A reader seeks information

<George Banic writes the following from Australia.>

G’day from downunder!

I have just discovered your website and am trying to find ideas/solutions to automating the opposing force (or both forces) in a solo wargaming context. I am also looking to run a campaign to provide a reason for my battles. My main periods of interest are the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleonics and am also starting to get into Ancients.

I have been looking at reviews on solo wargaming books written by Donald Featherstone and Stuart Asquith, but the reviews appear contradictory. Whilst great for nostalgia and also presenting interesting ideas and concepts for solo gaming, the reviewers indicate that these ideas are not fleshed out enough to be implemented in games. Yet other responses give high marks for there usefulness!

The main aspect I am looking to address is to generate challenging and plausible AI responses to an opposing force’s manoeuvres, both tactical and strategic, either to play against as a solo gamer or to have both sides ‘automated’ and play as an ‘observer’ to a campaign as it unfolds on the map and tabletop.

Have any of these aspects been addressed already by the SWA? Very keen to get in touch with kindred spirits to discuss further!


George Banic

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22 Responses to A reader seeks information

  1. Martin S. says:

    Tough ask, George, but great question!! You’ll probably find there are as many ways of soloing/running the ‘opposition’ as there are members of the SWA, but, that said, there is one ‘off the shelf’ one which may fit the bill.
    Nic Birt, who writes in Lone Warrior from time to time, has written Adjutant Introuvable, which you can locate via a google search.(eg Wargames Vault sell it as a downloadable pdf).
    Hopefully others can add more answers for you….

    • George B says:

      G’day Martin,
      Many thanks for your response! I agree that there will probably be as many options as there are members and I also note that my question was quite broad in some respects which won’t help much either! I’ve Googled Adjutant Introuvable and it sounds intriguing! I only found two reviews from a quick search last night but both were positive and it appears that the Nic Burt’s mechanism can produce a challenging battlefield opponent that can also adapt to the ebb and flow of battle. I got a set of rules online for an automated opponent that were originally developed for De Bellis Antiquitus (DBA). I have used them previously for playing DBA solo and thought they could be useable for other periods as the AI responses are couched in generic terms and are based on the (diced) personality of the opposing general – cautious, rash etc – which then affects the likelihood of overall battle strategy (attack or defensive posture) and responses to the live player’s moves and dispositions. It sounds like Adjutant Introuvable is of similar ilk but better! On the campaign level front there doesn’t appear to be anything ready made as far as I have been able to discover so far. I have downloaded a version of a ‘snakes and ladders’ based mechanism but this doesn’t really fit the bill. You will get a rudimentary narrative based on the events you hit on the board and the game will generate from one to five battles typically, so a fast play campaign mechanism that will generate some linked battles but doesn’t really have a narrative or a strategic context. I am looking for something richer in that regard. I have read ideas for solo campaigns where you work out three plausible war strategies for the non-player nations, then dice for the actual strategy followed and continue in that fashion for subsequent key decisions. I’ve also found concepts where you draw on some of the role playing game mechanisms to create rulers, Generals etc with specific character traits and skills, coupled to personal alliances and enmities which colour (or weight) their national strategies and decisions/responses to threats and opportunities. I am leaning towards experimenting with this type of framework to see how much work is involved and how well it can work to provide a political and grand strategic overlay and context to the tabletop battles. At this stage, I am looking at using a map to drive the campaign, identify nations, transport routes, key cities, army locations, strategic objectives etc but also note that there are some novel map-less mechanisms that people have developed, so am open minded, although personally, I do like maps!
      Anyways, a wave top skim of my musings on solo campaigning so far, I’m still very much in the research stage at the moment on how to set up my campaign for solo play and figured there should be heaps of people who have been down this path already which is how I found the SWA. Thanks again for taking the time to respond and particularly for mentioning Adjutant Introuvable, had never heard of it previously and it looks like it will fit the bill for a challenging battlefield opponent admirably!

      George B.

