inoculator gun. Facing Manbat? Better pack some batarangs and throwing blades.
On the downside, I don’t know how widely available BTAS will be, as IDW Games no longer exists, and unfortunately there are quite a few misprints in the mission guides I’ve found so far, so the game is probably in need of a comprehensive FAQ in the near future.
2. Dice Throne Adventures
I’ve cooled a lot from my initial review of Dice Throne Adventures. I love the game but I’m beginning to hate the campaign.
Dice Throne is a competitive board game battler, where two players choose a character and battle it out with each other for supremacy. Dice Throne Adventures, takes those hero characters and throws them into a cooperative dungeon crawler. It’s an idea that shouldn’t work, but it actually does.
Where DTA falls down for me is the repetition. In Dice Throne Adventures you play 8 games with the same character, you unlock some loot, but the character doesn’t really change and as good as Dice Throne is, 8 games back to back with the same character is going to get a little stale… But it’s not eight games… because DTA doesn’t have a fail forward mechanic, lose and you’re replaying the same level again… I’m 27 games in and I haven't even finished the second campaign!
And DTA doesn’t offer a quick end to your suffering, you’ll fail after an hour or so of gameplay, so it really can feel a little like banging your head against a wall.