Lockdown Games, a 2021 Guide to Playing with yourself!

As January comes to a close, and the pandemic is still changing the face of gaming for a lot of us, Kris takes the time to share some of his survival tips for keeping his hobbies alive through 2020, and what plans he has moving forwards.

This time last year I was really hyped about the upcoming competitive season for X-Wing, I had plans for some non D&D Intro Sessions after the success of the Call of Cthulhu nights that we ran at the Sentry Box in 2019, my Arkham Horror LCG group was slowly catching up on the released cycles and had some plans to go back and replay some of the “Return to” boxes and see how that mixed things up, I was messing around with Contrast Paints on some Infinity Models ready for CodeOne and the eventual release of Infinity 4th Edition (N4).
Honestly, I was expecting to be busy with new events, building on old ones and other new stuff that I was excited to Demo at the Sentry Box.

Well, I think it’s fairly evident how all of those plans went!

Luckily, I was, (and am) in a position where I could keep my hobbies alive and so as the Global Pandemic continues to affect our more social hobbies going in to 2021, I thought I would share some of the things I have been doing to keep my interests up and my hobby drive alive!

Painting

First up, being a miniatures gamer, the first round of lockdown and social isolation was the perfect incentive to get caught up on some painting projects. I am fortunate enough to have a dedicated space in the furnace room (yes, lucky… not locked in the basement so I don’t mess up the kitchen…) where I have my painting station set up all of the time with my current projects all lined up ready and waiting for progress.

I don’t think this is that messy…


Painting is a part of the hobby that a lot of Miniatures Gamers can shy away from, as it is quite intimidating, unsurprisingly, Games Workshop and the like tend to show off the best paint jobs that they can on the boxes, and a lot of the stuff that you see in magazines and online can be quite daunting if you are just starting out, and whilst this is not going to be an introduction, or how to for painting (you could check out my series on GW Contrast Paints if you want something of that ilk) I do think if you can temper your expectations and get in to the correct mindset, painting can be a very enjoyable, almost therapeutic pass time that maintains you interest level and can be very rewarding.


All of that without even considering stuff like Zoom or Discord for getting together (virtually) with some friends and all doing some painting whilst streaming a movie or even just chatting (the best part is listening for the moment when a buddy drinks from the wrong cup, trust me, we have all done it…)

There are only two things that I think it is critical to convey to people who are just starting out with painting, first is that you will be your own worst critic!
You know every mistake you make as you were there when it happened, even when you try to point it out to others, they likely won’t know what you are talking about, so don’t worry about getting it perfect, just get it done.
Secondly, is a concept that plays in to not aiming for perfection, and that is something I refer to as the 3 feet rule. When you are painting you generally have the model right in front of you and you are intently focused on it, so every little detail stands out. However, when you play a game your models are generally no closer than 3 feet away, so that is where you should be aiming to look at them from.
When you think you are done, take a break and then look at them from 3 feet away, you will be surprised at how good they look compared to what you thought when you were painting them!

Whilst it’s not the same as throwing your models down on the table and rolling dice at your friends, List Building, Painting, Assembly are all ways to keep the furnace of your hobby passions stoked and when you finally get them on the table, you will get to enjoy watching your newly painted units be targeted with impunity (this is the way…)

CCG’s

I am a huge fan of Arkham Horror: The Card Game, I have been playing it regularly with the same group of people basically since the games release and keeping that going was one of the things I worked hard on, we tried a crazy skype set up where I ran one feed of the game area and then used my laptop to join the call and we all ran our own Chaos Bag, it worked to a point but was far too much work for me to be able to recommend it, and most of all, I found that it still didn’t scratch that itch for actual human interaction, and as I have often said, if I am going to sit in front of the computer to play a game, I would much rather just play a computer game…

The lengths I went through to keep laying Arkham Horror with my friends…


That is not to say games like Arkham Horror, or Marvel Champions don’t deserve a place on this list though, whilst our campaign is on hiatus, I have enjoyed looking at other Investigators or Heroes and branching out of my comfort zone.

Being able to go back and play through some of the Mythos Cycles we have already completed solo, where I get to make all of the choices and see how they play out differently has huge appeal and exploring other options for deck building without feeling the pressure that if you get it wrong and make a terrible deck, you are ruining the campaign for your friends as well.

Whilst Arkham Horror: The Card Game is undoubtedly one of my favourite games of all time, it would be remiss of me to not recommend Marvel Champions as the go to Living Card Game (LCG) for Solo Play, the Set Up time is much reduced, and the ability to open a new Hero Pack and jump right in with the deck it contains makes it a much smoother experience if you are not used to the genre, whilst I feel that it misses out on the in depth story elements of Arkham Horror, its episodic nature fits the theme of the Comic Book Superheroes really well, and the easier accessibility makes it the one I would have to recommend for more casual Solo Play.

