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Subject: Creating Emotional Attachment in Solo Games rss

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Jack Bennett
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I play a lot of solitaire games, but the ones that I keep coming back to are the ones that create an emotional attachment of some kind between me and the game.

The best example I have of this is Ambush!. In that game you name your soldiers and walk them through a paragraph-driven battlefield, resolving combat and attempting to complete mission objectives. When I play Ambush! I feel connected to my pieces in a way I don't see in other games.

If one of my men goes down I feel the loss. But not because it's a decrease in my probability of winning, a reduction in my overall firepower, a loss of another statistic-laden cardboard token. It's a loss because it's the end of story for that soldier that I had become attached to beyond his usefulness as a mechanism for attempting to win the game.

I've noticed that games touted as story-driven and thematic don't necessarily produce this attachment. Arkham Horror and plenty of other FFG games are laden with flavor text and dripping with theme, but if my character in that game dies it's merely an opportunity to try a new one. On the other end of the spectrum, B-29 Superfortress is pretty sparse when it comes to built-in theme (and even game decisions!), but making that landing roll in the rain after everything my crew just went through is some of the more tense moments I've had in gaming. And yes, I know this is somewhat player-specific; some people may have the opposite experiences with these games.

I've been working on a very large and complicated solo game for a while now and have really been pondering over this topic because it's one of my design goals. So I've been trying to explore what creates this attachment in some games (at least for me) and not others.

To me it often comes down to the story that's being told. But many games tell stories. What I've been pondering on is the difference between emergent stories and deliberate stories.

To me, an emergent story is one that is created by the player as they play the game. It comes from the intersection of the mechanics of the game. Often it's up to the player to create the story, as the game doesn't offer up much except a few dots and leaves the player to connect those however they see fit. A deliberate story, on the other hand, is one being told to you in a way; you have less input on the experience because often times the things you would create are already created for you by the game. These definitions are loose, poorly defined, and not mutually exclusive. They just help me to discuss narrative in a game setting.

I seem to be much more engaged by emergent aspects of game storytelling. The other day I played the Pathfinder card game. Much of it is what I would consider deliberate storytelling ("this, here, is exactly what your character looks like, who he is, and what he's good at. Run with it.") but it has some emergent aspects. I went down to the waterfront chasing bandits and met up with a guard. The two of us were searching through the sketchy area when the guard caught a pickpocket trying to get away with some of my stuff! Luckily, the guard being more familiar with the area, he was able to spot him. The game didn't tell me any of this, it's just what emerged from the fact that I went to the Waterfront card, flipped a Guard, rolled well, then flipped a Pickpocket and used the Guard to get a better roll. Simple mechanical dots all connecting in my brain and emerging into a story. This was a very satisfying experience.

I've been spending a lot of time trying to nail down some mechanics and systems that do this. What do these games have in common that pull me in? One of the big ones, even though it sounds like a little one, is naming your own character(s). Both Ambush! and B-29 lets you name your own crew, and in both cases I'm instantly more invested in their story and outcome than I am in a game like Thunderbolt Apache Leader where I'm told the names of the pilots.

So what, if anything, will get you emotionally attached in a game? What games have you played that give you that same feeling that Ambush! gives to me? Why do they?

And, from a designing standpoint, what mechanics and systems can help to create things like emergent stories? Or, if the story isn't what brings you in, what mechanics make you more invested in your characters/pieces?
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Mark J
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An excellent question! If there was a simple formula answer, I'm sure everybody would be doing it. But some thoughts:

1. Give the game flavor. Make things have names rather than numbers whenever possible. For example, in many war games each unit has a combat strength. Then when units fight you compare their combat strengths on some sort of odds chart, roll a die and get a result. But I've played a couple of games where instead of saying "this is a 6 point unit and this is a 3 point unit, the odds are 2 to 1", they say "this unit is armed with spears and this unit with swords, we find the column on the table for spears and the row for swords and then get some sort of result". By doing this I automatically picture in my mind people with spears fighting people with swords, rather than just a mathematical manipulation. Sure, in the end you're going to have some sort of die roll to determine who wins the fight, but you can make the "numericalization" the last step rather than the first.

