I though it would be a good idea to share some of my favourite aspects, as well as my favourite solo games, to give an idea of where I’m coming from in terms of solo gaming.
Everyone is different – it’s what makes us interesting – and the things that I like other may detest, and vice versa. I make this point because, when it comes to reviews, it is how we find someone we trust to point us in the right direction.
A review is a personal opinion, other than when facts are stated that is, and if you find a reviewer that likes to play the same games, is at home with your favourite game mechanisms, even watches the same kind of movies and reads like minded books, then the chances are that when they give a positive review, you’re going to like it too.
If only it were that simple!
I follow various reviewers, Tom Vasel, Marco Arnaudo (Marnaudo), Joel Eddy (eekamouse (Drive thru games)), and the gang at Shut Up and Sit Down, just to name a few. Why so many? Well, I’ve got to know what they like and what they don’t, and I trust their opinions – when I’m looking to purchase a new game, they’re the first people I look up.
Anyway, before I share my favourite game related things, here’s a quick rundown of some of my other favourite things.
Films and TV
I don’t watch as many films or as much TV as I’d like. I rarely go to the movies anymore, though once my daughter passes fifteen things may change in that direction, as we share a love for horror.
The problem I find with watching movies at home is their length. Nowadays all films seem to go on past the 2hr mark, and so I usually end up watching them in bits and pieces, as there’s far too much to do other than sit in front of the goggle box all day.
When it comes to film, I’d probably have to put horror at the top of my favourite genres, though it’s a close run thing. Or maybe it would be sci-fi, or action films, then again it could be detective or war movies, and what about comedy? I think what I’m trying to say is that I’m not overly picky. Romance is out, though, and I’d probably be asleep by the end of the opening credits!
Here’s ten(ish) of my all-time favourite movies, though ask me tomorrow and it will probably be totally different!
In no particular order:
- Aliens – The Director’s Cut version is brilliant, and they’ve taken the suspense of the original Alien movie and magnified it exponentially.
- Any Cowboy film with Clint Eastwood in it – He’s one of my favourite actors, and I believe the best to ever play a cowboy. The Spaghetti Westerns by Sergio Leone have, in my opinion, never been surpassed in this genre.
- The Dirty Harry Films – Clint Eastwood again.
- Terminator 2 – I was never a fan of the first one, but the second was brilliant. The special effects, for the time, were excellent, and the suspense generated at the start of the film, as you’re unsure who’s side Arnie is on, helps build an attachment to his character as he turns out to be the good guy.
- The Matrix Trilogy – I have to admit that I was a little worse for wear when I watched the first one and I hadn’t a clue what was going on, but I watched it twice more in quick succession, and even ventured to the cinema to watch the follow-ups. I’m eager to see what they do in the 4th movie, due for release next year.
- The Last Boy Scout – Bruce Willis at his best, and as much as I like Die Hard, this one is better. I love the sense of humour he brings to his films, ‘…Were being beat up by the inventor of scrabble!’
- All Quiet on the Western Front – And I mean the original, 1930 film, by Lewis Milestone, not the 1979 one. If you like old war movies then this one is an absolute classic, winning 2 Academy awards and receiving nominations for another 2. Yes, it’s black and white and the younger generation will probably find it slow and hard going, but the story line is superb and has acting to match.
- Papillon – The 1973 film – I haven’t seen the 2017 version – with Steve McQueen. I’ve read the book as well but this is one of the few adaptations where I think the film is better.
- The Deer Hunter – A war film with a strong, emotional story line. De Niro and Walken bounce of each other to great effect. I’ve seen this film countless times, and it still makes the hairs on my neck stand up.
- Interview With A Vampire – One of my favourite vampire movies, mostly for the story rather than the action; adapted from the book by Anne Rice.
Once I got started I realised I could reel off one film after another, so I tried to put a variance on there. I could probably have notched up another fifty without any serious thought!
