Solo Wargamer

November 15, 2015

Richard Borg’s ‘The Great War’

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 10:00 pm

I’m a big fan of Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors game system, especially for solo play. This year has seen Richard port his system into a whole new era of conflict – the so-called ‘Great War’. I haven’t bought the game yet as my playing time is very restricted at the moment, but I thought I’d bring together some of the resources I’ve been checking out prior to deciding whether to invest in a copy myself.

First up is a half-hour review by Marco, whose reviews are generally bang on the money:

Marco’s review is very positive, giving the game a ten out of ten, despite the issues with removing figures from sprues.

Next up is a shorter review by ‘The Chief’ at the Dice Tower:

Check out the Board Game Geek website for more on the game, including plans for future expansions “…which will feature early war, Eastern Front scenarios, tanks, airplanes, other national armies, plus more special personnel figures…”

Everything I’ve seen to date is really positive about this game, which ties in with my experience of RB’s other Commands & Colors games. I’m particularly interested in the possibility, as expansions come out, of tweaking the game to cover the Russian Civil War. So all in all I’m pretty sure I’ll be adding this to my collection some time in the next twelve months.

January 29, 2015

A Guide To Solo Campaigning

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 4:38 pm

Book Review: The Solo Wargaming Guide by William Silvester. Published by Precis Intermedia, 2013.

Solo

It’s always nice to find a new addition to the small library of books designed specifically for the solo wargamer. This is even more the case when the book is aimed squarely at an aspect of solo wargaming that has not, to date, received much coverage. In fact, outside of the pages of Lone Warrior magazine and the odd website, solo campaigning has barely been touched on at all prior to the publication of this book.

Weighing in at around one hundred and twenty pages, and retailing at a price of £10 or thereabouts, this is a ‘cheap and cheerful’ publication whose main appeal definitely lies in the ideas between its covers rather than in eye candy or fancy production values. That’s no bad thing though, as it should be affordable even for those gamers operating on a tight budget (and who isn’t in these days of government-enforced austerity?).

Mr Silvester has collected a wealth of ideas together here. Unlike some books that wrap a handful of useful notions for the soloist in a whole lot of verbiage about wargaming in general, this guide gets right down to the nitty-gritty of solo gaming and solo campaigning – its advantages, its motivations, its possibilities and (best of all) a straightforward and comprehensive set of mechanisms designed to get you started.

In fact the first forty pages or so contain the ‘meat’ of the book so far as solo campaigning mechanisms go. Short sections cover Mobilization, Time and Transposition, Weather, Logistics and Attrition, Morale, Alliances, Revolts, Sieges and Mutinies. These form the core of the text, and include a simple but effective way to provide for alternative campaign strategies for both the attacker and the defender. Mr Silvester suggests ways to build unpredictability into each solo campaign, both for the solo player and for the counter-strategies of his/her ‘automated’ opponent. Each side may have a number of possible approaches to the coming conflict, and each side is subject to the changing fortunes of war.

I won’t give the game away by going into detail here about what we might call the ‘core mechanism’ for determining the course of each campaign at the strategic level. In truth it’s actually pretty straightforward, but the beauty of it is that (a) it works, and (b) it can be developed in order to add further layers of complexity should you wish to do so. As the author says, rather than set out to write a ‘solo wargamers bible’, he has focused instead on providing ‘guidelines that can be bent or twisted, even broken and reformed, to suit a wargamer’s needs’. Where other books on wargame campaigning occasionally suffer from a rather forbidding complexity, the author here has set out a neat and effective approach which contains everything the gamer needs in order to get started. He gives us a foundation that can be built on, expanded and elaborated to your heart’s content – or used ‘as is’.

Later chapters expand on the core ideas, and touch on everything from naval campaigning and air warfare through to ideas for resolving the table-top battles when the opposing forces finally come into contact. The author goes to some lengths to explain how to transition from map to battlefield, and this is both unusual and immensely helpful – it’s an area that’s often been skipped over by other writers.

Overall, this is a good little primer that covers everything you need to know to get started in solo campaigning. While it might usefully be read in conjunction with older books like Tony Bath’s Setting Up A Wargames Campaign, it works well as a stand-alone introduction to this much neglected subject. Mr Silvester’s book is an extremely useful addition to the solo wargamer’s bookshelf.

