I was playing I C E yesterday, which is just about as gorgeous as games can get. Great table presence, lovely theme, … and it has an unfortunately pretty mediocre solo mode. It’s an efficiency puzzle without competition in a game that’s all about player interaction and stealing stuff from under another player’s nose. So in the middle of my third solo play, I just stopped and packed the game away, never to return to it without other players.
I’m playing a lot of games solo, both because I enjoy it as a chilled evening activity with a good cup of tea but also as it helps me dig deeper into games I like. I can quickly get ten plays in for a new game which would otherwise take months and months of game nights, not even considering the fact that I would have to convince my groups to stick with a single game for such a long time. I’ve shared some of my personal favourites before: Recommendations for Solo Board Games in 2023
There are however a lot of games that either can’t officially be played solo or where – as in the case with ICE – the solo mode just doesn’t cut it. Often in that case, the solo mode is lacking a good challenge, replayability, or offers me a game that is too different from the multiplayer experience. And that brings me to the topic of this post: ICE made me realise how much I appreciate community-developed solo modes. Think about it: it’s a non-game-designer that loves a game so much, they sit down, think about how a game could be played solo (often with no or a minimum of extra components), do tons of playtesting, and then share it with the community. It’s just awesome, whatever angle one looks at it!
So I wanted to share a couple of highlights I found over the years to celebrate that whole part of our hobby. If you have similar suggestions of good, non-official solo modes, please add in the comments! Others might not even realise they exist …
Brass: Lancashire / Brass: Birmingham
Designer: Mauro Gibertoni
A good point to start is Mauro, better known as mautoma. He has developed many lovely solo modes, usually with a priority-deck style of automa that plays close to a normal player and uses a custom deck to randomise what the automa wants to do (e.g. try X, if not possible it does Y). Two I played for a while were the ones for Brass
as well as the one for Grand Austria Hotel (before it was superseded by the official version in the Kickstarter edition that’s based on Mauro’s work).
Link: Anno 1800 Solo Campaign Game
Designer: Stephen Hurn
Another amazing example what’s possible in solo design is the Story Campaign for Anno 1800 by Stephen. It is not simulating another player but Anno 1800 is a multiplayer-solitaire game anyway. Instead, it makes the game an efficiency puzzle that’s progressively increasing in difficulty and culminates in a full-fledges sandbox solo mode. It also adds a little bit of story and flavour that were missing from the base game. This has become my favourite way of playing Anno 1800. Note: the expansion was never officially released in German but one can find a translation in the files section of Anno 1800.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Link: AutoMAD King Ludwig – Solo Mode
Designer: Jordi Capdevila
For some reason, Bezier Games likes to add solo modes to their games that in my opinion are more puzzles with the same components than that they capture the essence of the multiplayer experience. One case where I was particularly disappointed about this was the Castles of Mad King Ludwig Collector’s Edition (first impressions). It’s such a good game and such a nice production, a first-class solo mode would have been the cherry on the top. Instead, I used the AutoMAD automa designed by Jordi which manages to capture the market action that’s at the core of the game.
Link: Solo Automa for Pipeline – Ludvig
Designer: John K
Pipeline is a game I only recently acquired and immediately fell in love with. But it’s one of those types of games that are not for everyone, so it’s great that John created a very nice automa for it. It’s another priority-deck automa with some slight compromises to realism that don’t spoil the experience but make admin easier. Can’t say too much about it yet, but I enjoyed my plays of this solo mode so far.
I’ve written about how much I enjoyed this quirky 2p game (review). Ryan (the designer of the game) has developed a solo mode that was supposed to be part of an expansion but that one has not yet seen the light of day and may never do so (hence I think it qualifies as “community-developed” 😀). I think it’s a shame this doesn’t exist as a finished product because Curious Cargo is an amazing game once people go beyond the mechanisms and end up in the meta game. Using the solo mode to get there was excellent and without it I would never have had the chance to play enough times to get a taste of it myself.
Link: Cube-Distribution Solo Mode (Development Thread)
Staying with a similar vibe, Horseless Carriage (review) is another amazing game that hit me hard but is difficult to get to the table as it is not for everyone. I enjoyed it so much, I even tried myself to design a solo mode. So I leave it to others to judge if it is fun to play or not, but I think so 😀. The idea here was to use the coloured cubes that come into the box to have a probabilistic way of figuring out what an opponent would do. I still need to continue work and integrate a few more aspects of the game and improve balancing, but I’m actually quite proud of it.
Link: Solo Variant – The Clockwork Gemsmith
Designer: Tom Scutt
Splendor Duel (first impressions) is such a cool little game. Tom’s solo mode works so well, I wished the publisher had known about it and added the few extra cards it needs to the box! That would have been an amazing package.
Link: Solo Rules for Shogun
Designer: David Martin
Nothing beats attacking the region your opponent had planned on extracting rice from and winning. But if you don’t have the required 3p minimum, this automa works quite well. It’s not my favourite type of automa experience, but I’m happy I have a way to get this game to the table more at all!
Link: Syndicate of Scoundrels Solo Mode
Designer: Austin Charlie
I actually haven’t tried this one yet but I’m very excited Austin created a solo mode for this cute 2p game. So I thought I throw in a shout-out.
And here is a personal wish list of which games someone from the community should create a (or improve upon the official one) solo mode for:
– I C E
– Amerigo (just saw one actually exists, need to check it out)
– Maglev Metro (needs one that simulates 1-2 actual players)
– Troyes (I never liked the official solo mode and started designing an automa myself. Worked okay but it’s tricky to get this one right).
– Planet (I just like this one and try to make more people aware of it)
– Foundations of Rome (Ceres just feels flawed plus plays a game that’s different to human players)
Have you designed a solo mode yourself? Or which community-created solo modes do you particularly enjoy playing?