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Best Solo Board Games 2019 – Top 5 Strategy

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We are social beings and by nature we tend to seek closeness of others to work and play together. But sometimes, especially in the fast and wild modern world, the circumstances don’t allow us to get together as often as we would like (let’s move onto board making now and stop the philosophical part). Or maybe you just want some time alone (that too is a value these days) to play at your own pace.

Several board games on the market allow you to do just that and I have looked into what are the best solo board games on the market these days – in two seperate, but connected articles.

Click here for the second article on top thematic solo board games

Selection Process

It was not easy to select just five games from a huge list, I had made when researching for this article. I had over forty pre-selected games, from which I planned to made a smaller list of about ten games, that (although not made specifically for one player) work very well in solo mode. It wasn’t easy to reduce the number and some games were really hard to take out, simply because there are so many (good) games available these days.

In practice that means that in order to be a good solo board game, a game must not be focused on the competitive part (although you can play them competitively with more players), but rather on the experience on building up you vineyard, farm, Viking tribe or immersing in a good story and character development.

Or, in the case with Marvel Champions and Spirit Island, that the gameplay strategy is not solely dependent on the cooperative side and more on the decision side – meaning you have plenty of options without other players and the game is not hindered, if you play on your own.

Taking into consideration the overall quality of the game (BGG rating for example), I decided to go with the very best games only. There are a lot of good games on the market, but why settle on just “good”, if you can go for great?

Another factor was the complexity of the games. Considering you are playing a board game alone, I assume you are an advanced board game player and, as such, demand a challenge worthy of your skills. Therefore, the games on the list are all on the complex side of the spectrum, when it comes to game mechanics and skill required.

It’s worth noting that prices also reflect this complexity (larger number of components) and these games are a bit more expensive. Definitely not under fifty dollars.

So the list shrunk considerably, to around ten to twelve games, which I further divided into two main categories, strategy games and thematic games – and eventually decided on two articles instead of one extra long.

You are reading the best solo strategy board games article, second part, best solo thematic board games is also available.

Table of Contents

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(If you click on the images by the games, affiliate link will take you to the Amazon store – it means I get a small percentage of each sale as a repayment for promoting Amazon store, to no extra cost for the buyer.)


Marvel Champions: The Card Game

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Link to BoardGameGeek page

Players: The box provides enough cards for four players, but community recommends to play with no more than 2 or 3 players. Beside that, the game also works very well in a single player mode – that’s why it’s on this list.

Playing time: 45-90 minutes, depending on number of players and scenario selected.

Complexity: medium

Theme and setting:

Marvel Champions: The Card Game is the new kid on the block, released in 2019 by Fantasy Flight Games. It was well-received and became-fan favorite quickly. As you might have guessed, it’s using the Marvel universe and it’s heroes (like Spider-Man and Iron Man) fighting a villain as a theme. Good vs. Evil.

Every player chooses one of the Marvel Universe heroes to play as. The villain is chosen by whatever scenario players select. There are numerous scenarios available and each can be adjusted further, so they do have replay value.

Villain’s goal is to defeat all the heroes or advance it’s villainous schemes to completion. It’s hero’s task to stop him from doing that. That’s done by using your hero directly, play boost cards and activate helpers. Villain will also call up his minions, boost cards and play further schemes.

How it’s played:

Game is played in rounds and each round is divided into two phases: player phase and villain phase.

In player phase, you can:

  • play cards from your hand,
  • trigger actions,
  • attack the villain or his minions, thwart threats or recover hit points,
  • change your form: you’re either in hero (can attack or thwart) or civilian form (can recover hit points).

At the end of player phase, all players can discard cards (there is hand limit), draw new cards and ready-up their exhausted cards (cards that have already been used, but can be used again).

Villain’s phase is next:

  • Threats are placed on the main scheme. If they reach threshold, another scheme comes into play. If the final scheme reaches threshold, players lose.
  • The villain will now attack players (who are in their hero form) or place more schemes (for players in civilian alter-ego form).
  • Each player also draws an encounter cards. These are further setbacks and must be resolve right away.

