Time constraints, especially with children, and difficulty getting a gaming group together has made the popularity of solo tabletop gaming soar in recent years. Not to mention there are plenty of us who just like some alone time but still want to game. I recently interviewed Chris Hansen, the creator and moderator of the Solitaire Print and Play Contest on BoardGameGeek.
Table for One is a new series focusing on solo table top gaming. The series will cover two flavors of solo games–games designed to be played by a single person exclusively and games that are multi-player but have a solo version. I’ll also be talking to some solitaire game designers and covering the 2015 Solitaire Print and Play Contest as it progresses.
Before jumping into the interview, I wanted to give readers a high level overview of the contest. This is the fifth year in a row for the contest and there are already 51 games that have been submitted to the competition. The gist of the contest is that a game must be freely available to print and play and must be designed for solo play. The entry deadline is midnight August 2nd. After that, entrants are given one week, until August 7th, to make any corrections to the materials. At that point, anybody with a registered BoardGameGeek account can vote on the games. Voting ends on September 13th.
There are 14 categories in the contest like Best Wargame, Best Artwork, and Best Game with No Board. 28 of the current 51 entrants are posted as components ready. This means you can already download and play them. Not only do you get to play a bunch of games for free, but you get to contribute to helping the creators make them. I love solitaire games, and this contest is just an amazing opportunity for creators and gamers alike. Please head over to BoardGameGeek and check out the games.
GeekDad: How did you first get into playing solo games?
Chris Hansen: I probably started solo gaming around 2006 or 2007. I think I probably got into it originally simply due to the lack of a gaming partner. Most of my gaming buddies eventually moved or got married to non-gaming spouses so I had a shelf full of games that I never played. I really don’t enjoy playing both sides of a two-player game by myself so I was glad to discover that there were several games specifically designed for one player. While I really enjoy a face-to-face gaming experience, I found that a well-designed solitaire design could offer many of the same experiences and several unique ones. I discovered Victory Point Games and was excited that many of their games were solitaire specific and usually very affordable too. I also started buying some of the classic Avalon Hill solo games such as Ambush and Raid on St. Nazaire. Before long, most of my gaming was being done solo.
GD: One of the main reasons I have fallen in love with solo play is because I’m now a father of a two-year-old, and it’s tough to find time to play with friends. How do you balance playing solo games with being a parent?
CH: I have probably cut down on solitaire games in 2015 just because my daughter is finally old enough to start playing games with me. My gaming time is going more towards children’s games and simple Eurogames with her. If she sees me playing a solo game she tells me it is stupid to play a game by myself because she can’t play with me. I still enjoy solitaire gaming, but I usually have to wait until she goes to bed because she can’t stand seeing me play a game without her.
GD: How old is your daughter?
CH: I have two daughters. The oldest, Samantha, is six, and the youngest, Sabrina, is two. My two-year-old still mostly values games for the small pieces that she tries to sneak into her mouth, but my oldest is really getting into playing.
GD: What new things have you learned about gaming from playing games with your daughters?
CH: There isn’t a lot of strategy or decision-making in most children’s games, but I still value the time we spend playing them. Even a game as simple as Candyland can be used to teach a child the importance of taking turns and being a good winner or loser. As I’ve explained to her that she needs to be gracious in victory (she tends to make fun of me when she wins a game), I’ve found myself focusing on that more as well. Since I’ve been playing with her, I’ve really renewed my focus on the fun of playing a game rather than the victory or loss aspect. The experience of gaming with family members and friends (or by myself when playing solo) is more important than who wins and loses.
GD: Do you and your daughters have a favorite game you play together?
CH: There are a few games that make our regular rotation. It’s a macabre theme for a six-year-old, but we both love Zombie Dice and play with all the expansions. She also loves the Disney Princesses (more age appropriate than zombies) so we play Disney Princess Candyland and a few other roll-and-move Princess games. She likes dexterity games too so we play Sorry Sliders, Suspend, and Me Throw Rock pretty often.
GD: I just recently realized that there are game design contests on BGG. How did you first get involved with them?
CH: I discovered Design Contests on BGG in 2010. Usually, these contests were based around some sort of distinct mechanic or component, such as designing a game using only dice or only one page of rules. Those resulted in some interesting design experiments but very few enjoyable games. I noticed that these contests usually had a mix of solo games and multi-player games. I found that I played many more of the solo games than the multi-player ones. (None of my friends were very interested in playing an untested prototype game with me just to be able to vote in a BGG contest.)
