Today we’re shifting gears a little and having an interview from a guy in England who only covers solo gaming on his blog. That’s right, I managed to corner Giles Pound from Both Sides of My Table for a few minutes to get some insightful and interesting answers out of him. He definitely has a unique style of writing that can be entertaining and enlightening at the same time, so be sure to check out what he’s up to (links at the end of the post):
1. The industry is full of content creators who try to grab and review as much content as they can. What inspired you to focus solely on solitaire play?
Oooooh…starting with the most trixy of questions…it was almost by chance that I chose solo gaming. By that I mean that pretty much all the games I have are, in some way or other, solo games or solo variants so it was inevitable that this would be my focus. It really all started when I did a write up for Hall or Nothing’s Gloom of Kilforth landed on my table last October (2017) and I felt compelled to share the game experience. I hadn’t set out with any goal or focus…and although there are numerous reviewers, both written and video, that I have followed for several years, I didn’t think of this as a conscious attempt to be one of them…it was something that emerged from my meandering narrative.
2. What lessons have you learned since your first blog post?
I’m mot sure I have learnt any lessons…not that I am arrogant and think I know everything…more along the lines of me continuing to make blunders. There are internal battles I have to learn to overcome such as the vast number of games coming on to the market and, having almost zero gaming budget, knowing I can never keep up with the ‘new’. Sadly this means that I have to accept that I will never be a ’current’reviewer. I mostly write about games I feel inspired to write about on that particular day and waffle on in my own way (some folks enjoy that, which is great, and I have listened to what little feedback I have been given to improve things, but being a solo gamer and very much an outsider of a very large, established network of gaming types, I find my self just muddling along in my own way.
3. What is your favorite thing about solo gaming? How about the solo gaming community?
Solo gaming is the only opportunity I have of finding sensible conversation…no that’s not strictly true…me, myself and I frequently break down into heated discussions over even simple things like which game to actually play next. Playing solo firstly means I can play where, when, for as long and as often as I get a gaming urge without the need for travelling great distances (I live in a rural area and 20 odd miles away from the nearest gaming meet up) As I like solo variants of multiplayer games, I get to experience that multiplayer game without the fuss of organising meets ups with people who want to play the same game. As for the community…sadly I have mixed feelings here. i have experienced some unpleasant, very Alpha gaming attitudes on the likes of kickstarter comments sections and especially on BGG (this latter shocked me because I thought joining the player guild would be a fun experience…I was mistaken and rarely visit BGG there days unless I go to a game’s page to find out info)…but the solo gaming type people I have come to know on witter, of all places, are lovely supportive people so it is not all bad.
4. What are some of the games you’ve played that blew way past your expectations? What was it about those games that bumped them up a few notches on that die-roll rating?
I get a great buzz from many games and get so many different experiences from the fairly broad range of games I own. The first that blew me away was Gloom of Kilforth. So many elements coming together perfectly for my tastes. Superb art from Ania, High end fantasy, very much a sandbox exploration adventure experience, ease of play and story telling. Oh and having met Tristan couple of times along the way to the projects journey to fulfilment, ade it a more personal game…absolute top bloke…oh and Mrs Ninjadoerg too, Francesca Hall’s amazing OST…I just love games that have their own sound track. There has been a similar feeling with frank West’s City of Kings…a very different game but still a great experience. I was impressed by Rise to Nobility but I am saving that for a later answer. GMT games have several that are just a wonderful experience to play too. These, however, are somewhat ponderous in the undertaking. Liberty or d=Death and Labyrinth Awakening are heavy going but brilliant…and the Bot action flowcharts really present a difficult opponent…mustn’t forget Fields of Fire. A proper solo wargame at squad operation level…a minefield of. Rule book but a game that actually plays very well. I die so many times but still come back for more (although I have not intentionally, not written a less than positive review on any game, this is down to the fact that there are only 3 game purchases I have been disappointed with…none of which have a solo variant and 2/3 have already been dispatched to a location other than my shelf…I am quite selective, thorough in researching a title before I buy)
5. If someone is newer to solo gaming, what are some first games you would recommend they try? This could include PnP games, published games, etc.
New to solo gaming…eeeek. I am not sure how to advise without knowing what the player wants from solo gaming. PnP is a cheap option if someone is happy crafting their own components…I have a shed load of PnP from simple card games to several of Hollandspiel Games titles to a giant playtest of Gandhi (upcoming COIN game).. if they are not new to gaming I would suggest looking for a multiplayer game that has a good solo variant so that id solo is not for them, at least there is a game that can be taken to group night but again actual titles would be very much dependant on then level of complexity they would be looking for. Have I skirted the question sufficiently without committing myself? The Exiled:Siege, Zephyr Winds of Change (Portal Dragon), Robinson Crusoe Cursed Isle (Z Man), Tau Ceti (Outer Limits), Liberty or Death & Labyrinth Awakening (GMT), Dwarves:The Saga (Pegasus Spiele), Gloom of Kilforth (Hall or Nothing) 21 days (Erik Winkelmann) and Tuscany(Stonemier Games) all excellent solo variants. Pure solo games I think Nemo’s War (VP Games although this has an added , slightly contrived co-op variant), Fields of Fire (GMT) and Charlemagne Master of Europe (Hollandspiele) are great examples.