2. Create continuity. Make event build upon event and turn upon turn rather than everything starting over every turn. For example, have you ever played Junta? It's a whimsical game of a series of revolutions in an imaginary third world country. It was dripping with flavor, all about the elites stealing foreign aid money and assassinations and coups and catching your opponent with his mistress and so on. But I thought the game failed because it had no continuity. You'd accumulate cards that represented the support of various factions and special abilities, but then when you used them you turned in the card. So today my faction has the support of, say, the peasants, but once I use that power in a coup, I discard the peasant card and someone else might pick it up next time around. The factions had no history. You never had a sense of "I'm the faction that is or does X". Everybody did everything at one point or another.

Also, maybe like you were saying about the bomber game, if each unit has a history you tend to get invested in it. I've had some games where I've thought, "Oh no, after they made it all the way to X, fought off so many enemies, and now on the way back, when they should be returning in triumph, they die in a freak accident!" Or whatever. When a unit has a history to it, you start to feel for them, to want them to succeed. When units are just interchangeable strength points that get combined and recombined and shuffled here and there, there's no such feeling.

3. Make units and/or players distinctive. If each player has a different special ability, then you think of yourself as "we're the sailors" or "we're the ones with the great spies" or whatever. It makes your side special and not just another collection of numbers.
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Mark J
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You bring up an interesting point with the Pathfinder example. Is it better for the game to supply all the flavor and detail, or the player?

If the game gives too little detail, then it's likely to become mechanical. If instead of a "guard" card and a "pickpocket" card they had an "attack +2" and "infiltration +1", I doubt you'd have the same feeling. A player MIGHT fill in the gaps with his imagination. He might say "oh, I drew an attack +2 card, hmm, I guess that means I have found the magic elven sword of, let's see, I'm near the space marked FG-7, I guess it's the magic elven sword of Fram Gar Savaran, yeah, and ..." But if the player is going to bring that much of his own imagination to bear, he may as well just make his own game. :-)

But is there a point where the game supplies too much? If there's no room for the player to fill in the gaps with his own imagination, maybe he won't get invested?

Or perhaps more realistically, if the game tries to supply too much detail, in real life you'll probably get too many discontinuities. I've played some games that have a ton of random events or the like, and they try to give them flavor, but it's tough to make a game where you generate things randomly and yet they still fit together. So in such games I regularly find myself saying, Wait, I'm attacked by pirates in Iowa? How did that happen?
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Jack Bennett
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I think your thoughts on continuity are spot on. Most thematic games I play present you with a bunch of well-told snippets that don't really fit together at all. The art and flavor text and everything might be spot on, but there's no continuing story in which to be invested.

The less the game forces on you, story-wise, the freer you are to fill in the gaps. And usually you'll fill them in with something that makes sense and stays within the continuous story you and the game are creating. The next card at the waterfront was a Hill Giant and I was completely ripped out of the story of the Waterfront at that point.
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Andrew Tullsen
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Last Frontier: The Vesuvius Incident - Another way games do this is change the pacing. Last Frontier has "explore" and "combat" turns. You can move through any compartments you control during the explore turns. And each explore turn ticks the timer down by one. But once an enemy pops up, time slows down and you enter combat turns. You have to move your guys "regularly" with cost movement. The game timer doesn't tick down, combat is fast and bloody. Like a movie, where you see the characters exploring the unknown, the music is playing, but you don't know when they'll be jumped. And when they are attacked by the aliens, the action explodes all around them.
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Deathworks
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Hello!

Not having a big history in game playing and also having only recently discovered the really good solitaire games, my view may be off, so take this with some salt, please.

