The Solo Saturday Post

The Solo Saturday Post is an in-depth interview series with designers of games that solo players love. Each interview with a different game designer will explore their thoughts on solo gaming and provide some stories behind your favorite games!

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The Solo Saturday Post Top 20 Solo Games of All-Time

From gallery of xugreatone

Howdy solo gamers and welcome back to the final edition of The Solo Saturday Post in 2019. This time around, I'm going to share my overall top 20 solo games of all-time.

1. I started with my owned games list and paired it down to solo only titles.

2. I then eliminated any titles where I had ranked the game below a 7.

3. I headed over to Pub Meeple's Ranking Enginge and placed those 62 games into the machine.

4. I then compared each title asking one simple question: Which game did I like better.

And viola - I have a top 62 list! I'm only going to share the top 20, plus two honorable mentions. So let's get started.


Honorable Mentions

Board Game: Black Sonata

Premise: Black Sonata by John Kean is a hidden movement and deduction game where you try to unmask Shakespear's famous lady.

Why I Love It: Hidden movement is supposed to be one of those mechanics that you just can't do in solo play. John Kean proved them all wrong and I love that one of my favorite mechanics found its way into a solo title.

Board Game: The Networks

Premise: The Networks designed by Gil Hova sees the player assume the role of a network manager programming shows.

Why I Love It: Truly, it's the theme. I'm a TV junkie at heart and always looking for a good binge show. From a gameplay system, I love the way the automa works because it purges cards that you so desperately want and need. Filling out the perfect TV schedule can be oh so satisfying!


Board Game: Architects of the West Kingdom

Premise: In Architects you play a local builder seeking glory. This worker placement game from Shem Phillips sees you balancing good and evil deeds in an effort to score more VP than the automa.

Why I Love It: I think Architects shines in the worker placement category for two reasons. One, I absolutely love the system where you gain resources in several locations based on total number of workers you place there. Two, I think the strategy offered in making virtuous or immoral decisions is wonderfully thematic and varies the strategy from game to game.


Board Game: Diceborn Heroes

Premise: A love letter to JRPG fans, Diceborn Heroes by Keith Donaldson is co-op classic character driven exploration and combat thrill.

Why I Love It: Can you say character progression? Throughout the game you level up your character to different classes and have so many unique and strategic decisions to make within that space. While the exploration and questing is a bit simple - the strategy of rolling and assigning dice for combat works quite well. I love the initiative system in the game and replayability is off the charts.


Board Game: Book It!: The Pro Wrestling Promoter Card Game

Premise: In Book It you are a wrestling promoter who is trying to make the best matches for your fledgling federation. You do this through deck-building and set collection.

Why I Love It: I'm a lifelong wrestling fan, so for me, theme is king here. The mechanics are serviceable for the genre and and meet the theme pretty well. There is just something exciting in this game of clawing your way from nothing and with a bit of hard work, making a successful promotion. This game would probably rise up the list if it weren't beat your own score. I homebrewed an automa for it and posted it in the BGG files. I find it more engaging, but the automa needs more playtesting for sure.


Board Game: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Board Game

Premise: Buffy has appeared in a few IP driven games. In this outing, the Scooby Gang takes on Monsters of the Week and works it way up to disposing of a Big Bad. Most of this game is Board and Hand Management. You will migrate about Sunndydale slaying vamps, saving townies, and collecting resources to defeat evil.

Why I Love It: This Jasco version doesn't get a lot of love, but as a superfan of the IP, it holds a special place in my heart. I think it works much better if incorporating the Friends and Fremeies expansion. That adds in more strategic decisions and ups the difficulty factor.


Board Game: That's Pretty Clever!

Premise: Wolfgang Warsch really lit the gaming world on fire with this Roll & Write title. You have several different colored grids, each with their own placement rules. You roll dice. You assign a matching color die to its grid. You re-roll and repeat.

Why I Love It: This game is super-fast to play. I prefer the app version to the physical copy. Of course, the main appeal is the chains of bonuses you set off by completing a certain space, column, or row in a grid. It's a challenging little puzzle to figure out how to achieve the high score. My personal best is 317, one day, I hope to claim a spot above 330!


Board Game: Elder Sign

Premise: In Elder Sign you play investigators searching a museum for clues to stop the impending Old Ones from awakening. This is accomplished largely through dice rolling and manipulation and set collection.

Why I Love It: The first hobby game I ever played was Elder Sign. For this reason, it holds a place in my heart. I think there might be more engaging Cthulu games (looking at you Mansions), but I really love chucking dice. The modular board set up is fun and greatly increases replayability as well.


Board Game: Heroes of Terrinoth

Premise: Adam and Brady Sadler created a lovely scenario driven adventure game where you control a party of heroes to defeat an evil boss and its minions. Variable player powers combined with some dice chucking and a creative event system lend itself to quite a bit of fun.

Why I Love It: The scaling in this game from controlling two to four characters is so well balanced. My preferred player count is two heroes, but each player count offers a different challenge. I also really enjoy the character upskilling and power progressions.


Board Game: Too Many Bones

Premise: Too Many Bones features a narrative driven mini-campaign where you assume the role of a Gearloc. The Carlson's brand it as a dice-building RPG as over the course of the game you unlock character powers represented by dice to aid your journey.

Why I Love It: As you might tell by the games and comment so far, I love building characters and leveling them up. Too Many Bones offers an increasingly strategic method to do this through acquiring special dice that have varied powers. I also enjoy the combat mechanics in the game. The story is light and doesn't always make narrative sense, but it's a fun way to drive the rest of the mechanics in the game.


Board Game: Wingspan

Premise: Wingspan is a game for amateur ornithologists or at least those who like engine building games. Elizabeth Hargrave weaves set collection, hand management, and variable powers into an intoxicating experience.

Why I Love It: I'm a sucker for engine building games. I love the theme of this game, the artwork, and the different strategies that one can take to beat the automa. I also think the game has exceptional balance.


Board Game: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords – Base Set

Premise: I consider all the Pathfinder Adventure Card Games to be similar, so this isn't specific to Rise of Runelords. Again, this is another character driven game focused on exploration, combat, and leveling up.

Why I Love It: Pathfinder ACG is probably the first game in my career as a hobby gamer that scratched my itch to play an RPG style game. For me, it's hard to beat the excitement of turning over the next location card and discovering what is lurking behind there. Is it a shiny new weapon or a dreaded siren. Seriously, I hate that damn thing. The leveling system offers so many choices and I enjoy the campaign and scenario aspect of the game equally. Setup is horrendous, but once you get it done, the game is a lot of fun.


Board Game: Legendary: Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Premise: Legendary: Buffy The Vampire Slayer is our second Buffy game on the list! In this go around, you will control several of the characters from the Scooby Gang as they try to take down an evil mastermind and stop their evil schemes. This is done by deck-building.

Why I Love It: Ok -so why is this higher than the Jasco version? I like deck-building better than board management as a mechanic. Many people choose Marvel Legendary as a top game, but I'm not a huge fan of that IP. So for me, the Buffy version gets Legendary to my table to enjoy its deck-building charms. I also really like the light and dark track mechanic that triggers different effects on the cards in the game.


Board Game: Commissioned

Premise: In Commissioned, you assume the role of one of the Disciples and take on one of five scenarios that faced the early Christian church. As the player, you engage in area movement, set collection, and deck building to accomplish your tasks.

Why I Love It: I'm a Christian and any game in that theme is going to have strong appeal. Commissioned succeeds so well because it has an excellent design that is very similar to Pandemic in certain respects. Patrick Lysaght, the designer, pulls off the challenge of offering a contemporary hobby game with an inspiring theme that really should be in many collections, especially those gamers who are Christian.


Board Game: Roll Player

Premise: Keith Matejka's Roll Playeris Sagrada for the RPG crowd. You will place dice in order to define your standard RPG stats. All the while, you'll be looking to achieve victory points through set collection of items and if you add in the wonderful expansion Monsters & Minions, combating evil monsters.

Why I Love It: Theme, artwork, mechanics. This game is the Holy Trinity for any gamer. I love the puzzly aspect of building the character in the best way possible and balancing that with their alignment and class. The expansion allows you to use the character to battle evil ones which is also quite a bit of fun.


Board Game: Tapestry

Premise: Tapestry is another excellent engine building game with a Civ overcoat. You will progress down four different tracks collecting rewards all in an effort to gain VP.

Why I Love It: Jamey Stegmaier gets a lot of criticism that Tapestry isn't a true Civ game. For me, that's part of its charm. I love at the end of a game looking at the story of my civilization and seeing the unique way that they achieve space travel, but never could quite master using a radio. It's fun musing how that might be. From a game play perspective, triggering bonuses as you move through the game is very satisfying and there are so many different strategies to try out in solo play. It's exquisite.


Board Game: Terraforming Mars

Premise: In Terraforming Mars you seek VP by maxing the global parameters (temperature, oxygen, and ocean levels) on Mars. This is accomplished through hand management, action selection, and set collection.

Why I Love It: I'm not in love with space themes, but TM shines through! Again, we have an engine building aspect, but more so, I love the varied solo play opportunities. I tend to vacillate between the standard solo goal of maxing the global parameters and trying to achieve a TR rating of 63. Having that flexibility increases replayability and allows the player to choose different strategic approaches. Of course, for me, the most satisfying aspect of the game is watching a lengthy trigger of energy turning to heat that I can cash in to raise the temperature which allows me to place an ocean tile, which then lets me collect enough plants to place a greenery tile and raise the oxygen level. So much fun!


Board Game: Scythe

Premise: Scythe is another Stonemaier Games title that focuses on engine building. Here you play in an alternate history seeking to obtain the most VP by achieving certain objectives, winning combat, and building your power and popularity.

Why I Love It: Scythe is my ultimate engine building game. It's ingrained into most every aspect of the title. I love the action selection mechanisms with top and bottom row choices. There are so many different strategies to play against the AI which works so wonderfully and is a testament to the design pedigree from Morten Monrad Pedersen's Automa Factory. This is my favorite Stonemaier title and an excellent solo experience.


Board Game: Gloom of Kilforth: A Fantasy Quest Game

Premise: Tristan Hall's Gloom of Kilforth: A Fantasy Quest Game is an enchanting narrative driven, character progression, exploration dream. You are seeking to complete your heroic saga and defeat an Ancient Evil.

Why I Love It: Gloom has an excellent keyword system that I cherish. Many games use keywords to have special effects within card games. Here, Tristan, has designed a system where the keywords themselves are resources needed to achieve objectives. A devious tension arises as you realize that you need to sacrifice these cards for other purposes within the game as well. I love the narrative aspect and the character progression. Gloom of Kilforth is an undervalued game in our hobby and more people need to experience its riches.


Board Game: D100 Dungeon

Premise: In D100 Dungeon you take pencil, a few papers, and two dice on an RPG adventure of your own making. By rolling dice, you dictate the layout of the chambers your character explores, the monsters they fight, the loot they obtain, and how skilled they become.

Why I Love It: Designer Martin Knight created a simple, yet broad RPG world. As a solo player, I don't get to experience D&D as much as I'd like. D100 Dungeon effectively scratches that itch better than any game I have played. You are creating a character from scratch and taking them on a solo adventure. In many of my playthroughs, I would write up a short narrative of the exploits of Janella Loyalar. I'm still attached to that character and our many adventures. And that's really what gaming is all about.


Board Game: Spirit Island

Premise: You assume the role of a Spirit(s) protecting the local land from invaders in Spirit Island. Through the game you will engage in board management, hand management, light deck building, and use variable player powers to accomplish your goals.

Why I Love It: There is soooo much delicious strategy in this game! And the replayability is off the charts. You can play with solo spirits, combinations of spirits, take on scenarios, play against invading countries. This game is a brain burner in the best possible way. Teasing out the effects and order of actions can be a mind melting experience. Yet, I'm always ready to visit the Island again and try to prevent the Dahan from being eliminated.


