Thanks to the inimitable Bob Seur D’Armadilleaux (and to Saga Online e-zine) for another thought-provoking guest post.
My Solo Wargames buddy likes the same periods that I like — he never gripes or wants to do some other obscure period (one that I have NO interest in). What’s more, he even likes the same rules I use (right down to all the “house-rules” that I’ve concocted, over the years, including the one about the advantage for left-handed axe-men). When I goof-up and put one of my key units in danger, why, my Solo opponent is more than accommodating and lets me take back the obvious blunder with nary a “Tsk tsk, my good chap!” (And he never reminds me about it, later, either!)
No matter what units I put on the table (even those beautifully painted antiques with the skinny fragile prototypically-sized pikes) my Solo Wargaming buddy never manhandles them, or bends them over unmercifully. He’s as careful of my figures as I am! Nice to see that.
All the Time in the World
My Solo buddy doesn’t care how long I take to move — 5 minutes, or 5 hours over an interesting puzzle, or maybe 5 days, while I go back to paint up a better representation of some stand of the troops I am currently maneuvering. If I want to research a particular rule, he just sits there, contemplating the ceiling, as if he has all the time in the world. If I complain that the rules “as written” don’t reflect MY idea of reality, why, it’s all the same to him — he agreeably lets me down-tools while I go and try to find (rare) examples from history that support my contentions. He even lets me change the rules as I see fit, and then is quite ready to let the chips fall where they may, as part of our Solo game. (He’s a prince, that Solo buddy).
(Umn … he’s even starting to LOOK a bit like me, although he’s a bit more reticent and not as handsome).
Eager to Play at 3:00 AM on a Week Night
My opponent is always “on time” and always “there” when I need him. He never gets delayed by family circumstances, or because the dog got sick. He doesn’t care about chores, or helping HIS kids with their homework. He doesn’t complain that he wants to sleep in on Sunday morning.
And the corollary is that he never complains when I don’t feel up to one of our usual sessions, because I want to do something else (like read a good book). And if I propose to “shelve” this particular campaign for a bit, in favor of picking up some OTHER campaign or project, who do you think is “right there” to support the change? Yep, my Solo Wargame buddy.
Play in Your Underwear
My Solo opponent doesn’t care if my little guys are painted to the nth degree, or if they come to play Solo in their Underwear (primed figures on temporary cardboard bases, to see if I like the period, or the rules, or that particular army). Graham adds, “Even using cardboard strips painted in appropriate colors to pad out your hordes until the pocket money and or the painting catches up will not be frowned upon by your opponent” (note 1). My Solo buddy doesn’t snigger when some of my little guys have the “wrong” tabs on their uniform (out by 2 years), nor does he mention the fact that my Spanish Warbands are really imported Gauls (“how tacky”). And if there are a couple of Colonial figures on the back ranks of one of my warbands, why, he turns a blind eye to them, and just plays out the scenario “for the fun of it”.
Come to think of it, my Solo buddy doesn’t care if I’ve shaved, or if I’ve brushed my teeth, either. Nor does he bat an eye when I eat in front of him, and don’t share the cookies. He’s just there for the excitement and the purity of the Game.
Suspension of Disbelief
Why did the warbands always go down to defeat? Why couldn’t they have had a good day, a downhill charge, a favorable wind, and promising omens? Maybe the Romans trod up that dirt path until it was nothing but mud, that day.
My Solo buddy doesn’t care if I tweak the rules a bit, such that they favor the underdogs a bit more than the “official tournament” types might like. My Solo buddy realizes that there is a LOT of fun to be had, by reaching deep into the Official Lists, and pulling out two “also-ran” armies — Off-the-beaten-track third-raters, Frontier Funnies the pair of them, but capable of providing some exciting matches when they play against someone in their own local league.