First and foremost, I think the surrounding materials have a major role to play. With that I mean the rule book/world guide and the advertisments. For a positive attachment, you need a positive feeling about something. And if you had expectations about something it did not fulfill, you can easily become frustrated/negatively inclined towards the game. This may go so far as to make you dislike a game you would have liked under other circumstances. Therefore, I think it is important to clearly explain what the game is about, what mechanics are in it and how it is played. There are many, many aspects to a game and which ones people care about differ greatly. The better the player is prepared for the game, the more likely they are to enjoy it.

The rule book/world guide is also an aspect where you may influence which players get attached to your game. Besides making sure that the rule book is usable (I am looking at you, Privateer Press), the way it is written can positively or negatively influence the audience. Do you present the rules in a rather abstract way, do you give more detail, maybe even flavor narration, or do you go really overboard with characters talking about the rules (as in Return of the Heroes). Usually, I think you would want to avoid the latter as most people will find it silly and odd as it violates the Fourth Wall. But depending on theme and style of the game, there is some variance there that you may use.

I mention world guide as a term there since I am also wondering about what information you give to the player about the game world. When you mentioned your interpretation of the guard catching the pickpocket, I think you were also using your expectations/your knowledge about the world of the game. I tend to believe that more information about the world helps getting involved, but then again, I personally rank Utopia Engine, Mage Knight Board Game, and Level 7 [Escape] among the my evocative experiences, and neither of them really puts much words into what world you are playing in...

Sane Person mentioned continuity, and I want to add consistency as another important aspect. The way the world is described should match up with the way it is experienced by the player. While not every feature need to have an impact on game play, making sure that game play does not explicitly contradict the background story is worth pointing out (obvious, I know, but easily overlooked when it comes to details).

Consistency also refers to the world and the situation you are presenting. Does it make sense for the characters to do what they do? Does the behavior of their environment make sense? If the player feels that something is wrong with the premise of the game, they may be less inclined to suspend disbelief.

Moving on to gameplay itself, I think that the balance between reward and effort is important. However, reward in this case refers to the continuation of the narration. One of the reasons why I simply can't get into Mice and Mystics is the big effort you put into that series of fights with some minions while the main story is about something else. None of the individual fights has its own importance for the narration, only having cleared them all matters, and combined with the blandness of the fights, this kind of kills the excitement for me. My favorite counter example to this is Elder Sign. While it is also a series of challenges resolved with dice, each challenge has a different flavor - both in game terms (different rewards, different requirements) as well as in flavor text/artwork. Looking at this game, you can also see consistency at its best in my opinion: the rewards the adventures give usually make sense from the narrative point of view, but also the requirements very often fit nicely to what you would logically expect to be the aspects of that adventure: When dealing with Ancient Relics, for example, it makes sense that you face Lore and Investigation challenges, that you lose Sanity on failing and that you get a Clue and a Spell out of it.

Elder Sign seems to be creating the emergent stories through that consistency between the flavor text, card titles, and game mechanisms.

Return of the Heroes has an explicit quest system that allows you to do good deeds. The quests themselves feature usually a one-line description, but the fairy tale flair of the game allows you to expand on it in your mind easily.

Another aspect is the challenge of the game. While I personally also enjoy games that I win easily, encountering challenges in a game can create excitement once you succeed in overcoming them. Thus, you may consider systems that allow you to re-visit challenges or to develop special strategies.

These are some first thoughts that came up, but there are some more I have to ponder before sharing them. I hope my rant is somewhat helpful.

Yours,
Deathworks
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Dan Hughes
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I'm currently addicted to playing Sentinels of the multiverse as a solo game and you pretty much hit the nail on the head as to why I feel so attached to my characters in it. While the theme is strong and descriptive there are an awful lot of blank spaces for me to inject my own little storylines in my head. I often find myself giving a little running commentary under my breath - much like I used to do when playing with my star wars figures when I was 9.

