Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Solo Gaming in Pandemic Times

The covid-19 coronavirus seems like something from the intro to a post-apocalyptic roleplaying game. Or a night playing Pandemic. Anxiety remains high, especially with our 24/7 information highway overload and a problematic centralized federal government preparation and response. Hopefully everyone employs good hygiene practices and uses “self isolation” to whatever degree possible (I realize not everyone can engage in it, especially first responders and medical workers, but also those who have little choice but to report to work lest they lose paychecks and jobs). We need entertaining diversions to occupy our inflammably anxious minds and provide some positive, imaginative experiences. Solo gaming to the rescue!

[Certainly options exist for gaming remotely with fellow players; I regret I’m still a monastic dinosaur who no longer has the capacity or will to climb the steep technical learning curve to master such interwebzes-based venues much beyond Skype and Google Hangouts (is that even still a thing?).]

Frequent Hobby Games Recce readers might recall my past missives highlighting different aspects of solitaire gaming. Several features included lists of solo resources – “SGAM Celebrates Solo Play,” “Favorite Resources for Solo RPG Play,” “Solitaire RPG Tutorial Adventures,” and “Celebrating Solitaire Play” – some of which I mention below. I’ve organized these recommendations primarily by roleplaying games, wargames, and board games, limited to PDF and print material currently available online. Some from venues like DriveThruRPG and Wargame Vault are available for immediate download for use on devices or in a print-and-play capacity. Physical books one must purchase through Amazon or other online retail venues, assuming they’re still fulfilling and delivering by the time you order. Many downloads are pay-what-you-want, meaning you can technically download it for free and drop some change in the electronic “tip jar” later if you like the material and want to reward creators. [Note: Some of the links below are “affiliate” links which provide me with a small bonus based on your purchase; I turn around and spend this on other creators’ works.] My recommendations focus on currently available materials, so feel free to look over past releases that might already occupy your game shelves, especially for solo roleplaying game adventures.

Most folks know my love for solo roleplaying gamebooks. Several out there combine great adventures with solid game mechanics. S. John Ross’ Ring of Thieves for Risus: The Anything RPG tops the list with an easy-to-learn, intituive game system and an engaging (if deadly) scenario. Noah Stevens’ The Hounds of Halthrag Keep provides the Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) “funnel” experience in handy solo gamebook format, including all the rules necessary to play. My meager contributions to the solo gamebook genre include Trapped in the Museum and the recently released The Asturia Incident, both using the OpenD6 system based on West End Games’ original and venerable Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game mechanics.

For those looking for tools for their solitaire roleplaying experiences I recommend Richard LeBlanc’s D30 Sandbox Companion and the D30 DM Companion; Kabuki Kaiser’s Ruins of the Undercity provides both a base of operations and underworld to explore with plenty of tables to randomize the experience (plus it’s easily adapted to any Old School Renaissance [OSR] game system based on classic Dungeons & Dragons); and Schweig’s Themed Dungeon Generator, a workbook to create weighted tables for random dungeon delving (with a few ready made examples to try). Shawn Tomkin’s Ironsworn offers a complete solitaire roleplaying experience with engines to propel character creation and meaningful solitaire questing in a grim fantasy setting. These are by no means the only useful tools for free-form solo roleplaying, just ones I’ve found useful in the past. Based on its reputation and some previews I just picked up Andrea Sfiligoi’s Four Against Darkness to encourage my own solo dungeon delving, though I haven’t tried it yet. I’d also recommend a set of Rory’s Story Cubes (the core plus any of the themed ones) to enhance this kind of free-form roleplaying activity.

