Monday, May 11, 2020

Wargame Design: Solo Gaming Deployment

As we talked about last time with Solo-wargaming we are all in a Brave New World!  No longer can we count on going down to the local shop, gathering with our buddies in the basement, or stopping by at the Club for a game.  Instead, we have to find alternate ways of doing things for the forseeable future.  That is going to involve figuring our how to do this Solo-wargaming thing!

Thankfully, this is a diverse and interesting hobby.  It is challenges like these that help me think and engage with it differently.  Lately, I have been thinking a lot more about solo wargaming.  Admittedly, I am late to the part.  There have been plenty of other games out that all ready tackle this ground.  I will outline a few below if you need them:

  • Horizon Wars: Zero Dark- Sci-fi
  • Rangers of ShadowDeep- Fantasy
  • The Walking Dead- Zombie
  • Chain Reaction - Sci-fi
  • The Men Who Would Be Kings- Colonial
  • 4 Against- Fantasy
  • Spellslingers and Sellswords- Fantasy
I am sure there are many more so feel free to add to my list in Comments or on the Messageboard.  Heck, I even took a stab at making one called Combat! Starring Vic Morrow!

Surprise Party!
Today, we are going to continue to talk about some of the unique aspects of Wargame Design that pertain particularly to designing Solo wargames.  One of the challenges of playing a solo wargame is that you have a bird's eye view of the battlefield.  As the commander, you can see everything.  When you are playing an actual opponent the advantage is mitigated by facing an actual, living, breathing, thinking, decision making opponent.  It is always a bit hard to predict what exactly they are going to do.   

In a solo-wargame, one of the key tenants that a design should strive for is "surprise".  In this case I am specifically refering to a situation that takes the player a bit off guard and that can derail their tactical plan.  In most wargames, this is provided by an actual opponent.  Solo wargames can not rely on such a luxury.  I am sure we have all heard the concept that "No plan survives contact with the enemy", and create "surprise" in a solo game is intended to force the player to "re-think" their approach and force them to make decisions. 

One way to set-up players with tactical surprise in a solo-wargame is to try and make deployment less obvious to the solo-player.  Enemies should be everywhere, and no corner of the board necessarily safe.  Therefore, solo-players are making decisions immediately once they deploy.  Here are a few ways to tackle this issue that I have seen: 
  • Blinds
  • Hot Spots
  • Random Deployment
  • Mixed Deployment

Blinds are an old way of deploying in a way so that your opponent does not know exactly what you have deployed where.  This is a trick even used in traditional two-player wargames.  I have seen this executed in a number of different ways.  However, the idea if that there is a marker on the board that represents an enemy unit.  

When a Player's unit gets within a certain distance it forces the unit to be "revealed".  Once revealed, the Blind is replaced with the actual model/unit it represents.  As an added twist, not all Blinds need to correspond to a unit and instead maybe dumbies.  Typically, a blind can be revealed by moving too close to it, shooting at it, the blind acting, or some other type of reveal such as a drone sighting, off-board observation, etc.  The way a Blind can be revealed often helps fit the theme of the game you are playing. 

Some example Blinds are: 
1. Playing Cards that correspond to a particular unit/Dumbie by number
2. A Chit that once revealed is a roll for a random unit, including nothing
3. A single model that once revealed allows the unit actual location to be randomly determined within X radius of the model or none at all
4. A unit that looks like X can be replaced by Unit Y

There are many types of blinds that can be used to remove the certainty of where and who your enemy are.    

Game Examples: All Quiet on the Martian Front, Blucher, Zona Alfa

Hot Spots
Unlike a Blind, a Hot Spots will spawn enemy units from it at certain intervals.  Unlike Blinds, they do not correspond to a set unit on a 1 for 1 basis.  These units maybe respawn of killed units, new units, or even multiple enemy units.  Some games may have various Hot Spots spawn different types of units.     The key is that these units will appear at regular intervals.  The only way to stop new units from spawning is for the Player to "shut them down" by coming withing a certain distance, destroying them with firepower, investigating them, etc.  Once properly dealt with no new Units can be produced.  

Hot Spots allow a stream of enemies to come forth at the Player unless they specifically act to shut them down.  This may be part of their mission, or a distraction from their mission.  It depends on the game and the scenario being played. 

Game Examples:  Force-on-Force/Tomorrow's War, Space Hulk   

Random Deployment
In this scenario, the enemy forces are randomly deployed in both time and space.  This can be from random charts, set lists of options, based on timing, or any combination the designer can think of.  Here when  unit is "spawned" its placement is randomly determined.  This can be based on Hot Spots, Blinds, distance from the player's troops, or truly randomly from a cotton ball flick or something similar.  Many times, the game will dictate the method in which the random deployment occurs, but the player will not know when or where enemy forces will appear.

Game Examples:  The Men Who Would Be Kings

Mixed Deployment
A mixed deployment combines a couple of the above elements with a traditional wargame deployment in a deployment zone.  So, there will be obvious and present forces deployed per the scenario (such as within 12 inches of the Objective) and additional Deployment options for other units.  This forces a player to face some known enemy troops and objectives while having to plan for additional forces from an unknown source.  

Game Example:  Rangers of ShadowDeep, The Walking Dead

Final Thoughts
Where and when enemies Deploy is a great way to create "Surprise" in a solo-wargame.  Especially in games that encourage Tactical Gameplay, fresh troops appearing from unexpected locations can make the game much more challenging to accomplish objectives.  It is this "fog of War" that leads to Friction, and friction forces decision making.  The more decision making a solo-wargamer needs to make the more interesting and exciting the game.   

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