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1x1 (pronounced "one by one") is a one-off e-zine dedicated to solo gaming, playable without computers. I am particularly interested in games not commercially manufactured but I do enjoy some solo rules variants of commercial board games. And I have a love of games playable with standard items like a regular card deck, pen and paper, dice, and dominos. While I do also enjoy the occasional solo rules variants of commercial games, particularly fan-made ones, there are many other places to find that kind of thing online.
Bringing a small ruleset, and a notebook to the park, maybe with a die or two, sounds about ideal right now. Maybe I should commission games that can only be played in the park, with items found there, now that's an idea.
In general, I've tried to find creative commons and similar licensed games. Many game creators may be removed from the world of software, Linux, or other entry points to the world or ideas of free, libre and open source software, and creative commons, but are still sharing their materials online or through other means hoping to find friends, fellow players, and community, but even though they published rules I decided to focus on explicitly labeled CC works for this 'issue.'
Without further ado...
There are a wealth of podcasts, websites and game jams dedicated to solo games.
Some categories of solo games that I particularly am interested in are solo ttrpg games, dungeon crawler solo games, and story driven solo/strongly themed games.
I am a relative newcomer to solo board gaming. I turned to trying out solo games, particularly solo table top roleplaying games (TTRPGs) during the pandemic when I wasn't playing Among Us. I found that I liked them! And I first came across James Chip's The Adventurer, which was my first experience with a journaling game, before discovering there were dozens of these kinds of games to be found on Itch.io.
The Adventurer, on Itch.io (www)
From there, I branched out to more solo journaling games, then decided to find more hack and slash games, some commercially produced solo games, and solo variants of games I already owned.
Solo Tabletop RPGs Are Really Fun, Actually (www)
I found lots and lots of independently produced and published solo games online, particularly on Itch.io. See this immense list of games below.
The Hermits Club: all solo TTRPGs and LARPs on itch.io (www)
James Chip runs the wonderful Micro fiction games jam, which has run in 3 editions as of the date I'm writing. The Micro fiction games jam is open to folks that create *very* short format games, always on a theme. The 2022 theme was "Item, Alcove and Haunt" and attracted 35 entries by my count.
James specifically requests folks submit games that can be described and actionable (playable by someone reading the instructions), in only 280 characters or less! From my experience, some require a bit more imagination to adapt to a fully playable experience, but I've always had fun trying. There are over 100 of these games to be found on the site currently, the majority of which are intended to be or can be played solo, so you have lots of options to try out here, and all of the games submitted are creative commons licensed CC BY 4.0. If you've played more exacting and complex games with packed rules sheets, this will feel like a very different experience. Not better. Not worse. But different.
Micro fiction games jam (www)
Incidentally, James can also can be found on Gemini. His capsule currently lists 3 small games he's created, along with their rules.
I'd be remiss to not mention one other major source for finding out about solo games, Board Game Geek, and in particular 1PG (One Player Guild).
One Player Guild on BoardGameGeek (www)
Lastly, I'm not active on any of these but you can also find discussion on r/soloboardgaming as well as forums on BoardGameGeek, and I believe on various discord and other spaces around the web, just a search away.
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I have played hundreds of different card games throughout my life, including a long running series of games for many years in high school lunch session, and weekly card games with my grandmother. But until trying out Card Crawl (an iOS application) initially several years ago, I had no experience with a 'themed' card game using a standard deck, except beyond the simple fact of the Jack-Queen-King royalty. I grew to really enjoy that game, and recently decided to search out more themed games that can be played with a deck of cards. Donsol I had heard about, but not tried. It's also a dungeon crawler type game. I came across a few dozen more examples, and picked a few creative commons licensed ones to try out and play.
Desmond Meraz's Thematic Solitaire Playing Card Games List (www)
Shooting Party is a game by John Kean, originally posted on Board Game Geek, creative commons licensed CC BY NC SA.
The Shooting Party rules
The theme of this game, a British aristocrat's lecherous escapades, I found simultaneously silly (particularly the Wooster and Jeeves-type atmosphere), and the humor perhaps a bit out of date, even in its winking and nodding. There is still fun to be had in the game, and the approach seems promising even as I'd retire the aristocratic bedroom humor theme.
