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Subject: Replayable solitaire deduction game - is it possible? rss

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JK
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I love deduction games, but it has become apparent that there are few (if any) replayable solo deduction games. Deduction games seem to fall into one of several categories...

(1) Pre-plotted scenarios eg Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases, 221B: A Story Driven Detective Game and The Sudoku Killer. These involve solving pre-plotted cases so that after playing once you know the answer and can't play that scenario again. They are probably the strongest in terms of deduction, but weakest in replayability. They work well solo.

(2) Elimination games, where one item is removed from a set of possible solutions and the game involves discovering what is left over, until the possibilities are narrowed down to one. Examples are Guess Who?, Clue, Outfoxed!, etc. These have replayability, but the deduction aspect is generally pretty simple. Most are for several players, but a few can be played solo eg Elemintary. These often require memorising clues, and the deduction aspect is generally pretty basic. Inspector Moss: House Arrest masquerades as one of these games, but since the culprit is always the last character interrogated it is really more of race game against the clock.

(3) Closely related to (2) are multiplayer games in which one player knows the solution and can resolve the other players' investigations toward it. Examples are Mastermind, Mr. Jack Pocket, Codenames etc. These may involve greater or lesser degrees of deduction and are replayable, but can't be played solo. The co-op games Hanabi and Beyond Baker Street are special cases where each player's solution is known by every other player. And in the competitive The Council of Colbridge the solution is fragmented between players as imperfect information that players must piece together from each others' actions.

(4) Social deduction games, like One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Two Rooms and a Boom, The Resistance etc. Here the emphasis is on player interaction and the outcome of the (usually collaborative) deduction is less important than the social interactions. The focus is generally more on bluffing than on logical deduction. These generally require a large group of players and can't be played solo.

At present I am most interested in any solo game that combines the challenging logical deduction of (1) with the replayability of (2). Are there any games that fit this profile? Is such a game even possible?

Thanks, JK

Ps I haven't played all of the games mentioned, so may have misrepresented some of them.
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marc lecours
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I have been thinking about this for 2 decades. I have not found a satisfying answer. The easiest way would be having a computer generated mystery to solve.
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Pelle Nilsson
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I thought about this in the context of solitaire wargames and having heavy fog of war where the system knows what hidden unit is where, but the player has to try to figure it out, so it is just a special case of deduction game really.

What I came up with was a variation of #1. Write a program (or hire a programmer to do it) that spits out a booklet full of tables. Or a deck of loose sheets/cards, but that can be more expensive and make it more difficult to hide the hidden information. Technically every game you play is hardcoded and not replayable at all, but you can include as many as there is room for.

A bit vague since the solution does not mandate any specific system, but there should be many possibilities.

Yes, this would generate scenarios that are quite bland. But so do any manual (non-scripted) systems for generating scenarios, like shuffling the deck to play Hanabi. At least with computer-generated mass-produced scenarios you have some ability to insert a bit of chrome and unexpected variety. Some computer games manage to create quite interesting procedurally generated worlds and it should be possible to use some algorithms like that to add some fun details to generated boardgame scenarios as well. But that is a bonus and not required to at least make something as playable as non-scripted deduction games.
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Tomas Uhlir
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I love this thread and I am interested if there is such a game somewhere...

I donť have that much experience with solo games but I am affraid that even among multiplayer games, there are very few deduction games, or at least original deduction games that wouldn't fit into one of your categories.

I could imagine a solo game based on a game of Alchemists for example. But, as suggested before, it's just a computer generated state in which the computer answers your questions...
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marc lecours
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pelni wrote:
I thought about this in the context of solitaire wargames and having heavy fog of war where the system knows what hidden unit is where, but the player has to try to figure it out, so it is just a special case of deduction game really.

What I came up with was a variation of #1. Write a program (or hire a programmer to do it) that spits out a booklet full of tables. Or a deck of loose sheets/cards, but that can be more expensive and make it more difficult to hide the hidden information. Technically every game you play is hardcoded and not replayable at all, but you can include as many as there is room for.

A bit vague since the solution does not mandate any specific system, but there should be many possibilities.

