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Subject: Solo games that are best as board games? rss

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Markku Soikkeli
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Solo games, incl. card solitaire, are still a kind of mystery for me. When designing a solo game, where is the point when one is certain that the game will be "better" as a board game instead of a video game? Is there an intrinsic value in haptic, material ("toyful") means of playing a solo bg?

The variability of game experience will definitely be narrower with a board game compared to vg. And if the solo bg has enough complexity, then it would be as easy to develope it as a 2p game, wouldn't it? Or are there some game mechanics that are at their best in solo games?

These questions may sound impractical and simplistic, but on the other hand I haven't seen these kind of estimations (bg vs vg) in solo game reviews.

As an example: what would be the difference between bg and vg version of "Friday"? Or "Hapsburg Eclipse"?

Markku
 
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Robbert Vervuurt
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The experience of a video games as opposed to a board game is totally different. Also, I don't think a person is thinking up a game and theme etc., only to decide later on that it's supposed to be a video or board game.
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Claudio Coppini
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I've been a videogamer since I was a kid but now I've almost entirely replaced them with board games, and I play mainly solo.

Now I prefer board games to video games for various reasons:

- I work with PC all day, so in my free time I prefer not to stare at yet another screen.

- Board games appeal to more senses compared to video games (so yeah, I love being able to touch, smell and hear the components when I play).

- Board games can easily be modded! Everybody can come up with a variant of the rules to make for a different experience, while with video games it requires coding.

In regard to the variability, at least personally I have many games and I never play the same game twice in a short period of time, also most of board games solo variants have a random factor, so it's never a matter of solving a puzzle and having nothing left to enjoy.
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Soikkeli wrote:
Solo games, incl. card solitaire, are still a kind of mystery for me. When designing a solo game, where is the point when one is certain that the game will be "better" as a board game instead of a video game? Is there an intrinsic value in haptic, material ("toyful") means of playing a solo bg?

The variability of game experience will definitely be narrower with a board game compared to vg. And if the solo bg has enough complexity, then it would be as easy to develope it as a 2p game, wouldn't it? Or are there some game mechanics that are at their best in solo games?

These questions may sound impractical and simplistic, but on the other hand I haven't seen these kind of estimations (bg vs vg) in solo game reviews.

I don't understand what this has to do with solitaire games per se. It seems like your same points apply equally to games for 2 or more players as well: as often noted, boardgames have a haptic advantage over computer games, while computer games can implement more rule or simulation complexity. That's true regardless of the number of players involved.
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Michael Dillenbeck
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Like others, I choose board games over video games due to the tactile experience and the ability to easily modify the game state. I also solo game due to enjoying lengthy complex games often with direct conflict, and these are games others I game with do not enjoy nor would it be practical to arrange a time to play even if I did. Finally, I appreciate the real estate and resolution that a physical game gives me. Much like you can't spread 5 pages of text across single screen like you can spread 5 sheets of paper across a desk, you can't open up a map for 7 Ages on a screen and get a clear comprehensive picture of the game state like you can with with a digital implementation. Playing on a computer feels like putting on a medieval great helm - your view will always be heavily restricted and there will be constant panning/zooming/view changes that I find unappealing to "looking over the whole thing" in the real world. The last reason is it doesn't take power to play, so I can play my games solo in more places. Internet down? Battery gone on your laptop? Pull out a board game - the only way it goes down is for lost/damaged pieces.



Unlike others, I think there is at least a few lines we can draw for when a game crosses over into video game territory.

1. When a procedural AI is so complex a human could not reasonably implement it manually.

A COIN game (Andean Abyss, Cuba Libre, A Distant Plain, Fire in the Lake, Liberty or Death, Falling Sky) all have a moderately complex AI, but the flowchart fits on a single page or two (with event card decisions). Even Navajo Wars' AI can be implemented by a human. However, at some point you'd have to analyze choices for a day to make a solid intelligent decision without a computer for very complex games with lots of branching choices. At this point you may want to consider the speed of analysis that you will get in a computer.

