EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Monday, July 9, 2012

Playing with Toy Soldiers vs Playing a Game

A few days, or maybe a week or so, someone, somewhere, in a comment on another blog possibly, made a comment about wanting to be able to "win" solo games. My mind went "huh?" and moved on.

Around the same time, my friend Ron, in preparation for a summer vacation at the family cottage back in Quebec, started putting a lick of paint onto some Memoir 44  figures since he was just going to pack the games, not all his Hexon terrain and 1/72nd figures. Nothing too fancy, just flesh,  weapons etc, like an old Crescent or Lone Star figure. I couldn't resist and volunteered to do the Japanese in the same style. Something I got to yesterday. (Bear with me)

Memoir 44 Pacific game pieces.
Now, the mechanisms and the whole "game" aspect of Memoir/Battlecry etc have been on my mind recently so it wasn't surprising that they should float through my mind while painting these figures.

This is even more the case because the old question about having both 1812 & 1840's armies of the same size, shape and style have been weighing heavily on me as well as the question of historical vs fictional games. As part of this, I had started to again ponder the possibility of a series of small historical hex based, 1 stand = 1 unit games based on various War of 1812 battles.  Essentially the Battlecry model which meant I had been pondering about stealing mechanisms and playing the system solo. (Aha we're getting closer.)

It was the ambush card which did it. Normally one holds this in one's hand and then at an opportune moment uses it to surprise an enemy who close assaults one of your units. I normally play solo games by alternately placing myself in command of each army and doing my best with it. I use markers and dummy markers (blinds in new speak) for hidden troops, where appropriate, with neither side knowing which are which for sure until they are revealed. For the Battlecry system I was contemplating playing 1 hand  while drawing all or most of the "other side's" hand anew each turn to maintain an element of surprise while still keeping some aspect of hand building. But what to do with an ambush card? Could I trust an impartial mind to pretend not to know that the enemy is going to swat the next unit that makes an assault? Not easily, not with fun, it would become an academic exercise. The joy of surprising and trouncing the foe would be lost. AHA!

Why isn't this an issue  with my normal solo games? Why do I not normally consider winning and losing as an element of my solo games? I do when I play an opposed wargame. When I play Spider solitaire on my computer I want to win, why not when I play a solo wargame? I can't completely answer the question, but it seems to me now that when I play solo games, I have been playing to imagine and observe, to build a story, rather than to "play a game". "Winning" means getting a good story with some drama, some twists and an outcome.  Nothing wrong with that but I can see now that at times I might like to have a choice of approaching it either way.

Something to think about and work on this fall and winter I think.

19 comments:

  1. Hmmm. That's interesting. When I play a solo game, I almost always (if not always) identify with one of the two sides and attempt to win for them. In order to balance the scenario under the circumstances, they usually need to have some sort of handicap, but nevertheless, I am trying to win with them...

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    1. Thinking more about this, I identify with the British in the recent British vs Nkh Khu Wagon Train game, and to a lesser extent with the British in the last 1812 game, but it is less common for me.

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  2. Interesting - I've been thinking along these lines for a while. I have read, but not used, Battle Cry, and I have probably bored a great many people with tales of my use of C&CN, which is a close relative. Recently, by far the larger part of my CCN activity is taken up by a solo campaign which is - not to overstate the point - solo.

    Initially the one aspect which put me off the game was its reputed lack of solitaire capability, but I have found it to work well. I derived mechanisms for playing a blind hand in a semi-randomised way - either or both hands could be played blind. Or, as you describe, I could just try my best for both sides in turn (a challenge which becomes easier as short-term memory starts to deteriorate...). It works OK - the only significant change to the C&CN game is that the First Strike (= "Ambush") card should be ignored, as should the Short Supply card (don't know if this has a Battle Cry equivalent).

