I must admit up front that I am not a solo gamer at heart. I enjoy elements of solo gaming but really do miss the social interaction that comes from playing games with a group of friends. I enjoy friendly banter, rules discussion, as well as hearing others thoughts on the game as it is being played. When I play a game solo, I am only competing against myself, or if the game has a solo AI, against the system and this can be a lonely experience. But, with all that being said, I really do enjoy a very good solitaire game. I find that the experience of trying to understand what is happening, what actions I need to take to get out of the game what I am trying to accomplish but also trying to understand the mind of the designer through the AI. Over the past 4 or 5 years, I have played dozens and dozens of solo games. Some were good, and will be found on this list, while some were nothing more than an exercise. I am looking for a challenge when I play solo. If I ever win on the first try, I have found that this is a sign that the game isn’t quite as good as I want it to be. But if I can’t seem to ever win either then I think that something is either wrong with me or the game is simply too tough and cannot realistically be won.
In this post, I wanted to share with you 10 solitaire games that I found to be fun to play, challenging and that also wove an interesting narrative as a part of the process. A few caveats about this post though. First, if I haven’t played a game, I cannot place it on this list. I have not played several of the more famous solo games (such as Patton’s Best from Avalon Hill, RAF: The Battle of Britain 1940 from Decision Games or Fields of Fire from GMT Games) and unfortunately cannot “rank” a game I have no experience with playing. Second, this is my list. Not yours. So if you feel differently, please politely inform me of the error of my ways and I might be open to changing my mind. Third and lastly. I only included games on this list that were designed as solitaire wargames with an AI or some type of Bot. I have played many great wargames solo by playing both sides but I wanted this list to be specifically solitaire designed games. With that being said, let’s take a look at my list.
10. Solitaire Caesar: The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire 350BC – 1453AD from White Dog Games
In Solitaire Caesar the player will attempt to replicate the rise and fall of the Roman Empire from 350BC to 1453AD. The game is fairly simple in its rules overhead as well as the different pieces that the player can control but was designed as an introductory solitaire wargame covering one of the greatest Empires in the World’s history. Players will lead Legions around the map, taking Cities, conquering Provinces to build up additional Cities and protecting against the continual onslaught of Barbarian tribes from all directions of the compass. Each turn the player will score Victory Points from controlling cities and will track those throughout the various scenarios or full play campaign attempting to replicate or even do better than the historical result. This one ultimately made the list because it is the right combination of easy to play but has some very interesting choices in how you play it and how you decide to confront the oncoming barbarian hordes. The optional rules are also very good and I would recommend you play with them as it adds some interesting possibilities.
Over the past few months I wrote a series of Action Point posts on this game that will give you a good idea of how it plays. In Action Point 1, we took a tour of the map and examined the differences between Civilized, Wild and Wilderness Provinces. In Action Point 2, we took a look at the Turn Track and the set number of Talents the player will receive each round and then looked at the Roman Phase and the various actions the player can take including Raise Legions, Move those Legions to invade Provinces and conduct Roman Combat and Build Cities. In Action Point 3, we examined the Barbarian Phase and the differences between Civilized and Uncivilized Barbarians and how they move and attack. In Action Point 4, which is the final one in this series, we will cover the Optional Rules, including things like the Emperor, Bribery, Skilled General and Roman Income Variant, which is like easy mode, and finish up with some simple strategies to keep in mind that will improve your chances of winning.
9. Agricola, Master of Britain from Hollandspiele
Agricola, Master of Britain is a solitaire wargame that focuses on the struggle of the Roman Legions led by Gnaeus Julius Agricola the Roman Proconsul of Britain from 77 to 85 AD. Agricola spent his time in country as Proconsul attempting to pacify the Britains, consolidate Roman occupation, and subdue the various tribes. The game is designed to allow the player an opportunity to attempt to take on the role of Proconsul and apply military, diplomatic, and economic power to achieve these goals. The player must use their available Legions to attack tribes in outright revolt and then use more subtle tactics and bribery against others to conquer all resistance to allow for the Empire in Rome to prosper. The game uses a 3 Chit-Pull Cup system that represents different levels of allegiance of the different tribes on the island. Each action taken by the player will cause a chain reaction in these cups, either positively or negatively for the Romans. The player must build the right Units, investing in infrastructure in the form of Garrisons and Settlements, and build a victory point engine to accrue the required VP’s to meet the expectations of the Flavians and your allies in Britain.