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Nate K
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One thing that the good games do is create instances where the bad things happening to the characters in the game are ALSO bad things for the player. For example: in the Doctor Who: Solitaire Story Game if one of your Companions gets stuck in a pit or trapped behind a door and the Doctor can't immediately help them, that isn't just bad news for the Companion. Suddenly, the player has to split his or her party in uncomfortable ways. He or she has to make separate Event rolls for the Companion and the Doctor. Either one could end up facing something that they cannot handle alone, which in turn could lead to a game loss, which in turn could lead to the Doctor needing to regenerate--thus wiping out weeks, months, or even years worth of adventures that player has experienced with that specific Doctor.

Thus, the level of danger rises in a way that the player was unable to prepare for, heightening the tension for the player and drawing him or her in emotionally.

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game also does this well in some instances. If the player plans on having the red team lay down cover fire that turn, and then they draw a Gun Jam event, EVERYONE on the squad is suddenly and unexpectedly vulnerable.

One game that does not accomplish this tremendously well is my own Derelicts of Sin: Heresy. When the CHARACTER in the game discovers something horrific, he has a mild panic attack and loses Oxygen, which could get him killed. But the PLAYER is just annoyed that they lost Oxygen just for exploring a room. Now they have to play more conservatively until they find an O2 tank. The bad thing for the in-game character doesn't translate to a bad thing for the player; it's just an inconvenience.
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Will Bracegirdle of Hardbottle
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This is a topic near and dear to my heart, because before I like board games (or video games as this issue can be raised there also) is that I like a good story. I've always been a big reader, and am not interested in books where I can't "get behind" a character (usually the protagonist). So, if I can wed the two in games and story then huzzah!
I agree with all that's been said and I like how you've characterised the different types of game story. I played Mice and Mystics with my brother and it has a very linear story that you follow along, however, as things happen throughout the story there is a lot of randomness and we had to make some tough decisions and as a result of one ended up having a dramatic rescue by NPCs. You have named characters in the game, but they can't really die, so it's not as heartbreaking when they go down, though we are relieved to get them back when they recover. So, I'm not super attached to them-maybe more of a permanent threat to them would help. Kind of like how we often don't feel too bad when Mario dies because you've got so many more lives to go after Koopa.

Edit: started this post when there was only 3 comments here! That may clarify some of my pronouns...whistle
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pusherman42 wrote:
The best example I have of this is Ambush!. In that game you name your soldiers and walk them through a paragraph-driven battlefield, resolving combat and attempting to complete mission objectives. When I play Ambush! I feel connected to my pieces in a way I don't see in other games.

If one of my men goes down I feel the loss. But not because it's a decrease in my probability of winning, a reduction in my overall firepower, a loss of another statistic-laden cardboard token. It's a loss because it's the end of story for that soldier that I had become attached to beyond his usefulness as a mechanism for attempting to win the game.

...

I've been spending a lot of time trying to nail down some mechanics and systems that do this. What do these games have in common that pull me in? One of the big ones, even though it sounds like a little one, is naming your own character(s). Both Ambush! and B-29 lets you name your own crew, and in both cases I'm instantly more invested in their story and outcome than I am in a game like Thunderbolt Apache Leader where I'm told the names of the pilots.
There is a WWII skirmish game that gets generally good reviews here at BGG and it is Sergeants Miniatures Game. It's a WWII skirmish minis game, but isn't your typical "grognard" wargame (with 80 baggies full of chits, and an entire spiral notebook of charts & tables.) SMG is actually card-driven and every stat necessary is right there on the card or on the terrain tiles themselves. The game unfolds over a series of turns driven by a "Story Deck" that gives insight into what happens, even down to random events like a pig getting loose in a barnyard and revealing the soldiers' position.

