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Subject: The 20-Move Solo Challenge: a quicker and easier one-player variant rss

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Ender Wiggins
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While the Training Dummy works okay for solitaire play, it is somewhat fiddly in that you're having to manage another player as well as your own (not to mention navigating the many rules questions that have come up about managing the Dummy player correctly). So I came up with a much simpler solitaire variant that serves as a good way to learn and play Harbour, and even to challenge yourself with a much quicker format that still feels enough like a normal game.

How to play: Start with a standard two-player set-up (pick one of two random characters, 5 random buildings, and 3 resources of your choice), except that you are playing without any opponents. Play the game as normal, but the challenge is to try to build four buildings and get as high a score as you can within 20 turns.



Midway a game of The 20-Move Solo Challenge

And that is all there is to it! Just count your moves, and see what is the best you can do within precisely 20 turns. Although some elements from a normal game are absent (e.g. Top Hat icons become irrelevant, as do some interactive characters/cards), on the whole it plays quite close to a normal game. It's also much quicker than the official solo variant with the Training Dummy, and is a fun puzzle-like challenge, because you can plan for the market and optimize your moves and exchanges.

I've tried it twice so far, and only just managed to get my fourth buildings on exactly the 20th turn each time. So you'll have to plan carefully, and may have your work cut out for you to succeed in this challenge! My scores so far: 35 and 37. If you give this a shot, please post your scores or share any thoughts!

Update: I've looked through the buildings/characters, and nearly all the cards should work fine. The interactive ones to replace immediately if they turn up are:
Buildings: Abbey, Tax Office, Ghost Ship
Characters: Entrepreneur, Diplomat, Travel Agent, Neighbour; Kickstarter promo characters: Mason, Beggar
I'm glad to report that even Harbour's designer Scott Almes has good things to say about this variant!
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Nick Shaw
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Sounds interesting! I'll give this a try tonight and let you know what I think!

Update: Tried it! It's certainly less work, not having to play the Training Dummy's hand, which is nice.

I played 2 games; the first I lost - had only bought 3 buildings by 20th turn, due to the buildings available giving just one resource (or exchanging one for one) or being market manipulation which is fairly useless for this variant I think, especially at the start.

Game 2, I bought my 4th building by the 15th turn. The Abbey and Butcher being out greatly helped that, as I was getting LOTS of resources fairly quickly. Final score: 34.

The last game I also had the Ghost Ship, which was useless too as I couldn't technically perform its action to then shuffle it back into the deck. So maybe there should be some cards that immediately get discarded and new ones drawn to replace them, if they come out in this variant?
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Ender Wiggins
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njshaw2 wrote:
Tried it! It's certainly less work, not having to play the Training Dummy's hand, which is nice.

The last game I also had the Ghost Ship, which was useless too as I couldn't technically perform its action to then shuffle it back into the deck. So maybe there should be some cards that immediately get discarded and new ones drawn to replace them, if they come out in this variant?

Thanks for your report and positive feedback!

And yes, cards which can't function at all unless other players are in the game should just be immediately discarded and replaced; there are very few like this anyway.
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Sataranji
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I gave this a shot today and was very pleased with how my first game went.

The market started off as Stone, Wood, Fish, Cattle and the starting buildings were:

Fish Market
Sushi Shop
Pub
Clocktower
Cartographers

The player cards I drew were Fisherman and Structural Engineer. I chose the latter so I could score extra VPs despite the synergies between the Fisherman and the Fish Market/Sushi Shop.

I bought my 4th building on the 20th turn to score 39 VPs. The buildings I purchased were:

Abbey
Shipbuilder's Guild
Clocktower
Sushi Shop

Here's the game at the end:



I was gunning for the Fish Market as it scores a whopping 13 VPs but couldn't get the necessary resources - needed 1 more fish! That Fisherman might have come in handy after all. No market manipulation cards came up at all so I had to make do with the hand that was dealt (literally).

Still, I thought that 39 VPs was pretty good. While admiring my final position I took another look at my player card - again, Structural Engineer - and realized I was supposed to be `placing the buildings under my player card! This meant that I could not use the building's effects, and I had been combo-ing Abbey and Clocktower to great effect after they were purchased. Epic fail.

Nevertheless I found this variant to be very fun and I will be playing it again and again (and paying better attention, too). It's much more satisfying, rewarding and challenging than playing against the Training Dummy.
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Ender Wiggins
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sataranji wrote:
Nevertheless I found this variant to be very fun and I will be playing it again and again (and paying better attention, too). It's much more satisfying, rewarding and challenging than playing against the Training Dummy.

