I didn’t pay too much attention to solo variants for board games before. I saw boardgaming as a social experience and I rarely thought of it as a way to play alone. None of my previous games had solo variant (except 51st State for which I was asked by fans and finally designed one).
Then Robinson came. Solo play was so much deep in the theme that I had to design solo variant. It was not hard. It just worked right from the beginning.
I would forget about it right after releasing the game if not players who… really played this variant! It turned out everybody recommend it, and people really like it… I started to search forums and I learned something – gamers like solo variants. They like when game has good solo variant. This is one of traits my games should have. A good solo variant.
That was exactly what I told Michiel when we met in Bremen in February 2013. We need solo variant.
Michiel said he has no solo variant yet, but he can design one quite easily. The Legacy has no direct interaction (OK, it has but not too much) and we will only need to simulate the fact that players block each other on the main board. We will have solo variant, said.
And that would be true if not me asking a strange question again…
We were in the office. Walec was working on spouse cards with his desk looking like one big family tree. He was grumbling to himself, changing cards in the tree, taking some notes…
‘You know what would be cool?’ I ask.
That is the phrase that freezes the blood in the veins of my employees. They hate when I have this ‘cool idea’ moments.
Walec stops grumbling.
‘What?’ he asks.
‘It would be cool if we could turn it top down. In solo variant you would start in modern days and you would try to discover truth about your ancestors. You would start with some initial information about your family and you try to discover the rest and fill blank spaces.’
‘Yes, it would be cool.’ he says with tone of his voice saying: ‘This is beautiful dream boss but don’t you even dare to think that we could do this!’
I am not good with this whole tone thing.
‘I love it already’ I say. ‘I can imagine myself sitting at the desk with all these cards and some clues about my family. I can imagine looking for answers and digging in the past. With hot tea, good music, late in the night. That will be best solo variant ever.’
Walec is in consternation.
‘You have 8 weeks.’ I say. ‘Try to design it that way. If it is impossible we will pass on it and we will stay with a classic solo variant. But I believe it is worth a shot.’
8 weeks passed like a day. We are back in the office. Walec is making set up for solo variant. He is a little bit nervous. He worked on this variant like crazy and today I will decide if we keep working on that or we cancel it and go back to basic variant.
‘You start here. Here are your parents. You draw this two cards now. These are your first clues. They represent some old documents about your family you found in the attic. Old letters or something like that. Later on you will draw more these cards, older and older up to the manuscript from 18th century. Look, this one says your mother had two sisters, and the other one says your grandpa was a famous scientist…’
He explains me everything and shows me all available actions, and all these cards he designed and he talks and talks, with all these information about balance and ideas behind rules and I can’t stop him because he is talkin’ damn fast. It seems that when he is nervous he talks a lot. I can’t find even a one second spot to interrupt him.
At some point I know literally everything about this variant. And since the very first sentence he said I knew it was brilliant – we have a mystery here, some old letters and documents, old family, digging in the past…
I would tell him that I love this variant and he has green light to finish and balance it but I can’t say anything because he is still talking like a mad! This is getting ridiculous.
[You know that feeling, right? You can’t stop talking because you are afraid what you will hear when you are done. So you keep talkin’ and talkin’…]
Finally he is done.
‘What do you think?’ he asks and shuts up.
‘I love it.’ I say.
I want to give credit to Walec. Michiel is author of the game and he will be on the cover. I am front-man of Portal Games and I will be always in the spotlight. Walec? He will be mentioned on the last page of the rulebook. Small font. Additional material section. No one would ever knew that he did the impossible.
He took components of The Legacy and he designed small mini game for one player. I own him this post.