It isn't hyper-realistic, and lacks a lot of minutiae that some wargamers can't live without, but it is very good at telling a story on a "people" level, a lot like experiencing an episode of Band Of Brothers. Even down to each soldier having their own unique name on their individual dog-tag base & set of action cards. And in the latest Kickstarter for their newest game (Red Devils,) you had the opportunity to name your own squad leader, so you told them the name you wanted, they would make up the stats & manufacture the pre-painted mini & send it to you, ready to use in the game. Very cool for really getting you to "feel" the game even more. They also sell 3D terrain that your troops can interact with, including church spires for snipers, graveyards with gravestones to take cover behind & a crypt to hide in, and a 2-story farmhouse.

It is not cheap to get into, but if you are looking for a very micro-level, solo-able (albeit made for 2 players) skirmish game that lives & dies by... well... the characters living and dying, then you might want to check it out.

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Rick Weckermann
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Years ago when i was out with knee surgery i ended up playing a lot of Patton's Best. After countless attempts to win, i found myself becoming quite attached to my M4 Sherman and crew. The game allows for about a 10% greater survival than real life, which did little for me as i think crossed the map once in a hundred games. I tried so hard to live in that tank but could not resist taking a shot at targets, think you are supposed to retreat all the time in that tank if you want to survive.
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Mark J
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Deathworks wrote:
Do you present the rules in a rather abstract way, do you give more detail, maybe even flavor narration, or do you go really overboard with characters talking about the rules (as in Return of the Heroes). Usually, I think you would want to avoid the latter as most people will find it silly and odd as it violates the Fourth Wall. But depending on theme and style of the game, there is some variance there that you may use.


That's an interesting point. I've played some games where the rulebook includes some narration. Often this is the first page or two, some little background story to set the stage for the game. 90% of the time, I find these stories silly and annoying. I'm not sure if it's because the game designers are not very good fiction writers and so the writing is lame -- after all, we don't expect good game designers to also be good fiction writers, any more than we expect them to be gourmet chefs or airline pilots -- or if it's just the idea of inserting a cute little story into the game rules. It's cloying.

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Without knowing much on game design, I'd say hat you're searching for is what every author, script writer and narrative game designer is looking for. It's the formula that Japanese TV animations during the 80s was extremely good at and the reason why they took the world.

All I can suggest is keep the characters simple, so the user can fill in. Something to sympathize with is good too, some special ability that fits in with the character's personality. And a good, but simple illustration. Don't supply too much; the reader must be able to fill in. That goes for the art aswell. Keep it goo, but simple and not overly detailed.
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dghughes wrote:
I'm currently addicted to playing Sentinels of the multiverse as a solo game and you pretty much hit the nail on the head as to why I feel so attached to my characters in it. While the theme is strong and descriptive there are an awful lot of blank spaces for me to inject my own little storylines in my head. I often find myself giving a little running commentary under my breath - much like I used to do when playing with my star wars figures when I was 9.



Amen brother...self talk...we are either insane or geniuses...I regard myself as gensane!
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Adam D.
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Good topic.

Lots of agreement with what was already posted above. Here are my thoughts:

Speaking specifically about Ambush and B17 while further examining what made me attached to those characters:

* Naming the characters. Immediate investment.

* Mission structure. I knew at least roughly why I was there and what was supposed to happen although admittedly Ambush was loose in this aspect, it was at least implicitly obvious why I was out patrolling a French village in WWII.

* My guys were generally in way over their heads. The sense of impending doom was palpable.

* I was herding not just one guy, but several. I don't know if this makes a difference over the standard dude-I-just-rolled-up RPG situation, but I'm wondering if there's something to the fact that you are almost coaching a team ("Loser squad" or "Miss Behave") in the aforementioned games. It's a family, not a pack of one

* Although Ambush violates this, personally I agree with the idea of saying you are a "great!" shot, not an "8".

* The hard one: If you are playing these two games you probably know a lot about the situation already and fill in many mental gaps while playing.
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Abdiel Xordium
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pusherman42 wrote:
To me it often comes down to the story that's being told. But many games tell stories. What I've been pondering on is the difference between emergent stories and deliberate stories.

