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Subject: Three famous solo games that inspired Unbroken (and three that did not) rss

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Artem Safarov
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Hi everyone,

With Unbroken taking off the way it did on Kickstarter and clearing 2,100% funding - I thought it would be a neat exercise to talk a little bit about the games that inspired me to make it. I hope this post would provide some additional insight on what I tried to achieve designing Unbroken and what folks can expect from the game play. Equally important I thought it would be forthcoming for me to clearly describe the kinds of things people should not expect to set clear expectations.



For the games that did influence Unbroken, I tried to put in small Easter eggs into the gameplay that would offer subtle homage. I'm hiding these in the post but feel free to see how many of these you'd be able to spot!

Three Games that inspired Unbroken

1. Friday

(#9 on 2017 Top 100 Solo Games, #302 overall, 121 plays logged)

I absolutely love this little piece. Among the first games that I played solo, it maintained its appeal over A LOT of plays. Here are the things I loved about Friday and tried to carry over into Unbroken:
+ It plays very quickly, yet offers a satisfying, complete experience
+ It celebrates the solo aspect of gaming rather than settling for it
+ It offers a lot of decision points that allow different strategies yet keeps things tense and exciting

What mechanics Easter Eggs from Friday are there?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The typical Exploration phase sees the player reveal two cards and pick one to use.
You are still alive if you have 0 Effort left. You only lose when you have to spend Effort but can't


What did I try to improve?
- The theme of Friday always seemed a little thin for me and I tried to juice it up a little bit both by using a fantasy setting and making things a little more hostile and dangerous.

2. Space Hulk: Death Angel

(#14 on 2017 Top 100 Solo Games, #528 overall, 52 plays logged)

Warhammer in general is a big inspiration for the doom and gloom that hangs over the premise of Unbroken. Death Angel in particular did a number of things right that makes me come back to it again and again.
+ The static layout of cards with shifting environment and enemies creates a dynamic story
+ The difficulty is brutal and every win feels like an achivement
+ Most losses feel like epic last stands and leave you with a satisfying feeling

What mechanics Easter Eggs from SH: DA are there?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The solo game of SH: DA has four levels (including the Void Lock). So does a game of Unbroken.


What did I try to improve?
- The evil of the red die is well known and much depends on it. Sometimes too much for my taste. As much as I love the game I wanted Unbroken to feel less random and more strategic in its action resolution.

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

(#6 on 2017 Top 100 Solo Games, #104 overall, 350 plays logged)

First - yeah, I play LOTR LCG a lot. It's our go-to game with my son. LOTR has always had a very special role for me and to have it realized so well in game form was extremely satisfying. Outside of being somewhat of a money-hog (if you want to be exhaustive in your purchasing of the roughly million expansions out there) - there is lots of successes to build on:
+ A highly abstract rule set that succeeds at conveying complex engaging narratives
+ A nearly endless amount of content for a fantastic replayability
+ It is certainly a game you get better at with repeated plays as you understand what you need to get ready for and how to plan for that

What mechanics Easter Eggs from LOTR LCG are there?
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The many triggers for abilities in Ubnroken are defined in a way very similar to the way the Response keyword function in LOTR LCG


What did I try to improve?
- Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. That is sometimes the case with LOTR LCG, when the quality of some of the card design leaves something to be desired. This is especially so when there is a significant financial expense involved in acquiring the expansions. In designing Unbroken my goal was to offer customization and options without the overwhelming volume that LOTR LCG provides.


---

So that's the kind of game Unbroken was meant to be - short but meaningful, abstract yet providing a clear narrative, driven by a compelling story but flexible enough to have lots of replayability, putting the responsibility for the outcome in the decisions of the player but keeping things exciting and tense. Being very difficult but not unfair.

Shall we now take a look at some of the games it was NOT trying to emulate? Before we go on I should start with a heads-up that I don't mean the games to follow are bad. They are highly ranked and have loyal fans and have mostly cemented a reputation for themselves as part of the solo collections everywhere - something Unbroken is yet to do. Nevertheless the experiences they provide are different than what I wanted Unbroken to be and I wanted to highlight these differences.

So without further ado -

The Three Games that did not inspire Unbroken

1. One Deck Dungeon

(#21 on 2017 Top 100 Solo Games, #524 overall, 18 plays logged)

Both Unbroken and ODD are fantasy games that shine in solo play and aim to deliver a cool experience in a short playtime. However, here are the things that I wanted to do different from ODD:

- The jovial tone. From the colourful colour palette to the illustrations used to the plethora of multi-coloured dice, ODD perpetuates a light-hearted approach to dungeon descents to kill some monsters and get the loot. I wanted Unbroken to have a more severe tone to it, to ground the story with a terrible beginning.
- The dependence on luck. ODD is an unapologetic dice-chucker and doesn't hide it. Yes, there are ways to manipulate the outcomes but die rolling and but overall, being at the mercy of blind chance is a big part of the game. While it has its place and results in an exciting and entertaining game - I wanted Unbroken to feel more based on decisions and less on luck.

