When I hear the term solo gaming I can't help but recall memories of my Great Gran playing Patience (Solitaire) and cheating so she could win when she thought no one was looking. (Cheating was not reserved for her solo gaming, she also tried to cheat us kids when we were playing any other game, but that's another story.)
My own primary motivation for playing board games is to unplug and spend time with my family, so I could never really imagine playing a solo board game because it's instantly missing the interaction with other players. However, there are some good reasons to play solo:
Why play board games solo?
- to learn the rules for a new game before teaching it to others
- no access to a gaming group or your friends don't play board games
- to play a game no one else wants to play
- preference for your own company
- restorative meditative quality, can pay full attention to the game and be immersed in it.
- introvert gamer or find social interactions with other people too stressful
- you don't like the gaming groups/they don't like you/elitist behavior. I've even see someone say they don't play with others because they know they are an a*s and don't want to subject other people to that.
- although maybe 15-20% of gamers play solo board games, 1% of board gamers actually prefer to play solo (according to a survey of 100,000 gamers by Quantic Foundry)
Although when you think about it, it's not that different from playing video games or a game on your phone, except that you don't need to set anything up on an app and the app takes care of all the housekeeping and the imaginary players turns.
Whilst I now understand intellectually why some people play and perhaps prefer to play board games solo,my preference would be to play video games or a game on my phone rather than play a board game solo. However, in the interests of opening up to other possibilities in the board game space, I decided to do a couple of experiments and actually play solo mode.
Solo Board Game Experiment - Ben
Recently, my youngest had his first solo board game experience. Andrew and I were playing a game with our oldest son and Ben didn't want to play it. He was just done with that particular game, and was desperate to play a game he had won in a raffle: Birds of a Feather by Teale Fristoe. I suggested to him that as we weren't available to play with him, he could play it solo. So I set him up with a "How to play video", and did the initial game set up with him and then left him to it. He found a full playthrough video online and watched that too, downloaded the scoring app and off he went. After we had finished our games, I checked in with him to see how the first solo board gaming experience was. Ben felt a great sense of accomplishment from playing a new game start to finish with no help from us, and playing solo was ok and better than not playing at all, but he would prefer to play with us as playing with other people was more fun. Playing solo he knew he would win and there wasn't so much fun in that. It wasn’t like playing an app that created opponents to play against.
Solo Board Game Experiment - Me
Ok, so I didn't actually set up a board game to play. I decided to try out a board game on my iPad, because again I wouldn't typically use an app for a board game. First I tried Pandemic, but I didn't want to have to control all the different characters, I couldn't remember everyone's special ability. I could have noted them down and just got on with it. But part of the reason I like Pandemic is because I enjoy the discussions as we decide what to do together. I enjoy the player narrative, it's highly entertaining. When that didn't work I tried Ticket to Ride. At $4.99 this was more expensive than the Freemium games on my phone that I'm used to! it took me a while to get the hang of it. I had a difficult time seeing things on screen, and noticing what the other players were up to and it wasn't as much fun as placing my little trains on the track. The first time I played I got completely beaten up. After playing a few more times I got better, but I didn't think I would play it much more. Having said that the most fun I've had with it has been teaming up with Ben and taking turns against "the Machine". He enjoys it and it's good for when you just don't have time to set up a game. Which means I'll need to do some follow up experiments for tech in board games as a follow up to a previous post....
If you're a creator looking to include a solo mode then there's some great advice on how to design solo games from The League of Gamemakers and also Morten Monrad Pederson's blog.
Zombie Legacy can be played solo in the same way Pandemic can be played solo, as the game has inherent AI. However, the point of Zombie Legacy is player interaction combined and enhanced by the legacy parts of the game - so there are no real plans for a solo mode. Is this something we are missing out on?
What's your favorite game to play solo?
Every so often a question will pop up on one of the Facebook board game groups, something like "what can we do to get more women playing board games?"
As a woman who worked in the video game industry in the last two decades, I’m very conscious of how female characters have been represented in games. I'm also an immigrant living in California, so when we design game characters, it's important to me that those characters represent gender and race diversity. Gaming is an inclusive hobby, we need to make the effort to reflect that in design. I don’t want a bunch of half naked gals surrounded by nothing but buff bronzed males thank you very much. I want characters that our players will engage with and enjoy playing, and that fit in our setting. With the move to Legacy, and with character development featuring heavily in the game, it's especially important for there to be balance in diversity representation.