To me, an emergent story is one that is created by the player as they play the game. It comes from the intersection of the mechanics of the game. Often it's up to the player to create the story, as the game doesn't offer up much except a few dots and leaves the player to connect those however they see fit. A deliberate story, on the other hand, is one being told to you in a way; you have less input on the experience because often times the things you would create are already created for you by the game. These definitions are loose, poorly defined, and not mutually exclusive. They just help me to discuss narrative in a game setting.


I very much agree. I think there's a tendancy to think that pretty pictures and flavor text makes for theme. That a highly structured game which leads you from point A to point B makes for narrative.

That's complete hogwash.

A good game can provide interesting game play and a sense of theme when the components are nothing more than pencil scratches on the back of a napkin.

I think narrative in a solitaire game is very hard to capture. The narrative in a board game comes from the way the players interact. The players provide the conflict and the resolution. Theme doesn't really play into narrative at all beyond providing a mnemonic device for talking about what happens in the game.

It's very diffcult to reach that level of narrative in a solitaire game because all a player does is respond to game determined events. It's the game that drives the narrative, not a collective of individuals making real-time decisions in response to each other. As such it's much more akin to the narrative of a book. A person may enjoy it, but they are not in control of it.

From past experience, I would rather read a book than play a solitaire game because the narratives are much more interesting. For a solitiare game to make me feel invested it would have to make me feel the rush of competition that a multiplayer board game can provide, the challenge of trying to figure out what my opponents have up their sleeves, the suprise of seeing another player's ingenuity.

I'm at a loss to figure out how any kind of engine for a solitaire board game can provide this.

Regardless of complexity, you usually get the general idea of what a game can hit you with fairly quickly. After that it's just another puzzle to solve, with little to differentiate it from jig-saw puzzles or cross-word puzzles. All you have left is the challenge of solving the puzzle.
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Hello again!

First of all, I want to comment on the experiences Abdiel describes, because they are diametrically opposed to my own experience.

I have taken up playing boards only during the past few months after a long hiatus. To get other players, I have taken up visiting a public gaming evening that takes place every other week. Playing games was fun there, no doubt, but I have yet to see any narration there. Gaming with the others usually came down to a contest of wits/skills/whatever the game called for. The theme of the game was only of peripheral importance as strategies and mechanisms were the main focus of the exchange. This held true for games including Village, Forbidden Island and Galaxy Trucker. The only event that touched upon moving beyond the cold numbers was some joking about a player (male) using the 'harem' card in consecutive plays of Dominion: Intrigue as the backbone of his strategy. But narration never showed up there.

When alone, I was able to imagine the flight of my character through the twisted labs of Level 7 [Escape], I envisioned the adventures of the investigator in Elder Sign as she uncovered more and more of the terrible truth while being haunted by visions of strange creatures. I saw the hero travel to all those different places and exploring them in Utopia Engine and I enjoyed travelling through the fairy tale world of Return of the Heroes, sometimes envisioning how my travel companions (the characters added by quests) responded to the places we visited. I also tried Return of the Heroes at that game evening with 3 other players. It was a disaster and we all were disappointed and not even a fragment of narration arose.

Thus, my experience is just the other way around that narration is killed by other players in board games, while it can really thrive in solo games. And due to the random elements, I don't see solo games as puzzles - there may be a good strategy in Elder Sign, but it is no more of a puzzle played solo than when playing with others. I personally see good games responding in some way to the player's actions, thus having the narration develop as a cooperative effort of player and game.

In the end, I guess our two cases illustrate just how much player experience and player expectations can differ.


=========


The other point I was pondering about the initial question was the level of control and of detail.

Let's use combat, which is a very common element, as an example for this. You can deal with combat rather abstractly, comparing just two values or maybe a dice roll and then declare an outcome, leaving little to no options to the player. You can also go for going into great detail, allowing players to use called shots, blocking attacks, moving on a grid and all those nifty details. And you can use anything between those two extremes, of course.

