Board games are known for social interaction, getting to know other players, and as excellent social tools. So why would anyone in their right mind play a game solo or a single-player board game?
It might surprise some of you that there is actually a pretty big community of players that play games with only a single-player and that there are a whole lot of board games that are designed specifically for one player.
Table of Contents
Our Top Picks for Best Single-Player Board Games
In a hurry? Check out our picks for the best single-player board games before you dash off.
Playing single-player board games isn’t as weird as you may first think. If you’re really into a game, solo play gives you the chance to experience everything that a box has to offer. Sometimes games will require several playthroughs to get the full effect, and it’s not always easy to get a group together.
Some games are extremely complicated and a quick run-through beforehand gives you the chance to learn all of the intricacies of a rule set before your gaming group shows up. Especially with games like Arkham Horror, it can be a lot of fun to do a solo run the night before a big gaming session.
Sometimes I find myself home alone or needing a little bit of downtime and just want to play a game. Entertainment is at the core of board games, especially solo games, which are a great way to have a little fun. A quick solo game is a perfect way to unwind and relax after a day of work.
There are plenty of games that offer an outstanding single-player experience. We chose games on this list that not only give the option of solo play but also do it well. Sometimes the one-player option is tacked onto a game as an afterthought. You won’t find that here.
Before we dive into the main list, let’s take a quick look at what exactly makes a single-player board game.
What is a single-player board game?
A single-player board game is known by several names: single-player, solo-player, and solitaire. They honestly all refer to the same thing.
Single-player board games, as the name implies, are designed for one person to play them. There are some caveats to that but the core takeaway is that you should get the full experience right out of the box by yourself.
Can I only play this with one person or can I add other players?
There are only a few games on this list that are designed specifically for a single player, meaning that you can only ever play it with one player. I made a note in the article if that’s the case.
Most of the games on this list either have special rules to play solo or are designed to simply work with 1+ players without any changes to the ruleset.
Most cooperative board games (players vs board) by nature are able to run a solo game. You would simply need to play more than 1 character and act as an overlord.
Here are the 20 best solo board games for one player:
- Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition
- Eldritch Horror
- Massive Darkness
- Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
- Terraforming Mars
- Legacy of Dragonholt
- Friday: A Solo Adventure
- Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
- Shadowrun: Crossfire
- Imperial Settlers
- Viticulture: Essential Edition
- Hostage Negotiator
- Tiny Epic Galaxies
- Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
- One Deck Dungeon
- Burgle Bros.
- This War of Mine: The Board Game
Playing Time: 60-120 min
This big-box behemoth is going to keep you busy. Solo or in a party, I cannot give this game enough praise.
There’s a massive world for players to explore and become a part of and, if you don’t feel like spoiling the good bits and are waiting for the next gaming session, you can always throw up a solo quick setup run to get yourself back in the game.
Sometimes it’s hard to get a group together and you just want to roll some dice and kill some monsters. The one-shot setup is a perfect way to scratch the gaming itch without ruining the bigger story of the campaign. It’s a randomized setup, but it’s scaled extremely well, and the polished ruleset of Gloomhaven really shines through here.
Between character customization, lore, detailed miniatures, and awesome combat it’s going to be hard to dethrone Gloomhaven. If you’re totally sick of seeing it at the top of almost every list online, silence that inner hipster (we all have one) and check it out. It’s going to be worth it.
Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition
Playing Time: 150 min
Mage Knight has seriously reinvented itself. It was originally a massive tabletop wargame but has since been overthrown by HeroClix. Instead of trying to compete on that front, they made an explosive entrance into the board game scene. Its current iteration places it at the top of many RPG and dungeon crawler lists.
Mage Knight is one of the games on this list that hits almost every category of a solo game. The rules can be rough at first sight, and that’s an understatement. Mage Knight is known for being one of the most intricate games on the market and is very intimidating.
A solo run-through of the game will help immensely before game night. If you walk in blind, there’s going to be a lot of confusion and you’ll spend most of the time trying to just figure out the game.
