Like many people, I got sent home to work from home for an unspecified length of time when the pandemic hit in early 2020. I now have a permanent “work from home job”, so I am now always at home. Which initially was no different as my partner was also still working at home too. Although I felt sad I couldn’t see my friends and family but I wasn’t alone.
Lonely, I’m so Lonely, All on My Own!
As the world started to open up, I was still at home. My partner went back to work on site and I found myself unable to visit customers in person. So I was in front of a computer all day everyday. It was winter and I had no desire to leave the cosy warmth of home, so I never saw anyone. I had “Teams calls” for work but otherwise I was totally living through my phone and the TV.
Not being able to meet up inside for a coffee hit me hard, and I found myself overworking. Often working through my lunch without realising and finishing late as well. Even though I spent a lot of my time alone, I felt like I never had “me time”. I tried taking lunch time baths because I’m paranoid of dropping my phone in the bath, there is a requirement for me to be detached, but I just felt sluggish in the afternoon. I was beating myself up about the fact I hadn’t been as productive as I should have been, which really defeated the point of the restorative bath!
Can You Solo That?
I saw on Instagram a few people streaming themselves playing solo games, and I thought maybe I could play solo. I'd never played a physical game solo, only some app versions on my phone. I found the idea of setting it all up just for me to enjoy quite odd. Which is ridiculous because in our household I research and choose the majority of our games anyway. I decided to try solo games and looked through all my shelves to find which games had a solo mode. Never having thought about solo gaming before, I had no clue which games were suitable and which were not.
I saw that Everdell had a solo mode and I love the components, such high-quality and tactile resources. I hadn’t even considered it could have a solo mode. In Everdell the blocking of worker spaces by your opponent and the race to get the best cards is part of the fun. How could this happen in a solo mode? Looking through the rules, it appeared that there was an automa player called Rugwort who you were duelling against. They block spaces and cards in the meadow as well as stealing the achievement tiles invariably just as you were going to. Everdell has a very strong immersive theme that I love. A lunch time solo of this was exactly what I was looking for. It offered me a 45min break from reality. The solo mode comes in three difficulty modes, set out as three different years.
Diving into the Oniverse
Once I tried solo gaming, Pandora’s box was open. I wanted another solo game, but one that fitted in a half hour. Something that was quicker and maybe solely designed as a solo experience, which got me researching. I had heard a lot of talk about the Oniverse games. After a lot of deliberation, I picked Aerion. This is a Yahtzee style dice chucker and comes with a bunch of expansions in the box. The premise of the base game is to get the right dice combinations to construct cards from the market and use these to construct airships. That could be two pairs, or a run of five in ascending order, three of a kind, four of a kind etc.
Some may say this is simply luck. The thing is, there’s a certain level of strategy in knowing when to take what you threw, and when to push for a re-roll. A re-roll requires you to discard a card from the market, which may be a great strategic move if that card is not useful to you. The game plays in about 20 mins and I would pitch it at medium difficulty to win. Of course the dice throwing gods may never shine on you.
You know what is cool about this set of games? They all come with modular expansions in the box. So far I have played two of the six that come in the box, and they have changed up the games enough to keep it fresh but not so much that it takes away from the essence of the base game. The components in this game are high quality if simple. The insert and box design is really excellent too including this fold out cloud part to the insert. Unnecessary yes, but beautiful.
Flocking Good Fun
Beautiful components always make me feel good. Stonemaier Games are renowned for their high quality components in their games. Top of the pile for me is Wingspan, an engine builder about attracting birds to your habitat. You attract birds by having the correct food for them to eat. As your board gets more birds in it. You get more powerful actions, as well as some birds having some of their own powers too.
Lots of people describe Wingspan as a gateway game. Although I’d say, for me, it has a more depth to it than I would like to teach a non-gamer. I think the depth offers a lot to all gamers, there is the luck of the cards you draw, but a lot of the game is about building a good engine. I am not good at engine builders, I usually lose at these games, but I love this one. The final score doesn’t even matter to me really. I just enjoy the journey of reading all the cards, and looking at the great artwork. I imagine I spend most of Wingspan making what may well be a list of inefficient decisions and I love it.
Flocking Good Solo Fun
The solo experience for Wingspan was the first time I had run an automa before and I initially thought it would be a big step up for me, yet I found it surprisingly simple. You take your turn as normal and the bot player is simple to run, drawing cards and placing cubes according to the solo mode card deck. At the end, the scoring for you is the same as usual, but the AI character scores according to amassed eggs and cards. It was involved enough to offer me escapism, but not so involved that it detracted from the enjoyment. This solo takes between 30 and 45 mins, depending on your AP level, and for me is the perfect lunchtime solo, although I do prefer to leave it set up on the coffee table for a day or two to get a few games in.
Although we are on the road to normality now here in the UK, I do think the marks left by the lockdowns of the last year or so will take a while to heal. Solo gaming might be a wound that I gained that I am happy to keep. I think my mental health will improve as the restrictions lift and I become less socially isolated, and I do think that board games have played a huge part in that. You can read my full lockdown journey into board games here. Have you tried solo gaming lately? What would be your ideal lunchtime solo game?