What is Solo Gaming?
Pretty much just what it sounds like - it’s playing a board game by yourself. Now, we’re not talking about setting up a game for four people where you swap seats and put on a different hat each turn (although, if that’s your thing more power to you. Just maybe don’t tell your neighbors).
Pictured: Player 2
Solo gaming involves playing against the game in some capacity, and there are several ways to do this:
Playing two-handed (or more)
Okay, so here’s your best chance to put that fez and monocle you drunkenly purchased six years ago to good use: cooperative games require players to work together to beat the game, and only a few make use of hidden information (Hanabi, Mountains of Madness, Mysterium, etc), which means a single person could set up as many “players” as they wish, and play all of them. Games like Pandemic and Ghost Stories fall into this category.
Some cooperative games can be played true solo, with one player controlling one character/role and the game difficulty is still scaled appropriately. These games can be played two-handed (or more) as well, but are designed specifically to accommodate a single player. Spirit Island and Mage Knight are a few examples.
In recent years the popularity of solo gaming and the desire to play competitive games without having to deal with actual people has gained a lot of traction. As a result, some games come with additional rules and/or components that allow for solo gaming by creating an A.I. to play against. Often called an Automa, these artificial opponents use streamlined rules to make player-like decisions without the need for actual human interaction. Scythe and Gaia Project are two games with excellent Automa that provide a great experience - not exactly the same as playing against another human, but challenging and fun nonetheless.
Beat your high score
Some competitive games can be played with no opponents (though perhaps a few rules tweaks, like a set number of rounds or limited resources) where you simply try to get the highest score you can. Colony includes solo rules for this method of play, and games like Sagrada and Ex Libris have solo modes where you create a target score to beat via the actions you took/the options you didn’t take.
Yes, I Have Friends
I have loads of friends. Real, tangible friends with jobs and homes and crippling debt and unfulfilled dreams just like anyone else.
See? Here we are ignoring our emotional problems.
Also our children.
Solo gaming isn’t just a way to play board games when other players aren’t available (though life is busy and scheduling a game night can be difficult), but rather it can be a relaxing activity akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle or reading a book.
Why Don’t You Just Play Video Games?
First, how dare you. And second, it’s not the same experience. While there are board games that simulate video games and vice versa, part of the appeal of board gaming in general is the tactile sensation of interacting with the game in a physical space and parsing information over various cards, miniatures, tiles, and more.
There are, of course, ports of board games to digital platforms and many of them are fantastic, but packing potentially large games onto a smaller screen, having to view cards and other pieces individually, and scrolling through menus requires different thought space creating a familiar but different experience.
There. You're convinced. Go play!
So now you know a bit about solo board gaming. While it may not be for everyone, it can be a wonderful way to enjoy the hobby outside of the usual game nights, conventions, and store events that you're used to.
But how about you, dear reader? What are your favorite games to solo? Or if you haven't played any yet, do you own any games you're looking forward to trying?
Josh Trumbo is the Web Content Coordinator at Paradox. He also installs and fixes copiers, plays in a comedy band, does freelance art and graphic design, and has a table set up in his basement studio so he can solo board games when his family thinks he's working.