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My Golden Age of Solo Gaming

E Updated
Solo board games
There Will Be Games

Like many, I grew up playing games with my family. Rummy 500 was my family’s bread and butter, but many other games crossed our table over the years. Games were a social activity; a way to bond and spend time together. When I got into the hobbyist side of games almost 10 years ago, I scoffed at the notion of playing games solo. Why would I want to do that? I have plenty of solitary activities I can do. Besides, playing a board game by yourself seemed kind of sad. Sure, I gave the original Thunderstone solo mode a try. Once. It was cool enough, but nothing I ever pursued past that initial curiosity. I borrowed Friday from a friend and was over it after one play. I even toyed with Lord of the Rings: The Card Game when it first came out, but quickly traded it away after a solo play. I was certain solo gaming was not for me. Games were to be played with others. I held onto the social aspect of gaming for a long time. Then Arkham Horror: The Card Game came out.

As I general rule, I didn’t used to like Fantasy Flight’s games. They were overly complex and full of conflict that offended my Eurogamer sensibilities. I don’t know what happened, nor when, but recent FFG releases started to make me turn away from my precious cube-pushing and look toward theme and dice. Cue “distracted guy” meme. I started picking up a few FFG titles and wondered about their latest release: Arkham Horror: The Card Game. I’d played the board game a couple of times, but never really liked it. I don’t even particularly like the Lovecraft mythos, yet something about this new LCG intrigued me. So, I bought it, expecting to get rid of it after my curiosity was satisfied. Like Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, I didn’t have anyone to regularly play the co-op mode with. Solo was my only option.

I played it. I loved it. I built a deck. I never build decks! The narratives woven throughout the campaign were fantastic and the use of the cards to setup a particular scenario blew my mind. I tore through each new mythos pack with the excitement of Christmas morning. I didn’t even want to play with anyone else. I could take this at my own pace and experience the game however I wanted. I admit, I broke some rules. Sometimes unintentionally. Sometimes intentionally. This was my party though and I could cheat if I wanted to.

I discovered a new kind of freedom with Arkham Horror: The Card Game and not just because I could finagle a few token pulls to my advantage. I realized I was enjoying playing solo as much as with others. It was a different kind of fun, but it was still fun. I learned that playing solo was providing me opportunities to experience games I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. I started looking at games with different eyes. That one game my group would never want to play? I could play it by myself. Those times I feel like playing a game, but don’t have a buddy? I could grab something off the shelf anyway. New game that needs to be learned for game night? Play the solo variant. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities and my shelves started to feel it.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve bought more games just for solo play. I grabbed Robinson Crusoe and Hostage Negotiator. I jumped at the release of Legacy of Dragonholt, Graphic Novel Adventures, and Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger. I backed The 7th Continent and Escape the Dark Castle. I’ve been tearing through Dungeon Degenerate every weekend and am getting ready to break out Renegade.

Ironically, this solo revolution of mine has ended up with me having more games in my solo queue than in my group one. I’m having a harder time getting to the table by myself than with others. It’s a wonderful problem to have. And I certainly don’t think solo gaming is sad anymore.

There Will Be Games Solo board games
Solo board games
Grace P.  (She/Her)
Board Game Reviewer

Grace grew up playing the classic family and children’s games. She always loved games, but didn’t know there was a whole world of modern board gaming until 2009. In general, she considers herself a Euro snob, but upon closer inspection of her collection, there are plenty of other types of games that have snuck in. She has to play as the color red (or as close to it as possible), otherwise the wrong pieces will be moved. Although board gaming is her primary hobby, she also enjoys cooking, seeing musicals, and bowling. She lives in California’s Central Valley with her husband, who happily plays games with her, and her two dogs, who are terrible gaming partners. You can follow her on Twitter (@iamgrace) where she is often mistagged.