This game is on the simpler spectrum of rules and mechanics but definitely offers a challenge and frankly is really fun to play. I have played the followup to this game called Charlemagne, Master of Europe and it uses the same system but is much more complex and a greater challenge to win. I did’t include that game on this list because I have only played it 4 times and need some more time with it to give it my final judgement.
Over the past few months I also wrote a series of Action Point posts on this game that will give you a good idea of how it plays. In Action Point 1 we took a tour of the mapsheet becoming familiar with the various Legionary Camps, which serve as staging areas, and Tribal boundaries and discuss the Roman Legions and how they compare to the game’s 16 different Tribes. In Action Point 2, we investigated how the 3 Chit-Pull Cup system works and how the player can manipulate the cups to their advantage. In Action Point 3, we took a quick look at the Sequence of Play and reviewed the Roman Legion Actions that can be taken to accomplish the subjugation of Roman Britain and the special bonuses granted if the Agricola counter is located with the Legion performing the Actions. In Action Point 4, we took a deeper look at an example of a Battle to give you a feel for the tactical decisions necessary to be victorious and the dangers present for the Legions. In Action Point 5, we dove into and looked at a few functions that make up the Housekeeping Phase including Raids on Settlements and Forts, Tribal De-escalation, Romanization, Levy new Auxiliaries, Build Public Works and finally score Victory Points. In Action Point 6, which is the conclusion to the series, we discussed some points of strategy and shared some of my lessons learned from numerous plays of the game.
8. Attack of the 50 Foot Colossi! from Tiny Battle Publishing
Attack of the 50 Foot Colossi! is a great little solo game from Tiny Battle Publishing that I really enjoyed. The game is a pulpy but simple to play tactical hex-and-counter solo wargame that is set in the future as the player controls the battle-hardened 124th Galactic Marine Raider Battalion and have to fight to save miners on a remote planet from colossal rock monsters.
In this game, the AI is boiled down to a small deck of cards and is really simple, actually much more simple than I expected, but also makes sense and creates a challenge. How does it work? Well, the AI mechanic has some very simple priorities given to it. The first priority is during the initial part of the Colossi turn. Each Colossi Tribe stack will always move one hex closer to the nearest enemy unit. Simple. The Colossi are not sprinters and will simply move one step per turn toward the nearest enemy unit. Think slow and steady. I really like this element as it actually allows me to plan for the movement of the Colossi, much like when I lived on the farm growing up and we could drive our hogs into the pens we needed them to go in by anticipating where they were going to go.
The main focus of the Colossi Order of Action is the card that is drawn at the beginning of the round. This card is the key to the choices made by the AI, and is the unpredictable part of the design. As you can see from the card pictured above, there are two parts to the Order of Action. First, will be a listing of all the tribes that will act this round. You can see that there are 5 Tribes listed on the card. In the game, there are actually 7 Tribes so there are always at least 2 Tribes that could be on the board and in play that will not act because they are not listed on this Order of Action card. The player will simply activate each of the listed Tribes in order and perform their actions and attacks. So, using the card in the above picture, the Tombstones will act first, followed by the Blackstones, the Whitestones, Greystones and finally, the Brownstones. That is it. Pretty simple and this part is very unpredictable. You might get lucky and have only 3 or so of the 5 listed Tribes on the board so you will have an easy round. You might also see that the Tribes that are on the board are all listed and will have a field day as they pummel your Marines. Very unpredictable but a part of the design that I really enjoyed.
I wrote a series of Action Point posts several years ago on this one. In Action Point 1, we looked at some of the various rules, including how to attack with the Marines, their Landing Procedure as they drop in from space, their array of weapons, including the Boring Bit and their mighty Orbital Strikes and in Action Point 2 take a look at the AI used for the Colossi, as it is really quite good but easy to use.
7. D-Day at Tarawa from Decision Games
D-Day at Tarawa is a solitaire war game published by Decision Games that is a follow up to D-Day at Omaha Beach designed by John H. Butterfield. The game is a look at the 4 day campaign spanning November 20-23, 1943 over the control of the islet of Batio located in the Tarawa Atoll. The game covers the operations of the US 2nd Marine and 27th Infantry Divisions in their attempt to clear the islet which is defended by nearly 5,000 hardened and dug-in Japanese troops.