Board Game: Aeon's End

Premise: In Kevin Riley's Aeon's End you are a breach mage fighting against an evil nemesis to save the last city of humanity Gravehold. You accomplish this goal through deck-building and variable player powers.

Why I Love It: If you have read all of the words, I've written, then you know the things I love in games are: 1) engine building, 2) deck building, 3) character progression, 4) player powers, 5) narrative elements, and 6) campaign/scenario elements.

Aeon's End as a game system checks all of the boxes across its pantheon of releases. For me, there is no finer deck-builder. I adore the strategic decision of not shuffling the deck. The variable player turn order proves exhilarating as you draw the next card. The nemeses and mages are varied and each offer unique gameplay strategy. I have never played a game with better balance. Nearly every game comes down to a final turn where had the card came out differently, the outcome would have changed. In a solo title, against an AI opponent, I'm not sure what more I could ask for.


So there you have my Top 20 solo games of all time. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments? What's your top solo games?

Happy New Year's to all of you and we'll see you in 2020!


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Sat Dec 28, 2019 1:43 am
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The Solo Saturday Post Top 10 Solo Games of 2019!

From gallery of xugreatone

As we close out 2019, I wanted to take a couple weeks to present my top solo games. Before we dive into the list though, I want to chat about a couple other topics.

First, I want to extend a huge thanks to all of my interviewees for the past 14 weeks. It has truly been an honor to interview so many luminaries within the solo gaming space. I learned quite a bit about game design and loved the hearing the stories behind some of my favorite games.

I plan to bring the interviews back in 2020 at some point. Most likely, I'll look to do them around Q2. In between though, I'll be posting a weekly blog here, still devoted to solo gaming. I hope you will continue to join me.

Second, I have a live survey out that I'd love you to consider taking. It is devoted to the Solo Saturday Post and your feedback will quite helpful. The survey takes approximately 2 minutes to complete and can be found here.


Now with those announcements out of the way, it's time to dig into my Top 10 Games of 2019. As I thought about my list for 2019, it struck me that year of release is somewhat tenuous in this industry. Some games on BGG, for example, have a year listed as 2018, but were Kickstarters that didn't get released until 2019. So, when composing my list, I went through all my played games this past year and looked for any games that either: 1) had a release date in BGG of 2019 AND/OR 2) had a release date listed in 2018 or before, but were Kickstarters that did not deliver until 2019.

I always find it helpful to explain one's methodology with these types of lists even though they are quite subjective. That hopefully helps explain how I generated the list and offers what went into my decision making.

1. I extracted all games I played in 2019 that were solo.
2. I then eliminated any games that were released prior to 2019 (see caveat above). This resulted in 27 titles.
3. I then input them into Pub Meeple's ranking engine.
4. I compared the games using the engine and looked at three critical factors that I call the Relationship Progression. Relationships with someone begin by meeting them and trying to have fun. From there, I think we develop an infatuation with someone where we just want to spend as much time with them as possible. Finally, infatuation can give way to love where you develop a long-lasting relationship with someone. I think we process games the same way. So I chose to evaluate my top 10 games of 2019 using a similar metric. It's cheesy and I might never use it again to compose a Top list, but it's what I went with here.

Fun: How much fun did I have playing the game.

Infatuation: How high was my desire to get this game back on the table immediately following my previous playthrough.

Love: Did this game transcend, infatuation to where I would keep it as part of my permanent collection?

Honorable Mentions:

Board Game: Maquis

I really did enjoy playing Maquis. I truly enjoyed the level of replayability from the various missions and the difficulty in achieving some of the objectives. This was a title that certainly brought the Fun and some Infatuation at first, but couldn't transcend to a long-loving relationship. Maybe we can have a flirty affair again down the road.

Board Game: Call to Adventure

Call to Adventure has a lot of things going for it. In the game you are creating your own fantasy character from the ground up by creating their heroic - or not so heroic - tale. I loved casting the runes in this game. The solo mode felt a bit flat for me in terms of replaybility which is why this title stays as an honorable mention.

Board Game: Welcome To...

Welcome To... is a flip and write game where you are trying to maximize your points by building a beautiful, yet efficient suburban neighborhood. This title just missed out on the Top 10, coming in at number 11. I was a bit surprised to see where it landed as I adore the solo mode in this game which provides 10 different AI opponents that each feel unique.


Board Game: Cartographers

Cartographers from Thunderworks Games and designed by Jordy Adan is my top Roll & Write title for 2019. I love how Cartographers flipped the beat your own score mechanic on its head with its unique scoring criteria. I found the decisions equivalent to analog Tetris which was increasingly fun as the board filled up. If you pick up one Roll and Write title, I highly recommend Cartographers.


Board Game: Unbroken

Who knew so much controversy could come in such a small box? Do yourself a favor an ignore the negative hype about the Kickstarter. Artem Safarov's Unbroken takes resource contraint and trade-off to the next level in this solo-only game. I love how time factors as a key currency in the game in that it's your most precious resource and you have so little of it. There is good replayability in this box and as a solo-only title, one the community should rally around notwithstanding some of the negative KS experience that is beyond the designer's control.


Board Game: Paladins of the West Kingdom

Shem Phillips's Paladins of the West Kingdom continues to blend worker placement with new and interesting twists. This is by far the heaviest of his titles so far, but offers a good engine building experience. I really enjoyed the prayer action in this game as a way to clear a location to use again. The game may be fiddly in parts when running the AI for the first few games, but the Shembot excels once you have the basics down.


Board Game: Lockup: A Roll Player Tale

Our second Thunderworks title to the list, Lockup: A Roll Player Tale offers its own take on worker placement using a prison theme. In solo mode, you compete again the prison guards to keep suspicion low, build contraband, hire goons, and generally try to score the most points you can which represents your reputation as the baddest prison gang in the land. The mechanics of this game dovetail very nicely with the theme here.


Board Game: The Artemis Project

The Artemis Project by Daryl Chow and Daniel Rocchi is yet another worker placement focused game, albeit with a different twist. The Exposure System that balances someone with a high dice placement from getting the most resources to someone with a small dice placement siphoning off those same rewards is quite clever. This game suffers from lack of a win/loss condition in my opinion, but the gameplay is enough to shine through the beat your own score sapect.


Board Game: Book It!: The Pro Wrestling Promoter Card Game

In Book It!: The Pro Wrestling Promoter Card Game, designer Paul LaPorte offers a love letter to wrestling fans. Unfortunately, this is an under-served theme particularly with IP from WWE. But for "smart" wrestling fans out there, Book It offers the opportunity to be your own Vince McMahon. While the set collection and deck-building here aren't revolutionary, the combination of mechanics tie nicely to the theme and this is a game that keeps finding its way back to my table.


Board Game: Diceborn Heroes

If our last game was a love letter to wrestling fans, Diceborn Heroes serves the same purpose for JRPG fans. This game was promised in 2017 from KS, but only started delivering this past fall. The wait, while painful, was worth it. Designer Keith Donaldson weaves a combat heavy title with some light narrative to create a charming experience. The gem of this game is the character progression which offers near limitless possibilities. Do yourself a favor and try to find a copy if you didn't back the KS.


Board Game: Wingspan

New designer Elizabeth Hargrave really struck a chord with the gaming world with Wingspan. The solo mode is designed by Morten Monrad Pedersen's Automa Factory and headed by David J. Studley. Wingspan is an exquisite solo experience and offers tons of compelling decisions. I really enjoyed the tension of seeking end of round goals vs. building my engine. The game features top tier replayability given the number of different unique bonus cards and scoring tiles.


Board Game: Tapestry

We'll stick with Stonemaier Games for a moment as my #2 solo game for 2019 is Tapestry. This game seems to have its detractors, but at its core, Tapestry offers a fun, engaging engine building experience reminiscent of Ganz Schon Clever's bonus triggers. As you race up the different tracks in the game, you will collect rewards and points. Pulling off chain reactions in this game is exceedingly satisfying. While the title, certainly has its detractors, Jamey Stegmaier has created a unique take on Civ games. The AI, again by Automa Factory, plays very tight and offers significant challenge.


Board Game: Aeon's End: Legacy
Board Game: Aeon's End: The New Age

Surprise! There is a tie for #1 between Aeon's End: Legacy and Aeon's End: The New Age. For me, Aeon's End is a compendium title where each new entry is simply added into the existing fold. I do not distinguish between versions or expansions. It all goes into one glorious melting pot. Also - from a narrative perspective the events of Legacy are carried over into New Age.

Legacy strips Aeon's End down to an introductory experience and over the course of the game builds it back up. If you enjoy Aeon's End, this game offers a fun narrative to follow while building up your own unique breach mages. It is a ton of fun and well-executed as a Legacy title.

The introduction of the Expedition system in New Age is the crown jewel to the Aeon's End empire though. This new mechanic permits players to upgrade their mages over the course of a small campaign. It integrates fully with all existing Aeon's End titles.

Kevin Riley and Nick Little (I) should be quite proud of what they accomplished with the franchise in 2019. They continue to iterate and find fresh methods for players to enjoy the system while remaining true to what brought them to the dance in the first place.


Ok, so there's my Top 10 games for 2019. What do you think? What were your favorite titles this year? Sound off in the comments below.

Next week, I'll present my Top 20 Solo Games of All-Time.

Until, then Happy Holidays to those celebrating at this time of year.


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Sat Dec 21, 2019 2:40 am
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The Solo Saturday Post with Jacob Fryxelius (Terraforming Mars)

From gallery of xugreatone

Welcome back to The Solo Saturday Post! Each week, I sit down with a different solo designer. In our chats, we cover their design process, get their thoughts on topics of importance in solo gaming, and share some stories behind your favorite games.

In this final interview of 2019, I sat down with Jacob Fryxelius who is the designer of a little game called Terraforming Mars.

Jacob, tell the readership a bit about yourself for those who might not know the man behind one of the most popular games of all time.

​I grew up in a big family in Sweden, with a father who works as a science teacher and likes to design games. So it was natural for me and my brothers to also play games, make up rules and so on. A few years ago me and 3 brothers decided it was time to go for it and publish our games - FryxGames was born. Our first 2 games were Wilderness by my brother Daniel, and my own Space Station. After our first trip to Essen, we were encouraged and went for professional printing and designing more games. Around that time I had the idea that I should make a game about terraforming Mars. I have always been a Mars geek, and love all natural sciences, so it was quite a natural thought for me. I actually have a doctor's degree in Chemistry and work as a science teacher, so here I am, a new version of my father. Kind of.

Anyway, Terraforming Mars became our first hit, not least because we managed to get Stronghold Games, Rebel Games, and Schwerkraft-Verlag interested enough to join us in printing it. With their marketing power, the game got publicity, and has kept it ever since. It's really a dream come true. After that, we've focused on expansions for Terraforming Mars, but we've also released my cooperative zombie deckbuilder After The Virus.

How do you generally go about designing your games? What is YOUR process?

For me, theme is first. Usually I come to think of a theme, and some mechanics that can simulate it. From there, I add a lot of flavor (often in the form of cards) and start to playtest it. My brothers (and others) are always happy to play and give feedback, helping me streamline certain aspects, and add others. That process goes on until I (we) feel the game is nearing completion. Then it goes into our pipeline and we try to find partners to print the game with, and we work on the final artwork, open beta tests, and finetuning. Designing games has taught me that you really have to let go of your pride and be ready to kill your darlings, if necessary. And to stand firm on the points where the critique is actually wrong. Usually what happens is that someone superficially points out a problem and tells you how to fix it. Many times, you have already thought of that 'fix' and rejected it because of some other factor. But what is really important is to realize that there is SOMETHING bugging the player, and you need to find out exactly what it is and consider how you can address that.