Co-Op and App Dirven Games

Another easy category of games to talk about in this space would be Cooperative Games like Pandemic or Cthulhu: Death May Die as they work well. They focus on cooperation between the players anyway, so even if you don’t want to run a solo character, you can easily play multiple “hands” and just make all of the choices yourself.

Where I feel this genre comes into its own though is the App driven games. A lot of these titles focus on the classic Dungeon Crawl style of game where the App replaces the role of Dungeon Master (or whatever your game of choice wants to call it) Descent: Journey in the Dark is a classic Fantasy adventure style game originally designed to pit 1 to 4 players against a Overlord player but back in May 2016 the free Road to Legend App was released allowing the game to be played as a true Solo experience, and whilst the new game Descent: Legends of the Dark game is currently up for pre-order, Fantasy Flight Games have said that this is not a new edition that would invalidate Journey in the Dark but rather a new take on the same style of game that shares the Terrinoth Setting.

If you are more of a Science Fiction fan, Fantasy Flight Games also released the Legends of the Alliance App for its Star Wars: Imperial Assault game. Sharing a lot of base mechanics with Descent, such as its proprietary dice (an FFG stable), tile based movement, and it’s character progression options, Legends of the Alliance lets you take on the role of a Hero of the Rebel Alliance and take on the might of the Galactic Empire even while socially isolating.

There is nothing like pretending to be a corrupt, fat politician to help get you through the pandemic…

My number one recommendation in this category however is Mansions of Madness, evolving the genre and offering almost unlimited replayability due to its randomized map generation, item placement, monster deployment and multitude of investigators. It has a very different feel to something like Imperial Assault, feeling much less linier in your game play options, and whilst it does not offer any campaign elements, the fact that it has a much tighter definition of each scenarios playtime makes it feel a lot easier to sit down and commit to. I do enjoy the more Investigation themed game play rather than just fight the enemies that a dungeon crawl can feel.

Beat your high scores

It would be a disservice for me to not include this category, even though it’s not to my personal taste, but you are not just forced to play Solitaire, games like Ganz Schön Clever and other Roll and Writes use the random element of Dice and the choices for how you use each roll to generate a score (or for a different take on the genre, there are Flip and Write games like Welcome to… which uses cards instead of dice) and are interesting diversions and distractions that take almost zero set up and tear down so are perfect for when you don’t have a huge amount of time. I would recommend laminating a score sheet though, just so you don’t burn through your entire pad before you get to enjoy the game with your friends.

Role Playing Games

OK, this one may seem like it does not fit but give me a minute…

D&D 5e is just insanely popular compared to basically every other roleplaying game out there and when the world settles down, would be my recommendation if you want to find a seat at a table somewhere.

Whilst Dungeons & Dragons is undoubtedly the most popular RPG on the market right now and there are options for playing that would allow you to maintain social distancing, and although that is not really the focus of this article (maybe in a follow up piece…) There are ways to enjoy the world and the feel without other players, the Endless Quest adventure books allow you to take on the role of an adventurer with each book focusing on a specific class that allow you to make choices and impact the story as you read, like the classic Fighting Fantasy Tell your own adventure books. Other systems even have published adventures designed specifically for solo play, with Call of Cthulhu having a decent selection of solo modules.

If you really want to twist my arm on this topic, RPGs are perfectly playable over a zoom call, although picking a system that has less of a focus on tactical combat is key to making the experience as enjoyable as possible. The Genesys RPG system by FFG is a flexible system that can be used in many settings and shares a lot of similarities with their Star Wars or Legend of the Five Rings systems (which both work well using theater of the mind), Call of Cthulhu again deserves a mention for its more atmospheric world building focus rather than being concerned with 5 foot squares on a map. Another system that I am excited to try, but have no personal experience with yet is the Free League Aliens game that offers a cinematic play mode that seems like it would be perfect for this sort of game play.

Anything Else?

As this is starting to feel like a rather wordy article already, I should start to wrap it up, but suffice to say, that publishers are acutely aware of the changing environment we are living in, and they love games just as much as we do. A few of them have been quick to put out Alpha or Beta rules or different ideas, such as the Solo Play rules that Fantasy Flight Games put out for their X-Wing: Miniatures Game.

So, don’t be afraid to google solo play rules for the games you are missing the most and see what comes up!

Thanks for reading everyone and make sure you let us know what games you have been playing solo, or what work arounds you have come up with for keeping you hobbies alive.

– Kris

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