One element of the game that I liked is the US Action phase. The US is given three actions that they can take each turn which include movement, attack and barrage. These actions can activate 3 units or stacks and each can only be activated once. You can also take free actions with certain units that have a hero, inspired or disrupted marker or an HQ unit. This requires you to think about and plan out each of your uses of these scarce actions. I found that I would use at least 2 on groups to create a stronger attack on Japanese units and then always use one of the other remaining actions to move into Close Combat (as that was more effective than my fire attacks). This is another puzzle that must be solved in order to effectively play the game and I have lots of work to do in that area. All in all, this is a GREAT game! Well designed, well thought out and with a very realistic and viable AI system to control the Japanese. John Butterfield has made a great game that will be tough to master but that can be played again and again with different results each time!
I have not yet played the other entries in this series but do own D-Day at Iwo Jima but I assure you this one is good and even though it is really challenging will make for a great play each and every time.
6. Field Commander: Alexander from Dan Verssen Games
Field Commander: Alexander from Dan Verssen Games, the second game in the Field Commander Series following Field Commander: Rommel, is a solitaire game where the player finds themselves controlling the life of Alexander the Great of Macedon when he comes of age in 338 B.C. as he attempts to dominate the ancient world. You will decide what units to purchase and train, what advisers to listen to and seek guidance from and what cities you will sack along the way as you try to realize and fulfill various ancient prophecies.
One of the things that I really liked about this one is the variety of campaigns. Variety in any solitaire wargame is key in my mind as it means it is replayable. Field Commander: Alexander excels in this area as there are not only 4 different campaigns that can be played alone or linked to form a campaign, but there are Special Campaign Options that introduce even more variety and really ratchet up the difficulty.
Alexander was surrounded by some of the greatest teachers, scholars and warriors who would guide him in his choices and offer advice when necessary. In the game, players are given 1-2 advisers of their choice to use in the various campaigns and then can purchase additional advisers with Glory they have earned from battles. I love this aspect of customization as it gives me different ways to try to win. I also really enjoyed the combat priority system, building my armies and buying tactical chits in the form of Battle Plans to perform amazing maneuvers that can change your fortune. Overall, a really solid and well designed game that is most importantly fun to play.
I wrote Action Points on this one as well about a year ago and they will give you a good idea of how the game game plays. In Action Point 1, we looked at the various campaigns and how they differentiate themselves. In Action Point 2, we checked out the basic sequence of play and how Alexander’s army moves around the board and interacts with prophecies and obtains different advisers. In Action Point 3, we dove into how battles occur and the different Force types involved and the economy of gold, insight, building temples and cities and whether to raise or govern.
5. Castle Itter: The Strangest Battle of World War II from Dan Verssen Games
Castle Itter is a fantastic solitaire wargame in the Valiant Defense Series that includes Pavlov’s House from 2018 and an upcoming title Soldiers in Postman’s Uniforms which covers the assault on the Danzig Post Office during the first days of World War II. The setting for Castle Itter is during the final days of World War II as a motley crew of soldiers including Americans, Wehrmacht infantrymen, an SS officer, an Austrian resistance fighter, and recently freed French prisoners of war and a professional tennis player. The game uses a track system down which enemy units move through the play of cards from the SS Deck and if they ever breach the walls of the Castle the player loses. The game plays in about 60 minutes and has a few variants, including a deck of Tactics Cards that increase difficulty, so no two plays are ever the same.
The game is played as the defender has five actions each round and must move his units in the form of counters around the board to take actions to attack advancing German Waffen-SS counters as they progress up various colored assault tracks. Scoring is based on how well players did in defending the castle, and for bravery (did the Besotten Jenny get blown up?), and running away (as you get extra points for escaping the French tennis player).
I recorded a two part playthrough video to give you an idea how the mechanics work.
Part 1: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0DSmuT6-hHE
Part 2: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6v2sKGS_VVk&t=75s
I also put together a series of Action Point posts on this one and you can dive into them to get more familiar with the game. In Action Point 1, we looked at the game board focusing on the locations, combat positions and assault tracks for the SS. In Action Point 2, we examined the SS Card Deck and how the cards drive the assault and work against the player. In Action Point 3, we looked at the various Defender Units, some of their Defender Actions and their Special Actions/Attributes. In Action Point 4, we discussed some points of strategy regarding deployment of your Defender Units on the board, actions that you should be taking and a general overview of my thoughts on how best to defend the castle.
