This article has first been published in three parts on Liz‘s Beyond Solitaire blog, the latest part having been published here.
The 1 Player Guild (1PG), initiated by user Fractaloon, is a nice place where solitary player engage with other members and share their experiences with solitaire games, solitaire rules for games they enjoy but have to, or choose to play alone, share news and informations about new or upcoming games that can be played alone, or simply share their love, and their love for gaming. And music. And literature too.
Well at any rate, it’s one cozy place on the Internet, and because “together, we game alone”.
With eleven thousand members, at the time of this writing, and going, and currently being the second strongest guild on Board Game Geek after the Dice Tower (which it has since surpassed), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that formidable and hard-working personalities are found there and are very active.
Yet not all of them are praised as much as we think they deserve.
In the first volume of what I hope will become a series, I propose to highlight the contributions of Unsung Heroes of the 1 Player Guild, by introducing a small number of them, and then let them talk about themselves in light of their contributions to the community.
As you might have guessed, this series does not strive for exhaustivity, and just because I have selected a handful of members, doesn’t mean that those that do not appear do not have anything worthy to contribute, by any means. Hence the idea of turning into a series, possibly by different writers.
For this first volume, I have chosen to talk about the following members, by alphabetical order:
- Athena Ex
- Dejun King
It’s difficult not to encounter Athena when browsing the 1PG, because of her threads about upcoming Kickstarter and direct-to-retail games. Which are an invaluable source of knowledge and joyful discussions (and totally sidetracking too).
Because of this Athena is probably responsible for your wallet not being as full as it could or should be.
Athena curates those lists and keeps them updated, surfing the web to find hidden gems and paying close attention to the other posters’ information. Truly a gigantic amount of work if you’ve ever tried to stay up to date with the gaming world, and soloing now taking a bigger part of it each day. In fact it is becoming more and more common to have solitaire rules in games, be it as stretch-goals during Kickstarter campaigns, or directly in the box, and publishers and designers tend to have solitaire rules designed by exterior designers, or designer congregations, such as the Automa Factory.
But all those solitaire rules are not necessarily good ones and some are there just to lure the solitaire player in. That’s where Athena’s threads come in handy, as players who have had an opportunity to experience the games are able to share their thoughts on it and, sometimes, warn potential buyers.
She’s also begun a list of print and play games in which she shares, in a condensed yet highly informative way, her thoughts about the solitaire games she’s crafted and played, and why she thinks you should play them too. Or maybe you shouldn’t.
Raz – Athena, I have selected you for your work on isolating the solo playable games hitting Kickstarter and going directly to retail. Can you tell us a little more about you?
Athena – Thank you very much for the honour, Raz. I am an art historian, about to finish my PhD. I wasn’t a solo gamer when I first joined BGG, but became one out of necessity. Now I’m a die-hard fan of playing solo, I think it is often better than multiplayer.
R – What prompted you to start making and curating these lists in the first place ?
A – As soon as I began to follow Kickstarter, I realized that keeping track of new releases would require taking notes on a calendar. When I did that in a Word document for my own use, I figured that others might need some sort of tracking tool as well.
The 1PG already had a KS list (maintained by Andi), but that one listed the games which were on KS at the time. Even though that was important of course, what I personally needed was to know what to anticipate, what to expect in the near future, so as to plan where to invest my budget.
As I was browsing the list of Prelaunched KS projects on BGG, it dawned on me to ‘sift’ it, and separate the solo playable ones. This gave birth to my own list which I try to update daily.
Seeing that people responded positively, and knowing that not everyone is a fan of Kickstarter, I was encouraged to make a similar list with the solo games that go straight to retail.
R – I am impressed by the amount of work you put into these, browsing the web for actual launches but also information about future ones. Would you tell us how you proceed ?
A – I am blessed/cursed to have sufficient spare time to dedicate to the hobby these days. As a proper newshound, I browse BGG, Facebook and sometimes online board game magazines. Most games companies announce their plans on Facebook, so I get most of my information from there.
R – Among the thousands you’re making your fellow solitary gamers spend on new games, how many games do you actually get from what you’re perusing and what are your preferences?
A – Even though it may seem that my lists tempt people to spend more, I doubt that this is the case. Those with big budgets just program their purchases, and those with smaller budgets still resist bulk buying.
I belong to the latter category. I have both a limited budget and limited shelf space. It also pains me to have a pile of unplayed games, so I don’t go overboard. Plus, I’m not the easiest customer in terms of preferences.
I mostly enjoy games ‘dripping with theme’ but I’m not entirely Ameritrashy. I like card-driven gameplay and deck building, and also some historical games and light wargames.
R – I was glad to see you start something new with the PnP Buffet list, which packs a lot of comprehensive info in a short amount of words. What makes you settle on a particular game to assemble and play, what are you criterias? And do you intend to take on bigger games?