Wargamers often face the challenge to print and assemble electronic resources before play; but downloads for solitaire “print-and-play” options exist for those willing to do a little extra work. Gottardo Zancani’s Rifles in the Ardennes (and its sibling Rifles in the Pacific) offers squad-level World War II action on a abstracted battlefield with terrain considerations, randomized enemy units, and a campaign of scenarios to keep gamers busy; Tiny Battle Publishing offers several other solitaire wargames beyond these two titles. Gary Graber’s Battle over Britain, 2nd ed., and related titles like Battle over the Pacific and Faith, Hope & Charity offer solitaire-play options (all available in a convenient PDF bundle); Minden Games also offers the solitaire, tactical-level Battle of the Somme I’ve not yet tried. My own humble solo wargaming offering, Operation Drumbeat, is an early war submarine game in the spirit of Avalon Hill’s fantastic B-17 Queen of the Skies from days of yore. No doubt one could search Wargame Vault for “solitaire” or “solo” games and reveal a host of material, free and paid; the ones above reflect my own experiences and enjoyment. For wargamers seeking a solitaire game that also functions as an academic exercise, Professor Philip Sabin’s Take that Hill demonstrates how a game can teach tactical principles of warfare.

For those willing to order physical games online I recommend Decision Games’ line of mini-game solitaire titles covering a host of historical (and even sci-fi) subjects: Lawrence of Arabia: The Arab Revolt 1917-18, Roger’s Rangers: America’’s First Commandos, Vikings: Scourge of the North, Phobos Rising! Insurgency on Mars, Ceres: Operation Stolen Base, Khe Sahn ’68: Marines Under Siege, Suez ’56: Anglo-French Intervention, Merril’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944, and Long Range Desert Group: Special Operations Against Rommel 1941-1942. I’ve played LRDG and enjoyed the system – though I’ll admit there’s a bit of a learning curve with the rules – and someday I’m hoping to order Roger’s Rangers to indulge my interest in the French Indian War. Of course nothing prevents wargamers from playing games from their own library against themselves, as wargaming doyen James F, Dunnigan has stated: “Playing wargames solitaire is by far the favorite mode for most wargamers.... The player may exercise his own ideas about how either side in the game should be played.”

Board and card gamers also face a similar dilemma as wargamers regarding print-and-play PDF resources; but dedicated gamers find a way and discover rewards from new solo game experiences. BoardGameGeek.com (BGG) remains a treasure-trove for finding interesting game board and wargames, including print-and-play titles. (Your Name Here) and the Argonauts remains one of my favorite games from a past BGG print-and-play solo game contest. It uses a push-your-luck die-rolling mechanic (with a light worker placement element) based on cards themed with classical Greek elements. (On its BGG page scroll down to the “Files” section to download te rules and components, though you’ll need to register with BoardGameGeek first). Unfortunately several others I’ve enjoyed in the past have moved on to commercial development and sale, thus removing the free print-and-play PDF files from the BGG “files” section for their titles. Nonetheless, one can still click on the BGG home page search field to initiate an “Advanced Search” for games with 1 player and the “Board Game Category” for “Print & Play” selected to disappear down a rabbit hole looking at interesting print-and-play solo games (and numerous others caught up in the search engine). I’ve even dabbled in solitaire board games, although an admittedly simple one: Lord of the Two Lands offers a basic solo game experience ruling for a span in ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom.

Purely solitaire board games exist and many cooperative games offer additional rules for solitaire play. Assuming online retail platforms remain fully operational, one can still order physical games for home delivery and enjoyment. My favorites include The Lost Expedition, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Escape: The Curse of the Temple, Sagrada, Friday, Desolate, and Space Marine Adventures: Labyrinth of the Necrons (recently featured here at Hobby Games Recce). Search for them at your favorite online store, although I’ve seen some hobby and game stores offering ordering by phone and curbside payment and pick-up (including my “local” game store, Your Hobby Place in Fredericksburg, VA).

These recommendations in no way represent a comprehensive list, just a collection of solitaire game material I hold in high esteem by my own standards. I realize they’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, your mileage may vary, etc.; but I hope they’re a starting point in filling one’s self isolation time with entertaining diversions. Hang in there, humanity. Cover your cough and wash your hands. We’ll see you on the other side. Sic transit mundus.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome civil discussion and polite engagement. We reserve the right to remove comments that do not respect others in this regard.