Who it’s for:

In its core, it’s a living card game. Although base box has plenty of content, in the future, you can expect:

  • Hero packs (each 60 card deck introducing a new hero, along with hero-specific cards and other cards),
  • Scenarios (introducing new villains and their schemes) and
  • Story boxes (larger packs with combination of both above).

Marvel universe is a modern-day fairy tale with a huge fan base all over the world. It’s not a surprise, that Marvel Champions has had so much success already.

But it’s not all down to that: in it’s core it’s a fun card game with sound, challenging, but fair and well-balanced game mechanics. If you’re a fan, you will enjoy this a lot – and for a long time into the future, too.

Check out the price of Marvel Champions: The Card Game on Amazon


Viticulture Essential Edition

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Link to BoardGameGeek page

Players: It’s made for 1-6 players and it works well with any of those numbers. Single player mode is played against an AI opponent, call “Automa”.

Playing time: 45-90 minutes, depending on number of players.

Complexity: medium

main board of viticulture

Theme and setting:

Viticulture was originally published in 2013 by Stonemaier Games and designed by Jamey Stegmaier (best known for Scythe, a strategy game set in an alternative 1920’s diesel-punk Eastern Europe). Essential edition was brought to light in 2015. On top of the base game, it contains some elements of the Tuscany expansion, revisions and a single player Automa mode.

It’s set in vineyards in pre-industrial Tuscany, where players try to manage their vineyards and cellars as best as they can, to eventually fulfill wine orders and increase their reputation (victory points) to become the most prominent winemaker around.

How it’s played:

At it’s core, Viticulture is a true eurogame. It’s a combination of worker placement (on the main board), together with engine building (on you personal vineyard board).

Each game begins by assigning parents to players (literally). Every player receives a Mama and Papa card and they determine what you starting capital (workers, infrastructure, money) will be. A heritage, if you will.

Each round is divided into seasons:

  1. Spring determines the order, in which players will place their workers by placing their rooster tokens on the Wake-up chart. You can choose to wake-up early to be the first to place the worker in a desired spot, or wake-up late and reap extra bonuses (gain 1 victory point or 1 worker for super late wake-up).
  2. Summer is the time to place your workers into one of the summer slots (draw vine cards, give a tour of the vineyards to earn money, build structures, sell grapes, plant vines or play a summer visitor card) and play out that action immediately.
  3. In Fall, players draw summer or winter visitor cards. Visitor cards are cards with special one-time bonuses and are discarded after use.
  4. Remaining workers are placed in the Winter slots (harvest files, train new workers, turn grapes into wines, play winter visitor cards, draw wine order cards and fill wine order for victory points) and the action is immediately carried out.

The year ends and wine ages. Workers are re-set and another round begins with spring, until one of the players reaches 20 victory points.

viticulture visitors

There are a few things to spice the game and add diversity to available strategies:

  • Grande workers that can be placed in occupied slots.
  • Different vine sorts (like Malvasia, Pinot, Merlot, Chardonnay and others) of different values and various prerequisites like Irrigation or Trellis.
  • On your player mat, several structures can be built, each enhancing your wine-making abilities (Trellis, Windmill, Irrigation, Yoke, Tasting Room, Cellars, Cottage).
  • When a field is harvested, it will produce grapes (according to the vine card) and the grapes can be sold or made into wine tokens. You must have certain combination of grapes and structures to create blush, sparkling and other high-valued wine.
  • At the end of each year, both grapes and wine age – they gain value. It’s worth considering whether to sell right away or save them for next year(s).

Who it’s for:

The peaceful and laid-back wine-making theme suits Viticulture Essential Edition very well. It’s for a wine-loving strategist who enjoys a good challenge. On the other sides, the rules are simple enough for anyone to pick up. It’s rightfully considered one of the all-time best worker-placement board games.

Check out the price of Viticulture Essential Edition on Amazon


Fields of Arle

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Link to BoardGameGeek page

Players: 1-2. Works best with 2 players, but single player experience is good too, as the game is more about building your own farm, and not competing against.

Playing time: 60 minutes per player

Complexity: complex

Theme and setting:

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg, a well-known and respected board game designer (titles like Agricola, Le Havre, Glass Road, Patchwork and may others), Fields of Arle was published in 2014.