Fortunately, after the first muddle-through of the game, it all starts to make sense and it isn’t as bad as it seems at first glance.
The campaign mode in multi and single-player is also just plain epic and a hell of a lot of fun. You cannot go wrong with adding Mage Knight: Ultimate Edition to your collection.
Before you buy, make sure to take a look at our in-depth guide to this truly amazing game.
Playing Time: 90-115 min
Nobody remained untouched after the Great War. Famine and unrest threaten all, but hope can be found. An area of unspoiled land has been found, but untouched and uncontested are two different things. Fire up the gears of war and carve out a piece for yourself before your neighbors take it all for themselves.
Scythe was one of the most anticipated releases of 2016 and has won several awards including the Golden Geek Best Solo Board Game.
The theme is fascinating as well. It’s an alternate-history 1920s steampunk kind of world. The First World War has ended and was fought with giant mechs, which begs the question, what do you do with giant machines of war after a war? You can’t just not use them.
Players will fight for a contested piece of valuable land and learn from the mistakes of the actual Germans in WWII, will need to win the war of propaganda and popular opinion. Victory comes, not only militarily, but also through popularity.
How well your faction is liked and accepted by the population will have a drastic effect on the outcome of the game, making this not just a simple smash-and-grab wargame, but a highly methodical economic and engine-building game as well.
Playing Time: 120-240 min
“The Thing cannot be described – there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled.” ―H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
It’s always more fun to watch scary movies in the dark, but what about scary board games?
Eldritch Horror is known for its atmospheric exploration and dark themes. It’s an excellent game to run solo if you’re trying to experience every facet of the game. There is so much story and so many thematic elements that you’re simply not going to get it all in a few playthroughs.
When I first started playing the big box Cthulu games like Eldritch and Arkham Horror, I usually ran a quick solo run to test the game and learn the rules.
These games can be especially tricky and intimidating to learn. Both come with tomes for rulebooks, but once you have the majority of the rules down, it’s not as hard as it seems.
Players can even play multiple characters and it’s still a lot of fun. Every game of Eldritch that I’ve played and seen ends up becoming about the stories that the characters create. This is my favorite part about this game and it still shines through with a single-player game.
For the complete low-down on Eldritch Horror, check out our full review here.
Playing Time: 120 min
Solo or in a group, Massive Darkness delivers the goods.
Dungeon crawler board games lend themselves well to solo play. Playing them solo is an awesome way to get acclimated to the ruleset, plus, it’s just fun trying out a solo campaign.
How far can you get? Will your solo character become a hero or another skull decorating the dungeon?
Trying a solo campaign forces players to change how they build their characters as well. It’s important in a group to be a specialist, but solo, you’ll have to balance specialization with self-reliance.
Solo will definitely change up the way you approach enemies and problems.
Before you grab a copy and start your solo run, check out our full review of Massive Darkness here.
Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Playing Time: 30-90 min
“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
One Ring to Rule Them All… and one player to complete the quest.
We’re huge fans of all things fantasy and Lord of the Rings. Kendra even has several Tolkien tattoos and can probably recite the LOTR movies from memory. That being said, we may be a little biased, but we can say that the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is pretty sweet.
Players choose from their favorite characters and fight iconic monsters and minions of Sauron.
I really like this game and enjoy the beautiful artwork. Fantasy Flight Games definitely went the extra mile in production and used original artwork instead of just throwing in cheap movie stills. I think it really adds to the atmosphere of the game and looks fantastic on the table.
Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a bit heftier than some other card games, rules-wise. A solo run will help you sort through the mechanics and experiment with some other strategies you might not normally try in a larger group.
One other interesting thing about the LOTR card game is that it is a “Living Card Game”. No, that doesn’t mean you have to feed it or worry about it eating your dog at night. A living card game is constantly in development for the “life” of the game. This means that there will be constant additions and expansions added over time.
