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Top Five Solo-Friendly Asymmetric Board Games

In this list I present five of my favorite one-player-friendly games that feature elements of asymmetric gameplay, including modern classics and some hidden gems.

Expeditions board game asymmetric board game solo game
Example player area from Expeditions, a very lightly asymmetric game

I love asymmetric board games, especially as a solo player. Variable playstyles and breadth of content often mean that board games with asymmetric features have a lot more to explore and experience than games with strictly parallel gameplay. But what exactly is an asymmetric game? There’s not one solid definition, as asymmetry can manifest differently and to varying degrees in different games. But generally, an asymmetric game will include different mechanics or play styles, unique modes of experiencing the game for each player. For instance, players may be able to take different actions, or manipulate different components than one another, or might have distinct objectives and win conditions from one another. This variance may range anywhere from slight differences in roles between players (i.e Werewolf) to factions essentially playing different games on the same board (i.e. Ahoy).

Asymmetric games are impressive design feats, requiring careful balancing, and frequently presenting very creative and engaging interactions between players. And the popularity of the genre is on the rise thanks to some hallmark games (a few of which are featured on this list). The versatility of asymmetric games often means they come equipped with a considered solo variant, so I figured I would share a few of my favorites. In making this list, I interpreted the definition of asymmetry rather liberally. Some of these titles I have played countless times as they are among my all-time top games, while others I haven’t played all that much but they left a lasting mark nonetheless. Narrowing this list to only five games was a challenge, but each of these games deserves consideration as one of the top solo friendly asymmetric board game.


#5 — Merchant’s Cove

Designers: Jonny Pac, Carl Van Ostrand, Drake Villareal
Artist: Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Publisher: Final Frontier Games
Player Count: 1 to 4 Players
Play Time: 60 to 90 Minutes

Let’s begin with one that I haven’t played all that much. In fact, I have played Merchant’s Cove exactly once—in the demo room at DunDraCon 2022. There it was, sitting solitary on a table, awaiting some excited gamers to pick it up and try it out. It had just shipped after a successful Kickstarter and one of the copies found its way into the games hall at this local convention. Intrigued, I put a cone up on the table to indicate that I was looking for other players and sat down to read the rules. No one else joined and I figured I would continue to wait by setting it up and running through a few solo turns. I’m glad I did, because after only a single full playthrough I believe Merchant’s cove is one of my favorite asymmetric solo games, and maybe one of my favorite solo games, period.

This economic, market manipulation game is played out over only a few turns featuring four distinct phases during which the player can take action: Arrival, Production, Market, and Clean-Up. Jason Palazini said it best on Way Too Many Games that “Merchants Cove is a love letter to gaming and all the different ways designers let us play,” featuring a blend of genres derived from many different games—worker placement, resource management, market manipulation, light engine building, random drawing from a bag, and more. The asymmetry comes in with the distinct production operations for each merchant, effectively operating like a separate mini-game on each player board. There is a ton of game in Merchant’s Cove and it certainly takes more than a single playthrough to fully feel it out and appreciate this opus for all it’s worth. I hope one day I can do so, but until then I am still confident it deserves a place on this list. It is just that good.


#4 — Root

Designer: Cole Wehrle
Artist: Kyle Ferrin
Publisher: Leder Games
Player Count: 1 to 6+ Players (with Expansions)
Play Time: 60 to 90 Minutes

Root board game leder games vagabonds marquis de cat components on forest board
Root Cats and Vagabonds

A modern classic, Root is the first of two titles on this list—the other being Oath at number two—from the joint genius of designer Cole Wehrle and publisher Leder Games, aficionados of asymmetric strategy. In this Game of Woodland Might and Right, the player controls a faction of critters vying for supremacy in a quaint forest. The player will navigate their factions’ warbands around the map, battle for control of clearings, craft items, hire mercenaries, barter, trade, blow things up, and more in their pursuit of dominance in the woods. Behind this expandable strategy title (with more than 10 playable factions at this point) is a rich lore that the designers and fans have conceived to help bring the interactive gameplay of this epic adventure game to life. Storytelling is enmeshed in the flavorful forays in the forest, illustrated with Kyle Ferrin’s energetic artwork and told as legend in countless blogs, reddit threads, and other venues dedicated solely to Root gameplay narratives. The world of the woodland has even been reimagined in a Powered by the Apocalypse roleplaying game from Magpie Games.

The series introduced solo play with the Mechanical Marquis de Cat in the Riverfolk expansion. It was fiddly and relied too heavily on randomization. Then a dedicated Clockwork Expansion was released, which fine-tuned the cats and offered balanced automa options for all four factions from the core game. Later on, another expansion added automa rules for the first four expansion factions and I expect at least one more addition to the Clockwork Expansion series will cover the rest. Each of the clockwork faction flowcharts is uniquely attuned to the playstyle of that faction, with distinct behaviors, actions, and means of scoring points. Although controlling several automated players can become somewhat burdensome and fiddly, the Clockwork Expansions unlock a diversification of gameplay options. The solo player can experiment with different faction combinations and test interactions between factions at different player counts.

Root is my favorite board game, but not necessarily my favorite solo game. However, the designers have achieved a remarkable balance in solitaire play despite the vastness of this game. This feat alone is worthy of inclusion on this list.


