August was always going to be a slightly unusual month for gaming. On the one hand, the summer holidays offer the potential for more hours free to game, with regular weekday evening distractions taking a break. However, it also means actual “holidays” – in my wife’s case, 10 days (including 2 weekends) in California visiting relatives. This mean a very limited amount of time available for epic 3-hour sessions of multi-player games, but – at least in theory – A LOT of time available for solo games.
It’s always difficult to answer the question of just how many games I have that can be played Solo. Essentially, any cooperative game that doesn’t require hidden information can be played two-handed-solo: in a lot of co-op games (Pathfinder, B-Sieged, Zombicide), we regularly have each player controlling multiple characters anyway, which just adds to the confusion (of counting the “soloable” games – not necessarily of actually playing it). In the end, it can be hard to tell which games have a “true” solo variant, which games can enjoyably be played multi-hand-solo, and which games might technically look solo-able, but would be rubbish if you did.
Working through my collection, I was able to count at least 9 games that could be played “true solo” either because the player count just goes that low naturally (100 Swords, Elder Sign, Shadows Over Camelot the Card Game, Yggdrasil) with a single character/team (Lord of the Rings LCG, Marvel Legendary, Pathfinder, Side Quest), or with an official Solo Variant that automates part of the process (Race for the Galaxy, Firefly). Some of these (particularly Pathfinder) probably work better if I control multiple characters, but it isn’t a requirement.
There were also a handful of games which did have a higher minimum-character-count, but which could feasibly be managed by a single player (B-Sieged, Super Dungeon Explore, Zombicide).
However the final count falls, that’s ten or more different games that I could play by myself, which should be more than enough to fill the same number of days, especially considering the amount of other stuff I had to do in that time (work, eat, sleep, paint, tidy, read, write etc…)
I think solo gaming asks an important question – namely what the point of playing games is? I hope that we only play games that are fun, but that doesn’t mean that every time we sit down to game it will be equally enjoyable. Some sessions will always be better than others: some will be a hard, exhausting slog, (hopefully ending with a sense of accomplishment) others will be a laugh. Some will end too soon, others may feel like they have gone on forever. Much of the time, the enjoyment comes from the group of people you play with, and the “perfect” session, if there is such a thing, comes when the right group are all enjoying the same thing at once.
Obviously, that social aspect isn’t going to be a part of any solo gaming session. Instead you might expect either a sense of victory from defeating a game, or cracking a puzzle. Or, maybe, you can hope for “fun.” But how do you measure fun?
Some of the games listed above I’ve played Solo quite a bit – Lord of the Rings LCG is the clear leader in that regard, but I’ve also played a fair bit of solo Pathfinder (in its digital incarnation). For others, such as Race for the Galaxy and Firefly, solo was going to be an entirely new experience and I was keen to try this different approach to games that are good, but never get large amounts of table-time.
Not surprisingly, I’d already eliminated any solo-able games from the “un-played altogether” (i.e. not at all in 2015 or 2016) list, but thinking about a week or so of solo sessions did allow me to put a dent in the list of games that were played last year, but hadn’t hit the table this year yet.
In the end, it worked out at 13 days of playing solo (i.e. no wife in town). This is how the gaming breakdown ended up:
- Wed 10th –Straight from work to a Dice Masters event. No solo gaming
- Thu 11th – difficult day at work followed by Suicide Squad at the cinema. No solo gaming
- Fri 12th – Intro game of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (1)
- Sat 13th – Trial game of Race for the Galaxy (1)
- Sun 14th – 2 more games of Race for the Galaxy, 3 of LotR LCG, 2 of Marvel Legendary (7)
- Mon 15th – 3 games of Marvel Legendary (lost them all) (3)
- Tue 16th – a decidedly unproductive day, just a single game of Legendary. (1)
- Wed 17th – refresher game of Shadows Over Camelot the Card Game. (1)
- Thu 18th – another solitary game of Shadows (1)
- Fri 19th – Friends over. No solo gaming
- Sat 20th First 2 attempts at Mansions of Madness (2nd Ed), as well as a solo run-through of Firefly. (3)
- Sun 21st – Dice Masters tournament and lots of tidying. No solo gaming
- Mon 22nd – a final game of Legendary (1)
As already noted, some of these were games I’d played solo a lot before, others weren’t. Here are a few thoughts on some of the ones which stood out.
Race for the Galaxy
Race has been referred to many times (including on this blog) as “San Juan in space” and in my head that’s exactly what it is – I regularly forget just how much additional complexity there is.
The main difference between San Juan and Race for the Galaxy, comes in what happens to the things you make. In San Juan, as so as you produce stuff, you can profit from it, and the trick is to maximise the amount you can sell, and the money you make.
Race is much more complex – You can sell one good, using the “trade: $” action, but to actually convert into cards and victory points, you need specific Phase IV powers on planets or constructions in your tableau. The end result is a game that takes much longer to properly get up-and-running.
Having not played Race in a while, it took me a while to get going, especially as the Solo rules are an adapted form of the “advanced” 2-player variant of the game, which we have never really used.
The solo version is definitely more complex than an all-human game: there is a board which represents your actions, and the ways in which the robot responds to them – there are also dice which control the actions that the robot takes.