When Zombie Legacy was Zombie Rising, we had 5 main player characters: Katie, Ace, Angel, Ben and DeAndre. We started with the back stories for each of our characters as a brief for our artist and some really awful pictures we printed from the internet that we used for the rough paper prototypes. These were sent to our artist with the caveat that the images DID NOT represent our vision for the game, and the briefing that I wanted kick ass women but no boob shaped armor, no scantily clad overtly sexy stereotypes. I'm always disappointed when I'm checking out a game I'm interested in and then I discover the female characters are in bikini armor or worse.
In terms of racial diversity, I thought we were doing ok, until we were at a game convention play testing and someone suggested we should consider swapping the characters out for more ethnic characters. Andrew and I shared a stunned look and focused on taking down notes. I looked at our characters and I saw Hispanic, I saw African American and I saw Asian (for example), I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It really bothered me although I didn’t express it at the time. I thought all of our characters fit into our board game representation of an albeit fictional Bay Area. At the same convention, I attended an authors’ panel about diversity in fiction and it drove home that I had to go back and review our character design, I couldn’t just assume anything.
As we were reviewing our characters, we decided to increase the player character count from 5 to 10, even though this would increase the cost of manufacture. This allowed us to balance men and women equally, and represent more ethnicities. And when players select their back story stickers they can choose from backgrounds that have either gender specific or neutral gender pronouns. Now, although we cannot represent everything, only 1 of our characters is the stereotypical brown haired white male.
So how did this go over in subsequent play testing? Well, we got no more comments on diversity, but we did have one interesting result: Out of our 10 main character stickers, only one character was never chosen - the old bald guy with a pick axe. So no one wants to be old during the Apocalypse and the weapon he has isn't very inspiring. So that's something we're revisiting in our design.
Having a wider range of people playing may turn out to be generational, but I think that for the most part if we want more women playing board games or a broader range of people playing then we improve our chances if we are inclusive in our game designs and aim for more balanced representation in games. Not just in pictures but how those characters are represented, and what type of gameplay roles those characters have.
Check out The Mary Sue for games that do well with gender representation. I also love this Geek and Sundry article on inclusion in gaming
Diversity issues in games are wider than gender and I highly recommend listening to the interview with the founder of I Need Diverse Games featured in Episode 38 of Our Turn: Women on Gaming Podcast.
The great thing about board games is that there are so many different ways we can engage with the hobby - gateway games, filler games, strategy games, Euro games, war games, the list goes on, there really is something for everyone. That makes it easy to stay in your comfort zone.
For example, painting minis. Every time I saw shares of photos of minis someone had painted I thought how cool they were, but I could never imagine myself trying it. My husband painted minis when he was younger, and has introduced our youngest son, Ben to the hobby. When my husband offered to include me on the painting adventure I declined because it didn't seem like it could be any fun if I wasn't going to be any good at it. I thought it would be frustrating and I would end up with minis that looked horrible.
At Pacificon Game Expo I decided I would step out of my comfort zone and try to paint minis for the first time. There was a Paint and Take station where you could try the painting for free and even take away your painted mini. It was a surprisingly rewarding and relaxing experience. It was also a great way to spend some time with Ben away from "work" and to reward him for his patience as his parents protospieled. He was absolutely delighted I was going to try his new favorite hobby.
The Paint and Take was manned by Joe Riddle and David Howard who very patiently shared their skills and years of painting wisdom with this poor first timer. Ben and I were directed to choose our minis from the selection, while our spots were set up for us with paints and brushes. Ben knew exactly what he was going for, and took a woodland creature... and I picked the only girl mini. We took our spots and Ben got started right away, no hesitation and painting with confidence. I sat there looking at my mini figure, and looking at the paints feeling very intimidated but super impressed with how Ben was just immersed in what he was doing. David could tell I was having issues and said to me that getting started can sometimes be the most intimidating part and you just have to get the paint on somewhere to get started. Taking a deep breath, I got started.
Turns out I was right, I can't paint minis very well and I won't be posting my minis on Facebook! I made lots of mistakes, but I learned a lot from those mistakes. Here's 5 things I learned:
This last lesson was probably the greatest. I don't know if I will ever paint minis at home or if this will be my "yoga" at game conventions, but I do know I will paint another mini!
Clearly, I'm no expert at painting minis! If you're a mini painter, what lessons would you pass on to those just starting out?
What have you tried recently that was outside of your normal gaming comfort zone?
Should you make your own prototypes or use a print and demand service?
Developing prototypes are part and parcel of being a game designer but should you make your own prototypes or use an on demand print service? We've done both, and it depends on the circumstances what method we use.