Articles by Grace

Solo board games
Grace P.
Board Game Reviewer

Articles by Grace

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WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #282632 03 Oct 2018 02:46
I also had a knee jerk reaction to solo gaming. Very odd, because looking back I spent years playing video game RPGs solo and hours and hours of solo time prepping D&D campaigns in my youth.
jpat's Avatar
jpat replied the topic: #282643 03 Oct 2018 10:18
I don't know. I've never been able to click with solo games. If they're solo and multiplayer, I feel like I should be playing multi, and yet I often don't end up doing either. Arkham Horror: TCG is a good example of this, but so is, say, Pathfinder ACG. My wife, who's my main (increasingly, only) gaming partner, seemed to like both, yet we never seem to get around to them, and I keep thinking I might if I just played them myself. Even solo-only games I like I seem to get bored of fairly quickly (Hostage Negotiator being one). I've tried playing wargames with solo elements or bots (e.g., COIN), and I find myself getting worn out after a few turns and wondering why there isn't an app that would run the flowcharts for me. But that's just me. I don't think solo gaming is sad.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #282644 03 Oct 2018 10:26
I think solo games are OK, but I prefer to play them with the wife, taking turns or collaborating on decisions.

Star Trek: Encounters and Desolate are the best I’ve played thus far, set up primarily as solo games. There’s others that people probably think of first ( Nemo’s War is a standout) as all co-ops can be solo played.

Plus Flix.
ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #282650 03 Oct 2018 11:51
ALL of my gaming is solo and I love it. I play ASL solo and really enjoy it and I absolutely adore AHLCG. Part of the issue is to do with no gamers living anywhere near me, in the Middle East, but I also recognise that I enjoy my gaming solo and prefer it, in most cases, to playing with others. I am always on the lookout for new solo gaming experiences. As it happens, most classic board wargamers are very used to playing solo, particularly the , so called, 'monster' games where it can be hard to find an opponent.
Colorcrayons's Avatar
Colorcrayons replied the topic: #282671 03 Oct 2018 17:17
I play Aliens Legendary Encounters solo, almost exclusively. It works well.
Some games are just meant to be solo, and those are usually puzzles that gamers like to call "co-ops".

I'm at odds with solo games. While I will play games solo in order to learn them, and play games like mentioned above solo, it seems somehow counter to the intent I perceive boardgames to be. Which is a social lubricant. An excuse to gather together and share experiences.

I'm not sure why I have a problem with it, since when I play video games, it rarely involves more than me. It's a matter of perception I suppose. A hangup I need to get over.

But I'll sit with legendary encounters sprawled out before me, enjoying the unfolding of the puzzle, and I can't help but feel I'd rather be playing Alien Isolation on my PS4 instead as that is far more immersive of the setting. I don't enjoy the mechanisms of legendary encounters enough to play that over Alien Isolation. Perhaps that's why I don't understand the allure of solo boardgaming. There are so many better experiences than flipping cards in hope of an engaging analogue AI experience.

My other hangup is browsing any given game entry on To say, and seeing the beggars banquet lamenting the fact that a game whose critical and fundamental design is based around a conflict involving a minimum of two players. I have yet to see a game entry that doesn't have such a request made, with the obnoxious words "No solo, no buy".

I feel those asking are quite oblivious to how submitting to their entitled requests changes the foundation of a game to be something entirely what it is not.

I'm not without compassion to their plight, yet it gets tiring seeing such predictable posts.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #282676 03 Oct 2018 20:30
Chalk up another one with an acknowledged kneejerk reaction against solo, despite being happy to videogame alone.

I think part of it is setup and upkeep. This sort of stuff seems fine when playing with others, I guess because that's the bit where everyone is chatting about what's just happened or anything else, but on my own, it just seems kind of onerous to be laying it all out and then going through upkeep phases etc etc. Occasionally I'll get something out to solo and start setting it all up and just sigh and pack it away.

This probably explains why I'm happy to solo stuff via vassal or in some other digital format though.

I recently tried Sentinels of the Multiverse on steam, I can't even begin to imagine what the upkeep on a physical version of that is like.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #282708 04 Oct 2018 15:19
Adding some counter-balance.

Solo board gaming doesn't slot into quite the same experiential territory as video gaming for me. I often approach a solo session with a craving for board game tactility and an openness to spinning my own narratives and visualizing scenarios that no video game studio could really conjure for me. I set a game up on my long-term "do not disturb" table as a sort of imaginative refuge from other media when those start to fatigue me or begin to feel hollow. It almost feels like a self-soothing ritual, if that makes sense, so things like upkeep and setup are actually pleasurable.

Unlike many solo gamers, though, I actively dislike the intense "puzzle" nature of some designs. My slant is more along the lines of scrying cards & dice, maintaining a weird cocktail of roleplaying and fatalism, subjecting my choices to chance operations & rolling with the narrative this creates.

