I’m not very good at solo board gaming. Video games, sure; almost daily I’m cutting down yokai in my new digital obsession, Nioh, or trying to tend to my crops in the adorable and addictive farming simulator Stardew Valley. Solo board gaming, though, seems…strange. Artificial. Forced. It’s not the games themselves at fault. Most of the solo board games I’ve played are actually multiplayer cooperative titles that I’ve chosen to partake in alone. The games work, the theme is there, the progression is interesting and meaningful. Still it lacks something. It lacks…people.
Similar to those starry-eyed couples on HGTV buying their Tiny House and immediately saying, “It’s beautiful! Can we make it bigger?” I find that sitting down to play something by myself lacks the foundation of why I play games in the first place – to interact with others through heated competition, nail-biting story-telling, and soul-crushing cooperative play.
I end up missing little things, like the circular discussion about who will take the first turn. Instead, after talking myself through set-up as if others were there, I just kind of…start. In a very un-climactic way, like someone who forgot to set their parking brake, I slowly roll into the game and gradually gain momentum as I go – noticing less and less that I’m three dolls short of a tea-party but pretending all the same. This slow build does lead to a shedding of awkwardness, as I focus less on my surroundings and more on the goal. It returns though, sooner than expected most of the time, as the game winds down.
Whether I’ve just slayed the dragon or perfectly balanced my pentaquark, there’s little fanfare as I look up to empty seats. My brain blows an internal kazoo like a sad clown and then, win or lose, I awkwardly pack the game back up, as if it never happened. There’s no one to tell the story to, no one to threaten with a rematch, and no post-game decompression about what was great or what will be explored next time. Just the crumples of plastic baggies and the soft *sssss* of a box lid closing.
Of course, there is always social media for me and my game plays. Tweets and Instagram posts litter my feed – probably more than during a normal game play – as I strive to fill the gap. Retweets and replies take the place of typical interactions and I happily pause my solo experience to respond and discuss. This only serves to exemplify my point further though, as I grasp at any chance to make the experience better meet my needs.
Still, I have had a lot of fun exploring the ways of games like Pentaquark, Days of Ire, and Nautilion on days when real life trumps game night. It’s a strange and often awkward subset of my hobby experience, but maybe a few Meepillows to fill the seats will help soften me up for another go.