You’ll probably notice that they’re mostly older films, there’s a reason for this. Firstly, as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t watch that many movies anymore, and secondly, most of the modern films I have watched haven’t been particularly memorable. I like something with a good story as its base, whereas I find most modern films tend to be special effect driven, or the storyline is weak.
As for TV, well, here’s another list:
- Red Dwarf – My favourite sitcom of them all, at least up to and including season VI, after which the writing team changed and it just wasn’t as good.
- Star Trek – I’ve always been a Trekkie, but which one? I like them all, but I have to say that my favourite is Deep Space Nine. The original series was good in its era, but is a bit cringe worthy when watched now. The Next Generation is entertaining, but I think it lacks the depth of story telling through the series’. Voyager has some exceptional episodes and a reasonable storyline running throughout, but also has some clangers! Deep Space Nine, whilst not perfect by any stretch, has some dramatic battle scenes in the later series’, and I think it has the strongest characters.
- The X-Files – I’ve watched them all and own the majority of them. There are some fantastic stand-alone episodes – Tooms springs instantly to mind – as well as some strong on-going storylines. The characters are deep and slowly reveal more of themselves as the series continues, often with some surprising twists.
- Dr Who – something I’ve pretty much watched all my life, and has really hit some highs and some lows. In recent times, since David Tennant took over, it became prime watching in our household, unfortunately, in my opinion, since Steven Moffat stepped down the writing has been mediocre at best, and I didn’t bother watching most of season 11. Series 12 is slightly better, but sadly still falls short of what we’ve come to expect. In the first episode, for example, the doctor calls on Agent O, a human (or so she believed), for advice on aliens; since when has the doctor needed to ask for advice on aliens from humans! Also during this episode, she uses the sonic screwdriver to scan the alien life forms, but states the sonic picks up nothing at all, but the motion detectors on the security lights pick them up – these work by detecting infrared waves, and the sonic didn’t pick them up? Anyway, I’m just disappointed that such a good programme has gone downhill.
- The Simpsons – It’s just the best, right?
- The Expanse – More on this in the next TSM Geek, as I’ve just watched all four seasons back-to-back – brilliant!
- Das Boot – Okay, maybe I should class this as a film but I originally experienced it as a TV miniseries. It isn’t fully a true story, but is based upon the author’s original experiences all meshed into a single tale. Tense, exciting, nail-biting, and eventually shocking. Watch the German version with sub-titles for the best experience – a classic (and so is the book) with a dramatic soundtrack.
Once again I’ve only just scratched the surface, and could mention a hundred others: Morse, Endeavour, Babylon 5, Space Precinct, The Hammer House of Horror series, Farscape, Starsky and Hutch, Downton Abbey (see, not all sci-fi), and so many more…
I read a lot, usually! I go through the odd blank month, where all the books on my shelf have been recently read, but most of the time I read at least a book a week.
I have a rotation system going on – I’ll re-read books every couple of years or so. In my loft I have several boxes full of books, probably 300+ (books, not boxes), and I rotate these around onto the bookshelf in the garage, where I can easily help myself to something to read. At times I find I’ve read everything on the shelf but can’t work up the steam to search through the boxes for something different – I really need to catalogue everything, but then I’ve been saying that for years!
I tend to go by author. If I like one of particular author’s books, then I try to gather everything they’ve written, usually by trawling charity shops.
Here are my favourite authors:
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes, need I say more!
- Bernard Cornwell – I started off on the Sharpe books, but now I devour anything by this brilliant author of historical novels.
- Conn Iggulden – Another writer of historical fiction, and I can highly recommend both the Conqueror series (About Ghengis Khan), and The War of The Roses series, both got me interested in periods I then knew little about (and Ludlow Castle is on our doorstep!).
- J.R.R Tolkien – I’ve read The Lord of The Rings well over a dozen times, it’s the most influential work of fantasy ever, and the book that drew me into the world of D&D – I wanted to play a fantasy hero in a world full of weird and wonderful, if a little nasty, creatures. However, I have had difficulty getting into his other works. The Hobbit, which I’ve tried reading several times, has always been put down around the time when all the Dwarves start arriving – one day I vow to get past it and read the whole book. The Silmarillion is hard work, but in the end rewarding, whilst Further tales… is something I’ve still not been able to get into. I don’t care really, TLOR’s has everything, and I often wonder what the state of gaming would be like if it never existed.