I regularly break out my copy of ODD but wanted Unbroken to be a very different kind of a game - both mechanically and in terms of the experience it gives players.

2. Onirim

(#10 on 2017 Top 100 Solo Games, #457 overall, 7 plays logged)

I absolutely adore the theme and art of Onirim. It's such a great match and I was so excited to get lost in whimsical dream labyrinths ... Only to find out that much like some dreams - this journey is so abstract that you don't recall the details after waking up.

- The extremely abstract nature of the game fails to capitalize on its unique premise and excellent art. The labyrinths you traverse may be made of dreams but all you will care about is set collection and colour-matching.
- It requires an inordinate amount of component manipulation (shuffling in this case) to the point where the physical process of playing might annoy rather than entice.

The Onirim app solved both of these beautifully for me. You ask for a lot less of a 5-minute app game that does the shuffling for you. It turned out I really like the set collection and colour matching Onirim offers, just not in a 20-minute, manual-shuffle format. I wanted to make sure that Unbroken doesn't require too much maintenance to set up or maket it playable so the game can be played in minutes and requires practically no shuffling throughout, allowing you to focus on the narrative.

3. Mage Knight

(#1 on 2017 Top 100 Solo Games, #17 overall, 4 plays)

Oh boy. I went there . As I am preparing to dodge the rotten tomatoes heading my way for daring to speak things other than praise for the shining beacon of solo gaming - allow me to make my case .

Mage Knight is like classical music. Exquisite, demanding, rewarding. Those who have made the effort to understand its many entwined interactions and deep tactical complexity swear by its outstanding quality.

However it is also a game where the mechanics completely trump the narrative. The way it works - with all the little subsystems clicking into place, with the challenge and satisfaction people feel after a 3-hour game is very much focused on what's happening under the hood rather than where the car is going. I wanted Unbroken to be different and to balance the mechanics and narrative into a cohesive whole where the two complement each other.

Another thing is that Mage Knight asks a lot of its players. There is nothing wrong with that (especially since for many people the payoff is definitely worth the time and effort invested), but I wanted to make a game that doesn't offer its pleasures only to those who have hours to learn the rules and hours more to play the game.

Unbroken is simple and I take pride in that and it's playable in a short time so that busy people with kids who don't get enough gaming can easily get it to the table for a quick survival test. I hope that as a result it manages to give more than it asks for to keep players coming back for more

-----

Hope these insights were interesting for you! I look forward to hearing your reflections on these. Anything that surprised you? How many of the mechanics Easter eggs were you able to spot?
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Jesse Bethany
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I enjoyed reading this and getting some insight into your process. However, threads with kickstarter links outside of the crowdfunding forums tend to get deleted by the mods. I'd recommend editing it out to make sure all the work you did explaining your influences (and anti-influences) doesn't come undone.
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David Martin
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Thank you for sharing Artem!!! I knew I sensed a little Friday in there! I find this absolutely fascinating! I'll share my favorites with you too Artem! Besides Unbroken, my other favorite solo games are:

Friday (one of the best! I absolutely agree)

Four Against Darkness (a fantastic solo RPG of dungeon crawling and dice chucking)

Hostage Negotiator series (very thematic and quick!)

Arkham Horror: The Card Game (great story and has very strong RPG elements)

Oniverse series: (every game in the series is unique and delivers a surreal feel and theme. All play quickly too and are really difficult!)
 
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Crazed Survivor
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My take on the easter eggs:

Friday:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The draw two/choose one mechanic for peril/encounter cards.


Space Hulk:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Uuuuuuuuh really dunno!


LOTR:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
The ever increasing doom turned into the ever lowering time and the ambush that's waiting for you at the end.


I don't agree on the abstract theme for Onirim though. The more you think about it the more the theme makes sense, except maybe for the tower expansion. I really feel like I'm lost in a labyrinth and stumbling upon weird dreams when I play the game.
Being haunted by the pawn with the fanmade expansion is also quite thematic

But that was an interesting read, and now I get to understand your design better, which I like

Tell me if my guesses were right ^^
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Alex B
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Nice write up! I really enjoy a bit of introspective solo gaming thoughts. I thought for sure KDM would get a mention, with the whole ruthless struggle theme and all. Thanks for putting out what looks to be a great solo game by the way.
 
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Artem Safarov
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@Jesse Thanks for the note. I removed the Kickstarter links.