DIY prototypes are absolutely acceptable and if you attend a Protospiel or Unpub event you'll see games at different stages. We've printed our own prototypes and used general purpose game pieces to test our designs and develop our games. Even when we made video games, we used paper prototypes to test ideas. If we're going to iterate a lot on something then we will make our own, or adapt something we've previously had printed. Generally we don't go to a POD service until we feel like we have a viable product.
There are numerous resources for helping you make your own. Here are some of them:
Working with a Print on Demand Service
Using a Print on Demand Service is expensive, but we make the judgement call to use it in certain circumstances:
We worked with Print and Play Productions as we had numerous custom items to produce and they are so easy to work with and are reliable. Their templates are easy to use and you can ask them to check the files before printing. You can work with your support manager for custom queries. So even though everything is available online it stills feels like a very personal service and that's something we rely on especially in time critical operations like being game convention ready.
If Print and Play get something wrong, they fix it, and they do everything in their power to get your game to you on time. Our custom sticker sheets were perfectly printed - the character image stickers were all silhouette cut and we had tile stickers, stickers for back stories, weapons stickers etc. Our playtesters loved choosing their stickers and getting them on to their custom player mats. I want to give a particular shout out to Jess who I work with at Print and Play and helped us with the custom order. We got everything on time and even though one custom sheet was missing, she had it delivered overnight and we received it on time for the con.
Why go to a Protospiel? (or Unpub event)
Pacificon Protospiel Shout Out
Pacificon Protospiel was an incredible experience for us as designers, and I highly recommend these events. The Pacificon event is particularly notable because of the support it receives from the Convention ownership. You can tell the importance that Gabriel Mondo Vega places on the protospiel as the heart of his convention. The Protospiel room had pride of place - every gamer had to pass our room on the way to registration, or the vendor hall or open gaming. We weren't hidden away off the beaten path. Every day had something special for us from sponsors, from coffee and donuts from Jeffry Tibbetts to breakfast from Breaking Games and numerous raffle prizes from the tickets you earned playing other people's games (that part was genius). The creative energy from other designers, the energy in the room was high and we were inspired by each other and the event was extremely well organized by Luke Laurie, Sarah Graybill and John Shulters. I think Pacificon might just be our happy place. So if you ever get the opportunity to come to California for a games convention - come to this one, every labor day weekend in Santa Clara. Or, now they have added a new one in Fresno starting MLK weekend next year. Come to this one too!
Where's your favorite protospiel or unpub event? What's your favorite protospiel anecdote?
Playable Zombie Legacy made its first public appearance a few days ago at the Pacificon Protospiel and it won Best Prototype!
We got some awesome feedback and great criticism too, which will help us direct and craft the legacy experience.
Thanks again to all the play testers and the organizers of Pacificon Protospiel #LukeLaurieGames! It was a fantastic event and I recommend it to all gamers and designers.
Legacy games bring board games a step closer to the immersion we can experience in video games and role playing games:
All of these factors work together to pull you into the game narrative and enhance the game experience.
Although legacy games have always fascinated us, we didn't originally set out to design Zombie Rising to be a legacy game, that evolved during our development. Our inspiration for the game theme came from the zombie novel genre as well as TV/Film so working with a meaningful narrative felt like a natural evolution. And so Zombie Rising became Zombie Legacy.
With this change in direction, I wanted to discuss a couple of the factors that are really important to us as we've been developing the legacy aspects of the game and share some related player feedback on those aspects.
The original Zombie Rising cast of characters were named, and were represented by preset colors as backgrounds on player mats, standees and plastic stands for the standees. We noticed that players wanted to choose who they played based on the character rather than the background color. We started off with the idea that we could have neutral colored backgrounds for the player mats and standees, and then players could chose their character and the color of plastic stand for their standee.
During Zombie Rising playtesting, our players were engaging with their characters and wanted a more interactive experience with those characters. We then started looking at character personalization as a sort of Legacy Light aspect. But as we continued to develop the game, we kept coming back to the RPG elements in the game and the notion that the game narrative could drive meaningful choices for the player. This comes both from Andrew's experience in designing and playing RPG games and my own in game narrative research. (About ten years ago we ran a government funded online games research program).
When we were playtesting Zombie Legacy, the highest ranked feature enjoyed by testers was character creation and development - choosing an image, naming their character, and selecting character back stories. Players enjoyed choosing something they identified with, and enjoyed the act of placing stickers on their player mats, and discussing with their friends who they were choosing and why.
During one memorable playtest, two players created the characters "Gunner" and "Slicer", chose their back stories and then extended their narrative to say that they were siblings. They then proceeded to engage with each other during the game as those characters, and it was interesting to see that they had in fact chosen character narratives that suited their gameplay style.
