I play a fair amount of Scythe solo, as I’ve mentioned in the past, though it’s usually on the computer rather than unloading the box and playing the physical version, but recently I got a few games in against my daughter. Now, she doesn’t play it solo, she also only ever plays against, me and this has led to a bit of a dilemma, as we shall see.
Skipping back a couple of years, we played many a close game and both thoroughly enjoyed it, but ever since I started playing on my own, digitally, a gulf has grown between our scores.
This last weekend we played two back-to-back games. I won the first 115-68, the second 63-36 and looking back a further couple of games the scores were 115-36 and 130-48. If I look back at the scores from before I bought the digital version, I can see that we were always around 20 points of one another and often closer.
So, playing solo has certainly enhanced my game. I can see that Yasmin has also improved but not at the same rate.
Another game I play a reasonable amount solo, is Suburbia. Here, it hasn’t helped one bit, Yasmin is more than capable of beating me and often does (in fact it’s become the norm). Again, she doesn’t play solo and only ever plays against me.
One more – Dominion. I play Dominion Online, though I rarely play against anyone other than the AI. When I returned to playing the physical version against Yasmin, I won the first few games pretty easily, but then the margin shrank until we were once again evenly matched. So, what’s the difference between the three?
It comes down to the way the games are played. With Scythe, the major bonus that comes from playing solo is learning how to use the Player Mats and how they are affected by the Faction you’re playing. You have to work out the order you need to take the actions in to make the most of each turn. Ideally, each time you take a top action you want to be doing the bottom action too. This will make your turns efficient and speed you on your way to placing your Stars, at which point you can hold back until the time is right and then spring them on your opponents to hopefully win the game.
Within the core game there are 5 Player Mats and 5 Factions, but you don’t need to know exactly how each Mat will work with each Faction, you just need to know how to solve the puzzle when it’s put in front of you, and solo gaming can give you the experience you need to do just that.
As you’re playing on your own you can also, well, cheat! On the App you can set games up with specific Player Mats and Factions, whilst playing the physical game enables you to do even more, such as playing a couple of turns and then taking it back to see what would have happened if you’d done this instead of that.
You need to think three or four turns ahead, at least in respect to your Player Mat, what your opponents are doing can then be figured into your plan. You need to build up the resources in the right order to make your turns efficient – take a top action to get this, spend that on taking the bottom action. Next turn, generate something else whilst spending what you’ve just gained on the bottom action. If you can generate enough resources, you can give yourself more options without having to lose out on an action – efficiency will most likely win you the game.
As I’ve become adept at running my engine, so to speak, I can now spend time keeping a closer eye on what the other players are doing and can adapt my play to theirs. For example, If the players next to me have few Mechs out then I may want to uncover the enlist action for Deploying mechs so that I get a bonus each time they take that action. I will also keep an eye on how they’re protecting their resources – leave them vulnerable, especially if I can capture them and use them on the same turn, then I might just change my strategy.
Suburbia is a different kettle of fish, though at first glance it may not seem so. Again, you often have your head down concentrating on what you are doing, with only a cursory glance at your opponents. But, unlike Scythe, Suburbia is very reactive. By that I don’t necessarily mean you react to what your opponent is doing, but to what you are presented with in the market.
With Scythe you have your Faction, and you have your Player mat, from there you can formulate a plan that will advance you to your goal. Suburbia, on the other hand, offers you little in the way of a set strategy, having to take what you can afford from the market that you think will work best in your neighbourhood. Your opponent might get there first and scupper your plans, so you adapt, you react to the situation and hope you make the right choices.
Yes, there are ways to improve your game and keeping an eye on the Goals, both private and general, is an important part of the game, and can be difference between a victory and a loss. But otherwise, it comes down to which player makes the best use of what the game throws at them and playing solo doesn’t simulate what a real opponent will do.
Playing against Dale the Bot (Yep, that’s what they call it in the rules!), you can predict what the Bot will do because it plays using a specific set of rules – takes the most expensive tile, never buys basic tiles, etc, and knowing this lets you tailor you game plan to best advantage, something you can’t do when playing real opponents.
Now, jumping to Dominion, we have something that falls in between the other two games. Playing solo on the App, I can get to know which cards work together and which ones don’t. I can also fine tune my timing of when to start filling my deck with VP cards and heading for the finish, something that comes with experience.
You would think, therefore, that this would give me a big advantage when going to play against lesser experienced opponents, and it does… to an extent. I have found that the more games I play in succession against the same opponent(s), then the closer the games become, right to the point that things are on an even keel, and this can happen within 3 or 4 games. This is because the strategies of Dominion can be picked up quickly, as you are constantly involved in the game and what others are doing. You’ll see your opponents buying certain cards and how they work in their deck, and you remember this. You will also see the point at which they change from building their deck to holding VP cards and you can react to this and start to grab them yourself, though if your deck isn’t efficient (Another game that’s about efficiency) you may get clogged up and stall – this part of the game comes only with experience.
So, in conclusion…
Playing the three games solo brings a differing advantage to your game. One being quite marked, another much less so, and one somewhere in the middle.
In these three cases it comes down to how the games are played. Scythe is asymmetrical, each player has to work their Faction and Player Mats differently and so you can’t learn a strategy that would work for you by watching your opponents. Learning how to get the most from Scythe’s Player Mats takes time and practice, which only comes with playing, whether solo or with others, and so a lot of solo experimentation will stand you in good stead.
Next, Dominion. Strategies can be learnt and developed by solo play, and this may give you an advantage, but don’t expect it to last too long though, especially if you’re playing the same Supply cards, because the game can be learnt just as easily and quickly whilst playing multi-player.
Finally, Suburbia, which needs to be played against real people in order to advance your game play. You have to be able to make choices based up on an ever-changing game state, where your opponents can scupper any plans you have by taking that tile you really, really wanted, and so you have to adapt – there is no way to learn this playing from the solo variants. You’re also not necessarily learning from your opponents either, but you are learning how to adapt your game to make the most of what they leave you. Yes, you will have a general plan, and that usually entails building up income and timing your population run in towards the end but trying to stick to a specific way of doing this will be difficult indeed, especially if your opponents spot what you’re trying to do.
Returning to my opening paragraph, I referred to the fact that playing Scythe solo was causing me a bit of a dilemma. You see, I can’t play to anything less than my best; if I play, I must play to win, otherwise why keep score! But seeing the dismayed look on daughter’s face when I romp home by a large margin pains me (not to the point where I’ll let her win though!). I can see she’s improving, but she doesn’t play the game often enough to make large gains with the strategy, whilst I do through solo play. And so, I have decided to curtail my Scythe solo ventures and the same applies to any other game where it would give me an unfair advantage over her. And so, you see, there are some disadvantages to playing solo!