When I hear the term solo gaming I can't help but recall memories of my Great Gran playing Patience (Solitaire) and cheating so she could win when she thought no one was looking. (Cheating was not reserved for her solo gaming, she also tried to cheat us kids when we were playing any other game, but that's another story.)
My own primary motivation for playing board games is to unplug and spend time with my family, so I could never really imagine playing a solo board game because it's instantly missing the interaction with other players. However, there are some good reasons to play solo:
Why play board games solo?
- to learn the rules for a new game before teaching it to others
- no access to a gaming group or your friends don't play board games
- to play a game no one else wants to play
- preference for your own company
- restorative meditative quality, can pay full attention to the game and be immersed in it.
- introvert gamer or find social interactions with other people too stressful
- you don't like the gaming groups/they don't like you/elitist behavior. I've even see someone say they don't play with others because they know they are an a*s and don't want to subject other people to that.
- although maybe 15-20% of gamers play solo board games, 1% of board gamers actually prefer to play solo (according to a survey of 100,000 gamers by Quantic Foundry)
Although when you think about it, it's not that different from playing video games or a game on your phone, except that you don't need to set anything up on an app and the app takes care of all the housekeeping and the imaginary players turns.
Whilst I now understand intellectually why some people play and perhaps prefer to play board games solo,my preference would be to play video games or a game on my phone rather than play a board game solo. However, in the interests of opening up to other possibilities in the board game space, I decided to do a couple of experiments and actually play solo mode.
Solo Board Game Experiment - Ben
Recently, my youngest had his first solo board game experience. Andrew and I were playing a game with our oldest son and Ben didn't want to play it. He was just done with that particular game, and was desperate to play a game he had won in a raffle: Birds of a Feather by Teale Fristoe. I suggested to him that as we weren't available to play with him, he could play it solo. So I set him up with a "How to play video", and did the initial game set up with him and then left him to it. He found a full playthrough video online and watched that too, downloaded the scoring app and off he went. After we had finished our games, I checked in with him to see how the first solo board gaming experience was. Ben felt a great sense of accomplishment from playing a new game start to finish with no help from us, and playing solo was ok and better than not playing at all, but he would prefer to play with us as playing with other people was more fun. Playing solo he knew he would win and there wasn't so much fun in that. It wasn’t like playing an app that created opponents to play against.
Solo Board Game Experiment - Me
Ok, so I didn't actually set up a board game to play. I decided to try out a board game on my iPad, because again I wouldn't typically use an app for a board game. First I tried Pandemic, but I didn't want to have to control all the different characters, I couldn't remember everyone's special ability. I could have noted them down and just got on with it. But part of the reason I like Pandemic is because I enjoy the discussions as we decide what to do together. I enjoy the player narrative, it's highly entertaining. When that didn't work I tried Ticket to Ride. At $4.99 this was more expensive than the Freemium games on my phone that I'm used to! it took me a while to get the hang of it. I had a difficult time seeing things on screen, and noticing what the other players were up to and it wasn't as much fun as placing my little trains on the track. The first time I played I got completely beaten up. After playing a few more times I got better, but I didn't think I would play it much more. Having said that the most fun I've had with it has been teaming up with Ben and taking turns against "the Machine". He enjoys it and it's good for when you just don't have time to set up a game. Which means I'll need to do some follow up experiments for tech in board games as a follow up to a previous post....
If you're a creator looking to include a solo mode then there's some great advice on how to design solo games from The League of Gamemakers and also Morten Monrad Pederson's blog.
Zombie Legacy can be played solo in the same way Pandemic can be played solo, as the game has inherent AI. However, the point of Zombie Legacy is player interaction combined and enhanced by the legacy parts of the game - so there are no real plans for a solo mode. Is this something we are missing out on?
What's your favorite game to play solo?