A – Unlike other pnp enthusiasts, I’m not so interested in the crafting part. I lack the necessary equipment to make professional-looking copies, most of my builds are simply paper cards tucked into premium sleeves. So I won’t make any bigger games, no.
What drew me into this activity is that it gives me numerous new games to play as long as I have inks in the printer. Even though I’m not a big fan of filler games and I rarely buy them, trying a small pnp gives me joy. Theme is what lures me in when choosing what to print, and also good looks.
I chose to present the list in this compact way so as not to bore people with long, detailed descriptions. When I am looking for new games, I first want to know what they are about and if they might be worth my time. So this is the information I’m offering. If someone wants to talk about a game in length, I’m always available for further comments.
Dejun is someone whose generosity has always impressed me. Be it from trading a copy of Coffee Roaster, new, in shrink to send to me just because – something which I’m still yet to repay – or from sending some of his games to new members of the guild, the guy just likes giving and sharing.
He’s also responsible for a couple solitaire variants to games he loves, notably Honshū. He won’t hesitate to start designing a variant if you start asking him too. And will pause playtesting his million undergoing designs to do so.
While he’s a little less present nowadays for reasons his own, Dejun has left a strong impression on many a Guild member, who are avidly awaiting his return.
Raz – Dejun, I have selected you for your generosity towards new guild members, and for the solitaire variants you have designed. Can you tell us a little more about you ?
Dejun – Raz! How’s it going my friend, nice to be speaking with you again. Fair warning, since this is an internet-based interview I fully intend on making myself sound way more exciting than I actually am for the listeners, is that ok?
R – I’m totally fine with that and the mic is on. Lemme… Okay… Dafuq is wrong with this record… *Scratch scratch* okay the beat is on moffo, you can start, make it good!
D – Awesome! Well where to start… I am a 32 year old engineer from Missouri (astrological sign- Cancer, in case we have any fans out there) who’s hobbies include not all but most of the following: Gaming, Music, Art, Eating, Long Car Rides, Adult Beverages, Tree Hugging, Maple Syrup Making, Gordon Ramsey Binging, Heavy Book Lifting, Flowers, Nature, Quilt Collecting, People Watching, Fire Juggling, Dancing, Antiquing, and Metal Detecting.
CONTEST ALERT: The first person to tell me the 6 falsified hobbies I listed of mine will receive a free game, compliments of myself.
R – Can I play too?
D – Dude we talked before this, your are getting the interview, isn’t that enough… stop de-railing this thing..
Moving on, I have a lovely family which consists of myself, my beautiful wife of of 7 years Taylor, my smarter than he should be 6 year old son Apollo, and our super lazy dog Tuna. I really enjoy meeting new people and am guilty of starting conversations through PM’s on the Geek that end up lasting months… those poor souls who feel it’s rude to not reply to my messages, I feel sorry for them.
Raz, I am sure you know me better than I know myself by now, did I leave anything out?
R – The freaky parts but those are best kept to ourselves, if you ask me.
D – Right… there are the rails… lets stay on track.
R – Can you tell me more about your variants? How do you pick a game to do a variant for and how do you design the rules ?
D – For me the games I choose to make variants for are the ones that I love to play during game nights but are impossible to play any other time.
In order to get my fill of these games I must take it upon myself to either try and find a solo variant on the Geek that fits my personal play style or create something I would enjoy.
As for designing I always enjoy an objective or competitive driven solitaire game rather than the stand by “Beat your best score”. In multiplayer games I am striving to play better than my opponent to win so this is what I try and re-create in my variants, even though my opponent is a fictitious robot with no face for which to rub in a victory.
Before I start a variant I really try to understand how the game works as a multiplayer game. From there I try figuring out what I can do to mimic “Player Only” decisions and make them as streamlined as I can. Sometimes it works great and the game is very enjoyable and other times it all falls apart and you feel like you are doing tedious work rather than enjoying a board game and this is where playtesting a variant over and over and over (I will skip the next 100 “over’s” for the listener’s sake) really becomes a crucial part you must not ignore.
Could I also just take a minute to
R – I don’t think we have time for that…
D – thank each and every person
R – Dejun I have a schedule to…
D – who has helped me with any form of feedback and playtesting
R – No seriously dude I really mean it!
D – for my games and variants over the years.
R – Oh boy I’m so fired!
D – You have all made a huge difference and I appreciate each and every one of you for your help.
R – You mention all of your designs, be it solitaire variants, or actual new games, are ongoing. You’ve released your variants and have sent game rules to your friend, but you’re never satisfied. What would you take for you to consider a ruleset to be finished and ready for publication?
