Is “one” truly the loneliest number that you’ll ever do? If this is the case why does it seem like solo board gaming becoming all the rage. I’m willing to wager that a solo mode is probably in the top 3 general requests for Kickstarter games. What is it about sitting own by yourself to play a board game that makes it so appealing to an ever-growing population of gamers? Are you a solo board gamer? Am I a solo board gamer? Did 7 really eat 9? Hopefully together we can find out all this and more together over the course of the next 1200 words or so.
Traditionally board and card games have been a social experience. Friends or family gathered together, laughing and having fun. If you can’t just take my word for it, then I suggest you look at the back of any game box from the 80’s. It seems so counter-intuitive to sit down alone to play a game. If you are alone and looking to entertain yourself I would think that video games might be a better outlet. What is seemingly the most classic and well known solo game, Solitaire, appears to be played more on a computer screen than with an actual deck of cards. What is the appealing about sitting at the table pushing around some cardboard and plastic all by yourself when you could simply park yourself on the couch in front of the TV with an PS4 controller in hand.
Wait a second. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that is part of the appeal. The tactile aspect of the game components. After all, what is a board game if not a box full of tiny man toys. But in all seriousness, pushing a beautifully detailed miniature across the board and rolling a handful of dice definitely sounds more fun than mashing A-B-A repeatedly while holding down a joystick. I’ll admit that the worlds and settings presented in video games are definitely more immersive than board games. Not to mention it is a lot easier to push a button on and off, as opposed to pulling everything out of a box and setting it up on a table and then packing it all neatly away when your done.
When it comes to solo board gaming I think it’s important to identify the two main types of solo game modes. There is the “You have no other opponent to play against, so lets see how high of a score you can get with no-one to get in your way.” These can be enjoyable but often require some kind of Automa or A.I. to keep the game challenging. I’ll be honest. I have a hard time getting into these types of solo games. These often require you learn a bunch of additional rules and almost certainly will be more fiddly and cumbersome. Often times this adds to the set-up and tear-down times, making the decision to pull the game out less appealing. But that’s just the first issue. If I’m going to take the time to play a game by myself I want to be able to walk away from the table knowing whether I won or lost. Receiving the rank of “Rookie” or being told I’m “Mostly Impressive” just isn’t going to cut it.
The other, and for me much more appealing, option is the type of solo mode that is basically the regular game scaled down to a single player with no real changes. Typically these types of games have their roots firmly grounded in the soil of the cooperative genre. Basically the already designed A.I. is just reigned in a little to be a sufficient challenge for a single player. The added benefit of this type of solo mode is the solution to my other issue. You either win or lose, just like you normally do in a cooperative game. And if worse comes to worse and the game doesn’t actually support a single player, you can always go the extra mile and control two player characters if you’re up for the added challenge.
Ok, with all of that rambling behind us, we are now ready for me to present you with some of my favorite solo games, as well as some of my not so favorites.
Too Many Bones-
Termed as a “Dice-Building RPG” sees you controlling a game-like character called a Gearloc. you will face countless numbers of enemies over various days all leading up to a big boss battle. You will truly feel in control as you decide how best to upgrade your Gearloc after each encounter, adding more, unique dice to your available pool. Not to mention the components are some of the best you’ll ever see.
Based on the hit novel by author Brandon Sanderson, you get to take control of the main characters of the story to try to defeat the tyrant Steelheart. Rolling dice each round will prepare you to research and take down epics, remove enforcement and their barricades, and ultimately make sure you’ve got the gear needed to last long enough to accomplish your main objective. Components are also excellent in this one, and it’s definitely fun to live out one of the best young adult novels on the market.
The 7th Continent-
Exploration in a box. This game is basically a giant close your own adventure game. You are a cursed explorer on a strange new land with one goal, lift the curse before it destroys you. Survival is not in your favor as you search for clues and explore the land. Mystery lies behind each and every card and will undoubtedly make for a memorable story.
What if those settlers of Catan didn’t have it quite so easy? That’s right, imagine if the island fought back. Well now you get to. Play as one of many spirits trying to drive back these pesky settlers before they completely ravage the land. It won’t be easy but through good card play and even better board presence it may just be possible.
Not so Favorite:
While I enjoyed the regular game well enough, it was just too fiddly decideding my actions and then resolving all the same actions for an AI. Good game just too much work solo.
Intergalactic growth is a lot to manage, for just one player. The cards used to determine the A.I.’s actions where often difficult to interpret and seemed to slow the game down too much.
Clans of Caledonia-
While this game features no A.I. there was just no real tension as I merely played to get the best score I could. It’s less a challenge and more a test of experience.
To Look Forward to:
This is set to release later this summer, and is from the same designers and publishers as Too Many Bones. Chip Theory Games has always made solo gaming a priority and a scenario driven tower defense/MOBA game sounds legit. I’ve backed this on Kickstarter and am hoping it lives up to expectations.
Street Masters: Aftershock-
Many of us are probably familiar with Sentinels of the Multiverse. The Sadler brothers created a game that works very similarly with each character having a unique deck, each boss having their own deck, and each stage/map having it’s own deck. Managing your cards and their abilities correctly should provide you with the dice needed to successful take down your adversaries in good old fashioned brawling style.
Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon-
This was a game that just blew up on Kickstarter. Players are run of the mill citizens in Arthurian times as a mystery unravels. Players will explore a card based land, similar to The 7th Continent, but with a clearer purpose and more character progression. This may be one of the few games that will stand a chance to dethrone Gloomhaven as the number 1 game on BGG.
Do you enjoy solo gaming? If you haven’t tried I encourage you give it a go. While it’s not the same as getting together with a bunch of friends, it still is an excuse to pull out one of your favorite games, and that’s good enough for me.