Thanks to the pandemic, more and more people are playing and enjoying board games solo, and at 20 minutes a game Micro Dojo is perfect for a quick solo game whilst travelling or over coffee.
Full disclosure – I wasn’t much of a solo board gamer, and when I first started work on Micro Dojo I hadn’t planned on a solo mode. I say I wasn’t much of a solo gamer, because the Solo Board Gamers group on Facebook is a hugely passionate group of gamers that opened my eyes to some really enjoyable games to play solo (including Tainted Grail, It’s a Wonderful World, and Spirit Island). Once I appreciated what a good solo mode for a game could be, I set out to make a great one for Micro Dojo. If you also like solo games you might want to check out the Facebook group too.
As of this update, the solo mode cards are going to be available to all backers as a print-and-play on a single sheet of paper.
When designing the solo mode for Micro Dojo there were some key things I wanted to achieve:
- Capture the spirit of the two-player game
- Have minimal rule variations from the two-player game
- Minimise the overhead for handling the AI player
You can read more about the steps I went through in development of the solo mode below, and watch the How to Play video here:
The first draft of the solo mode simply had 8 tiles, one for each meeple and one for each direction. The meeple would always move in that direction (regardless of daimyo markers) and if it couldn’t then it would activate the space it was on. It was somewhat possible to somewhat predict where the AI would move on the third (and definitely fourth) draw, which was a good thing for capturing the spirit of the game, but the different movement rules for the AI felt quite removed the original game and was more like a race or an optimisation problem for the player.
The second big change was from tokens to cards. Testing on tabletop simulator let me run a lot of solo mode tests, but the digital environment disguised the fact that picking up, flipping, and shuffling the tiny tokens by hand would quickly become tedious. I chose American Mini sized cards as 10 of them would fit onto the same sized sheet as the token punchboard, making manufacturing and shipping easier.
The final change came thanks to a suggestion from fellow designer Simon Beal. To fit the feel of the two-player game, I considered having the player draw another meeple or movement card if that meeple was blocked, but with a deck of only 4 cards it felt like extra overhead for the player to manage when really I wanted them to be spending their time thinking about their next move. Simon suggested a priority system, and so sequencing the meeples and movement directions on the cards allowed for lots more variation depending on game state, whilst being a simple process to follow.
Then came the variation rules for activating spaces. As much as possible the AI should feel like a real player – gaining resources, buying buildings, and scoring objectives. However the AI is also not as smart as a real player, and can’t make decisions like placing a higher value on certain moves or resources because of the current (and future) game state. To account for that, the AI has a little boost in raw power, such as gaining points on the build space when at 3 buildings (without having to sacrifice one) or scoring points on the Action space if the AI is losing the objective. This acts as a timer for the game, encouraging the player to be efficient in their planning whilst preventing the player from exploiting the AI by stalling the game. As players improve and take on harder difficulty levels, the AI is provided with an increasing head start that drives players to optimise their choices even further.
I’m really happy that the solo mode not only provides an interesting puzzle to solve, but does so without excess overhead on the part of the player. It’s close enough to the original that a player who started with the solo game first could pick up the two-player mode. Solo mode is available to play on the Tabletop Simulator module here. If you want to try it out first and let me know your experience here on in the comments, please do give it a go and I hope you have fun.