A Gentle Rain

Image credit: Mondo Games. https://boardgamegeek.com/image/6073984/gentle-rain

Pull a tile. Feel the texture on its back. Trace the interlacing lines with your fingertip.
Breathe in.
Push your fingers gently against the front. Notice its softness.
Breathe out.
Rotate. Glance around the board, for the perfect spot.
Breathe in.
Place it down. Not too quickly though. You, are in no rush.
Breathe out.

I pulled out Kevin Wilson’s A Gentle Rain the other day. I had worked myself up thinking about identity, as has increasingly been the case for the past year and a half (I wonder why). I noticed my stress levels rising, there were too many unknowns, too many possibilities, so little certainty. So I started laying tiles. I felt the soft texture, and as the board grew, I could no longer focus on both my anxieties and the flowers at the same time, so I let the game take over, I just pulled tiles, matched flowers. Rince, repeat.

I used to have an app on my phone called Flowy. In it, you controlled a small boat, swiping it left and right on the screen to avoid obstacles and collecting coins. At regular intervals, a cloud would appear, prompting you to breathe in through a count of three, and then breathe out as the sail boat whooshed ahead. It was an app designed to help coping with stress and anxiety, and it worked wonders for me specifically because of that simple game underneath. My brain got fixated just enough on making sure the boat stayed afloat that I just slipped into the rhythm of breathing in, breathing out, slowly calming myself down. I used this app for something like three years, and it got me through some hectic times, particularly when I had to juggle university, work and house hunting all at the same time for a few months, barely having time for a social life and ended up spending a lot of time alone. It was pretty bad for my mental health, but the moments I got too worked up, I could boot up Flowy and calm myself down again, at least a bit.

Flowy was cute and pretty great.

Then the developer of Flowy stopped updating their app, and it eventually got thrown off the app store as a result. Which was fine, I still had it installed on my phone, but after downloading too many songs and realizing too late that my phone would delete anything to make room for it, I lost it. It was gone forever, lost to the aether. I’ve tried to ressurect it by furious googling many times, but I didn’t expect it to return in the form of a solitaire board game about flowers and rain.

Survival strategy: The fundamental model for a long and happy life. A process in three steps.

Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat as necessary.

-Johan Harstad: Buzz Aldrin, What Happend To You in All The Confusion?

You can teach yourself or anyone A Gentle Rain in about 10 seconds. You start by shuffling the tiles and placing a random one in the middle of your table, floor, any surface you feel like relaxing by. Then you pull a tile, place it somewhere touching at least one other tile and matching at least one flower. If you manage to surround a hole with four complete flowers, you place a matching piece in it, and then you continue until you run out of either tiles or pieces. You will be done in about ten minutes, feel lighter than when you started, and perhaps forget that your score, while a bit irrelevant, is the number of pieces you placed plus the number of tiles left in the stack.

A Gentle Rain is not a single ounce more complicated than what is needed to distract myself, which is key for its purpose. There is room to still exist, maybe even have a conversation on the side, which I did at one occasion. And to remember to breathe. And it is over exactly when it should. 10-15 minutes and you are done. Which is doable in most situations you need a time-out. The only downside is the space requirement. It is smaller than games like Sprawlopolis and Crystallo, other quick tile-laying solo games, but it does require something like a 40cm x 40cm space.

Calling a gentle rain a solo game feels…off. It technically is, but it feels more like the distillation of a sensation some solo games give me. Of being quiet and meditative. But most other solo games are “just games”, things I play to win, to optimize. I try to play well in A Gentle Rain, that is part of why it manages to distract me. But I don’t care. I don’t want to get good at it like I want to master a Railroad Ink or a One Deck Dungeon. I just want to exist within its calming embrace for ten minutes as I remind myself to breathe.

There isn’t much more to say to be honest. A Gentle Rain does exactly what it sets out to do, and in that fills a hole in at least my toolset for dealing with The Feels. Bonus is that it works remarkably well as a 2-player affair too, should you want to sit quietly in another someone’s company for a small while. So, yeah, if a tiny, beautiful game with really nicely textured tiles sounds like something you could use to relax with, I highly reccomend A Gentle Rain.

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