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Protect me from what I want

Sometimes it's easy to tell if something is a bad idea: I know that if I wear a latex dress, I'll look like a sausage. So I'll never purchase one. But there are times when, even though I know that what I want is wrong, I'll still go ahead and do it. When I was in my early twenties, I went to the hairdresser once and asked them to dye my hair peroxide blond. Both of the ladies who worked there tried hard to change my mind, telling me it would look unnatural and wouldn't suit me. I did not want to listen. The chief hairdresser stepped in, told them to stop, and ordered them to go ahead with the bleaching. I was the customer, after all, and customers are always right. Let's just say that it was a suboptimal decision on my part which I never repeated.

Cosmic Frog. Image source: BGG

So, why have I -on two occasions- asked for a solo mode in the forums of games which are not meant to be played solo? I am not a newbie to the hobby any more, so it's not that I am still exploring my preferences. I am aware of what consists, for me, a good gaming experience. And yet, there I was at the Cosmic Frog threads, asking if a solo variant might be possible. In a game that thrives on player interaction! What was I thinking? And again, just before Cryptic Explorers went to Kickstarter, I joined the crowd that begged for a solo/co-op mode in addition to the one vs. many original. I was also wishing for soloability during the War of the Worlds KS campaign. In all three cases, the designers did not give in to the pleas and released the games without a solo mode option. And they have my utter respect for that. Jim Felli, Maher Sagrillo, and Denis Plastinin, thank you for your integrity. None of these would be a good solo game, unless it was practically re-designed to become something else.

In most cases where solo gamers pester designers to change their games, attractive artwork is to blame. Take, for example, last week's KS release, Lizard Wizard. Annie Stegg's reptilians are a sight for sore eyes. One of the main mechanisms of the game is auction. Obviously not suitable for one player. And yet, the creators came up with a solo mode just before the end of the campaign, due to popular demand. With no time to film a solo playthrough or even test it sufficiently, they will deliver it sight unseen. Backers who ordered the game to play alone will have to keep their fingers crossed that they won't regret it later.

Lizard Wizard. Image source: BGG

In other cases, it is the designer's credentials or the publisher's history that do the trick. Vital Lacerda cannot dare to put out a game that doesn't cater to the solo fans. And Stonemaier Games built a whole Factory for the production of Automas. They have to keep those solo machines well-oiled. Even when the game is good at the 3-5 player count, just okay at 2 and a total chore at 1. There is no doubt that the Automa Factory worked very hard to create a solo mode for a game with sand timers. But the fact that they racked their brains to make this thing work somehow, doesn't mean that they should have. Don't take my word for it, take Mark Dainty's who actually went through the trouble and had the worst solo experience in his life.

It is perhaps worth noting that Morten Monrad Pedersen's top 10 games list doesn't include any solo games with bots, and that David Turczi, who likes competitive games, doesn't play solo. Competitive games are by definition designed for at least two people, and are thus difficult to adjust to satisfy a single player. Before we pull designers' sleeves to pay attention to us soloists, let's first think if this actually is to our best interest. And let's not be grateful when companies slap on a solo mode merely for fan service and profit. Through instinct and study we can usually tell if multiplayer games may be for us or not. Let's protect ourselves from our own cravings and blonde ambition.

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