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The utilitarian pleasures of playing board games by yourself (atlasobscura.com)
61 points by exanimo_sai 8 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 51 comments

As an only child, I used to spend my summers playing board games by myself. It started with monopoly (which my babysitter introduced me to) and carried over to chess and beyond.

For many of the games, I ended up assigning one player to be “me” and different personalities to “the other players,” who each had different styles. I also tried my best to stop “myself” from cheating by forgetting what cards “everyone else” had. After all, games are not fun when someone is cheating.

Thankfully, my days of playing board games by myself is long over. However, I still have a tendency to take a long time to calculate my next move since I’m always trying to factor in what everyone else is doing.

I figured a bunch of only children would reply here.

I spent 4-5 years playing Avalon Hill wargames alone (Panzer Blitz, Squad Leader, 1776, etc.), trying to play each side's strategy as accurately as I could. I don't know if it made me a better tactician but it certainly threw open the gates of historical curiosity to the point that 12-year-old me knew more about WWII than my parents.

I'm also an only child and I'm thankful that I was raised in an area with plenty of kids. I never missed having real siblings. (Future) Parents of this world remember this when choosing a place to live, specially nowadays that only childs are becoming the norm.

Aside from being in that area, did you wish you had a sibling growing up? Selfishly my partner and I want to stick with a single child but for his sake we are thinking of having another.

I never wished I had real siblings, I had 2 "brothers" and an older "sister" living next doors while a kid. Despite my personal anecdata, I would prefer to have more than one child. Being a single child has more negatives than positives. Parents always expect/demand more and can't avoid to treat them as scarce.

Please stop thinking of your choice as selfish.

Another only child here. Solitaire, a Game Boy, and later Minesweeper, Hearts, and Freecell were some of my single-player entertainment. It never occurred to me to play a board game by myself; major props to your young imagination!

Never occurred to me to play a board game solo as a kid either, and I used to bring my NES controller and a Super Mario Brothers 3 Strategy Guide full of maps to my grandmother's to pretend to play through the game.

But I design board games now, and boy do I ever play my own games against myself now. I'll play up to 4 players solo for playtesting purposes, no problem. So far the only types of games that it's seemed pretty impossible to do this with are social deduction and party games.

I can't recommend Fantasy Flight Games' co-op card offerings enough. They allow 1-4 people to play against an encounter deck that acts as the opposition and generates the story of the quest/encounter.

-Lord of the Rings: They have the rights to the books, not the movies, which allows for a ton of creative writing and characters. Definitely the heaviest and most complex of the three, but allows for the most granularity in deck building. Has an enormous card pool.

-Arkham Horror: VERY story driven, cosmic horror theme that draws heavily from Lovecraft writing, but isn't afraid to blaze its own path. Feels very much like an RPG.

-Marvel Champions: Lighter weight than the other two, but an absolute blast to play. Very pick up and play with minimal story, feels like an action brawler. The newest of the three. Deck building is much less of a chore than with the others. You pick a super hero, they come with fifteen hero-specific cards, then pick an aspect (think color from Magic) and fill out the deck with only cards from that aspect.

It isn't one-player exactly, but it's easy to jump into from home during quarantine, so quick plug: FFG's tragically deceased LCG Android:Netrunner lives on digitally at http://jinteki.net, and the community is very welcoming to new players. (It's also open-source and quite elegantly engineered using Clojure/ClojureScript.)

There is a solo variant for both the runner and corp that you can find on BoardGameGeek. I believe the runner side is called Running Solo, can’t remember what the corp side is called. I printed it out ages ago and never tried it, you’ve inspired me to give it a go today!

Arkham Horror is on sale at Amazon and Walmart right now.


Design of 1-player and 0-player games is a topic that really interests me, but finding any coherent resources on it is a non-trivial task.

Aside from card solitaire reviews, Hesse's "glass-bead games" (aka Hipbone games [1]) and various articles on Game of Life, only [2] with [3] seems close enough to what I have in mind (+ variations on Jung's active imagination with tarot, surrealist games), mainly using board games as a tool for thought and modeling beyond the purview of classical game theory.

I would appreciate pointers in that direction.

As a bonus, if you are interested in abstract board games and eurogames, GIPF project [4] is worth checking out.

[1]: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/38371/hipbone-games

[2]: https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691025667/la...

[3]: https://senseis.xmp.net/?TheProtractedGame

[4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GIPF_project

As well as solo play, I've also started playing more digital versions of board games where an AI opponent is available. Whist not at all social it is a good way to quickly work on your strategy for when you do find a mutually convenient time to play online with friends. Plus most of them work on a decently powered laptop and don't need powerful graphics cards that a lot of other games do.

If you don't mind me asking, where do you play these digital board games?

Not OP but likely the various paid and free DLC for Tabletop Simulator might have such features. Keep in mind as someone who enjoys boardgames TS can be a surprisingly steep learning curve.

> Plus most of them work on a decently powered laptop and don't need powerful graphics cards that a lot of other games do.

Tabletop Simulator absolutely kills my 15" 2015 MBP (integrated graphics only). The interface is laggy, and the fans are running at max after about 10 mins of gameplay.

Not that it doesn't work when there's no dedicated digital alternative that it exists, but its generally my absolute last choice.

Have you tried Tabletopia? Lacks the AI, so it's for playing against real opponents, but runs in the browser. It's still laggy at times though, it's not quite scaled to cope with the increased numbers staying home.

