Once more it fills me with the greatest of pleasure (and is a supreme honour) to bring a further contribution to A Guest Knows Best by Shiny Happy Meeples.
Bulletproof Loneliness- A Personal Delve Into Solo Gaming
By Lindsay Jo Miller
When it comes to solo games loneliness isn’t necessarily par for the course, but I happen to exceptionally good at it. I’m not especially sad to be alone, I love my own company. I don’t feel particularly isolated either; I always have people to talk to. But this past year I have lacked adult companionship- as opposed to sometimes chatting online with friends whilst my toddler throws things at me.
I’ve grown accustomed to it, I’m ok with it and solo games have been integral to it.
This is not a call to arms for everybody to play solo games; perhaps you already enjoy them, on the other hand maybe you don’t. Perhaps you haven’t tried one yet, and maybe would rather not. Or, like me, you want the best of both worlds. I’m also not professing that solo gaming is something new or innovative. Many have indulged in quiet solo sessions with minimal fuss; I have a friend who has played solo games for decades. It’s really a fairly common practice in our subculture, which in the last 18 months or so has grown in popularity.
Board games are often associated with gatherings, family, date nights and fun times with friends. They are often interactive experiences, for the purpose of group enjoyment. As a result solo games can come with a stigma, as I recently pointed out in a The Five By episode. You may feel typecast to a Quasimodoesque figure, skulking about the shadows, your games for company, meeples your only friends.
I do think it’s little bizarre, because many hobbies such as video games, reading and crafts are often considered healthy, and can be enjoyed alone. I don’t see why solo tabletop should be any different, although in my case the privately skulking persona and meeple friends is actually somewhat true.
Since having my daughter and without a fulltime job I mostly found companionship online. Without ‘parent code’ friends you can find people slipping off the radar. The aforementioned code being the guilt-free ability to cancel plans due to child issues, downright depression or sheer exhaustion, met with a nod of understanding and ‘get some sleep’. The last few years I lost many non-parent friends to the lack of code, which isn’t to say I’m blaming them; it’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Then there’s the workplace, a sure-fire way to meet kindred spirits, with a common ground of working at the same location every day. Without a physical workspace and actual people present I became totally bereft. I’ve been urged to make ‘mummy’ friends, but it’s difficult for me. As a mum with long-standing depression and a low bullshit tolerance, I found myself feeling off-balance around other parents, and started to think that being weird alone is better all-round.
Three years later I’ve started to meet online friends in real life, board games being the common thread to tie us. Having said this my loneliness became an ample opportunity to solo game, which evolved into digging deeper, and discovering that modern solitaire games existed and they’re often rather good.
I recently noticed an Instagram account holder with a little chip on his shoulder, stating that he played solo games ‘before it was cool’. Sure, I can understand that in way. It can be irksome to have a passion long before the masses show up and adopt it, but I also don’t see it as a negative either. With new gamers venturing into solo play, surely more games will be produced for our enjoyment. Perhaps a designer will adapt their latest title to be solo playable, resulting in a desired game becoming accessible. Where’s the bad? It struck me as gatekeeping on grounds that should be open territory.
But he’s also right, solo games have become popular, and it makes sense in many ways. We have seen an exponential growth in the tabletop market, but no added downtime for the people playing them. So whilst more games are available we are still stuck with the same life battles- jobs, children, car troubles, travel fares, perhaps poor mental health. Solo games mean that you can begin and resume at any point, without logistical issues of arranging groups and friends. Sometimes the concern of tiredness or a bad head day potentially ruining an experience can be enough reason to skip it entirely.
This brings me to my favourite thing about solo gaming- not answering to anyone. I can learn a game in my own way and get it wrong in my own time. I can start one day and pick up the next. I can pause to take a game photo, or reply to a message without feeling horribly guilty. I can consume as much chocolate as I like, sit in an unladylike fashion in giant pants, and take time to contemplate my next turn. It’s a fantastic feeling of freedom, when I truly embrace being alone- like hey, I taught myself this game! I’m playing it!
Lastly I believe that it helps to become comfortable with yourself and able enjoy your own company, which I have finely cultivated, but understand the struggles. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, even when I had more friends. I am more than happy in my own little world, but that’s not to say I don’t like venturing beyond it at times, and I still enjoy games with company. For a solo newcomer I’d suggest practicing becoming comfortable, talk to yourself, grow to be your own ally and give yourself a pat on the back… then you’ll be moving in the right direction.
Not all games are primed for solo play, and it’s those that have been designed with the single player in mind, rather than a ‘please everybody’ add-on, that have the upper hand. Some games just aren’t meant to be played alone, and that’s fine. A good solo game will make you feel okay to be playing alone, rather than have you thinking it would be so much better with a few friends around instead.
To name a few well-liked solo stars: Black Sonata, Arkham Noir: The Witch Cult Murders, Renegade, solo play Victory Point Games, GMT’s COIN series and many other wargame specialists. Ragnar Brother’s Backpacks and Blisters amongst other titles, Lucidity: Six-Sided Nightmares, Escape the Dark Castle, lord knows how may roll-and-writes, Viticulture, Scythe, War of the Worlds, Attack of the 50 Foot Colossi! Shahrazad, Okey Dokey, any number of games from Todd Sanders, Roll Player, Herbaceous and others from Pencil First and Dr Finn’s, Syvlion, Unbroken and that’s just a few to begin with.
The good news is there’s something for everyone; it’s just a matter of sampling what’s out there. Many come in the form of print-and-plays, good prevention from wasting good money, but the chances are you’ll want to buy the game after playing anyway.
So, whilst I’m not demanding that everyone plays solo games because I say so, I will suggest that if you’re anything like me, go ahead and wear your love of alone like a badge of honour. If you’re feeling lonely, rock that loneliness with a good game. If you’re just bored as hell waiting for your mates to come over, make it happen yourself. And if you’re jibed for playing solo games then just let those jibes ricochet- because us solo gamers are bulletproof.