The reason why I was reluctant to mention this was because the details/level of control includes contrary impulses. On the one hand, interest may become difficult to achieve if you do not have any decisions to make, if the game plays itself. On the other hand, if you have to set everything yourself, it may become tedious and maybe eventually boring. On the positive side, with well-structured automatic events, characters may come to life and appear as quirky/memorable. Or, if you can develop clever tricks, you can envision how your character does something extraordinary.

In the end, I believe that a balance is important, but that you may also use a more extreme approach if you are able to reap all the positive potential that approach has.

Yours,
Deathworks

EDIT: One important example of narration in solitaire gaming hasn't been mentioned yet, I think: Epic Solitaire Notebook Adventures. The very core of the game is storytelling/narration and personally, I believe that it does a very good job at this, at least in the ESNA-NW variant.
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Drew Hicks
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Naming all the cards won't do it.

In order to get someone emotionally invested, it has to be personal. Naming the cards is a good step but only because it makes everything very specific.

What is important is that I should have BUILT something through my decisions. My character, my deck, my empire, whatever. I built it, and your mechanics should threaten the thing that I built.

That's why most Co-op games when played solo feel very dull to me; what they're threatening IN GAME is usually something you didn't build. In co-op land, they're sort of by proxy threatening your friends and your bonds of friendship, so they work. Solo, they often fall flat.
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AnEvenWeirderMove wrote:
Naming all the cards won't do it.

In order to get someone emotionally invested, it has to be personal. Naming the cards is a good step but only because it makes everything very specific.

What is important is that I should have BUILT something through my decisions. My character, my deck, my empire, whatever. I built it, and your mechanics should threaten the thing that I built.

That's why most Co-op games when played solo feel very dull to me; what they're threatening IN GAME is usually something you didn't build. In co-op land, they're sort of by proxy threatening your friends and your bonds of friendship, so they work. Solo, they often fall flat.


That's a really interesting point about soloing coop games that I hadn't really thought about. And I think it really holds true for me as well. More often than not I don't really get that invested in it when I solo a coop, but protecting and working together with others really does up the ante some. Great point, thanks!

And you're right. In a game like B-29, even with no theme, it feels like MY crew. I named them and and their aircraft and assigned them positions and roles. They feel like mine. And I'll be damned if I'm gonna let someone blow them out of the sky without a fight!

What you're describing is why High Frontier is my all-time favorite game. I've never felt so invested in a collection of cards in all my life. You really work to make a plan, build and put together what you need, prepare, and execute it. Seeing it succeed is one of the most satisfying experiences I've had. Seeing it fail is heartbreaking.
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pusherman42 wrote:
I've noticed that games touted as story-driven and thematic don't necessarily produce this attachment. Arkham Horror and plenty of other FFG games are laden with flavor text and dripping with theme, but if my character in that game dies it's merely an opportunity to try a new one.


You know, I think you really hit on something here. I hate flavor text on cards. I find it actually does more to pull me out of the theme than add to it. It's lazy. It's overtly telling me the theme instead of showing it to me. The golden rule of story telling is show, don't tell.

That, and over theming. If every single card has a unique name and ability, it all just runs into a blur. But to point out a game where FFG got it right, I'll typically play X-Wing with a bunch of generic pilots, and 1 or 2 named pilots. And you better believe I get attached to those named pilots. It's only through the contrast that names stand out at all.
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I would like to go far away. An Alzheimer game, for example. Or a game like Train by Brenda Brathwaite but with replayability. Play with player emotions.
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AnEvenWeirderMove wrote:

What is important is that I should have BUILT something through my decisions. My character, my deck, my empire, whatever. I built it, and your mechanics should threaten the thing that I built.


I completely agree with this, there has to be some level of investment into the game in order to draw you in emotionally.

Another important aspect is what a player brings to the game from life experience and interest. The things we grew up with have a huge impact on this.

