A friend of mine has been solo gaming for about 30 years. When I reconnected with him about five years ago I started to quiz him on the topic. I had heard of solo gaming, but always thought it would be too hard to create a reasonable AI for a solo miniatures game.
Well, over the years I badgered him about his AI. Until recently he was kind of vague, not to be secretive but to express the reality that he gamed solo in multiple and I do mean multiple periods. This meant there was a system for each and although some had similarities the solo gamer does what he has to in order to make it work according to his interests and expertise. In other words it's not exactly you get a solo gamer to give you a plan on the page that works for everything.
So I read up on solo gaming from articles on the INET and from Stuart Asquith's book from the late 1980's and received advice from my friend.
Then along came the virus and virtual isolation, My regular gaming with this friend came to an abrupt end. I decided to give solo gaming a go with the armies for which I had both sides, obviously a necessity for a solo gamer.
I picked my Colonial Wars collection of British and Zulus and used The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK) as my rules template. TMWWBK does has a sub section for solo gamers which is not bad but I chose not to use it and instead game up with my own system on the fly.
It's important to point out that my friend gave me a couple of pieces of great advice. One was to set yourself up; that is, make it hard for you to win. I chose the British force in this scenario to be the AI since on paper a British force should always trounce a force armed primarily with spears and shields. As it turned out they did!
I took a lot of notes during the game. The first part of the this post is a rough sketch of how I did it. No doubt some aspects will be confusing as you try to get into my head and say, what was this guy thinking!. Let me say now, somethings had to be made up as the game went on. I learned a lot and that was the main thing.
The second part of the blog are most of the pictures I took. The third part is a blow by blow of the action. It's written in my code for the game and probably hard to follow but I included it in an effort to document my efforts for posterity on this blog.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy my first recon into solo gaming!
I used a playing card system for activation by assigning one card per unit. This created what I’ll called situationals that had to resolved as they occurred.
I set myself up by being the Zulus and giving the British some advantage by assigning two extra cards (jokers) that allowed 2 actions per turn but not at the same time. In other words, when the joker was drawn a unit could perform a normal function. When it’s own card was drawn in the same turn it could perform a second. (or the other way around)
When a choice of action was available, I would dice for which weighing it in favor of the most obvious. Let’s say a British Foot unit draws a joker but two Zulu units are within range. Dice for which one receives the fire weighing the dicing where the odds are better. In another case the joker is drawn and choices could be made between two or even three units. One might move, another fire or another might get another rally attempt. In these “situationals” an equal chance is given to each to execute the extra action.
Another situational was when a unit’s card was drawn, and it had to rally and failed. If the joker was drawn after the unit tried to rally and again failed, I had to carry the pin over to the next turn. This made multiple pins difficult to deal with although it affected the Zulus more.
As I said I selected a scenario from One-Hour-Wargames and modified it for colonials. I initially diced for the units using the chart provided in OHW. Since I have a larger board than OHW I added 2 Zulu Warrior units and one unit of colonial militia. This provided a quality ratio of 6 Zulu units to 3 British units with each having two auxiliary units of limited value..
All unit leaders were diced for on the basic table in TMWWBK. That proved to be an interesting variable.
Order of Battle
6-16 fig warrior units, 4 of which I rated Fierce. All had at least a +1 for discipline and many had a +2 which was diced for. (The discipline turned out to matter a great deal especially with the +2 units because quite a few units diced poorly for leaders and the discipline for the unit functioned as an offset.)
2-12 fig skirmish units with good discipline. These units could only skirmish unless attacked in melee themselves. I did not use them as soak offs which imo is not a valid way to use Zulu skirmishers.
Zulu Regiments present were UmHlanga and UmBonambi although to expedite matters I refer to them as warrior or skirmish units numbered 1-8
Two redcoat British Foot (13th Foot) rated as +1 discipline but not sharpshooter. Instead, because it was an ambush the British had the first turn free and the Zulus could not respond. I made the assumption that the unit in the farmstead was ready to volley. The other unit in the scrub had to dice for it and as it turned out was ready to volley on T1.
One colonial militia unit of 12 figs as irregulars with obsolete rifles with a -1 to discipline and poor shots. They also managed to get poor leadership. One NNC unit with a -1 to discipline but they managed excellent leadership. Go figure. The unpredictability of variables are a must imo for the solo gamer.
A Natal Mounted Police unit of 12 figs as irregular skirmishers meaning they had to skirmish unless attacked in melee. That actually worked out since they fought at +5 and fired at +5. Since only half can fire when skirmishing the number of dice were doubled when they were attacked. I'm assuming that they firing like crazy at very close range when in melee! As mounted troops it takes two hits to remove one figure. As it turned out in the game they out fought the Zulu unit that attacked it. I think I found the right formula for colonial horse.
As is my habit I question play balance. How would it work out using an AI for the British and setting myself up as the Zulus? Could the Zulus win?
I think the ranges for my board are too long and inhibits maneuver. I think this may be issue in all the Osprey rules. It results in a quick game to be sure but at the price of maneuver. Not sure about this, but will try reduced ranges and movements next time.
