Next to legacy games, roll & writes, crowdfunding, polyominoes, and pasting the Marvel IP onto a game system, solo gaming is perhaps one of the biggest recent trends in the board and card game industry. This can be attributed to several factors including COVID quarantining, strong sales for solo-friendly games, and more.
Personally, it’s taken a fair amount of time for me to really dip my toes in the solo waters. I was playing multiplayer board and card games years before I ever tried a solo game. For me, the very act of playing a tabletop game was a social event, first and foremost. It wasn’t until tabletop gaming took on a bigger role in my life—when it became a regular hobby—that I was no longer able resist the pull of small, simple, critically acclaimed solo games. I’m still not the type who has the motivation or energy to break out a massive, complex solo game just for myself, but I’ve rapidly discovered that quick & easy solo games often hit the spot.
As Bitewing Games will soon be publishing a quick & easy solo game of our own—Trailblazers by Ryan Courtney (which also plays up to 8 players)—now felt like the right time to investigate, assemble, and share my Top 10 Quick & Easy solo games. At the end of this list, I’ll also be sharing more info about the Epic Solo Mode that Ryan has developed for Trailblazers. But regarding all of these games, it should be clarified that when I say “Quick & Easy” I mean quick to play and relatively easy to learn/setup/tear-down. I do not, by any stretch, imply that these games are easy to win or master. The compelling challenge is often the best part of a solo game, in my opinion, thus all of these games offer that in some form or another.
Under Falling Skies
As a 20-40 minute game that is filled to the alien gills with juicy decisions, there is perhaps no better way to start this list than with Under Falling Skies.
Under Falling Skies first existed in 2019 as a 9-card print-and-play game, but it was so popular that publisher CGE decided to acquire the license and supe it up with a Kwanchai Moriya coat of paint, a pretty plastic ship production, and a heaping of variety across a campaign of unique boards and challenges. The experience is a mix between Independence Day’s alien invasion and clever dice worker placement and manipulation.
The gameplay features tense decisions where higher dice values increase the strength of the space they are placed on, but they also accelerate the invasion of the alien ships in the column they are placed in. The key to victory is balancing risky bonuses against careful defensive manuevers. You can select your difficulty by flipping the invasion boards between their harder and easier sides, and the campaign offers a wealth of new wrinkles to explore so you’ll always be on your toes with the next challenge.
MicroMacro: Crime City & MicroMacro: Full House
What better way to spend a wintery evening than with a steaming cup of Hot Cocoa and a sprawling map of criminal mysteries?
I recently shared how MicroMacro is another perfect game for couples, but it’s also a great game to enjoy solo. In a tantalizing mix of Where’s Waldo and murder mystery, MicroMacro challenges players to uncover the truths behind strange and inexplicable deaths.
We recently finished up the 16 wild cases of MicroMacro: Crime City and had a blast solving each and every one. The good news is that the standalone sequel—Full House—is simply more of a good thing. You can learn more about why we love MicroMacro in my full impressions post.
Confession time: Friday is the one of a couple games on this list I haven’t played. Yet it still ranks highly among many solo gamers, thus it earned a spot here. This deck building game has you helping Robinson Crusoe through treacherous island hazards as he prepares for a run-in with pirates. Overcoming encounters will add more abilities to your deck, yet intentionally losing certain encounters can be a key tactic as well.
Super-Skill Pinball (Roll & Writes)
Most the the roll & write genre is the epitome of quick & easy solitaire games, so I picked my current favorite of the bunch to be on this list. While roll & writes typically go up to 4 or 8 or infinity players, they also tend to lack any significant element of player interaction. So the most interaction you’ll get out of many roll & writes is, “Can I roll the dice again, yet?” as you wait for an opponent to fill in a box.
When played solo, there’s zero downtime to Super-Skill Pinball, and you can roll dice and slide the silver balls as quickly as you please. This design is all about simulating the experience of a pinball table, which it does incredibly well (aside from the speed and reflexes that are involved in real pinball). Combos abound and tension ratchets up as you fight to keep your pinball from dropping down the center. Best of all, the variety of tables (4 per game) keeps things fresh and interesting with unique themes and mechanisms including Gopher Gold Mining and disco Dance Fever.
One of my favorite recent discoveries has been the brilliantly designed dungeon crawler cooperative game that exists completely in a standard deck of playing cards: Regicide. Here, you’ll be taking on Jacks then Queens then Kings in a tight game of hand management. Playing various suits grants abilities, and the aces known as animal companions come in handy as well. Do yourself a favor and try one of the best card games to be invented in recent years.
The Search For Planet X
The Search For Planet X is one of our household favorite deduction games. The production is everything I want in a deduction game: smooth, clear, useful, and pretty. The icing on the cake is the companion app (something I’m not usually fond of in a tabletop game) that keeps the experience slick, quick, and flawless. The race to figure out what lies in each sector—comet, asteroid, gas cloud, dwarf planet, or most importantly Planet X itself—is both challenging and satisfying.
The Oniverse is a solid line of solo games from mammoth publisher Z-Man featuring stylish art, simple rules, quick set-up, short playtime, compact boxes, and clever gameplay. While there are now five games under this popular brand, I’ve only tried Aerion—the Yahtzee style dice management game. But from that one game, I found there was plenty to explore between the compelling core loop and the six expansion modules. For those who wonder where is the best place to start, many folks will point to Onirim and Aerion as two of their favorites.
