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 games such as Scythe, Gaia Project and Viticulture.
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2015 Solitaire Print and Play Contest: Mini-interviews III: Agent Decker and Stranded No More: The Mutiny

Morten Monrad Pedersen
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Agent DeckerToday we’re trying our hand at being a deck building spy and keeping a crew of angry pirates from doing mutiny – or at least I’ll be interviewing two designers who’ve made games for the 2015 Solitaire Print & Play Contest.

First up is Manuel Correia who’s made the game Agent Decker.

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Morten: Have you participated in the contest before? If so when and with which game(s)?

Manuel: This is my first time. I have sent a couple games to other game design contests, but only after they were complete. This contest sounded very interesting because it would force me out of my comfort zone. I have never developed a game with a focus on solo play, and I don't usually show my games this early in development.


Morten: Could you describe your game from a thematic point of view?

Manuel: Sure! In Agent Decker you're a spy who's just graduated from spy school. You wish you had paid more attention in class, because at this moment all you can do is hide and punch. It's your task to infiltrate an enemy base and complete a sequence of increasingly complex missions. You'll learn on the field by sneaking past obstacles, gathering tools and knocking out guards.


Morten: Could you describe your game from a mechanic point of view?

Manuel: It's a deckbuilding game. Anyone familiar with Dominion (or better yet, the solo mode from Ascension) only needs a couple pointers before they start playing. Instead of static piles of cards that are available to purchase you have a scrolling line of obstacles that you can knock out using skills or equipped items. At the end of the turn it scrolls to the right and the last card is discarded, raising the alarm. If you hit the top of the alarm counter then the mission is over and you've lost!

The main thing that sets it apart from other deckbuilding games is the mission sequence. You have a clear goal and a timer (alarm). When you complete a mission new cards enter the deck, making it more difficult and dynamic for the next round. There are five missions in total.


Morten: Which mechanics in the game do you think best support the theme?

Manuel: I like how the line of obstacles represents what you see, and naturally they can see you too. You have a limited amount of time to deal with them before they raise the alarm, so you can knock them out or even take their weapons for your own use.


Morten: How would you rate your game on a scale from 1 to 9 where 1 is “Game mechanics rule, theme doesn't matter” and 9 is “theme rules, mechanics must be adapted to support the theme”?

Manuel: I'd say it's a 7. It's the first time I'm developing with theme in mind rather than of mechanics. It certainly brings over a new set of challenges, but learning is the main reason I started the project!


Morten: This blog is “for the spare time challenged” and thus I’m very interested in the time investment necessary for trying out your game. So how many components must the player create and how complex are they? How long is the rulebook? And how long does it take to setup, play, and pack away the game?

Manuel: I knew less people would try it if I went overboard on the amount of game parts, so I settled on 54 standard-sized cards. With nine cards per page this means players only have to print and cut six pages. I usually sleeve them along with a standard playing card for added sturdiness, but that's up to the player. Two tokens are also required to use the alarm tracker.

The card layout makes them easy to separate into piles, which simplifies the setup to under two minutes. If you want to play just one mission it takes about 20 minutes, and the full sequence of five missions takes around one hour and a half to complete. Packing away is easy, just put the cards in a box. I usually separate the card types before putting the game away, which makes the next setup even quicker.


Next up is Daniel Isom with his game Stranded No More: The Mutiny.

From gallery of disom


Morten: Have you participated in the contest before? If so when and with which game(s)?

Daniel: Yes, I participated in last year's contest. I designed my first solitaire game, Stranded No More.


Morten: Could you describe your game from a thematic point of view?

Daniel: Stranded No More: The Mutiny is the prequel to last year's game Stranded No More. In this game, you lead a crew through a series of missions as Captain Oscar Locke. Years of “poor treatment” has caused the rumblings of a mutiny among the crew aboard The Scream of Atlantis. There is no agreement of who should usurp the Captain but some pirates are angrier than others. As the Captain, you’ll need to balance the anger each of your crew members has while also keeping the mutiny meter below the combustion line. If you can successfully complete all of the missions while keeping your crew happy, you will avoid a mutiny and won’t get stranded.


Morten: Could you describe your game from a mechanic point of view?

Daniel: Stranded No More: The Mutiny is primarily a dice rolling and resource management game. There are three ways to get the dice needed for each mission: roll them, buy them, or get them from a crew member card. Rolling the dice once is free but after that it'll cost you gold to re-roll the dice if you don't get what you need. Buying dice doesn't cost a lot but you're trying to earn as much gold as possible so spending it isn't always wise. Each crew member has a die that you can use but if you don't complete the mission or you use them on back to back missions, it'll increase their anger. Incomplete missions also raise the mutiny meter so if the mutiny meter reaches a certain level and a pirate or pirates are at a certain anger level, you'll get stranded and lose the game.


Morten: Which mechanics in the game do you think best support the theme?

Daniel: The resource management supports the theme the best because you're having to manage the crew members' anger and the spending of gold just like a pirate captain used to back in the golden age of piracy.


Morten: How would you rate your game on a scale from 1 to 9 where 1 is “Game mechanics rule, theme doesn’t matter” and 9 is “theme rules, mechanics must be adapted to support the theme”?

Daniel: I'd put it at a 6 because the theme really drove the choice of mechanics but the mechanics are really solid on their own and they work with the theme so well.


Morten: This blog is “for the spare time challenged” and thus I’m very interested in the time investment necessary for trying out your game. So how many components must the player create and how complex are they? How long is the rulebook? And how long does it take to setup, play, and pack away the game?

Daniel: The game only takes 30 to 60 minutes to setup, play, and pack away depending on the difficulty level and game length you choose. There aren't a lot of components needed but the player will have to have some things on hand in order to play. There are three full sheets that make up the tracking, mission, and The Scream of Atlantis sheets and then there are 64 mini cards (1.75" x 2.5") that needed to be printed and cut. The rest of the components most print and players have on hand: 6 six sided dice, ~20 cubes or tokens for the tracking sheet, and some sort of money resource like poker chips. The rulebook is five pages long but I've included picture diagrams of the cards to make it very easy to read and understand.


That’s about it folks , thank you to both Daniel and Manuel for taking the time to answer my questions. If you’re also doing a game for the contest and would like to participate in an interview then please go here for instructions.
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