I never set out to make a solo game with Forge War. That was probably clearly evident from the fact that it took a lot of Kickstarter backer encouragement for me to even consider it.
But, because of that urging, I did consider it. I sat down with my prototype, messed around with the various systems and decided that a solo game was possible and that it could actually be a good idea. It being a good idea was key. Lots of things are possible, but it doesn’t make them good ideas. For instance, I was also urged to crank the game up to 5 players. I could have even gone up to 6 or 7, but I knew that anything over 4 was going to be a bad idea. Too much chaos. Too much downtime and overall play time.
But solo play did turn out to be a good idea and may be one of Forge War’s largest successes. I’m not personally much of a solo gamer so I’m not very in tune with the community. I can’t even tell if they make up a large portion of gamers or if they are just a very vocal minority, but the response to Forge War solo play has been fabulous and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I’m not a complete solo novice, though. I have been know to play Mage Knight by myself on occasion when I can’t find anyone else willing to sit down for multiple hours to play with me. I think the key to any great solo game, Mage Knight included, is to give the player a concrete goal other than just “collect as many points as you can.” I mean, just look at the early evolution of video games to see evidence of this – movement away from playing the same thing over and over to achieve high scores towards systems with levels and goals.
That’s not to say I didn’t get a lot of mileage out of some Uwe Rosenberg solo games, as well, but the point goals were never as compelling as Mage Knight. You’ve gotta conquer those cities before the game ends. And only if you do accomplish that should you count up your fame and see if you got a “high score.”
The one hang-up of this model is that once the goal is accomplished, the incentive to keep playing is reduced. Once you’ve defeated the final boss in a video game, you typically put down the controller and walk away. The only thing that might entice you back is trying it again on a harder difficulty – and this is also an effective way to keep a player’s interest in a solo board game. In Mage Knight, you can easily click the cities up to a higher difficulty and even, if you’re truly crazy, combine two cities together.
This is the philosophy I applied to Forge War: give players a concrete goal – take a quest every round and finish all of them – and add a difficulty knob so that the game remains challenging with increasing player skill.
The biggest challenge of the process was figuring out a way to keep the mine interesting. I didn’t want to do anything too complicated and I didn’t want it to be too random. I wanted the player to have control over what happens, so in the end I just decided to rely on the large number of permutations that can occur within a 3-player game with everyone acting optimally. Whether you jump over the worker on the left or the one on the right will have consequences that ripple throughout the rest of the stage.
Now, maybe I overestimated the permutations and the solvability of the mine mechanisms. Apparently a player created a computer model and devised an optimal setup and set of moves to yield the maximum number of resources. This makes me a little sad, but it’s also flattering. I also maintain that the random setup of the mine and the nature of needing specific resources at specific times might mean that collecting the most resources isn’t always the optimal strategy in some situations, especially in later stages where the mine hexes become more varied. Sometimes you absolutely need to collect a diamond that round and end up diverting from the prescribed optimal move.
Or at least that’s what I tell myself so that I can sleep at night.
What’s interesting is that the philosophies discussed above can also be applied to cooperative games. A cooperative game where the goal was to just collect 50 points before the time runs out would not really be all that exciting. Again, players need concrete goals: eradicate the diseases, rebuild your airship, gather enough wood for a signal fire, kill all the monsters. And since the players are battling against an unlearning system instead of each other, you’ve also got to add that difficulty knob to keep them coming back as they get better and more experienced at the game.
I never set out to make a solo game with Gloomhaven. But luckily by nature you can play pretty much any cooperative game solo (well, okay, Hanabi might not work). Of course Gloomhaven is designed to have some information hidden between the players, but that is mainly there to keep ajpha players from dominating the game session. Players can easily play multiple heroes fully cooperatively.
Well, playing 2 heroes simultaneously is fairly easy. 3 or 4 heroes can get a little daunting. It’s doable, but it become a little difficult to organize that many cards in front of a single person.
This ends up being another advantage of the automated monster system. Because you don’t need a player to control the monster movements, you reduce the maximum player count by one. I think you’d have a pretty difficult time playing Descent solo, but I think solo Gloomhaven should be a pretty enjoyable experience.