Why Playing Board Games Alone Is The Greatest

Playing board games by yourself is a very rewarding pastime with many benefits. Interestingly enough, it is also one that many people have never even considered. While solo gaming is widely accepted and common regarding video games, playing tabletop games by yourself is still the exception. Whenever I mention that I do it regularly in place of classic meditation, people usually give me the side-eye, followed by numerous questions.

Can you play board games alone? Yes, you can, and it’s sooo much fun. Don’t you have friends you can play with? I do, but sociable games for multiple players are entirely different from solo games designed for a single person – and you wouldn’t attempt to read a book or knit as a pair either, would you? What kind of solo games are out there? Glad you’re asking, let me grab a cup of tea so we can start…

This post is a part of the The Beauty Of… series which concentrates on shifting our focus away from the negatives in life and towards finding the positives and improving certain aspects of a situation so that we will actually enjoy it.


: Playing Board Games Solo :

Playing board games alone has numerous benefits and not a single disadvantage (unless we count the purchase costs which I won’t as they exist for every hobby). While most of us are familiar with tabletop games, we usually only know them from social get-togethers with friends and family. Solo gaming, however, takes the art of playing to a whole new level.

:1. Play At Any Time You Wish:

The biggest benefit is probably that we can play whenever we feel like it and don’t have to fit our desire into someone else’s schedule. There’s no need to synchronize ourselves with others or wait for them to have time to play. We simply choose for ourselves and then do it.

There also is no “wrong” time to play as long as we’re not putting off important things in favor of a game. Feel like playing as a morning ritual while enjoying our first cup of coffee? Do it. Woke up in the middle of the night and cannot go back to sleep? Get up and play a round.

We don’t need anyone’s permission, and we don’t need to wait for anyone to be available either. As long as we are ready, we’re good to go.

This opens the door for endless opportunities. For every time of the day and any duration, there’s just the right kind of solo game.

Regardless of how much time we have to ourselves, there is a game that perfectly fits that available slot. Some last no longer than 15 minutes (Herbaceous or Sprawlopolis), and others take up to an hour (PARKS or Tiny Towns). But all are equally enjoyable.

There are also games for every focus or alertness level. Those that require us to concentrate (ROVE or Café) and are great for a daybreak. And those that are pleasantly relaxed and make a perfect companion in the middle of the night when we’re unable to go back to sleep (A Gentle Rain and Chromino).

:2. Leave Everything Out In The Open:

When we play with others, we naturally need more space than we do when we play alone. More table space, more seating accommodations, and more room for several people to move around in. Consequently, games for multiple players are often set up for a particular occasion and need to make way once the session is over because the space is needed for something else.

Single-player games on the other hand are a lot less space-consuming, and there is no need to set things und and pack them in again because they’re in someone’s way.

There’s a game for every space available. They range from palm-sized (3D domino with mini dominoes) to tray-sized (Walking in Burano or Regicide) to table-sized (Tranquility or Cascadia), so finding the perfect match for the surroundings won’t ever pose a problem.

In fact, we can easily set up a cozy little corner for our gaming hobby that won’t bother anyone living in the same household and customize it to our liking.

Having a dedicated gaming area that reflects our personal style and preferences has several additional benefits:

It allows us to pause and resume games at any time, making it easier for us to integrate them into our daily routine and allowing even long games to be left set up for days or even weeks.

Having games readily available means that we can quickly jump into a session whenever we have free time. This is perfect for short and casual play sessions or spontaneous gaming moments.

Last but not least, we can save the state of an ongoing game to resume it later without losing progress or having to reset anything, which is perfect for complex campaign or legacy games where the game evolves over time.

:3. Play In Your Favorite Location:

Playing solo tabletop games is one of the few hobbies that can be done almost anywhere as long as we have a reasonably flat surface, and in some cases, even that isn’t necessary. There are quite a few handheld games out there (Palm Island or Palm Laboratory for example) that don’t require any kind of surface to play on at all.

If we do prefer to sit down to play, however, it might be fun to look beyond our own home as almost the entire world is our oyster. Solo gaming is very compatible with all kinds of public places due to its inherent characteristics.

It is quiet and unobtrusive by nature and won’t bother anyone, as long as we don’t break into a celebration dance every time we win a playing round or spread ourselves across multiple tables.