It gives me a quiet space that feels like it lives at the intersection of Tarot, I Ching, RPG, and straight up escapist fantasy, wrapping everything in component tactility. I'm not always in the mood for it, but when I am, solo board gaming fits a very specific role in my gaming space.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #282718 04 Oct 2018 19:37
I have solo-played games all my life. When I was in 1st grade, I got Star Frontiers and I played it (an RPG!) by myself. I would set up battles and play them out with characters. I solo'd Risk, Fortress America, all that stuff. I solo'd Magic, Space Hulk, whatever else in the 90s. Every single game that comes into my house gets solo'd at least one time. Everything. I really enjoy playing Gloomhaven alone, I think it is the best solo game ever made. It's great multiplayer, but I think it's best by yourself. In fact, I think there are a lot of games where they are more enjoyable when you don't have to worry about 3-4 other people being entertained.

I think it's weird that some folks look at solo games or playing MP games by yourself and are all like "why would you do that, there's no opposition, how can you play when you know what the other side is going to do blah blah blah". Don't fuckin' care. If I like the mechanics, and I like the way a game plays...then I'm totally down with setting something up and playing even just a few turns to enjoy it. I played a 3 player game of El Grande a couple of weeks ago just because I really wanted to play some El Grande and no one was around. Did I have a fulfilling and competitive experience or whatever? No. But I still had fun because I like the game so much and enjoyed just having it out, drinking a cocktail, and with a movie on in the background.

I would rather play solo games than most video games anymore, to be honest. I've really been surprised at how much solo gaming has exploded over the last several years too, despite video games. Nemo's War, Navajo Wars, Renegade, Silent Victory, Four Against the Darkness, all that stuff...some really neat designs just for one.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #282725 04 Oct 2018 21:34
There’s a FB group that has a LOT of info on these
ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #282755 05 Oct 2018 11:25
Yeah, I got kicked from that group for insulting some guy who persisted in posting 'shelfies' of all his wonderful games.

Maybe I called him a fucking dick. I can't really remember
Ken B.'s Avatar
Ken B. replied the topic: #282756 05 Oct 2018 11:32
I say more power and happy gaming to those who enjoy solo. I don't have any connotation of it being "sad." It's just not for me and likely never will be.

I do admit to grinding my teeth when people on KS hound designers to add solo variants to games that are clearly meant to be multiplayer. As in, "I know you've designed a great game, but I demand that you spend time that could have been spent refining the main game and insert a solo mode to appease me, because I demand it." That is the ONLY issue I've ever had with solo gamers, and I realize that is a vocal minority of them.
boothwah's Avatar
boothwah replied the topic: #282772 05 Oct 2018 14:34
Finally a thread about playing with yourself.

/obligatory Ken B. Post
//Barney once posted rules for a solo Shower Rescue variant. Sad.
///If Pete stops in and accidentally teaches us all some Cosmo sex move while humble bragging about how long it's been since he solo gamed, could have ToTY potential.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #282773 05 Oct 2018 14:55
I'm 100% a social gamer. I just got back from a 3 day game conn, where I played like 5 games in three days. Everyone is like, how could you only play 5 games in three days - well, because I spend most of my time just socializing. However, if there is one game that tempts me to play it solo, it's Arkham Horror: The Card Game.
BaronDonut's Avatar
BaronDonut replied the topic: #282809 07 Oct 2018 10:33
I'm not much of a solo gamer, though I find it's a helpful way to learn a new, complex game before bringing it to the table.

One major exception: GorillaGrody introduced me to a grading method whereby you set up a game, grade a few papers, take a turn, grade a few papers, take a turn, and so on. It's a really nice way to make that slog feel more humane.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #282812 07 Oct 2018 12:05
I do a fair amount of solo gaming, usually on my bi-weekly laundry night. Like Barnes, I sometimes solo games that aren't designed for solitaire play. So when I heard about The Solo System, I had to get it. It's about the size of a deck of cards, but actually has four sub-decks of cards, and supplies a very basic level of AI when you are solo-playing a non-solitaire game. One set of cards address strategy, one does tactics, another for movement, and one even addresses bidding and miscellaneous decisions. Out of the box, I think The Solo System offers a limited value. But if you really have a particular game that you want to solo, it might be better to make your own set of cards for that specific game, inspired by the cards in The Solo System.