D – I do not think that the design is the issue in your question but rather the creator. I have been this way all my life. I have drawn pictures that I have never hung up for display. I have written songs that only a handful of people have heard. This type of compulsion to never finalize something because I think I can keep making it better leaks through to my solo variants as well. Even though I design simple games / variants that receive positive feedback I still am always hesitant to commit and say that a product is finished.
R – You love trading. You are not trying to make a profit in it, and you love meeting back people you’ve traded with to play a game with them. What’s your best trading memory?
D – You absolutely right Raz, I am a trader through and through. I often do mildly lopsided trades benefiting the other person for two reasons.
1.) The games I trade no longer get played as they should and I know they are going to someone who will give them the attention they deserve.
2.) When you feel like you are getting a deal you can’t help but smile and be happy and I love to make people happy.
As for my most memorable trade story it would have to be when I traded Terraforming Mars to Derek (Donutz McGoo). I was no longer playing TM like I once was when I first picked it up and he had expressed interest in a number of games I had so I thought it would make for a good trade opportunity. After discussing the trade we met up and I said goodbye to my games as did he to his and we parted ways. A couple weeks go by and I saw Derek post an entry to SGOYT (ndlr: the Solitaire Games On Your Table monthly geeklists, for which you can subscribe here) for Terraforming Mars and I was pleased to see that my game was getting to the table an being enjoyed. A few more weeks go by and Derek’s entries of Terraforming Mars continue to increase especially after adding the expansion Prelude. The more entries I read of Derek’s the more I found myself saying, “Man, he is making this game look great…… is he selling me on my own game!?” Long story short, it didn’t take long until I was back at the game store making a purchase for something a few months earlier I was glad to get rid of. I still laugh about this today.
R – You’ve fallen deep into the Keyforge trap, and although I know you enjoy crushing your opponent and then digging their grave with their own corpses, I’m surprised you still haven’t figured a solo variant for the game. I guess my next question is: when can we expect such a variant?
D – Oh man we get to talk about Keyforge!!! Ok, super pumped about this… so there is no solo variant on the horizon although I did try and contact Richard Garfield and FFG to ask if there would ever be an introduction of “Training Decks”. House-specific products you could purchase that you could pit your decks against at your leisure (something along the lines of what Magic: The Gathering did around the Theros block (nldr: Magic: the Gathering had soloable challenge decks during the Theros block which never really took off but were a much welcome addition for players who couldn’t regularly meet opponents, or simply wanted a lighthearted cooperative variant. There were 3 of them, one against an hydra, one against a minotaur horde, and against Xenagos after he ascended to godhood). Each deck would deliver road blocks that house is capable of playing in a PvP game and it is up to you to forge 3 keys before the training deck can.
Although a solo variant is not in the works from me I am very pleased with the progress I am making for the “Big Deck” variant I am in the process of creating. I love, love, love this game and am so pleased the I have finally found for myself a good alternative to MTG.
R – You definitely have to let us know if you start co-designing with Richard Garfield!
D – HA! you know that will never happen…
Wait, did I hear sarcasm in that comment?
Was that meant as a stab towards me..
You know what.. we’re done here..
GET THIS THING OUTTA MY FACE!
R – Erm. Moving on.
It should be common knowledge now that I’m an avid Aeon’s End player. Therefore, when Farydia came with a fantastic idea for a solo, single-handed marathon through all the contents of my favorite wave to date, ie wave 1 (Aeon’s End, The Depths, The Nameless), I could but join. I played my part in recommending that she turned the thread into a Geeklist, and then I was blown away by the quality of the content.
There was flavor text. There was push-your-luck. There were side-quests. There were rewards.
And most of all, there was fun.
I managed to win the marathon with fellow humongous fan and playtester user Ruduen, piloting the very strong, borderline overpowered Z’Hana (and doing my fair share of mistakes along the way).
And so I was overjoyed when Farydia came back with the War Eternal marathon, with thrice the fun and thrice the ways to play (and thrice the dead prophets too!)
Since I’m a coward, I brought to battle the ever-broken Gex, and am having as much fun, if not more, than in the first marathon, and recommending it to everyone, borderline spamming into the New Age Kickstarter campaign to be honest.
Simply put? I think the marathon is miles ahead of the official campaign variant the Aeon’s End designer, Kevin Riley, has come up with. But since it’s not as flexible in terms of who you face, the good news, is that both can co-exist.
Raz – Farydia, I have selected you for your Aeon’s End marathons. Can you tell us a little more about you ?
