Solo Wargamer

March 24, 2014

The Battle Of Ethandun Part 1

Filed under: Scenarios — Jay @ 10:00 pm
The Battle Of Ethandun

The Battle Of Ethandun

This solo scenario is based on the battle of Ethandun, or Edington, as described by Bernard Cornwall in his novel ‘The Pale Horseman’. Cornwell bases his account of the battle primarily on John Peddie’s excellent ‘Alfred, Warrior King’. I’m using the fictional account because it provides lots of options for chance to intervene; in any case, like most battles of the period there are few reliable historical facts to hand.

Rather than simply re-run the sequence of events described in the novel, I’m going to plunder Cornwell’s version of the battle for a selection of random events that can be woven into a table top game. I am, however, going to begin with a layout that is pretty faithful to Cornwell’s account. I’m using the ‘Hordes of the Things’ (HoTT) rules in a house version to play out the game, but any suitable rule set will do.

The photo above shows the basic set-up.

On the Saxon side, working from left to right, we have:

i) Fyrd troops under Wiglaf (HoTT Spears plus one Blade).

ii) Alfred and his bodyguard (two HoTT Blade elements).

iii) Uhtred of Bebbanburg with Leofric, Pyrlig and Steapa (a HoTT Hero element).

iv) The Fyrds of Wiltunscir and Suth Seaxa under Osric (HoTT Spears).

Across the battlefield we have the Danes. Going from right to left this time, they comprise:

i) Svein of the White Horse, at the rear of the main line (a HoTT hero element).

ii) Svein’s Danish warbands, along with turncoat Fyrd troops commanded by the treacherous Wulfhere, who has defected to the Danes’ side (HoTT Warbands and Spears).

iii) Within the hill fort (I know, I know – it was the best I could do at short notice!), we have Guthrum the Unlucky, overall commander of the Danes and not a big fan of his ally Svein. His troops are a mix of HoTT Blade and Warband. In the photo, Guthrum’s element provides the hinge on which the line bends.

In the far left corner at the very rear is the unguarded weak point in the hill fort defences, a point from which an enterprising little band of Saxon Fyrdmen (HoTT Spears) may, as per the novel, launch a surprise attack on Guthrum’s apparently impregnable position.

The novel provides a whole skein of “what if” options for the game. One of the best things about the description of the battle is that Cornwell emphasizes the two aspects of warfare which are often downplayed – morale and chance. In theory, the Danes should win easily. In practice, a number of random events tilt the balance the other way. As options for the solo game, the following elements of the account need to be modelled as possible events:

i) The defection of Wulfhere’s Fyrd back to the Saxon side as the shield walls on the right approach each other.

ii) The positive or negative effect on the Saxons if the rogue Fyrd does rejoin them, either strengthening the Saxons or inadvertently breaking their shield wall.

iii) Single combat between Uhtred and Svein, and – depending on the outcome – the impact it has on the two sides.

iv) The decision of Guthrum to (a) reinforce Svein, (b) attack Alfred’s flank as it advances on the right, or (c) stay put and hold his troops in reserve.

v) If Guthrum does launch an attack, what will he do about the Fyrd troops facing him? Will he advance to meet them, or hold the front edge of the hill fort to keep them pinned without risking any loss?

vi) And finally, there is the possibility of a rear attack by those sneaky Fyrd troops, which could turn Guthrum’s defensive position into a death trap…

Note that to keep more or less in line with the fictional account, a number of assumptions are made here:

i) As per Alfred’s orders, the left wing of the Saxon army will not launch an attack on Guthrum’s wall until the fight on the Saxon right has been resolved. Until then it will hold a static position – unless it’s attacked.

ii) Guthrum may choose to act at any point by committing more troops to the fight, but unless he launches an all out attack right along his line he will not leave the walls of the hill fort unmanned (i.e. he won’t risk the possibility of the uncommitted Saxon left wing flanking his charging troops or taking the hill fort). In game terms, the Danes on the hill fort facing the Saxon left flank are effectively pinned by them.

iii) The rear attack on Guthrum, if it occurs at all, will not take place unless and until the Saxon right flank is victorious and Svein’s troops are destroyed.