    When I play a solo game, I have no particular affiliation to either side - I would have to toss a coin to decide which side to play blind in my trick game, though since defending is easier it makes sense to play the defender blind. That impartiality is the clue, I think - I don't feel that the game is "against" anyone - a solo game is the facilitation of a bit of fake history, a complex 20mm costume drama which gives me the chance (privilege?) to witness a toy version of something which i could never witness in real life - to a large extent I am looking to see what happens, as in any kind of drama. The one thing which takes the sting out of this is if there are no surprises - that's why I take out (or disregard) these particular cards - taking them out just removes those surprises, which somehow feels better than knowing that the surprises are coming.

    Playing to win a solo game? Naturally it is a little humbling to lose to a blind hand(!), but I would usually have some difficulty deciding whose side I was on anyway.

    Sorry if this is a ramble - it's a hard thing to describe properly!

    Cheers - Tony

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    1. Nope, not a ramble, that is how I usually approach it though I have now managed to identify a couple of games where I did identify with one side and relied heavily on a "dice to choose between options" form of AI for the other. Can't remember if that added interest/excitement or not. Each of these games did pit a "good" guy vs a "bad" guy, something that not all of my games do, so it was easier to root for one side.

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  3. I'm with you on a lot of what you say, Ross. I do play some games to win (like when I play Civilization on the computer, or when I play board or card games that are designed for solo play). I tend to play solo miniatures games for the story, as you say ""Winning" means getting a good story with some drama, some twists and an outcome. " So I will be interested to read your thoughts on this.

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    1. I suspect a lot of solo gamers are that way. When I have more thoughts, you'll have 'em.

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  4. One of the game elements that I've been thinking about recently is what is the optimal number of units to have in an army.

    How is this relevant? Because of "the story". With too many units they will lack the individuality as their history is lost in the morass of too many units.

    Yes, for me "the story" is the important thing. I want each unit to have a history that helps define them as individual units. So a great many units is, I think, NOT a good idea for me . . . but how few is too few, eh?

    Perhaps you might want to comment with your thoughts upon the optimum number of units?


    -- Jeff

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    1. Good point Jeff. Its an issue I've been pondering as well as I look at what size units to use (ie fewer bigger ones or more smaller ones). Worth a post I think.

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  5. Ross Mac,

    It is interesting to read how many of us seem to wargame solo so that we can 'create' a version of 'history' (both real and imaginary). It is the taking part that is important, not the winning ALL THE TIME. I have capitalised the last bit of the previous sentence because I do think that we all like to win against some form of opponent (human or AI) occasionally.

    As to whether or not it is possible to 'win' a solo wargame ... well if you are making decisions for both sides, then you both in and lose at the same time.

    In answer to Bluebear Jeff, it is interesting to note how many wargames seem to have approximately twelve units per side as the optimum number a player can control. So for a face-to-face wargame, twelve units each sounds good, but with six per side for solo wargames.

    All the bet,

    Bob

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    1. Bob, good points. I do occasionally use a form of diced decision making for one side. I think I need to investigate that farther and see what sort of games it does and doesn't work for and paying some attention to how it affects the feel of a game if one side is played straight up against some form of AI or partially controlled opponent with the possibility of winning or losing as a player. Probably best done in a campaign context.

      re Jeff's question, 12 does seem to be a magic number but I'm not sure it holds if divided by the number of players. More on this in a blog post to come.

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  6. First you have to define "win".

    An anecdote by way of illustration. I once lost a round of a fantasy collectible card game to a young man who was a rather rude winner and indulged in some pretty offensive post game trash talk. To wind him up, I told him that in fact I had won because I had set a personal record for the number of zombie tokens I had put in play. He was incapable of comprehending a "win" outside of that defined by "The Rules" and went apoplectic. Cruel but amusing.

    When you play solo, what for you is a win? Bob has said to create a version of history, Jeff talks about a story, Rob talks about identifying with one side. It all depends on personal preference. In the past I have played games to explore seriously skewed TO&Es, if the recce by fire used in the Falklands could be applied to Western Europe, how to effectively use Wb in DBx and other tactical or rules problems. The win is in the information and experience gained rather than the last side on the battlefield. I have also played games just to spend time with a friend or to get away from the family for a bit (3 women in the house can get a little noisy at times) Which side won was far less important than just playing.

