What’s So Freaking Bad About “Multiplayer Solitaire” Anyway?

So, I’ll be listening to a podcast or reading a review, just innocently minding my business with a good attitude and warm n’ fuzzy boardgamey feelings floating all around, and then BAM!, they go and say that thing that irritates the snot out of me.  With disdain in their voice and unbridled condescension in their prose, they insult the game, practically spit at it, with the phrase “it’s just multiplayer solitaire.”

So then I’m all pissed off and indignant, riled up and yelling at my iPod or my computer screen, and more than anything else, I’m left wondering, “But what the heck is so freaking bad about multiplayer solitaire?!!!” 

I mean, first of all, that’s just plain insulting to those of us who happen to like playing games solo.  Can there be no challenge or fun in playing against the game itself?  Particularly in games that have strong system elements or that you can play both sides of, it can be a pretty fun and rewarding experience.    

And are you (as in, people who use this term derogatorily) so ignorant about the meaning of “conflict” that you think it has to involve the crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentation of their women?  Can there be no subtlety in conflict and player interaction?  I mean, just because you can’t resort to marching your Philosopher across the table to set fire to your opponent’s Studio when someone is beating the crap out of you in The Princes of Florence does not mean that there was no way you could have tried to stop him earlier in the game.  Maybe next time you shouldn’t let him win those Jesters for 300 Florin, and you should think about buying up another profession or two before they’re all gone. 

Auctions, competition for resources, and even control of pacing are all still means of conflict!  If thinking of it in terms of boardgames is too difficult for you, then let’s look at the wide world of sports, where most all direct interaction between players or teams is either forbidden altogether or strictly limited.  Almost all forms of racing, for instance, would have to be considered “multiplayer solitaire”, ’cause if you’re running the 100-meter dash, it’s not usually allowed to throw sand in someone’s eyes or to bean them in the head with a rock.  And even in something like basketball, the means that you can use to guard your opponents are very constrained, preventing direct physical attack and in some cases even limiting the strategies you can use (like zone defenses in the NBA).  But would you ever say that either of these sports lack competition?  I hope not, ’cause If you did, you’d be pretty stupid.

And just to throw some  fire back in the other direction, I usually feel that “multiplayer solitaire” games are generally better designed than those with a lot of direct conflict.  In these games, you have to pay attention to what everyone is doing and either use subtle means within the game to interfere or just plain keep ahead of them using the strategy you’ve devised.  But in games with open conflict, it seems like so many times, the game comes down to series of turns where everyone beats down the current leader until, finally, someone comes up short and the current leader happens to win.  It’s like they rely on the social element of people teaming up on the leader to account for and balance out issues that may exist in the game itself.  And while direct-conflict games can certainly be fun at times, they tend to reward people more for their social skills (in manipulating others or deflecting attention from themselves) rather than for their skill with the game and its systems.

But to get serious for just a moment, we all know that the real issue here is that all this stuff is just a matter of taste.  No particular type of game is inherently “better” than another.  If you do or don’t like a game or a mechanic or whatever, that’s cool.  But you gotta be careful about laying out judgements about things that are personal preferences. 

It’s like the freaking weather people all over TV.  I get so irritated when they’re all like, “Let’s get that nasty cold weather out of here so we can all lounge around in our hot-looking bikinis and enjoy the warm weather that’s obviously the preference of all non-ignorant people watching.”  Okay, maybe they don’t say that exact thing, but that’s what they mean, and it pisses me off!  I like cold weather, dang it!  There’s nothing wrong with cold weather, so keep yer dern opinions to yourself and just report the freaking weather!!!

Oops, I guess that’s a whole other rant going on there.  So let’s just wrap up by saying, “Can’t we all just get along?”  Let’s talk about games respectively, describing the level and type of player interaction present rather than just making a critical judgement like saying it’s “multiplayer solitaire”.  Because, really, all types of games are worthy of respect and love and attention.

Oh, except for roll-and-move games, of course, ’cause they’re just plain dumb. 


  1. Nice comments. I was with you until then end (I like warm weather… and Monopoly, so I’m not completely against roll and move games.) However, with the multiplayer solitaire, I have heard those same sentiments. There are several games that work well because of that. For example, when I play Runebound with my wife, we better be playing it as multiplayer solitaire – if I attack her, then we won’t be playing it anymore. This doesn’t detract from the game or who wins. We still affect each other based on which monsters we kill, which items we purchase, and how quickly we start moving to the more difficult monsters. I like your sports metaphors (though I thought zone coverage was recently legalized in the NBA), specifically of racing. I consider Runebound to be a race to see who can defeat the dragon the fastest. Well said.

  2. Chris Norwood

    The weather thing I stand by, but I was mostly just being facetious with the roll-and-move statement, of course.

    And I really don’t care much for pro basketball, so I could very well be behind on the legalization of zone defenses.  The point is still mostly valid, though.

    Oh, and thanks for making a point that I meant to make in the rant itself!  I really intended to mention cases where indirect conflict is specifically preferred to the direct kind (like playing with significant others), but it apparently fell out of my head before actually sitting down at the keyboard.   

  3. Totally agree, Chris. Agricola is easily my new favourite game but it has been slandered with the MPS label many times. I just don’t understand. Just because you can slash and burn your neighbour’s wooden hut, doesn’t mean his grabbing of cattle before you couldn’t lose you the game.

    I like MPS-style games. Games like Mosaix where everyone is starting one even footing and are given similar opportunities, and yet some play much better than others. They tend to be less chaotic and in turn far more strategic.

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  5. Kenny

    … did you just make an anti-obviation post?

  6. Chris Norwood

    Huh?  What you mean?

  7. Couldn’t agree more. I think people call a game MPS when it merely doesn’t have the kind of direct conflict they were looking for.

    Even in a game like Dominion, you are racing to acquire those provinces and every time an opponent grabs one, the tension increases.

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