What’s Your View on Solo Gaming

Solo gaming is undoubtedly one of the major driving forces in the board gaming hobby. Even during the 2020 Kickstarter campaign for Euthia: Torment of Resurrection, over a year before the game arrived into the hands of the backers, we’ve already received a breathtaking number of questions, suggestions, and feedback revolving around playing Euthia solo. And once people actually started playing it, the responses to the solo mode exploded.

Since the foundation of DIEA Games design philosophy is to listen to and collaborate with our community, we’ve asked in our last newsletter how people feel about solo gaming. 314 people have joined the discussion, and we’re excited to share the results with everyone. Let’s take a look.

While it’s needless to say that the worldwide pandemic has definitely helped to stress the importance of being able to play board games solo, the univocality of the results are self-explanatory. This trend can be also observed on the popularity of solo-only games such as Coffee Roaster, or the success of the Final Girl Series 2 Kickstarter campaign. Admittedly, even when I’m thinking about backing a project, the ability to get games on the table while I am alone is among the most important criteria, especially when I’m intrigued by a game that doesn’t exactly fit into the preferences of my regular gaming groups.

Sometimes, however, the gameplay mechanics or balancing don’t perfectly cater for playing a true, one-handed solo (i.e. handling the agenda of a single player during the game). While there is a portion of gamers who dislike playing two-handed (managing the actions of two, or possibly more, players at the same time), it’s interesting to see that over 80% of the respondents would accept the added complexity and fiddliness if the game they enjoyed required this way of playing for the optimal gameplay experience.

Before moving on, note that it was possible to choose more than one answer for the following question.

Considering the implementation of a solo-mode in a board game, it’s apparent that the popularity of aiming to simply attempt to beat your own score every time you play (Agricola) is among the lower end of the popularity spectrum even though this way of playing admittedly provides the best and undisturbed opportunity to focus on the puzzle at hand. This situation, however, completely changes once the beat your own score mechanics is paired with explicit conditions that players need to fulfill to win the game, so that after winning, they can also see ‘how much they’ve won’ if that’s what they care about (Terraforming Mars). Such a combination still allows concentrating on solving the puzzle while further spicing up the gameplay through taking advantage of the often variable gameplay conditions that players have to keep track of in order to maximize their score. Overall, it seems that players generally most enjoy games in which there is a clear goal to aim for, whether it is to overcome the adversary conditions of the game itself (Pandemic) or to beat an automa (an artificial opponent) that can to a certain degree emulate the experience of playing against another person (Scythe).

Answers to the last question, What is your favorite solo game and why?, are visualized in the last two charts below according to the number of votes instead of percentages. Also, given the amount of variability in the ‘reasons why’, it’s much easier to put the results into words than into a picture.

Before moving on, note that it was possible to choose more than one answer for the following question.

Rather than talking at length about the individual games that were mentioned the most, let’s take a look at the reasons people like their favorite games first. There was a wide variety in how the answers were worded, so the charts below were collated according to what appears to be the major underlying idea. While it can’t really be said that one of the aspects above is more important than another, the games that placed on top seem to tick most, if not all, of these boxes.

The first category, impactful decisions, represents the idea that actions taken during the game matter and actually lead to a meaningful change to the game state, either from the standpoint of storytelling or gameplay mechanics. It also groups together the ability to offer a lot of possible (and viable) actions to take, the strategic nature of the game, and the idea that many games can be reduced to a puzzle that needs to be solved.

Variability then signifies the general replayability, emphasizing the games that can be played over and over again while still feeling fresh and different, which possibly also includes games that are mechanically repetitive but have a narrative that unfolds during or between each game. Among the other important elements of this category are multiple difficulty levels and modular elements that change every time you play.

Great solo bot / AI, stands for the ability to implement mechanics that were most often specified as creating the feeling of playing against a real opponent. This category is also in some aspects very closely connected to easy to get to the table and play when playing with the AI is seamless and takes only little effort to manage. This category is, however, much broader, as it also includes short setup and tear down times and general ease of play.

Then there is the story aspect that was often mentioned not only in a connection to campaign games but also in as the emergent narrative that the game is able to build during a playthrough. A little lower on the list is immersion, which was in story-heavy games highlighted as the sense of adventure. It also encompasses the feeling that the game faithfully recreates aspects of (imagined) reality or the state of being constantly engaged with the game, both of which can also be applied to games that don’t really focus on story or have a strong theme. Similarly, the answers grouped here as in-game progression either praised games for the gradual development of character, city, nation, fast-food chain, or whatever else you are in the game, with the difference that this aspect is only limited to a single gameplay session.

… So there’s that. What about you, do your solo gaming preferences match these or are completely different? Let us know! And a big thanks to everyone who joined the discussion!

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