2. When there is hidden information that can't be substituted by randomness or a simple procedural AI.

A game like Twilight Struggle utilizes a dealt hand of cards to give a set of actions over a turn, and a person plans based on this hand of cards. While you could make a system up like "randomly draw up to a hand of 4 cards, choose one to play and one to retain using the AI, then shuffle the discards back into the deck" to make a pseudo-real world AI, it would alter how the game plays. Revealing their hand of cards completely would also alter how the game plays. The only way to keep the game play standards is to have a 3rd party handle the AI, and this means the computer. Meanwhile, a game like B-17 Queen of the Skies can replace a hidden information with random charts and tables easily (thus providing a narrative experiential game rather than a strategic game), thus no computer implementation is needed.



As to variability in play, read up on combinatorics. You'll see combining a couple of different decisions over time result in a very large game state space. Just because something is a board game doesn't mean it is small - a game like Thunderbolt Apache Leader will have a large space.

Some games opt to change how they play for solo (and sometimes 2 players) in order to accommodate those modes of play. Thus not all 1 player games are exclusively solo, but when they are then often times there are games that cover multiplayer play already. There are plenty of wargames that are multiplayer that cover what Thunderbolt Apache Leader covers, so it was made to let the solo gamer experience those games rather than playing multiplayer solitaire (which, as stated, doesn't always work).

As to them being a mystery to you, that is okay. Many people play boardgames as a social experience or for other reasons (some like unique bits, some like beautiful artwork, some like showing they are 'strategically superior' to others much in the same way an athlete likes showing they are 'physically superior' to others), which means solo gaming makes no sense to them. I think the best you can do is try to understand the reasons why some of us do it and then say "well, I can see why some people like to do that, but it isn't for me." I would ask if you tried a medium (or any) weight solo games? Have you reflected upon what you find interesting in board games? Understanding what type of player you are might also help you overcome the barrier of how others might find something appealing.

I don't know if this helped, but I hope it did.
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Lluluien
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russ wrote:
Soikkeli wrote:
Solo games, incl. card solitaire, are still a kind of mystery for me. When designing a solo game, where is the point when one is certain that the game will be "better" as a board game instead of a video game? Is there an intrinsic value in haptic, material ("toyful") means of playing a solo bg?

The variability of game experience will definitely be narrower with a board game compared to vg. And if the solo bg has enough complexity, then it would be as easy to develope it as a 2p game, wouldn't it? Or are there some game mechanics that are at their best in solo games?

These questions may sound impractical and simplistic, but on the other hand I haven't seen these kind of estimations (bg vs vg) in solo game reviews.

I don't understand what this has to do with solitaire games per se. It seems like your same points apply equally to games for 2 or more players as well: as often noted, boardgames have a haptic advantage over computer games, while computer games can implement more rule or simulation complexity. That's true regardless of the number of players involved.



I disagree. I think there's a significant difference at larger player counts if you're comparing apples to apples. The video game analogy to board gaming is pass-and-play, not online multiplayer. I think pass-and-play is wildly unpopular compared to every other modality of video gaming, and it's because it's a nuisance that only one person can be interacting with the game environment at once (and perhaps, only one person can be even viewing the game environment at once).

Board gaming is superior in this case to video gaming, but with only one player, this problem goes away.

I'll be in the minority here, but I think there are quite a few games that are very popular board games that are actually better as video games when played solo, and not the other way around. The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is one really good example. It's so much nicer to play solo than having to deal with shuffling cards and arranging the location decks.


As a counterexample to this, there are games that are actually better played in a cardboard version because certain kinds of designs are difficult to implement from a technology standpoint. For instance, Magic feels clunky to me in a video game because you have to explicitly forgo your action window each time it comes up. There's a specific technical difficulty that this design is trying to avoid. It "feels" much better in the game when you just roll along and interrupt each other when necessary. That being said, I think the class of games that fall into this category is much narrower than the BGG population would likely want to admit.
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lluluien wrote:
russ wrote:
Soikkeli wrote:
Solo games, incl. card solitaire, are still a kind of mystery for me. When designing a solo game, where is the point when one is certain that the game will be "better" as a board game instead of a video game? Is there an intrinsic value in haptic, material ("toyful") means of playing a solo bg?