The system which the designers have put in place to make this game playable solo is certainly a clever one, and it still feels quite a bit like playing Race ‘properly.’ That said, it is impossible to predict what the robot will do, in the way that you sometimes can with a human opponent, and the robot’s ability to trigger benefits in the trade phase earlier than the human player can properly get set-up can give it a real advantage – I got lucky on my first game, and won, but was then soundly beaten on the next two attempts, even at the easiest difficulty. Part of me didn’t want to get into a Vendetta with a cardboard computer controlled by a dice. Another part of me just really wanted to win a game…
Shadows Over Camelot: The Card Game
Shadows Over Camelot is a big co-operative board game from Days of Wonder, in which players act as Arthur and his Knights, trying to stave off the forces of evil, and complete various quests, hindered by the fact that one (or more) of them may secretly be a traitor.
As is so often the way, the successful board game was revamped as a card-game: highly portable, and with a more flexible player-count. At its most basic, on a player’s turn, they can either play the top card of the “rumours” deck, typically revealing a card with a quest logo and a number on it, or they can go on a quest – picking up the pile of rumours that have been played, and counting the totals for each quest: the aim is to get a total of 11, 12, or 13 – if they manage this, they get white swords equal to the quest’s value, if not then black swords will be placed – first side to 7 swords wins.
There’s slightly more to it than that – there are cards with variable values, Morgan cards which makes things harder, Merlin cards which are supposed to help, but generally just add to the confusion, but this is what it really boils down to.
Both last year and this, Shadows the Card Game has only made it out for a solo game. I play it a few times, decide that it’s basically just a memory game; generally quite easy, but capable of putting you into an impossible position via dumb luck. Even though this won’t have been on the “un-played” list for 2015 or 2016, it’s actually not that interesting or fun as a solo game, and I really need to either give this a big-group run-out, or move it along.
Marvel Legendary is a game which had seen a little bit of solo play in the past, and which got a big boost this past week or two. Given how big this article has got, I’ve decided to split up my thoughts on playing Legendary Solo and put them in a separate article (link to follow once it’s written).
It’s entirely possible that I had the first copy of Firefly the board game in England – at the time I knew a guy who worked for the distributors, and convinced him to sell me the spare copy they had in the office to give to my wife, whose birthday was a week or two ahead of the official release date.
Firefly is a game that does a great job of capturing the flavour of the cult TV show of the same name, as you fly your Firefly class ship around the ‘verse, taking jobs where you can, avoiding Alliance and Reapers, and generally just trying to keep flying.
On the downside, it has a large footprint, a long play-time (certainly MUCH longer than the various scenarios are advertised at), a less-than-brilliant rulebook, and it slows down a lot with players who aren’t familiar with the game / don’t plan ahead on other people’s turns. There’s also not all that much player interaction, meaning you can often get a strange end-game experience, where it’s clear that someone is going to win, but everyone needs to keep going through the motions for 4 more rounds before you actually get there.
I’m not sure which of those assorted factors are to blame, but this one hadn’t been out since January 2015, and giving it a whirl solo seemed like a good opportunity to refresh on the rules, ahead of encouraging others to play (whilst it’s often sadly necessary, it’s never good for general group enthusiasm when I spend a significant portion of the game leafing through the rulebook).
I played one game of this, towards the end of my week-and-a-half. The solo game changes the set-up, allowing you to pick upto 4 crew, and as well as having Mal captaining the ship, I took Wash, Kayley, Simon and River. Pilot and Mechanic are always useful to have, and the Simon+ River combination is one of the most powerful in the game, as it means that 50% of the time, you can have 3 icons of your choice for any skill test.
Solo play puts a time-limit of twenty turns on the game, with a choice between 3 objectives: “the good” (become solid with 5 contacts), “the bad” (make lots of money) and “the ugly” (misbehave successfully 20 times).
Fairly quickly, I ran in to some obvious issues with solo Firefly. For one thing, the Reavers and the Alliance Cruiser are almost irrelevant – there’s never any compelling reason to have them anywhere near you. Being able to start with a powerful crew really changes the early turns, and I got lucky pulling the “no fuel needed for full burn” drive on about turn 2 or 3 (this does reduce your maximum range by one, but having Wash cancels this out).
In the end I won fairly easily – after 10 turns out of 20, with an absolute stack of cash.
I thought about another game the following day. In the end, I ended up doing some tidying, and getting into a losing battle with Photoshop, but even if I had stuck to gaming, I’m not sure I would have been that enthused about playing this again – there just wasn’t that much to drive things.
Interestingly, an issue we have with Firefly in general, is that there isn’t much interaction, so it often feels like everyone is playing a solo game. I’m assured that there are fixes in the expansions, but as it is, the game doesn’t get enough play to justify an expansion…
On balance, I think I managed to get a fair amount of gaming done during this week-and-a-half. I probably over-estimated the time I had available (I forgot that, although my wife was away, I still had work, and various other commitments), and there were other things I wanted to do that got pushed aside by excess gaming.
Some of the games I played work well solo, whether that’s something like Legendary, which I knew already, or Race for the Galaxy, which was a pleasant surprise. Others were a bit of a let-down. The Shadows card game, and Firefly both felt like they didn’t really repay the time investment as a solo game.
It’s going to be a while (I’d imagine) before I do this much solo gaming in such a short period, but when I do, it’s nice to know that there are games out there worth the effort.