Playing Solo

[ This post originally appeared as an article in Game Nite Magazine #6. ]

Playing Solo Sounds Dirty, Doesn’t It?

Is solo gaming an important part of the gaming industry? Great question. Depends who you ask. There is a strong contingent of gamers who enjoy playing games solo for multiple reasons and there are those who either don’t really care or are against it — a very small minority of the latter. I believe it certainly fills a certain niche for many. Sometimes you might want to play a game but don’t have anyone around to play with. Or perhaps the game is too complex for most, so you decide to “solo it” and play all four factions maybe in something like a COIN game (more on that later) or you might even be learning a game so that you can teach it to your friends on game night.

In many recent Kickstarters, there have been backers who specifically backed a game due to its “solo-ability.” I, for one, don’t back a game “solely” (see what I did there?) based on that. There are lots of games out there for solo players, let’s briefly mention a few.

For the most part, solo games fall into one of three categories: cooperative games, multiplayer games with a solo variant or are considered multiplayer solitaires and lastly games specifically designed for solo play. Let’s start with that.

Thunderbolt Apache Leader by DVG

There are lots of games that are designed for the single player. Some examples include: Friedemann Friese’s deck building game Friday, Dan Verssen Games’ (DVG) Thunderbolt Apache Leader or Field Commander Napoleon, The Hunters: U-boats at War 1939-1944 (one of my personal favorites) or games in Z-Man Games’ Onirim Universe including Onirim, Urbion, and the recently released Sylvion (although there is a 2 player variant).

Cuba Libre (COIN) by GMT Games.

Some standard multiplayer games include a separate set of cards or boards to allow for solo play, or the game may have solo variants either officially sanctioned by the designer or solo variants posted on BoardGameGeek. Some multiplayer games that you may not realize have solo playability are La Granja, Splendor, Renaissance Man, Carcassonne, Nations and Nations the Dice Game, Imperial Settlers, and all games in the COIN, or Counterinsurgency Series, from GMT Games. There are other titles that have little to no player interaction and are therefore considered multiplayer solitaire games such as Race for the Galaxy, Agricola and Fields of Arle.

Elder Sign (Base Game) by Fantasy Flight Games

Lastly, games that are cooperative — all players playing together against “the game” are almost always solo-able. Some shining examples are Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror, Dead of Winter, Flashpoint Fire Rescue, Pandemic, Sentinels of the Multiverse and Legendary to name but a few. You can play multiple players at the same time since you often share information and cards anyway, you can just play multiple “hands.” Other games might have a different setup that may include additional cards or a different starting hand than a normal game, et cetera.

For me personally, solo gaming has a place in my home. Why? I work in technology and stare at LED displays, computer screens, and cameras all day long. For me, video gaming is not something I am interested in. My son loves it to be sure and I was in to it when I was younger but as I approach 50 (yikes!), I tend to like things that disconnect me from technology. I love having a multiple day session of solo gaming where the game is sprawled out on my table where I can savor the art, push the bits around, contemplate the event text on a card to decide what I want to do, all the while not worrying about my battery life or my eyes straining any more than my nearsighted, tired eyeballs can handle. I like the quiet solitude that comes out of that more than the sounds of booms, beeps, and explosions coming out of my iPad, phone or home tv. Regular gaming does have a place with me in my gaming group, friends and family but so does solo games. I know it’s not for everyone but this hobby we are in is so varied and so vast, luckily, we will never run out of games to play — with other people or by ourselves.

 

 

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What I learned in 2017

As the year comes to an end we look back on the preceding 12 months and determine what went well and what didn’t. What was good about it and inevitably what was bad. Here are a few lessons I learned that are most certainly relative to me, possibly to you as well. YMMV

  • I played less games this year than any other year I’ve been in the hobby. That scares me a bit. I have a lot of money invested in this hobby and I really like to get my money’s worth out of them. The cost per play will come down as time goes on. It’s just taking a little longer than I thought.
  • I learned to give up games that don’t get played. Not getting played can be the result of many different factors. But suffice it to say, it can be difficult to get rid of games but also a little liberating as well. That brings me to….
  • Regret. I have regret for purchasing some titles. Games I thought I would love and ended up being just “meh” about them or, worse, hating them. A few instances I can recount that the hype train was zooming into the station and I had to get aboard. Many of us fall into that trap. Myself included.
  • I miss going to a regular gaming group. I miss playing games with other people. On the flip side, it’s been good not having to deal with others as often times it pushes my anxiety levels way up. My regular gaming group parted ways while my previous group is just too far away. I’ve thought about hosting my own group but the strangers/anxiety thing gets in the way. I’m not sure how this will resolve itself in 2018 but if it doesn’t, my gaming days may be numbered — at least the multi-player ones.
  • I want to play more games with my daughter and so does she but we keep playing the same 6 or 7 games. I want to introduce her to more but her attention span can be a real challenge. With more plays comes her ability to play more complex ones as well as her own confidence in playing those heavier titles.
  • Speaking of my daughter, I learned that she really likes games where you read an excerpt from a book and make a choice to see “what happens.” She enjoys that aspect of Above and Below. I don’t think she would like the theme of spies as in Agents of SMERSH but then again she has yet to see a James Bond movie — there’s that attention span thing again. I used to own Arabian Nights and although it is totally random I decided to reacquire it and see if Natalya likes it. And if not, no harm no foul. I can just trade it away again.
  • I’ve learned to stay away from Kickstarter. Not that I have gone completely cold turkey, but I back far fewer games than before. I think that’s due to my being a little more discerning when it comes to games and the types of games I play. Part of it also lies in my frustration with the cost of games dropping to almost half 6 months or so after the game has been released. If the game is really good and worth it, I can wait a little while longer.
  • And lastly, I’ve really come to begin to learn about the types of games I like and which themes do nothing for me. You’d think this would be easy but for me, part of it has been the notion that I should like something because so many other people like this or that. I have never been so wrong. You like what you like. If I like a silly little dice roller, so be it. If I like to play a heavier war game, that’s fine too. There are so many wonderful games out there, there is something for everyone!
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Year Long Challenges