Branching character based story lines with meaningful choices and character progression
At its heart, Zombie Legacy is a co-operative survival game - we want you to care about your character and how they develop and what impacts them in their struggle. We want them to be more than a collection of numbers and counters on a mat.
At the start of Zombie Legacy, you are instructed to pick 4 elements of back story that you personally feel comfortable with and identify with. This forms the base of integration with the narrative of the game. Each of these background components will map to a gameplay impact at some point in the game, either in terms of abilities they can access, their motivations based upon game events, or what happens in a particular episode. As more choices are made about how the group chooses to survive, this influences and changes each character in a meaningful way so they evolve continuously with the game. We want you to care deeply about these choices and agonize over them - as they will materially matter in the game.
This was a little tricky during one of our playtesting session for Episode 1 when some players immediately received gameplay effects based on what choices they had made. Some others didn't and they felt there should be effects for every character on every episode, but realistically not every episode will impact every single player in that way. It will take time for a choice you made to have a visible impact - but it will happen.
We've played legacy games where you may be able to choose upgrades for your character, but there's generally no sense of character arc. Without giving away any spoilers we feel we have some new mechanisms that drive this experience. In Zombie Legacy the choices you make will impact your story arc and your character and their personality will change over time, so that you can find your own path and have a unique experience with your character.
Emotional engagement is the core of legacy play
Rob Daviau openly discusses how he uses elements of legacy play to manipulate the emotions of the players and how he deliberately designed in pacing with upbeats and downbeats to drive the players' connection to the game story. For me, this is the true genius of legacy games (and Daviau). It is not purely about the persistence from game to game, it's about how the permanent changes affect the emotions and experience of the player from game to game.
Emotions in gaming are fundamental to the enjoyment of a game. Nicole Lazzaro is a well known expert on the emotional keys for fun in gaming. If playing the game doesn't illicit a strong emotion, then it's probably not going to be fun. Reconsider games you played that you felt you should have enjoyed because it was from a top notch company with triple A components but it left you cold. Do you recall the game triggering emotion for you?
Zombie Legacy creates moments of tension and fear through the play, actions and narrative. For example:
Our testers really enjoyed these features and challenges. During one of my favorite play test sessions, we were playing the most difficult setting and our testers had lost 2 games and when they won the 3rd - one of our testers yelled in glee, that moment of victory, of accomplishment, what Lazaro refers to as fiero. Winning has to be earned or players feel cheated.
As designers we are trying to make you care about your character and also think about the choices you made with joy and regret. These emotional spaces throughout the gameplay are what add to the impact of fun on gamers, even for those gamers who don't care about a narrative when playing games.
Without giving away any spoilers it's kind of difficult to discuss more but we're really excited to add this type of gameplay to the Zombie game genre. If you would like to test Zombie Legacy then please sign up as as a tester as we will be conducting blind play tests and play throughs in September and October and you may be able to participate!
As a side note for those of you who are less interested in Legacy, or want to be able to play both versions, when we Kickstart the game we plan to feature stretch goals to allow play as the original non-legacy game at 4 different difficulty settings, and some other cool options. Sign up for Kickstarter news and to stay in touch with Zombie Legacy.
A significant proportion of our gaming community are color blind. Recently I got a tiny taste of what that must feel like.
My Scrabble loving parents join us every year on our annual summer vacation. Most evenings after dinner we enjoy some family gaming, usually playing Quirkle in teams. This year, I kept confusing the purple/blue tiles and the orange/red tiles.
I do not normally have color blindness issues, but maybe as I'm getting older my vision isn't what it used to be. It was really annoying and distracting, and I kept thinking we had Quirkles or other great moves only to discover that I had my colors mixed up.
Although I had read some discussion in the Board Game Revolution Facebook Group about color blindness issues for gamers until I experienced it for myself I really hadn't considered it as a design issue. Confusing the tile colors was really distracting and annoying. It made me think about what it must be like for gamers who are faced with this issue every time they play.
Luckily we had Zombie Rising with us on vacation so that we could continue to develop the game in between eating shave ice and watching turtles on our beach expeditions. We considered very carefully where we were using colors to distinguish components or other elements of the game and tried not to rely on color alone, but for example to use shapes and be considerate of the contrasting colors we are using.
Are you or someone you game with color blind? What advice do you have for game designers or other color blind players?
Which camp are you? Tech in board games or No?
For me and my family, one of our main reasons for playing board games is to unplug from the digital world, so I'm really uncomfortable with the notion of technology in board games. Even though I was a video game developer for over a decade, I just don't get it so I decided to explore it further.