#3 — So, You’ve Been Eaten

Designer: Scott Almes
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya
Publisher: LudiCreations
Player Count: 0 to 2 Players
Play Time: 30 Minutes

so you've been eaten scott almes board game box cover components beast miner crystals bacteria digestive
So, You've Been Eaten game box and components

So, You’ve Been Eaten is a sardonic game about a miner who has ventured inside of a massive space beast to harvest the crystals that grow inside of it. The solo player can take on the role of either the miner or the gigantic beast. Alternatively, the player can sit back and leave control of both sides up to the automa. At its core, So, You’ve Been Eaten is a racing game. Can the miner—sent by a negligent and profit-minded space corporation—gather eight different crystals before the bacteria living inside the beast fully digest them? The rules text conveys the concept of the game in a humorous, acerbic manner, mimicking the mechanical and humanless tone of a corporate HR how-to manual. 

This low-player count game is highly asymmetrical with unique turn sequences and actions to take for both the miner and the beast. Turns actions are also very dependent on the decisions of the other player, featuring a lot of push and pull, back and forth. The miner is essentially placing dice each turn to take actions to push further into the beast, dodge dangerous bacteria, and snag crystals. The beast—or rather the beast’s immune response system—is adding more hazards throughout their digestive tract to halt and defeat the invading miner. Both are racing to complete their mission first. This game makes the list for its smart asymmetric build and interactive design. Despite the highly challenging solo play, games always ends up being close; one way or another, coming down to the final turns or with very close point totals. I have had a lot of fun with this one.


#2 — Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile

Designer: Cole Wehrle
Artist: Kyle Ferrin
Publisher: Leder Games
Player Count: 1 to 6 Players
Play Time: 45 to 150 Minutes

Oath chronicles of empire and exile leder games cole wehrle chancellor strategy game
Oath Chancellor and game box

In this behemoth strategy epic, players are telling the story of the fall and rise of rulership in a kingdom filled with magic, quirky denizens, and powerful artifacts. But this is not a game strictly about winning and losing. The social interaction between players—not just their warbands on the map—through cunning and deception, is just as important as winning battles to claim power. In the end, as a legacy-light game—meaning there is some narrative and gameplay continuity between sessions—it is not necessarily about who becomes the next chancellor, but how all the cards fall when a victory condition is met. This will impact how the game is packed up, and how it is set up for next time. 

The solo variant uses a very intelligent flowchart to select actions for the clockwork faction(s), and the automa are just as powerful in battle as they are calculating politically. Oath would hold the top spot on this list if not for two reasons. The first is that it can be a monster to get out on the table. The solo player not only needs to be ready for a grueling tactical showdown, but should also be prepared to take a step back and consider the Chronicle, the meta-narrative of what is happening during the play session. Afterall, this is very much a storytelling game. Taking on the roles of gamer and storyteller can be a lot to handle, so the player needs to be in the right headspace for a challenging and immersive gaming session. But when the feeling is right, Oath delivers some of the best solo gameplay on my shelf. The second reason this is not number one on the list is that the automa just cannot simulate the same kind of social deduction, bluffing, and bribery that this game facilitates between human players. That fourberie is what makes this one stand out among similar political-war strategy games. Despite missing this element of play, Oath is a powerful solitaire storytelling engine with rich thematic gameplay and beautiful production.


#1 — Spirit Island

Designer: R. Eric Reuss
Artist: Jason Behnke, Loïc Berger, et al
Publisher: Greater Than Games, LLC
Player Count: 1 to 4 Players
Play Time: 90 to 120 Minutes

Spirit island board game board wooden and plastic tokens on a multicolored island game board
Spirit Island game board

Spirit Island has been the #1 People’s Choice Top Solo Game of the Year among Board Game Geek’s 1-Player Guild every year since 2019. It is widely considered one of the best, if not the best 1-player friendly game on the market. And this attention is well-earned. Spirit Island is as mechanically satisfying as it is thematically generous. It is quick and collaborative yet rewards the player who can formulate and execute a long-term strategy. Threatened by imperial invasion from outside forces, powerful spirits act to defend their island as do the native inhabitants who call the island home. As the colonists expand, settle, and vanquish the land the spirits utilize their elemental energy to fuel their powers, grow, and expand their influence over new parts of the island.

A fully cooperative title, players are working together to maintain control of the island, each accessing unique elemental abilities. But I would consider Spirit Island milder in terms of its asymmetry than other titles on this list. Each spirit operates within the same framework of rules and turn structure—like a shared power deck, and game components—yet exhibits unique play styles and strategies. Even this degree of variance in player options is unmatched by any other cooperative game, as it is difficult to design asymmetric gameplay when all players are aiming for the same objective. Note that this is the only cooperative game on the list despite cooperative games often being most adaptable for solitaire play. Throughout the game, the players will find they are faced with a growing threat that escalates the deeper they get. Tensions rise with the consequence of each decision players need to make, often ending with an abrupt change of circumstance in the final moments. 

Spirit Island is probably the heaviest game on the list in terms of complexity. But the challenge emerges in the depth of choices and planning available to the player, rather than in outright difficulty. So while Spirit Island may need to be learned and understood over the course of a few playthroughs, the strategy will never feel rote. And R. Eric Reuss has not kept us wanting for more content, with an expanding world of Spirit Island expansions, the latest, Nature Incarnate, dropping just a few weeks ago.



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