In your general design process, how do you think about the solo mode? Where does that fit into your design process? Do you have a general method for creating solo play options?

This is an issue that arises later in the design process. The theme and core idea has to form the game first, and then you'll see whether it is suitable for solo. Some games just aren't, while others are solo games to begin with.

Still, I do much of my own playtesting solo, so I very much want to have a solo variant. For me, it is important that a solo version does not have a heavy rules overhead - if you've played the multiplayer game, the solo game should be very easy to get into. Therefore, I'm not really a fan of of scripted bot players (even though I made such a version for Space Station!). Bots do however have the advantage of giving something similar to the multiplayer experience, if that's what you need.

Which of your solo gaming design decisions are you most proud of?

I usually find it more exciting to have a win/lose condition in a solo game rather than just beating your high score. That being said, I'm pretty happy with the win condition for Terraforming Mars solo, where you need to terraform in order to win, but also go for points in order to beat your score if you win. It creates a nice tension.
For the Terraforming Mars expansions, I'm also quite happy with how they each add both a disadvantage and an advantage to balance it out. This was inspired by the Onirim (Second Edition) expansion modules.

That's very interesting, as just last week, I interviewed Shadi Torbey and talked about how he added in complexity to his games through mini-expansions. I was really taken with that aspect of Terraforming Mars and it's expansions as well, and now I can see the similarities. On the flip side though, which of your solo designs gave you the most problems?

​For Space Station, which is a highly interactive game, it was difficult to keep the core mechanics, so in the end I had 2 solo versions. One where I cut away almost everything except the building, leaving it very fast and easy, but a little bland, and the second version where I had an advanced algorithm to simulate two opponents, leaving the game a lot more complicated, but also preserving some of the multiplayer feeling and gameplay. I'm still not sure which one I prefer.

That isn't unlike what happened with Terraforming Mars, which included a second solo win condition/experience whereby players could attempt to obtain a TR rating of 63. In the base game, players had to max all the global parameters. Where did the decision to create this second solo experience arise?

​Terraforming other aspects than the global parameters have always been a part of the game, things like buffer gases and a magnetic field. With the development of Colonies going on in the background, it was evident that we'd have even more such projects, going on in the outer solar system. It just felt a little unfair to leave that out of the solo game, so by changing the goal to 63 TR, we could make many more cards viable in solo, as well as give players a choice of what strategies to go for. It does lack the elegance of just a pure terraforming goal, but for me it's totally worth it.

Of all the various expansions to Terraforming Mars, which has been your personal favorite? Why?

​So difficult to say. For solo, Venus Next is one favorite, because it introduced the World Government Terraforming, giving the player more agency over the parameters and bonuses. Prelude is so quick and easy, and Colonies adds some really cool cards and, well, colonies. My least favorite expansion for solo is Hellas & Elyiusm - it just adds a little geography which isn't all that impactful. All the expansions add theme, but Turmoil brings that rich storytelling, making you feel part of humanity and the solar system. I like to play with all of them!

Space Station, which you have mentioned seems to have similar aspects to Terraforming Mars. How much of Terraforming Mars was influenced by Space Station and what can folks expect with the reimplementation Star Scrappers: Orbital?

​I believe the common thread is my propensity for card games with a resource system. Both Terraforming Mars and Space Station have that. As does After The Virus. Terraforming Mars is not very similar to Space Station, but it does have a similar turn structure, where you take an action and go around the table until you're done. The small but crucial difference is that in TM you can do 2 actions if you like, creating a tempo when needed, and this changes the dynamic quite a bit, giving them a very different feel.

I'm really looking forward to Star Scrappers: Space Station! Hexy Studio have done an amazing work with the graphics, and we've revamped the rules a bit to streamline the game. For example, you now only have one type of damage, and all the modules and event cards have been rebalanced. The game flow is also better now. It's like a refurbished old card, purring like a kitten.

After the Virus is a deck builder with a zombie theme that features strong solo play. One of the more intriguing design differences here is that instead of just purchasing cards with currency in the game, you have to sacrifice a card in hand to scout them from the deck. How did you arrive at that design choice? It feels so intuitive, but is somewhat counter to how that mechanic typically works.

​It grew from the theme. Gearing up is central to surviving a zombie apocalypse, so how do you get new stuff? You search for them. You make daring raids to get the most important ones. You spend time and effort, and you take risks. In After The Virus, time and effort is equal to cards in your hand, so discarding to scout, retrieve and prepare stuff seemed logical. A Survivor (one of the starting cards) might tell you things, or help you go get it. And the risk comes from spending your resources to get new things instead of using what you already have. Sooner or later, there will be a bunch of zombies - will you be prepared?

In After The Virus, I really started with just the general deckbuilding concept of having a starter deck, being able to gain more cards, and a draw-5-play-all kind of gameplay. All the rest was derived from the theme, including tablea presence, increasing zombies in your deck, and the resource system we just discussed.

Solo play is obviously important to solo gamers and that is a trend that has seemingly grown over the past couple of years. Do you think all games should strive to include a solo mode?

I always like to have a solo option, but some games just really have their focus in the interaction between players, and then it can become quite pointless to have a solo version. Even so, many games where a solo game is excluded from the game (because it would be very inelegant), have solo versions published on sites such as BGG. For my designs, I will always try to have a solo version, partly because I want to be able to playtest it whenever I want, and partly because many players ask for it.

One way that is alleviated is through digital applications that create AI modes for games. What is your take on these applications in board games?

​I feel like apps takes away from the boardgaming experience. Their strength is in handling secrets, AI:s, and upkeep, but then you might just as well play a computer game instead. What I look for is a moment to get away from the everyday hassles of life, including phones. And I know what a distraction a cellphone can be, so I'm really not happy about a game requiring them.

You're company FryxGames is truly a family affair with you and five brothers being involved in running the company. Your mom even translates your games into English. How did your parents get into the hobby and how did they pass their love of gaming onto you?

​My father made games and had us as testers as we grew up. We had a happy childhood. ? He always had a focus on logic and simulation, making his games a little abstract. Us kids (at least us in FryxGames) were more into theme and had been playing a lot of card games. Even so, his focus on simulation has stuck I think, at least with me. Mom was usually busy with the household when we grew up, but when we started to move out, she got more free time and became the most dedicated player of us all. She usually plays Terraforming Mars 1-2 times per day, and often sets 'traps' for any unexpecting visitor, confronting them with Terraforming Mars game set up and ready to go. I wouldn't be surprised if she's played it 2000 times by now!

Give me your personal Top 5 Solo games!

Friday, Maiden's Quest, Palm Island, Death Angel, Chrononauts.

On the other end of the spectrum you ranked three games on BGG as 2's, one of which is Monopoly. What stopped you from pulling the trigger and rating as a "1". Is there something redeeming you find in that game, that bumps it up just a bit?

​Well, the definition of a '1' was that it defies description as a game. Monopoly IS a game. A very bad game. ?

Let's give the audience a bit of scoop. There has been rumors and even maybe an online video of a Terraforming Mars Dice Game. How's the development of that title going?

​Yes, it's going along nicely. The latest development saw a new turn structure that made the game flow much faster and with much less AP. I'm also really happy with the cost system, where the different resources on the dice represent both traditional resources, but also requirements. It allows us to present theme without complicating the game. It is planned to be released in the autumn of 2020.

Ok, Jacob, I really appreciate you helping me close out The 2019 editions of The Solo Saturday Post Interview Series. It's been a pleasure learning about your family and how you approach designing games. Other than TM: Dice Game, do you have any projects you want solo gamers to be aware of and whare can people find you and keep up with your work?

I'm really proud of After The Virus as a solo game, and it hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as we'd hoped. Other than that, I do have a few solo games I'm designing, but they are not in our pipeline yet, so we'll see. We do have a soloable game coming up an a couple of years - Fate, by Jonathan, where your hero is defending a town from attacking monsters while they try to complete quests and levelling up to meet the increasing threat. It's great!

Our website has a news tab where we share cool upcoming things with our audience.
We also have a newsletter that you can subscribe to.


And that concludes our 2019 Interview Series. I really appreciate all the loyal readers who come here each week to check out our guests' approaches to solo design. It has been very fun getting to talk to all these designers and get their perspectives. We'll look to return with some more interviews in 2020, but I'll also look to deploy some other cool (hopefully) blog concepts before then.

I'll close out 2019 with a couple of Top lists.

12/21 - I'll present my top 10 solo games of 2019
12/28 - I'll give my top 20 solo games of all time.


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Sat Dec 14, 2019 1:51 pm
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The Solo Saturday Post with Shadi Torbey (Onirim)

From gallery of xugreatone

Welcome back to The Solo Saturday Post! Each week, I sit down with a different solo designer. In our chats, we cover their design process, get their thoughts on topics of importance in solo gaming, and share some stories behind your favorite games. We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving (for our American readers).

Today, I am joined by Shadi Torbey who is best known as the designer of several games that have become the Oniverse following his first publication of Onirim.

Shadi, it's quite wonderful to speak with you. I recently played through the entirety of Onirim and absolutely loved the solo experience. It certainly has earned a permanent place in my collection. As someone whose games prominently feature solo modes, what do you think solo gamers are looking for in a gaming experience?

I'm very happy that you enjoyed Onirim! I couldn’t answer for my fellow solo players, but I can try to express what I am looking for: some of the things I want to find in a good multiplayer game (meaningful decisions and an immersion into a coherent and well designed system), and some of the things I get while reading a good book (a quiet moment for myself away from everyday’s life and an escape into another universe –be it an imaginary one if I’m reading fiction or one of concepts and ideas if it’s an essay).

Knowing what you personally like in a solo game, which designer(s) serves as an inspiration for you?

I admire the elegance of most of Reiner Knizia’s designs: how very simple rules manage to give us a lot of depth.

You can certainly see that influence in your designs as one of your hallmarks is to start with a a basic mode and then add in mini-expansions that all come in the base box? How did you settle on that model for your games? Why?

The min-expansions either originate by being part of the basic game and then removed to offer the ‘purest’ basic game possible, or are designed almost naturally because the basic game, once completed, calls forth for a series of specific mechanisms to be added to it.

It is also a way to allow player to adjust the difficulty as they please: hard, easy, rewarding, are all concepts that vary from one player to another. I like the idea that each player can assemble the base games and various expansions into the formula that fits best their tastes.

Describe for the readers your process to designing a game, if you would.

I’m not sure I can say I have A process: in some cases the theme comes first and I try to create a set of rules that supports the story I want to tell; in other cases the mechanism comes first, and try to find the best theme for it; in both cases, at a certain point theme and mechanisms evolve together and nurture one another.

For my first (thankfully unpublished) designs, I had to tendency to jump right away on glue, scissors and paper to build a prototype –and I did this for every single new idea of ‘improvement’! You can image how un-effective this was…

Now I let the idea mature for some days/weeks then make a prototype (most of the time a hideous assemblage of redundant trading cards on which I stick a silly piece of paper with symbols only I can understand) and start the playtest/develop phase.

And in general, how do you go about designing a solo mode?

For the Oniverse series, it’s almost incorrect to speak about a “solo mode”, since it is actually there from the beginning.
It is usually the two player mode that comes a bit later: for this mode, the challenge is to find a way to “divide” the players (in order to have each player struggling to compete a task) but still have them working towards the same final goal.

Another intriguing aspect of your mini-expansion format is scaling difficulty. Many solo gamers prefer tougher games so that wins feel more rewarding. Yet others, prefer experiences where they can win. How do you fall on that spectrum in regards to your design philosophy?

