Solo Gaming: What Is It And Why Do It?

What is a solo game? How does it differ from a solitaire game? And aren’t games meant to be social, so why ever do any solo gaming in the first place?

All good questions.

And I do have some answers, although before I launch into them I’d like to state a quick proviso:

In the absence of a dictionary definition of what a solo game is, and what a solitaire game is, I’m stating the next part as my definition. I’m not saying it’s the only way to interpret the two terms, but it works for me.

It may also work for you.

What Is a Solo Game?

Solo games are played by one player.

Wait a second. I know some of you are screaming, “Doh! Nice one, Sherlock!” Put down the pitchforks and torches.

A solo game may not be designed for one player, but one player either can play it by playing both sides, or by modifying the rules a bit so he (or she) can play it alone.

So if I play Descent 2nd Edition as both the heroes and the overlord, then I’m playing it solo. Or, if I play a solo variant of a game like Sails of Glory, then I am also playing it solo (hence the “solo variant” tag).

Descent game box
Descent – A great “soloable” game.

This matches the definition of “solo” from

a person who works, acts, or performs alone:

Now before anyone breaks into the song by Eric Carmen, we’ll get to just why you might want to play all by yourself in a bit.

So What’s A Solitaire Game Then?

A solitaire game differs from a solo one in that it is designed from the ground up to be played by one player. It has no other variant. It can only be played solo.

A good example of this is Warfighter. The game is designed to be played solo, and that’s it.

Warfighter box cover
Warfighter – A challenging solitaire game

Now the dictionary goes a bit odd here as it refers to the games known as “solitaire” (one being a card game, and the other played with pegs or marbles on a small board).

It also says that “solitaire” is:

a large extinct flightless bird of the genus Pezophaps, related to the dodo but with a longer neck, smaller bill, and longer legs, that inhabited the Mascarene Islands.

Fortunately, solitaire gamers have not gone the way of flightless birds. But are rather thriving. And a good thing too for those that enjoy a bit of alone time with a game.

And if you’re wondering where the Mascarene islands are, they are east of Madagascar. Yes, I Googled it.

What About PC Games?

Good question. Are they solo? Solitaire? People need to know!

My answer is: it depends.

But that’s not a copout answer. There’s a reason why I say that.

If a PC game (or mobile game) is built to be played purely alone (like Tetris), then it’s a solitaire game.

If the game has a single player mode and a multiplayer mode, my definition would put it in the “solo” camp. For example, a game that has a single player campaign game and a multiplayer experience, like Star Wars Battlefront 2, has both solo and multiplayer experiences (I like these games best as they give me a choice).

Battlefront II game art
Battlefront II – Excellent solo campaign (and perfectly playable multiplayer)

And if it has multiplayer options only, then the PC game is multiplayer.


Don’t Get Bent Around The Categories

If you want to call all the games “solo” and never use the word “solitaire” in your life, that’s fine. No one will arrest you. The board game police won’t come around your house at 2am, kick in the door, and drag you kicking and screaming into the night.

At least, not anymore.

The more I hang out in forums and in Facebook groups, the more I see people get all bent out of shape about whether a game is solo, or solitaire, or a distant cousin of the Dodo.

Truly, it does not matter.

If the above categories help define things, then use them with my blessing. If they don’t, then ignore them.

I promise I won’t break into your house, tiptoe up to your room, and write my angry dismissal of your ideas in blood upon your bedroom wall.

I’ve learned the hard way not to leave DNA lying around.

Why Play A Solo Board Game (Or A Solo Wargame, or PC Game, Or Solitaire Something)?

The answer is simple:

It’s fun.

Yes, I know that sounds facile. But seriously, would you want to invest hours of time in something that wasn’t fun?

I also know it doesn’t sound fun for everyone. People love the thrill of beating an actual opponent, of grinding them into dust and destroying them.

And there is definitely something to be said for that.

But when gaming solo, there is a great deal of fun derived from the pleasure of the game itself.

And that’s why we play games: to have fun. At least that’s why I do. Maybe you have another reason, like an ancient vow to your Aunt Mildred.

Having spoken to a few friends who also like solo gaming, there does seem to be a running theme with what people do enjoy about the experience:

  • It’s easy to find a player willing to play (you simply look in the mirror and say, “Want to play a game, old bean?”
  • You don’t have to worry if anyone else is interested in the period.
  • You play in your own time and at your own pace.
  • No one complains that you are taking too long to look up rules (you can learn to play as you play and that’s just fine).
  • There are no arguments about the rules (well, there can be but my wife has pointed out – several times – how silly I look arguing with an empty chair).
  • You always win (unless you don’t, in which case there is no one to see you throw a tantrum).

For me, however, the best part is I get to create.

Solo Scenarios: A Creative’s Dream

By day, when I am not a masked blogging crusader, I am a mild-mannered writer. I chose that profession because I love to create.

When I wargame that creative streak runs as wide as the Nile, and flows twice as fast. I create scenarios, rule changes, new additions to a game I love. I can no more stop doing it than I can choose to stop breathing.

As a solo gamer I can chop, change, and modify as much as I like. I only answer to me. If a scenario I create is unbalanced, I am the only one who tuts and rolls my eyes. And I am the only one whose time is wasted in the process.

Scenario creation is where I really get my rocks off. I will create linked scenarios, matrix campaigns, even narrative driven ones that let the game take me where it wants to go.

And I never get to hear the words, “Let’s just play a standard game.”

Luke Skywalker No
Me when someone suggests playing a standard game

Explore Solo Gaming And See For Yourself

Playing any game solo is very much a, “Try it for yourself and see” proposition.

Much like when you were a kid. I remember my parents waving spoons heaped full of peas in front of my face screaming, “How do you know you don’t like peas if you don’t try them?”

And they were right. I did like peas. Kinda. What I didn’t like was the thought of peas.

Next time you feel like a game and can’t find an opponent, have a taste of solo gaming. You might find you do like it.

And then we’ll welcome you to the dark side.

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