Have a look at any high-school schedule, report card or program. You’ll find math, geography. Chemistry, history, biology, philosophy.
Oh, and somewhere among those subjects, English.
I’ve always had somewhat of an issue with the subtle distortion that produces such a presentation of school curriculums. It seems that always seeing language listed as a subject among others comes to imply that it could be a subject like the others.
Which may lead us to forget that language is the discipline by which we approach, retain, refine and connect all the others.
Language is not just another brick in the wall of our knowledge; it is the mortar holding them all together.
Language nourishes and forms our ideas, in addition to bringing us the ideas of others. It is the uninterrupted stream of words that flows between our ears. Whether we use these words as vehicles or as fuel, whether we cultivate them or break them, they always yield new ideas. Having lots of words at our disposal to formulate our thoughts is like having lots of pixels to render images. They will be better defined, more nuanced, more compelling, irresistible.
Despite being presented as just another block in school curriculum, language is not a mere variety of knowledge; it is a condition of knowledge.
I often think along those lines when I hear about solo board gaming, and about all the many comments that it usually raises.
The fact is that the solo variants of multiplayer board games, just like board games that only play solitaire, have reached in recent years an unprecedented level of popularity, and are changing the landscape of the industry. There are more one-player only tabletop games available than ever before, claiming a market share that can now make them commercially viable. As for multi-player games, they tend to enjoy better sales when they come with a solo variant.
There are, of course, the usual reasons. Over many years we’ve grown accustomed to solo play through video games. As for board games, finding multiple opponents who are willing to play the kind of games we like, and at times that suit us, is far from easy, and often is in fact the first and toughest challenge of any multiplayer tabletop game. And—maybe you’ve noticed—board games have been getting more and more expensive lately; so being able to enjoy them in any circumstance without having to rely on anybody else increases the value proposition. And also the much better tools and techniques of the trade have raised the state of the art of board game design to a level of sophistication that allows all kinds of game concepts that are rich and robust enough to challenge and entertain any single player indefinitely.
But what if there was also something else?
Solitaire—is it not every player’s default, original state in front of any game? Aren’t we all solitaire players just before and after every multiplayer gaming session? However much we play together, we never better prepare or digest our gaming than when we’re by ourselves.
Armchair philosophy, all this, no doubt. But still I can’t manage to see the 1-player mention on a game box as a player count just like the others. Just as language among all other school subjects, solo play seems to always precede and encompass—and make possible—all other gaming experiences. It is of a unique nature, possessing features that are beyond the reach of those other experiences, while connecting them all together.
Which may help explain the current explosion of the popularity of solitaire board gaming—perhaps it is the common ground that connects all games, all gamers. The intimate, fundamental gaming experience.
Does it play solo? Yes, of course. Always. Just try reading a rulebook as a group; or keep an eye on what’s going on in your head during—and after—your next play.
Not all board games have an explicit solitaire mode.
But there is a solitaire player in each of us—and he never rests.