Cooperative deck-building game Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a favourite family game of ours, but I'd never tried to play it solo. The game can drag on very long, which is not much of a problem when you're having fun together, but when I am on my own, I usually reach for something else. Also I have never really felt like playing this two-handed. But yesterday Usaopoly posted designer Kami Mandell's new single-handed solo rules on their blog, so I finally played alone.
First a word of warning: Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle contains seven scenarios, one for each book. Every scenario adds new cards but also new mechanics and some surprises. I played game 7, so with everything added in. If you are afraid of spoilers, you should skip to the end now.
In this game you play as Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville and you try to defeat all villains before they control all locations. The game uses a "dark arts" deck to have bad stuff happen every turn, letting you lose health or have the villains gain more control over locations. The villains also will hurt or hinder you. On your turn you play your cards (spells, items and allies from the books), gaining influence to buy better cards or attack tokens to slowly bring the villains down.
The solo rules change the set up and some effects in the game.
The Hogwarts market starts out with all Reparo! spells, that give influence or let you draw a card. They help you build your deck more easily and are not in the way in late gameplay.
You have a little control over which villains you want to face during your first few rounds.
You may add two items from other character's starting decks to your deck.
If you roll a Hogwarts die, you get the benefit twice.
You can save some influence tokens for your next turn.
Working against you:
Every location is already partly under control of the villains when it's revealed (and needs less of their influence to be lost).
If you have to reshuffle the dark arts deck, the villains gain more control over the current location.
If a dark events card makes you roll a dice, you have to do so twice and suffer both penalties.
Game 7 can be really tough multiplayer. For example: you need to destroy six Horcruxes by rolling dice. You need an ally or item from the market to be able to roll a die. We've had plays where there was no card in the market giving us dice for over half the game. We've had plays where we kept rolling the wrong faces. Almost until the end. Then there are some villains and dark arts cards that have very damaging abilities. In a few games we were out of health over and over. And when you're stunned like that, you have to throw away half your cards. Meaning you won't be able to buy better cards, or to defeat a villain any time soon. When you get stunned the villains also gain influence over the current location, speeding towards the loss condition. And this can trigger abilities on the villain cards. All in all it can spiral down real fast.
In the solo game this never happened. Cards that hurt "all heroes" aren't as bad anymore. They only harm you and it's already your turn again. You can probably deal with it. This means you can take it a little slower and build a good deck. You're cycling through your cards fast as well. The game still took rather long (90 minutes) but there was never a moment of tension. I could handle anything that got thrown at me.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a great and thematic family game, and it's cool there are official solo rules now. But for experienced solo players these rules aren't going to be much fun, I'm afraid. It looks like the game gets easier when playing with less characters. Playing with only one, you're a powerhouse.
It could work really well for more casual players I think, or for children. I bet my daughter would like to be able to beat Lord Voldemort for once. For everybody that likes the theme, but finds the solo game too easy, I'd suggest to use the new rules in a modular way. Use all the rules working against you, but only a few of the ones that are beneficial. Use the new set up of the Hogwarts market and the villains stack, and pick one (or better: none) of the others.