I've now played Bonfire 4 times solo with the provided Tom (automata) opponent.
Some thoughts on Tom:
- Tom turns are fast. Just flip one of the eight automata cards and do the action. Once you're familiar with the cards, it takes around 30 sec to execute.
- Tom, like a regular player, takes portals, path and task tiles, etc and scores them at the end of the game just like you. This creates interaction with you in that Tom can take a portal that you were going to take. I like this as this gives the same feeling as a non-solo game.
- The biggest criticism I've read online about Tom is that he's random and just messes with your well laid out plans. I understand that you can't read Tom like a human opponent. Normally you can look at what action tiles your opponent has and more or less guess which strategy and as such which action(s) they are going to take. But it doesn't bother me and think it's a bit exaggerated. Tom's deck consists of eight cards so you also know what actions it has (not) done. And yes, with randomness there are outliers and there will be games where he just ruins your plans.
- Tom keeps the game pace tight. My first two games I lost horribly because I was just too slow. Tom teaches you action efficiency and you need to trigger the game end by accumulating 7 Novices in the High Counsel. If you let Tom trigger the game end, you'll most likely loose.
- My last two games were two decisive victories against Tom. So now comes in the handicap mode that are in the rules. Basically, depending on your past lost/won games, you or Tom gets a point handicap. And after the game you adjust the handicap. That way, you get over time a Tom that should give you a constant challenge.
So overall, I find Tom a good balance between ease of play, challenge and randomness. Tom as an opponent puts pressure on play time and point efficiency. Yes there is some randomness but that's a tradeoff for easy of play. If you want to play a top notch AI, I suggest playing the solo AI in Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! But be prepared to also invest time in managing the AI turns.
Wait wait Wouter, what with HAL from Black Angel? Well, HAL reminds me very much of Tom:
- HAL also has a mini deck dictating which action HAL takes. HAL turns are also fast and easy to manage.
- HAL uses (and borrows) dice just like a human player. This again creates the player interaction just like in a non-solo game.
- HAL's score is different than a human player. This is the biggest difference compared to Tom. There is a bigger point pressure from HAL. For example, if HAL can't take the action, it simply scores 3 points. As such, HAL's end score is more consistent.
- Black Angel has no handicap mode but I would think you could apply Bonfire's handicap mode. Ie have a more fluent point handicap over games iso fixed difficulty modes.
In summary, I'm glad I have Bonfire and Black Angel. Both are games I enjoy. Start with a plan but adjust along the way as the game evolves. Player actions are simple. Tom/HAL is easy to manage and pose a good challenge. They're a good balance between ease of play, challenge and randomness.