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Subject: Solitaire Game Mechanics rss

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Richard Mayhew
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Hi all!
With so many single-player PnP games around I was thinking we could maybe discuss single-player mechanics. What do you think is essential and what should be avoided? Can you give examples of solitaire games with great mechanics? Why?

I think this discussion could help out a lot of people who are struggling with making single-player games (like me).

To start off, let me give a piece of my opinion...

Single-player games seem to fall into two categories according to me: abstract, puzzle-like games (like Mahjong solitaire) or games in which the system is dictated by a high degree of randomness. The problem with the abstract types of games is that, IMHO, they are not really engaging. You do not get this "feel of imagination" that you get when playing, for instance, 1-player Arkham Horror. However, the high randomness of certain game mechanics, such as in AH, make you feel rather powerless: it all boils down to luck in the end, and you do not really have the power to influence the game outcome a lot. How do you game designers deal with these issues?
 
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Neil Martin
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Hello, i am currently creating a single player game based on ww2 u-boats, the biggest hurdle so far is the mechanics.

My basic philosophy is to make my players face the decisions that a real u-boat commander had to make, so my game will have to give my players a lot of control of situations with luck affecting them occasionally but not be the overbearing mechanic it can be.

For example,on a typical patrol luck plays a part in what enemies may be encountered, even this however can be mitigated to some degree by allowing the player to choose the path to their target grid,

Once the player has decided to attack he chooses which targets and attempts to sink them as best he can, depending on variables the odds of this happening will be heavily in the players favor there is always that chance however just as in real life that it all goes wrong.

Luck will however play a big part in counter attacks against the submarine, as in real life a u-boat had very little say in what happened once a destroyer knew where it was and was dropping ash cans.

So i decided to use luck in the game but only where it was needed in real life to a certain extent. thats how i am planning to deal with this issue in particualr, i hope this wasnt off on a tangent and is somehow relevant.
 
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Franco
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Castiglione wrote up a good geeklist on this topic a while back:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/10275
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Tim Deagan
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A lot of the mechanics are similar to co-op games, which is why everyone hammers co-ops as 'multi-player solitaire'.

This discussion has some good points:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/100454

I think the other family of mechanics that you're missing are the 'paragraph book' games like Barbarian Prince, Tales of the Arabian Nights and Ambush!

These kind of games can be a LOT of fun, but take some careful thought in design.
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Pelle Nilsson
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Paragraph driven games should be much easier to do now with the powerful computers and scripting languages we have today. Reading an old interview with one of the designers of Ambush!, he described how painful it was to manually do the hundreads of paragraphs using an old word-processor and making sure cross-references were correct etc (there is a lot of errata actually, especially for the later modules). I started a thread about that in the Ambush! game forum sometime last year. But my project to do a tool for making Ambush! missions is probably dead. I think it would be more rewarding to make a new system, simpler and more fast-playing (ie more modern), and (most importantly) in print (or available as p'n'p) and then do software to create missions for that game instead.
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Haven't tried it yet, but ran into this the other day:
http://www.drakevision.com/projects/dreampath/

It's a freeware program for writing choose-your-own-adventure style stories/games, but it lets you program dynamic and randomized changes into the text and storyline. They say it can be customized to include combat systems as well.

I'm not sure there's an export option, but sounds like you could quickly and accurately mock up something and work out the kinks, then copy and paste (if necessary) to a printable document. Hey, it's free (for non-commercial use).
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Jorge Arroyo
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There are some games that have a puzzle-like feeling, but add random elements to keep things fresh and add the unexpected. I recently got Ghost Stories and I think it has a nice balance between abstractness and randomness. The game feels like a series of puzzles where you have to find the best way to deal with the most dangerous ghosts in a way that minimizes your losses and doesn't hurt your chances long term.