October 24, 2014

Pike & Shot – Game Review

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 2:41 pm

Pike & Shot

Pike & Shot is the latest title to be marketed by Slitherine Games. After my underwhelming experience with Slitherine’s earlier offering Field of Glory – nice game, lousy AI – I was wary about parting with more of my hard-earned cash. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, from a solo gaming point of view the trajectory of computer games in recent years has been distinctly underwhelming, unless you’re satisfied with games set in the American Civil War or WWII (neither of which are personal favourites). Early classics like Age of Rifles seemed to herald a golden age, but the reality didn’t match the potential. Unless you’re a fan of ‘real time’ wargames, the genre has appeared to be moving backwards rather than forwards. So it was with some skepticism that I posted a few questions in Slitherine’s Pike & Shot forum prior to the game’s release. The answers I received  left me feeling intrigued, and I decided the game was worth a punt…

Let’s cut to the chase. I think the game is a blast, and has the potential to become a real classic. Both Field of Glory and Pike & Shot are based around rules authored by Richard Bodley Scott, whose CV includes a number of classic tabletop rulesets. But the difference with Pike & Shot is that RBS has done the bulk of the development himself this time around, using the Battle Academy architecture as its basis. Fancy graphics have been eschewed in favour of reflecting the way the period was depicted by contemporary artists, and – crucially – the AI has been developed to the point where it provides the human player with a real challenge. The developers have taken the trouble to faithfully model many of the specifics of the period, for example the alarming tendency that cavalry had to pursue fleeing enemies right off the field of battle, and the ways that the various pike and shot formations morphed from war to war and from nation to nation.

Pike & Shot is a turn-based, battlefield-level simulation of the period, and includes scenarios from the Italian Wars, the English Civil War and the Thirty Years War. There are a number of different difficulty settings, and the usual tranche of adjustable on-screen options. Crucially there is also a ‘Skirmish’ facility, which enables the player to generate endlessly varied random scenarios from all three of these wars; within this you can either trust the computer to select your forces for you, or you can select your army yourself. Size of battle and terrain can be customised, as can the type of battle – Attack, Defence, Open Battle, Reinforcement and Flank Marches. The type of battle selected will influence the AI’s behaviour.

Even better, there is a built-in editor, and this is likely to ensure a steady flow of new scenarios, as well as providing enthusiasts of the period with the chance to build their own battles. I suspect this will be taking up a fair bit of my time once I’ve got into it… It’s even possible to edit the technical parameters for various aspects of the game, and online discussion has already taken place where people are looking into doing this, either to personalise the feel of the game in line with their own interpretations of history, or in order to adapt it – alongside customised graphics – to represent different wars altogether.

The other positive feature has been the close involvement that RBS has had with the online discussions, and this is ongoing. It’s rare for a game designer to have this kind of engagement with his customer base, and he’s clearly open to suggestions about future tweaks and developments. Indeed, the question of “where next” with this very adaptable game engine is one of the big questions, with suggestions ranging from the Samurai Era to the Lace Wars, or perhaps a move back into the medieval or ancient periods. Field of Glory could certainly do with a challenging replacement, and from what I’ve seen so far RBS and his team have developed the skills and the toolsets to address this gap.

In the end, it’s the solo potential and the modability of a computer game that guarantee its commercial and popular success, as the history of games like Civilization and the Sim series has shown. While Pike &Shot is unlikely to ever have that size of audience, the potential for a wargame of this calibre, and for further releases covering different eras, is actually pretty big. If RBS and his team focus on that, they will have a long term winner on their hands.

Now, enough of this blogging nonsense – I have to get back to the battle of Cheriton!

Useful Stuff About The Game

Wars covered: Italian Wars, English Civil War, Thirty Years War.

Battles included: Seminara, Fornovo, Ravenna, Novara, Marignano, Bicocca, Pavia, Ceresole, St Quentin, Gravelines (Italian Wars), Wimpfen, Lutter, 1st Breitenfeld, Lutzen, Nordlingen, Wittstock, 2nd Breitenfeld, Rocroi (Thirty Years War), Storming of Bristol, Relief of Nantwich, Cheriton, Marston Moor, Lostwithiel, 2nd Newbury, Naseby (English Civil War).

Video of game demo/walkthrough: http://www.twitch.tv/surtur01/c/5223595

Screen shots: Go to http://www.slitherine.com/games/pike_shot_pc  and page down to the end. Or just Google!