Many solo board games are designed to be small and portable, making it easy for us to carry them and set them up in various locations. There are even miniature versions of regular games available. Personally, I love my miniature playing cards, my mini dominoes, and my mini triominoes set as I can just throw them in my bag without even knowing they’re there.

Any place that is ideal for sitting quietly and enjoying a book is also great for playing solo: libraries, cafés and sometimes even restaurants (don’t forget to order enough to warrant sitting there), reading areas of bookstores, hotel lounges, study rooms in universities or community centers, parks, botanical gardens and arboretums, beaches, and camping sites, even seating areas in shopping malls.

The list of suitable gaming locations is literally endless, so if playing at home bores us (or irritates our significant other), we can always set out to another place that can be just as pleasant.

:4. Choose The Game You Like Best:

When we play with friends, discussing the available options often takes up a considerable amount of time during the preparation phase. Everyone has their favorite game that they try to convince the others of. Likewise, everyone has games they absolutely dislike even though everybody else loves them.

Finding a compromise can be quite exhausting, and we haven’t even taken into account the challenge of finding a free slot in everybody’s schedule that works nicely for everyone. But let’s stick to the games.

Every game consists of several elements, and we all enjoy different ones.

We can roll dice to determine outcomes, draw and construct a deck of cards, assign pieces to specific tasks or locations, or collect and utilize resources to achieve objectives.

Some of us like fantasy themes featuring magical elements and mythical creatures while others enjoy science fiction themes set in futuristic or space environments. While some themes are based on historical events or periods, others focus on spooky or scary elements or revolve around trade, building, and financial management.

Games range from simple to complex in terms of rules, strategies, and decision-making processes. There are light games that are easy to learn and quick to play, games with moderate complexity and more strategic depth, and games with complex rules and deep strategy that often require longer playtimes.

Games vary in how long they take to play. Sometimes it’s nice to sneak in a quick round of a short game that only takes 5-10 minutes. At other times, we might feel like sitting down for an hour or two. Both are equally fine and luckily there are various games to choose from for both occasions.

Some of us love handling tiles, others like jiggling dice in their hands, and still others enjoy holding and sorting cards. Some games involve pen and paper, others require meeples and tokens, and some simply need a board.

With solo board gaming, we don’t need to make any compromises – ever. Whatever it is that tickles our fancy, it is ours to enjoy as often and for as long as we feel like it.

We can happily play something our friends would find dreadfully boring or butt-ugly because (you guessed it) it’s our decision, and for once in our life there’s no need to be considerate of others. Isn’t that great?

:5. Enjoy Your No Screen Time:

We spend so much time in front of screens throughout the day that it’s a wonder our eyes aren’t square-shaped yet.

We sit in front of the computer while working, use our smartphones to doom-scroll through news and social media, watch TV in the evening, and go to the movie theater when meeting friends.

Apart from that, many of us have hobbies that involve a screen as well. We dabble in digital photography and video editing, create digital art, and do excessive online research regarding genealogy, cooking, or gardening.

None of that is negative per se, but wouldn’t it be nice to do something analog for a change? It’s easy to freeze in place in front of one of the many screens we own, but it’s all the more rewarding to break free from this habit – even if only for a short time every now and then.

Taking up solo boardgaming as a hobby is a blessing for both our eyes and our minds. It requires neither tech-savviness nor access to digital devices. The tactile experience of handling physical components such as cards, dice, and game pieces is extremely satisfying and comes much more naturally to us than clicking, tapping, and swiping. Last but not least, they are superior to digital gaming during every power outage and in places with limited access to technology.

And speaking of digital: Did you know that you can find tabletop versions of established digital games? I recently purchased a block puzzle reminiscent of Tetris that I often play for 5 minutes during my lunch breaks, and am currently looking into the board game version of Stardew Valley.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

George Bernard Shaw

Help this ugly duckling turn into a swan.
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: How To Play Board Games By Yourself :

Now that we know how solo tabletop gaming can benefit us and make our everyday lives happier and more colorful, it’s time to look at how to actually implement them into our daily routine. In 5 steps or less, we’ll be all set to go on a playdate with ourselves whenever we feel like it.