As a designer I try to avoid difficulty for the sake of difficulty –or for the hope that people will respect the game more because they rarely win. It is actually rather easy to make a difficult solo game: just adjust the stats against the player. The challenge lies not in making a difficult game, but a rewarding one.

When I play a game (any game, be it a solitaire or a multiplayer) I like to feel that my choices and decisions matter. So it’s not about how hard a game is, but about how much influence my actions have on the outcome. Some solitaire games gave me the impression they were “hard” not because of the difficult or brain-burning decisions the player has to made, but simply because the odds were against the player. For me it doesn’t make the game more satisfying: I have the impression I am playing a very random game, and the fact that, because of the stats, I may not win often doesn’t make the experience more rewarding in any way.

It’s interesting that you used the word “philosophy’ in your question, because it’s almost a question of view of the world: when trying to accomplish something (and I don’t mean specifically at a game table, it can be anything in our life) should we be punished by a long list of failures and hardships before possibly glimpsing some hope of evasive success, or, once we have understood a system and mastered a skill, can we count on steady and consistent (even if never completely certain) wins?

Speaking of trying to accomplish things and experiencing failures - which of your designs gave you the most problems?

Each one was challenging on its own, but I don’t remember one being particularly problematic.

What type of solo win conditions do you prefer: beat your own score, completing objectives, general win-loss conditions, an automa opponent, etc.?

I am generally partial to the win-loss condition. I really enjoy playing against well designed automas (some really give you the impression you are playing against a virtual opponent). Having to complete a scenario can be great fun –but in some cases the replay value might suffer from it. I’m a bit less excited by the “beat your own score”, although I also play some of those games once in a while.

Can you remember the first game you ever played solo? If so, what game and what do you remember about that experience?

The first board game I played solo was probably Space Hulk -almost 30 years ago! I remember having so much fun, and thinking that, since the Genestealers had so few meaningful decisions, it made more sense to play it solo and try to win with the Space Marines.

And now today, what would you say are your top 5 solo games?

A top anything is always tricky, because you often end up leaving out (and blaming yourself for doing this) some titles. So, if you allow me, I’ll instead name the 5 games that I enjoyed the most playing solo in the previous 5 months; some have been part of my collection for years, some I just recently discovered:
Spellbound (a hidden gem), Race for the Galaxy (great game, amazing replayability), Terraforming Mars (same as the previous), Viticulture (favourite solo worker-placement), Marvel Champions (played solo for the first time this week).

Let's dig a bit into your whimsical creation that is the Oniverse. It is currently comprised of six games: Onirim, Urbion, Sylvion, Castellion, Nautilion, and Aerion. These games each feature different mechanics, but are all solo games that feature a co-op mode. When in your creative process did you determine you would have a universe of games that are all interrelated in some fashion?

The very first thought that led to the creation of Onirim was: “it would be so cool to have a series of games that could be playable solo’. So the idea of a series was there from the very beginning.
The first weeks I “only” had ideas for two games (that would become Onirim and Urbion). The whole line up came a bit later.

What is the best order to play the Oniverse games?

Difficulty-wise, I would say that Castellion has an introductory mode specifically designed to be very, very accessible. The base game of Nautilion is also easy to apprehend. Sylvion and Aerion are the “trickiest”, (the former will probably present the player with the hardest hand management choices, and the latter looks like a yahtzee dice game but is actually a deck-management game –I’ve seen people at conventions getting crushed by it because they were only focused on the dice results).
Onirim stands somewhere in the middle.

Story-wise, they are connected, but each game is independent from the others, so it doesn’t really matter –although Onirim sets the frame for the whole series, and, in its last expansions, heralds the future games of the family.

You alluded to the differing mechanics with hand management being the most ubiquitous. Are there any mechanics you have tried to deploy into an Oniverse game and you couldn't get them to work how you had hoped? What were they? Why didn't they sing?

I haven’t had a major failure in trying to design an Oniverse game –maybe because I don’t try at all costs to fit one or the other mechanism in it: if I see that an idea doesn’t go very far, or comes too close to an already published game, I just drop it (I might decide to pick it up some times later if I have new ideas for it).
I also had a couple of designs where the two player version did not satisfy me and felt tacked on, so I decided to remove those games from the Oniverse series for the time being.

Of all the games in the Oniverse, which is closest to your heart? Why?

That’s really an impossible question to answer. Each of them represents a milestone in my journey as a designer.

Every Oniverse game is illustrated by Élise Plessis. How did that relationship originate? Describe what you here hoping to capture with the art style found in the Oniverse games as it is quite different from many games out there?

I saw Elise’s work at an exhibition and kept her name and contact ‘just in case’. Some years later, while working on finalizing Onirim, I remembered her work and thought it would be a great fit: falsely childish, fresh and vibrant and yet with the right amount of ‘unheimlich’ needed for a dream world full of dangers and challenges.

Help our readers get to know Shadi Torbey outside of the gaming world. What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of gaming?

I love music and stories -books, tv series, movies (with a ‘faible’ for sc-fi / horror / fantasy). And spending time with my family.

You are also quite an accomplished vocalist. Do you see any parallels between hobby gaming and operatic singing as they seem on the surface to be completely separate endeavors. It just seems unique to be so accomplished in two different fields.

Thank you, I don’t know if I’m so ‘accomplished’ in either of those fields –but I enjoy both of them a lot.

Indeed, they seem absolutely different, and yet, I see some parallels. The first one is sociological: opera is somehow a ‘niche’, and so is modern board-gaming. Opera-lovers probably feel they have some kind of edge over Taylor Swift’s fans, like Hobby gamers feel they play much better games than the people who play Monopoly or Uno.
This being said, I’m pretty sure opera- and hobbygame- fans would be very happy if more people were sharing their passion(s): I see it as a form of elitism, but one that doesn’t want to stay in a small niche just for the sake of feeling superior or different (although you’ll always find in both fields people who will enjoy being part of the minority). On the contrary: most opera-fans I know are happy to share their passion with newcomers –as are most hobby-boardgamers.

On a totally different level, structural similarities could be found: Opera is a combination of several elements, mostly music and text. Games also combine several elements, mainly a mathematical structure (the mechanisms) and a narrative one (the theme). Opera and board games have this in common that they are deeply un-pure forms of art/entertainment: opera is a splice between theatre and music, while board games could be described as a mathematical structure combined with a (more or less strong) narrative element: the theme.

Regarding singing opera and designing games, both are very different, and yet need a mix of discipline, rigour and creativity. Maybe there will be a bit more instinct and ‘guts’ in singing and a bit more imagination and ‘mental structuring’ in game design.

Well, I would argue that you are accomplished in the field of game design. After all, You are one of 17 people who have been inducted into the 1-Player Guild Hall of Fame and were the category winner for 2016. What was your reaction to winning this award?

There may be a paradox in any artistic endeavour: fundamentally you do it for yourself (for instance, I designed the Oniverse because I wanted to have a series of fast portable solo games that I would enjoy playing) but at the same time it is an huge satisfaction and sense of accomplishment –and maybe, more importantly sense of community- when you realise that your work somehow resonated with other people. The award you mention is one of the moments you realise you didn’t do it just all for yourself.

Well as I began, I love Onirim and enjoyed it so much, I added the rest of the Oniverse games to my wishlist. So Shadi, I'd like to thank you for your contributions to our community. Let's wrap up though and let our readers get back to gaming. Do you have any upcoming projects that you want folks to know about and where can people keep up with you on the internet.

There is the next chapter of the Oniverse series, that I hope to see published soon…

I don’t have a blog or a website, so the BGG is probably the best way to know about upcoming projects and releases.


Special Announcement: Next week will conclude our 2019 edition of The Solo Saturday Post Interview Series with a very special guest. After that, we'll present a couple Top Solo Games list to close out the year.

In 2020, I'll look to launch another series of interviews and do some other blog concepts.

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Sat Dec 7, 2019 3:12 pm
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The Solo Saturday Post with Gil Hova (The Networks)

From gallery of xugreatone

Welcome back to The Solo Saturday Post! Each week, I sit down with a different solo designer. In our chats, we cover their design process, get their thoughts on topics of importance in solo gaming, and share some stories behind your favorite games.

This week I'm joined by Gil Hova who well known for his participation in the Ludology podcast and as the designer of The Networks.

Thanks Gil so much for joining me on The Solo Saturday Post. I am a huge fan of The Networks. Tell the readers a bit about yourself.

I design and publish games! My first game, Prolix came out in 2010, and my second game, Battle Merchants, came out in 2014. Both those games were done by other publishers. Later in 2014, I decided to start my own publishing company, Formal Ferret Games. I've been putting out my own games since then - Bad Medicine, The Networks, Wordsy, and very soon, my fourth self-published game (not counting expansions) High Rise will come out!

I also co-host the Ludology podcast with Emma Larkins and Scott Rogers, with Geoff Engelstein still occasionally popping in to do a GameTek. And I'm an adjunct at NYU, teaching game design.

What is the Gil Hova approach to game design?

Iteration, iteration, iteration! Lots pf playtesting. I'm an advocate for questioning everything in one's game, and making sure each mechanism is "load-bearing" - that is, it has at least one reason (and preferably multiple reasons) to exist. I focus on the experience of my players, making sure that everything in the game supports the core feeling I want players to enjoy.

And in general, how do you consider solo modes?

If the game does support a solo mode, I tend to bring it in fairly late in the process. First, I need to make sure the game can actually do solo; a game like Bad Medicine, which is primarily a social game, is impossible to design a solo variant for that does any justice to the base game. Battle Merchants also lacked a solo mode. In truth, I might have been able to make one, but it would have been so intricate that it wouldn't have justified its weight.

Second, I want to trust the game's fundamental experience at other player counts. This way, I can tweak the solo mode so that its experience matches. I also want to make sure that I'm unlikely to change significant parts of the game at other player counts, which would necessitate work to update the solo game to match.

In terms of creating the solo mode, I want to provide challenge and uncertainty for the player, while keeping the game recognizable. This means I'll often need the game to do actions that other players would normally perform.

Morten Monrad Pedersen has great advice for doing this: he says focus on the effect that other players would have on the game state. Don't worry too much about their decision tree; if you can mock the effect, you can save a lot of time and effort. For example, in The Networks, the game removes 1-3 cards from the available tableau after each turn. I don't have the game remove the "best" cards; instead, the game removes cards from left to right in the tableau, with a random element deciding exactly which cards get removed. This means there's enough predictability that you can make a plan based on which cards are most vulnerable, with the uncertainty that you don't know exactly which cards the game is going to take out.

People seem to cringe at the idea of a "dummy" player, so if I must have a dummy in the game, I try to make it interesting. The Networks' effect that I described above is effectively a dummy, but it's so simple to adjudicate that players don't mind. High Rise puts two dummies on the board for the player to deal with, but with the twist that the player can take Corruption (a currency that's in all player counts of the game) to control a dummy as if it was their own, instead of moving the dummy to a predetermined spot. This adds a lot of juice to the typical dummy player, which I think is what gamers are looking for.

The dummy player aspect of Networks is quite fascinating and I think spot on. I hadn't really considered it to be a dummy player per se in my own playthroughs. One of the aspects I love in The Networks is the AI card drafting mechanic. It is so simple and intuitive, but not something I've personally seen in a lot of designs. How did you settle on that mechanic for the solo mode? Did you consider any other alternatives? If so - what were they?

No, I came across that pretty early in the solo game, and I was lucky that I could fit that mechanism onto the Network Cards, instead of requiring a totally new deck (or expensive custom dice) to power it. Another happy accident was that I could use that mechanism for the 2-player game as well; that was really boring without the game periodically removing cards!

The Networks is well known for its humor and winks to real life shows. Certainly game design is always creative, but how fun was it to come up with those individual names of ads, shows, and actors?