The variability of game experience will definitely be narrower with a board game compared to vg. And if the solo bg has enough complexity, then it would be as easy to develope it as a 2p game, wouldn't it? Or are there some game mechanics that are at their best in solo games?

These questions may sound impractical and simplistic, but on the other hand I haven't seen these kind of estimations (bg vs vg) in solo game reviews.

I don't understand what this has to do with solitaire games per se. It seems like your same points apply equally to games for 2 or more players as well: as often noted, boardgames have a haptic advantage over computer games, while computer games can implement more rule or simulation complexity. That's true regardless of the number of players involved.



I disagree. I think there's a significant difference at larger player counts if you're comparing apples to apples. The video game analogy to board gaming is pass-and-play, not online multiplayer. I think pass-and-play is wildly unpopular compared to every other modality of video gaming, and it's because it's a nuisance that only one person can be interacting with the game environment at once (and perhaps, only one person can be even viewing the game environment at once).


I'm not sure I understand why you are restricting yourself to consideringly only pass-and-play, not online multiplayer (or other forms of software games, e.g. a tablet or large table with touch-screen, for that matter)...? I understood the original post to be talking about software gaming in general, not just limited to pass and play consoles or something specific like that, but maybe I missed something.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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Communication between players in a face-to-face board game is richer (higher-bandwidth, and often lower-latency) than one can typically manage in an online computer game. That's an important design consideration that disappears when looking specifically at solo games.

(Lluluien's pass-and-play thing might be an attempt to isolate an example of a multiplayer computer game where that's not the case. Though if only one person can view the game state at a time, that impacts player interaction pretty significantly, too. And these days, it is probably worth considering the class of smartphone games designed to be played by a bunch of people in a single room but each with their own device.)

In particular, interrupting other players is something that works better in board games. Board games often allow other players to interject themselves into your turn in response to your actions (like instant cards in Magic, or guard attacks in Descent). In a computer game, where the turn sequence is more rigid, this tends to create a lot of obnoxious delays.

More generally--and this applies to solo games, too--board games have more freedom to embed decisions within procedures, because in a board game the player has to step through the procedure anyway (so making a decision along the line is not much of an additional burden), but in a computer game zero-choice procedures can be completed automatically, so every decision point forces the game to pause. For instance, if you've got a row of cards adding income like "+1 gold per turn" or "+1 mana per turn", a board game would have no trouble throwing in a "+1 gold OR mana (choose one)" card, whereas in a computer game that's going to add significant complication to the programming, the user interface, and the play experience (because without that, the computer would just tally up your total income and give it to you automatically).

On the other hand, computer games tend to have the advantage in:
- Hidden information
- Long play times (because you can save/load)
- Procedural content
- Puzzles
- Tutorials/teaching the game
- High-entropy game states (lots of variables being tracked)
- Complex rules/algorithms in general

One should be careful not to abuse those freedoms: I think a lot of times board games gain the upper hand over video games simply because board games are forced to have clear, efficient rules and reasonable play length, whereas video games have enough rope to hang themselves. But they do open up a lot of interesting design space.
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Lluluien
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russ wrote:
lluluien wrote:
russ wrote:
Soikkeli wrote:
Solo games, incl. card solitaire, are still a kind of mystery for me. When designing a solo game, where is the point when one is certain that the game will be "better" as a board game instead of a video game? Is there an intrinsic value in haptic, material ("toyful") means of playing a solo bg?

The variability of game experience will definitely be narrower with a board game compared to vg. And if the solo bg has enough complexity, then it would be as easy to develope it as a 2p game, wouldn't it? Or are there some game mechanics that are at their best in solo games?

These questions may sound impractical and simplistic, but on the other hand I haven't seen these kind of estimations (bg vs vg) in solo game reviews.

I don't understand what this has to do with solitaire games per se. It seems like your same points apply equally to games for 2 or more players as well: as often noted, boardgames have a haptic advantage over computer games, while computer games can implement more rule or simulation complexity. That's true regardless of the number of players involved.



