Solo Wargamer

March 23, 2011

Typical Army Behaviours

Filed under: General — Jay @ 10:06 am

Jim Zylka: Enemy Behaviour In Action

The April-June 2009 issue of Lone Warrior featured a fascinating article by Jim Zylka called Enemy Behaviour In Action: Renaissance Swiss. As Jim puts it:

“One of the very first solo systems I developed many years ago and still use today is Army Behaviour. What that is can best be described as how your solo enemy’s…forces will act on the battlefield. It is not a list of orders on what to do or where to go but how these actions will be conducted.”

Jim proceeded to outline six typical deployments for the Renaissance Swiss, and then set out guidelines as to how they would conduct the battle – for example how their pike columns would advance and what role their limited artillery and cavalry would have. Jim also included notes about Mindset and Unsure Action with an associated table of actions based on a D6 roll.

If you haven’t come across Jim’s article already I’d strongly suggest that you acquire a back issue of the relevant Lone Warrior. The kernel of his approach is to model the typical behaviour of an historical army based on meticulous research, with some chance factors built in that can be triggered by specific conditions on the battlefield, but which will still fall firmly within the range of authentic options that the army would have had at its disposal.

Jim’s article was quite simply one of the most thought-provoking pieces on solo wargaming that I’ve ever read. It suggested a very fruitful approach to a perennial problem for the solo wargamer – how do you prevent your “automated” opponent from doing things that are either (a) incredibly dumb, or (b) incredibly ahistorical/atypical. I’ve recently started looking at my collection of armies – mainly DBA and HoTT armies – to think about defining “typical army behaviours” for them. And one of the things that struck me immediately is that it is, of course, perfectly possible to do for fantasy armies something similar to what Jim did for the Renaissance Swiss.

My Dwarves are a case in point. Thinking about how they’ll generally approach a battle means looking both at the source material for the army and at the actual make-up of the forces on the tabletop. And it provides a quick thumbnail sketch of how Jim’s approach might be applied to a very different kind of army from his Swiss example. My HoTT Dwarves consist of the following elements: 8 Blades (including the General), 2 Shooters, and 1 Behemoth (a stand of friendly giants). They’re based on the standard image of fantasy Dwarves as primarily a heavy infantry force. On this basis I found it fairly straightforward to devise a simple TAB (Typical Army Behaviour) for them:

Dwarves: Typical Army Behaviour

Blades will form up wherever possible in single line as the main battle formation, with the General towards the centre (either in the front rank or to the rear). A single Blade unit may be detached to protect the Stronghold, where relevant.

Blades may fight in bad going but will avoid doing so against Warbands (who quick-kill Blades in HoTT).

Shooters will generally be placed on the flanks, often to cover or advance through bad going. If facing an enemy with significant mounted units, the Shooters may instead mingle with the Blades.

The Behemoth will be placed either in the centre of the Blade line near the General, or towards a flank – where its own flank can be covered by a Shooter unit.

Dwarves favour a steady, coordinated advance. They will tend to focus on maintaining the cohesion of their main battle line until they have succeeded in breaking the enemy formation by sheer muscle and persistence. If their line is fractured they will hold position and regroup rather than plow on regardless.

Dwarven Generals may be cautious or steady, but will very rarely be impetuous. They will favour open battlefields with a minimum of bad going, unless facing a primarily mounted opponent. They may choose to place impassable terrain to maximise the effectiveness of their heavy troops and minimise the risk of being outflanked.


This TAB has resulted in a couple of close-fought games. Where different options have been listed, I’ve assigned a probability to each and diced accordingly. The Dwarves have given a good account of themselves, and when I’ve needed to think about what the Dwarven general is likely to do next I’ve had a clear set of guidelines to base my probability calculations on.

Of course in some ways this is a rather tongue-in-cheek application of Jim’s approach. But I think it shows just how flexible the army behaviour model can be, involving as it does both firm guidelines and carefully boundaried chance elements. In time, I hope to develop a detailed TAB for all of my armies – with rather more research and detail going into the historical armies than was the case with my Dwarves! Indeed, it would be possible to develop a very elaborate TAB for an army based not only on their historical performance and capabilities, but also on the type of opponent they face and the sort of terrain they will fight over. Combined with other mechanisms, I think that the army behaviour model is a very useful tool for the solo wargamer.



  1. You wrote a nice article about developing a table for your dwarf army reactions. But you didn’t enclude the table in the article. If it was there, I may have missed it.

    Comment by Ken — March 24, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

  2. Sounds like you are heading towards the rules-based approach I was taking with DBAS. By categorizing the armies based upon composition, you can classify those army behaviors. The problem still lies with at the tactical level, however, especially when using a PIP-based command and control system, such as DBA and HOTT uses.

    Comment by Dale Hurtt — March 24, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

  3. 1. Ken, thanks for the feedback. There isn’t a set table for me to include. It’s rather a case of applying the general guidelines set out in the TAB appropriately in each concrete situation as it arises during the game. For example, if the cohesion of the Dwarf battle line is compromised by recoils, the Dwarves will tend to use any available PIPs to repair that line. But there is also the possibility that they will choose to use the PIPs aggressively instead – say a 10% chance, depending on the specifics of the situation (maybe a 30% chance if they have an opportunity to kill the enemy general and so win the game). The probability is that the Dwarves will behave true to form – but they are still capable of springing a surprise or two.
    2. Hi Dale, what you’ve written has got me thinking about the difference between Jim’s approach with his Swiss, which is historically determined and therefore (in a sense at least) rule-based, and my use of a TAB with my Dwarves, where the approach is suggestive rather than prescriptive. Interesting… I must go back and look at your DBAS rules again…

    Comment by Jay — March 24, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

  4. TABs are, I guess, how I play my solo games, but I don’t use a table based on them. I just ‘know’ how each army should fight. As I’ve said before, HOTT has alternate moves, and no hidden information, so it’s easy to play each side solo and ‘unprogrammed’ as you’re not seeing anything a live opponent wouldn’t see. Obviously there’s the issue of bias for or against a particular army, but I can imagine that will affect decisions made even in programmed games and, at the end of the day, why would I want to spoil with bias a game where I am the only player?

    Comment by Alan Saunders — June 19, 2011 @ 1:59 am

  5. Oh REALYYY!??

    Comment by Jack Napiare — August 7, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

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