Great report, and glad you enjoyed it so much!

I've looked through the buildings/characters, and nearly all the cards should work fine. The interactive ones that should probably be discarded/replaced immediately if they turn up are:
Buildings: Abbey, Tax Office, Ghost Ship
Characters: Entrepreneur, Diplomat, Travel Agent, Neighbour
Kickstarter Launch Promo Characters: Mason, Beggar
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Sataranji
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Tried another game today.

The market started off as Fish, Cattle, Wood, Stone and the starting buildings were:

Shipbuilder's Guild
Canal Lock
House of Weights and Standards
Traders Guild
Ranch

Unlike in my first game I was dealt 2 cards that could manipulate the market. This turned out to be good and bad!

The player cards I drew were Lord Mayor and Whoesailer. I chose the latter and could only muster 3 buildings bought after 20 turns for 29 VP.

This game along with Nick's first makes me wonder if a mulligan should be allowed after the starting buildings are revealed. Or pay a couple of goods at any time to replace a card. Something that gives one a chance out of a rough position.

Still, I'm having fun with this variant! I think it should be the official solo variant.
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Glenn D
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Any bonus VPs for having turns left over? Maybe award them at the same rate as the bonus cards (ie 1 left = 1vp, 4 left = 3vp, etc)...could make you further ponder buying strategies...

Enjoying the variant!
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Ender Wiggins
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BirdfluNuggetz wrote:
Any bonus VPs for having turns left over? Maybe award them at the same rate as the bonus cards (ie 1 left = 1vp, 4 left = 3vp, etc)...could make you further ponder buying strategies...

Enjoying the variant!

Thanks for the feedback and ideas.

Are people finding they're completing the challenge in less than 20 moves with turns left over - and if so how many? In some instances it may possible to get more resources on turn 18/19 instead of building, if it is possible to get a more valuable building on turn 20.

For now this is still a 20 Move Challenge, but I have toyed with the idea of getting the highest score possible in 25 moves regardless of the number of buildings (i.e. you can build more than four). Certainly you could try that if you wanted to extend this solo variant a little - or is it better left as is?
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Guillaume Pages
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20 turns works well because you can use a D20 as turn marker.
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Guillaume Pages
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Played with Drover last night, and ended with 3 buildings for 22 building pts.

I really like this variant. Fast and to the point. It is more like a puzzle than a game, but still, very nicely done.
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Scott Almes
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Hello!

I just wanted to drop in an say that this is an extremely clever variant. I've tried it out a couple times myself and find it a very satisfying twist on the solo play. It's a fun puzzle. Thanks for sharing!

-Scott
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Ender Wiggins
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I just had a crazy solo challenge game using the Wholesailer Kickstarter character, which has an amazing ability of letting you keep 1 of each good type shipped when buying a building.

On turn 4 I picked up the inexpensive Golem Crafters for $6, which gave me a Warehouse as well. Combined with the Wholesailer's special ability, this meant I could be keeping a large pile of goods every time I shipped and built! It also ensured that I'd be getting two goods whenever I used the Storehouse building, which had been available for use in the card row since the start of the game.

To make things even better, I next purchased the Salvage Yard, which reduced the cost of future buildings with its coin icon. After that I managed to pick up the Architectural Society, which did the same, giving me a cumulative discount of $2 on all future building costs. I was also fortunate to have Sushi Shop and Woodworker's Hut out on the card row by this point, ensuring easy production and a net gain of two goods any turn I needed it.

With all these bonuses, I was able to build Privateer Ship at a reduced cost of only $7 on just turn 16, giving me four buildings and a score of 33 points. I continued until the end of turn 20, and easily added Bank to my haul, for a final total of 43 points. The final game state is pictured below.



The synergy was amazing! As you can see, after my final purchase, having Wholesailer and a Warehouse basically meant I'd be keeping four goods after shipping like this - not to mention that I had multiple coin symbols to reduce the cost of future purchases. So it was probably a good thing that the game had to end at this point, before it got too crazy! Great fun, and easily my best attempt at the 20 move solo challenge yet.
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Guillaume Pages
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Damn, i really thought i was going to get some kind of great combo going with the dockhand fish gathering ability, fish market and sushi shop.



