Playing board games by oneself is becoming more popular or at least more in the main stream of board game media and content. There are many ‘solo-only’ games released every year and even more games that come with a solo-mode. Further, there is a huge community of folks who take the time to make solo variants for almost every single game imaginable. To put it bluntly, for how social we all say the board game hobby is or how important the people are, a hobbyist could be fully immersed in board gaming without playing a single game with another person.
Because of the strong culture around ‘social time’ and board games, I see solo-gaming stigmatize and continues to be stigmatized in the hobby community. I think there are many reasons why a person would choose to play a solo game but I have listed the top four that came to my head:
- I live in a place where there are no consistent meet ups or there are a low density of people in general.
- Due to life responsibilities, I don’t have the time to go to board game meet ups.
- I don’t feel accepted at the local meet ups in my area.
- I don’t want to interact with others when I play board games.
The first three are about access. I have talked a lot about access into the board game hobby from a financial standpoint but I have talked less from a social identity standpoint. Depending on where you live or what identities you hold, attending a board game night or meet up might be extremely challenging or impossible. Let’s take the first situation. I lived for the past three years in a small town in Massachusetts. There was only one board game meet up within 30 minutes of where I lived. Many folks are in the same boat or might not even have a meet up within an hour of their residence. And due to the density of people in their area, it might be unfeasible to start a meet up or a board game night.
The third point hits home for me and for many folks I know. They do not feel accepted in their local group or at a place like a local game store. In the past couple of years, there has been more visibility of women in gaming speaking out against discrimination in the board game hobby. However, I hear minimal about the experience of people of color, queer and trans folkx, non-Christian folks, and other marginalized groups and of course the intersections between them. Trust me… folkx who hold those identities like to play games. But like any culture or system, we consciously or unconsciously marginalize and exclude. I was at a game night once and there was talk about Pearl Harbor and someone made a comment about how he was shocked and really changed his perspective on Asians. Two things were going on here: First, he classified all Asian people together… didn’t matter what culture or country they were from. Second, he was only shocked because of the model minority myth perpetuated in the United States. This was probably an unintentional microaggression, but needless to say, I actively avoided playing games with that person. I wonder how many gamers do not seek out public meet ups because of marginalization.
The last point is what it is. Sometimes an individual simply does not want to be in the company of others while gaming. This could be a certain day, week, month, or a lifetime. Why should we judge someone who still wants to have fun gaming but does not want to partake in the social aspect?
This all comes back to: What do I do if I love board games and fall into one of those categories above. Solo-gaming may be your answer. And I think it only seems ‘weird’ because of the social culture of board gaming becoming the dominant narrative of what board gaming provides. For me board games can provide a social experience but it can provide so much more: a mental challenge, an immersive experience, and fun! Playing a board game solo is no different than playing a one player video or computer game. The experience can be imaginative, strategic, tactical, test how you manage resources and how you solve problems. I love playing games by myself and will continue to invest in games that are solo-only or have a solo-mode.
As a side thought (maybe a longer post), I wonder if there will ever be a convention for solo-gaming. There would be panels, publishers, a game room and library – the whole package. But folks would be coming from all over to play games by themselves, together. This is actually common in book/reading hobbies. I have found a handful of reading meet ups. Sometimes while doing a solo activity, it is nice to be around others even if you are not interacting with them.
Here are some recommendations of solo games I love that you might be interested in:
Really, this is a plug for all the Oniverse games. But Onirim, the original, for me remains as the best one and a fantastic solo card game. Players are traversing through dreams trying to unlock the doors before the nightmares descend on them. This takes up a small footprint and can be played in 15 minutes.
For those of you looking for an immersive, strategic, card driven scifi game, this is the one for you. The component quality is middle of the road but the design is phenomenal! You are a company racing against the clock to terraform Mars. Will you succeed and how will you do it?! Lots of variety and tons of fun.
You are Mr. Cabbagehead and you are preparing your garden for the annual competition by planting different vegetables in your garden. Unfortunately, you have pesky neighbors who will sabotage your efforts by stealing vegetables or ruining parts of your garden. A neat little print and play solo game that has been picked up for wider distribution.
I picked Flash point but really this is about any cooperative game with action point allowance (Pandemic, Forbidden Island). I like Flash Point because of the theme. You play as fire fighters trying to manage a fire in a building and save the people in the building. You can play multiple fire fighters by yourself and have a great time! There are also a ton of expansion maps to switch it up.
Roll and Write games (think Yahtzee) have been making a comeback in the past year. Rolling America is one of them. Most of these games you can play solo or there is a solo variant. I can always find 10 minutes to pull out a roll and write game and try my luck.