Game is set in a small town of Arle, East Frisia (that’s in Northern Germany, where Uwe originates from) where one or two players take on a role of farmers in an era (in the past) of great prosperity and economic opportunities. Can they make the best of town’s prosperity and make their farms flourish as well?

You can take your farm in any direction, you desire: grow famous flax, grain, breed animals, cut peat, colonize the moor, build dikes, cultivate forests, run a vehicle fleet, build buildings like workshops or inns.

Fields of Arle is played over four and a half years, where each year is divided into summer and winter. At the end, there is a scoring round to determine the winner. In a single player game, the goal is to score as many points.

How it’s played:

At its foundations, Fields of Arle is not a complicated game. On each of the nine seasons, you place your workers into available summer or winter slots on the main board, deciding what to do – affecting your home board and enhancing your engine. When season ends, planned winter/summer events take place. The devil, of course, is in the details.

Some available summer jobs for your workers are:

  • Fisherman fishes for food.
  • Colonist can dehydrate a moor tile.
  • Woodcutter produces wood depending on your axe tool marker.
  • Builder can build a building if you can afford it’s costs.
  • Peat cutter can cut peat out for moors depending on your spade marker.
  • Farmer can build a plow and plow (make) a field with it.
  • Master can boost your tool rating markers.
  • Woolen weaver can make wool into woolen depending on number of weaving looms you have.
  • Dike builder can build more dikes and expand your territory.
  • Forester can plant forests.
  • Carpenter can build buildings or stalls.
  • Laborer can build vehicles like carts, carriages and peat boats.

After that, end of summer events take place:

  1. Empty vehicles with goods you have placed there during your turn (you can do that anytime) and receive corresponding travel destination tiles (these count for victory points at the end).
  2. Milking – you receive food depending on number of animals you have.
  3. Harvest – you receive grain, flax and wood on your fields and forests.
  4. You pay maintenance (food and peat)

And winter jobs:

  • Peat boatman produces peat.
  • Butcher slaughters your animals and turns them into food and hide – depending on number of slaughter tables you have.
  • Carpenter can build a stall or exchange a stall for a stable.
  • Tanner can convert hide into leather depending on number of fleshing beams
  • Cattle trader produces grain and sheep, together with cattle or horse.
  • Potter can convert clay into food and peat depending on number of pottery wheels.
  • Master can improve your tools by moving one of your tool markers.
  • Linen weaver convert flax into linen depending on number of weaving looms.
  • Baker convert grain and peat into (a lot of) food depending on number of ovens.
  • Wainwright can build vehicles.

Ending with end of winter events:

  1. Empty vehicles, just like in the summer.
  2. Receive baby animals according to number of animals you have (they must be paired up in stalls).
  3. Sheep are sheered for wool.
  4. You must pay food for maintenance.

As you can see there a lot of things to look after – but only if you wish to do so. Expand your territory by building dikes and dehydrate moors, cultivate those lands by plowing them, plant forests, build stalls and buildings. And then exploit this land and animals for resources, deliver them to cities and fill your pockets.

But you don’t have to do all of this. You can highly specialize your farm and do whatever you want: have a lot of sheep and sell only woolen, go for leather, build carriages, buildings. There are endless possibilities limited only by your imagination.

When all nine seasons are over, it’s time to wrap up the scores and see how you did. Almost everything you did and have is taken into account: materials, vehicles, travel experience, goods, victory points from dikes, tools and animals.

Who it’s for:

If you played that farming game on Facebook and loved looking how your crops and your little farm grow, you will find a lot of enjoyment in Fields of Arle. It’s a very peaceful game, not so much designed to be played competitively, but to relax and let your inner farmer loose.

Check out the price of Fields of Arle on Amazon


A Feast for Odin

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Link to BoardGameGeek page

Players: 1-4, it works good with any number of players.

Playing time: 30-60 minutes, depending on player number and length of the game (short and long variants exist).

Complexity: complex

Theme and setting:

Another of Uwe Rosenberg’s blockbusters, A Feast for Odin from 2016 is Viking flavored. You control a viking tribe, farming, hunting, exploring and raiding – and eventually building up their home board with items they salvaged or produced.