So if you somehow manage to beat everything and see everything that the base game has to offer (which is a daunting task by itself) there are tons of expansions and additions waiting in the wings, ready to breathe new life into the game.
Playing Time: 120 min
If Matt Damon could do it, then so can you. You’re “gonna have to science the shit out of this.”
There’s a lot going on in this game and one of the particular benefits of Terraforming Mars is that the single-player experience and the multiplayer experience do feel very different. The multiplayer game focuses on smaller tasks and building up victory points over the course of the game.
It also relies heavily on player interaction and maneuvering for the best position on Mars. The solo game clearly can’t do that, because it’s just you on Mars. There’s nobody fighting for spots, so the game goals completely shift. A solo player will instead be focusing on overall goals to accomplish to win the game.
If a certain terraforming level is reached the player will win, instead of just reaching an end-game scenario and tallying up of points.
Multiplayer and single-player play so differently that Terraforming Mars really does double duty on my gaming shelf.
Legacy of Dragonholt
Playing Time: 60-999 min
Playing Legacy of Dragonholt solo is a great way to squeeze the last bit of board gamey goodness out of a box.
I highly suggest you play through a full campaign with your core game group for the full effect, but after you do that, it’s a lot of fun to try it solo and experiment with strategies and tactics you didn’t get to do on your first playthrough.
Legacy of Dragonholt is a completely story-driven fantasy game, so completionists will want to see everything Dragonholt has to offer. Each scenario has several ways to deal with every situation, and the rules do change slightly to account for single-player nicely.
Due to completely story-driven gameplay, it’s been described as a game that plays like D&D, but without a Dungeon Master.
It’s, of course, going to be a bit more railroaded than a traditional Pen & Paper RPG, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The story is excellently written and perfect to play when it’s too much of a hassle to get a D&D group together.
The rule system is also completely unique. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in a board game, which makes it one of my favorites that have come out in recent years.
We liked it so much that we wrote a complete review here. Make sure to check it out before you buy!
Friday: A Solo Adventure
Playing Time: 25 min
Robinson Crusoe is shipwrecked and completely clueless. It’s up to his trusty companion, Friday, to mold Crusoe into the rugged adventurer that he was always meant to be.
Friday is one of the few intentional single-player board games I’ve seen. Most games have special rules or allow a single player to control several characters to make the game a solo experience, but Friday is designed from the ground up for one person.
In this deck-builder, players will guide Crusoe as he wanders around the deserted island. Each turn, players will draw from an encounter deck and attempt to pass a skill check using Crusoe’s deck.
If the encounter is passed, the card then goes into Crusoe’s deck to strengthen it.
If it fails, you can discard some cards from Crusoe’s deck to strengthen it, but you also lose health.
For a purely single-player game, it’s a lot of fun. There are a lot of strategies involved in trying to outlast to the end of the game. Plus, I’ve always been a fan of deck-builders, ever since my first game of Dominion.
Another point in favor of Friday is that it is probably the most inexpensive game on this list. For a great round-up of board games that won’t break the bank, click here.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
Playing Time: 60-120 min
“Thus fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself.” ―Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
Speaking of Robinson Crusoe…
If you haven’t gotten enough of Daniel Defoe’s iconic novel, or if you wanted a little more of the action on the island, you may want to check out Adventures on Cursed Island.
Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on Cursed the Island has a lot of moving parts and running a solo mission is a great way to learn the game. I did not win my first game and those of you who’ve given it a try, know that Murphy’s Law is truly in effect when playing this game.
One of the best parts about running solo on a cooperative game is that you always have the option of playing two characters. If it’s a cooperative board game, you can basically always play it solo.
Adventure on the Cursed Island does have an alternate set of rules for solo play, but the consensus is that playing using the regular rules with one player controlling two characters offers a far better experience.
Either way works fine but I think that playing two characters on a solo run is the way to go here.
This game really does have it all. Not only does it work beautifully as a single-player game, but it also made our list of top 3-player board games as well.
