When most people think of board games their minds travel to their sibling flipping a Monopoly board in anger or a parent talking trash as they rampage across Asia in Risk. Board games unquestionably hinge on that social dynamic to foster memories and excitement. The board, pieces, and mechanisms come together as a facilitator; some reach for their favorite boxed wine, others go to tabletop gaming.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. When the house is empty and you’re not in the mood for A Game Of Thrones or Dark Souls III, head to your shelf and pull out a board game for some quality “me” time. Playing an analog game by yourself can be a liberating and insightful experience. When it’s over I promise you won’t be huddled in the corner of your shower sobbing–there’s no shame in this game.
Primarily there’s three main reasons you should spend more time solo gaming.
Learn To Play
The most common form of solitaire play is hinged around learning a new game. We’ve all been there, saw an exciting new episode of TableTop and ran out to the store to pick up a new game. Problem is your friends are coming over tomorrow night and that shiny new copy of Pandemic will have one shot to impress them. If it fails they’ll spend the next several weeks ridiculing you for your taste and rubbing your face in the bitter mud.
Tear the shrink wrap off like its Christmas morn and get the game to the table immediately. Run through a few turns on your own with no distractions and get the procedure down. Refine your understanding, and you’ll be able to teach those horrible clowns you hang out with as if you were a philosopher imparting wisdom from the gods.
The second aspect of solo gaming is going toe-to-toe with a difficult AI. This can be throwing down with a bunch of phantoms in the co-operative Ghost Stories, or even a game designed for solo play like Hostage Negotiator. The key element of both of these designs is an insane difficulty ratcheted up to a volume Nigel Tufnel would appreciate.
Here the challenge itself is the lure to return to the fray. The game wipes the floor with you and the experience shifts from social engagement with peers to vengeance against the machine. It’s compelling in a similar way to overcoming obstacles in a single player video game. The benefit here is that you’re interacting with a physical object that has weight and grounded meaning. As an experience, it can provide a completely different kind of satisfaction than grabbing a controller and gluing your eyes to the screen.
The final solo-dynamic is the most obscure yet compelling interest. Some of the best games in this hobby are vast and deep. Designs like Eclipse, Twilight Imperium, and Terra Mystica warrant multiple play-throughs and contemplative study. Developing strategy and truly understanding the game can take quite a bit of effort. Furthermore, the full beauty of such can often be obscure until one peels back the onion and slices through all of the layers.
With the right attitude these heavier games can be perfect to pull off the shelf and attack as an army of one. The trick is that you have virtually unlimited time to manage multiple factions and player boards. You can engineer situations and experiences that let you attempt divergent strategy. It’s all about exploring the game’s collection of mechanisms and divining its hidden depths. With focus and expertise, you’ll feel like Sun Tzu evaluating his opponent and preparing to unleash wrath.
Have you ever played a tabletop game solo? Why do you solo game? Why not? Please let us know in the comments below!
Picture and Cover image courtesy of Chris Norwood/BGG (cropped to fit)