Yes, this would generate scenarios that are quite bland. But so do any manual (non-scripted) systems for generating scenarios, like shuffling the deck to play Hanabi. At least with computer-generated mass-produced scenarios you have some ability to insert a bit of chrome and unexpected variety. Some computer games manage to create quite interesting procedurally generated worlds and it should be possible to use some algorithms like that to add some fun details to generated boardgame scenarios as well. But that is a bonus and not required to at least make something as playable as non-scripted deduction games.


This has been my conclusion also. I could not think of a way of generating good scenarios without the use of a computer. But I have not completely given up hope. Every month or two I think about it. If ever someone comes up with a simple solution without using a computer that generates interesting scenarios, that would be a great innovation.
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Tony Go
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I've previously played with a game design that required a second person to build and seed a deck with cards to construct to deductive elements. It was solitaire, the second person only needed to intelligently build the deck for you and then had no other role in the game.

I'm not sure how well that would have sold...
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Laura Blachek
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I havent actually played it, but have you looked at Hero of Weehawken? Its a solo game where you play as thomas jefferson attempting to deduce what plot aaron burr is engaging in then bring him to trial.

i see it listed now and again in the solitaire games on your table geeklists.
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Pelle Nilsson
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uhlik wrote:

I could imagine a solo game based on a game of Alchemists for example. But, as suggested before, it's just a computer generated state in which the computer answers your questions...


But Alchemists can be played without a computer, even if I did not try it.

Maybe it does work, but I was thinking about much more than generating the state. If computer-generating the AI behaviour depending on the hidden state, you can give subtle hints to the player about what the hidden state is, without revealing in black&white that some states can be definitely ruled out. Just as when playing with a human opponent you can make guesses based on what they do or do not. But there would still be room for scripted bluffing and random sub-optimal moves included in the script, that you really can't do if the deduction is just a matrix of possible states.
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Tomas Uhlir
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pelni wrote:
uhlik wrote:

I could imagine a solo game based on a game of Alchemists for example. But, as suggested before, it's just a computer generated state in which the computer answers your questions...


But Alchemists can be played without a computer, even if I did not try it.

Maybe it does work, but I was thinking about much more than generating the state. If computer-generating the AI behaviour depending on the hidden state, you can give subtle hints to the player about what the hidden state is, without revealing in black&white that some states can be definitely ruled out. Just as when playing with a human opponent you can make guesses based on what they do or do not. But there would still be room for scripted bluffing and random sub-optimal moves included in the script, that you really can't do if the deduction is just a matrix of possible states.


You can play Alchemists without the app, but in that case someone has to prepare the matrix and play as a DM.
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Pelle Nilsson
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rubberchicken wrote:

This has been my conclusion also. I could not think of a way of generating good scenarios without the use of a computer. But I have not completely given up hope. Every month or two I think about it. If ever someone comes up with a simple solution without using a computer that generates interesting scenarios, that would be a great innovation.


Other than the work involved for the creator I do not think computer-generated must be a bad thing. You can potentially make the game faster and easier to play for the player by reducing things to a few simple lookups, baking a lot of logic into a few tables per scenario.

EDIT: Of course you need at least one level of indirection to keep information secret. For instance you could split each scenario into two parts, printed on opposite sides of the same sheet, so that everything looked up on the front-side tables are just references to some entry on a table on the back-side. Or having paragraph booklet to refer to like Ambush!.

EDIT2: Also in addition to shipping the game with a silly number of pre-generated scenarios, and selling expansions, you could satisfy the most hardcore players by providing a million or so generated scenarios for download to print'n'play, just in case someone is whining about there not being enough replayability.
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Charles Ward
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rubberchicken wrote:
I have been thinking about this for 2 decades. I have not found a satisfying answer. The easiest way would be having a computer generated mystery to solve.

I will be thinking about this tonight. ninja
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Jeff Warrender
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It's doable. A friend and I designed a game that used a simple method for doing this. We may, I think, be moving away from this, but the way it worked is basically this.

There are three pieces of information you're trying to get. Each has a separate deck of 'solution cards', and you draw one card from each deck during setup, so the replayability is unlimited.

These solution cards have two kinds of information. First, they have a couple of clues. To look at a clue, you slide the card into a special sleeve that has a window cut into it, flip it over, and then read the clue through the window.