Last but not least, you can get the game here: http://www.slitherine.com/games/pike_shot_pc

Disclaimer

I know this whole post sounds unlike my usual curmudgeonly self, particularly when it comes to discussing computer games. But frankly, dear reader, I can’t help myself. Although it’s early days, I’m currently chuffed as could be to have found a PC game that addresses an era I love, and does it in a way that doesn’t require you to check your brain at the door. I can honestly say that I have no connection with Slitherine, or indeed with Richard Bodley Scott – on the one occasion we’ve met over the tabletop (at the annual Berkeley Hordes convention), he handed my arse to me on a plate…

pike_shot_020914_screenshot_04

March 19, 2014

Battle Cry Game Review

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 2:09 pm

Battle Cry

After seeing lots of stuff online about Battle Cry I was really looking forward to unpacking the game and trying it out for myself, particularly to see whether it would work as a solo wargame.

Battle Cry is the first game produced by Richard Borg using a core system which he has since expanded into the Ancient, Napoleonic, Samurai and Modern eras.

The game comes with a sturdy game board, customised battle dice, command cards (a key part of the system), terrain tiles, army flags, a whole bunch of plastic miniatures and a few other bits and bobs. All of the components seem well made and durable, with the caveat that over time the command cards themselves are likely to be subject to a fair bit of wear and tear. The game also includes a very straightforward rules booklet which includes thirty battle scenarios, plus a terrain quick reference sheet.

You will want to paint up the 20mm figures yourself, and in time replace the flimsy generic unit flags with more specific ACW standards. For a good overview and footage of the game components, see Marco’s YouTube review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFxd-DXLkXQ. For related eye candy and lots of other resources, check out BoardGameGeek here: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/88827/battle-cry-150th-civil-war-anniversary-edition.

Command Cards

The heart of the game lies in its use of command cards and the division of the battlefield into three sectors (left, centre, right). Each side draws a number of cards at the beginning of the battle, and plays one card per turn thereafter, drawing a replacement from the deck. Most of these command cards facilitate movement in a particular sector of the battlefield – for example enabling a player to move three units in the centre sector, or two units on the left flank, etc. But the deck also includes a range of cards giving interesting one-off options. Your sharpshooters, for instance, may be able to target an enemy general; you may be able to force march certain troops, or use cavalry to charge then retire; reinforcements may arrive on your baseline; you may be able to cause supply problems for an enemy unit, forcing it to retreat to its baseline; and so on and so forth.

Battles are won primarily by capturing enemy flags (i.e. destroying units), and/or taking and holding objective markers, and the judicious use of the cards is a key part of the game. I’d wondered whether this would make the game a bit predictable, given that most of the cards are about activating troops in particular segments of the battlefield. This fear proved unfounded. While most of the cards are sector specific, the inclusion of so many unique ‘wild cards’ gives the whole game an air of unpredictability, and nicely models fog of war. No game is going to play out the same way twice, which means that even if you stick to the scenarios included in the booklet (and there’s no need to, as others are available online) you’re never going to be bored.

So What About Solo Play?

I bought Battle Cry primarily to play solo, as there seemed to be a lot of scope for tweaking the system and a lot of positive comments online about its solo potential. In fact so far I’ve played the game solo “as is”, enjoying the battles I’ve fought to date without feeling any need to adjust the rules. Given that each side has limited, shifting options – depending on cards held and cards drawn – it’s easy to set aside your own preferences for one side over the other once you’re immersed in the battle, and simply play each side to the best of your ability. The combination of chance with a degree of constraint seems to recreate the unique feel or flavour of a two-player game. I’m not entirely sure why this is – but it works for me!

However, the potential for further adjusting the rules for solo game play is very clear. Starting your favoured side with less cards than “the enemy” would be a simple and effective mechanism – a quick fix that would make the game a tough challenge. Drawing a fresh set of cards for each “enemy” turn would also provide an interesting solo variant. There are more suggestions for solo tweaks available here: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/355739/solo-battle-cry.

My initial impression of this game is that it will provide many, many hours of solo gaming. I’m looking forward to applying various solo customisations as time goes by. It’s certainly expanded my appreciation of the potential for using “chance cards” in a solo game, from simply inserting random events (as per Don Featherstone) to actually limiting the options available on the battlefield in a radical way.

General Impressions

However, this game won’t be for everyone. The elements of chance that make it so good for solo play – in particular the use of cards – and the straightforward nature of the core battle rules will put some people off. So will the fact that Battle Cry is played on a hex board. The movement/firing/combat rules themselves are very basic.

This could however be seen as a plus point, because it means that they’re very easy to expand and amend to your own specifications. As I think Marco pointed out in his video review (see above), you could use these core rules as a tool-set to develop further. In particular, adding additional detail for specific units and unit grades would be pretty straightforward.

