July 3, 2020

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Winnipeg Free Press



Playing solo

There are plenty of great games for those self-isolating on their own

Social interaction and togetherness are at the heart of most board gaming experiences. With social distancing being the main concern these days, many of us are trying to avoid contact with the outside world as much as possible. For the next while it is likely that you will primarily spend time either with yourself, or with the people that live in your own household.

If you are someone who is living on their own, or who would like some alone time once in a while, then I have some good news for you: There are plenty of great board games out there that can be played as a solo or single player.

Solo games are not a new phenomenon. We all know the card game Solitaire as a prime example. There have always been forms of entertainment that are best enjoyed in solitude, such as puzzles or crosswords. Even though we are wired to be social creatures, there does appear to be a need to be with your own thoughts once in a while.

Like most board games, solo games come in all shapes and sizes, from short and accessible to complex and epic. Most of them are based on the idea that the player is trying to overcome the challenge that lies within the game. A well-designed solo game somehow creates the feeling of an invisible opponent who "comes alive" by drawing certain cards or other game mechanics. This is not entirely unlike many co-operative games — like Pandemic, for example, where the game takes on a character of its own that the other players are trying to beat.

There are many titles designed specifically as a solo experience. Other titles offer a variant or additional module, even though the game was originally imagined for more players. Take Wingspan: the game can include up to five players, but also comes with components and extra rules that allow for a single-player game. A lot of co-operative games will give you that option as well. In those cases, the solo player would control several characters in order to beat the game. 

Even though one does not get to socially interact with other human beings, solo games are able to provide lots of emotional and mental benefits. They can be wonderfully relaxing, as they allow the gamer to progress at his or her desired speed while stimulating the mind. In addition, they are physical and tactile. Some of them require some set-up time of extra components that, in my opinion, only adds to the sense of anticipation and relaxation.

Playing a solo game might be something that takes some getting used to, but they can be a lot of fun, especially as we find ourselves confined to our homes over the next few weeks or months while being discouraged to socialize. Here are some suggestions to get you started:







  • 1 Player, ages 13 and up
  • Difficulty: 2/5 


This charming solo card game lets you play as Friday, who is trying to help Robinson Crusoe escape from the island. At its heart it is a deck-building game, in which you try to optimize your cards in order to defeat the various hazards and two pirate ships. The game comes in a small box and requires little table space, which makes it easy to carry and play anywhere.




Mansions of Madness (2nd edition)

Mansions of Madness (2nd edition)

1-5 players, ages 14 and up

Difficulty: 3/5

In this "dungeon crawl"-style game you are exploring a house that is filled with hostile creatures and challenges. You control a team of explorers who are trying to overcome various challenges provided by the game. The game is accompanied by an app that walks you through the different scenarios. Great to play as a group or in solo mode. Simply control all the characters and enjoy the adventure as it unfolds.






1-2 players, ages 10 and up

Difficulty: 2/5

You are a Dreamwalker, lost in a mysterious labyrinth, and you must discover the oneiric doors before your dreamtime runs out — or you will remain trapped forever! You must work against the game to gather the eight Door cards before the deck runs out; you can obtain those Door cards either by playing cards of the same colour three turns in a row, or by discarding one of your powerful Key cards. In both cases you will have to decide the best use of each card in your hand and carefully play around the Nightmares. Those cards are hidden in the deck and will trigger painful dilemmas when drawn... Even though the game is designed as a solo game, it is possible to play with two players co-operatively.






1-5 players, ages 14 and up

Difficulty 3/5

With elaborate and beautiful components, this game is often referred to "Catan on steroids." Set in a bleak steampunk version of 1920s Eastern Europe, you play as a fallen leader attempting to restore your people to glory during a period of unrest — opposed by a rival represented by a deck of cards that essentially allows the game to play against you. Scythe truly is a great solo game for anyone who enjoys the game mechanics of Catan but would like to be able to play alone or shake things up a bit.




That's Pretty Clever

That's Pretty Clever

1-4 players, ages 8 and up

Difficulty: 2/5

This game falls in the category of "roll and write" games, where you fill out a sheet and try to get the most points (kind of like Yahtzee). Even though this game can be played with more people it offers a great solo experience. Roll the coloured dice and choose the ones you would like to add to your score sheet. There are different paths to gaining points and some of them will result in a chain reaction that can be very satisfying.


Olaf Pyttlik is a Winnipeg board-game enthusiast and co-owner of Across the Board Game Café. In a regular column, he shares games ideas for families and friends of all ages. Email him at olaf@acrosstheboardcafe.com.

Olaf Pyttlik

Olaf Pyttlik
Board Game Columnist

Olaf Pyttlik is a Winnipeg board game enthusiast and co-owner of Across the Board Game Cafe.

Read full biography

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