I disagree. I think there's a significant difference at larger player counts if you're comparing apples to apples. The video game analogy to board gaming is pass-and-play, not online multiplayer. I think pass-and-play is wildly unpopular compared to every other modality of video gaming, and it's because it's a nuisance that only one person can be interacting with the game environment at once (and perhaps, only one person can be even viewing the game environment at once).


I'm not sure I understand why you are restricting yourself to consideringly only pass-and-play, not online multiplayer (or other forms of software games, e.g. a tablet or large table with touch-screen, for that matter)...? I understood the original post to be talking about software gaming in general, not just limited to pass and play consoles or something specific like that, but maybe I missed something.


I'm segregating it because if you are playing online multiplayer, it's typically because you need the electronic medium to handle the communication. I don't see people on BGG raving about spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on something like that PlayTable gizmo just to have haptic feedback for games they're playing online.

So I don't think it's fair to consider that circumstance in this question. If you're playing online multiplayer, then I'm presuming you NEED online multiplayer. The cardboard can't help you with that.

If you cut out that situation, then you're considering whether or not you play electronically all sitting in the same room, or play in cardboard while you're all sitting in the same room. I think that if you ask just about anyone on BGG, the electronic medium in this case is inferior because it's a big deal for everyone to have access to the board. And that's with personal preference nonwithstanding, which is also likely to strongly favor cardboard here, for obvious reasons.


That's why I say the player count is relevant. If you're talking about a solo game, then there is no online matchmaking (or any kind of matchmaking since it's solo), and there is no accessibility differences (since a single person doesn't have to pass around any electronic gadget for everyone to have access to it). And because of that, I think there's going to be a whole lot more times when the game CAN be better as an electronic game and NOT a cardboard game, BECAUSE it is a solo game.

Hence the original disagreement. You said you thought it didn't matter that the conversation was specifically about solo games. I think it does matter.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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lluluien wrote:
If you're playing online multiplayer, then I'm presuming you NEED online multiplayer.

LAN parties are a thing.
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Antistone wrote:
Communication between players in a face-to-face board game is richer (higher-bandwidth, and often lower-latency) than one can typically manage in an online computer game. That's an important design consideration that disappears when looking specifically at solo games.


This is a better way of saying what I was trying to say earlier. People use online matchmaking to play games because they have to, not because they want to, because they lose these advantage in the electronic format. That's not a factor in solo gaming, which demonstrates that the player count is relevant to this discussion.


Quote:
And these days, it is probably worth considering the class of smartphone games designed to be played by a bunch of people in a single room but each with their own device.


This is a good example of a place a video game might be better, because the electronic device is capable of doing something that the cardboard is not capable of doing - using cryptography. Cryptography can be used for lots of interesting information protocols that can't be used any other way. For instance, there was a thread I participated in a while back where someone was trying to prove that information hiding could be done in cardboard that couldn't be done electronically. Not only is that not right, it's the other way around: there's a class of crypto protocols called "zero knowledge protocols" where you come up with answers to consensus questions without sharing your individual information/vote/etc. with the group.

I'm not advocating that all the cardboard games should be turned into video games because of things like this. However, I do think that BGG is fond of jumping the gun on demonizing electronics as a gaming medium, considering that there things that the electronic medium does better, whether we like that or not.
 
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Lluluien
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Antistone wrote:
lluluien wrote:
If you're playing online multiplayer, then I'm presuming you NEED online multiplayer.

LAN parties are a thing.


But would you put together a LAN party to play Agricola?

Apples to Oranges again - saying you'd host a LAN party without saying what game you're hosting it for might not necessarily be a fair point in this conversation.
 
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Lluluien
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Antistone wrote:
In particular, interrupting other players is something that works better in board games. Board games often allow other players to interject themselves into your turn in response to your actions (like instant cards in Magic, or guard attacks in Descent). In a computer game, where the turn sequence is more rigid, this tends to create a lot of obnoxious delays.


This is the technical complication I was mentioning earlier with playing Magic as an example of a game that's better in cardboard. It's possible to do this in the code, but it requires a much, much higher caliber programmer to write that program, so the design is changed in ways to make it cheaper to implement.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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lluluien wrote:
Antistone wrote:
In particular, interrupting other players is something that works better in board games. Board games often allow other players to interject themselves into your turn in response to your actions (like instant cards in Magic, or guard attacks in Descent). In a computer game, where the turn sequence is more rigid, this tends to create a lot of obnoxious delays.