It was a lot of fun! Many of those show titles just spilled out. I have to give a hat tip to a bunch of my friends on Facebook who suggested the names for the starting shows. I think those names really establish the game's character to new players, and make a really strong first impression.

Tell us the story of the design behind The Networks? Did you have that theme first or the mechanics? What was your inspiration for this title?

It's a bit of a long story, and I told it on a recent episode of Cardboard Edison's wonderful podcast, Immersed. So rather than me re-typing it here (it involves an auction mechanism that never seems to fit in any of my games), I encourage all your readers to listen to that podcast. And not just my episode; it's an excellent show in general!

I'll have to give that a good listen! The Executives adds in some new mechanics, but a more interesting wrinkle is a pilot season draft which replaces the base game starter network shows. What led to this decision? Was it feedback from players? Were you not satisfied with the original setup?

I think the original setup is fine. But ever since Tzolkin came out, I was really curious to try a draft during setup, allowing players to choose their starting resources. It adds time to the game and is a barrier of entry for new players, so Executives was a perfect place to put it.

Solo gaming is growing segment in the hobby, but sometimes still comes with a negative connotation. What's your take on solo gaming and its growth within the hobby? And where do you see it headed

I don't understand the negative connotation! Sure, board games are traditionally a multiplayer experience, but I don't think there's anything wrong with solo play. It's a nice way to get comfortable with a game system, or to unplug with the pleasure of playing a game.

Solo gaming has a very vocal niche in the hobby. So I think it's a no-brainer to insert a solo mode in a game that supports it. At the same time, I don't know if solo gaming is going to spread significantly further than it already has.

We've had some amazing developments in solo gaming, like Morten's Automa variants that can simulate other players with minimal rules weight. I don't foresee apps being a significant boon to solo gaming in the near future; app development is so expensive, only the big studios can afford it. It's possible someone could build something clever using a relatively stable, low-tech platform like Twine to build a web app, and maybe I'll explore that someday. But if I could foresee something revolutionary in the horizon, I'd do it myself!

Sure - why wouldn't you! And thanks for the segue into my next question which happened to be about app integration. Because I think app integration has been a boon for solo gaming. Based on your thoughts concerning app integration being cost-prohibitive for smaller studios, are you a proponent or do you take a more traditionalist approach? Why?

I'm an advocate of the right tools for the job. If a game calls for digital AI, then it should have digital AI.

That said, I think people should know that it's a lot easier to say "this should have been an app" than it is to actually make an app.

1. Apps are expensive to make. An app for a single game, made by a professional developer on a realistic, months-long timeline will run over $10,000.

2. Perhaps one can hire a young developer to make an app, signing a revenue sharing deal in lieu of a massive payment. Then you get into longer timelines - often years. This isn't a dig at the young developers, who are often excellent at what they do, but have to deal with coding nights and weekends. Just a reality of app development.

3. So you've put together an app. Great! But you're not done. The first release is often an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), with many important updates to come. Even after you've spent the 6-12 months updating the app (and putting out the fires that the updates have caused), you might end up with a stable release... until one of the platforms you've released on does a major OS update and you have to rewrite a bunch of code just to get your app to continue to run. Or they have a new form factor that your app looks terrible in without extra work. And so on.

App development isn't a matter of releasing something and then forgetting. It requires an almost annoying level of constant care and maintenance.

I mentioned Twine before. I think if solo gamers want to mess with apps, that's where the future is, at least if your app is simple and just needs some hyperlinks and the odd RNG. Twine is relatively easy to learn, as programming languages go. It can compile to HTML 5, which is relatively stable, compared to modern OSes (of course, nothing in the digital world is truly stable, and everything will look different in 10 years, but this is as "stable" as it gets!). And it can handle enough stuff that maybe it can act as an enhanced Automa deck. Who knows?

Since you somewhat mention it, many times fans of games create their own homemade solo variants for games - even if they have an official solo mode. Have you ever experienced that with one of your games? If so - what was that like for you. Either way - what's your opinion on homebrew fan variant.

I'd be totally honored if someone did that! No one has done it to any of my games, but I'd be delighted to see it. I think homebrews and house rules are awesome, in general. I tend to house rule games I play (because I can't turn off the game designer brain), and in some ways, when I release a game, it's no longer mine (if my legal team is reading this, I am SPEAKING METAPHORICALLY!). So I'd be delighted to see how people adapt my games to their needs and wants.

An early design of yours, Prolix, was reimplemented as Wordsy. Word based games seem to be exceedingly rare in the solo community. What do you enjoy about word games and how did you go about designing the solo mode?

Word games tend to be rare in general! Publishers generally don't like to carry more than one at any given time. In order for them to make financial sense, you need to sell a lot of them; hobby quantities often don't justify it. And they're really tough to sell internationally because of localization and language issues.

My relationship with word games is strange. I like words and I like games, but I don't like a lot of word games. I really hate being limited to a random set of letters to make my words - that was one of the inspirations behind Prolix (and subsequently Wordsy). But most word games limit you to a random pool.

I think, ever since Wordsy, more word games are opening up a bit. One of my favorite modern word games is Hardback, and it has the genius mechanism of letting you play a card face-down (for no points) as a wild letter. Bez over in the UK has been working on her ELL system of games, and I'm honored that Prolix was a huge inspiration behind the keystone game of Wibbell. I'd love more word gamers to consider that mechanism; it really makes a word game feel more open, and allows players to come up with longer, smarter words!

On your BGG page, you rank Prolix as your #2 game with The Networks coming in at #4 in your Top 10. Of all your designs, does Prolix stay close to your heart as your favorite?

That says more about the last time I updated that list than anything else! I'd probably just remove my top 10 whenever I have a moment; it's obsolete and misleading at this point.

High-Rise is a city building game that features a one-way track mechanism whereby players only get a turn once all other players have passed them. The game comes with a solo mode - how did you achieve solo play with the one-track mechanic?

I had added a dummy player to the 2-player game, with the mechanism I described earlier that allows a player to briefly control the dummy by taking Corruption. So when it came time to work on the solo game, I tried working against two of these dummies, and after some tweaking, it worked well!

What is one set of mechanics that you haven't designed yet, that you are interested to try?

i'm a sucker for real-time games with workers as sand timers. Maybe one day I'll make that prototype!

Gil, I've really enjoyed our conversation today. Thanks so much for coming on The Solo Saturday Post. Do you have any upcoming projects that you want solo gamers to keep their pulse on? And where can people find you on these interwebs?

Thanks so much for this opportunity!

Honestly, not right now! After High Rise (which has a solo mode), I have a couple of 2-player games and one RPG in the hopper right now. The RPG needs at least 2 players to function, and at least 3 to shine. It's a story game, so as a social experience, I don't think a solo mode would be worthwhile. And the 2p games seem to really want to be 2p games; I don't think I could make a solo game that would justify its experience.

You can follow me on Twitter, my infrequently updated blog, or my company website.


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Sat Nov 23, 2019 10:39 pm
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The Solo Saturday Post with Chris Cieslik (One Deck Dungeon)

From gallery of xugreatone

Welcome back to The Solo Saturday Post! Each week, I sit down with a different solo designer. In our chats, we cover their design process, get their thoughts on topics of importance in solo gaming, and share some stories behind your favorite games.

This week, Chris Cieslik from Asmadi Games stops by to chat. Chris is best known for his game One Deck Dungeon.

Thanks Chris for sitting down with me to talk about solo games. For those unfamiliar with you or your work, how about a little introduction?

I've been designing games my whole life, and I started Asmadi Games about 15 years ago to do that - it's been my full time job for most of this decade, and it's a lot of fun! Our best known titles are One Deck Dungeon, Innovation, Red7, and We Didn't Playtest This At All.

How would you describe your approach to game design in general and then specifically, how do you consider solo modes?

I have lots of ideas floating around at any given time, so most of the process is just mocking up whatever I'm thinking of at the moment. Generally, we try to go for fairly well-presented prototypes, because they tend to be more interesting to playtesters. Once upon a time, you could doodle on paper with sharpies and that'd be good enough. But with so many games out there, the bar has been raised for what people are willing to tolerate!

I think there're two general types of solo games: Extensions of the multiplayer version, and puzzles you can work through that happen to use a game's pieces. I really don't care for the latter, even though I feel like that's the majority of "solo modes". If I can't make the former happen, I don't make a solo mode at all. One Deck Dungeon was unique - it was developed solo first, multiplayer/co-op later!

The most important part of solo design, for me, is to have a good mix of decision and action. You want the player to be making choices, and it's up to the game to provide interesting action between those choices. If you're just making difficult choices non-stop, big choices blur with micro-choices that don't affect things greatly. Some game events should be obvious choices, to give a coasting moment where the player can breathe.

That's a very interesting point about scaling solo modes and how you view them. 1001 Odysseys has been described as an experience or choose your own adventure style narrative game. How does well does 1001 scale to the solo player versus a co-op audience?

1001 Odysseys' value as a solo game is going to depend heavily on how invested the player can be in working their way through a fun story. It's very much light on gameplay, and all about the choices you make and things you read. I think it's fun to read them out loud to a group, but if you can enjoy making funny alien voices in your head, or out loud to your cat, it'll work just fine.

The game will definitely take less time to play solo, in the same way that reading a book out loud to your kid is slower than reading it to yourself!

One of your first designs to feature solo play was an integrated tabletop experience called Consequential. You launched a Kickstarter for this in 2012 that unfortunately had to be cancelled. Since then, the game has remained under development. How did that experience inform you as a designer and publisher? What lessons did you take away from that that you were able to use with other titles?

The lesson I took away is that people don't really want to deal with an app at their table! They're just barely starting to want that, and even then, it's not the whole market. Fantasy Flight's had some success with it, but my understanding is that it's still not quite worth it. It's probably good that we didn't follow through with it back then, because the market wasn't really interested.

Well, in many ways, you were probably ahead of your time with Consequential. Now with many in the market adopting that innovation, it seems harder to stand out. App integration certainly drives up the cost of the game. From a business standpoint, what is Asmadi's philosophy on app integration for a game like Consequential? Is something you still tinker with or do you look to new designs with updated tech?

Actually, Consequential's looking like it'll behave more like Odysseys, without an app, when we get back to it. One of the biggest things that's happened since 2012 is the absolutely atrocious record of the hardware companies on supporting old software. When I was looking at making app-bits for Consequential, I assumed that any app we made would have a 10-15 year lifespan of usability without a ton in the way of having to update code. It's more like 2-3, tops. And with Apple, sometimes substantial changes are needed. I don't want to buy board games that'll be broken in a couple years, and I don't want to sell them either.

If we do app things, they'll be more companion-style. Information references, rather than required bits. Digital versions/PDFs of books, etc.

Many times fans of games create their own homemade solo variants for games - even if they have an official solo mode. Have you ever experienced that with one of your games? If so - what was that like for you. Either way - what's your opinion on homebrew fan variant.

Most of our earlier games weren't particularly solo-friendly in design. I know some people tried to make solo modes for Innovation, but it never really clicked for me. Trying to simulate other players in very thinky games can be hard, and you either wind up with a really dumb AI, or an AI that cheats - both of which have their own un-fun characteristics.

I'd almost prefer an AI playing by an entirely different set of rules from the main game. Something a bit asymmetric. Not to get too far off the topic of board games, but one specific example for me is the Civilization series of computer games. The game tries to have all the AI players play by the same rules as the human players, and it never works right. Diplomacy with a computer is...weak at best. And for them to be competitive, they have to cheat. Why not have them play by entirely different rules? It'd be a more fun experience - and I think these lessons can be extended to tabletop. If your game has a negotiation aspect, don't try to simulate it in your solo mode. Replace it with something more interesting for solo.

Do you prefer solo experiences that are "true" solo where you control one character OR more co-op based where you control multiple?