:1. Pick The Right Solo Game:

As children, we naturally tend to spend our time doing things we enjoy rather than things we’re told we should do. Consequently, looking at what we used to play when we were little, gives a good indicator of what we will also love as adults.

Solo tabletop games can be divided into the following categories:

  • Abstract: We focus on a strategy without relying on a theme.
  • Strategy: We emphasize careful planning and decision-making.
  • Deck-building: We construct our own deck of cards, improving it to perform better.
  • Tile-laying: We place tiles to build areas, often creating paths or regions.
  • Worker placement: We allocate limited resources to perform actions and gather resources.
  • Dexterity: We put our physical skill and coordination to play.
  • Economic: We focus on resource management, trade, and economic strategy.
  • Legacy: We progress the storyline with each play, with permanent changes to the game.

We usually gravitate toward only a few categories (if not only a single one), so figuring out what kind of games speak to us can be a great help.

Do we have a thing for nice clicky tiles? In that case, we will probably find what we’re looking for in the tile-laying or dexterity category. Are complex rules and strategic thinking enjoyable to us? Then we might want to go with strategic or deck-building games. Do we enjoy managing things? If so, worker placement and economic games will likely be right up our alley.

:2. Look For Alternative Editions:

For some of us, the look of a game is incredibly important, and it decides whether we want to play it or not. If it doesn’t appeal to us aesthetically, we have no interest in it or are downright reluctant to it.

In my case, I rejected Scrabble for decades due to its black and green colors that I just couldn’t get over despite loving the principle of play. It wasn’t until I watched the characters in The Americans play it that I found out that the game used to look completely different a few decades ago, and I bought a retro version on the very same day.

I was also the first in line to purchase a special edition of the card game The Game whose gameplay I loved but design I hated, when finally a special edition came out. I have enjoyed playing it ever since.

So if you’ve encountered games that you feel you would enjoy if only they looked differently, it may be well worth looking for either used old editions or newly published special editions.

Additionally, many game manufacturers have started to publish the same games in different formats (such as board games, card games, and dice games). The gameplay and the visuals are usually identical, but they can now be enjoyed in different ways.

Solo-playable games that exist in different formats include (but are not limited to)

  • Catan (board / cards / dice)
  • Castles of Burgundy (board / cards / dice)
  • Ticket to Ride (board / cards)
  • Terraforming Mars (board / cards)
  • Pandemic (board / cards)

:3. Overcome False Shame:

Now that we have narrowed down the selection of possible games out there (or at least know what to look for), it’s time to overcome the false shame that is often attached to solo gaming.

I find this quite interesting, considering the numerous hobbies that people engage with regularly that either don’t require additional people or are impossible to do with more than just a single person.

People watch TV on their own, they play video games by themselves, they read, they go for hikes, and they knit and crochet. Some of us cook or bake on our own just for the fun of it, we go fishing by ourselves, and we enjoy collecting and sorting stuff which is also a solitary endeavor.

None of these hobbies would make anyone even bat an eyelid, they are simply widely accepted. So how is playing tabletop games solo any different? The answer is: It isn’t. People often just don’t realize it.

Most people automatically associate playing board games with large groups of friends gathered around a table playing social or party games. That is an entirely valid and fun way to spend our time, but it’s not the only way.

If we enjoy playing games and feel comfortable in our own presence, why should we make gaming dependent on other people (friends or not)? We would be crazy if we let the misconception of what board games should be like stop us from experiencing this great hobby as often as we want to.

There is a reason why there are so many games out there that have been specifically developed for just one player. There is a reason why more and more published games come out with a newly added single-player mode. There is a reason why 1 player websites and YouTube channels exist.

Solo boardgaming is in demand, and people are asking for it. Not because they are sad lonely human beings without friends, but because they simply enjoy playing games in their spare time and on their own terms.

:4. Schedule A Date With Yourself:

Playing board games by ourselves carries the same risks as other solo hobbies. As soon as no other people are involved, it is easy to let someone or something else intervene.

If we had a date with other people, we would be hard-pressed to cancel it as we wouldn’t want to disappoint them and rescheduling would take time. If we have a date with ourselves, however, we are much more often ready to throw our plans overboard in the blink of an eye as soon as circumstances require it.