Playing Time: 15 min
Trapped within a labyrinth of dreams… How does one escape? Through the door, of course.
Onirim is a 1-2 player card game that takes place in an abstract dream world. Onirim is an excellent game for several reasons. It’s very small and portable, super quick to play (about 15 minutes), is amazing as a solo game, and the base game now comes with 7 expansions that add a ton of variation and difficulty.
At its core, it is a card game where players are trying to match up 3 colors in a row and find keys to open enough doors to escape from the dream labyrinth. The labyrinth isn’t without its own dangers, however.
Hidden within the deck are multiple nightmares that will force players to discard cards or close gates. If too many cards are removed from the game, there won’t be enough cards in the deck to open all of the gates and they will be trapped forever.
After the first printing, the developers decided to just pack a ton of expansions with the base game, making it the perfect time to pick it up, considering all of the increased value.
I’ve always been fascinated by dreams, and I really enjoyed the artwork of Onirim. It’s got rough edges and a surreal cartoony feeling that’s perfect for conveying a dreamlike maze.
Z-Man Games also makes several small box games set within the same universe called the Oniverse and Castellion & Nautilion. Both are interesting in their own right with completely different themes, but they all keep the same surreal art style and are all lightweight and quick.
Playing Time: 30-60 min
“Hey there, drek head! Are you tired of living the life of a wage slave? Step into the shadows. For a runner with your skills, there’s no limit to the amount of nuyen you’ll be rolling in.”
Shadowrun’s cyberpunk setting has fascinated me since I first stumbled upon the Super Nintendo version of the game. It was originally a cyberpunk(ish) RPG in which the Awakening occurs in the year 2011 (a little dated, I know). The Awakening is a worldwide event where magic and mythical creatures return to a modern and unforgiving world.
All of that being said, you don’t need to know anything about Shadowrun’s massive amount of lore to enjoy Crossfire. You’ll be able to jump in and play relatively quickly. Although the rules can be intimidating, it’s not as heavy and complicated as it seems at first glance.
Playing solo is an excellent way to acclimate yourself before a big game of Crossfire, or to create your own solo runner story. The game comes with multiple character sheets and a TON of abilities and skills in sticker format that will keep you entertained for ages.
Playing Time: 45-90 min
There’s nothing like the smell of imperialism in the morning.
Imperial Settlers is a worker placement game in which players build a civilization and burn down others, all in the name of imperialistic wealth. The object of the game is to simply have more victory points than any other player, and as always, that’s a highly simplistic version of the rules.
What I really like about Imperial Settlers are the different factions. Portal Games managed to include four factions in the same game with the same rules.
Each one, however, plays completely differently and truly feels like a completely separate faction. Some games have a bunch of factions and the only difference is the name and artwork. Not here.
Each faction comes with its own deck of cards that include separate and distinct abilities and artwork. The Egyptians have pyramids and camels galore. The Romans have columns for days. The Japanese buildings all have distinct Edo architecture. Portal Games did an amazing job of making them all feel distinct.
That being said, playing Imperial Settlers is a great game in a group, but it works very well solo. Players go head-to-head with a board AI-driven character.
You can even find several extra rules online to turn the game into a campaign-style affair. Solo play is just fun by itself but it also allows players to really experience what each faction can do and to delve deep into all Imperial Settlers has to offer.
Viticulture: Essential Edition
Playing Time: 45-90 min
Pour yourself a glass of wine and settle in for some worker placement fun.
I’ve always thought that owning a winery and producing my own label would be a ton of fun. After watching all the effort (and money) that Kendra’s cousin went through to produce his first batch, I decided to stick with the board game version. It’s much less messy (and less expensive).
After inheriting a winery in disrepair, players will need to run every aspect of the winery, including overseeing repairs, growing grapes, and of course, making wine.
Viticulture is a worker placement game that will have you scrambling to get everything done. It’s one of those games that has numerous options, so you’re always going to have more actions than you have workers to do them.
