Thematic Solitaires for the Spare Time Challenged

A blog about solitaire games and how to design them. I'm your host, Morten, co-designer of solo modes for Scythe, Gaia Project, Wingspan, Glen More II, and others.
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What is an Automa?

Morten Monrad Pedersen
Denmark
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I’m often asked about what an Automa is and most times I’ve written the answer from scratch, which leads to answers of varied quality of answers and time wasted on my part. So, since there seems to be a lot of interest in the topic, I’ve decided to a blog post a once and for all definition (well, until I decided to tweak it ).

What the term “Automa” doesn’t mean

Let me start with a note about a wrong usage of “Automa” that I’ve seen many times: As a synonym for “artificial opponent”.

While I of course can’t control how the term is used, I can tell you what I intended it to mean as the guy who initially put the term into the public vocabulary.

My intention was never to have it mean exactly the same as “artificial player”, because we already have a good term for that, which is “artificial player” and when that becomes cumbersome to use because of its length we have the term “bot”. There’s no point in replacing those already well-established terms.

Instead, my intention is to have the term refer to a specific kind of artificial opponent and using it as equivalent to artificial opponent is to me like calling any game with exploration a 4X game.

What the term Automa does mean

With that out of the way, it’s time to get to my definition of what an Automa is.

An Automa is an artificial opponent that adheres to these principles:

1) It takes the place of a human player in a multiplayer game.
2) The player must play by the same rules as in the multiplayer game.
3) The player must face the same decisions as in multiplayer.
4) The important player interactions must be simulated. This includes keeping the win-lose criteria.
5) The player must not make choices on behalf of the Automa except in rare cases where it makes sense because of a cooperative element or for thematic reasons.
6) The Automa rules must be as streamlined as possible while achieving the above. This for example includes removing the internal state of the opponent that does not directly affect the player, e.g. the Scythe Automa doesn’t have a player mat.

That’s basically it, but before I go, I should mention that I didn’t come up with the word. It was suggested by José M. Lopez-Cepero who helped design the first Automa – the one for the Viticulture. That game is set in Italy and the word “Automa” is Italian for “Automaton”.

From gallery of mortenmdk

A photo of Automa .
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