Tobold's Blog
Monday, October 03, 2022
Musings on Solo Board Games

We had a great time Friday evening with friends coming over and us playing a 4-player game of Return to the Dark Tower. The game was just the right mix of frequently feeling as if we were about to lose, followed by pulling off a surprise win. Lots of player interaction, turns not too long but interesting, really a great game for 4 players. The problem is that I play board games with 4 players at most twice a month. I can play a board game in 2-player mode with my wife slightly more often, but not all that much. And I have some reservations regarding playing board games solo.

For example I recently watched a rather long video with a playthrough of act I of Hoplomachus: Victorum. This is a tactical skirmish game in which you play a gladiator in a mythological Greece. It is from Chip Theory Games, which tend to make good games with excessively luxury components, so the game cost $150 in the most basic version. And gameplay consists of a series of arena combats with a good amount of variation, in which you hopefully increase the power of your gladiator team until you are ready to take on the final boss of the act. And I would really, really like a video game version of this instead. Which would be a lot cheaper, and a lot faster to play.

In tactical solo board games, it is up to you as the player to not only do your moves, but also to execute the moves of the enemies. The enemies have some sort of "AI", a set of instructions what they will do. In some games there is some randomness and hidden information involved in this, with you for example drawing a card which says what the enemy is trying to do. In other games everything is known, and there are lists of priorities, e.g. the enemy tries to move towards the weakest enemy in range and attack it. The disadvantage of all that, is that you are playing against yourself. It is in your interest to play the enemies as badly as possible within the rules, and to base your hero moves on knowing what the enemy will do. Sometimes you can completely "cheese" the fight by kiting the enemy units or otherwise disabling them through a combination of moving your own units and choices you can make when moving the enemy units. So, in the end you spend a lot of time with those enemy moves, and they are less challenging than if a computer AI had made them.

There are other games, for example heavily story-driven games with no audio narration, where I gladly play solo. They are still okay with 2 players, but I wouldn't play them with 4 players, spending the evening reading to each other. Given the situation mentioned at the beginning of the post, that I have more time alone than with others, I also do like it when a game that is for several players can also be played solo; that also sometimes helps with learning the rules (for Return to Dark Tower we played a 2-player game to learn the rules for the 4-player evening).

But I think a pure solo game, especially one as expensive as Hoplomachus: Victorum, is something I should rather skip. I should be able to find some computer game which offers at least a similar tactical game experience, without me having to play against myself.


I would say playing against the board is decent fun in a good number of games. Even in the case of a co-op game designed for two or more players, you can just play two characters. However I only find that fun in games that have a lot of flavor text to read. It's close to the the same sort of entertainment I get out of a good gamebook.
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