If you’re new to Viticulture, definitely get the Essential Edition. The rules have been updated and the production value of the Essential Edition is far better than the first printing.
It should go without saying, but if you aren’t popping a bottle of wine while you’re playing this, you’re doing it wrong.
Playing Time: 20 min
Hostage Negotiator is another purely single-player game on this list.
It has some deck-building elements added to it but mostly it’s a dice-rolling game. Players play cards, roll some dice, and adjust the trackers to see where they are in negotiations. The game comes with several hostage-takers, which allows for a bit of replayability.
Players manage the aggressiveness and communication of the hostage-taker. The thematic elements that go along with the gameplay are rather impressive. Most of the game is card-based, but the resolutions of cards are determined by dice rolls, so there is an element of randomness to the game as well.
Players have the option to try and talk the hostage taker down, they can send in an infiltration team to extract the hostages, and they can even just make a deal with the guy to try and get a hostage out. There will always be repercussions for every action and the dice add a huge level of tension to the game.
The player is considered to have won the game when at least half the hostages are saved. It seems a bit of a hollow victory, so you could always try to go for the perfect game.
The developers did an excellent job with adding thematic tension to the game, and even though the hostages are faceless meeples, they’re innocent faceless meeples that you can’t help but feel guilty for whenever one of them dies.
Busting out Hostage Negotiator is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon, popping a bowl of popcorn and throwing The Negotiator on TV. Who doesn’t want to pretend to be a hostage negotiator while Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey duke it out on screen? Nobody, that’s who.
Tiny Epic Galaxies
Playing Time: 30-45 min
Who says a galaxy needs to be a massive part of an ever-expanding cosmos? Well, physics does, but who really pays attention to that?
Tiny Epic Galaxies is a tiny board game that’s huge in scope. Players will embark on an intergalactic mission of conquest by seeking out habitable planets for an epic galactic colonization project.
In the solo version, Tiny Epic Galaxies puts you up against an AI-controlled race. Their actions will be predictable, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. The player has the option of choosing between several difficulty levels to compete against.
Tiny Epic is a bit of a mashup between worker placement and dice game. With each turn, players roll a handful of dice. The dice actually determine what actions are available that turn, and then players will assign them the various actions in their turn. In a multiplayer game, this is done in secret and then revealed as a group.
Single-player is a little different. There’s no need for hidden dice rolls and the AI will always work in a predictable manner.
Tiny Epic Galaxies is an incredibly fun game to play in a group and is just as excellent as a solo run. Personally, I’m a fan of sci-fi board games and space themes, so I never seem to see enough of them.
Intrigued? Check out our full review of Tiny Epic Galaxies before you buy!
Versions & Expansions
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
Playing Time: 60-120 min
“The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.” — Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a unique game in that there’s really not a whole lot to it. You will, however, be racking your brain the entire time you’re playing.
There are a lot of mixed signals on this game depending upon which reviewer you’re looking at, so let’s try and clear up some of the confusion.
I’ll break it down to one simple question: Do you like puzzles?
If yes, try this game. You won’t be disappointed.
The components in the game are amazing and unique, so much so that it doesn’t even look like a game. The box comes with a map of London, casebooks, and pages of newspaper print (my favorite) from which you’ll gather most of your information.
The game is difficult and you will be questioning your intelligence (and sanity) while playing. One of the more interesting things about the game is that it doesn’t have to be played or completed all in one sitting.
You could play it while drinking your morning coffee before work, then continue to mull over the clues throughout the workday.
At its core, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is an amazing puzzle. It’s a mystery game that you could, of course, play with other players, but I prefer it as a solo game.
The game does have a limited shelf life due to only having 10 cases, but the value of game time to cost is well worth it. Players will be pleasantly surprised to see that all 10 cases are completely original.
That way die-hard Sherlock fans will still be able to enjoy the game without already knowing the plot. When you’ve finished with the box, you could pass it around among your friends and watch them struggle while you smugly watch.
