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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Are you OK with others using the Automa label? Won’t it dilute and hurt your brand? Did you invent the Automa principles? - The friendly neighborhood Automa FAQ comes to the rescue :-)

Morten Monrad Pedersen
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Microbadge: Fan of Stonemaier GamesMicrobadge: 1 Player Guild - Together We Game AloneMicrobadge: 'When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning' - Dr. Reiner KniziaMicrobadge: Level 17 BGG posterMicrobadge: Automa Factory fan
Lately multiple solo variants, made by members of the solo community, have brandished the Automa label (Bombay, Cubist, Great Western Trails, La Granja, Oh My Goods!, Silk Road, Takenoko, Trickerion, The Voyages of Marco Polo) and the word has started to be used as a category label. Because of this and because of my Automa work in general there are some questions that I have been getting repeatedly.

So, I thought that it might be a good idea to address the questions in public and in more detail than I’ve done previously.


Do you feel that others are leeching off your work and brand if they use the Automa label?

No. Quite the contrary, actually, I actively encourage solo mode creators to do this if their creations are compatible with the principles I’ve described for the term.


Won’t your brand be diluted?

It might.

Having more Automas than those made by my company, Automa Factory, could definitely disassociate the label from my company and thus dilute my brand. If that’s the case, then so be it. I’d rather promote solo gaming than worry about my brand and any impact it might have on my economy.

If I was in this for the money, then going part time in a reasonably well paid IT job to work in board gaming makes about as much sense as a Kiwi (the bird, not a human from New Zealand) setting up shop as a piano mover. Instead my goal has been to do what I’m passionate about and do my part in moving our hobby a little bit forward.

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Image credit: destination-nz.com

Going back to the brand dilution, then, as a contrary point of view, it could be argued that other people flying the Automa banner can bring increased attention to my brand and thus promote it instead of diluting it.

Thus, I honestly don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing for me.


Might it lower publishers’ regard of your brand and thus cost you commissions?

Again the answer is: It might.

It’s been suggested to me that having multiple PnP Automas released by others, which haven’t been through as much external playtesting and months of work as my Automas, could make publishers associate the word “Automa” with less polished solo modes and therefore make them less likely to hire me.

Once more, I honestly don’t know, whether that’s the case or not.

To take on an alternate perspective, it might very well be that the increased usage of the word “Automa” in the community and from other people using it for their solo modes will garner the attention of publishers and thus improve my chance of getting commissions.

Before going on, I hasten to add that I’m not me dissing fanmade solo variants here. First of all, the statement in the question wasn’t mine. It was someone else who made the point (please applaud me for my subtle, but effective, blame shifting ). Instead it’s a, in my opinion, fairly uncontroversial observation that it’s very hard for spare time designers to put in the same number of hours as someone who has this both as a job and as a hobby. I also think that it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that solo modes without the official backing of the publisher have a harder time drumming up a large number of blind (not as in can’t see ) playtesters.

That’s not to say that fanmade solo modes can’t be good and can’t be better than mine. They most definitely can, but the hill they need to climb is steeper than the one I’m climbing. Not because of skill, but because of differences in what constraints our circumstances impose on us.


Do you worry about brand dilution and all that other stuff?

Yes, I most certainly do.

External image

Image taken from Wikipedia

I feel privileged to be allowed to make my hobby a part time job and I’ve worked damned hard to get to that point. Unsurprisingly, I fear losing that and part of my income, but in the grand scheme of solo gaming there are more important things than my personal success or lack thereof .


Is it OK for others to use the label Automa Factory, logo, or the Automa symbol?

No.

They're mine, all mine. Muahahaha.

Ahem.

OK, ignoring that outburst, I do actually mean that "Automa Factory" is my trademark and that the logo (see the bottom of this FAQ) and the included Automa head is only for me to use.


Are you proud of the Automa label and method being adopted by other solo mode creators and the solo community?

You betcha. It has taken me completely by surprise, but in a very good way and seeing the label being used always puts a smile on my face.


Why not just use the commonly accepted word “bot” instead of Automa?

An Automa is a bot (not “butt”, but “bot”), but most bots (try reading that out loud ) are not Automas, just as 4X games are games, but most games are not 4X. In both cases we’re talking about labels for subcategories.

So Automas are a specific subcategory of bots that fulfill certain criteria.

Playing the Automa version of a game should feel like playing the multiplayer game. This doesn’t mean that every detail should be the same, but the soul of the game should be intact. This means that the solo mode should avoid cutting out important parts of the game and the solo player should face roughly the same choices and the same win-lose criteria as multi-players.

So, what an Automa should do is put up a shell of an opponent that simulates the core points of interaction you’d have with a human opponent, but removes everything else.

As an example the Automa in Viticulture doesn't actually have a vineyard like a human player, it just replicates the core interaction points you have with other players and cuts out everything that’s behind that shell of interaction. Well, OK, the human players also do not have an actual vineyard, but you know what I mean . OK, OK, some players might actually have an actual vineyard, but that’s beside the point. Sigh.


Did you invent Automas?

No, I did not.

Just like Alan Emrich didn’t invent 4X games, I didn’t invent Automas. We both just put a name and a description to something that already existed.

There are multiple solo modes that predates my work, which are compatible with the Automa principles. What I did was put the principles into publically available words and gave them a name (well, to be honest it wasn’t me who gave them a name as we’ll see later.


Can’t you spell? The proper English spelling is “Automata” or “Automaton”, not “Automa”.

It’s not a misspelling, because it’s not an English word . Instead it’s the Italian word for automaton. You may now wonder, why would someone who do not speak a single word of Italian (well OK, I can sort of say that one word ) choose and Italian word?

The reason is that the original Automa was made for the game Viticulture, which takes place in pre-modern Italy, and so José López-Cepero, who helped me back then, suggested that we should name the bot with the Italian word “Automa”.

After that the name sort of stuck and we continued using it for our other projects.


How do you pronounce “Automa”?

Inconsistently. My Italian sucks . So let’s instead turn to the wisdom of the web:

- Automa
- Automa
- Automa pronounced with lots of different language accents including four Italian pronounciations

Take your pick and rest assured that you can’t possibly pronounce it worse than I do .


Which Automas have you made?

First of all, I should give credit, where it’s due. I might have taken lead in the work, but I’ve had a lot of help from others, with the core contributors being the aforementioned José, David Studley, and Lines Hutter – and of course a lot of other people too numerous to list.

As of March 2017 we’ve made Automas for:
- Viticulture (Essential Edition, Tuscany, and Tuscany Essential Edition).
- Between Two Cities.
- Scythe.
- Scythe expansion 1: Invaders from Afar.


Do you have other Automas in development?

Yes.

As it happens the second one we started working on was for Euphoria, but other projects have continually put that on hold. Currently we’re working on three projects:

- Terra Mystica: Gaia Project (in external playtesting).
- Charterstone (in internal development).
- Scythe Expansion 2 (pre-very-early-design-phase ).

As always, as long as something is in development there are no guarantees that it’ll make it into print, so this is not a list of what will happen, but of what we’re trying to make happen.

Other than that we have delivered Automa rules for an expansion to Between Two Cities that AFAIK currently is in the hands of the printer (Panda Games).


Are there other board game bots that are Automas?

It turns out that there are way more than I had thought (when we made the initial Viticulture, I wasn't aware of anyone else doing something Automa-like). This geeklist: Games with Automa opponents for solo play created and managed by Kevin B. Smith, currently has 69 entries for bots that meet the Automa criteria.


What does an Automa look like?

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