In Shooting Party you are a bachelor with a forged "letter of introduction" visiting an aristocrat's weekend pheasant hunting soiree. Your goal is to engage in witty repartee that drives away lords and their men-in-waiting, in order to isolate their wives to seduce and bed them (I'm not making this up!). Successfully bedding a lord's wife nets you points, and if you happen to do so while they're wearing their fine jewels, you make off with those too.
The Queens are the married 'young ladies.' The Kings, their husbands. The Jacks, their private secretaries. The Joker is the butler. The aces are the jewels. The cards 2 through 5 are 'less desirable guests.'
Before the game, all cards 6 to 10 and one Joker are discarded. The game is played with cards in the hand. You begin with 4 cards. If you have any aces in your hand, at any time in the game, you place them above the draw and discard piles, and draw another to replace it; these aces are the jewels you seek, representing they are worn by their lady of that suit.
You begin each turn where you have less than 6 cards in hand by drawing 2 cards to add to your hand. You then discard cards according to the 'rules of etiquette," which are based on matches (of suit or of number) in a quest to reduce your hand to a single queen that you can 'seduce.' When you pick up two jacks, too many queens, a king and queen of suit, you are forced to 'leave the room' (aka discard your hand) according to these rules of etiquette. You can also bribe a sympathetic butler (the Joker card), who can leave the room or retrieve a particular departed guest or jewels you seek from the discard pile. You run through the draw pile until you exhaust it and your hand. When you finish the deck, you pick it up, shuffle and redraw a new hand. You can run through the deck three full times, at which point the game ends, or if you've managed to 'bed' all four queens before then.
You receive a point for each successful 'seduction' and for your pilfering of any jewels. So like many other solo games, the quest here is for you to reach your own highest score.
It took me about 15 or 20 minutes to play through my first game, and without knowing exactly my strategy, I was able to get a pretty good score, 3 'seductions' and 3 stolen 'jewels', which according to the rules renders me an "oofy bounder."
As mentioned previously, I found the theme to be a novel, promising approach that makes good use of the royalty in a deck of cards. With the clearly described theming of the game I did find that I was able to envision the scenes as described, which added flavor and intrigue to the game. That the rules suggest you can swap the genders does little to assuage the sexist language of the victorian era, that is both lampooned and encouraged in the game. I am imagining building on the use of royalty to design a card game about toppling dictators and their lords and ministers in waiting.
In terms of strategy, I didn't find the game particularly complex, and often found myself either making an arbitrary choice of what to discard when two equal options were presented, or picking an obvious discard choice, though I feel that way about cribbage and yet I often lose! The ability to run through the deck three times seemed a bit "easy" to get a high score, particularly for someone that hadn't played previously. Perhaps requiring certain cards or the use of the 'butler' to be able to re-draw a new deck, or added, more restrictive rules on each re-draw of the deck could add more of a challenge. On repeated playthroughs of the game, I did not find myself learning much advanced strategy. While there is strategy to be found, it's not the most complex strategy card game, but feels a bit more like a way to 'pass the time' on occasion.
Clear the Dungeon is the newest created game on this list, I believe. It's designed by Mark S. Ball, and most recently updated July 2023. It's also creative commons licensed, so I'll post the full rules here:
Clear The Dungeon rules
The goal of the game is to clear the dungeon of its monsters. All of them. There are no rooms you enter, nor a theme of potions nor swords or shields. The theme felt a bit flimsy in that way. All of the face cards are monsters. King is worth 13, Queen 12, Jack 11. At the start of the game you remove all face cards from the deck, shuffle, then deal 4 piles of 3 cards each. Turn over the top card on each pile. With the remaining deck of cards (including 1 joker), shuffle, then draw three cards for your hand to begin. From these three cards, you must pick a pair of them to attack a monster. Cards of the same suit can be combined, or cards with the same number can be combined. Then your remaining third card is used to determine the suit of the monster you're attacking.
For example, consider these three cards in your hand: 5 diamonds, 6 diamonds, 5 clubs
Any time you don't have enough points to kill a monster or take an action, discard your hand. Draw another set of 3 cards to try to play.
You can optionally choose to add these rules, which make the game more strategic, but also easier.
If it's easier for you to learn by watching than by reading, there's a video tutorial on Youtube
How to play Clear The Dungeon (www)
Play continues until you run through the deck. If you defeated all the monsters before running out of cards, you won. Otherwise, you failed to clear the dungeon.
At the end of the rules, it says you can make the game harder by removing the jokers and/or playing without the ability to use the card from the top of your discard pile.
