This article is based on a CGS community poll in which we asked everyone about their thoughts on solo gaming.
Solo gaming has clearly been such a significant driving force in board gaming that it is hard to imagine a major release, especially for a thematic game, that wouldn’t support solo play. As a company, we strive to keep our fingers on the pulse and listen to the voice of the amazing community that has gathered around the CGS games. To learn more about you and what you like, we have started a discussion in the form of a community poll, and this time it’s been about solo gaming. A whooping 1264 people have responded, and we’re excited to share the results with everyone.
The trend of solo gaming has particularly received a lot of attention during the various lockdowns that we all have been through. Still, it is rather surprising to see how important the option to play solo is when deciding whether to buy a game or not. The results of the first question speak for themselves, don’t they?
It also seems that it is not that important for a game to have a “true solo” mode, i.e. being able to play while handling only one’s own character or agenda. While true solo might be the preferred way to play, having to play two-handed (as in managing the actions of two, or possibly more, players at the same time) doesn’t seem to be a big issue. Over 90% of the respondents would accept the increased upkeep and complexity of a two-handed play if it meant that they would be able to play a game they like on their own.
Before we look at the next chart, note that it was possible to choose more than one answer as a response for the following question.
As far as the solo-mode mechanics go, the beat-your-own-score variant (Agricola) is a clear loser here. While it offers an opportunity to focus on puzzle solving, not having a certain thematic goal to work towards feels like there is something missing. And it seems that adding winning conditions into the mix (Terraforming Mars) does not do the trick, either, since the measure of “how well you won” is often just based on the competition with your previous attempts.
On the other hand, the remaining two options, i.e. having clear win-lose conditions (Pandemic) and playing against an automa (Scythe), are vastly preferred. The first has a foundation in a clear sense of achievement in overcoming a scenario, and the latter replicates the experience of playing against another person.
Since the subjective taste of every player can vary quite drastically, the answers to the last question show the total number of votes instead of percentages. The chart includes all games that have received more than 20 votes.
It is quite interesting to compare this list with BoardGameGeek’s top 200 solo games ranked according to the people’s choice. The results above reveal a strong preference towards games that incorporate a storytelling experience, whether that is from the emergent narrative or a long campaign.
We have, however, also asked the community why the game(s) they marked as their favorite are held in such high regard. Even though it is impossible to provide a coherent graph of over 1000 personalized explanations of what makes a game great (for solo), we’ve read every single one of your answers. And so, as a fun experiment, let’s try to bring them all together in a set of features that would, theoretically, describe an ideal game that would satisfy everyone’s taste.
The most important areas turned out to be production quality, theme, story, and gameplay mechanics. The first two categories are rather straightforward. Good production quality implies that the components, like minis or tokens, should be artistically well-designed, fun to engage with in a tactile way, and help build a pleasant table presence that facilitates the immersion into the game. When considering the theme, it’s important that the gameplay mechanics and what it feels like when you play correspond to what the game is actually about.
The gameplay mechanics category can be broken down into several layers. First, it is crucial that the game is clearly designed with a solo mode in mind, either as a true solo game suitable only for a single person, or with a competent solo variant that doesn’t compromise on the experience of playing with other people. This can be done through a competent automa or a good solo mode. In both cases, it is important that the game is easy to manage with only a short downtime for upkeep so you spend more time actually playing the game rather than managing it.
The game should also provide a challenge that is complex enough to maintain high tension and provide a sense of accomplishment upon winning (ideally with the option to adjust the difficulty). Yet, the setup and tear down time should be short enough that it doesn’t discourage from bringing the game down from its shelf. The challenges you face should be varied enough for high replayability, and a high level of variety should be also present in options that players have for developing and optimizing their character through unique skills and builds that you can tailor to your own taste. To support the gameplay experience, the rules need to be streamlined and approachable while still allowing deep, meaningful gameplay choices and strategic options. Finally, the mechanics should support the sense of exploration, discovery, and progress both in terms of your character and of the story.
The story needs to provide a sufficient context for the game, which sustains the motivation to keep playing. In line with what we have explored in a CGS Spotlight article on storytelling, the plot should be firmly anchored through a gradually progressive world building that gives rise to an intriguing and immersive setting that makes you forget the woes of real life and brings you right into the game.
For a properly involved experience that you can lose yourself in, the plot needs to be assembled through layers of meaningful choices that build a unique narrative experience full of highly thematic adventures. A key component here is also the quality of the writing and plot twists that keep the story fresh and full of believable and relatable characters that you can relate to. There should also be complex moral questions and consequences that develop the world as you play. Lastly, the atmosphere needs to be supported through the right balance of unpredictability, both in the storytelling and mechanics. All of this combined should eventually lead players towards an epic, fulfilling ending that ties together all threads of the overarching storyline.
As you can see, all the major areas (theme, story, gameplay mechanics, and production quality) of our ideal game need to work in synergy with each other, as their objective isn’t only to work in their separate categories, but to support and elevate other elements as well. To bring this all together, let’s quote one of our favorite descriptions submitted in the survey that, perhaps, supersedes everything else that was mentioned above:
What about you? Do these results fit your solo gaming preferences?
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