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  • Essays
  • Solitary Happiness - Multiplayer Solitaire Games' Popularity

Solitary Happiness - Multiplayer Solitaire Games' Popularity

O Updated
(Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

An interesting question Phil Gross recently asked is why low-interaction games are so popular these days. Even though I'm not really sure whether these types of games are actually popular nowadays, I do wonder why people like games with very little player interaction. So in this article, I want to look at the attraction of games that are either completely multiplayer solitaire or provide very little opportunity for players to interfere with each other's game.

Personally, I love games that have a good amount of player interaction, both negative and positive. Mind you, I only love these types of games when there are at least three of us playing. Especially games with negative interactions in a two-player setting often feel too aggressive to me. If a game forces me to apply a negative effect on another player, when that effect has no benefit to me and there is only one other player in the game, it's particularly stupid, in my view. In a three or four-player game that negative effect could be applied to whoever is in the lead or in second place and then it makes sense. When it's just the person sitting opposite you and you have no choice in the matter, then it's just mean.

Don't Be Mean

I suppose that's actually one reason why some people love multiplayer solitaire games where nobody can be mean to anyone else around the table. One person in our games group loves games where nobody can interfere with them. I think generally speaking, they don't like meanness in games, not only when it is directed at them. They aren't particularly comfortable having to choose another player to negatively affect in some way.

I guess they prefer games where everyone just pits their wits against everyone else. They don't like it when there are ways to trip other players up. It's a bit like running a race. Whoever is the best runner wins. Doing something to slow other competitors down is not allowed and unsportspersonlike. It's the same for multiplayer solitaire board games. You just do your own thing and develop the best possible strategy to win. Nobody is allowed to interfere and force you to change your approach.

There is another reason though. That player in our games group who hates direct player interaction is also usually the person who wins games. They are very good at working out how a game functions under the hood. They can see where points come from and how to get them. That makes them a bit of a target in our group. However, even when two other players gang up on them, they still often manage to win. So we feel we're right in being a bit mean to them. Even when we join forces, we usually still lose. Understandably, that player doesn't like being picked on and therefore prefers multiplayer solitaire games.

Me Time

The advantage of games without player interaction is that you can really focus on improving your strategy. Game after game you'll have learned something new. You're likely to get better every time. You even get a chance to try out weird and wonderful ideas and see how they fare. I suppose that's not always true of every game without player interaction. It will depend on how variable or random these games are, but in principle, they are better positioned to let you really focus on your own way of playing.

A close-up of the player boards with the powerlines and their pip values, as well as the differently coloured workers that represent the diceA close-up of the player boards with the powerlines and their pip values, as well as the differently coloured workers that represent the dice

Multiplayer solitaire games can also allow you to get into your zone. They can become meditative and allow you to switch off. I suppose that's one reason why I don't usually like these types of games. When I play with friends, the social element is important to me. If I just focus on my own game and don't interact with anyone else around the table, not even within the context of the game, then there is something missing for me. However, if you are not comfortable in a social setting, then a game where you just do your own thing within the magic circle of the game is probably really useful.

I suppose that's one of the reasons why many people love solo gaming. There is nobody else who will mess up their plans, other than the game itself. They can just do their own thing and focus on playing. It's probably even more of an immersive experience in a way. Without table talk or other people trying to talk to you, you can really dive into the setting and fully experience the story that the game is trying to tell.

Cooperative Games

So far, I haven't explicitly said that I was talking about competitive games. I would say that the terms "multiplayer solitaire" and "player interaction" usually apply to these types of games. However, if you don't like player interaction, especially negative one, then maybe you'll like cooperative games. These aren't multiplayer solitaire games as such, but there is certainly no direct player interaction, at least not any negative one.

At the end of the day, solo and cooperative games are really closely related. I know that not every solo game works as well with more than one person, just like not every cooperative game provides the same experience when played by yourself. However, there is certainly a lot of overlap. So, I would say that if you don't like player interaction, then solo games and cooperative games are something you should probably try.

I actually quite like cooperative games. It offers me a mix of social interaction while also allowing me to focus on my own game. I know that everyone around the table is on my side. We're all trying to defeat the game. Nobody is waiting for an opportunity to be mean to anyone else. However, there usually is no time in cooperative games where you can just focus on your own game and nothing else. So, you probably won't find the meditative element that solo or competitive multiplayer solitaire games can provide.

How About You?

As you can tell, I found it hard to understand why people hate player interaction so much. I hope I was able to identify some of the reasons why multiplayer solitaire games are so attractive to some people. However, I do wonder what you think. How do you feel about player interaction in games? Do you relish games where people have to be a bit ruthless and sometimes mean to each other? Or do you much prefer a harmonious game? Does it depend on the people you're with? What is it that you enjoy about games? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. It would be great to hear what you have to say.

