Calvin’s Commentaries: Unbroken
There are always those days we want to game, but can’t find a bud to join us, the day-off when you find yourself bored, the evening your cribbage playing wife is watching a movie you really don’t want to see, so why not try a solo game.
Unbroken, is a solo game for players 13-plus, expected to take less than half an hour from Canadian game designer Artem Safarov, currently blowing the doors off the goals it had set for funding at kickstarter.com
Certainly, the fluff on the Kickstarter page is interesting; “Test your survival skills in the dark fantasy world of Unbroken. You are the only one left alive after your group was ambushed by monsters – now you must avenge your friends and reclaim your freedom. Quick to learn, easy to set up and playable in a brief 20-30 minutes, the game will challenge you to make the right decisions or fall victim to the many dangers of the monster-infested caverns.
“Plan wisely and take calculated risks – you do not have much and must use every resource at your disposal to prevail. Each journey in the dark is unique as you play as one of four different characters and face a variety of monsters and encounters. Your character gets better with experience and so will you – Unbroken is a game that encourages and rewards repeated plays to refine your strategies.”
Being a Canadian designer was involved I became doubly interested, and quickly fired off an email to Safarov who was good enough to consent to a cyber interview.
The first question, of course, was why do a solo game?
“One man’s niche is another man’s specialization,” offered Safarov. “I think the board game market right now is so saturated for a choice that gamers have the luxury of being very specific with which games they pick to play. You don’t have to settle for a medium-long resource management die game with Norse mythology if what you really wanted was a longer risk-management game with dice in Norse mythology.
“In fact, I think games that tend towards universality – your ‘2-4 player strategy game playable in an hour with a unique twist on deckbuilding/ bidding / die management/worker placement,’ would be hard-pressed to get noticed because of the amount of competition it would face in the same category.
“So I went niche specifically for a reason. I wanted a fantasy game that was meant to play solo where my decisions, not dice determine the outcomes and that plays very quickly, but still immerses me in the story. Lord of the Rings LCG, One Deck Dungeon, Friday and Space Hulk: Death Angel all tick some of these boxes but not all together. That presented itself as an opportunity and judging by the success of the campaign – I was not alone looking for a game like that.”
“I’m big on each game being built on an idea,” said Safarov. “For Unbroken that idea is perseverance in the face of adversity. Standing up after you fall, making the best of a bad situation, lemonade when life gives you lemons – you get the idea.
“I built the entirety of the game on this feeling of struggle and survival in the face of overwhelming odds. I found it to be inspiring to design around a vision rather than mechanism and think the game turned out better because of it.
“Unbroken has been in private development for about a year, then public playtesting and refinement for another year. I took my time with not rushing through these steps to make sure I was happy with the results and balance before moving on to the next step.”
“Understanding whether the players enjoy the kinds of decisions that you think they will enjoy; it’s hard work to peel away people’s emotions and general excitement about playing a game and looking directly into whether the choices they make are impacting the game in the way you want and are not obvious to the players,” he related. “I think Unbroken is a game full of hard, non-obvious choices and this uncertainty brings great tension and replayability to this little tale of survival.”
But Safarov said he thinks having the creation process so focused on solo play ultimately helped.
“It was a lot easier. As a small indie designer it’s tough for me to find game groups to playtest with,” he noted. “Finding playtesters for a solo game is a breeze, especially if you provide a Print ‘n Play. I almost felt like I discovered a cheat code in the development system – that’s how amazing developing a solo game is!|
Still there were challenges.
“The hardest thing to do was to introduce variability that doesn’t feel random or unfair,” said Safarov. “(To) Create a bunch of scenarios that the player would need to be prepared for that are distinct enough to be interesting but are not so unpredictable that the player feels no control.
“I achieved this with a variety of game effects that regulate effectiveness of different strategies (an example) different weapons will perform better or worse against foes who have armor or those who just have a ton of hit points). I think this gives the game a feeling of something that you can learn and explore but something that you always feel a bit leery about as you’ll never be prepared for all eventualities.”
So what is the best element of the game that will make Unbroken a memorable game for players?
“The payoff for the time invested, hands down,” said Safarov. “Unbroken has given me memorable experiences time and time again – ones where I was excited when I felt great about my cunning plans, ones where I cursed my bad decisions.
“And, it does so reliably in under 20-minutes, which I really appreciate as a parent of two young boys with a full-time job. I think many folks who wish they could play more games will really enjoy just how easy Unbroken is to get to the table and how rewarding it is once you do.”