Anyone familiar with the novel will see that I’ve fudged a couple of issues here when it comes to timing; but as I’m using the book as a source to mine for ideas I hope that is acceptable.

In my next post (after a bit of play testing!) I’ll set out some options for modelling the chance events mentioned above – and also look at what might comprise suitable “victory conditions” for each side.

 

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 6, 2014

Marco Solo

Filed under: General — Jay @ 2:56 pm

For any solo gamer who isn’t already familiar with his YouTube videos, Marco is a prolific and erudite video blogger who discusses and reviews all sorts of boardgames, often discussing their solo playability as part of the review. I can’t recommend his stuff too highly. Although not a tabletop/figure wargamer as such, his reviews are a terrific resource, covering as they do primarily military (and sometimes magical/D&D type) games. His reviews are short but comprehensive. The main page for Marco’s reviews is here – http://www.youtube.com/user/marcowargamer?feature=watch

Below are a couple of examples. First up is his review of Battle Cry, a Richard Borg game with obvious solo potential (the review was good enough to persuade me to go out and buy a copy!). Second is his review of Thermopylae, a free print and play game available here – http://battreps.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/thermopylae.html.

I’ve found that Marco’s video reviews are a great way of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

March 4, 2014

Journey to the Overland

Filed under: News — Jay @ 11:01 am

Overland

Deano Ware has been a mainstay of the solo wargaming scene for several years, so it’s great to see that his new Kickstarter project is up and running.

Called ‘Journey to the Overland’, Deano describes it as  a “Solo Tabletop Roleplaying Game where players take on the role of characters traveling throughout the Overland in order to obtain one of the Five Weapons of Power”.

It is custom-designed for solo play: “Because Journey To The Overland is an open ended solo tabletop roleplaying game that allows players to explore and interact with the game world in almost any manner that you could in a traditional roleplaying game except Journey To The Overland lets you do it without a gamemaster.”

For further information check out the link here:https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1235706284/journey-to-the-overland-a-solo-tabletop-roleplayin

More on the game:

and a short video review here:

February 18, 2014

Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends, Once More…

Filed under: News — Jay @ 11:25 pm

It’s been around three years since my last blog post, which is quite a gap. During that time I’ve had a long break from gaming to focus on other stuff, apart from occasional head-to-head sessions with a local chum.

Now I have a bit more time on my hands I inevitably find myself turning once again to solo gaming. In truth it’s never been far from my thoughts.

In the past few weeks I’ve been planning new projects, trying out new stuff and getting some of the little fellas back onto the painting table.

I’ve tried my hand at a few games of Tusk, a neat set of solo/cooperative mammoth hunting rules from Irregular Miniatures that have been around for quite some time but which I’d never previously got around to sampling. The games were fun and it’s a system that has definite potential for adaptation and development. I’ll take some photos to upload next time I give it a whirl.

I’ve also invested in some 2mm (yes, 2mm!!!) armies from Irregular as part of a new project focusing on the re-enactment of Diadochi warfare. I’m aiming to develop my own fast play rules for these games, using a hex mat with the 2mm figure blocks. Once I’ve got the basic rules up and running I’ll work on the solo dimension of the game.

Finally, again from Irregular Miniatures, I’ve purchased a set of Riot rules. Riot is another solo/cooperative ruleset whose name is pretty self-explanatory. I’m looking forward to giving the rules a run-out once I’ve sorted out the relevant figures and buildings. Initially these will be for the medieval era, with revolting peasants trying to put one over on the lord of the manor and his brutish tax collectors.

Now that I’m back into the hobby I’m aiming to post regular updates to the blog. These will include solo wargaming ideas and scenarios, battle reports, game reviews, book reviews and of course the ever-important eye candy! I promise the next gap between posts won’t be quite as long as the last one…

Happy gaming, folks!

Tusk

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.

Conclusion

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.

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