Gamelyn Games recently closed out a poll in BoardGameGeek about what their next stretch goal should be for Tiny Epic Galaxies, a game currently in Kickstarter. The two choices were to either add a 5th player (the original game was up to 4 players), or to add a solo variant. Throughout the voting period, it was a close race, with the solo variant winning in the end.
When you stop to think about it, the poll was really asking you if you think you're going to have more players wanting in, or if you're more likely to be alone wishing you can still play this game.
And while I know most people have their gaming groups and gatherings, there are still some that still want to game beyond that, often alone. But that doesn't mean we WANT to be alone. The option to play a game despite the lack of other humans, however, is always an appealing notion...better than leaving a game to set on the shelf and get no attention.
If I could, I would destroy the word "solitaire" from the dictionary. Tied to a card game that essentially defines the player as playing alone, the word "solitaire" has shown solo players in a terrible light, as trolls that isolate themselves in the murky recesses of a basement, excluded from society like a grumpy hermit. Yet, no one bats an eye if you play as a "single player" in video games.
The point is, solo gaming should not be depicted as a lonely adventure. There are many other reasons why you would pursue some solo variant, the most obvious reason being to better teach yourself the game so that you can confidently teach it to others when the time comes! I played Pandemic solo so many times that the rules come out second-nature to new friends of the hobby.
Another reason is to keep the game from being unplayed on the shelf. Even the best board gamers have their solo moments, and when the urge to play a game exceeds their schedules, a solo game of anything really hits the spot well. Frankly, any excuse to bust out some choice board game components is a great reason in itself.
While treading finely on the "lonely" aspect of solo gaming, there's also the faux game to play, when you pretend to setup the game for multiple players and play a few rounds. Not only does this help with learning the rules to the game, but knowing where all the components lay can greatly reduce setup time in the future, maximizing gameplay and minimizing frustration and waiting. And, while the setup is occurring, even a faux game can be performed to further understand the turns and actions that are involved, to lessen the chance someone will ask you a question that you must look up in the thick rulebook.
More than anything, having a solo variant means one thing: that we can finally play the game for ourselves. That's the reason why we buy them, right? Sometimes our schedules do not allow us to gather the players required to play a proper game, and sometimes people just don't want to play with you. But that doesn't matter, because here comes the solo variant!
And if there's no solo variant? Why not make your own? Just recently I dabbled in crafting my own solo variant for Easy Breezy Travel Agency, creating a simple AI player that will thwart you mid-game. Throughout the process, I got a few games in, learning the ins and outs, clarifying rules and scoring. Only after those few games, I've learned to set up and tear down the game quite quickly! And, in the end, I created a solo variant, which you can check out here!
Overall, the process was amazing and fulfilling, and it would be something I'd like to continue making because, really, after a few times playing this solo, I'll have all the practice in the world for when I finally present this game to my friends to play!