The Top Ten Solitaire Boardgames of All Time

I did sell the KD:M minis, or at least most of them, but I don’t use Skylanders (none of which I own). I sold all the unbuilt expansion minis, but kept the base game stuff I’d already built. This was years ago, though- I don’t think the second KS had run yet? So I sold all the excess from my original pledge and netted more for just that stuff than I paid originally. Right now, we just use the couple monster minis I have as proxies for the ones I don’t- “we’re hunting a Gorm? Just use the Lion”. But like I said, I’d really like cross-style cardboard standees as replacements.

I have so much love for EH, but I did strip out almost all the expansions. I just have Forsaken, Signs, and Cities of Ruin in there now.

Which PACG set did you try? Rise of the Runelords is really straightforward, first-iteration-of-the-design fare. I wouldn’t guarantee you’ll love later, more mature implementations (and if that’s what you tried, welp), but Apocrypha is probably the most varied, nuanced, and innovative take on it. It helps that they’re not trying to mimic an existing game system, and so they can play much more with the dice mechanics.

So glad you mentioned this aspect of Apocrypha. In Pathfinder, the die rolls are open-ended shots at a high number. You just pile up dice as best as you can. But Apocrypha’s die checks are always a range within 3d6. It shifts the gameplay to a lot of a cool stuff with dice manipulation that simply doesn’t exist in Pathfinder.

-Tom

This one is also pretty fun. Oldie.

A couple months ago I watched a Youtube video where some board gamer who calls himself @tomchick ranted for several minutes about generally hating board games with poor instruction manuals, and taking the time to explain why by delving into some of the weaknesses of one game in particular, Set a Watch (based on a related suggestion made by Hazy @sillhouette). In fact, here’s a link to that video.

Now, while reading through this top ten solitaire games boardgames list which the powers-that-be here at Qt3 decided to put together, I couldn’t help but notice the #1 game on the list is more or less notorious for its “useless” manual (the world’s words, not mine). Hell, in the video comments for Tom’s Set a Watch video, one commenter points out that there are 175 rule clarification questions that have been posted at the BGG forums for that game, and further goes on to say that a game manual with this many clarification requests is “lacking”. But if one were to look at the BGG forum for Apocrypha (which I did, in my thorough research on the matter), one would notice that there are a STAGGERING 289 rule clarification requests posted for Tom’s #1 solitaire board game of all time.

Now, sure, in his Apocrypha nano-review Tom points out the following:

You can find lots of folks complaining about the rules in Apocrypha, but that’s not because there’s a problem with the rules. The problem is with the way people want to read rules. The rules in Apocrypha are cold and dispassionate. They are like a legal framework into which you will later plug laws. The Apocrypha rules don’t tell you how to play the game. They tell you how to assemble the game from pieces, which in turn tell you how to play the game. It’s a bold move, and I’m not the least bit surprised Lone Shark backed off and went back to sanding down and lacquering up the rules with their Pathfinder reboot, removing friction above all else.

Okay, so it’s not the game’s fault nobody can make sense of this stuff, it’s the average player’s fault. That’s cool, I can dig it. There are plenty of games out there that be a little hard to get into. So when I research other reviews for this game, and by and large the number one thing people seem to zoom-in on is the disaster of a rule book, I just need to keep in mind that the problem lies with the players, not with the rules provided. But I wonder, what is it that makes these rules any better than Set a Watch’s?

Our very own Tom Chick has, in fact, recently posted his own rule clarification questions to the BGG board for Apocrypha (as my totally non-stalkery research discovered by pure chance, on the front page of the BGG rules forum). Now, seeing posts like this, my first instinct would be to think that perhaps the creator’s intent of “They tell you how to assemble the game from pieces, which in turn tell you how to play the game.” has failed, and the rules really are as bad as people say. And that because Tom himself had to ask for clarification here, it only underlines some of the game’s failings in this regard. So now (setting aside Tom’s request that, “Please don’t challenge me on the ranking, because it’s a frail edifice that will collapse with the slightest push.”) I ask: Why does Apocrypha rocket to #1 while a game that’s received an overall higher rating by the BGG audience receive such critical panning, when both of these games presumably have similar issues conveying their rules to players?