As someone else has said, Tabletop Simulator has lots of options but there's dedicated digital versions of board games available on Steam, such as Scythe, Terraforming Mars, Splendor.

Board Game Arena is a good option.

Half-OT: Anyone knows good contemporary board/card games for two players?

I like deduction games like "Mastermind".

Try Hanabi: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/98778/hanabi "Multiplayer Mastermind with cards" is not too far off of a description.


I play patchwork and Azul regularly and like them.

"Ticket To Ride" is a nice, casual play as a two person game. "Twilight Struggle" is fun but much more intense.

"Small World" is a super fun, ultra confrontational game in two player mode.

The hidden objectives in Ticket To Ride might suit that OP's request for a deductive element as well.

Other people have mentioned a lot of good 2 player games that I like, particularly Dominion, Carcassonne, Hive, and Sagrada. But, I'll add the following recommendations that I haven't seen mentioned:

- Jaipur

- Century: Spice Road

- Race for the Galaxy

Santorini: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/194655/santorini

is a good two player game. It has a simple base game, and then is kept fresh by randomly changing the gameplay with additional rules each play. You can also buy more rule cards.

I can recommend Pandemic, especially, trendy nowadays :) It is not deduction, but more strategic. In this game you collaborate with the other player to win against the game, instead of playing against each other. If you play just two, every game you might need to modify you strategy, so it is different and is not boring :)

Link to wikipage with the exact game I mean: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandemic_(board_game)

Carcassonne works well as a two player game (not a deduction game, though).

Sagrada works two player and has a hidden objective element, though I feel it's a little better four player.

10 Days In Africa is a good quick game with hidden information that's playable two-player, but it's out of print so can be hard to find.

My wife and I have played probably a hundred games of two player Carcassonne. We just dig the almost absent minded lazy play without striving too hard to win.

Some 1v1 games I like:

* Pentago

* Dominion (Card game)

* Splendor (also mentioned by another user).

* Dominion

* Ikusa (~8+ hour game, 2 to 5 players. A faster-moving version of Axis and Allies)

* Chess

* Go

--* Gomoku (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gomoku) Played on a Go board

--* Connect6 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connect6), also played on a Go board


One of my favorite games is "Acquire", but it only really works with 3+ players. There is a 2-player variant, but its not quite as good.

Dominion is available online. https://dominion.games/

Battle Line [1]. Absolutely fantastic 2-player strategy card game. It has a lot of deduction built in. Since every card is one of a kind, you can win by playing a “bad” card in one place if it proves your opponent can’t win in another place. Love it!

[1] https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/760/battle-line

Lost Cities is a good game that's 2 player only

Something that comes back regularly in my circle is Blokus:


You can play it with 2 players, it is more fun with 4 though (should either be 2 or 4). Go and chess are classics I enjoy with 2 players, although I generally prefer larger groups. Not very creative, I know.

7th Wonder Duel, Kero are boardgames for 2 players.

Keyforge: card game with random but fixed decks.

Splendor, Azul, Century are also good to play with 2 players.

As another mentioned, Hive should be up your alley.

We also enjoy Castles of Burgundy at two players.

Santorini might suit you.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a good deductive co-op and works well with 2 players (downside is that you can only play it 10 times before having to buy more scenarios).

I think Pandemic works well as 2 player, though not all agree.

7 Wonders Duel for combative PvP.

I've become quite a fan of Shobu lately. It has very simple game mechanics, even simpler than chess, yet still involves a lot of strategy and tactical thinking.

Netrunner - card game. Can play online at 'jinteki'

Highly recommend netrunner, it's asymetrical with one side trying to hide points face down while the other side tries to find them. Great fun. Having played a ton of Keyforge, Netrunner, Hearthstone, and MtG - Netrunner still is my favorite. However it's the steepest learning curve. It really took us both a while to even get through a whole game. Once it clicked though it became an instant favorite. Also it's discontinued so you can get a whole ton of cards by just buying someone's collection.

Hive is pretty fun.

Splendor, Jaipur, and Seven Wonders: Duel are all fantastic 2 player games that get a ton of play at my house

Works for typical puzzle/optimization Euros, but not for the games my gaming groups have enjoyed most. Anything involving politics, diplomacy, intrigue, back stabbing and the like just don't work solo. Nor do RPGs except for grindy munchkin-fests like CRPGs. IMHO, that human interaction is the reason to play games with other people.

Whenever I got bored enough to actually do something like this, I just read a book.

Somebody is really bored.

Still, this is a great era for not being bored. There's far more content coming out every day than anyone can consume. That was not the case two decades ago.

For many people simply consuming media for long periods of time is boring and unmotivating. Playing a strategy boardgame is much more interesting and involved.

IDK, there are some really good and compelling single player video games out there nowadays. I'm trying to play half a dozen at the same time lately <_<.

While I agree there's a lot of compelling single player games out there (my PS4 backlog is over 20 games at this point, still slowly working through FF7 Remake), they tend not to really scratch the same itch.

A lot of those games are often very story or action driven, and aren't really about successfully navigating a system of interlocking mechanisms like a lot of board games are. There are exceptions out there (XCOM: Enemy Unknown comes to mind, although that was designed by Ananda Gupta, the same guy who designed one of the best thematic strategy board game ever - Twilight Struggle - and he prototyped XCOM as a board game first), but not many.

Logistics video games also seem to work well, like Factorio or any of the Zachtronics games, about making the most efficient system you can to accomplish a goal.

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