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  • Writer's pictureJW

Finding my haven

I used to be a big music fan. I spent all my money on albums, later CDs, and on live shows. I used to love reading. I read two or three books a week, traveling to and from work and in the evenings. I had much fun playing computer games, could spend hours and hours online. Until I fell ill. I had severe depression and I could not enjoy anything anymore. Music was too distracting, I needed quiet. I could not focus on books or magazines. Computer games or TV offered distraction, but the minute I turned them off, I would feel even worse than before I had started. But, in the year before, I had discovered solo gaming. And it saved the day during these dark times.

I realised I did not need distraction, I needed some brain activity that I could handle. Fortunately, this was not my first depression. Fifteen years ago logic puzzles and sudokus had kept me occupied. So I tried, but no, I’d burned out on them. But solo board games were still new. And they were exactly what I needed. A way to keep my brain working.

Then something happened that got me hospitalised in isolation, “for my own protection” as they said. I spent a month there, 23 hours a day not leaving the room. My wife brought me two games every week. Some of these I will never get rid of, ever. And when I got out, starting rather intensive therapy, I included solo board games in my recovery plans. You need something to structure your days, for as long as you can’t go back to work. And it’s good to have a hobby, something to be interested in.

I’ve spent a year learning a new game every week, while recovering from depression. It wasn’t always fun. It felt “necessary” though, as one thing you can have as a side effect of depression, is online shopping sprees. Trying to feel good by spending money. Well, it actually works, if you can afford it. But it doesn’t have any long term effect and you get a house full of stuff.

But the plan was mainly to play a game every day. And not be too hard on myself if I didn’t manage but try to find out which games work in which situations. And I found out.

There are three kinds of games that are beneficial. First there are the fillers. Games that take at most fifteen minutes. They are quick to set up and have easy to remember rules. Some may think their gameplay is more an activity than a game proper, but I don’t care. They are for when I’m tired, which is often. Depression wears you out. It also makes you get less exercise, all in all you’ll be more tired more often real quick. I am grateful for games like Herbaceous, Pocket Landship, Desolate, Mini Rogue and Ganz Schön Clever. I need a lot of filler games.

Next there are some longer games (that take, let’s say up to an hour) that have an even better effect: they give a tiny feeling of happiness. I guess it’s what other people get from sports like running. These games click with me and I enjoy the puzzle very much. I need some energy to set them up, which can be a barrier, but then it’s worth it so much. I discovered this first with Glass Road, later to be replaced by Nusfjord, that had this positive effect even more. One Deck Dungeon, Elder Sign, Street Masters and Legendary Encounters: Alien are other examples.

And one game was best. It takes me ages to make room and get everything sorted, so that will happen just a few times a year. It takes many hours to play. But when I am playing, I am in another world and I am entertained, satisfied and happy. It is Eldritch Horror. It is pure bliss.

Last year I got into depression once again. It’s bad and I don’t know how long it is going to take. Reading is still problematic, I manage some simple stuff and the newspaper. Music is mainly limited to very familiar albums as some kind of background noise. I’ve started playing Diablo on the computer. It’s alright. But these things pale in comparison to board games. They make me feel relatively “well”. So I still try to play a game every day.

And you know what? It helps. I sometimes catch myself saying "I had fun". I played Black Widow in Marvel Champions, and I had fun. I am trying to learn to play Navajo Wars, and it may take me two weeks, but I'm having fun. Then I played 15 sessions of D-Day Dice Pocket and I had fun 😄


A bit of advice, as post script. If you feel half as bad as I do: seek help. Talk about it. You'll find a way out. Okay?

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Aug 24, 2020

Hey Frank,

Thanks for your reply. I also avoid social contacts when I'm feeling down. Even going outside is hard. The coronavirus situation did not help either. While meeting people, chatting and playing games with others would certainly be helpful.

I also enjoy playing Terraforming Mars solo. It doesn't take too long so I can stay focused. It's nice to build something on the board. And I really like the gameplay. I have never tried Gaia Project, always thought it may be too hard for me.

Anyway, it's good to hear games can help you calm down and that you are able find some joy while playing.


JW, it‘s Great to read how you found a way to cope through gaming.

I have periods of anxiety when my mind is constantly racing and I can not focus on anything except worries. Playing thinkier solo board games (Gaia project, terraforming mars, ...) keep my mind busy without worrying, and really help me to calm down and take a step back.

Also, in such times I tend to avoid social contact which doesn’t help either. (Non-Solo) Board Games enable me to connect with my kids and wife and my friends and having a good time together with them.

Board games are one of the few things that help me feel joy and accomplishment when I feel bad.


Aug 17, 2020

Thanks Donutz. It is weird as we're talking about sad and uncomfortable things, but somehow it is good to hear from other people that recognize things and can relate. It makes me feel less alone, I guess, which in turn helps me to connect more to the outside world. During a depression your own mind gets a bit of a black hole. I'm glad you have found solo games and minis painting as well.

Also, I wish your partner all the best.


This is a wonderful write-up JW. I don’t talk about it too often but I find comfort in solo games for much of the same reasons you do. Although for me it stems from severe alcoholism. I’m not religious and don’t care for AA so solo gaming, and now miniature painting as well, has become my therapy. It’s so easy for others to disregard what we do but the more you get to know gamers, the more reasons you see for people gaming.

My partner also suffers from depression and so I see how much of a toll that can take on someone. I’m so glad that you’ve found something that works for you. Best wishes.


Jul 23, 2020

Thank you. I am curious for Cartographers, but I'll check out the other titles you named as well. I really like Roll Player, by the way.

I will try Spirit Island again when I feel a bit better. I tried learning the game earlier this year, but the fact that you see all bad things coming was a bit too much for me right now. Athena speaks highly of it though. So, later.

I hope you'll be used to the new medication soon. I usually get every side effect that's named in the instruction leaflet during the first few weeks. :-) Hold on.

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