Second, the cards have a solution key. You use this when you think you've solved things, and there's a different sleeve for that. You slide the card into the solution sleeve until, say, "Mr. Green" is showing through the window on the front side, then flip it over, and the window on the back side reveals whether you're correct or not.

Our game didn't/doesn't specifically involve deduction -- it was more that you assemble partial information by accessing as many clues as you can within a certain time limit, and then you attempt a guess at the solution when you think you've gotten it right. If you guessed wrong, the game doesn't end -- the sleeve protects the true information, so all you've learned is that it wasn't Mr. Green, and you can go back and try to get more info, again presumably against some overall level of time pressure.

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marc lecours
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jwarrend wrote:
It's doable. A friend and I designed a game that used a simple method for doing this. We may, I think, be moving away from this, but the way it worked is basically this.

There are three pieces of information you're trying to get. Each has a separate deck of 'solution cards', and you draw one card from each deck during setup, so the replayability is unlimited.

These solution cards have two kinds of information. First, they have a couple of clues. To look at a clue, you slide the card into a special sleeve that has a window cut into it, flip it over, and then read the clue through the window.

Second, the cards have a solution key. You use this when you think you've solved things, and there's a different sleeve for that. You slide the card into the solution sleeve until, say, "Mr. Green" is showing through the window on the front side, then flip it over, and the window on the back side reveals whether you're correct or not.

Our game didn't/doesn't specifically involve deduction -- it was more that you assemble partial information by accessing as many clues as you can within a certain time limit, and then you attempt a guess at the solution when you think you've gotten it right. If you guessed wrong, the game doesn't end -- the sleeve protects the true information, so all you've learned is that it wasn't Mr. Green, and you can go back and try to get more info, again presumably against some overall level of time pressure.



Interesting.
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lampeter
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I have wondered before if a game could use wheel charts--those manual calculator type things that have a fastener in the middle and multiple layers of information-- to do something like this.
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Jeff Warrender
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lampeter wrote:
I have wondered before if a game could use wheel charts--those manual calculator type things that have a fastener in the middle and multiple layers of information-- to do something like this.


I believe there was an entry to the Cardboard Edison context this year that did something like this. "Palooka Precinct" if I recall the name correctly.
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There are a number of deduction games on mobile platforms (Android, Apple).

One I've enjoyed is called "Sherlock" and for a few bucks I have an effectively infinite number of puzzles whenever the deductive urge strikes.

I cannot see how a board game could emulate the generation of the solutions matrix and the clues in a satisfactory manner.

This is one case where you'll need a second entity, and that entity is best as a silicon companion.
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Having kicked this around a little, I think it could be done without a computer. You replace the computer by following some tedious instructions where you divide a lot of cards into specific mixes, then choose a few cards from each set to build various decks, etc. There would be a lot of duplicate cards in the sets your shopping from, so the game might have a lot of cards with just a small portion involved in each game. This lets you simulate what the computer can do for you, but blindly.

I'm not sure it would be fun.
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John "Omega" Williams
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check out some of the following for deduction based games that are replayable and the different ways each goes about it.

Inspector Moss: House Arrest This one uses a grid to move around and unlock hints.

Sherlock Holmes Detective Story Game This uses randomly generated mysteries that build up as you progress.
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Chris Robbins
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Several times during the computer age I've programmed Mastermind or Royale Mastermind on different platforms and with different languages. It's a pleasant diversion in and of itself while you learn things that will help in other projects, but also removes the possibility of a human code maker screwing up the indicators.

No doubt you can procure a ready to play computer version, but I found the process of making it myself very satisfying. You figure out the logic, colors, shapes, interface, and even file saving.
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Benjamin Hester
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since you mentioned Hanabi and Beyond Baker Street here, does The Grizzled: At Your Orders! meet the criteria?
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Jeremy Lennert
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JohnKean wrote:
(2) Elimination games, where one item is removed from a set of possible solutions and the game involves discovering what is left over, until the possibilities are narrowed down to one.

Technically, any deduction game where the solution follows a known format can be viewed this way. For instance, if you're supposed to choose a suspect to accuse, any actionable information you learn about suspects can be viewed as narrowing the list of who you might accuse.

Using a computer to generate the scenario does not change this; if puzzles are created by an algorithm, then in theory you can enumerate all the puzzles that could ever be generated by that algorithm, and then slowly rule out all the puzzles that are inconsistent with the information you receive until there is only one left.