Board game technology, in my view, falls into 3 main categories:
Even if it's not something we do when board gaming, I can appreciate using technology when playing board games if it's something that helps you play the game, for example tracking score or something like that. That said, I will avoid board games that require technology to play. Like I said, I’m playing to unplug from, not reconnect to, technology. And I really don't get playing a digital version of a board game. If I’m going to play something digital then it's going to be a video game where the gameplay is less abstract and I'm flying a star fleet ship using my xbox controller or using my sword to slay a giant, not drafting a card, and playing it for an action. Having said that I can see why it might appeal to solo gamers as the tech takes care of all the AI rules and housekeeping, or they are playing the games on their iPad as they pass time on a flight to a game con but I'm personally not a solo gamer, I play board games socially.
As I'm writing this post, a Take your Chits video popped up in my newsfeed by Christian Kang discussing this very topic and advocating that we be open to the notion of tech in board games. I've watched the video, Christian Kang is as entertaining as ever and he certainly gives food for thought.
Has he changed my world view? No, not really - my inner nerd does not want to disrupt the cardboard experience. But wait, I do love shiny new tech and now my inner geek is at odds with my inner nerd.
As a creator, I don't see us making games that require our players to use tech, we make the kinds of games we want to play and right now I don't want to play those kinds of board games that require an app. And if gamers wanted a digital version of our board games then we would need to explore that possibility.
I wouldn't want to see the analogue experience disappearing and I kind of think that we need to come up with a new genre of gaming for those games that merge the digital and analogue experience because once something is digital it's no longer a board game. What do you think?
Dreaming of attending GenCon...here are the Top 5 things I #GenWouldifICould. As I read all the GenCon updates I am so regretful because I want to go but we can't. Unfortunately the time of year just doesn't work for us as football coaches...so we knew we couldn't go this year. We had also intended to have our game demoed with the Indie Game Alliance but due to some >exciting< new design work, we knew we weren't going to be able to make the print date on time.
Unfortunately, as we are working away on the design it's too easy to be distracted with all the GenCon promos and news. So instead of working on the game, here are my Top 5 Things I #GenWouldifICould:
Actually, I just remembered something else I would do and I know it doesn't fit in my top 5 things as a game maker....but as a gamer, I would go to Stonemaier Games Fan Appreciation Night. Jamey Stegmaier's blog is a never ending resource for future kickstarters. We've made video games for years, and raised millions of dollars of Venture Capital for previous companies but crowd funding is different! And we love his games, his fan nights are well known and appreciated.
If you're going to GenCon what are your must do's? What are your must do demos? And if you #GenCan't what GenWouldifYouCould??
Welcome to Slam Unplugged
Slam used to make video games, but now we are unplugged!
This is where we'll talk about stuff. Anything that is Slam Unplugged related, which since Slam is Andrew and I, and we are married, could be anything we feel like talking about.
James Hudson recently posted a video on the Boardgame Spotlight Facebook Group posing the question, “Are board games the new video games?"
Of course the answer is no, they're not - but - I think the recent upsurge in the board games industry is a lot to do with my generation somewhat turning their backs on video games to find the social interaction we found gaming on the sofa, hanging our with our friends in our youth.
As old school video gamers and game makers we were always the first of our group to have the latest consoles and games. The Wii and Xbox Kinect really helped widen the gaming demographic and so our friends also got into gaming and bought their own consoles. We used to pack up our consoles and take them with us on our flights on vacation.
But the change from sofa gaming to gaming online with voice only changed the style of gaming that just didn't suit myself or my family. We could no longer play Halo co-op on the same console - we had to buy another console. (Yes, we did that just so we could hang out.)
Another reason for us to become so invested in board gaming is that working in the tech sector we are heavily reliant on technology and screen time, our kids are growing up in the digital age - we wanted to unplug and share our quality time with our kids. Board gaming lets us do that.
I love playing games as a family, the boys are 8 and 15 and we've been playing games with them for as long as I can remember: Junior Monopoly (thankfully no more), Uno, Blokus, Quirkle, Carcasonne, Ticket to Ride, Catan, and now Scythe, Viticulture, Clank, Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Galaxies make it regularly to the table. Our recent faves are Kingdomino and Pandemic Legacy. The thing I love most about co-op games is discussing strategies and tactics together, especially with the kids. The eldest is happiest on xbox hanging out with his friends online, but he will emerge from his man cave and play games with us. The youngest is a budding game designer, who takes his prototypes to game days in his classroom and is starting to get into painting minis.
Why do you enjoy board games?