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    1. ...and I might note that the most recent time I actually set up a solo game, it was also to remind myself of how the rules (Rough Wooing) worked, and that "my" side ended up losing. :-P

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  7. Pat, sometimes a little cruelty is good for the recipients soul:)

    Your comments on what makes a win are very valid. Its the outright "winning a game" aspect that I had never considered for a solo game. Wouldn't want that to become the only reason to play but I'm going to think about how I might do it, as a design challenge if nothing else.

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  8. There's a lot of food for thought here. I've been seriously considering 'going solo', partly because what is available otherwise I find uncongenial, but also simply to get more action in. 'Story' is a major motivation for me, but I can understand the urge to 'win'. Computer games leads us to the notion of one side being programmed, and C.S.Grant attempted something of the sort with his Programmed Scenarios book. This volume not only gives a variety of possible actions by ones opponent, but also choice of sides (though often recommending one over the other if one side is expected to be more active than the other), and each scenario can be fought over a variety of terrains (27 combinations possible).

    How do you progamme a table top gme for yourself? One possibility is to get a third party to outline the game from an opponent's point of view, but unless it is committed to paper, with aspects 'sealed' until certain conditions are fulfilled, That can't be very satisfactory. The method I have often used is at critical points try and think of at least three alternative courses of action. 'Do nothing' might well be one of those! Then roll a die to select. You might before rolling assign a weighting, suggesting that on a 1,2,3 RED will carry out the likeliest action; 4,5 the next likeliest; and 6 the eccentric course, say.

    Speaking of play on computers, I don't know about anyone else, but I have often had the most fun and derived the most excitement when I haven't really known what I was doing. My first game of Civ III, at Chieftain level (basic), my Emperor of Rome fought wars that raged almost continually from 4000BC to 2050AD. Tech level had reached about 1870, I had just lost an offshore island colony that allowed the Greeks a continued existence, but I had at last conquered the whole of my continent. Very poor play, and so I went down in antiguity as Caesar the Damn' Near Useless (or some such appellation). But I had a ball! Man that game was fun.

    Can't play like that now, of course... :-(
    Cheers,
    Ion

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    1. Ion, maybe thats another reason why I keep changing the rules? To keep me from knowing what I'm doing?

      I rely heavily on the dicing for options method and on blinds so that I won;t know where all the enemy units are. Unfortunately this also means the enemy doesn't know where all his units are either.

      Another method I have used, is to base the game on an historical action and have one side use their historical battle plan (or at least my interpretation of such). This gives me the advantage of fore sight but it doesn't always help. Its an interesting exercise of another type to use the historical plans for both sides and see how close the outcome is to the original.

      I recommend Stuart Asquith's book on solo wargaming as well as Featherstone's and Gramt's Programmed scenarios.

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  9. I cherish my copy of Grant's Programmed Scenarios and have used it quite a few times. In addition to playing and enjoying the scenarios I found the exercise was a good "training aid" in helping me learn how to play solo in general. I have also done things like come up with quick on-the-fly or off the cuff alternatives and rolled to see which one was chosen, like you suggested, Ion.
    I guess I was always interested in solo wargaming. When I was a kid I checked out Featherstone's book on the matter as often as I could from our local library. You would think I would have it memorised, but sadly not. LOL
    I've been playing various incarnations of Civilization since Civ 1. It's really the only computer game I keep going back to.

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    1. Two good suggestions. As I mentioned above Stuart Asquith's book as well.

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  10. Another vote for the "Winning means making a good story" approach here. I'll charge a cavalry brigade into massed artillery just to see how few can survive the blunder. But the "playing to win vs automated opponent" approach makes a nice change now and again. Grant's "Programmed Scenarios" is great for this, but really it can be as simple as running a player controlled attack vs a static defense.

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  11. Thanks Doc. I've been surprising myself by looking back through solo games and being surprised to find more than I remembered where I seem to have been trying to command/win with one side vs a more or less programmed enemy.

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