I’ve been tracking my plays throughout the year on BGG. Some are solo challenges. Others are 10×10 – 10 games, 10 times. And another is 100 different games over the course of the year. I was also tracking all the games new or used that came in the door and which ones went out through a sale or a trade. The results are in…

Terrible.

I was no where near close on completing any of them except maybe tracking all the games in and out. This year has been awkward year for games in my house further stymied by my gaming group splitting up. Real life gets in the way far too often. Natalya desire to play games waned at the beginning of the year although recently she expressed an interest in playing more. I’m not a huge fan of the BGG game challenges. I think it can put you in the mindset of “OK, I need to play this game” or “I must play these three games this week.” I don’t like being in a situation where I have to play or must play anything — takes all the fun out of it.

I have a year end post that will include all the things I learned about gaming this year. One take away is I don’t think I will be doing any challenges in 2018. I will play what I want to play when I want to. And that’s it.

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Negativity

I suppose this is somewhat ineveitable to blog about this but I wanted to speak my peace. I hang out on BGG a lot. Sometimes I contribute worthwhile commentary, if I do say so myslef, and other times I throw ina a “me too” for good measure. But, I tend to stay out of the shit storms that perpetuate in many forums there. Some users there say they had to get off of Facebook gaming groups because of negativity there. On Facebook I am also an avid paticiapants in the aforementioned ways on BGG. The same negativity is there as well let me tell you.

So to say I am dropping on for the other is sort of wasting your time. Both have their values, both have worthwhile content, comments and conversations. Both are equally volatile when it comes to personalities. And there in lies the rub. People.

In most respects we need people to play games but other times you want to strangle people. Right? The negativity astounds me. I don’t understand it. There are so many different games — so many differing opinions. That is awesome. It offers a chance to get your own opinion swayed by logical, respectful debate and “changing of your mind.” It also allows for opportunities. Opportunities to learn about new games, new mechanics, new designers, et cetera.

All these forums, whenever they may be, are a necessary evil, if that’s what you want to call it, as there always going to be a rotten apple in the bunch.

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Game Designs

I’m not an expert gamer. I don’t claim to be. I know people who play 15-20+ games a week. I say to myself, they have so much knowledge of games and mechanics, what stops them from designing one of their own? Now, some people are players and not designers. And I have seen the opposite. Usually on Kickstarter. Really bad designs by people who don’t know what worker placement or card drafting or resource collection even means. Scary.

Designing a game is difficult work. I mean really hard. Many people outside the hobby would most likely have no concept, while people in the hobby are far more understanding as to what is involved and the commitment it takes.

Oracle at Delphi Prototype by Stefan Feld

That has not stopped me from having about a dozen or so designs shoved in a drawer — none completely fleshed out. Some are more of an idea and a general sense of what I want the game to do and how it should play. Others are far more detailed with prototype cards and components made. Most fall in between. A couple are geared toward kids and families as that’s what I was playing a lot of when I first got into the hobby and the ideas that got generated from those plays. Now, there’s a couple that fall more into the medium weight category.

One design in particular, I’ve decided to try to develop more. It might not appeal to some but thematically I think it’s sort of neat and I know if given the right artistic treatment would be a real hoot to look at. It’s nothing innovative. It’s a general resource collection and exchange those resources for “contracts” to gain victory points. Yeah, I know, pretty vanilla. But as I said, I’ve seen worse out there.

But the more I work it, the more holes I find in it. The more fiddly it becomes. And then I get creatively stuck. Then, I shove it back in the drawer to look at it months down the road. Ack!!

Finding the time to develop the game is difficult as I already have a lot of plates spinning. Hopefully, one day, it will see the light of day with a real prototype and some blind play testing. Maybe 2018 will be the year!