Goal of the game is to score as many points and this is done by covering your negative points squares on your home board (and other boards you take on during the game) with the salvaged items. The more points and more effectively your cover them, more points you have at the end.

How it’s played:

A Fest for Odin is a worker placement game with a lot of options – to be precise there are 61 choices when placing a worker. But don’t be scared by that. Actions are categorized into sensible groups (like building ships and houses, hinting, managing livestock, producing resources, sailing, occupying new lands) and many of them do the same thing, only with different resources and/or at different levels.

Game is played in 6 (short game) or 7 (long game) rounds and each round is divided into 12 phases. To help players, a handy guide card is provided, describing the phases. So you can just play by that guide and be perfectly fine:

  1. New Viking. Take one Viking from Banquet table (we’ll talk about that in phase 9) and place it on your Thing square (available Vikings for action). Each round you have one less Viking on the Banquet table and one more for action.
  2. Harvest. You receive food: peas, beans, flax, grain, cabbage and fruit. (Yes, there are a lot of resources.)
  3. Exploration. Claiming additional areas on exploration boards (Shetlands, Faroes, Iceland, Greenland).
  4. Draw a weapon card (you need these for hunting, whaling, pillaging).
  5. Action phase – now it’s time to place your workers into action spaces, carrying out actions immediately. Each action space can be occupied only once per round, but some actions require more than one Viking.
  6. Player who placed the last worker is designated as the starting player for the next round.
  7. Income of silver is received depending on how much of your home board (and exploration boards) is covered by blue and green goods tiles.
  8. Animals breed – become pregnant or give birth.
  9. Feast. Place orange and red food tiles on your Banquet table (covering tiles as effectively possible). You can help fill it with silver tiles. For each space you can’t fill, you get a penalty, costing you victory points at the end of the table. When the feast is over, tiles are returned to the general supply.
  10. Bonus. There are also bonus tile on your home boards. If you filled out those wisely, you can now receive those goods.
  11. Add new Mountain strips, from which you can gather basic resources (wood, stone, ore and silver).
  12. Remove Vikings from the action board to end a round and repeat the phases in the next round.

At any time, you can

  • place your green and blue goods on your home board, exploration boards and house tiles,
  • buy ships (small boats for whaling and longboats for pillaging) and arm them (place ore on them).
  • play occupation cards (special action).

Who it’s for:

A Feast for Odin holds a lot of similarities with Fields of Arle: player has a lot of different paths he can focus on or he can do a bit of everything. Both offer a lot of strategic possibilities, but Odin enhances that with exploration and tile placing puzzles and is overall a slightly better experience.

If you prefer a Viking theme over an agricultural, I would recommend Odin over Arle. Gameplay wise, they are very similar and both are top-notch strategy games and you can’t really miss with any. Or take Viticulture, if wine-making is what ticks your box.

Check out the price of A Feast for Odin on Amazon


Spirit Island

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Link to BoardGameGeek page

Players: 1-4, although with 3 or 4 players, the game becomes a bit chaotic.

Playing time: 90-120 minutes

Complexity: complex

Theme and setting:

How many times have you played a game where you have to colonize a previously uninhabited land? The land belongs to no one and just lays there, ready to be claimed by settlers or an invading force.

But what if the land does have an owner? What if it’s owned by nature or by spirits of nature who would prefer nothing more, than just being left alone. In Spirit Island, you play as one of those spirits, fighting humans from colonizing your island, your home. Can you fear the invaders enough that they will leave you be, or will they overwhelm you?

How it’s played:

Spirit island is a cooperative game, where players (or one player) fight against the game, in this case invaders. Board is modular and it’s size depends on number of players. Each player takes on a role of a spirit, and every spirit has it’s own characteristics – some better at fearing, others at natural elements like tsunamis and crop diseases, or handling the island natives (your allies) the Dahan and so on.

Invaders can come from different European countries – again with different styles of invading and difficulty. For more of a challenge, you could turn over the map to its thematic side or use an optional scenario, altering victory conditions. All these set-up combinations are well explained in the rules, so you can easily select the difficulty you want to play at. With eight different spirits to choose from, you are in no fear of running out of options.