I'm really okay with either. It depends on the game - I find 7th Continent's handling of multiple characters awful, for example, even in multiplayer we just play as one. But Spirit Island, controlling multiple spirits is very fun and interesting.

Arguably your most popular solo design has been One Deck Dungeon. A very unique mechanic in the game sees the player upon defeating a card have to make a strategic decision to utilize the card as experience points, claim an item, or turn it into a skill. Describe the evolution of that mechanic in this game design. Why/how did you land on that unique mechanism?

The idea for cards that tuck in several ways under a character/hero card has been kicking around on paper for me since about 2008, with the first prototype loosely based on MMO-style adventuring. It went through various backburner iteration approximately forever, until I decided to mock up a new dice-driven prototype a few years back. It clicked really well, and here we are! A lot of the reason for card-tucking is production. Especially 10 years ago, we were tiny and I wanted to find clever ways to produce deep games that didn't cost a ton to manufacture. With that in mind, and influence from our later games like Innovation, it just worked perfectly for ODD.

One of the more repugnant reactions to ODD was in regards to its all-female character set. How did that feel as a designer/publisher to face criticism over that decision? Your follow-up Forest of Shadows continued the trend. Did you ever feel pressure to concede an add-in male based characters or did the undue criticism push you to continue with an all-female cast?

People like to get angry about things on the Internet, which is bolstered both by a lack of consequences, and the drug of relative anonymity. We expected some negative reaction, but we were mostly interested in the positive reaction. And the positive reactions have come in droves, both publicly and privately. Representation's important, and it's something the tabletop industry's getting better at. So we've been glad to be a leader in that regard, and to continue that trend with the ODD expansions.

We never seriously considered bowing to the pressure of the handful of loud individuals who purported to speak for the gaming populace as a whole. The world would be a much better place if we stopped listening to the loudest people in every space.

Earlier we discussed game difficulty. While popular among solosists - ODD is noted for its difficulty. The dungeon is unforgiving to say the least. What sorts of conversations did your team have about scaling the difficulty in the game and why did you land where you did?

It's not fun to win every time, or lose every time - we wanted ODD to progress for an individual player from very difficult to manageably beatable after a number of plays, both through experience and the Campaign mode. I'm pretty happy with where it came out. Personally, I can beat the dragon around 80-90% of the time, but I know things very well!

Outside of theme, what can solo players expect to find different in One Deck Galaxy from previous One Deck Dungeon games?

One Deck Galaxy is pretty different mechanically from ODD. Dungeon is, at its heart, a risk/reward game. Pick which fights to go for, where to invest your heroic dice, and try to build up power. There's a healthy amount of luck involved, but your big-picture strategic decisions are pretty important. In Galaxy, you're rolling a pool of dice every turn and deciding what to use them for. You have several locations available to make progress on, an adversary looming, your own pool of potential upgrades, and weighing which of them is the correct path for your current situation is the biggest decision point. It's a more thinky and strategic game than Dungeon, even though it shares some of the core ideas of gaining dice through colonies (items) and techs (skills). I hope people enjoy it a lot, as a new extension to the One Deck world.

Do you consider yourself a solo gamer? If so, what are some of your favorite titles to solo?

I do when I can - things like Spirit Island are a blast solo, although I haven't had a ton of time to do solo play lately. I do shy away from the solo modes that feel tacked on, which unfortunately is very many of them!

Dicey Dungeons, while digital, is very "solo board game" in nature. I've been having a lot of fun with that lately.

What is one set of mechanics that you haven't designed yet, that you are interested to try?

I've never done a roll + write, or anything like it, it's a mechanic I'd like to explore. I think there's a lot of area still to be found there!

Chris, thanks so much for coming in to do The Solo Saturday Post. I really appreciated you taking the the time to share your thoughts on solo gaming and tell us some inside scoop on your games. Last couple of questions - do you have any upcoming projects you want people to know about and how can readers find you on these interwebs?

One Deck Galaxy is getting ready to Kickstart, and 1001 Odysseys isn't too far off either. We're writing lots!

People can follow us on our website and we're also on Twitter.


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Sat Nov 16, 2019 1:11 pm
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The Solo Saturday Post with Kevin Riley (Aeon's End)

From gallery of xugreatone

Welcome back to The Solo Saturday Post! Each week, I sit down with a different solo designer. In our chats, we cover their design process, get their thoughts on topics of importance in solo gaming, and share some stories behind your favorite games.

I'm very excited for today's interviewee because he happens to be the designer of my all-time #1 favorite game, Aeon's End. Let's jump in with Kevin Riley.

Kevin, thank you so much for participating in The Solo Saturday Post. To get us started, please introduce yourself to the readers.

My name is Kevin Riley. Aeon's End is currently my only published game. Before designing board games, I played Starcraft 2 professionally under the alias 'qxc'. I graduated from Harvey Mudd College with a computer science degree. In my free time, I've recently been playing a lot of destiny 2 and league of legends. I like to rock climb, do brazilian jiu jitsu and ultimate frisbee.

Ultimate frisbee was the one sport I was good at in high school gym! I'd like to begin our conversation by asking you what you think solo gamers are looking for in a gaming experience?

All the hallmarks of a good board game: fun, engaging, interesting, challenging, but just without the social aspect.

I think all of those attributes apply to Aeon's End. What is your design process?

I start by setting down as many constraints regarding the product and coming up with some goal that it seeks to achieve. What the target demographic is, play time, theme, whatever is the most important driving reason for this game.

How did you design solo play for Aeon's End?

Solo is its own category of design as most board games function off the assumption of multiple human agents. When designing solo mode in Aeon's End, it's a bit easier because the game is fully cooperative so an AI for the enemy already exists. From there, it's just a bit of balance tweaking to make the number right.

Players can truly solo Aeon's End if they want, but sometimes its daunting. In your design, did you anticipate solo players wanting to play only one mage or did you envision them controlling multiple characters? Why?

We mostly imagined that players would play 2 mages when soloing as some interesting team dynamics go away when you're playing all by yourself.

You speak of the balance of Aeon's End. Your game has been heralded by gamers due to its amazing balance. So many games have come down to the turn order deck. Pull back the curtain and share your process for designing and achieving that amazing balance.

The balance of Aeon's end comes from many many hours of playtesting. There are many formulas behind the scenes that dictate the power curve of certain effects, damage, money etc... but mostly it comes down to massive amounts of playtesting both internally and externally along with a team that has a lot of experience with competitive games and understanding how balance works in general.

Was there an aspect of Aeon's End that game you problems?

Just getting the overall balance right in terms of player life, turn order deck, nemesis deck composition and any other unusual special rules to make sure that solo delivered the same high level of quality that the other player counts do.

Interesting that the part that most people love about Aeon's End is what gave you the most trouble, but was equally resolved through rigorous playtesting. I guess that how many games end up succeeding. Another popular aspect of the franchise is the randomized turn order deck. Early on - did you experiment with other turn order mechanics such as a set clockwise rotation or just letting players decide and then having an enemy activation? If so - what eventually led you to randomized order?

We initially tried a normal turn order but found the game was too predictable with a normal clockwise turn order. We had played tiny epic defenders not too long before and were inspired by how they used a random turn order mechanic there.

Recent entries into the Aeon's End pantheon have featured more narrative driven story elements both in Legacy and now in New Age. What made you decide to add in that layer to the series? Is this something fans can continue to expect in future iterations?

Narrative and lore was added to Aeon's End partly as a response to fans' desire to learn more about the world and partly from my own observation that games with good narrative/theme seemed to sell well, despite questionable mechanics. I thought, if those games do well without good gameplay - a game with good gameplay and good narrative should be able to do even better.

Describe the challenges in designing a legacy game versus a standard game like War Eternal or the base 2nd Edition. It seems like a Legacy game provides more of a design challenge, is that so? Why or why not?

Legacy's biggest additional design challenges come from having everything intertwined. A change in game 1 affects something in game 5 whereas normal Aeon's end does not have this interconnection. The other challenge was with playtesting - it wasn't meaningful to have a group play only 1 or 2 games, but finding a group that would play a marathon session of testing was challenging.

One of the biggest selling points for Aeon's End in the deck-building genre is that players do not shuffle their decks. How did you come to that design decision?

Originally it was to save time while playing as early prototypes were just paper and shuffling paper was hard. After testing it for a bit, we realized how interesting it was to never shuffle and decided to keep it indefinitely.

What's the biggest criticism and greatest compliment you have gotten on the Aeon's End series? How did you process those?

Biggest compliment is comparing the experience to a WoW raid boss. The biggest criticism... not sure. There's a lot of it out there, but none of it really sticks out.

What's your favorite mage and Nemesis? Why?

Qu & Necroswarm who are both from the latest Aeon's End in one box or another. Qu has a passive effect of having two forms and changing between them which affect how much money gems produce and how much damage spells deal. Necroswarm is a nice balance of randomness as you draw a card to determine how far the hordes advance toward Gravehold on this track - but the distribution of the deck is known so you can do some amount of planning. He's thematic and has interesting gameplay decisions - overall quite fun.

Aeon's End, of course, includes solo design from the outset, but what's your take on solo modes being used at stretch goals on Kickstarter campaigns?

Tucking solo mode behind a stretch goal sometimes feels like bad practice unless there's some price reason that it couldn't already be included, ie: it requires additional components. Of course, it depends heavily on the game. For something that's more strictly competitive, designing a well balanced, fun solo mode can be quite a bit of development work where it makes sense to have it unlocked as part of the campaign.

Give me a Top 5 Solo Games that you enjoy.

Spirit Island, The 7th Continent, Shephy, and against AI on apps Dominion and Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization.

How funny. Spirit Island is actually my number two favorite game! I've always wanted to play both Dominion and Through the Ages, so I'll have to check those apps out. I really appreciate you take the time to sit down and chat Kevin. I cannot adequately describe how much I love Aeon's End and what your agreeing to interview means to me.

Last question, do you have any upcoming projects you want to plug and where can people find you online if they want to follow you or your work?

The only solo products I have coming out are additional Aeon's End expansions.

Twitter is a good place or you can join the Aeon's End Discord Channel


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Sat Nov 9, 2019 12:29 pm
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The Solo Saturday Post with Brady Sadler (Blacklist Games)

From gallery of xugreatone

Welcome back to The Solo Saturday Post! Each week, I sit down with a different solo designer. In our chats, we cover their design process, get their thoughts on topics of importance in solo gaming, and share some stories behind your favorite games.

Today, I'm joined by Brady Sadler from Blacklist Games. Let's go ahead and jump right in.

Brady, I had the opportunity to meet you this past year at Origins and Gen Con as you were promoting Altar Quest. Tell the readers a bit about yourself and where they might know you from?

My name's Brady, and I'm a senior game designer at Blacklist Games. People may have heard of me and Adam from our game Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game, Heroes of Terrinoth, Street Masters, Brook City, or Altar Quest. We've been designing games together professionally for almost 10 years now. Aside from making games, I'm also a published author, drummer, and avid watcher of Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I'd like to start by discussing solo gaming in general. I'm a huge solo gamer and despite the growth of solo gaming, visit any FB group, like BoardGameGeek and you still see negative connotations towards solo gamers (e.g. you just need to make friends!). Solo gaming is a key component in so many of your designs, what effect has solo gaming had in your life?

Honestly, solo gaming is what made me want to design games. I got into games as a writer, and I was perfectly content aspiring to write fiction that was tied to games in various ways. But when I started playing solo games, I really got into the design side of things. For me, it's kind of the perfect activity when I just want to watch re-runs of Friends or The Office, crack open a beer, and instead of doing a jigsaw puzzle, just playing a compelling board game alone. While I still obviously enjoy gaming with people—my daughter, for example, begs me to play games every night—I still find time to game by myself. It's a necessary source of inspiration and relaxation for me.