  2. jimr says:

    George- great question. Many approaches have been used to automate the action of the opponent. See for example the Two Hour Wargames review on this site. But also you might consider an alternative to the notion of an artificial intelligence: capricious chance. The actions of the opponent might be determined by cards or dice. Non enemy events such as natural disasters or friendly fire mishaps could be included in the cards. The location in which the enemy is encountered could be randomized instead of pre-determined. One Hour Wargames is a popular book. The section on solo wargaming has good ideas that could serve as a starting point. (Don’t confuse it with Two Hour Wargames because they are entirely different with different authors.)

  3. George Banic says:

    G’day Jimr!
    Many thanks for responding. I’ll check out reviews on the Two Hour and One Hour Wargames and see what they have to offer. George Arnold sent through a recent back issue of the LW Journal to give me an example of the sort of topics you guys discuss. Have to say, was very impressed by the scope and quality of the journal content! There were a few articles in my sample discussing card decks and event cards to either provide uncertainty to player/non-player actions occurring and also to insert random events etc. I’m having a look at how card decks might work in driving the events around a campaign.
    Keen to hear any other ideas you or the rest of the SWA team may have to offer. A lot of potential ingredients starting to appear, the trick is developing a recipe that suits my taste!
    Happy new year!

  4. Paul Le Long says:

    Hi George, here are a few suggestions:
    * Programmed Wargames Scenarios by CS Grant – this is great for generating an AI for the enemy in battles
    * For campaigns I’d check out Setting Up A Wargames Campaign by Tony Bath (this is a classic with tons of good ideas) & Fantasy Wargames by Martin Hackett (adaptable for historical games) has an excellent section on campaigns
    * Solo Wargaming by William Silvester has stuff on battles and campaigns but the campaign elements are particularly useful
    * And of course back issues of Lone Warrior are full of ingenious articles!

    Over the years I’ve tended to simplify my games by ditching the AI and just doing my best for both sides which seems to work just as well. But anything that introduces randomness is good – things like random activation of units rather than IGO-UGO or some randomisation of set-up or order of battle, limited number of orders or chance events all make a solo game more unpredictable. My own favourite is to have a chess clock with the better general having more time and the lesser general having to rush – although it’s just me making all the decisions, some are less good simply because I have less time to think.

    Hope that helps

  5. Martin S. says:

    Hi George
    One point well worth considering is just how complex you want your battle or campaign systems to be. eg the ‘in-depth character traits method’ adds very well to the narrative, but depending on how much time you have available it may take up more of your hobby time than actual gaming.
    As I got older I found more simple mechanisms fit the bill for my own desire to play games without spending excessive energy on crunching numbers. It may well be ‘each to his own’, and that experimentation will show what appeals to you, personally. Worth bearing in mind that it’s always wise to have (in the back of your head) some voice keeping note of ‘does this give me what I’m after or is the tail now wagging the dog ?’. Maybe a process of building up your ‘campaign world’ from grass roots slowly and steadily will assist to find you at your optimum level of detail, without diving in too deep and being swamped by feeling obliged to cover all minuscule details at the expense of enjoying the gaming side (?).
    Hope this helps.

  6. Nangwaya says:

    Hi George;

    I would like to give a shout out to “Adjutant Introuvable (the Auto Strategy system for Solo Wargames, by Nic Burt.

    I have used a many times for Horse and Musket / Napoleonic era battles, and really enjoy it.

    I picked it up on WarGame Vault, and it was very affordable, less than $10.00 CDN.

    The creator even has some youtube tutorials, which are very well done.

    Happy Gaming!

    • George Banic says:

      G’day Nangwaya,
      Great to hear from you and it’s reassuring to get another vote for Adjutant Introuvable, I’m certainly keen to give it a go!
      When I get my subscription in and become a member, I’ll look to posting a description of where I’m at, after I’ve had chance to tinker with some of the suggestions I’ve received so far.
      Many thanks for taking the time to write!