- Sir Terry Pratchett – Fantasy comedy at its best. I remember reading The Colour of Magic back in 1983, and since that day he’s been the only author where I’ve rushed to buy his latest release. He’s left a big hole in the fantasy genre that will take some filling, and as yet, nobody has come close.
- Stephen King – The prolific writer of horror and physiological thrillers. Salem’s Lot was the first book of his that I read and now I own at least two dozen of the 60+ he’s released. The Dark Tower series has it’s ups and downs, but the first book as tremendous and sets a story you just have to see through to its (actually rather disappointing) conclusion. The Bachman books are also something I’d recommend, especially if you’re not into horror. These tend to be on the shorter side and are physiological rather than scary.
- Anne Rice – Author of the Vampire Chronicles. I’ve not kept up with this series, as I’ve just found out with a quick google,, and have the first four books of the twelve. Interview with a Vampire is excellent, but the second book, The Vampire Lestat, is even better. The next two aren’t quite in the same league but I’m interested in reading the rest.
- John Grisham – His crime/legal thrillers are all great reads; I find his writing style very easy going, and he builds suspense from cover to cover. Many of his works have been adapted for the big screen – Rainmaker, The Client, The Firm, and many more – I would start on one of these if you’ve seen the films, but any of his books are easy to get into.
I could go on; books are a passion of mine and I find it extremely difficult to part with one – in fact, I never do! It would be difficult to pick a single book out as being a favourite, I love so many, and it would be equally difficult to name a single author.
Back in the 80’s I regularly visited record fairs, and was lucky to have one of the largest in the country held locally (Walsall). I used to save up all my pennies and go in search of something special. I still have my vinyl collection, some 200+ albums and about the same in singles, but I’ve added another 300+ CD’s to that over the years.
I have a very wide taste in music, ranging from classical to heavy rock, and includes something from most genres in between. My first love was Genesis, especially the Peter Gabriel era, though Phil Collins also did a sterling job as front man. I have everything from, From Genesis to Revelation (which shops often mistakenly placed in the religious section) to Calling all Stations, with a few rarities thrown in for good measure.
Kate Bush also features heavily in my collection, and again, I have a few sort-after records, such as Dreamtime, a bootleg live recording released as a triple album on vinyl. Her vocal range is phenomenal, and her lyrics enticing and meaningful, plus I had a crush on her when I was 9!
The 80’s is my favourite decade for music; I always say that the music through your teens will stay with you forever. An example of what I like: Guns & Roses, Marillion, Blondie, Transvision Vamp, T’pau, Shania Twain, Strauss, Kylie, Take That, Helloween, AC/DC, Ellen Foley, The Bangles, The Beatles, Elvis, Elgar… I could probably fill the page!
I’m starting to get back into my music, and find it great to listen to when I’m painting. If I have music on when I’m gaming, though, then it has to be something with no lyrics, otherwise I get distracted and start listening to it rather than concentrating win the game, or worse still, I sing along! So, for gaming I usually listen to soundtracks, Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country is a favourite, or classical music, where I take a lucky dip into one of my box-sets.
I have so many hobbies, and so little time to do them!
I usually flit from one thing to another, and not returning for months, or even years. At one point I was practicing on my saxophone every night, then I stopped; I keep looking at it longingly, thinking I’ll pick it up again at some point, but I’ve been thinking that for the last six years!
Painting my gaming miniatures is my main hobby now, other than playing games of course. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction, and the more time I put in the better I get, which is a great incentive.
I love course fishing too, but again it’s been a couple of years since I last ventured out. I do a lot of walking, mostly attached to the four-legged friend, and enjoy visiting places of national interest, such as castles, stately homes, and such like.