So I played this game maybe half a dozen times. I won most times. Removing the joker did not make the game noticeably more difficult, and I was still able to consistently win. Removing the ability to use the reserved card from the top of the discard pile, now that DID noticeably change the difficulty, and I no longer was winning as consistently. However, the game felt less strategic since there was less to do, and I found myself enjoying the game less.
I enjoyed the game, particularly with the ability to use the discard cards, but found the game slighly too easy. One potential modification would be to allow yourself to do this only once (or thrice), for example, per game. The theme almost worked for me, but perhaps a dungeon metaphor isn't quite right. Maybe this is a "shooting gallery" or wack-a-mole or other theme metaphor. But I did find it interesting enough to play a number of short games before bed.
Donsol is one of a number of dungeon crawl games with similar gameplay and rules. These games are described as a dungeon crawl roguelike solitaire game. The other ones I'm aware of are Scoundrel by Zack Gage and Kurt Bieg, The Fool's Journey (played with a Tarot deck), Card Crawl, and Gamot. Donsol was designed by John Eternal and turned into a video game by Hundred Rabbits.
Donsol on Itch.io (www)
These games are "roguelike deckbuilding" card games. The term "roguelike" here is meant to indicate random procedural generation in the creation of the dungeon. The layout, or what monsters you run into, the potions and weapons for example in various rooms - they are all different each time you play. Though the mechanics stay the same from game to game. "Deckbuilding" indicates you build your hand and the strategy elements come from this specifically, how you prepare for and wield your weapons and potions for example.
Donsol can be played with the standard deck of 52 cards plus both jokers. This deck is considered the 'dungeon' you work through. Each turn you draw 4 cards, your current dungeon 'room.' The suits indicate:
You start with the maximum health of 21 hp. You can drink a potion (hearts card) to heal the number of points, though additional potions do nothing unless you kill a monster between. Face card potions can heal you for 11 points. An ace is considered a face card.
Diamonds are shields to defend against monster attacks. Start with the highest level monster from the room attacking. Face card (A, K, Q, J) shields are all worth 11 points of defense. If a higher moster than the shield attacks, your hp goes down the number of points of difference. If the monster is the same or lower points than the shield your hp does not decrease; however, your shield can never successfully defend against a monster with the same or higher number of points than the previous monster to attack it. For example, if you had a 9spades monster attack, and then a Queen (13 point) clubs monster attacks, your shield breaks. Any time your shield breaks, discard the shield, and the monster delivers it full attack against your hp.
Monsters: jacks attack with 11 points. Queens attack with 13 points. Kings attack with 15 points. Aces attack with 17 points. Jokers are Donsols and attack with 21 points. If you don't have a shield, you are dead.
I hope I'm transcribing the rules accurately and in a way that makes sense. To be completely honest, I found the written rules difficult to understand and I instead played the Pico-8 cart Donsol a bunch of times to better understand the rules. Once I learned the game this way, I began playing with an actual deck of cards, before bed. Games can be played in about 7 - 10 minutes.
Donsol on Pico-8 (www)
Rules that alter the difficulty:
If you're a beginner, you can 'escape' a room at any time. Collect the cards laid out, shuffle them, then place them on the bottom of the deck. Deal the next 4 cards out and continue play.
For the 'normal' rules: you can escape a room only if you have NOT escaped the previous room. With this rule variant, it means that I sometimes have to waste perfectly good shields or potions when making an educated guess that a high-level monster will come up in the next room.
There is a 'hard' difficulty of not allowing escaping rooms, but I think that would both be too hard and eliminate some of the strategy I enjoy about the game.
Of all the card games I've written about, this is the one that's had the most staying power for me. I've probably played this about 20 times and won about a third of the games perhaps. I like it more than the iOS Card Crawl game. It feel both more difficult and requires more strategy. Knowing when to escape a room or when to waste potions makes the game feel quite challenging. I've often gotten to the last room in the dungeon and then either barely won or was killed in the last few moves, and genuinely feel excitement during those moments. This is a game I'll continue playing, and I find inspires me to want to search for more solo dungeon crawlers. I have a vision of finding or creating a dominos-baed dungeon crawler next...
1x1 is published by lettuce. CC BY SA 2023. For feedback or game suggestions, or encouragement to write another 'issue,' you can write to lettuce at ctrl-c.club. If you'd like your comment listed publicly underneath, please put comment in the subject line and list your public 'handle.'
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