This is the technical complication I was mentioning earlier with playing Magic as an example of a game that's better in cardboard. It's possible to do this in the code, but it requires a much, much higher caliber programmer to write that program, so the design is changed in ways to make it cheaper to implement.

I wouldn't be so quick to blame the programmer, here. There are several ways to handle this, but none of them are good.

The basic problem scenario is this:

Alice is taking her turn and wants to take action A, followed by action B.
After action A, another player (Eve) wants to interrupt with action X before action B occurs.


Here are your options, as I see them:


1) Alice takes action A, then has to wait for every other player to choose how to respond (or not) before she can continue with action B.

This means every other player in the game needs to take a conscious, active step on every single action before the game can continue. If actual interruptions are rare (relative to the number of theoretical opportunities to interrupt), this will slow the game WAY down. (Obviously, you can place a time limit on how long each player gets to react, but it's still way slower than not waiting at all.)


2) Alice can take actions at her own pace, with no waiting. If Eve manages to click the button to interrupt with X sometime between when Alice does A and when she does B, then Eve gets to interrupt; if she is too slow, she loses her chance.

There are some board games that choose to make this sort of thing into a race, but most specifically avoid it. Even if you like races in board games, in an online game, Alice can execute actions much faster in succession (she's just clicking a couple buttons), and network latency applies an extra (not necessarily uniform) delay to all reactions, so this may be a very slanted race.

This also strongly encourages planning out your whole turn in advance and then executing it as fast as possible to prevent interruptions--maybe even waiting extra time just to catch the other players off-guard when you finally start moving. Which is bad for several reasons, among which is the fact that it's not necessarily any faster than option #1 overall.


3) Alice can take actions at her own pace, with no waiting. Eve can use her interruption X in response to action A as long as she does so within a reasonable amount of time, even if Alice has already started doing other actions in the mean time, and the game will "rewind" to the point where the interruption "should have" occurred.

This is harder to program, true, but the main reason you might avoid it is because it's really messy to play with. You need some sort of interface that lets Eve specify which action she was trying to interrupt (there might be several valid options), then you have to communicate to all of the players that you are rewinding to that point in the sequence. If someone else tried to interrupt at about the same time, you need to somehow decide which one "counts", or what order they go in. And you presumably need some sort of display that shows how much time you have left to interrupt--which will probably involve showing multiple overlapping timers simultaneously for the various sequential actions you could theoretically interrupt!

Worse, it is very often possible to gain an advantage by waiting intentionally to see what other players are going to do before you commit to your own move. If the players are cautious, Alice will wait to do B until the time limit on reacting to A has expired, at which point we're basically back to option #1.

But this is arguably worse than that, because Eve might not only get to see action B, but might get to see Steve react to B with interruption Y, before playing her own interruption X and rewinding the game to A, retroactively negating the action that Steve was reacting to!

Even if you have perfect programmers and infinite development budget, it is far from obvious that this is the ideal option.


Also note that option #1 is really the only one of the three that works for asynchronous ("play-by-mail") styles of play where the players are not necessarily online continuously.
 
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lluluien wrote:
That's why I say the player count is relevant. If you're talking about a solo game, then there is no online matchmaking (or any kind of matchmaking since it's solo), and there is no accessibility differences (since a single person doesn't have to pass around any electronic gadget for everyone to have access to it). And because of that, I think there's going to be a whole lot more times when the game CAN be better as an electronic game and NOT a cardboard game, BECAUSE it is a solo game.


But playing a software game with someone else does not force you to use online matchmaking or pass-and-play.

E.g. people playing a game on a tablet computer which is sitting on the table between them. I've played and seen other people play games (e.g. Neuroshima Hex) this way. (Or for that matter, I've played Shogi on an Android telephone lying on the table with someone sitting right next to me.)