BTW, that game is a coop game, but I wouldn't say it's multiplayer solitaire in the sense the word is usually used (each player playing their own solitaire) but more like "shared" solitaire But the fact that each player controls one character and what each does affects the rest makes it interesting enough for each player (unless, of course, one player tells everyone else what to do yuk )

Another interesting coop/solo game is Space Alert, there you also have a puzzle to solve, but it's generated randomly and the elements are discovered as time passes by, so you have to plan your actions as threats are revealed. There, each player has to be responsible of their own tasks so that the whole mission can succeed. Playing solo the game becomes more a puzzle as you have to coordinate the actions of all the "robots" yourself.

Another kind of solo games are ones where there's little interaction between players ("real" multiplayer solitaire to some extent). Games where you have to optimize your own play to get a higher score and are not competing directly with other players. Some of those games include solo rules (I'm thinking of Merchant of Venus) some don't, but players usually create many solo variants (Like in Runebound, WoW:tAG, RftG, etc...)
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Matthew Jones
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CounterDax wrote:
The problem with the abstract types of games is that, IMHO, they are not really engaging. You do not get this "feel of imagination" that you get when playing, for instance, 1-player Arkham Horror. However, the high randomness of certain game mechanics, such as in AH, make you feel rather powerless: it all boils down to luck in the end, and you do not really have the power to influence the game outcome a lot. How do you game designers deal with these issues?


I would agree with this piece of your post and encourage you (if you haven't already) to check out Pocket Civ to look at how that particular game designer works around the Luck vs. Mechanics issue. I personally think it's a very clever design because the events that occur to your empire are (mostly) random, but how you respond to them is entirely up to you.

And while it can happen that your civ gets wiped out by that random event, more often that not anytime it dies, it's also getting wiped out by some of the decisions you've made during the game about which resources you chose to use and how you used them. I think it's a great mix of that random luck factor combined with the ability to mitigate that luck through clever gameplay of your resources. Kinda like Life.

Worth looking at, at least...
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Sometime I like playing solo game too. Apart wargames among which you can find lot of good solo games, as of now I designed rules in order to play solo "Pillars of the Earth" and "zooloretto". In case of Pillars of the Earth rules work out pretty well and randomness is very limited. As for zooloretto I'm still testing them, but one thing I can say it plays very fast 15 minutes (set up included).

All in all, the mechanics are "beating your best score".
 
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Pelle Nilsson
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Strangelander wrote:
Haven't tried it yet, but ran into this the other day:
http://www.drakevision.com/projects/dreampath/

It's a freeware program for writing choose-your-own-adventure style stories/games, but it lets you program dynamic and randomized changes into the text and storyline. They say it can be customized to include combat systems as well.

I'm not sure there's an export option, but sounds like you could quickly and accurately mock up something and work out the kinks, then copy and paste (if necessary) to a printable document. Hey, it's free (for non-commercial use).


There are other such applications as well, including some that are free even for commercial use, and with source code included, like The Gamebook Engine. I had a mail discussion with the author of TGE recently about possibilities of extending it to support something like Ambush! (ie with hooks to connect paragraphs to map locations and enemy actions) but I think it ended with that it is probably a lot easier to do it the other way around, to make a script for the boardgame that can output a gamebook in the format that can be read by tools like TGE (for producing a paragraph booklet) instead.

In Ambush having a few events that may occur in close proximity of each other (ie there are hexes from where you can trigger all three) can result in easily 20 different quite complex paragraphs. It is easy for the player to handle that (just follow the instructions in each paragraph), and easy for a computer to generate from some simple input, but lots and lots of work for a designer to manually type. Having one of the gamebook tools to help lay out paragraphs and handle the links between paragraphs is a tiny part of the problem of making paragraphs for a boardgame I'd say, unless it is a very trivial boardgame with few connections between the board and the gamebook.

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Pelle Nilsson
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CounterDax wrote:
Hi all!
With so many single-player PnP games around I was thinking we could maybe discuss single-player mechanics. What do you think is essential and what should be avoided? Can you give examples of solitaire games with great mechanics? Why?


Depends on the kind of game. If your game has pre-programmed missions (like Ambush!) or not.

For non-pre-programmed, I like the activation mechanics from Fields of Fire. You put possible contact markers on the map, and when entering a card with such counter you use mission-specific tables and random cards to determine what (if any) enemy units are triggered, and where to put them relative to the friendly unit that triggered it. (Sounds like something that should work for subs as well?)