Farydia – Sure thing! I’m in my mid-thirties and work as an engineer in the aerospace industry. And even after more than ten years, I still love my job (with the normal ups and downs, sure), it’s never boring, even though there’s currently no big aircraft program in development, there’s always something to do on the ones already flying. Current tragedies notwithstanding . So you might say that rules are a big part of what I do each day, even outside of boardgaming . It’s a bit difficult to tell apart cause and effect here, but I’m just gonna assume that a certain affinity to problem solving and optimizing what you can do in a tightly defined ruleset both affected my choice of profession as well as my enjoyment of boardgames (and video games, too). I’ve been a gamer as long as I can think. I also enjoy painting miniatures (for boardgames), although I’m practically talent-free. It’s become a great way to relax for me and it’s fun and that’s my main objective there. And thirdly, I’ve been an avid reader of books for just about all my life (well, minus the first 5 years, when I wasn’t yet able to read, of course). I’m unmarried, but live in a happy relationship. And the best thing is that my partner also likes to play boardgames, so we can enjoy this great hobby together. He’s the best .
R – You have put a lot of work into each entry of the marathon, which are complete with their story text, a full market, a set of rewards for the next game, and even a Nemesis-specific reward. What inspired you to do this, and how do you work each entry out ?
F – I mostly (but not exclusively) play solo games when I’m on business trips. But I’m probably not a “pure” solo gamer at heart. I like gaming to be a shared activity among many people. So I thought of a way of doing solo games together (kind of), by having other people on BGG contribute to the defense of the city of Gravehold together with me. My personal affinity to reading and stories made it easy to get into the lore of Aeon’s End a bit and I enjoy writing these tiny tidbits of flavour text to set the mood for the current chapter of the Marathon. Beats writing requirements all day for sure . Another factor is, that in order to have a shared experience, while not sitting at the same table together, it is necessary to have some common elements that everyone actually shares. So this is how the set market and the rewards came into the mix.
As for the reward and market setup and design: The market I build with the randomizers, but I draw more cards than will be needed and then select cards that allow a sensible build for the round. I deliberately also leave in cards that I consider inferior, because I’ve seen some interesting uses and strategies I hadn’t thought of before.
The reward tiers, I considered them necessary to offset a bit of the difficulty. As you will often not start the round with full health and that would quickly become a death spiral, especially as the Nemesis are getting successively harder. I usually design the rewards according to the rule that one will give Aether at the start of the game to allow a head start, one will provide some healing opportunities and one reward usually manipulates the game state in another, more freestyle way, by allowing to deal additional damage or shield or in general use abilities you otherwise do not have. All of these effects are usually one-shots, we wouldn’t want the game to easy, would we?
And finally the Nemesis rewards. I have to admit, I mostly go with my gut here. I put more focus on them feeling thematic than really balancing them out. I know, their difficulty is wildly swingy, some are quite easy to obtain while others are pretty hard to pull off. The rewards I also try to tie to the Nemesis and that is my main guideline here. They often reward winning after things went really badly or reward risk taking during the game. So that is another thing I keep in mind when setting them up. I often chicken out halfway through the game when I pursue them myself .
R – What was the greatest challenge you faced in crafting these marathons ?
F – Hm, probably setting it up for the first time. I put a lot of time into laying down the rules in a hopefully concise way, but at the same time I didn’t want to frighten people off with a wall of text. Also organizing it in the geeklist is a bit fiddly. I changed the system for the second marathon a bit, but I’m still not entirely happy with how that works. I have a spreadsheet to keep up with everything, but sifting through the entries to compile the info is still fiddly.
R – Are you working on or do you intend to work on other games in a similar fashion ?
F – I’ve thought about it, but right now there is no other game that I enjoy enough solo to put a comparable amount of work into. I’m not ruling it out, but I’m not actively working on anything right now, no.
R – I noticed you mentioned working on something for Aeon’s End: Legacy. Can you tell me more?
F – We haven’t played the campaign, yet, so it’s all pretty vague. But it certainly would involve the individual mages created during the Legacy campaign. I think that would be cool to have this army of unique mages to defend the City. But I wouldn’t want to miss all the characters from the other games, like Garu, Brama, Sparrow, etc., so I was thinking about doing some kind of “mentor” or “sidekick” thing with them. The story would be a stronger element in a Legacy Marathon for sure. From what I’ve read, though, the Nemesis don’t really work outside the campaign, so I would use the base game / WE Nemesis. Not all of them, that would be humongous, but probably 5 or 6. And I was thinking, to get into the Legacy spirit, that there would be more lasting effects to the game state over the Marathon. Right now, each round only has repercussions on the next round. There would certainly be elements that introduce lasting changes, but for everybody. This is different from the rewards, which are individual boosts. One thing that floats around my head for this is have an “overall” health pool for Gravehold that is gradually depleted. Yeah, sorry, it’s still all pretty vague, but that’s a little glimpse into what I currently have in my mind for that. Subject to change, of course .
I want to thank Athena, Dejun and Farydia for all playing along and giving this article a chance to exist, and Liz especially for sparking the idea and allowing me to write it for her and host it on Beyond Solitaire. I want also to thank Derek for accepting to be featured in Dejun's interview.