I'm aware of negative connotations directed toward solo gaming, and laugh them off.

As a solo gamer, what titles do you like to play?

I play a lot of co-op LCGs (Arkham Horror, Lord of the Rings, DEFINITELY will be getting into Marvel Champions and playing it religiously). If I had to pick a favorite genre it'd be co-op/solo card games.

When designing solo what type of solo modes do you prefer: beat your own score, complete a scenario, a general win/loss condition, automa opponents, something else?

Honestly, I'm not a fan of solo modes. For me, I typically reach for games that naturally scale to 1 player without any real special rules. I know that's not always possible with certain games, but it's definitely my preference. Aside from that, I do enjoy automated opponents sometimes, as long as it doesn't come with a ton of overhead and bookkeeping.

One criticism that solo gamers get is that they expect every game to feature some sort of solo mode or variant even if that's not really feasible. Where do you fall on that spectrum with your own designs? Do you intend to always include a solo mode or experience?

Again, I don't personally prefer "solo modes," but I do like that they are given more and more consideration. Our own designs hopefully speak for themselves in this regard—we start all our designs from a solo standpoint and then scale up from there. That ensures for smooth player scaling and fully engaging solitaire play.

I experienced (and loved) that smooth scaling playing Heroes of Terrinoth at different player counts. From a design standpoint, how did you determine the right scaling model?

This one was honestly mostly handled by Fantasy Flight Games development team—balance and final testing was all handled by them. But it followed a fairly similar structure that Warhammer Quest laid down.

You are part of a design team with your brother Adam. As co-designers, how do you guys carve out your designs? Do you each take on different duties each time? Do you each have a specialty?

A lot of times I'll just spew out some super rough prototypes of my various ideas (they come fast). And then Adam and I will work through them to see what actually works and what's worth pursuing haha. I have a little too much creative energy to burn, so I usually open the firehouse and Adam tries to divert the streams into reasonable pools of water.

Do you guys have a source of inspiration for your designs?

Our friend Richard Launius is a huge source of inspiration. Nate French opened my mind a ton with one of my favorite designs ever—Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Also, Ignacy Trzewiczek's design for Robinson Crusoe will constantly inspire me.

In 2015, you designed Warhammer Quest the Adventure Card Game which was re-implemented as Heroes of Terrinoth? What was that experience like to revisit a previous design?

It was an interesting project because we learned a lot between the time we design our first game together, and the time we revamped this system. We didn't change the approach too much, because there were obvious limitations to what we could do differently. But I'm very happy with the outcome and really love what FFG's development team did with it.

Street Masters introduced your modular desk system that has been ported into Brook City and now, Altar Quest. For our readers unfamiliar with it, can you describe how it works? What challenges did you run into when trying to implement the system originally and how easy was it to adapt to your other titles? Has your MDS approach changed over time?

Our Modular Deck System (MDS) is much more a product model than a set of mechanics. The games do share a lot of functional similarities, but each one creates a much different experience. The main challenge with designing for MDS is the sheer number of decks that you have to churn out, haha. But I feel like each one we do, we streamline certain things and make other aspects more robust. It's definitely my favorite area to work in right now.

Recently, you acquired the rights to make a game based on Contra. You also co-designed a Walking Dead title, No Sanctuary. One of Adam's first co-designs was actually on an Avatar board game. How does the design process differ on an IP title like those compared with one of your designs?

I always personally prefer to work in original IPs, but sometimes something comes across that you can't pass up. Adam and I spent a LOT of our youth playing 2 player Nintendo games, and Contra was always a staple. Personally, when it comes to doing licensed stuff, I never want to emulate or simulate the source material. I prefer to abstract enough of the essence of the setting and let it shine in a new format—the table top.

Which of your solo gaming design decisions are you most proud of?

I'd have to say, currently it's Street Masters. I continue to enjoy solo-ing that game, and it's something I'll always take pride in.

What do you think sets your solo designs apart from others within the hobby?

One of our design philosophies is drawn from how we like to consume co-op/solo games. I think I'm different than a lot of co-op fans in that I don't really like to lose that much. Punishing cooperative or solo games are just not what I usually reach for. I do enjoy a challenge, but I like to win. So most of our designs are geared toward giving players a TON of power and the means to usually win, but give them enough of a challenge where it feels earned. Not all our games are built this way, but it's something I think you'll see in a lot of our work.

Do you think your approach to solo design has changed over time?

Hopefully just gotten better, haha. I try more and more to avoid busy bookkeeping and lots of procedural steps in AI.

What's your opinion on where solo gaming is headed? What's out there on the horizon?

I just hope it keeps up. It's becoming more and more standard for games (especially cooperative games) to have solo gaming in mind. I like that, and it's definitely something we always strive for in our own designs. Mostly I just see continued growth into the mainstream. Hobby gaming has always been a sort of cornerstone of leisure time, but now it's crossing over a lot more, which is great to see.

Cheers to that my friend. Ok let's wrap up. I always like to ask my guests if they have any upcoming work they'd like to promote and how my readers can keep up with you. So what say you Brady Sadler?

We have a pretty...super game that we'll be announcing soon (Note: This interview was conducted prior to the announcement of Hour of Need).

People can find out more about our work at


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Sat Nov 2, 2019 2:47 pm
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The Solo Saturday Post with Isaac Childres (Gloomhaven)

From gallery of xugreatone

Welcome back to The Solo Saturday Post! Each week, I sit down with a different solo designer. In our chats, we cover their design process, get their thoughts on topics of importance in solo gaming, and share some stories behind your favorite games.

This week, I talk with Isaac Childres about the biggest board game of all time, Gloomhaven and his thoughts on solo gaming and design.

Isaac, thanks for joining us at The Solo Saturday Post. I'm certain, that even if people might not know you, they have heard of your games. Tells us about yourself.

I am Isaac Childres, owner of Cephalofair Games. I've designed Forge War, Gloomhaven, and Founders of Gloomhaven, and I've got some exciting upcoming projects like Return to Dark Tower, as well. I've also published lots of physics papers about graphene, but I doubt anyone would know me from that.

Wait, your the same I. Childres who was lead author on Effect of electron-beam irradiation on graphene field effect devices (2010)? That's incredible. Ok. So I'm not familiar with your physics work, so I totally looked that up on Google Scholar. Let's talk about your other passion, game design. How do you generally come up with your designs?

Each game starts with some core idea that I am excited to work on. Something that makes me say, "Yeah, that hasn't been done yet and I'd really like to see if I can do it." From there, it's all about iteration. Coming up with a prototype, playing it, identifying what's wrong, making a new prototype and repeating the process until the game sings.

And in that process, where do solo modes come into play?

Solo design typically comes in pretty late to process for me. My primary focus is on a good multiplayer experience, but having a good solo mode is also important for me. Once the multiplayer version is complete, I'll sit down with it and think, "How can I turn these systems into something that would be interesting to play solo?" I try not to just create a multiplayer experience with automated opponents, because I find that type of solo play to be the least interesting. But instead, I try to create an interesting puzzle for a solo gamer that also provides tension through multiple failure points. So it's not just about getting some high score at the end, but just getting to the end is a feat in itself.

Yes, personally, I enjoy solo experiences that are rich and rely less on beating one's own score. Keeping that in mind, what do you think is an interesting or unique mechanic you have seen in solo gaming that sparked your curiosity?

I recently got a look at Palm Island, which seems pretty great and inventive. The fact that you can play the whole game standing up with a deck of cards in your hand is pretty mind-blowing.

Many solo gamers prefer tougher games so that wins feel more rewarding. Yet others, prefer experiences where they can win. How do you fall on that spectrum in regards to your design philosophy?

Solo games should definitely be tougher to win. As I said, winning should itself be the goal, not just getting a high score.

So in that vein, since many games require you to beat a high score , do you think every game should have a solo mode? Where do you fall in that argument with your own designs? Do you intend to always include a solo mode?

I don't think there's any reason a game can't have a solo mode. It might not end up being exactly the same experience, but I think publishers should still go that extra mile and come up with something.

Where do you think solo gaming is headed within the hobby?

It seems from my limited experience that solo gaming is heading to digital faster than multi-player gaming is. I think part of the appeal of solo gaming is the ease and speed with which you can do it, and digital versions of games further facilitate that. I have a friend who has played Gloomhaven solo hundreds of times on Tabletop Simulator, and he has been able to do that because he can play a game so quickly.

Here's the $64,000 question - do you consider yourself a solo gamer, and if so what are some of your favorite titles to solo?

I wouldn't have said so in the past, but I find myself playing more and more games solo as time goes on. Particularly recently when I've been traveling so much, I keep missing my normal game group. Playing multiple players in a non-solo game is also a good way to quickly get things play tested, if that counts. My favorite solo games are Friday, which is so easy to take with me while I travel, and I've also found myself playing the solo mode of Terraforming Mars a lot on Steam.

Alright, enough solo gaming questions for a moment - let's talk about the rather large elephant in the room. You stated in a BGG blog post that you never intended to make a 21 pound game. Was there ever any point in the design process where you looked at all this content and thought, I need to cut something?

Nope, I didn't really cut anything. I created until the vision was complete, and that was it!

Gloomhaven has won countless awards. Of the many plaudits and accolades it has claimed, which are you most of proud of and why?

Definitely hitting #1 on BGG. BGG was my introduction to the hobby, and I remember going down that list, buying every title, and loving them (Puerto Rico was #1 at the time).

I'd be pretty proud of that too! Tell me the story of when you found out that Gloomhaven was the number 1 game on BGG. This is something that only 6 other games (excluding April Fool's Jokes and bugs) have achieved. The moment you found out - what went through your mind? How did you feel/react? What did you do?

Well, I knew it was going to happen for a while, with how quickly it was shooting up the list and its average score. It was just a matter of getting enough votes to push the average up. Still, though, when it hit, it was a little surreal. Making a game that was #1 on BGG was, like, my main life goal. Once it happened, I had to figure out what to do next. I needed a new life goal, and I might still be looking for one.

Yeah, I'd imagine there was a good deal of pressure to follow up Gloomhaven with something equally impressive. What was that experience like as a game designer, trying to follow up the number one game of all time. That game, Founders of Gloomhaven was well-received, but never quite lived up to the hype its big brother had.

Oh, I just did my best not to think about it. I just had another idea I wanted to see [Founders] put on the table, so I did it. You can't just keep making Gloomhaven for the rest of your life. Or, I don't know, I guess you could, but that sounds boring. I just work on whatever interests me.

Speaking of rankings, you've ranked quite a few games on BGG, but only one game has received a score of "1". Dungeon Roll clearly didn't sing for you. What was that title missing that could have made it a bigger hit for you personally?

Haha, I rarely rate games on BGG anymore, but for a while there I made a lot of ratings. For me, Dungeon Roll just didn't offer any meaningful decisions. Not a single one. So it just wasn't something worth playing. I suppose I would rate something like Candyland or Chutes and Ladders a 1 as well, but that doesn't seem like a productive use of my time.

Gloomhaven features a set of solo scenarios as an add-on that was available with your 2nd print run. How did those solo scenarios come to be?

I think it started with the Cragheart. I had a friend who expressed to me that he wanted to see a scenario where the Cragheart's obstacle-making powers really took center-stage, and I thought, "I could make a scenario like that for every character - a scenario where all of there strengths and weaknesses come to the forefront." It was just a pet project, something I gave to the community for free as a PnP, simply because I like the community. But people kept clamoring for a printed version, so we started selling those too.

You are collaborating on Restoration Games' Return to the Dark Tower. How did that collaboration come about? Is Dark Tower a game you played as a kid?