Meticulously Straight; Deceptively Sly
My opponent never “fudges” his move (to get behind my flank, for example), unless I actively encourage him to do so. None of this prance-forward, take-it-back, prance-the-other-way stuff. He’s a paragon of gentlemanly behavior. At the same time, I use Mythic Game Master Emulator (a neat little $7 download from DriveThruRPG.com) that introduces variability (like move distances) and unpredictability (“Did he get around enough to pull a flank attack?”) Mythic can answer that, statistically.
And occasionally, the sneaky Pete even manages to land a raiding party behind me, so I have to ALWAYS keep some active (realistic) reserves to beat off his nipping at my heels. (The rotten fink!).
Side-bar, Yer Honor
Don’t like the way it’s going? Then leave the Solo Wargames table, and try a couple of different set-ups to prove to yourself that you are using the right tactics, or the right strategy. Try using those Egyptian chariots like swooping biplanes — sort of mobile firing platforms; try using them to crack the opponent’s battle line; try using them as a taxi service to ferry light troops off to the needed area. Do they give you better command-and-control? Which role seems to make the most sense to YOU? There is no right or wrong, just interesting observations. You too can explore the world of reconstructive history.
Graham adds, “Yes it is quite amazing how amenable your solo companion can be when you wander off to explore some new obscure factor like logistics right in the middle of a campaign. Of course they don’t mind either if you don’t come back for months and are just as happy to pick up exactly where you left off. Should you be unfortunate enough to lose [and yes it does happen] then of course they don’t stand there gleefully jumping up and down announcing loudly to the world, that they have clobbered you.” Your secret is safe with your Solo Wargaming buddy. Mum’s the word.
Oh, and take as long as you like, young man!
Some like small armies (6mm); some like only a few stands (DBA). Some like larger armies (28mm), and some like tons of stands (DBM). Doesn’t matter what other people like, when you play Solo you can do your own thing. If you like DBA but prefer more men on a stand, go for it. If you like DBM, but really don’t want to buy tons of lead, you can spread ‘em out and put only ONE figure on a stand.
Graham adds, “Whatever basing you choose is solely up to you and even the formations on the stands are (of course) down to personal choice. There is no rigidity of format in Solo play — whatever rules you are using, will do just fine, since no-one except your solo buddy is going to see them.” Some bases too deep? Or perhaps a touch too wide? No problem! We’ll just “guestimate” where the junctions ought to be!
You can even make up stands for arrangements outside of any rule set. I have a number of “squares” of British Colonials that look magnificent, that have been cobbled together using second-rate figures that I’ve “retired” from front-line Solo duty. They don’t really follow any rule-set, but I use them all the time in my Colonial Solo campaigns.
Insert Yourself In The Middle
Most Wargames rule sets are written as if the player were the General. Nothing says you can’t revise the rules to set yourself up as a middle-management Captain, with some orders flowing downhill, and some reports and requests being sent back UP the chain of command. This is a very interesting change to the top-down know-it-all viewpoint as presented in most rule sets, and gives you a much better feel for how any army really ran.
Graham pipes in, “Absolutely right. Place yourself at the head of “just” a regiment and you will soon learn that there are a whole different set of frustrations to overcome. You may well find yourself sat waiting for the command to advance simply because a sister regiment is not ready yet. You can find yourself receiving orders from your brigadier which get superseded by a staff officer from division. Whether you follow your original order, seek clarification, or follow the new ones will depend upon the character of the officer. So that will [should] lead you off into a whole new area of exploration. You are no longer the omniscient and all-seeing mighty general you are merely a cog in the machine.”
Especially if you insert some variability and unpredictability into the equation. You may send out all the “right” orders, but some may go missing or be delayed. Some orders may no longer be applicable, when some of the troops get held up, diverted, or pinned down. Those extra munitions that you requested? Well, get in line, cause there was a major enemy offensive elsewhere that commandeered all the available supplies, so you may have to do with tokenism for a turn or two. (Course, the General will want progress, regardless of the fact that your men are reduced to throwing stones).