I used to run and cycle a lot, but medical issues put paid to that; I really miss being on a bike. I have a small collection of comics, mostly DC and Marvel, but to pursue that hobby any further would mean losing space for games, so that’s stalled too.
I enjoy video games but the Playstation has found itself under my daughter’s control, and I hardly ever get a look in, but I occasionally get to play something on the computer, and it’s usually War themed or RPG’s.
I like to keep my hand in with all things electrical/electronic, and am often brought items to fix – lawnmowers, power tool, radios, washing machines, and the odd classic car – I enjoy tinkering and I miss working on aircraft and their associated parts, especially when there’s a good fault to get your teeth into.
I’ve already mentioned reading, but I also draw – usually copying bits and pieces out of comics – and I’ve done a lot of DIY, from tiling, painting, woodwork, and plumbing, to fitting bathrooms and kitchens, I’ll pretty much have a go at anything really.
Turning to games…
So, what has all the above got to do with games?
Many of things I’ve mentioned, and a few that I haven’t, have influenced the types of game I play. Fantasy, Horror, and War are a common theme in the books I read, the films I watch, and the games I play.
It can also be seen that I have wide tastes in these things, and it should come as no surprise that the same goes for games. There isn’t a particular genre of game that I resonate to. I like Fantasy Dungeon Crawlers, such as the D&D Board Game series, but I equally like grounded worker placement games, like Viticulture. I enjoy card games, even playing traditional ones like Rummy or Crib, and I like games that involve a lot of dice throwing.
Euro games and highly thematic Ameritrash games both appeal, as do dexterity games and escape rooms. There are a few, though, that don’t get me so excited, namely Party games and Roll and Writes.
I tend to be bit of a plodder in my thinking – I’m not the quickest out of the blocks, but I analyse things and usually come up with a good result – so when playing party games I often find myself a little behind the curve, it depends on the group and the game – I’d often elect not to play this type of game.
Roll and writes, on the other hand, I usually find I’m quite good at and don’t mind playing them, but they’re not games I would play if the choice was all mine. I find them repetitive – play one, you’ve played them all – and find I do the same thing every time I play the game.
I nearly always play a new game, no matter what it is, solo first, it’s how I learn games. It usually gives me an insight into how the mechanism work and what strategies and tactics are going to prove useful. I may do this a couple of times, depending on the complexity of the game, and then I’ll teach it to others – I may never play the game solo again after this, it really depends upon the experience it gives.
When it comes to regular solo play, however, I am a little more particular. So, when I’m playing solo here are some of the things I like, and a few that I don’t:
- Thematics – I have a very vivid imagination and love to put it to use. So, when playing on my own, I love to play games that create a good story. It doesn’t matter on the genre, and it doesn’t matter if the game itself is driving the story, Arkham Horror-esque, or the game is giving me the tools to create my own story, such as in Black Orchestra.
- Difficulty – If the game doesn’t offer a challenge then I won’t play it solo. I don’t mind playing them with others, because then it’s all about the experience as a group. Games like 1066, Tears For Many Mothers, get a lot of plays initially, but once you’ve figured the game out it loses its appeal. I want to face a challenge, I don’t mind losing, though I do like to feel in control – in other words, I dislike solo games where winning or losing comes down to random events.
- Size – I tend towards games that will fit on my games table, which is about a large coffee-table size. If it doesn’t fit on there then it’s unlikely to see much play, especially if it’s a long game – I can’t take over the kitchen table all day! I can just about cram the likes of Gloomhaven and Scythe on there, but I have to use the player boards as well, which means there’s stuff everywhere.
- Solitaire Games – This may sound a bit odd, but I don’t really play solitaire games! By this I mean games that are designed purely for one player. It has to be something special for me to go and buy something like this, such as Fields of Fire, which I’ve been meaning to pick up for sometime now. There’s only so much money in the pot, so I like to get my moneys worth, and to do this I buy games that give me the option of playing with others or on my tod, which leads nicely into…
- Co-op games – I find that co-op games give some of the best solo experiences, mainly because you play them in pretty much the same manner as you would with others. Eldritch Horror, for example, I usually play three or four characters, and there are no rule changes, no clumsy AI to add in, and no arguing with other players over why you’re incapable of rolling dice!
