It gives me great pleasure to present on BSoMT’s A Guest Knows Best some solo musings from game designer Janice Turner from Wren Games. For me it is really interesting to find out what goes on in the minds of game designers, especially when considering the soloist gamer.
Janice Turner, Wren Games
I started designing tabletop games a couple of years ago when I was on maternity leave with my eldest (now 2.5y). It was my attempt to have a ‘solo’ hobby. When starting out I wanted to design games that my hubby and I would enjoy but also that would have a wide appeal.
My biggest pet hate in games is having to refer to the rulebook (frequently) mid-game. I’d much rather just do what seems intuitive then check at the end so we know for next time so as to not interrupt the flow of the game. Games should be fun and we should be playing for fun. If we do something wrong? So what, as long as it was fun!
I also like a game to have a strong theme. T.I.M.E Stories, Pandemic Legacy and The 7th Continent are my top 3 games and all have very strong story elements to them. I therefore wanted to design intuitive and easy to learn games with a strong theme. I know that story telling makes information more memorable and therefore I try to tie rules and mechanics to the theme. Some say I put too much flavour text into my games, but in my opinion, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it, but for those who do like it, it’s there. My hope is that when you play our games, what is intuitive and thematic is the right thing to do.
Stu is an avid solo gamer and also loves a strong theme. His pet hate is when a game forces you to play multiple characters. He likes to immerse himself in the game and he feels he can only do this properly by being a single character. Thus forcing him to be multiple characters takes away some of the enjoyment for him. It was therefore important for us to not just have a solo version of our games, but an independent solo version that isn’t just a ‘play multiple characters’ copout.
Our pet hates form the basis for our game designs, of which we currently have 3 in various stages of (public) playtesting:
- Assembly: A sci-fi escape puzzle card game for solo or 2-player cooperative play. Launching on Kickstarter on 24thMay 2018.
- The Maiden Voyage: A cooperative sci-fi strategy game for 1-5 players that draws on both Amitrash and Euro mechanisms. We hope to publish The Maidne Voyage in late 2018/early 2019.
- Inca the Tinker – Tales of a Mischievous Cat: A competitive game for children’s that uses storytelling and matching mechanisms and has a solo mode. We’re still deciding what to do with this one. If you want to help us decide, get in touch!
We also have 3 other games that we’ll work on once these ones are (mostly) complete. Again, all will be suitable for solo play.
The benefits of designing a game that is meant to be played solo and/or cooperatively is that it’s pretty easy to playtest, iterate and develop by yourself. Assembly, for example, was originally a solo game. I got all the mechanisms working and balanced as a solo game then then just needed to tweak them to work for 2 players. For me, being able to playtest solo is vital in being able to develop a game as we don’t get to go to game groups; I don’t think they would appreciate us rocking up with 2 young children who want to touch and play with their games!
The Maiden Voyage, on the other hand, I have mostly tested with 3 characters but on my own or 2-player with Stu. I find 4-players much harder to playtest solo, particularly when there are little people running around! Once I had the game (mostly) balanced for 2 and 3 players I had a good handle on how to adapt it for play with a single character and 4-5 characters.
Having played multiple characters so many times, it’s generally obvious after just a couple of rounds if you’ve got the solo variant right or not and if further tweaking is required before playtesting further. In The Maiden Voyage, adaptations included a larger hand size (both starting and limit), specification on 1 item for setup (to speed up movement and a reduction in negative effects during setup (in exactly the same way that a multi-player game scales with difficulty). I my opinion, solo gaming should be as close as possible to the multi-player experience, minus the player interactions of course!
Link to playtesting of Assembly: …of Locked Command Plays and Malfunctioning Modular Bays (Assembly)
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