There Will Be Games

Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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qwertymartin's Avatar
qwertymartin replied the topic: #340728 10 Oct 2023 02:26
In a two-player competitive game, any action that is 'negative' for the other player is by definition positive for you. One of you is going to win the game and any reduction in the probability of the other player winning must result in an equal increase of your own.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #340729 10 Oct 2023 10:24

qwertymartin wrote: In a two-player competitive game, any action that is 'negative' for the other player is by definition positive for you. One of you is going to win the game and any reduction in the probability of the other player winning must result in an equal increase of your own.


Accurate, but this article is about multiplayer games. I personally tend to avoid multiplayer solitaire games because of the lack of social interaction during the game, and often in between games as well. I also tend to avoid two-player competitive games because they tend to attract overly competitive players and all the interaction is negative. I play games to win, but I really play games to have fun and socialize with people. So I prefer multi-player games with a lot of interaction, whether competitive or cooperative. Some of my favorite games are semi-cooperative, where players can cooperate, but there is also the potential for shifting alliances and even betrayal.
cdennett's Avatar
cdennett replied the topic: #340740 11 Oct 2023 18:31

Shellhead wrote: Some of my favorite games are semi-cooperative, where players can cooperate, but there is also the potential for shifting alliances and even betrayal.

Likely derailing this discussion, I gotta ask if anyone in your group has the opinion that everyone losing is better than somebody else winning the game? Because that is pretty much everyone I game with, myself included. This makes semi-coops, at a minimum, rather difficult, and usually not much fun. So, I pretty much have shed any and all semi-coop games from my collection and avoid them. (I mean, technically games like Cthulhu Wars or Chaos in the Old World are semi-coop as they have an all-lose scenario, but it rarely happens.) But I would be fascinated if a group held that same belief and actually enjoyed the challenge of making sure everyone felt like they weren't losing to prevent one or more folks throwing the game. If so, what games are your favorites?

Though I am wondering based upon your description of "shifting loyalties" if you're not talking about coops with traitors, which are really team games...
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #340744 11 Oct 2023 22:28

cdennett wrote:

Shellhead wrote: Some of my favorite games are semi-cooperative, where players can cooperate, but there is also the potential for shifting alliances and even betrayal.

Likely derailing this discussion, I gotta ask if anyone in your group has the opinion that everyone losing is better than somebody else winning the game? Because that is pretty much everyone I game with, myself included. This makes semi-coops, at a minimum, rather difficult, and usually not much fun. So, I pretty much have shed any and all semi-coop games from my collection and avoid them. (I mean, technically games like Cthulhu Wars or Chaos in the Old World are semi-coop as they have an all-lose scenario, but it rarely happens.) But I would be fascinated if a group held that same belief and actually enjoyed the challenge of making sure everyone felt like they weren't losing to prevent one or more folks throwing the game. If so, what games are your favorites?


My favorite is Camp Grizzly. There are two typical situations where the cooperation turns into semi-cooperation. Sometimes the players collect a set of items for an exit, but at least one player is too far from the exit point and/or too slow due to injuries. In that case, it is not unusual for that distant/slow person to bravely tell them to not wait in hopes that at least some of the counselors will survive. The less common situation is that one lucky player will collect a set of items for exit, and ditch everybody else. Not surprisingly, my libertarian friend was the first player to do this. The other players tend to dislike this, but they can't do anything about it except hope that the escaping player fails his finale, allowing normal play to resume. This happened to the libertarian, who gleefully abandoned the rest of the players only to encounter a vicious gang that he was unable to defeat in combat by himself.

Saltlands offers mulitple modes of play, including a semi-cooperative mode. It is functionally similar to Camp Grizzly. Players need to collect a set of cards to safely leave the map and win, and they need more cards if more than one player is making the escape. In semi-cooperative mode, they can leave behind other players if the escaping players have sufficient cards and are at the exit point. Other players do have a bit of leeway to mess with that exit strategy by directing enemy raiders towards the exit point map section.

I can see where semi-cooperative where players have easy access to direct interaction would be problematic, as it would just take one ornery player to potentially tank the game for everyone. I think it works better where there is a geographic aspect to the game such that a player would need to get move into position in order to do things to tank the game. It's also possible that certain players are so obsessed with competitive play that they would oppose any attempt to win that doesn't include them. I tend to avoid playing games with any super-competitive players, as I find them to sore losers, gloating winners, and unworthy company in between games.