Dark Side of the Mine
Challenges of Adding a Solo Variant
By Matt Haberfeld
By May of 2018 Dark Side of the Mine had been playtested over 100 times and was in a pitchable state, so I took it to Proto ATL in Atlanta. I was fortunate enough to meet with Rick Schrand from Flying Lemur on the last day of the convention. I remember him saying, “There’s a lot of game here.” which I took as a positive sign. Over the course of the summer we came to an agreement to publish the game.
I was still making small improvements every week, but I also wanted to design a solo variant for the kickstarter. The two main challenges in designing a solo experience is that it was not part of the core design of the game, and my exposure to solo games was somewhat limited. I think the only solo board games I had played at this point were Mage Knight and Castles of Mad King Ludwig. I reflected on what I liked about solo play and what kind of experience I could create for players. Personally, I enjoy puzzling out the difference between good moves and great moves, increasing the quality of my play, and getting better at the game over time. This is what I tried to foster in the solo variant.
I felt it was important to keep as much of the core gameplay as possible, which meant no new game mechanics or changes to the rules. Additionally, in order to improve at the game the player should be making the same decisions they would make if they were playing against a real player. This line of thinking led me to create a dummy player that had their own robots on the asteroid and simulated the competition of a real game.
The next challenge was deciding what is “winning” in solo mode. Knowing that I could never create a dummy player good enough to defeat a human, I had to compromise a bit. Since the goal of the solo variant was to increase the quality of play and get better at the game, it would have to be sufficient that a higher score was the closest you could get to “winning” in this sense.
With these parameters, the goal of the dummy player is not to beat the human by scoring more points, but instead to keep the player’s score as low as possible. The dummy player does this by removing cards from the deck and ending the game as quickly as possible. The fewer turns the player has, the fewer opportunities they have to score.
The difference in the solo variant is that the player knows exactly what the dummy player will do each turn and can exploit that behavior. Over time, the player learns to read the board state and set up the appropriate strategies to achieve higher scores. These skills are directly transferable to a game against another human. Hand management, positioning, and executing a multi-turn strategy are all key in both the solo variant and the regular game.
A Personal Note From Matt
I hope you enjoyed reading this designer diary and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to go on this journey. I want to the thank the Game Designers of North Carolina for all their feedback and playtesting. Many of the game’s best ideas came from the combined experience of so many sharp minds and they constantly pushed me to make the game as good as it can possibly be. I also want to thank Flying Lemur for taking a chance on a first time designer and helping create something the people will get enjoyment out of. Finally I want to thank my brother Paul Kazmierski for creating all the 3d assets and card sheets during the prototyping of the game. He sped up the development process immensely and gave the game a look and feel that allowed the game to shine in front of playtesters.
Dark Side of the Mine comes to Kickstarter in March