Potential buyers want to know.

Love this post. I bought Apocrypha because I liked Pathfinder ACG, and I ain’t no noob, but the Apocrypha instructions munch copious elk taint. I disagree with Tom on this. Could be a good game, though. I cannot imagine playing solo with 4 characters, but that’s more a matter of taste. I guarantee nobody has played with 4 characters and not fucked up a rule, but I guarantee that about pretty much every board game.

That’s an easy one! Set A Watch doesn’t understand what words mean, and the guy who made it has a long history doing bad rules. Apocrypha not only knows what words means, but its rules are based on players paying attention to what words mean. And it works this way because the folks at Lone Shark have a long history trying to communicate how this game system works. This was their attempt to really break it down into explicit bits and pieces.

If I like a game, odds are you’re going to find posts from me in its rules forum on BGG. :)

-Tom

Hmm. I will try to believe this. Thank you for your reply.

Only time will tell if I’ll ever be able to properly grok this game after my copy arrives. But if I do, I will be sure to say so.

Bruh, Ambush friggin RULES. It kind of totally holds up, right? Dang.

These days there would be an app running the game, and nobody would have any idea how much work it took to make that friggin’ thing.

But can you imagine making that game in the early '80s? The amount of 3x5 cards pinned to bulletin boards? Insane.

Fun fact, though: the first mission is literally unwinnable. The victory conditions are LITERALLY NOT POSSIBLE to attain.

I emailed Butterfield asking about it, and his response was basically, “Bro, that game is old, I truly do not care.” Which, ok. I respect that.

Crazy that you don’t hear more about this. Makes me wonder how many people actually took the game out of the box. (And of those people, how many people actually read and understood the victory conditions. Speaking of rules.)

Here’s a BGG thread about it:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1806712/impossible-complete-mission1-successfully

Wow really? You’d think Harper Lee would have a better command of the language.

I make no guarantee that I am playing Apocrypha correctly, but I didn’t struggle with its rules. The only real thing I’ve had to refer to them for while playing is referencing game terms because there are a lot of them.

Compare to say, Arkham Horror 2nd edition, which I’m not sure anyone actually plays correctly, or Myth, whose rules actively omitted entire game mechanics in the original printing and were completely incomprehensible to boot.

I am wondering if Gloomhaven Jaw of the Lion will play well solo.

Hey, look, a really good writer named Tony did a series of Ambush articles for us on the front page!

I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t. Gloomhaven plays just fine solitaire. Assuming you actually like Gloomhaven, that is.

Unless by “solo”, you mean with one character. For some reason I can’t fathom, lots of boardgamers want to play only a single character in games that are rich with character interaction. Yet I bet they wouldn’t blink an eye if you sat them down to play a party-based CRPG like Pillars of Eternity.

-Tom

@tomchick

I meant playing solo (all characters). I would like to try Gloomhaven and thinking that the Jaw of the Lion Expansion may be the best way to learn the game. People are raving about how good the tutorial and scenario map books are. Apparently, the maps in a book format make set up very easy.

One problem I have these days is that we do not have a kitchen table in our condo. Jaws may make setup easier if I have to use some type of portable table.

I am looking over the digital version on Steam too.

So glad to see Champions of Hara on the list. I picked it up based on Tom’s review, and it’s delightful. This may be because I’m a sucker for weird settings, and the world that the designers have created is beautifully weird. (Also, if you like to paint miniatures, Hara’s bizarre minis are about 10x more fun to paint than your standard Elf Ranger.)

Still, it suffers from a poor manual. Some rules are briefly mentioned in the setup section but never appear in the rules section, and at least one important rule – where bad guys spawn – never appears at all. Not an insurmountable problem, but I think the game would have found a bigger audience with a clearer rulebook.

Tom, did Unicornus Knights make it close to your top 10? I remember you really liking that one.