6. Who are some of your favorite solo designers that you’d recommend other solo gamers go and stalk? Let’s raise some awareness about the excellent work they do!
I don’t really have a particular favourite designer as such. I would not go and buy a game just because a particular name is on it. The game needs to fit first and foremost. That said, I would recommend stalking Tristan Hall….no don’t do that…appreciate his work but I would never suggest stalking…mind you I do at cons he is attending…lol. Frank West is a great guy, very accommodating and worthy of attention as is NigelKennington (designer of Carcosa…A Cthulhu like carcasonne game but with a great solo variant that, in my view is actually better than the multiplayer original)…a great chap to chat to at cons. Andrew Harman of Yay games (not really solo but still worthy of a mention), the delightful folks at Estonian 2d6EE Games are producing some great smaller scale games many of which are soloable or, after I put some pressure on them, have introduced solo modes to their up and coming Dwarven Traders) and Laurie Philips (designer of the COIN Tribes’ Revolt that gives a GMT COIN game experience in just nine cards… is currently working on Bots to make this fully soloable)
7. Let’s talk mechanics for a moment: What mechanics, such as worker placement or deck building, are guaranteed to catch your interest? What ones might have a harder time convincing you to try them?
What catches my attention? Often a theme or art style grabs me first…then I have to scrutinise it with a fine scroot…to see if the concept/gameplay is something that would appeal to my inner gamer…so there is no particular system/mechanic that instantly draws me in. A good use of mechanics to help consolidate a theme helps bring a game to the top of the ‘notice me’ pilea. I do so hate, with a growing passion, a standard, dull, mediocre mechanic that has some glossy franchised veneer pated all over it to sell a mundane product with out any consideration made for creating a real link between the theme and how the game plays. I generally don’t like deckbuilders. I don’t object to an element of deck building/manipulation but, and as popular as Dominion is, I am not a huge fan. I regret trading it now, but I used to like Rune Age with the expansion…I think, perhaps, because it had more than just building a deck to score VP’s…and I do like that whole Rune world the created. (Not on a solo gaming theme but I am not a huge word game fan but have been impressed by Paper Back (bought for Mrs P who is a massive word game fan)….aaaaaah! I like a wordy deckbuilder! I will be tossed into the firey pit of damnation for such a crime!…Length and Wit (Tinderbox Entertainment) is also a wordgame I like, using laser cut wooden tiles and letter dice….sooo tactile. Very much a push your luck affair but no down time) Aah! I just remembered I hate auction/bidding but fortunately that doesn’t find its way into solo play much…but that would be the area where hard sell would be required to win me over. A bidding solo!
8. What sort of experience do you look for in a solo game (such as a beat-your-high-score, etc.)? Why?
Hahaaaa! You said those ‘hateful’ few words. Beat your Own Score. What a completely pointless wast of cardboard. I most definitely require a purpose for playing a game and beating my own score just isn’t the incentive to bring me back for a second play. Rise to Nobility (Final Frontier) has simply but cleverly introduced a way around this in their worker placement game. They have a deck of random solo win objectives. There is a varying in total to achieve but also certain criterion set down to enable victory. Now there is a purpose. Each game plays very differently as the goals are different with each play. They are very difficult to achieve but do force you to use different parts of the gameboard you might otherwise avoid in multiplayer. The Automa in Tuscany is really a basic blocker mechanic added to the beat your own solo game but it has been so well constructed that it really messes with your strategies and the whole game is complex, think on your feet a race against the ever increasing VP score of Automa (it nicely introduces a difficulty scaling too) So what do I look for in a solo game? A- Purpose. Why am I doing what I am doing? Are the mechanics relative to the theme? B- Theme. I like a coherent theme that links to A (if it is a purely abstract game, then let it be purely abstract and be gone you pretentious glossy veneers) C- Excitement/Adventure. A narrative or story telling. By that I do not mean as part of the game/role play but the gameplay itself tells a story D- A sense of achievement. I don’t want a game to be so easy that it doesn’t challenge me but also not so incredibly complex or difficult that success is nigh on impossible. A challenge that when it is finally overcome, fills me with a feeling of deep satisfaction.
9. Finally, since you are a fellow content creator, what are some other reviewers, etc. that solo gamers should go and read/watch/listen to that touch upon solo gaming?
Off the top of my head I would recommend Beyond Solitaire & Shiny Happy Meeples for both video & blog ’must’ viewing. As for blogs themselves Single Handed & jambalayaplaysgames. For Video playthroughs Catweazel is most entertaining, Rolling Solo, Solomode Games, Solo McLaughlin, One Stop Co-op Shop and obviously Sir Ricky of Royal- Box of Delights
10. Where can people find Both Sides of My Table?
Both Sides of My Table is in the most rural of deepest Shropshire, UK…but is much easier to find at https://bothsidesofmytable.com and there is a facebook page/group where notifications of new items are announced https://www.facebook.com/groups/1796626697310269/ … https://www.facebook.com/BSoMT.2018/
Thank you so much to Giles for his time answering these questions. Be sure to check out what he’s been doing over at Both Sides of My Table, as he’s covered a pretty extensive number of solo-worthy games in a short span of time! And if you appreciate his work, be sure to check out his Patreon page as well: https://www.patreon.com/bothsidesofmytable