GD: What made you think to start a solitaire game contest?
CH: I started thinking that it would be very nice to have a contest dedicated only to solitaire games so that I could play all of the entries. At the time I was thinking that there would be 10 entries max. I reached out to a few people who had designed solitaire PNP games to see if they were interested in running a contest for solitaire games, and they all replied back saying it was a great idea, but they were too busy to do it–and that maybe I should do it. I was reluctant to start the contest myself since I’m not a game designer, but finally went ahead and did so in mid 2011.
GD: What do you think is different about designing a solo game versus a “normal” game?
CH: I think that designing an engaging experience for a solitaire gamer is very difficult. Gamers don’t want to feel like they’re playing a puzzle, and they also don’t like random luck-fests. Right from the start I was very impressed to see that many of the games in the contest were extremely high quality. There are some extremely talented designers that participate, and I’m very honored that they share their talents for free to participate in this contest.
GD: This will be your fifth contest. A lot more people than I would have imagined seem interested in solitaire play.
CH: The response to the contest has been terrific. A lot of designers come back year after year, and the contest has become one of the most popular design contests on BGG. It has even inspired a very popular two-player design contest. I have enjoyed it because every year I’ve been able to watch 30-50 solitaire games develop and take shape. I’ve learned a lot about what makes a great solitaire work and what doesn’t. Although it is a contest, the contestants generally help each other by playtesting each other’s games and working hard to make sure everyone has a good time. It feels more like a community event then a competition.
GD: There are literally hundreds of games that have been created for your contests. For someone just starting to look for solitaire games, which games would you recommend as a good stating place?
CH: I recommend any of the winners of the prior contests.
Inspector Moss: House Arrest – winner in 2011. This is a very clever puzzle mystery game. You use the evidence to clear suspects until only one remains. You can position the evidence how you want so you effectively get to decide who is innocent and guilty. A very unique take on the mystery genre.
The Shadows Upon Lassadar series. This is a collection of six games (most of which are solitaire) telling the story of a fantasy kingdom constantly under siege by evil forces. The fourth game in the series (Siege of Dalnish) won the contest in 2012. The first game in the series came in 2nd place in 2011.
Maquis – winner in 2013. This is a solitaire worker placement game about the French resistance during WWII.
Supermarché – winner in 2014. This is a game about running a supermarket. As far as theme goes, it isn’t very exciting, but the game play is very fun.
There are several other games from the contest I could talk about but the winners are probably a good starting point.
GD: Do you have any favorite solo games outside of the contests?
CH: For non-contest games, I really enjoy the States of Siege series from Victory Point Games. These are games in which you are defending a central location from several enemy units that are constantly moving towards you. I also enjoy Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp (also by Victory Point Games) and Hostage Negotiator by Van Ryder games. (I helped playtest both of those.) Friday is a very popular deck-building solo game, and Onirim is an excellent little set collection solo game. I’d also recommend checking out the works of Todd Sanders. He designs free PNP games and has a ton of terrific solitaire games.
GD: Final question. Something along the lines of “Being a geek isn’t about what you love but how you love it,” is sort of the new geek mantra. Do you have anything, besides gaming, that you consider yourself a geek about?
CH: I am a geek about gardening and especially heirloom produce. This year I’m growing 20 varieties of tomatoes and several different peppers and squash. I use stakes in my garden, so I spend a lot more time than is probably normal pruning and supporting my plants. With that many vegetables I’m also a geek about canning. I spend many of my fall evenings cooking salsa and sauces to enjoy throughout the winter. Gardening is also a hobby I enjoy with my daughters. Both of them have been helping me water plants and pick the produce since they could toddle out there.
I also consider myself a geek for horror movies and zombie films. While I love a good truly scary movie, I probably enjoy campy movies more. I especially love the horror films of Sam Raimi – so much so that when I found out that my wife had never seen Evil Dead I made her watch it immediately. We were on our honeymoon at the time. Amazingly, she still remains married to me. I’ve never introduced horror films to my six-year-old, but it may explain why I chose Zombie Dice from my shelf when looking for a game to play with her.
I also work as a database designer, which probably qualifies me as a geek all by itself.
GD: Thanks, Chris!
Do you like playing solo games? Have any killer solo games you’d recommend? Have a solo game idea you’d like to make reality?