For pre-programmed I think the system from Open Fire (and Shell Shock!) is a good compromise between fog of war, ease of play, and ease of design. At the start of a mission you place event markers on the map, and when entering a hex close to and within LOS from an event marker you use a mission card in a special sleeve to determine what paragraph to look up to see what event if any was triggered. (Compare to Ambush! were you have to use the mission card for every hex entered, which of course results in better fog of war, but is more work to play and especially to design). For a p'n'p game I would recommend figuring out a way to use simple lookup-tables instead of the cartridge sleeve, to make the game easier to assemble.
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Richard Mayhew
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I see we're already getting loads of great replies! This is all very helpful and my brain is over-clocking just to process it all.

When it comes to solitaire games I usually aim for simplicity (except for the occasional game of Arhkam Horror; though others might find the mechanics very simplistic I have a hard time just keeping up with the rules). I mostly play quick solitaire games to fill up some time. It's hard to set up a whole wargame using nothing but your tray table in an airplane.

So, simplicity and duration are also two groups we can divide these games into (just like 'personal best and collapsing ceiling'). Pick-up-'n-play games should have relatively simplistic rules and mechanics... this is pretty much intrinsic with the playtime. Long games, obviously, need to be more complex not to bore you.

One game that does a pretty good job with both simplicity and duration is Zombies in My Pocket. The events are, however, highly random and not really that dependent on player-decisions. This is purely a game mechanics choice that pretty much comes with the type of game. So don't get me wrong, it's a great game!

When we look at the other end of the duration spectrum we find mostly war games. They are loads of fun, but rather cumbersome to quickly play. Would it be possible to strike a balance between simplicity and complexity? To come up with some combination of mechanics that are both simple, though share an enormous level of depth? I wish I knew... I still haven't really found anything although I'm working on it.
 
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Pelle Nilsson
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For quick solitaire games that are also wargames, I can recommend having a look at the mini-sims from Minden Games.
 
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Richard Mayhew
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These look very entertaining. I'll have a closer look! Thanks!
 
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Some interesting stuff from another media to spark ideas:

Author Jason Shiga has been doing interactive comic books for over a decade, mostly choose-your-own-adventure sort (but rather cleverly, as you can see here: http://www.shigabooks.com/interactive/meanwhile/01.html).

However, one of his books is split horizontally and has a sort of programming -- choices you make in the comic above influence your inventory below, which in turn affects the outcome of things you attempt in the comic. Here's a video that may or may not make it clearer:



He has another comic not available for purchase which is a set of cards which can be ordered and reversed doing certain operations on the holes and slots across the top of the cards. He got the idea for making a comic that read one way forwards and another backwards from accidentally reading Japanese manga backwards. http://www.shigabooks.com/interactive/every.html

You can read many of his books and strips online at: http://www.shigabooks.com/ (especially check out the Interactive section). He has a sharp sense of irony and dark humor.
 
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Jorge Arroyo
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Wow! Thanks a lot. Those comics are excellent! I with I could read them on paper...
 
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castiglione
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I like the "counter in LOS activates event" mechanism. There's actually a Yahoo! News Group called Solo War Games or Solo Games or something like that in which you can find a solitaire Squad Leader variant using just this sort of mechanic. You basically put a bunch of "?" in each of the buildings and when your units get within LOS of these counters, you roll on a set of tables to figure out what you've activated. The author of that variant only had the "AI" acting in a defensive role but you could easily convert the system to have it act "offensively".

I think with all the "advances" in solo gaming mechanics, a potential designer shouldn't think of limiting oneself to just one.

One could easily think of a game using paragraphs to "fuel" a narrative but using a mechanism like card draws or dicing on tables like in Reichstag or First Day of the Somme to determine enemy actions. Card draws are nice in that they basically serve to do away with many tables.
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castiglione
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For instance, once could have a randomly generated map (like in AstroNavis Merchant) with paragraphs linked to each planet on the map and if any violence ensues, one could envision using a system like Fields of Fire or what-have-you, to resolve the combat.
 
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