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Vivian Wagner Ph.D.

Artful Gaming

A look at the benefits of playing meditative solo games.

Vivian Wagner
Playing Sunset Over Water.
Source: Vivian Wagner

I’ve recently discovered the world of solo board gaming, and I’m loving it. I’m amazed, in fact, by how many solo-able games there are. We’re in a renaissance of creative board, card, and dice games, and every day, new ones hit Kickstarter and find their way into discussions on BoardGameGeek and various solo gaming groups on Facebook.

One of my favorite games lately is Sunset Over Water , from Pencil First Games . It’s a calming, beautiful card game that follows an artist going through the day: getting up, making plans, painting various scenes, selling paintings, and gaining “renown” points. The cards in the game feature oceans, mountains, flowers, rivers, and other natural elements.

There’s something wonderful about playing this game solo. I like hanging out on my deck, spreading the cards on my glass table, and getting started. To play the game, you lay out five up and five down in an area that’s called the wilderness, put in some ranger station cards, pick your meeple (the little wooden figure that’s your game person), and begin exploring.

It takes a little while to learn the rules, and they’re just complex enough to give a satisfying game experience. It’s not really a game about winning or losing, though. The solo variant really is just a beat-your-own-score kind of game, and I don’t worry too much about how many points I have at the end. Rather, this game is mostly about the experience – exploring the world, creating art, and selling it.

Playing a meditative game like this at the end of a long day is relaxing and rejuvenating. I don’t have to think too much, but there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in just moving through the world, choosing cards, and adding up my score at the end. My anxiety and worries slip away over the course of the game, as I admire the waterfalls and sunsets, mountains and wildflowers.

Studies have begun to show that playing games can lessen depression, improve cognitive function, and even possibly delay or prevent the onset of dementia. They keep the brain active, encouraging the formation of new neural connections and pathways. They engage us and ask us to step outside of our everyday routines.

And, perhaps most of all, they’re a lovely way to spend an evening,