Great Solo Games

You know those core memories from youth that are incredibly strong but still might not be true? You know, the snapshots with little-to-no dialogue that are hazy around the edges.

One of mine is visiting my Aunt on the Isle of Man (represent), and while nipping into one of her friend’s houses unannounced (it was the 90s) we found him sitting alone, smoking a pipe, listening to a jazz record, playing Jenga. And if that doesn’t sound like absolute adult goals, I don’t know how to help you. (Except in my case, the pipe would be a bubble pipe – Don’t smoke, kids.)

There’s a simple joy to be had in playing a board game on your own. In an age of doomscrolling and the constant barrage of screens and information and just general noise, taking some time to yourself is essential. There’s something delightfully analogue about it, almost a meditative action. Highly recommend.

And to that end, here are a few games you can pick up to play by yourself on a rainy Sunday, a long train journey or even a nine-month round the world cruise that you vlog on TikTok and I watch in the evening time and live vicariously through because it does look like an incredible experience but I will never do that because I’m scared of boats but that’s a topic for another article OKAY HERE WE GO:

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

The game, Mrs Hudson, is on!

Confession: while most people spend their time at uni in Da Club, I was either down the pub, at the movies, or reading detective novels. I’d spend my time on the train up the east coast of England doing logic puzzles. So there’s something about this game that scratches a very familiar and thrilling itch.

The theming of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is utterly perfect. You’re given a case, and using various props – a map of Victorian London, a broadsheet newspaper, et al – you have to put on your deerstalker and look deep for clues that will help you solve the mystery.

There’s something of the choose-your-own-adventure about it, without a clear straight line from clues to solution. Perhaps you’ll misread a line in the paper, perhaps you’ll look past something entirely and once it slots into place you’ll want to slap your forehead and yell “ELEMENTARY”. It’s utterly delightful.

Exit: The Game

An absolute sucker for an escape room, I am. My favourite was a Da Vinci Code themed one in Shepherd’s Bush, which I didn’t manage to solve, but that was mainly because one of my friends spent ages insisting that a compass pointing north must have meant something because “It won’t stop pointing north.” I thought he was doing a bit. Sadly, he was not.

Much better to do the escape room vibe on your own, and the Exit series has plenty of versions you can choose from. Secret Lab, Forgotten Island, Sunken Treasure, the list is endless and thrilling.

The puzzles themselves are great, but the clues and ways to work out those puzzles are delightful in and of themselves. Spot the difference, hidden messages, folding and cutting up the game manual, there’s a ton of stuff to keep you occupied.

We’re not reinventing the wheel here, it’s simple, effective fun. And each game in the series is around £10-£15, so it’s not going to break the bank if you know you’ve got a few nights in a boring hotel for a work conference. You can sequester yourself away from the colleagues, order room service and spend a couple of hours solving puzzles. Honestly sounds like a perfect evening to me.

Turing Machine

This is one designed for up to four players, with a great solo “mode”, for lack of a better phrase – although I suppose it’s in keeping with the computer theme, so I’m going to stick with it! You can play it co-op, or even competitively, but in terms of gentle and meditative solo play, it’s definitely one of the best.

It’s a puzzle game, all about using logic to determine a three-digit code. It’s got the energy of wordle, sudoku, mastermind, all of those classic deduction games we know and love, with a very twee punch card design.

You set up the game according to a puzzle in the rule book. You make proposals for what the code might be, and find the answer to questions of the central Machine using the punch cards to line up and reveal a yes or no answer. Over the course of your game, you’ll use these answers to deduce what exactly the code will be. It’s so quietly thrilling.

And for an added selling point, there’s also an app you can use to find new puzzles, meaning there’s an almost an infinite number of codes to crack – so even in solo play, you’re not going to run out of games.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game

One from the Lovecraft files, because gamers simply cannot get enough, this is a blend of role-playing and card game that is great for two players but somehow even better for one.

We reckon atmosphere is key here – you become a character in the quiet New England town of Arkham. Each character has its own set of rules printed on their card, and the deck is built around those rules. You’ll encounter an array of enemies and beasties in various locations as you look to navigate your scenarios.

Turn down the lights and put on some creepy music and you’ll find yourself, even alone, letting inhibitions that come with certain role-playing elements go and getting properly sucked into the story.

This game is also what’s known as a Living Card Game, so there are plenty – and here the word “plenty” is a hilarious understatement – of bonus decks and add-ons that allow for new games and new mysteries to uncover.

Onirim

An absolutely beautiful little box contains a game within where you’re a Dreamwalker, looking for the doors within a labyrinth that will help you escape before your dream time runs out, lest you be trapped in that dream forever.

To find the doors, you’re going to be placing cards, decorated with colours and symbols, only you can’t place two of the same symbols next to each other. So you have to use strategy and a little bit of chance to pick up and discard various cards in pursuit of the three coloured cards in a row you’ll need to be able to unlock the door.

That’s the game at its most simple, but there are an array of different cards that present opportunities and obstacles – key cards, which help you manipulate the deck in your favour; nightmare cards, which force you to sacrifice your hand or even cards from your deck. It’s all about balance, you don’t want to sacrifice too much but you also need to play smartly to work the deck in your favour.

The game also offers several expansions that play on the theme, so if you get along with it, it’ll be one you can come back to in new ways again and again.

Friday

This one’s a proper solo game, designed entirely for one player themed around the idea of Robinson Crusoe. You’re playing as Friday, whose peaceful island life is disrupted when Crusoe finds himself stranded with you. It’s your job to help Crusoe survive the hazards of the island and even – oh boy, my most favourite and I regress to child mode every time this word is said – pirates!

It’s a deck building solitaire situation. You’ve got to think long game when you’re coming up with your strategy. Each card is going to present you with a hazard. Do you expend cards to fight that hazard? Do you take the hit on health points but remove a potentially horrid little card from the game?

It’s all built on the idea of optimizing your fight deck so that when you face the upcoming swashbuckler, you’re in a good enough position to help Crusoe escape the island and return to your life of tranquillity.

It’s a lovely little theme and a very nice way to while away a few gloomy days by pretending you’re surrounded by greens and blues and warmth and, of course, cannibals.

Fancy a trip down Memory Lane? Check out Oldies but Goodies.