This brings me to another bonus offered by Battle Cry. With a little customisation, and the purchase of suitable miniatures, it would be easy to adapt the game system to other conflicts of this era. The “bare bones” nature of these core rules means that they are ripe for expansion and adaptation. Using this system for the wars waged by Bismark’s Prussians immediately springs to mind, and they may even bear adaptation for 19th century colonial conflicts…

And Finally, An Apology

You may have gathered by now that I really, really like this game. I find it so addictive that it’s finally dragged me away from my computer and back to the wargames table. Still, I feel somewhat embarrassed by my unalloyed enthusiasm for it. So apologies if I seem a little over-enthusiastic – not something I can normally be accused of!

But what the heck – I’ve been assimilated by the Borg, and I’m loving it!

Battle Cry - Shiloh Day One

Battle Cry – Shiloh Day One

March 18, 2011

Lone Warrior – Guest Review

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 6:59 pm

Thanks to Bob (a.k.a. Seur D’Armadilleaux) for this excellent review of the latest issue:

There are 6 meaty articles in the latest 50 pages (no ads) from the Solo Wargamer’s Association magazine, and as usual, they are a feast for any serious long-term Solo wargamer, pretty much regardless of the period or the rules you use. Which is to say, a lot of the good ideas in this issue can be adapted for other periods of play, and the suggestions work with almost any set of rules.

First up is AWI, with Rich Barbuto’s presentation of Cowpens, in 28mm. This has a concise history of the “real” battle, goes through the details of how we scale-down the battle (both the battlefield and the numbers of troops, with an order of battle) to more manageable size, and a review of the rules that he used (Our Moccasins Trickled Blood). Rich explains how he modified the rules using “gaps” in the Continental line (the element of Unpredictability and Uncertainty). The re-fight of the battle has a couple of maps, and an analysis of what went right, what went wrong. All in all, this is a very instructive writeup.

Next up is Marvin Scott’s “Death on the Greasy Grass” (which is the Indian name for Little Big Horn). He has a really good historical synopsis, with the map of the environs leading toward the final battlefield, showing the paths of the 3 forces involved on that fateful day. Marvin then explores the use a deck of cards to “automate” on side of the fray, and points out that we really don’t have a good handle on what the Indian forces historically did that day. The article stops at this point, which leaves me to hope that there is more to come next issue. This sort of pre-battle map-game is used by a lot of long-term Solo enthusiasts, and it’s interesting to see how Marvin applies his ideas to the Plains War period.

ACW is a perennial favorite of Solo Wargamers, and George Arnold takes us to Solo Wargaming the Battle of Prairie Grove. George goes through some thinking behind card-driven games (like Piquet or Command and Colors — although the modifications that George explores can work with any ACW rule set), and explores his use of an Activation Card Deck, which determines which troops actually make it onto the battlefield we have in mind. George also has some die modifiers to cover arrival on the board, and ammunition supply, which is a nice touch. Three games were played to test out the optional rules, and you get all the gory details, including how using different dice (D20 instead of D6) can skew the odds. Nice stuff.

Fourth in the presentations, is Steve Turner’s exposition on How to create YOUR  World. This is a nice compendium of some of the tools that Steve uses, to breathe near-cinematic life into his campaigns. He goes over programs like “Berthier” (which takes a lot of tedium and pain out of the book-keeping part of Solo Campaigning), and shows some of the benefits of Campaign Cartographer (with an example of a vellum-drawn map that looks like it’s come out of an early museum collection). Steve talks about how he likes to play soundtracks when he is gaming — you better run, when you hear the Ride of the Valkyries, cause nothing good comes hard on their coat-tales! Steve develops dynasty lists, and army Orders of Battles that are so “real” they make you wonder if you slept through that part of the history class in high school, and he takes you through some of his behind-the-scenes work. Then he goes through how he uses a Word Processor program to develop integrated After Action Reports, complete with graphics, and even some “newspapers” that support the period. Marvelous stuff. (I still think I must have slept through that class in high school, cause the results are so “believable” that they MUST have really happened).

