TTRPGs: Solo Gaming for Self-Care
By: Chad Christian (TapRackBang)
Here at Stack Up, we’ve been focusing on mental health and what that means for veterans. We aim to provide a welcome community for veteran gamers, but we understand that sometimes you just can’t be around people. We’re here for the tough days, but occasionally you need to fly solo. Video games are certainly great for days like that, but what about getting your tabletop nerd fix when you can’t or don’t choose to hang out with others?
I have good news! Tabletop developers seem to be noticing this same issue and have been creating solo gaming options in increasing frequency. Yes, solitaire has been around since Moses parted the Red Sea, but there is an increasing number of full-fledged solo games or modes that will scratch that tabletop gaming itch and not leave you with a watered-down experience of a more robust game. Even games intended for a group are now often being released with a solo-play ruleset. This is not a comprehensive list, but I’ve compiled the list below of some noteworthy games I’ve played that offer solo play and will hopefully help when you’re feeling like nerding out on the singular.
Renegade Game Studios’ Solo Hero Series
These games are strictly single-player, and they are good. It started a few years ago with Proving Grounds, and they have since grown their wolf pack by one with Warp’s Edge. Not only do these offer a full solo play experience, but each come with their own narrative that helps get you into the game. They are both reasonably priced at $35 and have fantastic replayability, so you’ll be getting every penny’s worth. Try your local game store or find them both on their website here.
Bloodborne - CMON
You heard correctly - CMON recently released a Bloodborne board game. It is intended for 1-4 players and is every bit as brutal as its Playstation counterpart. I’ve played both solo and with a full group, and it’s just as fun losing your blood echoes alone as it is with friends. Additionally, there are expansions for days, giving you enough content to last for so very long. The base game retails for $99.99 on their website, and of course, check your local game store.
Summit - Inside Up Games
Summit has been around for a few years and absolutely continues to hold up. It’s a unique experience where the player(s) attempt to climb a mountain and descend again. The game offers competitive, cooperative, and a solo mode, where solo plays much like cooperative. Along with the Yeti expansion, you’re bound to encounter new challenges each time you play - and have just as much fun facing the perils of the mountain playing solo as you would with a group. Check your FLGS, or find Summit on their website - the base game runs for $79.
Descent: Journeys in the Dark - Fantasy Flight Games
Feelin’ the pull for a good dungeon crawl but would rather take it at your own pace than cooperate with a group? Descent has got your back here. It’s been around for quite some time, now on its second edition. The base game for 1-5 players offers numerous options for heroes and campaigns - a proverbial dungeon-in-a-box. Descent: Journeys in the Dark retails at $79.95 on their website and is prominent enough. I’d be surprised if you couldn’t find it at your local shop as well.
Arkham Horror: The Card Game - Fantasy Flight Games
If you’re into Lovecraftian-themed games, this one is another solid, tried, and true entry. The game is only intended for 1-2 players to begin with; the player interaction in co-op mode is excellent, but in my opinion, Lovecraftian horror games shine when you feel the tension of isolation. It ups the ante when flying solo, so be prepared for a challenge. Arkham Horror: The Card Game will run you a modest $44.95 on FFG’s website with a couple of expansions available and is almost certain to be found locally.
Scythe - Stonemaier Games
Scythe is fantastic. It’s been well received and immediately became a must-have if you’re into tabletop gaming. I’m generally not much of a strategist, but this one is just something special. Solo mode sports an Automa deck that turns the game into being its own player and offers a significant challenge. I highly recommend this one if you feel like diving deeper than a casual gaming experience. Scythe is $90 on their website, which also offers a digital version that might be worth checking out (though I prefer the tactile experience when it comes to board games).
Following are some suggestions that I haven’t yet played, neither solo nor with a group, but I would like to try myself at some point!
Gloomhaven - Cephalofair Games
I’ve wanted to give Gloomhaven a shot ever since it came out. As another epic true to the word and sporting a giant box, It’s a commitment for both time and money. Given its outstanding reception, it has seen development on Steam as a video game version and Tabletop Simulator. From what I can tell, solo mode gives you just as rich of an experience as you take on multiple roles in your campaign. I’m a sucker for rolling dice in TTRPGs, though, so be aware that this is card-based, though it doesn’t suffer any for it. Gloomhaven is currently sold out on their website, but it’s offered at any local shop I’ve been to. It, of course, can be found on Amazon if you can’t find it anywhere else. The base game will run you somewhere around $100.
Wingspan - Stonemaier Games
Aesthetically, Wingspan doesn’t really grab my attention, which is purely preferential. However, it immediately received glowing reviews and isn’t one I’ve been able to ignore completely. Seemingly similar to their aforementioned hit Scythe, Wingspan uses its own Automa deck to offer a worthy challenge to the player. You can find it at a slightly discounted price of $55 (usually $60) on Stonemaier’s website (along with a digital version as well), but as always, I encourage you to support your local game shop.
Terraforming Mars - Fryx Games
A 2016 hit, Terraforming Mars has become a staple for many. The player takes the role of a corporation attempting to terraform Mars in a certain amount of time. Playing solo against the game itself doesn’t sound like it waters things down at all, and I look forward to giving this a shot. The game retails on their website for 480 kr, which is $56.90, but if you’re outside of the EU, I recommend checking locally to avoid those shipping fees. Side note: they also offer playable digital versions on Steam, iOs, and Android.
Nemesis - Awaken Realms
This sci-fi horror-themed game recently appeared on my radar, and I’m pinching pennies to grab this one asap. I’m a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, and while this is not set in the same universe in any way, the similar scenario of surviving a ship full of murderous aliens is right up my alley. Put me in, coach; I’m ready to play. Nemesis offers gameplay for 1-5 players, claiming a “cinematic experience, evolving intruders, unique combat,” and more. This one has been a bit difficult to track down, and any marketplace offerings set the price pretty high, well over $100. I hope to find it more available in the future, but you can gather info on the game and look at the pretty pictures on their website until then.
Honorable mention: Miniature Painting
When I was going through some rough battles with mental health myself, I discovered miniature painting. I am in no way an artist but found it to be exceedingly therapeutic. It’s not technically a game in and of itself, but with the rise of 3D printing, many games are releasing with impressively detailed miniatures, not to mention all the models available for your favorite tabletop RPGs. If you need something to focus on but aren’t feeling like gaming, I recommend giving this a shot. You can get started for relatively cheap, and don’t worry about producing some professional quality works of art - enjoy the process.