Graham adds, “Oh the wonderful world of ‘Chain of Command’ — the couriers who get lost, the regiments who stray, the Brigadiers who cannot read, the cautious democrat who holds a discussion-group to decide the best course of action, the bold or even rash leader who also ignores orders and just launches his forces straight at the nearest enemy. Then of course there is the aspect of support which covers supply wagons that breakdown or get commandeered, and support regiments that never turn up. Then you find yourself extricating your troops from the embarrassing situation of being surrounded on three sides because your friends did not turn up for the party. These and of course many other problems are yours to taste and enjoy when you enter the arena of chain of command with characteristics applied to officers at all levels.”
Digging and Transcribing
Some of the best ideas that I’ve come across for Solo Wargaming required a bit of digging around on OTHER forums (like an ACW re-enactment group, that taught me a lot about horses, uniform durability, and the intricacies of hauling around a canon and casement). I would NEVER have gone looking for this, except for some Solo Wargaming needs — I was actually researching speeds, daily travel allowances, and equipment maintenance for 4-wheel war chariots from 2500 BC, and that was the closest I could find for “real world” experience. That’s the Digging part
Some of the best ideas that I’ve found on “how to play Solo” have been in completely different kinds of wargames. An after-action report by a sci-fi gamer put me on to using Mythic for ancient wargames; it needed a bit of adapting or transcribing, but it turned into a really potent set of tools, that works out brilliantly with most face-to-face wargames rule-sets. All you have to do is keep an open mind, and be prepared to transcribe it into YOUR period. Similarly, I tend to read a LOT of after-action reports in magazines such as Lone Warrior, with the intent of finding other ideas (from Chris Hahn’s Lace Wars campaigns, as an example) and then transcribing the ideas so they work in ancient wargames.
The point is, that Solo Wargaming makes you keep an open mind, and also makes you focus your efforts on finding that nugget of info that you can pat onto your OWN efforts, to improve the blend. Graham adds,
“An open mind is essential because you never know where the golden nuggets are hidden. Anything and everything you read that is outside your favorite period, still has the potential to contain the nugget of info which you can then adapt to suit YOUR Wargaming needs. It is one of the freedoms of Solo play that you are not constrained by other people’s preconceptions (rules, or battlefield size and make-up) — you can explore a myriad of different options in search of the most comfortable answers to your questions.”
Two Soloists are Better Than One
And if you are really lucky, you will find another long-suffering stalwart soul who is pursuing his own Solo interests, but is also prepared to swap “universal” ideas, and that doubles the collection and analysis efforts in terms of coming up with productive Solo Wargaming approaches and techniques. A Solo buddy — some one who is prepared to dissect your ideas, give you some constructive criticism, and maybe add a few ideas of their own — is a wonderful find, and worth all the efforts put out in cultivating his company.
It’s a strange thing but the Solo Wargamers Association was created to enable Soloists to converse with each other without ever meeting. Even the fathers of the hobby had a few friends with whom they conversed because from a few short conversations you can gain enough insight and momentum to last you years. You can even find yourself pursuing new and unusual directions. At the same time of course you realize that you are not the only madman in the asylum which is something of a comforting thought.
The strange corollary of having a Solo buddy, is that they tend to encourage you to explore more interesting challenges, and into trying to codify new and unusual Solo variations. Something about the hybrid vigor means that YOUR novel solutions (to problems that come up during Solo campaigning) and YOUR stories (after action reports) seem to take on some resulting exotic or extra flavor — almost as if the very process of incorporating new ideas gives a fresh look to what might otherwise be dated rules and regurgitated “old” simulations. So much of Solo Campaigning is keeping the drive alive, that anything that adds a new flavor is a truly wonderful thing.
So there you have it — Ten things I like about Solo Wargaming, plus a “spare”, just in case one of the ideas doesn’t resonate.
Note 1: Comments from my Internet-Solo-buddy, Graham Empson (with thanks)