There are probably as many reasons to game solo as there are solo gamers, but there are some common reasons which I have experienced which I will outline here. Personally, I can identify with all of these, you may well have others! Whatever the reasons, it is clear that it is becoming more common for game of all types to include a solo variant as standard. If you follow the progress of games on Kickstarter you’ll know that the game-buying public frequently request a solo option and, once a game is funded, adding this as an additional feature is often high on the list for developers to include as stretch goals. I know that I am vastly more likely to take a punt on a game if I can play it solo because I know for sure that it’ll come out of the box and see some use. I simply can’t say that for a multiplayer game. I do occasionally play games with others, but there are so many games vying for attention, and the tastes of others to take into account, that it is highly likely that by the time the game arrives, it won’t be anywhere near the top of the pecking order and will stay in its box.
So, here are my reasons, I’d love to hear yours!
- Immersive Escapism
This is my main reason for seeking out deep, narrative driven, solo games. When immersed in such a game it evokes for me the childhood feeling of sitting on the carpet with all my toys out, playing out whatever stories were in my imagination. Hours went by and no hint of boredom on the horizon. Now that I’m a ‘grown up’ I need more structure and intellectual challenge to this process, but I still crave that timeless immersion that comes from being absorbed in emerging stories. That’s where the games come in. Playing solo allows the story to come first, using the game mechanics and a little imagination to provide challenge and hold attention.
- Intellectual Challenge
Many solo games are essentially a puzzle with a theme. Puzzles are a great way to provide you with a mental challenge and keep the brain sharp. Game mechanics are hugely diverse in their nature, and not only do they provide varying degrees of intellectual challenge to a game, but new games often surprise you with the innovation and elegance of their mechanics. The tactile nature of game components, and the variety of experiences provided by game mechanics are two of the main reasons people choose board/card/miniature games over puzzle books or video games. In a solo experience it is you versus the game, and you get the satisfaction of having solved a puzzle when you win.
- Play at Your Own Pace
There are a couple of elements to this. When life gets busy it is not always easy to set large chunks of time aside to play through a game in one sitting. In a multiplayer game you potentially have the burden of co-ordinating diaries and carving out time to play. When playing solo, you can set the game up and pick it up or put it down at will and play through it using multiple smaller chunks of time.
Secondly, when it comes to place of play, you may be someone who prefers to think more deeply about the choices within a game, and take more time over decisions (or indeed the opposite – you may prefer to smash through a game as fast as possible!). Playing solo removes the frustration when two or more players who play at a different natural pace.
This factor is particularly useful when playing the very large character development or settlement building games (Kingdom Death: Monster I’m looking at you!) where the depth of the game comes from the many hours of time invested into it.
- Personality Type
You might simply just PREFER playing solo! There are a vast number of factors that make up a ‘personality type’ and it would be foolish to try to explore them all, or for someone as unqualified as me to suggest that there is a provable correlation between personality type and game preference, but I’ll give one example to illustrate the point. We’re all likely familiar with the Introvert/Extrovert spectrum. One of the key characteristics of extroverts is that they generally gain energy from being around other people. For introverts, being surrounded by people is often draining, and their energy is restored by stepping out of the limelight for periods of time. Now, this doesn’t mean that introverts are unsociable, or that extroverts don’t appreciate a bit of ‘me time’ here and there, but the point is that different people need a different amount of interpersonal interaction in order to balance their energy levels. The great news for gamers is that whatever balance is right for you, you can still play as many games as you want. Solo games provide that recreational personal space that some of us crave, and we can enjoy them as little or as often as we want.
- Learning Rules
When you pick up a new game, it is usually helpful to familiarise yourself with the game contents and read the rule book prior to playing the game in anger. Even if you intend to play the game with others, it is often helpful if one player puts in the work to learn the game and can then share that knowledge with their opponent/group to make the initial games go more smoothly. Having a play-through can be valuable. This can be done even if there is no solo mode, but essentially then you are playing a multiplayer game solo as opposed to playing a true solo game. When a game has both solo and multiplayer options, many of the game mechanics will usually be shared between the solo and multiplayer variants and so the learning can be done whilst still having a rewarding gaming experience in its own right.
- Strategy Testing
This also falls into the category of playing a Player vs Player (PvP) game solo as opposed to playing a true solo game, but it is another valid form of solo gaming. You essentially play both sides of a competitive game. On one side you play a ‘dummy’ player, mimicking the potential plans and strategies of an average opponent. On the other side you play out a potential strategy that you might use in a competitive game. This is particularly useful in larger strategy games or wargames. You get to move your forces, roll the dice, defend against damage and test the relative strength of your force to develop strategies to use them most effectively. This can actually be a fun way to play in its own right, especially if you develop a bit of story around it, but also serves as practise for a competitive game. It seems that every time I show up to play the X-Wing Miniatures Game, my opponent has been practising in secret and working out new ways to destroy me – perhaps it’s time I took my own advice here!
- Lack of Opponents
I think this one is fairly self-explanatory! Some people don’t have a regular gaming group due to their base location or other commitments (shift working for example) making it difficult to find regular opponents or gaming buddies. Alternatively, maybe you do have a gaming group but the other members have no interest in a game, genre or game type that you particularly enjoy. The way not to miss out is to get your fix via a solo game.
- Play More Games
Maybe you’re a hard-core gamer who wants to be gaming morning, noon and night. Unless you are a member of a number of different gaming groups it’s highly likely that your buddies will struggle to keep up with you. Breaking out the solo games between your regular gaming sessions means there is no need for you to stop playing – keep on keeping on!
So there are just a few of the main reasons why solo gaming is such a valuable part of our hobby. They often overlap, and some are more relevant at different times. There may be some I’ve missed. The key point is that solo gaming is very much on the up – enjoy!