Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Battlegroup Generator

Continuing with my new quest for impartial solo game set-ups and taking certain decisions away from the solo player, I have knocked up a table for selecting random units from my armies.

This is a sort of follow-on from Dale's solo blog where he ruminates over how the turn sequence might effect a player's strategy (or is it tactics?). It set me off pondering on how a solo player, without any external input, could get stuck in a tactical rut during games, end up using the same old favorite units (the French D2's with snazzy camouflage in my case) or setting up the same types of scenarios, almost by default.

So here we have a screenshot of it at work. It doesn't bring the unit up, I have to read it off the chart using a Mk1 Eyeball and for the human touch I will be rolling dice for actual games anyway. It's not going to be accurate in terms of distribution (I notice already that Pz 1s & 2s need boosting and Pz 35t's & 38t's need reducing) or whether particular vehicles fought side by side but it should spit out some playable combinations, possibly some unbalanced ones but hey, war is hell! I have tried to keep the infantry components as prominent as I can and I expect I will tweak it a bit but to be honest I do like to see tanks rumbling across the fields.

Monday, 20 May 2013

On-Table Unit Reminders

To cut down on record keeping during a game, I write the unit morale level and other details on 16mm green tiddlywinks and place the marker next to the unit in question. No need to consult a notepad now and the morale status of a unit doesn't have to kept secret as I play solo!
The notation {8/13~65} means the unit has a current level of 65%, that there are 8 elements in the unit and the loss of one element will cause a drop in morale level of 13%. For the 8/13 part I use a fine permanent marker as this does not change but a water based pen for the morale level which needs updating at times. The counter stays with the unit when it goes back in the box.

Green was my colour of choice so as not to distract from the overall appearance and this works well. (Incidentally, the exact same tiddlywinks are used as bases for all rifle sections and other foot units). My next purchase from the very helpful people at Patriot Games in Sheffield was a pack of smaller 12mm multicoloured counters (they left out all the green ones at my request and put extras of the other colours in) which I will be using for various on-table unit reminders and any morale reactions in force on the unit. Again, this does not need to be kept a secret from the solo player and it will be a lot easier to remember which units need retesting next turn, whether a particular MG is on AA lookout, orders arriving soon, etc.

The counters are available in the colours here (and another shade of green) in 12-48mm diameter, 50 per pack for smaller sizes.


Firstly, a big welcome and congratulations to Dale who is the first official follower of my humble blog!

Over on his Solo Battles blog, he has some philosophical musings and a goodly exchange of views in the comments section. One concern is that the turn sequence and other mechanics "changes the way [gamers] think and how they approach tactics, or...how to win the game", suggesting that you might end up exploiting the idiosyncrasies of the rules resulting in an unrealistically played-out scenario.

Some of Dale's ideas and followers' comments made me realize that the simple alternate turn sequence really ought to be improved upon, away from the clunky swinging of a grandfather clock's pendulum to something organic, with more flow, less 'whole army activation', by design giving the feel of engagement action instead of chess moves. Perhaps a bit more like initiative in Crossfire with a frequent shifting of activity from one side to the other to replicate the speed of action in a firefight with seconds (fractions of most game turns) between events and irregular & variable windows of opportunity. You could also try to replicate another player with a programmed opponent with the decisions of one (or both) sides of the game determined by rules.

However, if the player wishes to operate both sides, there are a few game features (some inspired by discussion at Yahoo Solowargames) which could be altered or included to add interest to the solo game:
    • Unit activation: With a regular turn sequence, all units activate and complete their actions, then the opposing forces react. Sometimes this entails units moving back in time to where they became, for example, pinned down or destroyed. Having to enact on the gaming table the equivalent of  "actually, because of my dice rolls, that didn't happen" is a little unsatisfactory so I would use single unit activation but allow a reaction and for groups to be activated as opposed to units in the case of a number of units acting together or as one (advancing in line or waiting in ambush for example)
    • Specifics of terrain features are unknown until scouted: The penetrability of woods, locations of river fording points and bridge strengths, fields that may or may not give cover due to crops, areas of soft ground or hard going and steeper slopes which may prevent vehicular access, are not known in advance. Also units would only discover if hedgerows were of the twiggy variety (offering cover only) or overgrown dry stone wall type (soft and/or hard cover, including possible AFV hull-down position) until encountered
    • Surprise reinforcements: Unless scenario specific, the composition of units is diced for upon arrival on table
    • 52 'randomly' triggered wildcard events: Reaching for the regular deck of playing cards instead of dice reinforces to the player that something off the wall is about to happen! It could be an orders glitch, command failing, ammunition, fuel or vehicle breakdown or reinforcements snag, or the event might be a stroke of luck like surprise reinforcements, radio message interception or other intelligence coup, a 'free change of plans' or dice roll bonus. Effects could be immediate or the card could be retained for play later in the game. Possibilities are limited only by imagination (partisans or 5th Column units!) but game balance should not be upset. I mostly use percentage dice in my rules so it is easy to set the triggering probability (any "0,0" or "9,9" occurring, for example)
    • Battle-testing of conscripts: If the rules allow for variations in troop quality, the morale of second line or raw recruit units could be determined randomly at first contact
    • Random battlegroup composition: The player draws up a few sets of forces for each side to tackle the scenario at hand, then dices to determine which army each uses
    Up to now I have only introduced a random element through the use of wildcards but will do a bit of rule writing before the next game.