Monday, 19 June 2017

Solo gaming

As we’ve got a few players away at the moment I thought I might write a short piece on solo gaming.

There are many advantages to solo gaming, whether it be war or roll playing, but it can be difficult to find a good set of rules that ‘exactly’ fit what you want.

I began serious solo war gaming and roll playing when I started to become more physically isolated from my gaming mates. There was nothing nefarious about it, I had just moved from the centre of the city to the outskirts of the city and I had begun a new career which meant that I was starting to do a lot of remote work and being away from home more.

All this mean that I couldn’t catch up with my mates like we used to do and have a big gaming session every other weekend for a whole Sunday of playing whatever.

And whilst we still did get together every month or so I wasn’t quite getting the gaming hit that I needed.

One way I dealt with it was to listen to gaming podcasts such as Meeples and Miniatures, Roll for Initiative and Save or Die. I had a lot of fun when I first discovered these because they were so portable which meant I could take them with me where ever I went.

Through these I discovered the Two Hour War Games rules Better Dead than Zed and between that, my childhood memories of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and websites such as Vampifans World of the Undead (and by extension all the sites that he follows) my eyes were widened to the fact that there were serious options for solo gaming.

Now whilst solo gaming does have a some draw backs it does have a number of pretty serious advantages which include:
-        No time pressure. There is no down time in solo gaming. No waiting for the other player and no time by which you need to finish the game (depending on your set up). This can lead to some seriously relaxing gaming.
-        The flexibility to tailor to your exact needs. You can change whatever you want in the rules. You want a low magic game of D&D, no drama. You want to use the Traveller RPG rules to play a game of 40K where the Earth has suddenly just been contacted by Space Marines (obviously in an alternative universe) no problem.
-        No arguments, no hurt feelings. Competitive game play can bring out the best and worst in people but in solo gaming it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it doesn’t matter if you accidently or purposely wheeled that Napoleonic column a few more degrees than the ‘allowed’. No one is going to be worried.

Just like a zombie, life is better when you’ve got no time pressure

There are a few principles, little tricks if you will, that I’ve learnt over the years that make solo gaming more enjoyable and which help overcome the fact that there isn’t a human opponent. These include:
-        Random events. It’s important that the system isn’t too predictable and that you get thrown a curve ball every now and again. In most games, there is already a level of randomness that comes from rolling dice for combat, but I’ve found that I need to extend this to the broader game as well. For example, every now and again (say monthly in a war or rpg campaign) I’ll roll on a random chart to see if there has been some unexpected event. This may include an unexpected weather event or an incursion from an as to yet unknown enemy. Maybe the ammunition stores have been flooded or the food stores have gotten rotted. Perhaps a unit of men has suffered some disease and become combat ineffective or they have defected to the other side.
-        Actions have consequences. There is a need for the world to respond to your actions, especially in the longer term. If you slaughter half a cave full of orcs and then withdraw to rest, then the other half of the orcs don’t just meekly wait there for your return. They may reinforce their front defences, hire some mercenaries to help them (such as an ogre), they may move to another area. This also includes the use of supplies. The use of supplies and logistics in a campaign will greatly influence the way that a war game campaign is conducted. Use all your ammunition up, then the supplies may not get through for fresh ammunition. Again a random event will help to keep tension and influence your choice as to how aggressively use that ammunition.
-        Add a little flavour. The game will be a lot better if NPC’s, commanding officers and even grunts of some distinction, have at least a name and hopefully some personality and background as well. It is amazing the difference that giving the commander in charge of a division of infantry a name rather than just sending in the second division again. Sometimes, just adding simple elements, such as street furniture, can help the game.
-        Progress and measuring success in the campaign. Being able to measure success or progress will help you feel like you’ve achieved something. With war gaming this can be some type of campaign or battle victory conditions and with rpgs it can be as simple as gaining a level but it can be extended to include matters such as taking control of a town, defeating a big bad etc. War gaming campaign conditions can include taking control of a certain location, such as an island, or winning some type of local objective. When this is coupled with having limited man power and supplies it can make the campaign exciting as it will create tension between achieving success and having limited resources which may pressure the player to undertake a risky strategy rather than to just wait.
-        Don’t be a slave to the machine. A lot of the above increase the amount of administration in a game, however if you have too much then the game will feel like it’s more work than fun and ultimately it’ll be difficult to maintain enthusiasm for the game. Find techniques to add flavour, realism and some tension whilst keeping the game easy to administer.

Adding a little flavour, such as street furniture, can really enhance the fun



  1. A really well written post and one that I am in total agreement with. I'm a solo gamer now purely because my old gaming group dwindled to just me. Most loses were down to my friends moving away from the area to start a family life elsewhere, never to be heard of again. One close friend died in his early 30's which was heartbreakingly tragic. Whilst I have many fond memories of gaming with friends, I have found a new lease of life in this wonderful hobby thanks to the many solo rules now available.

    Oh, and a big thank you for the shout out for my blog. Much obliged, Tim.

  2. The best thing I've found about it is that I can apply the techniques to cooperative games such as the current Pathfinder campaign that we're playing.

    We'll Bryan you've got a lot of new friends now over the magic of the internet. You saw some good evidence of that a year or so ago. No doubt about that.


  3. I agree with Bryan. Very well written article on solo play. Something I am going to attempt myself. I really like Pathfinder but not group isn't to keen on that system. They are into 5e and that's it. The group sometimes gets at impasse. One person will get bored with what is going on... My problem I'm in my later 60's. That makes it hard for me to get into a group. Who what an old guy in the group. Enjoy your blog look forward to the next encounter the group runs into.

  4. Thanks Gary for your kind words.

    Yep it is a bit of a problem when new systems come out and some guys want to move on and some don't. It can really fracture the party which is a bit of a bummer. Getting older makes it easier and harder I think. I've got so many models and scenery, rule sets etc now that I can pretty much set up in a lot of areas without too much work and everything is well painted with plenty of terrain. On the other hand, the older you get the less available your mates are and it seems to be harder to find like minded individuals.

    For me the solution, until I can get over this current part of my life where I'm a fly in fly out worker for 4-5 days a week, is to solo game and to game on-line. I still collect and paint models but at a much slower pace.

    I've found Pathfinder good to use because it's well established and has a rule for virtually everything.

    By the same token, the Better Dead Than Zed rules are also excellent, almost for the opposite reason.

    Please post your game on your blog when you kick it off. I look forward to reading your adventures.


  5. Being an aged gamer myself (I'll be 60 later this year) I can appreciate Gary's problem of finding a group of like-minded gamers of a similar age. I was recently invited to a local gaming group and was the only person over 25! I didn't feel at all comfortable there!

    Tim, I've been gaming since the late 1970's and in that time I have amassed a massive amount of figures and scenery for many periods and genres. It is such a shame I can't share them with anyone but as you rightly said, it means I can play just about any game I want at any time.

    Finally, yes, the Internet is a wonderful thing and through my blog I have made many good friends I otherwise would never have known about... your good self included.

  6. And who would feel comfortable gaming with folk under 25.

    I agree. Nothing wrong with younger folk, but being in a similar age group just gives you a lot of similar platforms to build on, not the least of which, for us older folk, is nostalgia.

    I'm about 10 years younger than you guys but I am precocious.