I really expected to sea Nemo’s War on that list. It was an old QT3 podcast that got me interested in it, and being a solo board gamer, I’ve found it to be the tightest design of the few I have. Not a variant, but built from the ground up to be played solo.

Just the first set. I heard that later sets varied things more, but the core gameplay of “slowly dig through various decks looking for the foozle” didn’t do anything for me.

I think we’re gonna give the first Apocrypha scenario a shot tonight, but the rulebook is not filling me with a lot of confidence. What a mess that thing is.

Heh. Yep, I’m on Team Mess here with regards to the Apocrypha rulebook, though the living rulebook PDF online is VERY good.

With that said, and this might be restating what Tom said about the rulebook (apologies if it is!), but here’s kind of how I view it…but we need to go all the way back to the original PACG release.

When PACG came out, after reading recommendations, I bought it. I read and understood the rules, and started having fun.

Then I went online, and discovered on places like BGG that there were folks having tons of rules questions and there were debates and everything else, with PACG developers having to weigh in. And I think that’s because it’s a fairly open-ended, modular gameplay system, so situations can take place in the game that aren’t explicitly covered by rules. I didn’t realize, but reading through some of those rules clarifications, I’d encountered already a lot of them without realizing, and had mostly applied the rules correctly in them, with a few exceptions.

And I think that’s at the heart of what’s going on with the Apocrypha rule book as originally written. The easiest way to illustrate the difference between how I reacted to the PACG rules (where I felt like I was ready to dive in right away) and the Apocrypha rules (where I had barely the foggiest idea of where to start even after reading them twice) is to envision them as textbooks.

The PACG rules are basically a literature textbook. You read them, and you feel like you know kind of what the intent was and how the major themes and character and plot all fit together. (But then if you talk to some other people in class, they’ve seen some other areas you didn’t even think of, and you’ve seen stuff they didn’t notice, and now it’s way past dinner time and you’ve been arguing in a coffee shop about what those little details might mean for hours.)

The Apocrypha rulebook as originally written is like a contract law textbook. The rules are explicit and clear and designed to cover situations that may come up in clear language so that when that situation comes up…you can find a rule that specifically applies and know “OK, that’s how we work this.” But reading it, unless you’re of more analytical mind than some of us (like me!), you’re going to be baffled about the big picture and the context for how those rules fit together.

What complicates it more is that the video the folks at Lone Shark Games made to explain Apocrypha has rules mistakes in it. I mean, if the folks who designed and developed the game are making mistakes in their own rules demo playthrough (and it’s a playthrough the game specifically refers you to in the box!) well…I’m still going to say “It’s not me, it’s you.”

AND WITH THAT ALL SAID: holy shit does this game reward the payment of that gamer tax of getting the rules down. :) And they’re not impossible rules by any means. This isn’t Mage Knight or Magic Realm. The rules do fit together elegantly and they make sense and the game itself is super engaging and fun and tells a wonderful narrative.

I think I’d have to play a lot fewer games for Unicornus Knights to make the top ten. Don’t get me wrong. I have a soft spot for that silly little thing. It’s got real heart! But I’m not sure it could muscle out any of the other picks.

I kind of feel like I gave Dawn of the Zeds the slot where Nemo’s War might have gone. They’re both great examples of Victory Point Games’ single-player focus on clever adventures, but I think in the end, I’m just partial to zombies over Jules Verne. :)

Keep in mind there’s no real “first scenario”. You can pick up Candlepoint at any one of the scenarios*. The Wendigo swimming event is pretty much a “slowly dig through various decks looking for the foozle” situation. If you want to try a scenario that’s definitely not that, do the music festival, where you have to save the little girls from the self-driving car. That one can get a little crazy with the way the nexus changes every turn, but it’s a perfect example of how weird Apocrypha can get.

-Tom

* this is supposedly true of all the chapters, and I think the lack of A-to-B-to-C progression, in the scenarios and especially the character development, is one of the things that turns some people off Apocrypha