Giving the British two jokers may have been too much. The most logical thing to do is fire 2x with the same unit. It worked out that was about 2\3 of the time when choices were involved. My thought at this point would be to allow one joker per side or two for the British and one for the Zulu. It's a great variable and curve ball! Rebels and Patriots another Osprey set has a number of curve balls that could be used in solo play. I will research that for the next game.
Apart from that I thought it went pretty good. When it came to quality units the Zulus had 6 to the British 3. I had one opportunity to turn the British left flank and on that turn the dice left me thus allowing the British Foot unit on that flank to fire twice. In one volley they cut one Zulu unit in half!
The card system worked very well imo. It was a crushing Zulu defeat but the card sequence could have meant a closer game. As it was I came close to getting around the British flank.
|UmBonambi by Hat|
|Natal Mtd. Police by Newline|
|Skirmish Zulus by Newline|
| UmHlanga by Esci\Italeri|
|British Field Force stats|
|Colonial Militia, 20mm old Minifig Boers except for two Airfix from the Confederate set.|
|Initial Zulu center position, three warrior groups pictured|
|Zulu initial left flank position|
|British right flank initial position, Co B, 13th Foot and Natal Mounted Police|
|Natal Native Contingent on the flank of Co B.|
|Co A, 13th Foot and colonial militia|
|Luckless Zulus pinned down by the ambush!|
|Another pinned Zulu unit pinned on T2|
|Zulu Warrior #3 manages to close with the colonial militia and wash their spears. Zulu high tide I'm afraid.|
|Zulu high tide as they push back the militia and cross the fence|
|Zulu skirmish unit on the Zulu right working to flank the militia. The Zulus had their best chance on that flank.|
|The Natal Mounted Police are engaged by Zulu Warrior #6 and manage a melee win.|
|Co A pivots and destroys Zulu Warrior #2.|
|The NNC move to finish off pinned Zulu Warrior #1|
|Another warrior unit crosses the fence line but falls short of contact. This proved to be fatal as the turn sequence favored the British and Co A fired twice at close range destroying te unit.|
|The Zulu second wave moves up in support.|
|The NNC and a KIA on pinned Zulu Warrior #1 with a spear toss.|
|The Natal Mounted Police would hold the flank throughout the game and destroy Zulu Warrior #6|
|The NNC move in for the kill thus avenging years of oppression by the Zulus|
|A Zulu skirmish unit crosses the fence to outflank the militia.|
|The Zulu second wave was the Zulu's best hope but were too little too late!|
Play by Play
1st Turn was the free ambush turn
---Mtd Police fired at Skir#4 and KIA=2, Skir#5 pinned
---B Co fired at W#1 and KIA=2, W#1 pinned
---A Co fired at W#2 and KIA=3, no pin
---W#2 tested to use DT and got it and closed with militia the fence line. Militia did receive the defense bonus. Zulus KIA=3, Militia KIA=1, Zulu win, Militia pinned
---Mtd Police fire at Skir#4 KIA=1, Skir#4 stays pinned, no rally possible this turn
---Skir#4 moves to fence line to flank militia
---Co A dices to fire at multiple threats, fires at W#1 KIA=3, pinned again, no rally possible this turn
---W#6 gets the DT and contacts Mtd Police, W#6 KIA=2, Mtd Police KIA=6, W#6 retreats and is pinned.
---Joker, Co A fires again at W#2 KIA=6, Yikes! W#2 pinned in front of pinned militia
---Militia did not rally
---NNC pass activate, dice to either support farm or move to attack to pinned W#1. Moved to attack. Gutsy.
---Joker, lots of choices and diced for, militia attempt to rally but does not.
---W#6 attempts to rally and does so
---Co B fires on W#1 KIA=1, pin remains
---W#3 normal move toward fence line to support W#2 and Skir#5
---Co B fires at W#1, KIA=1, no rally allowed this turn
---W#3 crosses fence line but falls short of contact with militia, tosses spears KIA=2, militia pinned again so no rally possible this turn.
---NNC move toward W#1, toss spears KIA=2, W#1 pinned again, no rally allowed this turn
---Mtd Police fire at W#6 at half range KIA=2, W#6 pass pin test
---W#6 attack Mtd Police KIA=0!!!, Mtd Police KIA=2, W#6 retreat but pass pin test
---joker, Multiple choices diced for and the NNC attacked pinned W#1 KIA=2, Zulus KIA=3 but W#1 falls below 25% and disperses
---Co A fires at W#3 KIA=3, W#3 passes pin test
---Skir#4 does not rally
---joker, many choices diced for. Co A destroys W#2.
---W#6 attacks Mtd Police, KIA=1, Mtd Police KIA=3, W#6 destoyed
---Skir#4 no rally
---W#7 attempts attack on NNC but fails test!!!!!
---Co B choices result is to fire at stalled W#7 KIA=3, W#7 pinned!
---Militia fails to rally
---Skir#5 skirmishes militia KIA=1, militia pinned no rally possible next turn but there isn’t any
---joker, Co A fires at W#3 KIA=8!!!! W#3 pinned.
---Co A fires again at W#3 and destroys it
---NNC moves towards farm choice diced for
---joker, Co B fires at W#7 KIA=3, pinned no rally next turn
---Mtd Police skirmish on Skir#4 KIA=2, no rally next turn
Game over Crushing Zulu defeat. Lots of fun!