I have a few solitaire games in my collection. Some which can also be played multiplayer, e.g. Andean Abyss, and some that are specifically designed for solitaire play, e.g. Fields of Fire.
Today, I was playing a game of Andean Abyss, and it suddenly struck me that I wasn't really enjoying myself. I don't get a huge kick out of following flowcharts for three minutes to see what happens next, then making a thirty second decision, and following another three minutes of bookkeeping to figure out what the game does.
I love the idea of Andean Abyss, Fields of Fire, et al. But they're just so much work to play. And the work part, for me, outweighs the fun.
I have some other solitaire games on my wishlist: D-Day at Omaha Beach, Navajo Wars, The Hunters. But I'm wondering if it's gonna be the same thing if I get those. Will I make a few enjoyable decisions and then have loads of bookkeeping to do? Are there solitaire games out there that have more bang for your decision making buck? Or are you reading this and saying, "Well, that's what solitaire games are! If you don't like it, go play a video game!"
Just to make clear, I don't have a problem with flowcharts, as such. I just don't enjoy spending the majority of my gaming time making the AI's moves and only a brief time making my own.
“The elements of good trading are: (1) cutting losses, (2) cutting losses, and (3) cutting losses. If you can follow these three rules, you may have a chance.” – Ed Seykota
Solitaire specific games aren't for me either. Although, I do enjoy playing two or more sides or positions in a game. Possibly, you could set up Andean Abyss and play all four factions. This may increase the decisions and fun for you. Plus, I have no short term memory, so I play my best for each side.
These are games that manage to provide a somewhat competent "AI", without forcing the player to read a lot of tables and charts. (Although Ambush will require reading paragraphs, it's narrative in nature, which makes it more palatable.)
But if you think about it, how else are you going to provide a single player with a wargame-style experience, and with no computer? The AI you write for the game has to be able to make variable decisions - even in two, identical situations, for replay value - and that means having arrays of possibilities. The most common format for arrays in boardgames are...tables or charts.
I see you have Agricola on your list. Have you tried it solitaire?
I enjoy playing Ora et Labora and Le Havre solo. I haven't tried Agricola, but I suspect it would be a similar experience. And the cards would change each game significantly. In each of the Uwe games there is no downtime between turns as you are essentially the only player--some really simple AI rules. This type of solo game is basically like solving a big, complex, puzzle--everything is known upon setup and so you are basically trying to maximize points. I remember my mother often having a puzzle out on the table and I see my solitaire game set up on my coffee table in a similar light. I love agonizing over a few turns (or a full game) each night with a cup of tea after dinner. I'll too play video games on occasion, but I find myself increasingly preferring the pace of a board game.
I also have enjoyed playing Mage Knight and Robinson Crusoe solitaire. These are a totally different gaming experience than the Uwe games. More immersive, in my opinion. I've played about a half dozen of each game and they are still fresh. They similarly have no downtime and no record keeping between turns, but I find myself having to be a lot more engaged--both with the adventure/theme and with all the permutations of rules. This is not always the gaming experience I am seeking.
BUT, it seems you want to enjoy war games solo and so the themes of all the above may be unappealing. I can definitely appreciate that sentiment and I have decided to pick up some other solos for that very reason. Actually, I have the exact same wish list as you, with the addition of the DVG's Leader series (just picked up Thunderbolt Apache Leader in a trade). I am hoping that these will serve as a third type of solo experience to the two above.
I enjoy spending my time with two solitaire games: The Hunters: German U-Boats at War, 1939-43 and D-Day Dice In the first one you have to follow charts but you are the one that makes decisions during the attacks. Still it is a dice rolling game based on charts, but you do not decide AI moves that much. Plus you can hook up with some people and play tournaments to compare your scores. D-day dice in solitaire mode is not as much fun as in 2-3 or even 4 players but if you like rolling dice that can ruin your planning all the time is a game for you.
I don't understand playing solo, but I played this solo and loved it. I've EVEN thought about playing it again solo, and I really, really don't 'get' the whole solo thing. I just can't see the rewards. That said, this game really works solo. It's an amazing game, and it doesn't overstay its welcome (because you will die, many, many times before you win).
I've never played Andean Abyss but I have played Labyrinth many times solo and it uses the flowcharts. I agree with you that it makes games monotonous and flat and I'd much rather play Labyrinth against a live opponent (I haven't yet).