When is a Wargame more of a Sidebar? When you want to have more detail (on a siege, in this case, using Kevin White’s “Simple Siege Rules). STOP! (I can see your eyes cloud over, cause you really don’t feel like devoting a year and a half into building the models, the armies, and defending your use of the living room for that period! “Out, wife, while I mold the parapets on the North Wall!) And that’s what Kevin White SAVES you from, with his excellent exposition of a card-based Sidebar game, on laying siege to a number of cities in the enemy kingdom. See, one of the great joys of Solo Campaigning (and solo Wargaming in general), is the ability to multi-task — carrying on several tasks at more or less the same time, that relate to the battle-at-hand. Whether these other threads are battles (like skirmishes or scouting games), or exploring, or sieges, they ALL add to the flavor of the business-at-hand. In a matter of 4 short pages Kevin lays out all you need in order to run a card-game version of siege warfare, which can be played out “off-table”, and spliced into your Wargames Campaign (almost regardless of period) in a number of ways. A great addition to any Solo Wargamer’s tool-box.

The last article in this issue is a nice ramble through the wargamer’s journal that Chris Hahn put together for a couple of months in 2010, entitled “At War With Myself”. Keeping a journal (like a wargamer’s version of a diary) is a great way to look back and see what kept you busy, and where you put your talents to work. (In my case, I have too many scatterbrain red-herrings that always seem to keep me entertained, but don’t leave any time or energy to paint up more little guys, or indulge in prosecuting the next phase of whatever wargames campaigns I have on the go). So it’s nice to “peer over the shoulder” of someone who manages to get a LOT done, and see how Chris spends his free time. This makes a nice break to the usual articles that are all rules and maps, because it shows the personal observations of an experienced campaigner.

And for dessert, we have 4 pages of musings from various regular contributors as to the future format that should be pursued by Lone Warrior — lots of people would LIKE to see a web presence, but there are some concerns that the costs are hard to cover. In the meantime, Lone Warrior continues to deliver first rate articles on ONLY Solo-related topics, 4 times per year, for the bargain rate of $25 (North America, in US funds), and only $40 for the rest of the universe (Afghanistan to Timpeus Prime — and rocket fuel on Timpeus has gone up a LOT, the last few Parsecs).

You too can join the adventure, by mailing US funds (or International Money Order) to Solo Wargamers Association, 1707 Ridge Road, Leavenworth, KS 66048, or PayPal to lonewarrior@…. Don’t forget to include a note on PayPal with your mailing address, and what you are ordering. Back-issues are still a bargain at $5 (North America) or $8 anywhere else in the universe, wherever the United Federation Intergalactic Postal Service operates (Peace be upon them).

(Sorry we no longer accept Romulan Bhatt’s, as their devaluation due to the nearby Intergalactic storm has really destabilized their inherent-Latvium value).

Disclaimer: Plaudits, kudos and subscriptions should be forwarded to Solo Wargamers Association & Lone Warrior. Complaints that you need Lone Warrior for free, and that the poor scribe of this humble piece is taking too many liberties, should be forwarded in loving detail to Seur.Darmadilleaux@… (United Federation of Planets).

March 7, 2011

A Different Arthur…

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 10:19 am

I haven’t exactly been an avid reader of historical novels. Apart from the odd dip into sci-fi (mainly the outer fringes – writers like Philip K. Dick) I’m not a big fan of “genre” fiction. I wasn’t particularly inspired by the “Sharpe” TV series either, so the works of Bernard Cornwell have pretty much passed me by. However, last year a wargaming friend suggested that I might like the Warlord Chronicles trilogy. I was sceptical, but I went out and bought a copy of the first instalment – The Winter King. I’ve been hooked ever since, and I’m currently half-way through the final book (so if you comment on this article don’t give the game away by telling me how it ends!!!).

Cornwell presents a unique take on the Arthur legend and on the Britain of that period. A gritty and detailed realism is interwoven with many of the characters from the mythos. He generally – though with some exceptions – presents them in their Celtic rather than French incarnations, sticking mostly to Welsh names. All the favourites are there – Merlin, Nimue, Guinevere, Mordred, and of course Arthur himself. The world they inhabit is riven by constant civil war, and the ever present threat of Saxon victory.

The story centres around the life and struggles of Arthur’s friend and warrior, Derfel Cadarn. Elements of the story we’ve all come to know from films and books are skilfully blended with a gripping account of the struggle for Britain. War, politics, and the minutiae of everyday life are described in convincing detail. Cornwell has described this trilogy as his favourite creation, and the writing is of a high standard throughout. Dark Age Britain fairly springs off the pages.

The trilogy is a veritable treasure trove for the wargamer, and would provide marvellous material for one or more campaigns. There is a wealth of material for both the historical gamer and for the adherent of rulesets like HoTT, which allow for semi-historical armies where Heroes fight alongside the Shieldwall. I would highly recommend these books to anyone who hasn’t already discovered them.

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