- Artificial Intelligence – Many games come with some form of AI that enables one to play the game solo, whether it is an extra deck of cards or some simple rules to follow, but many are a very hit and miss in the experience. This is something I’m going to talk about in the next ‘Solo Thoughts’, so I won’t go too far into things now. Scythe works really well but it takes some work to get used to it. Teotihuacan: City of Gods, is simple and effective. Steamrollers is also very simple, and again works quite well to an extent. Museums AI feels like what it is, an after-thought add-on, and it doesn’t really work. This all ties into co-op games and why I like playing them solo, they nearly all use some form of AI. Pandemic, for instance, uses the infect deck combined with the infect rate and outbreak counters to ‘play’ against the players. Co-op games are designed this way from the ground up, and so you aren’t faced with some dodgy add-on deck, or differing rules to play by, you play the game as originally intended, all bar the fact that one player is controlling everything.
- My own worst enemy! – Yes, I play with myself… maybe I should rephrase that… I play against myself! When I’m looking to buy a game, and it has no solo option and isn’t a co-op, then I ask myself, ‘Can I play this against myself?’ Some games lean towards this more than others, such as X-Wing and Shadespire, others just aren’t suitable at all. Usually it’s the type of game that has many tactical options available to the players that lends itself to this type of solo gaming. X-Wing sees me trying out different combinations against the same foe, just to see what works. Whilst in Shadespire, I see what tactics work best against differing opponents. Similarly, I’ll play Time of Legends: Joan of Arc against myself, again to try out different tactics, and to see what would happen if I did this instead of that.
- The War Game – By this I mean miniature war games, not boardgames. I grew up playing Napoleonic, ancient, and modern wargames, mostly on my own. I used the floor as my battlefield, and the dog knew to keep his distance. I love the tactical side of Ancient and Napoleonic warfare, moving units in formation, learning how to use cavalry and artillery to best effect. Recently, I’ve moved on to Star Wars: Legion, mainly because I like its simplicity, which makes it a quick, clean game to play, but I find myself with a lack of opposition. So, I’ve been thinking about creating an AI to work with the game. This kind of game doesn’t lend itself to being played in this manner, but it will be interesting to see if it can be done, at least in some basic format; I’ll be looking in to this pretty soon, and will discuss my thoughts in one of these posts, we shall see where it leads!
I’ve been gabbling on for sometime now, so I’ll bring things to a close with a list of games. I was going to do my top 5 solo games, but how do I define that? By number of plays? By how much I like a game? In the end I decided to share some of the games I find interesting to play solo. They may not be the best, but for me, they offer something that keeps me coming back, or has produced a particularly memorable game, or just something that has captured my imagination…
- Gloomhaven – My all time favourite solo game. It has two things that I really love in a game, and it’s unusual to get them both at the same time. That’s a story that offers the player choices, which then effect the game progression, and a tactical combat dungeon crawl. If I could have it set up permanently, then I would have finished it by now – brilliant!
- Alien vs. Predator: The Hunt Begins (2nd Edition) – I haven’t mentioned this game much, mainly because it has plenty of flaws – the rulebook being the main one. It does have some awesome miniatures, though, and is basically a competitive skirmish game based in the corridors of an alien spacecraft. I mention it here because it produced one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played. I had been tinkering with the rules, trying to get it into a more playable state, and just once, everything clicked. I had men sealing of doors just as the Aliens broke through the previous ones; sacrifices were made to buy more time for others; I had men crawling through tunnels, trying to get behind the Aliens to form a distraction – the game had thematics coming out of its little alien ears. I lost! But who cares, I don’t. Unfortunately I’ve never been able to reproduce that experience, but having written this, it makes me want to go and dig it out and try again.