The big-box titles from publisher Flatout Games tend to offer thinky puzzles with relatively low player interaction—meaning they tend to play similarly at all player counts. Cascadia is their latest release that has taken the gaming world by storm, and many folks are saying it makes for a great solo experience. Those who enjoy puzzly tile laying games will be right at home here in this design that celebrates the sites and creatures of the Pacific Northwest with lush art by Beth Sobel. While it doesn’t venture into the solo rules, Kyle’s How To Play video shows us what Cascadia is all about in under 8 minutes.
I recently shared my first impressions of a 5-player game of Nusfjord where I essentially said it’s a solid Rosenberg design, but not necessarily one I would play over A Feast for Odin, Agricola, or Le Havre. Many commenters pointed out to me that Nusfjord is the type of game that really shines at 1-3 players. I learned that Nusfjord packs a huge punch as a solo game that can be played in only 20-30 minutes. If you can manage to get a medium-weight Uwe experience by yourself in that amount of time, then Nusfjord absolutely deserves a spot on this list.
Of course I wasn’t going to forget about the quick & easy 18-card design known as Sprawlopolis (or its sibling Agropolis). This critically acclaimed game has had a lot of mentions across our blog and podcast, including my Top 10 Spatial Puzzle Games. So rather than retread the same ground, I’ll point you to two glowing video reviews from No Pun Included and The Dice Tower’s Tom Vasel.
Trailblazers—Epic Solo Mode… Playable TODAY on Tabletop Simulator
For Trailblazers, our next upcoming publication, designer Ryan Courtney had two core design focuses:
- Maintain his high standard of satisfying puzzly depth, but make the rules as simple and approachable as possible
- Develop compelling solo modes to make this a solo-friendly game as much as it is a family-friendly game
So Trailblazers is exactly the kind of design that fits the topic of quick & easy solo games. I recently covered that first design focus of approachability, so today we’ll be exploring the solo features that have been on Ryan’s mind since day one. But we’re not gonna spill the beans on all three modes today. While the Standard and Adventurers Solo modes have their own exciting objectives that provide a distinguishing flavor, today we’re gonna talk about the biggest of them all: Epic Solo Mode.
Why is it called ‘Epic’ Solo Mode? Well, the standard game will see you drafting and placing 24 trail cards and 3 campsite cards over the course of 4 rounds or 30 minutes. Epic Solo Mode, on the other hand, can last up to three times as long where you’ll be arranging up to 72 trail cards and 9 campsite cards into one sprawling monstrosity of trails and loops. While that sounds like absolute insanity (and in some ways, it is), the mode is actually broken up into three separate stages.
Epic Solo Mode utilizes the Animals expansion (included in the standard edition of the Trailblazers), and animal scoring will be your sole focus for the first two stages. The key to scoring big animal points is to have several unique animal tokens placed along a loop; but the catch is that a trail card with an animal token on it can never be overlapped (partially or fully) by another card, which limits your spatial flexibility. I go into more details about how the animals expansion works here.
Stage 1 is simply called “Epic Solo Mode” where if you manage to scrounge at least 30 animal points after 4 rounds of play then you win the mode! But 30 animals points can be quite challenging to reach—it took me several attempts to finally beat this stage.
Once victory is achieved in Epic Solo Mode, you can simply call it a day and pack it away as you rest on the laurels of your 30-minute triumph… Or, you can continue on to the first bonus stage called Springer Fever. The objective of Springer Fever? Build off of the foundation you’ve laid in the Epic Solo Mode and win Springer Fever by scoring 80 or more animal points from loops after 4 more rounds of play. If victory is achieved, you may continue on to the final bonus stage, if you wish. This is the stage that I’ve yet to overcome, although my last attempt was quite close.
If you manage to beat Springer Fever, then the final stage you may continue on to is Triple Crown. Once again, you’ll build off of the foundation you’ve laid in Springer Fever, but this time you’ll aim to get a high score by scoring only the single longest loop of each trail type after 4 more rounds of play. By breaking up loops, extending them, and reconnecting them, you’ll be able to get a high score! Although animal scoring no longer matters, the tricky part will be that you still can’t overlap cards with animal figures placed on them from the previous two stages.
The challenge that Epic Solo Mode and its two bonus stages provide is one with a dizzyingly high skill-ceiling that will keep folks coming back for many sessions. While it certainly isn’t an easy mode to take on, I’ve found myself learning and improving with each attempt, and that satisfaction of progress far outweighs my failures. Over time, you’ll go from a short-term focus of lunging for easy animal points to a long-term focus of planning how to make the longest loops for Triple Crown.
This mode is one that has been thoroughly tested and played by Ryan’s play testers, and it is one that Ryan and Tim even turned into a gnarly challenge for themselves to hit 165 points in Triple Crown (the final stage). They even recorded many of their attempts on Youtube with Game 12 being their final triumph.
While learning about Epic Solo Mode is all good and fine, the real fun comes from actually playing it which you can do RIGHT NOW. That’s right, Epic Solo Mode is available for you to play on TableTop Simulator (a game/app which you can download from Steam). Simply use this link to find the Trailblazers mod, click subscribe to download it to your TTS app, and then open TTS and find it in your Workshop.
Follow Trailblazers all the way to its Q2 Crowdfunding launch! Subscribe to the Bitewing Games newsletter where we’ll be teasing out more details, art, and components over the coming weeks.
Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite, including the upcoming Trailblazers by Ryan Courtney. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share experiences that, much like a bitewing x-ray, provide a unique perspective and refreshing interaction.