Of course, you could theoretically keep your algorithm secret so the player isn't sure what scenarios are possible. I feel that "secret rules" kind of undercut the "deduction" idea, but maybe you disagree. If you decide that the algorithm should be secret, then you'll need to keep in mind that you as the designer are never going to have the intended player experience, and you should make sure you're not discarding valid approaches simply because it doesn't seem mysterious enough to you after someone has explained to you how it works.

Even with hand-written scenarios, an argument can be made that you can only escape the "elimination" framework by keeping your rules (as an author) secret from the players.


Instead of trying to escape this structure, maybe you should focus on making it more complex.

For instance, you could add layers of indirection in your clues (instead of learning that "Mr. Green is not the killer", you learn that "the killer is a sailor" and separately learn that "Mr. Green has never been to sea in his life"--two pieces of information that are useless individually but add up to a clue). Notice this creates lots of space for red herrings like "Mr. Green played the violin as a teenager" that might never link up with anything.

Or, instead of simply listing all the suspects for a scenario, maybe you gradually get introduced to more characters as you investigate the case.

pelni wrote:
If computer-generating the AI behaviour depending on the hidden state, you can give subtle hints to the player about what the hidden state is, without revealing in black&white that some states can be definitely ruled out. Just as when playing with a human opponent you can make guesses based on what they do or do not. But there would still be room for scripted bluffing and random sub-optimal moves included in the script, that you really can't do if the deduction is just a matrix of possible states.

Giving clues that are suggestive-but-not-definitive is simply a matter of probabilities. Instead of saying that a particular thing is true or false, you're making it more likely or less likely.

There's no inherent reason you need a computer for that. For instance, imagine if you take one card of the solution, and one card at random from the deck, mix them up, and then look at just one of them. There's a 50% chance you just saw the solution card, but you can't be sure.

You might argue that doing this with cards allows the player to know the exact probability, while doing it with vague clues in a hand-crafted scenario is more mysterious. But again, I think that's simply a matter of whether your keep your scenario-generation algorithm secret from the player.

Of course, "deduction" normally implies certainties, not probabilities, so it is questionable whether this sort of thing really supports a deduction game.
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jwarrend wrote:
I believe there was an entry to the Cardboard Edison context this year that did something like this. "Palooka Precinct" if I recall the name correctly.


You are correct. It uses a large complex wheel that allows you to gather info about the state of the game, and with multiple different scenarios and combinations of disks there are a whole lot of possible games that you could play through (and adding more disks could open up more solutions to the same scenario, so the game has a fairly high replayability factor.)

I played it at SaltCon this year, and it was pretty surprising what a cardboard turner can do.

It won the Ion award (beating my entrant in the process), and he was talking with multiple publishers about it, so I would imagine that it will be being sold some time in the near future.
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Abraham Quicksilver
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The legendary encounter system is very clever at mixing stories with locations independently.

Each story is a mix of 3 sets of monster cards
A location card
Three story cards.

So you've already got a wide variety of stories but variable challenges.

Then you've got the clever but if events and hazard cards in the monster deck which call out features on the location and story cards.

The thing about this is that there is a really strong sense of story, yet the monster packs never get stale because of the event/hazard cards.

And... the event/hazard cards tie potentially generic monster decks back into the story.

Anyway, excuse the poor explanation but I wonder if you can use that cross connect from generic to story mechanic...
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I was thinking maybe it would be possible to make an elimination system where the player can still get clues?

Here's the idea: there's a deck of card, each card represents an object, but also has clue pertaining to that item on the borders of the card.

At setup, three cards at random are taken from the deck. These cards are placed under masking cardboard tiles, face up.

Throughout the game, the player is allowed in certain conditions to move the tiles to reveal the clues on the side of the cards, while slowly going through the decks, trying to figure out the three missing cards (of course the clues on the many different cards must have a significant degree of overlap).

They win if they correctly identify the three missing cards before the game runs out.
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How about Time stories?

Like most coop games it is quite easy to play solo. Although the individual stories aren't designed to be replayable once solved, the game differs from other games in your category one in that it usually takes a few plays to solve each case (and that is how the game is designed). The game also requires some actual deduction/problem solving unlike your category 2 games.
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