- Star Trek Attack Wing/Star Wars X-Wing – I’ve many more ships for the Star Trek version, and I like building mini fleets and playing them against each other. I also like building single ships up and pitting them against others with a similar points value, just to see which is best. Thematically, I think it works best with the smaller, fighter type ships of X-Wing, but I’m a Trekkie at heart!
- Scythe – The Automa works really well in this game, once you’ve got to grips with how it works, that is. I use a single Automa deck and run two or three factions with it, though you can buy extra decks and follow the rules for using more than one. The lessons I’ve learnt whilst playing solo have transferred across to competitive play, but I really just play for enjoyment, and it offers a good challenging game.
- Tainted Grail – I’ll be reviewing this game some time in the next month. It compares to Gloomhaven in the fact that it has a progressive story, which in this case is much stronger than that of aforementioned, but the combat side isn’t as deep or as tactical; it’s definitely a much more story-focused game. I love it, especially the effect your decisions have on the world.
- Arkham Horror – Both the Living Card Game and the 3rd Edition boardgame. Both offer an excellent thematic experience, but the card game pushes it the furthest, and I love the stories you tell playing it. The board game is difficult, but with a few plays you can figure out each scenario. The LCG would probably make my top 5 solo games if I could commit more time to the deck building aspect, and take out a small loan to keep up with all the expansions!
- 7th Continent – An excellent exploration game, and one that I find better solo than playing co-op. I like the way the cards reveal themselves, and the difficult decisions you’re forced to make as you try to survive on the continent. It’s at its best the first time you play, as everything is new and interesting, but it does have some addictive qualities that make you want to complete each curse, even if it’s just for bragging rights!
- Black Orchestra – I’m reviewing this next, so all I’ll say is that it creates some amazingly thematic moments, whether you’re successful or not, as you try to hunt down Hitler. I’ve played countless games where I’ve been on the edge of my seat, where I have everything in place to take him out bar one little piece of the jigsaw, like Hitler’s in the wrong location. At times I’ve chosen to bide my time and wait for the opportunity to come, other times I’ve tried to force the pace, either way it ended in an exciting and nail-biting climax.
- Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective – The perfect game to spend a whole day on, to ponder your next move and cast an eye over the local newspapers. Possibly the best crime deduction game you could ever wish to play, but it isn’t easy, and it won’t appeal to everyone. I love this game, though I haven’t played more than a handful of scenarios. I have to be in the right mood and have plenty of time to put into it, but the rewards, especially when you get it right, are more than worth it.
- Eldritch Horror – It isn’t the greatest game ever, and it has its ups and downs, but I keep coming back to it, as I’m a sucker for a challenge. This game, at least for me, is hard to beat, and I have a really poor record against it. But I do enjoy the way it pans out, how you have to react to the ever-changing priorities, and it’s easy to play. Also, add in a few expansions, and there’s a lot of content to plough through. I’m yet to come up with the right amount of characters to play with. I’ve tried two, three, and four, all with pretty much the same results – I lose – so I suppose that shows it’s well balanced. It’s a game where controlling extra characters doesn’t impact too much on the amount of book-keeping you have to do, and it doesn’t slow the pace of the game down either, making it good to experiment with. Occasionally, things fall into place and create a great story, but mostly things are a bit haphazard, though this has never effected the enjoyment I get from playing it.
Yes, there are better game than some I’ve mentioned, but that’s not the point I was trying to make here. I just wanted to highlight some of the games that have made me smile, that I’ve had a good time playing, even if it’s only the once. Playing solo games is a personal thing; it’s something you do on your own for your own reasons. It doesn’t involve others, so you can relax and play the game you want to play. There’s nobody to tell you what you’re doing is right or wrong, or what the best way to play the game is. If you’re playing a thematic game, then the story is what you make it; if you’re playing a Euro game, the victory is all yours, and equally, so is the loss.
So, no matter what games you may play on your own, or how you may play them, if you’re having a good time, then who cares?
Anyway, this has become far longer than I originally anticipated. Please feel free to add your comments – what solo games have given you the most pleasure? What stories have you to tell?
Just because we play on our own doesn’t mean we can’t share the experience!