A Love Affair With Deadly Solo Games

I strongly believe that gaming, or any geekdom, should be about people first. So then it might seem strange that I love solo games so much, particularly deadly ones. Solo games, like The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, Zombie in my Pocket, or our own Choose Your Destiny Adventures, are a conversation — a dialogue between the designer and the player — of the most intimate nature.

Deadly solo games
Photo credit: Steve Halama

A solo game designer creates a puzzle for their players to solve.
The best designers get the difficulty balance right. They know their audience and create challenges that’ll push players to bring their best, without breaking them.

But how difficult should a game be?

Different Strokes

It varies. Solitaire’s three-card draw version is perfect for many players,  while others prefer the easier one-card draw version. It largely depends on your audience. Hard-core puzzle solvers want a challenge, other players just want to relax and take a load off. Still, make things too easy and players will pass through your game too quickly and have little reason to come back to it. If it’s too tough players will eventually give up and hate the game. The sweet spot, in my experience, is somewhere just before that: deadly.

Deadly and Desirable

The Dark Souls series taught us that a deadly challenge is memorable — even desirable. Of all the bazillion games out there, Dark Souls is the only one tempting my brother and I to buy a console. And a TV. And the game. I’ve literally watched hours of other people playing the game, and it still fascinates me.
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first in the Fighting Fantasy series, is famous for being difficult to beat, with only one true path through it. You’ll die plenty of times on your way to the warlock. I picked it up again recently because I’ve still not beaten it — and that’s enough to tempt me back again.

This is starting to have weird similarities with BDSM, and maybe there’s wisdom in that. The question then is, how difficult is too difficult?

A Step Too Far

A game gets too difficult if it’s unplayably hard, if the player bearly gets started before meeting a grizzly fate, or if multiple attempts result in little  or no progress. In a solo game, without a buddy for backup, it’s vital that the designer supports the player, so the rules need to be digestible and must provide the tools for beating the game.

We like a challenge, we don’t like getting the snot kicked out of us again and again.

When a designer nails the difficulty then the player feels respected, and that makes for a fun game that’s hard to forget — just like a good conversation.

Choose Your Destiny

Our Choose Your Destiny Adventures can surely prove deadly, and they’re a lot of fun, especially if you want to break out your fifth edition fantasy character and play for an evening. You can subscribe to the series on our Patreon page.

Death Queen  - A Deadly Solo Game
What’s more deadly than an adventure with “Death Queen” in the title?

Till next time, play good games!

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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