Game is played in rounds until either side wins. Each round spirit’s decide what to do (growing, gaining energy, playing cards) and then invaders answer by exploring and ravaging the land, building towns and cities. This is done by drawing terrain cards, very similar to Pandemic, but with a lot more depth and options.

You spirit powers, destruction of towns and cities generate Fear and terror in invaders. Generating enough fear, so that the invaders have no wish to venture onto your island further, is your main tool to victory.

On the other hand, if the invaders overrun you, destroy your spirit or their invader card deck runs out, you lose.

Who it’s for:

If you enjoyed a cooperative board game, where you fight towards a common goal (like Forbidden Island or the Pandemic series), but wished for a more complex experience with more strategic options, Spirit Island is the game you’re looking for.

Similarly, if you played any of aforementioned game and wished you could play them alone (because they don’t really work well with just one player), Spirit Island offers a very good single player experience as well.

Check out the price of Spirit Island on Amazon


Conclusion

First, some honorable mentions.

  • Anachrony just barely did not make it on the list. It’s a worker placement game in a futuristic theme. Since there are already three worker placement games on the list, I decided to stop there. But it’s nonetheless a highly rated game and if you’re more into sci-fi than agriculture, it’s definitely worth checking out.
  • It’s also worth mentioning Scythe and Terraforming Mars. Both are strategy games designed to be primarily played with more players, but also offer a decent single player experience. Consider them, if you look for games to play with others, but would like a single player mode as a backup.

Deciding on the personal favorite on the list was not an easy task, because you can’t really go wrong with any game on it. But after some consideration, I have decided to go for A Feast for Odin. I believe it’s the best game on my list – it offers an immersive experience in the Viking world, full of different well-balanced activities, spiced with mini tile-placing puzzles.

Check out the price of A Feast for Odin on Amazon

If you are not a strategy games person, but would prefer a more story-driven experience, then check out the second part of the article, where you’ll find more narrative role-playing games. Or you like both flavors the same and just like a change now and then.

If you would also like to check on more thematic solo board games, then read my second article.

Also, check out my article on top board games for couples and top horror board games.

Don’t forget that I appreciate any feedback, you leave here (be it positive or negative). A lot of research and work goes into these articles, so if you have anything to say about the article, solo board games, games on the list, or would just like to name your favorite game or say hello, leave a comment below.

Vasilij

7 thoughts on “Best Solo Board Games 2019 – Top 5 Strategy

  1. I stumbled upon your article when I was looking for some board game for Christmas for our family. I appreciate you took so much time describing the best board games of your choice and providing your opinion.
    It’s a hard decision for me even after reading this because my husband loves Vikings, all the history about them and movies so the Odin would probably be the best for him but I like the Spirit Island, I loved the book Treasure Island when I was a child. So I don’t know, maybe I should buy both of them 🙂 Also, we are four at home so for all of us to play it, the Odin would be probably the best one?

    1. Both Odin and Spirit Island can accommodate 4 people (although in Odin you may have to wait a bit for your turn and Spirit Island can become slightly chaotic with that many players). I’d say get them both! 😀

      But if you have to pick only one, pick A Feast For Odin.

  2. Hello Vasilij, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I appreciate you shared this because I was looking at what to get for my son’s birthday which is for 2 weeks. He is a big fan of video games just like I was as a kid (I am still lol), I like the Card Game by Marvel, definitely will take a closer look at this game.

    1. Marvel Champions is great for people who are fan of Marvel (and who isn’t), especially the younger generation. If names like Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Daredevil, Black Panther and others ring a bell, he’ll definitely love Marvel Champions: The Card Game. 

  3. I am so glad that I came across your blog!  I had NO IDEA that there even existed board games that could be played by one.  I’ve always loved the “world-building” types of computer games or even the farm-building ones.  I guess I’m not hugely competitive so these games really appeal to me.  While I was reading, I thought I would like A Feast for Odin the best and am glad you chose that one, too!  Now I can feel safe to go and buy it!

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