Flying Solo

Not this kind of Solo

Do you ever play board games “solo”?

For a very long time, the thought never occurred to me that you even could play a board game by yourself.  I mean, what would the point be? Board games are designed to play with other people. Where is the challenge, the tension, the excitement, in knowing exactly what every other “player” is going to do?

The first game I encountered that had rules written in for single-player play was Arkham Horror. The idea intrigued me at the time, since it was a new idea…but I can’t really see it actually being that fun. Even though Arkham is a cooperative game with other players, it seems like the best part of that game is not just conquering it, but doing so with your friends. I guess if you are really bored and don’t have anyone around, it’s an option…but still, it doesn’t feel right.

Even beyond that, the idea of playing a competitive game by yourself—playing as multiple sides in a conflict—seems almost unthinkable. Until I read a forum post on Board Game Geek complaining about a number of highly popular games, saying they weren’t fun—and then revealing at the end of the post that the user played games by himself. Exclusively. And not cooperative or semi-cooperative games with a one-player option. We’re talking wargames. Multiple sides in direct competition.

Sure, I’ve heard/seen the old chess joke with the old man playing against himself, but it was always just that—a joke. It blew my mind when I read this guy complaining about board games he didn’t enjoy, when he completely avoided the key element that makes board games fun. The challenge comes in not knowing for sure exactly what your opponent is planning, or what cards they have in hand, or what their next move will be. You learn and adjust and strategize and protect yourself and advance and your efforts are tested by the same actions from your opponents. It’s not just in war games. It’s in Dominion, Carcassonne, Agricola.

Going solo just seems to defeat the purpose. (By the way, playing a game by yourself for the purpose of learning how to play so you can teach others does not count. That makes perfect sense.) I love board games, but I love playing them with my friends. I love teaching new games to them. I love playing old favorites. But always with others. Admittedly, I was tempted to pull out Ascending Empires and toy with it by myself—but it just didn’t seem like it would be fun at all. It would just make me wish I were playing with others. One of the biggest benefits of board gaming is that it’s a good way to have non-awkward social interactions with people.

I’d like to hear other thoughts on this. Do you guys out there ever go solo on your games? Do you think more games should have solo rules or options written in?

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. I think playing games solo is still valid. Is it as fun as playing with others? Probably not, but I liken it to Sudoku or crossword puzzles. The challenge in playing solo isn’t to outwit your opponent; it’s a mental exercise to outwit the game stacked against you. And I wouldn’t at all say that solo games are a replacement for multiplayer games, just another form of enjoyment.

    I tried At the Gates of Loyang’s solitaire mode, for example, and it was quite enjoyable. I plan on trying Agricola’s, too. Maybe even Race for the Galaxy’s..

  2. I’m with wolfie on this one. I even did a little podcast on it a while back. Board games should be enjoyed in a group. And, while co-op games can provide a fun puzzle element, ultimately I can get that same joy through sudoku or logic puzzles without the clean up and set up inherent in a board game.

    Plus, I don’t like the way the “solo varaint” tends to change the gameplay. Agricola is about working against the clock and feeling like you don’t have enough actions. It’s also about stealing that wood space before the other players. Both aspects are gone in a single player game.

    The only game I really enjoy solo is Thunderstone. The variant creates a scenario that is fairly close to the multiple player version.

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