Justin from Restoration asked me if I wanted to do it, said I'd be working with Rob Daviau, so I said, "Sign me up!" Unfortunately Dark Tower was a little before my time, so I didn't play it as a child, but I still find it to be a very interesting concept, and everything for this reboot is coming together very well.

What designers have served as your inspiration?

I'd say my main inspiration is Vlaada Chvátil. The scope of his collection of designs is so broad, I feel he could probably make a unique game out of anything, which is really cool to me.

You are notably a Studio Ghibli fan, which of Miyazaki's films are your favorite and why?

They are all so great, but my favorite is probably Nausicaa. Princess Mononoke is great, as well. I love how the characters really struggle with how to properly live with nature without destroying it or have it destroy them.

Do you have a cool solo gaming story you'd like to share?

I initially made a solo version of Forge War, my first game, because I had run out of stretch goals during the Kickstarter and people were asking for it. I got such great feedback about it, that I made sure that all my future games would have solo modes as well. The solo community is so positive!

We are a pretty cool bunch of people, if I say so myself! I really appreciate you taking some of your time to sit down with me and chat about solo gaming and some stories behind your work. Last couple of questions - do you have any upcoming projects you want solo gamers to know about - and where can people follow you and keep up with your work?

Nothing solo only, but Return to Dark Tower is coming to Kickstarter in January, and I've also just announced a more casual-friendly version of Gloomhaven, which of course will be playable solo as well.

I communicate mainly through my blog and through a monthly newsletter which you can sign up for on the main page of my website. I also say things on Twitter occasionally.


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Sat Oct 26, 2019 1:25 pm
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The Solo Saturday Post with David Turczi (Anachrony)

From gallery of xugreatone

Welcome back to The Solo Saturday Post! Each week, I sit down with a different solo designer. In our chats, we cover their design process, get their thoughts on topics of importance in solo gaming, and share some stories behind your favorite games.

This week, David Turczi, jumps into the hotseat. David is a bit of a solo whisperer having guest designed on many titles, but his most well known design is probably Anachrony.

welcome David. I think many of my readers know you, but why don't you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Hi, my name is David Turczi, I'm originally from Hungary, but I live in the UK with my lovely wife Wai-yee and our three adorable cats: Dunpling, Mooncake, and Chipmunk. I was first published in 2013 by LudiCreations, a game called [redacted] (yes, that's literally the title of the game), and I'm most known for Mind Clash's Anachrony. I spent the first 10 years of my life thinking I'd be an archeologist, my second 10 years planning to be a space scientist (I've even been invited to NASA once as a kid ) , and my third 10 years being a software engineer for various "boring" businesses. And now finally, I'm free, and I'm a full time game designer and developer, mostly working for Mindclash Games, board and Dice, and PSC Games. You might have heard of some of my other games: Kitchen Rush from Artipia Games, Dice Settlers from Board and Dice, and the Days of Ire/Nights of Fire Night of Fire duology from Mighty Boards; but these days I'm also known as the "solo guy", for having designed official solo modes for many many games (Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Snowdonia Deluxe, Cerebria,Coloma, etc.).

That's a lot of games to have designed! You must be a busy guy. Given the number of games that you have guested on, which solo design gave you the most trouble?

Cerebria. It was the first "all interactive" game I attempted to make a solo with, and my first attempt failed completely, and the second attempt was still exploitable. It took Nick's [Shaw] diligent patching-and-retesting for months that resulted in the now existing fantastic and highly realistic oppponent, Ego.

I have tackled more complicated and more fine-grained solos since -- recently I created a bot-system for the upcoming Europa Universals: Board Game from Aegir Games, and that one was certainly a beast, but knowing what I learnt from Cerebria, and from my personally favourite solo mode of mine: Nights of Fire - I managed to focus on the right solution for EU:BG much faster.

As a player, many consider running multiple characters to be problematic and prefer true solo experiences where they control one character. Which do you prefer?

Depends on the game. If the multiplayer game is driven by player-to-player scarcity and interaction, I want to simulate that by an opponent. If the game is about racing relatively side-by-side, and see who gets further with some "nuisance" interaction in the middle or occasional attacking, then I prefer a coop style solution, where instead of racing against each other you now race against a clock or a target, that throws nuisances in your way. That said if possible, a solo gamer should still be given the chance of only controlling one side, even if two sides are allied.

Of the myriad of solo titles you have designed or guested on, which one are you most proud of? Why?

Nights of Fire. Here is a game that by all means should NOT be solo-able: asymmetric, direct combat, with one of the sides involving hidden movement trying to bluff the other player into attacking at the "wrong" place and wrong time. Yet with careful dripfeeding of information to the human player I managed to create a solo that sustains the intrinsic tension of the multiplayer game and offers high replay-ability without compromises. Since then whenever I work on an interactive solo mode (next one will be for Martin Wallace's Bloodstones, a frankly amazing game and a huge return to form for him as far as I'm concerned) I ask myself "how did i deal with this on NoF...

Previously you mentioned Nick Shaw, who is a frequent collaborator of yours. How does your partnership work in terms of breaking up solo design work?

I ask him what sort of solo mode he'd expect to see in this game. If I agree, I create that concept, write up the rules, and then he starts playing it and makes notes when stuff doesn't act as it should or it's too easy/too hard to beat. Recently, we started working more closely together: I just spent 3 days at his house playing through every game I'm working on so I can take his input on as early as possible.

Before we jump into some questions about some of your specific design choices, tell me a bit how about your design process in general?

[It begins with] usually a unique experience point. Dice Settlers was "wouldn't it be cool if any die roll would be good for something AND you would select what dice to roll by deck building?" Kitchen Rush was "wouldn't it be cool if your workers were sandtimers?" That usually gives me one central mechanism, then I find a theme that fits that mechanism naturally, then I find lots of small mechanisms around it that fit the theme. So it's not theme nor mechanism first, but a round-and-round way of both.
I also co-design a lot these days, so the direction of the project is also different based on whom I work with. I bring entirely different ideas forward when I work with Daniele Tascini (T'zolkin, Teotihuacan), or when I work with Viktor Peter & Richard Amann of Mindclash, or when I work with Martin Wallace...

How do you think of solo modes? Where does that fit into your design process?

I don't think about solo modes while designing my own games. I believe every game that doesn't have hidden movement, bluffing, negotiation -- people reading -- as part of its main mechanisms can be solo'd somehow. Usually it's an automa simulating the interactions of a human opponent, sometimes it's a dynamic challenge, sometimes it's a flat out coop mode. I want to make the best game there is, and then sit down and figure out the best solo mode that fits the game. Which is why when someone else puts their finished game in front of me (as happened recently with Snowdonia, Keyper, Yedo, and a few others) it is usually quite straight forward for me to design at least sketch out the basic framework of the solo, because it should be exactly the way it makes most sense. Then I pass the solo onto my army of playtesters/co-developers (the two most notable helpers are Nick Shaw and John Albertson , without them I'd have about 10-12 solo modes fewer ) who then play it repeatedly, tweak the priorities, the compensations, the difficulties, until they're satisfied with it. Then we see how the community reacts

Speaking of automas - you seem to favor building AI bots in many of your designs. Many times, bots have to "cheat" in order to be viable. What is your take on that? Do bots have to cheat? Are there other ways to design bots that truly mimic human behavior?

Yes, they really do. Any solo gamer who doesn't want to "double hand" expects the internal workings of their opponent to be simplified. That means at the very least it is not collecting/spending resources -- therefore it is already cheating. Now if it is an interactive game (where I "punch" my opponent), I will always punch at the bot's weakest, while the bot will always punch "semi-randomly". Therefore on even footing the human player would win every time. So yes, the bot cheats compared to a human player, but it still has a clear set of laid out rules (like the willpower compensation in Cerebria), that you can plan for and against, and thus your strategic experience is simplified but not lessened. Calling this cheating is disingenuous and trying to create a problem where there is none.

With the release of Anachrony: Fractures of Time, you have included a revised edition of the Chronobot christened Chronobot Omega. Meanwhile, a second bot called Chronossus is described on your Kickstarter as being more complex. What made you want to revisit the Chronobot and then create a second bot for specific to Fractures of Time? Do you frequently go back and tinker with bots from previous builds?

Chronobot is my most well known solo mode. But it is quite possibly the weakest, since it was the first. It is still very good, but I have done many better ones since. It is liked, because it is attached to a good and successful game, but it would not be good enough to be a central selling point for any lesser game. So I figured the thousands of Anachrony fans deserve better. And since MCG was planning to restructure the Anachrony product family (see our plans for Essential Edition) they latched onto my idea of reworking the solo mode (and move it from the base game to an expansion, thus allowing larger component budget), and gave me all the freedom to make it as good as possible --- which was doable because of people like John who himself played the new bots about a hundred times in the space of half a year...

Welcome to Dino World, a roll and write game, featured another David and Nick Shaw collaboration. You credit Nick as an expert on roll and writes and state that it's not quite your usual fare. Given your predilection for complex builds, do you think you'll ever take on a simpler roll and write style game as a primary design on your own? Why or why not?

Dinoworld was huge fun, but a frustrating learning experience for me: here was a game where I was told I can't add more even though I felt I haven't maxed out my complexity budget yet - but the RnW market demands a certain simplicity. I did leave notes for another "interactive rnw" with Nick, but much lighter than Rome & Roll was (possibly even lighter than DinoWorld), if he finds some gems in those notes we might make that game in the future, but my primary focus will always be on "big and smart".

What's your take on solo modes being added to games as stretch goals in Kickstarter campaigns? Should publishers/designers make solo mode available from the outset or is it acceptable to use those as stretch goals?

That's a publisher business. Let me tell you, even when one of my solo modes are added to a stretch goal it gets the exact same treatment and testing (and is usually still known, just unfinished before the campaign) as a pre-announced one would. So if a publisher needs extra budget to justify my added components and thus makes it a SG I still prefer it to somebody announcing a solo from the get go and then including a paragraph of "beat your own score" rules at the end of the rulebook (not that I'd do that ever).

Solo gaming has been a growing segment in the hobby. What's your take on solo gaming growth and do you have a sense for where it's going?

I say if we can cater for a market segment, why should we not. Most games' production budget can survive adding 1 more deck of cards

I hope people will keep demanding high quality solo modes so there is continuous demand for my work. It pays the bills nicely

Do you have any fun solo gaming stories to share?

Sorry, I don't play solo modes "for fun", this is a question I'm sure Nick or John could answer better I do have lots of lovely interactions with fans though, most notably how a year after the Pocket Dragon kickstarter random people still walk up to me at big cons and congratulate me on my wedding

That's somewhat ironic that the solo whisperer doesn't play solo games! Do you have any upcoming projects you want solo gamers to keep their pulse on?

The biggest one I want to bring attention to is Rome and Roll. (Interviewer note: The KS is available until November 4th, 2019). It's a roll-and-write and heavy-dice-euro hybrid about rebuilding Rome after the fire of 64AD, co-designed by myself and the aforementioned Nick Shaw. It's highly interactive, plays ~25 mins per player, great at all player counts 1-4 players, and of course comes with a highly polished solo mode (both Nick and John played it a zillion times solo). It hit KS in early October, from PSC Games.

David, thanks so much for participating in the Solo Saturday Post. Where can people find you online to keep up with you and your work?

On BGG I'm TDaver - and I do maintain an up to date list of all my projects on my profile page there. I'm also readily available on Facebook, actively posting in several big groups (TBG, Exposure, Spotlight, BGR, Solo Gamers, etc) where people are free to tag me to bring my attention to questions or stuff


The Solo Saturday Post is presented by the 4.1.1. which does solo reviews on BGG and is ran by:

Read all 4.1.1. Solo Reviews here!

Subscribe to the Solo Saturday Post here!
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Sat Oct 19, 2019 2:05 pm
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