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Podcasts

Why don’t I listen to as much podcasts any more? I hear this being asked a lot in our gaming community. Although everyone has different reasons, I can certainly relay my reasons why my attitudes towards podcasts have changed.

I feel I should preface this with the statement that at one time I thought about doing podcasts either in lieu or in addition to YouTube videos. The more I think about it now, I’m more inclined to make them in addition to — much like Joel Eddy’s Drive Thru Review FM (which is a great name by the way).

Shooting video and editing can be real time consuming. The quality of what I’ve seen in the board gaming community has skyrocketed. Some of it might be directly related to Patreon or Indegogo backing cash, but overall as folks get more into it, they make investments in lighting and maybe new cameras. I know myself, I still shoot on the same camera I used at the beginning and don’t use any auxiliary lighting even though I know I should. Hence, my desire to produce some content for YouTube that is more audio based with the occasional pics.

Back in the beginning when I first got into the hobby I was ravenous when it came to podcasts. I have a one hour commute each way to work every morning on the train. I was listening to so many different podcasts usually starting with the most recent and when time allowed I worked my way backwards. Over time, my excitement for listening to podcasts has waned. Here’s why, in no particular order:

1.) Much of the content, at the time, was the same. Everyone was covering the new hotness of games. A lot of the same content, but different takes on the game and different feelings on what the gamers thought. All of that became just a lot to skip over.

2.) Some of the podcast’s quality was pretty lousy. Remember, this was at the beginning and none of it showed any signs of improving. A lot of time has passed since then and now. So I am sure, as with YouTubers video quality increasing, audio has as well.

3.) Personalities. Some podcaster’s, and even some YouTuber’s, personalities bother me. I know for a fact that there are those who really dislike my style, what I have to say and what games I was reviewing. That’s OK. We agree to disagree. Anyway, some podcasts would have multiple people on it and when everyone was talking at once, sometimes it was difficult to figure out who was who. Some of those “whos” were just miserable people who didn’t like anything and didn’t have any opinion on the newest games that the podcasts were touting. One other example that comes to mind was a podcast featuring a husband and wife. More often than not, the husband would give his wife shit about a game or anything in general. This was not a sarcastic, cheeky sort of jabbing or verbal sortie that comes with a married couple. To me, at least, this sounded outright disrespectful. So much so, I could no longer listen to it. It angered me so much. I don’t think they have a podcast anymore and I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t together anymore.

I’m not sure the state of podcasts anymore. I don’t think it has grown all that much, at least from what I’ve seen. Video reviews and the like have grown exponentially however. I think also, for me anyway, I have grown as a gamer and am certainly more conscious and thoughtful about the online media I consume as I try to cut through the all the static that’s out there.

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Thanks for Games

Often times when people learn that I am into board games, they immediately think Monopoly or Scrabble.  Then, I have to explain that this is not the case. I do not even own a copy of Monopoly. Many people turn their nose up at the hobby either due to lack of interest (ok, I can understand that) or lack of understanding. I’m happy I have this hobby. It helped me through a dark time in my life about 6 years ago. It allowed me to focus my mind and keep me distracted from the loneliness and grief that results from losing a loved one. It also helped me meet new people. It has allowed me to experience new things and immerse myself in worlds and situations that perhaps I would not have been able to experience. It also allowed for opportunities to be close to my daughter and that you can’t put a price on.
 
I used to be embarrassed by my love of games partially because some people just couldn’t wrap their heads around it but most people were hyper-critical of me for having such a hobby. As time went on and as I met other gamers locally, and even some online from all over the world, I readjusted my attitude. If people have an issue with me because I love this hobby then I don’t need to associate with them. Plain and simple. I don’t try and preach the gospel of board games to people. If someone wants to learn one, I’m always happy to teach them. I’m not going to teach them something complex right out of the gate. You start with something simpler and work your way up. Just like I did — baby steps. The point is, at my age, I like what I like and that’s it.
 
I would much rather play a game with someone, especially my daughter, than watch a movie or a tv show. Not that I don’t like watching a movie or a tv show, but, if given a choice, I would rather her exercise her mind, practice her math skills, work on her strategic skills, and even her social and interaction skills by playing a game. The quality time I get playing a game with anyone is far ahead better than doing some other activities. Then comes the question, why I would play games by myself. Some games are built that way. Some are solo (solitaire) or can be a multi-player game that can be modified to be solo-able. I play these for the same reason as I mentioned earlier. It’s an exercise of the mind. Or maybe it’s an immersion into an environment or theme that I want to learn more about or experience.
 
Many would cringe at how much some of the games that I have cost and, further, how much I’ve spent on all my games in the past six some odd years. I have spent, and in a manner of speaking invested, a significant amount of money into my collection even though it pales in comparison to many people I know. It’s a bit of an addiction; a bit of an obsession. It’s something I really enjoy, like to share with others, happy to teach others when I can, and I don’t see me leaving the hobby behind any time soon.

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