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Reconsidering Board Game Design 3/3: Single VS Multi Player

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

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While playing video games, many of them are single player games while others are multi players games you fight against an AI. I heard some people said that it's pointless to play single player board games since it's just easier to play a video game. My first experience with single player board games was my Starcraft solitaire variant. That's what made me start appreciating the game. I later discovered (but not played) Thunderbolt and Apache leader which is also a very interesting single player game and Struggle for the Galactic Empire. I also tried pocket civ which did had some potential, but was relatively simple compared to the other games listed above.

Single player board games seems to share some properties in common:

- Less Popular: Most people does not play them because they try to play board games to be with other people. Many people also does not like fighting against a system like it's the case of Ghost Stories and Shadow over Camelot.

- More depth or Complex: They tend to be much more complex which is in my point of view a necessity to be challenging as a single player game. But that could scare players away if the rules are hard to grasp. Also the game cannot be teach since you are alone.

- Long play time: A single player game needs to be worth it's setup time, if it's too short, you'll rather play a video game which has no setup time. So most single player board games last at least 3-4 hours. It's not everybody that would be willing to play that long. Sometime, it could require to have a separate table than the one you are eating on to be able to pause and resume the game.

- Use Obsolete Mechanics: Many of these games use combat resolution table or pen and paper which are considered obsolete mechanics that could scare some players away.

But there could be a lot of advantages to design single player games:

- More Depth: If you want to have a game with more details and things to think about, then single player games are perfect for that.

- Game length: Is not much an issue anymore. Normally you must try fitting everything between 1-3 hours, but now, players expect to have a minimum length that exceed at least 3 hours. So less compression needs to be done for time issues.

- Only 1 player to convince: You only need to convince yourself to play the game, not need to find players.

- Game Balance: This is much less critical, a bad balance will make the game easier or harder for the player. It's almost like a difficulty setting. A dominant strategy will make the game easier, but on a later game the player could refrain from using such strategy to impose himself a difficulty. In a multi player game, such issues kill the game. A dominant strategy would give an advantage to the player who is awared of it and make it impossible to win by the other players.

- Play test is real: When designing, you make a lot of solo play test. Well here solo play test are the final product. It also make it easier to find play testers.

- No Multi player scaling: Many game suffer from bad scaling when adding or removing players which create a sweat spot of optimal number of players. Such issue is not present in SP BG.

In the world of video games, there a some board game like video games that I would gladly play as a video game but not has a board game. That is the case of "Dai Senryaku" which is a modern tactical military game that plays fine as a video game but that would be only too painful to be played as a board game even with no tracking of fuel and ammo.

So if single player board games could be implemented as video games, many issues listed above could be simply lift off since originally video games were designed for a single player audience making them more attractive:

- No AI, or scripted AI: Single player board games already have a scripted AI set in place, so there is no need to design and AI to make the decision for the opposing players, it's already in the game rules.

- No Multi player Connection: No need to manage multi player connections as it seems a complex issue in video game programming.

- Quicker game play: Like explained in the previous thread, less setup time, quicker resolution would give faster game play in the end.

- More attractive look: This goes 2 way, SP board games are more likely to get played as video games. But also, they are better looking than what I call "Database Battle" strategy game like it's the case of many old KOEI video games like: Romance of the 3 kingdom, Gem Fire, Pacific Theatre of Operation, etc.

- Pause and resume: Another advantage for longer games is that you can pause and resume anytime without locking down one of your tables.

It also seem that single player board games are much more strong themed than multi player games since the level of depth can be higher and many other issues does not force the designer to compress his game too much. They almost feel like a Role Playing Game where you have 1 player and 1 game master (if you ever had a chance to play RPG this way, you know what I mean). Personally, I like the idea of sharing that experience with another player. Also makes learning easier (for that other player) since you can teach him the rules. I did this in my Starcraft solitaire variant where you could play 2 player coop or with indirect opposition. Unfortunately, it adds 2 hours to the length of the game, but at least you can share the experience (and teach the rules).

Final Conclusion

So what I am trying to define with all these thread is to define my sweat spot of what kind of games I should try making in order to place my energy in a place where it would worth it.

Theme VS Mechanics: It seems working a game without solid mechanics is a waste of time. If should be stored in the attic and be un-dusted if you stumble upon a mechanics idea that could work. Else, unless I really have nothing else to design, there is no point in doing mechanic shopping or toy play to discover those missing mechanics I need.

Video VS Board Game: I currently do not have any tools or framework to design board games as a video game. So for now, I would have to stick to board game design. But if such tools becomes available, especially if designing a video games does not take much more time than doing the board game, then I might be tempted to switch since most of my game ideas could be implemented on both platforms. I have really few ideas that would only work as a board games (due to social interaction for example). I might also be more tempted to work on these "board game only" ideas now since this is all I can do.

Single VS Multi Player game: I never thought that multi player added certain complications that single players games did not have. I am sure going to take a deeper look at single player game, see if some of my ideas could be converted as single players. Of course, if developing them as video games is possible, that would make single player game much more popular and give me more reasons to work on such kind of game.

So this is it, thank you for reading and leave comments in the appropriate threads. With what I have written in those threads, I am revising my ideas and trying to find new ways to manage priorities in order to be more efficient and invest time and resources where the flowers are more likely to bloom.

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009
A cooperative game where all

A cooperative game where all the players win or lose collectively is equivalent to a single-player game, but may be more interesting because of the dynamics of interaction between the players. Especially if the game is designed so that one player cannot, in effect, play for everyone.

Virtually all SP games are more puzzle than game, same is true for a cooperative game as I describe above. You find a (or "the") solution and when you've got it down pat, there's really no reason to play again.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I think it mostly depends on

I think it mostly depends on the level of randomness and hidden information.

For example, in Ghost story, there is no hidden information, only randomness, so a player can be tempted to tell everybody else what to do. Still the randomness adds uncertainity to "is it going to suceed or not" where a failure could lead to interesting complications to deal with later.

While in Shadow over Camelot, since you cannot see the cards of your allies, you cannot find the solution to the puzzle. But in that case the results are deterministic beside for the card drawing which does add a lot of randomness to the game.

So I think the key in solo games are keep some randomness and use hidden information to prevent players predicting what will happens, else it will become a puzzle.

I think you just need to have the right balance as too much random and hidden information would makes some session too easy while others too hard.

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