Now you may object that using the screen is smaller and less convenient than the physical board, to which I agree, and I further note that this is also true for playing a software version of a solitaire boardgame... (Which is a big reason I never got into playing wargames (2-player or solitaire) on Vassal.)
 
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Markku Soikkeli
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Thanks to everyone for interesting comments. The function of interrupting an action is something I hadn't thought about at all. This is also a good practical reminder how simple the reasons may be for favoring bg:

Antistone wrote:
I think a lot of times board games gain the upper hand over video games simply because board games are forced to have clear, efficient rules and reasonable play length, --



By saying that solo bg is "mystery" for me I didn't mean to underrate them as inferior games. It's fascinating that people still play them instead of similar vg available.

I played a lot vg as long as I took interest in programming, stopped both in 1995. Now they both feel like total waste of time. For me rpg (playing since 1982) was the gateway to bg and still the best bg experience is like a session of rpg. Now designing a bg is same kind of hobby as programming once was: to adapt stories into simple algorithms with multifunctional components.

So, when reading the reviews of solo bg I always wonder if the surplus value (of the game in question) is in theme or in the kind of algorithm that is more transparent in bg than it would be in vg. There's always the big question left unexplored: how many times AND how many ways you can enjoy the suspense (of belief?) in solo bg?

Markku


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(Back on topic?) For me the thing that a solitaire boardgame can do that I do not get from digital games is to manually step through the algorithms that makes the game work. Handling the manual work of running the AI etc is often said to be a benefit of using computers, but I think for a solitaire game that is not always the case. Just clicking (or tapping) an enemy to attack and instantly get the result is far less engaging and exciting than to roll dice, look up tables, draw some cards, roll more dice. Of course if there are some decisions along the way that is better, but just having multiple steps to go through to reach a decision is good on its own even when just a complex way to generate a random outcome.

It is fun, but it also gives the player a lot deeper knowledge of how the engine works and how different strategies will work.

Other than that I think most benefits are with the digital games when it comes to solitaire games.
 
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pelni wrote:
(Back on topic?) For me the thing that a solitaire boardgame can do that I do not get from digital games is to manually step through the algorithms that makes the game work. Handling the manual work of running the AI etc is often said to be a benefit of using computers, but I think for a solitaire game that is not always the case. Just clicking (or tapping) an enemy to attack and instantly get the result is far less engaging and exciting than to roll dice, look up tables, draw some cards, roll more dice. Of course if there are some decisions along the way that is better, but just having multiple steps to go through to reach a decision is good on its own even when just a complex way to generate a random outcome.

I agree; for me this value and enjoyment of directly understanding and participating in the algorithms/formulas is just as real in a game for 2 or more players.
 
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patrick mullen
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Yep, as the player has to keep all of the processes in their head through the playing of the game, the engagement is on a different level than with a computer. On a computer, even in a solo game (especially in a solo game?) there is always an alien antagonist who does not think like a human that you are fighting against. It is more of a competition. In board game format, in a way, the only antagonist is yourself.

But I think the greater benefit of solitaire games in physical format, is as a reprieve from digital technology, or in providing some of the feel from playing a board game when other players are not around. So it is more of a spiritual thing in a sense than actually leading to a better solo experience or game design.

The biggest advantage design-wise though is that the player keeps the engine in their head. So having a crunchy engine that the player can engage with is best. Games that rely on a lot of randomness where the complexity is encoded in lookup tables are really suffering for not being in the digital format I feel.
 
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Brian Blackwell
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Since you use solitaire as an example (a popular digital implementation of a tabletop game), I'm assuming you're asking this question in regard to tabletop-style games specifically; since, obviously, there is huge difference between the implementation of a game like Bioshock Infinite across the two formats, and there wouldn't really be a balanced choice between the two - they would necessarily have to be two very different games.

It really just comes down to preference as it regards play experience. The analog format has certain trappings that players enjoy, but it's not because the game is simply more appropriately administered in that format. I don't think analog could ever compare to digital in terms of ease-of-play, or assuring that the game rules are being administered appropriately.

No game would inherently be "better" as an analog game when we're talking about solitaire play, with the possible exception of dexterity games (since their tactile nature is inherent to the gameplay experience). It's just a style choice.
 
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