4. Nightfighter Ace: Air Defense Over Germany, 1943-1944 from Compass Games
I really enjoy games covering the air war in World War II and we have played and written about some of the best, including Bomber Command and Wing Leader: Supremacy from GMT Games, B-29 Superfortress from Legion Wargames and A Wing and a Prayer from Lock ‘n Load Publishing. In the recently released game Nightfighter Ace: Air Defense Over Germany, 1943-1944 from Compass Games players will have the solo experience of a tactical level game which places you in command of a German Nightfighter during World War II. Each turn consists of several days, during which a combat mission will be flown from one of many bases in Europe, attempting to intercept incoming British Bombers. Nightfighter Aceis based on the popular, action-packed Hunters game system by Gregory M. Smith with a strong narrative around the pilot as you look to increase your prestige, earn skills, and rise in rank through promotion and receive awards.
This game will be familiar to any who have played the likes of other games designed by Gregory Smith, such as The Hunters or Silent Victory published by Consim Press, as they generally use the same gaming system. The game system also lends itself very well to capturing the tense air defense over Germany. While Nightfighter Ace is designed as a solitaire gaming experience, additional options for play are provided for both multi-player cooperative and competitive gaming sessions. I really love this game and enjoy the press your luck style of play as you have the choice to continue your attack on the bombers, even though many of your systems are damaged and you are only one or two hits away from being shot down. When you have found your quarry, and let me tell you it can be hard to depending on your weather, upgraded systems such as your radar or even the area you have to travel to in order to get into the action, you have to do damage while you can. Only the brave and brash will find success as a Nightfighter Ace!
3. Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad from Dan Verssen Games
Pavlov’s House: The Battle of Stalingrad is a very interesting solitaire game that focuses on the defense of the fortified apartment building that was nicknamed “Pavlov’s House” by the Soviet 62nd Army after they withstood two months of attempts at storming from the German Wehrmacht during the Battle of Stalingrad in World War II. The name came from one of the building’s heroic defenders named Yakov Pavlov and was a huge psychological victory for the Soviets during that difficult period.
The game board depicts three different views of the Stalingrad battlefield that all play a key role in the success or failure of the defenders in Pavlov’s House and this is such a great way to approach this subject.
On the left side is a view of the inside of Pavlov’s House and covers the tactical-level movement and actions of the Soviet defenders in the form of counters. In the middle of the board is a view of the area immediately surrounding Pavlov’s House which mainly consists of the area called 9 January Square. This area shows the location of various colored tracks that are assault lanes for the German Wehrmacht counters and also provides for locations where the Soviet defender can place special Sapper units that act as a last line of defense. As German counters are drawn, they are placed on one of these 6 tracks via a die roll and as there are other units placed on each track the units advance toward Pavlov’s House. On the far right side of the board is the Volga River and the operational-level of the Soviet 62nd Army.
The player is charged with managing their array of counters located inside Pavlov’s House, including different weapons teams, commanders and weapons to fight off the advancing Wehrmacht soldiers before they can enter the base. The operational side of the game is also important as the player must try to get supplies across the river to the beleaguered apartment building while providing various assets to the defenders such as artillery strikes and extra actions through establishing a communications system. The player will have to make it through the Wehrmacht deck and survive to the end of the siege to win.
This game is a blast and plays in about 90 minutes. If you are interested, I have written a series of Action Points giving a look inside the game’s mechanics. In our 1st Action Point we took a look at the Volga River operational-level board to understand how those actions hinder or help the defenders in Pavlov’s House. In Action Point 2, we took a closer look at the 9 January Square portion of the board and how the Wehrmacht Cards work. In Action Point 3, we took a look at the inside of Pavlov’s House and how the player can use the Soviet counters to ward off the Germans. In the 4th and final Action Point, we examined the special Resupply/Storm Group Cards and discussed how you score victory points.
I also recorded a 2 part video playthrough of the game that you might find helpful: Part 1 and Part 2. We also recorded a video review of the 2-player cooperative version.
2. Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire from GMT Games
I also enjoy really great thematic wargames that teach me something that I either don’t already know or don’t know much about. Comanchería: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire fits into both of these categories. The game’s designer Joel Toppen is a true devotee to this game and its premise as he currently resides in Montana and lives among the Blackfeet Nation on the Reservation as he works as a pastor. I want you to know that this game is well designed and has a real basis for realism as the designer made sure to discover as much as he could about the Comanche through hundreds, if not I am sure, thousands of hours spent by Joel in researching this topic to create the playable masterpiece that it is.
