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Thespokentoken's podcast

A Deeper Look: Solo Gaming

Sep 3, 2018

Playing Solo, or by yourself

What to look out for:

First up let’s discuss a couple of important points I think need to be addressed: the difference between a genuine solo experience in a game and something that may be able to be played solo. They are very different experiences, often the main difference being depth of play, mechanics and immersion. I believe they are both very important and if you are looking to get into solo play but are not sure then this is a surefire gateway into the practice.

The Meat:

Soloable: These include Cooperative games where you can take on more than one protagonist in order to try and get to the goal/win the game. These are usually good to expand your problem solving skills and open up the wider palate of choices to you, like you will get in solo only games, you get to explore more than one path to obtain overall victory by looking at different strategies than your norm, all at the same time. These are games that CAN be played solo, and while they have merits, their mechanics are best suited for more than one player, so the loss of interaction can be felt more sharply here. These also can tend to run into optimization puzzles more than full on game and may not ultimately be as satisfying when played in the solo mode. You want to be able to explore the full rules of a given game system,  soloing this way at the very least takes away the surprise and discovery of that if not mitigates it outright. So, they are valuable, but for a deeper experience you want the next section! The games I am speaking of here have SOLO rules included that modify the main game to be playable solo. Examples: Ascension, Elder Sign, Firefly The Game, Sentinels of The Multiverse


Full on Solo: Now these have the mechanics designed for one player, no need to open play any but the character(s) you are responsible for and the game itself is designed to keep information from you until you need it. You can explore every nook and cranny of a system that was designed with one player only in mind. The freedom to play it your way is one of the strongest traits of this way to play, and it can be immensely satisfying when you win!  Solo games are able to get strong narrative game play going by design with no reliance on you; the game takes you where the designer intended without you needing to “overlook” that you knew something, or pulling out that card/item you needed just in the nick of time from another character you were openly playing! Here you are going to design your own strategy and play it to the end, if you want other options, you will have to reset and start again. This is a destination event in and of itself and not a pleasant exposure to a said games existence that a soloable experience can be.  Examples: Hostage Negotiator, Roll Player, Conflict of Heroes,


Solo: Rules designed for the solo player can equal tighter narrative and deeper immersion. Exposure to the rules as intended is both by design and extremely rewarding.

Soloable: Rules not specifically designed for one player, but manageable by one. Exposure to the full intended rules in this format is usually not possible.




Strengths of this practice include the fact that you get to set your own experience and expectation AND atmosphere if you want much more readily than in, multiplayer affairs.

You clearly only need time and space, not other players

I believe a very real benefit is a much MUCH deeper understanding of the games you are playing, rules wise, intent wise, and implementation wise.

You get to take your time and play!

Solo is its own viable destination and in the last 3 years I have witnessed an explosion of quality titles that bear this out.


There can be a bit of puzzle solitaire with no high level “gameplay”

Lack of social interaction

They can be a bit more time constraining, and may take longer to play so they may not come out as often.

They can have limited appeal when you are in a position to need titles for multiplayer as well and a pure solo experience cannot fit the bill.

I believe the richer interactions with your own imagination coupled with you learning and playing at your own preferred pace can lead to some immensely enriching gaming.

There is no shortage of theme in the solo ranks: Dungeon Crawler, Conventional/ fantasy War, Space Exploration, Crime Fighting, Deep Sea exploration, Zombie apocalypse

OR mechanism: Wargame, Deck Building, Worker placement, hand management, set collection

The truth is if you like most ANY current mainstream theme or mechanism you can find a QUALITY solo experience in it.

Games exist to draw you in as deeply as you want to go, to play a campaign over many sessions, or a quick shuffle and play of a few cards!


Where to start:

Start at home; check your current collection and see if any of them have a solo mode and start there. From there check your collection for your own preferred mechanic/theme combo and specifically search out those types of solo experiences. Don’t be constrained by knowing the game or the designer/developer/publisher here. This is crucial; check the title and if you are interested in it, then follow up on it, play it and if you like it buy it. Part of the wonderful feature of tabletop gaming is in the discovery, I think sometimes we rely too much on others/internet and miss out on the chance for discovery on our own terms. Solo Gaming is certainly a gateway to this, take advantage of it!