I would like to start posting about solo tabletop gaming (one player games) that involve journaling, so here’s a quick run down of what those are:
First, What Are Tabletop Games?
Tabletop games are kind of self-explanatory; they are games you usually play on or around a flat surface like a table, and range from card games to board games and include a bunch of games that you may have played and not known they were classified as tabletop games, classics like Monopoly and Scrabble, and modern favorites like Cards Against Humanity, and Settlers of Catan. Because the term “tabletop games” is so generic, they can even be expanded to include beer pong (you need a table to play, right?), mahjong, and even trading card games like Magic the Gathering and Pokémon (Trading Card Game).
Obviously, tabletop role-playing games fit in this category as well.
So, What Are Tabletop Role-Playing Games?
Tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) are games you play with friends (or enemies, or complete strangers, if you’re so inclined, though I don’t think it would be as enjoyable), mostly around a table as they often include maps and little figures. Some of the more popular TTRPGs include Dungeons and Dragons (commonly referred to as DnD or D&D), Pathfinder, and Warhammer 40k.
During the pandemic, people have found ways to do it online. Depending on the game, you take up existing characters or make up new ones based on certain criteria, and your decisions are supposed to be based on that character’s personality or traits. For example, would your character shoot first, or would he only shoot back in retaliation? One person in your group is not a character, but rather something like a narrator, or game master (GM) as they’re commonly referred to. This person will describe the situation and occasionally take the reins of a character that is not one of the group; these are called non-playable characters (NPCs) and they’re usually who you gather information from (or, fight, if it comes down to it).
Commonly, there are often many, many dice involved; there is the stereotypical 20-sided dice, and of course, the ubiquitous 6-sided dice. There are many-sided die in-between. These dice determine the probability that your character is able to do something. For example, you may say “I want to climb that tree” and your game master may tell you to roll a dice to determine your success or failure; depending on the roll and the game, you may either fail or succeed, and your game master will tell you the consequences of your actions.
There are also battles, but I will be completely honest: battles are my least favorite part of TTRPGs, so I don’t want to describe them too in-depth. Basically, you use skills and/or spells in your repertoire to defeat an in-game enemy.
How Do You Play Tabletop Games Solo?
All of the ones I mentioned have been designed to be played with someone else or as a group, so how do you play solo? Generally, you play ones that are designed to be played to be played single-player, like Solitaire. However, if you get bored of playing Solitaire, I would just suggest pretending to be multiple players.
Growing up, when no one in my household would want to play a tabletop game with me, I honestly just played by myself as two or more people. This happened most often with the Pokémon Trading Card game, I would just run to both sides and try to strategically defeat myself. This would work best if you had definite rules for each side of the table (so to speak); to use the Pokémon example, you could have one side be only fire-based, and try to beat the other side. I would also play board games with myself; I would probably play Life, but you could do the same for games like Monopoly. I will admit this is harder to do with games like Battleship and Clue; you cannot play these by yourself, unless you have bad short-term memory, and forget what the other person’s board or cards were. I also want to include puzzles in here as tabletop game, because you totally need a table for these, however “game” may be too much of a stretch.
Also, now companies are making board games or card games that can scale down to one person, one of my favorites is Legendary, a Marvel Deck Building Game. Deck building games are card games where you try to build a good deck from all the cards that you have. I like this particular one because of all the superheroes you can play as, and the multitude of villains you can defeat. I actually prefer playing this solo instead of with other people.
In solo RPGs, you still take on the role of a character that is a predetermined character, or one you can make up, however, you no longer have anyone around you pushing the story along, hence the “solo” part of the game. There are many ways around this; games will either come with a way to push the story along, ie an “oracle” that acts as a game master, or you can find or buy a game master simulator.
There are many different types of solo games, and the ones that definitely interested me are the solo journalling games! In these games, you keep a log or “diary” for the character, depending on the situations that come up, or that you are prompted by. This is the idea behind this new series I would like to start on my blog. Let’s now get into my history with tabletop gaming.
My History with Tabletop Games, TTRPGs, and Solo RPGs
I used to love playing board games. One of my earliest memories with my elementary school friends is playing Yahtzee and Clue and Monopoly at her house. However, it was rare that I got to play these at home with other people, so I had to come up with ways to play by myself. Like I said, there was a lot of Solitaire and a lot of Pokémon dueling, with some Magic and Yu-gi-oh sprinkled in.
Over the years, I realized I am very competitive, and don’t like to stoke that side of my personality, so I try to stay away from the competitive games and stick to co-op games. One that I tried and really liked was Arkham Horror, but there are a ton out there that I would love to try! The aforementioned Legendary is also a co-op game, but, like I said, I like to play this solo. Once, I did play Pandemic, but it was at least 5 years ago now, and I can’t remember much about the play-through except that we didn’t win. Games like Clue, where you and your friends all have the same objective, but are not actively competing against each other, are really fun because I really focus on what I have to do and don’t really pay attention to what the other players are doing. Another game that’s like this is the kinda new Disney board game Villainous.