Now get to it. The game is afoot!
One Deck Dungeon
Playing Time: 30 min
Suit up and get ready to go dungeon delving.
One Deck Dungeon, as the name implies, is a small box dungeon crawler that uses a deck of cards to simulate events in the dungeon. Players can pick from 5 classes, each with their own stats and skills.
Character skills directly relate to the number of dice players are able to roll for each skill check. If they have a strength of 4 then they’ll get 4 dice to roll when performing a check.
It seems that games designed for a smaller group of players like 1-2 make excellent solo games as well. The deck mechanic simulating the dungeon events works really well and throws quite a few fun (and nasty) surprises your way.
One Deck Dungeon is designed to be a “Roguelike” game. Roguelike is a genre of games that are procedurally generated and random every new game. They typically are very random, difficult to master, and permadeath (no respawns).
Normally this is a video game term, but it’s interesting to see developers interchange video and board game mechanics.
One of the things I like about this game is that it is so portable. You can easily bust it out when you’re waiting somewhere, or even on a lunch break.
Playing Time: 45-90 min
Who doesn’t love a good heist? Safecracking, security alarms, sneaking, and a daring helicopter escape? Sounds good to us.
Burgle Bros. is a cooperative game where players take on specialist roles to steal from several safes in a multi-story building. The thematic components are amazing in Burgle Bros. They even have a separate 3-tier building stand (sold separately) if you want to really add some more flair to the game.
Although it’s a cooperative game, it also works very well as a solo experience. Instead of feeling like a heister, you feel like the shadowy figure behind the scenes pulling all of the strings.
Players will have to sneak through the floors of each building and avoid the patrolling guards, while slowly making their way up to the roof.
The only real complaint I’ve heard about the game is the box. It looks really cool. It’s designed to be like a mini skyscraper and looks great on the shelf. It is, however, a big pain in the butt to get everything back in the box when you’re done.
This War of Mine: The Board Game
Playing Time: 45-120 min
Are you ready for WAR?
EXPLOSIONS! DESTRUCTION! STARVING CHILDREN!
LOOTING MEDICAL SUPPLIES FROM THE SICK AND ELDERLY…?
Wait a minute. That got dark really quickly. In most war games we play the invincible respawning Master Ghost Sergeant. This War of Mine takes a much more powerful approach to war. You’re not invincible.
You’re just some poor sap whose country is being destroyed by war and who is trying to survive.
I first played the original This War of Mine computer game on Steam when it first came out. Then when I saw the board game release I had to give it a try. It’s just as grim and horrifying as its counterpart.
The only problem you’ll have with playing this one solo is that the story can be so deep and heartfelt that you’re going to wish someone was there to share it with you.
Versions & Expansions
When I first started writing about the best single-player board games, I surprised myself. When I actually thought about it and looked back, I found out that I play a lot of games by myself and that I really enjoy it.
It’s not always feasible to get a group together on a regular basis, or maybe I just have a ton of games that I’ve never had the chance to bring out in a group. Sometimes we’re limited on time and default to our go-to games to save time. There’s been plenty of times when I’ve gotten a new game before game night and it never makes it to the table.
Since I’m the only person who reads any of the rules in my group, I find myself spending a lot of time setting up games and running them by myself to get all the rules down.
There’s been a couple of times where I’ve had nothing to do and set up a couple of games to run through a campaign. In long campaign games, it always seems like the characters take on distinct personalities of their own and I find myself moving them according to how I think the character would move, which makes for a much more enjoyable story, in my opinion.
It started out as just a way to refine the rules before debuting a new game during our sessions, but I find myself enjoying the single-player experience more and more. If given the option, I think I’ll always prefer to play with friends and family, but as a fun way to pass the time, I do find myself pulling out a box instead of picking up a controller.
How do you feel about single-player board games? If you have any games to add or think we missed something, drop a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.