The comparison of books and solitaire games is an interesting one. I think that the emotional attachment to the characters of a story (or game) has to come from some aspect of a character that you relate to personally.
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Deathworks wrote:
... Thus, my experience is just the other way around that narration is killed by other players in board games, while it can really thrive in solo games. And due to the random elements, I don't see solo games as puzzles - there may be a good strategy in Elder Sign, but it is no more of a puzzle played solo than when playing with others. I personally see good games responding in some way to the player's actions, thus having the narration develop as a cooperative effort of player and game.


I think this depends a lot on the people you're playing with.

There are some people I've played with who are very "results focused". That is, they are concentrating on winning strategies, not on enjoying the flavor. The conversation during play is focused on victories and defeats, maybe negotiations if appropriate to the game. Others are the other way around. I've played with people who, even in the most abstract war games, will talk about the narrative of the game. Like when an enemy 6-point unit enters a hex containing one of their resource centers they'll cry, "Oh no, I have to evacuate the population! They're massacring my people in the streets!" (I'm reminded of a game once where my brother cut off the supply lines to my biggest army. Under the game rules the army started to disintegrate, I'd lose such-and-such percentage each turn. "Ha!" he cried, "They're surrendering in droves! We'll throw them all in prison camps with nothing but bread and water." And I replied, "You have bread?!") It's like those pop psychology discussion you always see of the "six basic personality types" or whatever.

When I'm playing solitaire, I probably add more of my own narrative to a game then when I'm playing with a group, because, hey, I'm trying to entertain myself.
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Deathworks wrote:
... The other point I was pondering about the initial question was the level of control and of detail.

Let's use combat, which is a very common element, as an example for this. You can deal with combat rather abstractly, comparing just two values or maybe a dice roll and then declare an outcome, leaving little to no options to the player. You can also go for going into great detail, allowing players to use called shots, blocking attacks, moving on a grid and all those nifty details. And you can use anything between those two extremes, of course.


Agree. Back when D&D was all the rage and there were a billion clones out there, I found that many of them squandered the potential to get the players emotionally involved (as we're calling it in this thread) by putting too much detail into combat. They had elaborate rules for blow-by-blow melee combat, and then the narrative was just a thin layer connecting a series of sword fights. You'd pick a door, the game master would tell you what enemy was in that room, you'd go through a battle which you'd almost always win, pick up whatever treasure was lying around in the room, then go through the next door, fight another battle, etc.

I'm working on a game right now where I'm trying to do the same thing as the OP here talks about: make a game with a lot of flavor and emotional attachment. And I made a deliberate decision early on that combat would be quick and simple. When you run into an enemy, you have one decision to make: fight, run away, in some cases you have options for sabotage, negotiation, or surrender. Then you roll a couple of dice to see how it turns out and you're done. This is a game about adventure and exploration, and I didn't want to bog it down with long battles. That would turn it into a combat game where occasionally the players go exploring rather than an exploration game where occasionally the players have to fight.

Not to say that a game that puts a lot of detail on combat could not have a lot of narrative flavor. Frankly I think that's harder, but not impossible.
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AnEvenWeirderMove wrote:
Naming all the cards won't do it.


True, but naming all the cards is a start.

I'm working on a game now that is character based. For my first prototype, I made cards for the characters that had a name and their stats, i.e. just text. After a few trial plays I made a new deck, and I added pictures of the characters to a few of the cards, mostly just to see how it would look. And I discovered that when I played with a character that had a picture on the card, I was much more invested then when I played with a character with no picture. And interestingly enough, some of my pictures were waist-up so you could clearly see the person's face, and some were full-body where the face was not so clear (given the size of the picture), and I found myself more invested in the characters with a clear face.

Quote:
What is important is that I should have BUILT something through my decisions. My character, my deck, my empire, whatever. I built it, and your mechanics should threaten the thing that I built.


Megadittos. I think that's like what I was saying earlier about "continuity". When you build something step by step, and when it is clearly different from other things that you might have built if you had made different decisions, you are much more invested.
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