Comanchería is the second game in the First Nations Series and is a solitaire only game in which the player plays from the Native American tribe’s point of view. In Comanchería, the player takes command of the Comanche nation, referred to as the Lords of the Southern Plains, as they controlled most of the area making up present day Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas, and must strive to fight off enemies and preserve their way of life and most importantly their Comanche culture from 1700-1865. The player must drive hostile tribes from the southern plains, establish dominance over the region, set up trade networks with both friendly tribes and colonial powers, and finally defend all of this against relentless military and cultural attack. The AI in this one is simply fantastic and keeps you guessing but also gives you a window into your future, which I think is very appropriate as the medicine man could metaphorically see into the future and divine what was happening with enemy of the Comanche.
I wrote a full blown review of the game and you can read that hear for all the details on the actions available to players, the AI and how it functions and the goal of the game.
I also shot a Video Review that you might find of interest.
1. The Wars of Marcus Aurelius: Rome 170-180CE from Hollandspiele
Last year I was introduced to this little solitaire wargame called The Wars of Marcus Aurelius: Rome 170-180CE from Hollandspiele and really have enjoyed the game as I have played it 13 times over the past year. That’s the good news. The bad? I have only won the game 5 times….and even though that is the case, I can’t stop thinking about the game and playing it. It is really good!
The Wars of Marcus Aurelius: Rome 170-180CE is a solitaire only game that uses cards similarly to a CDG to simulate the strategic level struggle of the Romans led by Marcus Aurelius to stave off the invasions of Germanic tribes and Sarmatian raiders as they encroach on Roman territory across the Danube River. That’s the history. And it is really well integrated. The game play is very fun, strategic, with lots of decision points about what to do and what cards to use, and it is really challenging.
If you like a good solitaire game, with great components, that plays in about an hour and is very challenging (code for hard to win), then this one is for you. I fully endorse this game and give it my highest marks for a solo experience.
As I tend to do, I also wrote a series of Action Point posts on this one. In Action Point 1, we examined the map and the various Barbarian Tracks down which the Marcommani, Quadi and Iazyges tribes move toward Roman territory. In Action Point 2 we looked at The Barbarian Deck and how the Barbarian Phase works. In Action Point 3 we looked at The Roman Deck and how the cards can be used for their printed events or discarded to take various actions in the Roman Phase. In Action Point 4 we looked at a few different examples of combat in the Battle procedure. Finally, in Action Point 5, I shared some strategy tips that I have learned from my plays of the game.
I also shot a video review that you can check out and a play through video as well.
There it is! My list of top solitaire wargames. It is a funny thing, but I wouldn’t have been able to put together a list like this last year as I just hadn’t played nearly the number of solo games I have to date. Obviously during the quarantine I played well over 12 new titles and have several more sitting on my shelf waiting to be played. This list will probably change yearly so keep coming back to see where my opinions have changed.
What are your favorite solitaire wargames?
Great list! For longer solo gaming the Enemy Coast Ahead Series from GMT Games is also incredible. I played The Doolittle Raid and it’s really a ‘chose you own adventure’ sort of experience with all the decisions leading up to the actual raid.
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4 out of 10 (Tarawa, FC: Alex, Pavlov’s House, Comancheria). 😉
And I don’t have a big collection.
I would suggest “Thunderbolt Apache Leader” (DVG) and “RAF Battle of Britain 1940” (Decision games).
TAL (with Comancheria) is my favorite. Having all those choices to equip the strike force is great, and even bigger advantage of the game are Tiles – replayability is just limitless and brain-burner is guaranteed.
Grant…. these are all solid games… I guess you liked “Pavlov” better than Castle Iter… no big. WOW… only 10 games? (in no real order)… Amerika Bomber, Nemo’s War, Warfighter (doesn’t matter), Rifles in the Ardennes/Pacific, Rogue State, Once we moved like the wind, Commanceria, Zulu’s on the wire, Keep up the Fire, Maquis, and Hostage Negotiator… I’d count Tiny EPic Galaxies as well. Hope Alexander got over his “leopard” period. LOL
I’m quite new at solitaire games, I have just a couple of them but because of COVID they are much easier to play. I have just read your article looking for new games to get, and I thank you a lot for helping: I will check for these titles in Boardgamegeek asap.
Im my humble opinion, the best game I’ve playied solo is “Where There Is Discord” (WTID) about the Falkland War: as I told, I’m not very experienced in solo gaming but WTID is simply great, I adore it.
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We want to see Grant’s current Top Ten Solitaire games!
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I do need to update this list! I’ll put it on the To Do list fir the end of 2022.
Skies Above Britain for 2022?
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We never got to it. Sorry.