I find low stakes card games are okay for me as well, especially if the general goal is to have fun and be funny. Games like Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, even simples ones like War and Uno (as long as they stay short).
I’m a complete newbie when it comes to tabletop role-playing games, at least the ones that you do with friends and in real life. My future-husband is an avid TTRPG-er, and has been playing most of his adult life. On the other hand, I still have a hard time grasping some concepts. I have listened to a couple of campaigns from The Adventure Zone, so I have a light grasp of the basics, I think, but as I said before, I think the battles are boring and, honestly, happen too often.
Taylor graciously made up a Harry Potter campaign so I could play a witch in that universe; we’ve played two games with his old roommate/friend and it was a lot of fun! It was mostly puzzles and mysteries, which he knows I like! We still have fun talking about the stuff that was made up on those nights. Now that we are living together, I’ve found some playable games for two people that have been enjoyable; Taylor and I really liked Anomaly.
As for solo RPGs, I have almost no experience. I am very intrigued, however, by the aspect of journaling as play, so in that aspect, I am very excited! Last year, around this time, I was introduced to Itch.io through the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, which has a large amount of tabletop games and solo games (under type, you have to select “Physical Games”), and I also was intrigued earlier this year when the Solo But Not Alone bundle came out, which was only solo games. I look forward to trying a lot of those out!
Now that introductions are made, for tabletop games and my history with them, I want to dive into a solo game I played, that I kept a log or journal for. This game was called…
The Estate of Baron Archambaud, an Ingrate
How to get a copy of the game
The game describes itself as a card game for one player, but it’s much more than a card game. Because you get to pick your character (or roll for a character), and your character will give you certain abilities or stats, I would technically classify this as a role-playing game.
From the Itch.io:
Baron Archambaud’s palatial estate is as opulent, confounding, and eccentric as the man himself. He took something you desperately need and locked it away in his vault, and you are determined to retrieve it. You are not the first to attempt this thievery. A dangerous path lays before you.
You use a deck of cards and two six-sided dice (shorted as 2d6) to set up the estate and play.
Overall, my playthrough was kind of clunky, I was unsure of all the rules, and even with a physical copy of the book, it was difficult to remember it all. Eventually, however, I did get the hang of it. However, one of the puzzles had a typo, and it was a spelling puzzle, so if you buy this, be sure to correct the Gallery puzzle mistake before playing. (If you read the comments, it is the third comment from the bottom.) I’m waiting to play again to see if I could get the puzzle again, it is too fresh in my mind.
The book itself is beautiful, and the scenarios that are in the book are wonderful and definitely fit the feel of the game.
As for the journaling aspect, this was the first official time I kept a journal for a game, including video games I play by myself, like Animal Crossing. I kept little checklists here and there over the years, but since databases are much easier to access and organize on the computer, I have my Animal Crossing checklists on Google Sheets. Even when Taylor made that Harry Potter campaign for me, I didn’t know if there was going to be a continuation after the first game, so I didn’t think to keep a journal, and honestly, it was a little daunting to try to start one.
For this game, however, the 32 page PDF can be printed, and there is space in the back to keep track of your moves and stats. Instead of doing this in the book, I wrote my moves and inventory in a journal. I kept a running inventory on each two page spread, and if I had to use an item, I just crossed it off. On each of my turns, I just wrote down what I rolled and what card I landed on, and if there were any actions for each card, what I did for the action and what I rolled. It was actually helpful because, since my playthrough was so clunky, I would land on the same card multiple times. Knowing what worked and what didn’t work, from my journal, helped a lot in making my choices.
Overall, an amazing, beautiful game, with just one typo (though, it is significant).
I wish I could take a picture of the spreads I made for this game, but since it has answers to puzzles, I won’t. I will say that I’m using an old notebook that was gifted to me, A Novel Journal: Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. The premise of these “Novel Journals” is that each journal has lines made of lines from a novel, this one being Peter Pan.
Here’s a picture of the book, and here’s a picture of the insides, close up. And a picture of the end pages for fun, because they’re truly beautiful:
I’m not a huge fan of Peter Pan, but these journals are an interesting concept. The paper is pretty thick, I’d guess either 70# or 80# text or about 100-120gsm. I used my Lamy Safari, EF nib, and wrote with J. Herbin Vert Empire. I didn’t encounter any bleeding to the back or much feathering, if any.
This game took up 3 sheets of paper, or 6 pages. I took a break in the middle of playing to have dinner, but it still took several hours to play.
That’s all! Let me know if you played this game, and if you decided to keep a journal as well! I think keeping a journal or log of your activities is not necessary, though it helped a lot when making future decisions.