However, I also have D-Day at Omaha Beach and it's a great game that doesn't suffer from this effect in my opinion. The flowcharts always return the same result under the same conditions, the AI in D-Day is more randomized. You still follow a set of rules but the card deck does a much better job of tailoring the German actions to the situation on the board, rather than the fixed decision making of a flowchart. D-Day also has a really good mechanism to simulate fog of war.
Having said that, solitaire games may not be for you but I would recommend playing a game that is specifically made to be played solitaire only before you come to that conclusion. D-Day is one of the best. If you play it and don't enjoy it, solitaire games probably aren't for you.
I've never like solitaire-specific boardgames because the manual AI management is usually clunky and often tedious. I do, however, enjoy playing standard 2-player wargames solo from time to time, playing each side as best I can (usually playing one side - typically the attacker - actively, while playing the other side reactively). Playing solo in this manner is so much more enjoyable because I don't have to wade through some manual AI mechanism. The only drawback, of course, is that it's tough to fool yourself (though, not impossible)!
I can only recommend Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island as I bought the game ~2 months ago as my solo player game of choice (my wife didn't want to play as much as I do). After 8 weeks I have played a total of 20 sessions of it, but only 4 of them were solo This is not because the game is bad with one player, but more because I infected my wife AND my gaming group. Every time we meet with the group the game is requested. And during the week when I set it up to play a solo game my wife shuts of the TV and wants to join me.
It sounds like you're only playing the most complex of the solo games and then not having fun because they're too complex. I don't mean difficult to figure out, but they have a lot of moving parts and things to reference.
As someone else suggested, take a look at some DVG games like Thunderbolt Apache Leader or maybe the Field Commander games and see if those appeal more to you. I suggest these since your post seems to indicate you have an interest in war games. I've not played any of the Field Commander series, but the Leader series of DVG games have about 99% of the information you'll need while playing on the board or the one-sided player aid that comes with the game. This means you're not constantly flipping between charts in a rulebook.
Andean Abyss isn't really meant to be played solitaire. Just like it isn't meant to be played with 2 or 3. It is designed to be played with 4. Just because there are rules for other ways to play doesn't mean that it plays well that way.
Mage Knight is another game that plays really well solo.
You might want to try games that are specifically designed for solitaire play like many of those provided by Victory Point Games (VPG).
I became interested in playing games on my own in those instances when my main gaming partner (daughter) did not wish to play. I tried playing multiple players as well as many solo variants and didn't really enjoy myself. Then I ran across VPG! I cannot get enough of the history and the deep think-y strategy that their games offer. I started with some of their non-war games but have had such a satisfying gaming experience that I am willing to branch out into some pseudo-wargaming soon. These days, VPG commands most of my gaming interests.
The nice bonus to these solitaire-only games is that they can be shared as a co-operative experience for when my daughter wants to fade in and out of the gameplay. She sticks around to discuss strategy and help roll dice and make decisions and then wants to do something else and is free to leave me to it on my own.
I love playing games designed for solitaire play. I also love playing co-op games (really the same thing) solitaire. I enjoy playing certain multiplayer (usually war games) games solitaire.
There's a big crowd of passionate and frequently posting solitaire gamers on the 1 Player guild. If you're looking for a way to make solitaire games work, please stop by the Solitaire Games on Your Table - March 2014. It's a busy geeklist every day of the month and you can go there and see an unbelievable variety of games that people play solitaire, both designed for solitaire and those not designed for solitaire. There's a tremendous amount of discussion about the qualities of each game as well as reviews, session reports, comments, and contests that are posted outside the standard places on BGG. That and the 1 Player Guild are great places to go to ask the same questions and for suggestions.
Also probably one of the friendliest places on BGG.
I mostly feel the same as you, as I really enjoy beating a quality opponent or even sometimes working together and enjoying when a plan comes together, but there are some notable solo games that are worthy of attention:
Ambush Robinson Crusoe Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Field Commander Napoleon
due to the fact that most solitaire games do not have a reliable "memory" of actions taken by the player, it usually comes down to flow-charts or lots of dice to determine random threats, so for me it is not my favorite way to play. I feel like I am just gaming a system....
Also, I highly recommend Mage Knight Board Game for solo play. There isn't exactly an "enemy A.I." in this game - the bad guys are stationary, and while they pop up in random ways, and your hand of cards is somewhat random, how you deal with the bad guys is fairly deterministic, meaning that they basically don't have an "A.I." per se. It's a fantastic game, and you'll find that once the game is set up, all your time will be spend deciding what *you* do, not what the game's enemies do.