Unfortunately i couldn't make it work and ran out of turns. I collected 25pts, which i believe is my highest score so far.

I dont appear to be very good at this variant. Still, love it though.

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Tom Williamson
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Tried it over my recent holiday and it is wonderful.

Have won on all attempts but all have been close run things with a finish on the 19th or 20th turn!

Can't recommend this enough - Harbour just became an even more essential part of my gaming life. I love it to bits.
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James Clarke
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Excellent variant. My biggest problem has been keeping track of the number of moves, since there's no easy way to check if you've miscounted.

A D10 makes an ideal counter (quicker to manipulate than a D20), and it really shines if you use it as your player piece.

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M.C.Crispy
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Highland Cow wrote:
Excellent variant. My biggest problem has been keeping track of the number of moves, since there's no easy way to check if you've miscounted.

A D10 makes an ideal counter (quicker to manipulate than a D20), and it really shines if you use it as your player piece.

I'm sure that all such things are best tracked by the use of Munchkin Level Counter, surely? Besides, I'd keep knocking a over die, so I'd lose track fairly quickly. IMO, dice are for chucking!
 
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M.C.Crispy
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EndersGame wrote:
While the Training Dummy works okay for solitaire play, it is somewhat fiddly in that you're having to manage another player as well as your own (not to mention navigating the many rules questions that have come up about managing the Dummy player correctly). So I came up with a much simpler solitaire variant that serves as a good way to learn and play Harbour, and even to challenge yourself with a much quicker format that still feels enough like a normal game.
One of the interesting elements of this game is the highly volatile market. How does this Variant feel like a "normal game" when you are in complete control of the market? I do not disagree that it's a useful solo option for learning the rules and game flow, but it seems to lack something as a "game" when played solo. Hence "training dummy" rather than "solo game".
 
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Ender Wiggins
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mccrispy wrote:
One of the interesting elements of this game is the highly volatile market. How does this Variant feel like a "normal game" when you are in complete control of the market?

The volatile nature of the market is also one of the frustrating elements of Harbour, for which it has been criticized the most. This solitaire variant does turn the game into more of a puzzle, but for some of us it also removes some of that frustration and in some ways makes it even more fun.
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Benjamin Kerenza
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Highland Cow wrote:
Excellent variant. My biggest problem has been keeping track of the number of moves, since there's no easy way to check if you've miscounted.

A D10 makes an ideal counter (quicker to manipulate than a D20), and it really shines if you use it as your player piece.



Or just deal out a pile of 20 cards and move one over to a discard pile each turn.
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Mike Hunnicutt
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Or use the supplied sticker sheet. After the 20 stickers are peeled off, you're left with a great turn counter.

bjwells wrote:
Highland Cow wrote:
Excellent variant. My biggest problem has been keeping track of the number of moves, since there's no easy way to check if you've miscounted.

A D10 makes an ideal counter (quicker to manipulate than a D20), and it really shines if you use it as your player piece.



Or just deal out a pile of 20 cards and move one over to a discard pile each turn.
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M.C.Crispy
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EndersGame wrote:
mccrispy wrote:
One of the interesting elements of this game is the highly volatile market. How does this Variant feel like a "normal game" when you are in complete control of the market?

The volatile nature of the market is also one of the frustrating elements of Harbour, for which it has been criticized the most. This solitaire variant does turn the game into more of a puzzle, but for some of us it also removes some of that frustration and in some ways makes it even more fun.
Yeah, I get that. I'm not sure that I'm overly into solo games that I can't lose at - I see solo play as single-player co-op rather than playing with a puzzle.

Though, having said that, I enjoyed Nations solo, but I really only did it to learn the game well enough to teach it.
 
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Guillaume Pages
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Finally got my 4th building and 32pts.
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Paul Clarke
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To keep track of turns you can always set up another player board with a set of resource tokens on the five space, then just move them down the track one at a time.
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Jacob Peck
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paperparachute games! http://games.suspended-chord.info/
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mrmagpieman wrote:
To keep track of turns you can always set up another player board with a set of resource tokens on the five space, then just move them down the track one at a time.


Neat idea! Can't believe I didn't think of that...
 
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Thomas H
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Thanks for this idea. I'm fairly new to Harbour, but playing with the Dummy during the first two games was fiddly at best.

The next three games i played with your variant and that went pretty well. During the first game i wasn't able to buy building number 4 before turn 21. But the following two games went very well (37 and 41 points).
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