Friday, June 8, 2018

Solo Gaming Goals: Making a Win Feel Like a Win

When you win a board game against other live players, you get that exhilaration - that RUSH - that you bested your friends in the same game, using your own unique strategy. Somehow, you tactfully (or luckily) accumulated enough points in however so many goals to exceed everyone else, making you the clear victor as you jump up and down with both fists in the air. Everyone else huddles over the board, wondering where everything went wrong or sideways for themselves as you happily log your victory in your stats app, admiring the list of other players' names that are not marked with a win.

When you win a board game against the game, you get a sigh. That's it.


Is it a sigh of relief? Is it an exhaustive sigh? Is it a brief sigh? Is it a deep sigh? Is it a sigh followed by hair-pulling? Followed with a curse word? Followed with a full table flip?

Just like playing the game with others, playing a solo game still has the same outcome: you either win or lose. But there's no clear measure of a win, not against other human players, at least. You're always besting a top score, against an AI player, or sometimes you just...survived. The measure of a win is not a clear "you're better than everyone else at the table"; at best, you completed a full solo game from beginning to end, which is as close to a generic "win" condition as any. 

Beating The Game And, Possibly, Yourself

So what constitutes as a solo win? Getting a high score? Getting ANY score higher than zero? Beating the AI? Beating the game in general? that it? Largely so. Apart from playing against AI, though, these outcomes are similar to playing with friends. But where's the satisfaction? Just from bettering oneself at a game to a victorious standpoint? And how much gratification will you feel after reaching that? Will you want to try again?

Where there's a palpable value to winning against others, knowing that everyone used their skills to the best of their abilities and you came out on top, it's harder to attain that satisfaction playing solo, when the only opponent is largely yourself. For that win to count, there's that need of surpassing something seemingly impossible to give it substance. Something that you built up since the beginning of the game, only to use it close to the end to reap the bountiful rewards that you had calculated from the start. That sensation of besting the game by doing something risky and exciting is what solidifies that win to a full-fledged victory.

Too Easy? Too Hard? Too Helpless?

Achieving just a win isn't the only thing, however. Winning too often makes each of them more shallow than the next. Hardly winning at all makes the game tiring and diminishes hope for replayability. Not winning at all makes you feel downtrodden and luckless, with the only option to just give up. A lot of solo games fit into these categories, and it's a shame, too. Making a game that plays solo seems easy enough, but if it's not carefully balanced from the start, it's a rushed job.

And even if it's carefully balanced, such one-sided win/lose ratios can deter even the heaviest solo gamers out there. Losing once in a game that's too easy to win gives some risk of losing in an easy game; Winning a few times in a hard game gives a small ray of hope in a brutal game. Winning in an extremely-difficult game makes you feel like you must've screwed up in the rules for you to accidentally win in it.

So what keeps us coming back to those harder games? Well...that small win percentage. To an extent.


If people generally gave up when things got hard, we'd have no progress. What do we do when things are hard? We make progress. We tend NOT to do the same things that got us in that predicament, and develop different and new strategies to change the outcome from just "hard" to "maybe okay." It's a trial-and-error development cycle, measured from game to game, in the hope that progress is gradually made, leading to the inevitable conclusion of a victory at the end of the game. When a solo game has the player grow over time on their own terms, the path to a win is forged and crafted, until there's a beautiful and intricate plan of attack to come out on top. And when you do, you will let out a deep guttural sigh, rest your hands, and just gaze at the final outcome that lays before you.

Now THAT'S a win.

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