Having time to ourselves to do something we love is important, so if we’ve set our mind to play a game or two just by ourselves, we should treat it the same way we would a doctor’s appointment. The time and day are set, and unless our pet’s tail accidentally catches on fire or the family photo album falls into the bathtub, there is no excuse for anyone to interrupt you (and even then, teach them how to use the fire extinguisher and a dip net for future accidents).

This is your time to unwind and relax, and if you manage to do that regularly, you will not only feel better but ultimately be a more pleasant partner, friend, and family member to everyone around you.

So, schedule your gaming sessions consequently, but involve other people in your life if you wish. As we’ve seen above, there are numerous solo hobbies, and just because your partner or roommate doesn’t feel like gaming doesn’t mean they cannot do something else at the same time and in the same room. Sometimes, indulging in separate hobbies together turns out to be the most fun and relaxed moments.

:5. Try Out Games Before Buying:

Delving into the world of 1 player games can tear a huge hole into our wallets. There are just so many exciting and beautiful solo-playable board games out there that it’s hard to pick a favorite – and why should we anyway?

I believe that each and every game we wholeheartedly enjoy playing is worth the money we paid when we bought it. The drama begins when we realize after playing a game only once that we likely won’t ever touch it again. From then on, all it will ever do is take up space in our cupboard, collect dust, and make us feel guilty.

Fortunately, we have three options to avoid this:

We can try a digital version online first
Many games (new and old ones) are now available online in a digital version and for free. This lets us try them out without having to buy them first and possibly realizing later on that the gameplay is not enjoyable to us. Platforms that offer numerous games are Tabletopia and Board Game Arena (BGA).

We can rent a physical game
Many rental services have specialized in board games and are available both locally (walk-in and pick-up) and online (game will arrive via snail mail). Depending on where you live, your local library might have a board game section as well, and there are even dedicated game stores that offer playing rooms where you can sit down at a table and try out a game.

We can borrow a game from others
If we know what games we’re interested in, we can easily send a list of titles to friends, family, or coworkers and ask whether they own one of the games and would be willing to lend it to us for a weekend or two. Any game aficionado will be thrilled to encounter a like-minded spirit in the wild.

:6. Reap the Numerous Benefits:

Playing tabletop games with and by ourselves has many wonderful benefits that I often wonder why it is not a widespread hobby. My personal top 3 of why I love solo board gaming and won’t ever quit for as long as I live are the following:

1. It grounds me and helps me unwind
Whenever I have a stressful day at work, I try to end it on a positive note. I used to watch a movie or two episodes of a show, but after going to bed, my mind would pick up thinking about the day right where it had left off before turning on the TV. I turned to reading but would either be too worn out to concentrate or get so invested in the story that I stayed up way too long for my own good. Playing a board game comes with all the benefits but without any of the downsides.

2. It allows me to immerse myself in the moment
Sitting down for a game has achieved what no form of meditation ever could. It manages to keep me entirely in the moment and allows me to reach that flow state where time and place completely fade away. Whenever I try out yoga, autogenic training, or breathing techniques, my thoughts are all over the place and won’t ever let me be. During a solo gaming session, however, my mind immediately quiets down and enjoys focusing on the game in front of me – it’s an amazing experience.

3. It’s a hobby I can pursue literally anywhere
While I have several hobbies I enjoy, most of them unfortunately are not location-independent. My piano isn’t portable, drawing or painting requires a lot of utensils and space to spread them out on, and photography doesn’t work without an interesting motif to begin with. With tabletop games, I am entirely free to play wherever I feel like it. I’ve sat down for a game at cafés and libraries, on park benches and beaches, on flights and train rides, and regularly during lunch breaks at work.


: Questions To Ponder Over :

  1. What kind of games did you enjoy playing as a child? Why?
  2. Which games that you already own offer a solo-player mode?
  3. Are there any particular themes or mechanics you are drawn to?
  4. At what times of the day would you most enjoy a gaming session?
  5. What locations would you enjoy being in while playing solo?

I’d be thrilled to hear from you in the comments below.
Don’t be shy.


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1 Comments Why Playing Board Games Alone Is The Greatest

  1. Avatar for AlexAlex May 26, 2024 at 9:55 PM

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