@David Martin - nice list! I have just started Arkham Horror LCG (lost my first campaign terribly) but I really enjoy the micro-focus it has on locations and characters. Also having just one hero to deck-build for is helpful in getting to know the personally

@Raz you got one of the Friday Easter Eggs (nice!) and the one you suggest for LOTR LCG is probably even better than mine

@Alex B - I never actually played KDM so didn't feel it was fair to include, but games like that or Dark Souls (and especially the PC game Darkest Dungeon) have certainly contributed to Unbroken's grim attitude. And you're welcome!
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Crazed Survivor
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kladan wrote:
@Alex B - I never actually played KDM so didn't feel it was fair to include, but games like that or Dark Souls (and especially the PC game Darkest Dungeon) have certainly contributed to Unbroken's grim attitude. And you're welcome!


Cross the ocean and come KD:M with me will you please? I got a total satan pledge ^^

You know that's funny because the second Friday easter egg
Spoiler (click to reveal)
I was totally thinking about that when I played Friday yesterday and was like "haha just like in Unbroken, you don't die at 0 but if you need to spend life and you're at 0". So spotted
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David Giusti
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Artem, can you share the top 100 list you reference?
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Jeremy Yoder
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You had me at LOTR LCG.

Seriously though, is the cover of Unbroken a subtle homage to Friday with the char's pose? Or entirely coincidental?
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Artem Safarov
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@David

Here is the top part of the list :

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/233582/2017-peoples-choic...
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Michael S
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Great write up! Thanks for putting this together, really interesting read.

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Pete R.
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Great list - fun to read. I felt Lost Expedition may be on the list as I get a very familiar feel between LE and the gameplay run through’s I’ve seen
on Unbroken, mechanically more than anything else.
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Artem Safarov
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I got Lost Expedition only after Unbroken design was mostly complete so it didn`t quite belong on this list. I think the biggest difference with LE is that decisions carry immediate outcome. I always found LE to be a bit of a brain burner in thinking how to arrange the cards (and that's how you spend the majority of the playing time!). I understand that it was intended to be this way

With all the thinking and planning in Lost Expedition I dislike the randomness that blind flips of the cards from the deck bring. For this reason I actually enjoy it more multiplayer than solo - more control over the proceedings that way!
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Glenn Flaherty
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Lost Expedition is a Sunday brunch game. Its a light hearted experience where you deal with what you're dealt. It didnt provide me with the sense of controlling my fate. Still, it was cute to see If I could make it to the end.

Unbroken is much more self-determined. In fact, the only relationships i see between the two designs would be elements that could very well describe similarities between many games in the genre.
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Alexander D
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Very interesting, thanks for sharing Artem!

I am a huge fan of how you run the campaign and REALLY excited for the game.
I've played a few of the games mentioned above and pretty much agree with your assesment. I like most of them better as coop games than as solo games, though.


kladan wrote:
Unbroken is simple and I take pride in that and it's playable in a short time so that busy people with kids who don't get enough gaming can easily get it to the table for a quick survival test.

You're talking about me!
That's exactly one reason why I backed UNBROKEN. There are about a myriad other reasons, but without this one, I might have had to pass heavy heartedly.

Thank you for being so genuine and passionate and awesome and for making this game! Glad to be a backer!!
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Mark Pettit
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kladan wrote:
Another thing is that Mage Knight asks for a lot of players.


I suspect that you meant to say "Mage Knight asks a lot of its players." In other words, the game is very complex, and requires its players to dedicate themselves to learning that ruleset in order to appreciate the beauty of it.

Thank you very much for this comparison. It's very nice to see your comparison to ODD and LOTR LCG because those are two of my main solo games at the moment. It's great to learn how Unbroken will be different.
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Artem Safarov
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@Mark you're right, thank you. Glad you enjoyed the writeup!
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Darryl Pettit
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I just want to say I have never done the D&D or Warcraft or Warhammer type games...I did not care for that genre. I decided to throw my hat into this one because as a solo game it really got my interest and I think, with the design of the mechanics this game is going to really rock....3 days left to pledge on Kickstarter....it's set to break half a million and nearly 12000 backers...WOW...that many people cannot be wrong.
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Arnold Duong
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I am super happy to have stumbled upon this Kickstarter on its last day.

I recognized Artem from his participation in the Lord of the Rings LCG Facebook group and that led me to investigate the game a bit further. I love the theme, the look, and I love that it drew inspiration from LotR LCG (not surprised one bit, though).

It's great to see the contrasting points with games like ODD and Mage Knight, too. I hope that this game is delivered early, similar to how Cauldron was.
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Bruno Baronet
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Very interesting. I'm fascinated by the process that game creators go through. Thank you for sharing this and looking forward to receiving my copy of Unbroken!
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