  7. George Banic says:

    G’day Paul and Martin,
    Great to hear from you Paul and thanks Martin also for following through with your additional comments/advice. I hear what you’re both saying regarding aiming for simplicity (and elegance perchance) as opposed to looking at a complicated/detailed system to generate my campaign(s) and subsequent battles. I have thought about trying to ensure I don’t end up with a Frankenstein’s monster for a campaign system, so appreciate the sage advice you have both given to embrace the KISS principle and free up more time for playing and painting. I’ll be looking to start small and simple to see what mechanisms work for me and also to get a better idea of what features I want to have modelled in a campaign system.
    Many thanks again to you both for your advice, agree entirely that I should be aiming for simplicity up front.

  8. Brian Cameron says:

    Hi George,
    There’s been some good suggestions so far which I’d echo – One Hour Warganes, the various products from 2 hour wargames which have good reaction mechanics, Programmed scenarios. I think the Featherstone and Asquith books are showing their age but still worth a read. if you go to Wargames Vault and search for MWAN issues 90 & 91 you’ll find an excellent article by our esteemed editor on how he did the Alamo with particular reference to how he ran the Mexican Amry through a series of die rolls. Issues 121 and 122 contain details on how Rich ran The First Bull run. I think both of these will be useful and they’re inexpensive.
    I would suggest however that the best bet is to subscribe to Lone Warrior! There are indices available for back issues and the recent issues have carried quite a lot on the detail of running solo games (I must declare an interest and say that some are one I wrote).
    I think you’ve already picked up some key advice – start small so that you can complete a campaign in a short time and then apply the lessons learned to another.
    All the best with your efforts and please let us know how you get on.


    • George Banic says:

      G’day Brian,
      Great to hear from you! I will be joining the SWA shortly, so will be looking forward to reading the LW journal in due course. I’ll see if I can chase up those MWAN issues you mentioned, I’ve come across a few references to the MWAN recently, keen to see what they covered with their journal articles.
      As you’ve mentioned, I am getting the message to start small and keep it simple – received loud and clear!
      At the moment I’m working on some ideas for non-player national strategic objectives, alliances and alignments of secondary nations, army manoeuvre to conform to strategic goals, effectiveness of scouting/intelligence to determine army composition and objectives, reaction to revealed ( or anticipated) movements of enemy formations, line(s) of March and order of March, resulting battlefield deployment and battle plan, … post battle results e.g line(s) of retreat, pursuit, casualties, POWs, morale, etc.
      Much grist for the mill, but things are starting to gel.
      When I have my thoughts down in a coherent manner will give you guys a yell for comment.
      Many thanks for your response and advice, hopefully I can offer up some useful ideas to repay you guys for your time and effort.

  9. Scott Hansen says:

    I also play board wargames besides miniature wargames. Some board games use a chit pull mechanic. This means that each division or part of a side’s forces has a chit with the division or unit name written on it. Make chits for the forces of both sides and throw them all into a coffee cup.

    Draw a chit randomly and activate that force to the best of your ability. When all chits have been drawn, the turn is over. Put the chits in the cup and draw them again. You can also use cards for the units and draw cards from a shuffled deck. Based on the number of units your game has, you can group units by left wing, center and right wing for example.

    Some miniature wargame rules like “I ain’t been shot mum” by Too Fat Lardies use this mechanic.

    Finally, you can give the commander of each force an aggression rating from one through six. When the unit chit is drawn, roll a six sided die. If you roll equal or less than the aggression rating, move the unit forward. Otherwise the unit doesn’t act.

    I would keep the mechanics simple to begin with and go from there.

  10. Scott Hansen says:

    I forgot to mention that there are rules to game solo wargame campaigns. Search for the “Solo Wargaming Guide”. This guide describes how to fight wars between nations and resolve movements of the forces on a strategic map. To see these rules in action, check out the You Tube channel “Joy of wargaming”. The host has fought several solo campaigns and is very entertaining to listen to and watch. The host has solo replays of several rulesets including “Absolute Emperor”.

    • George Banic says:

      Hi Scott,
      Just confirming, is the ‘Solo Wargaming Guide’ you recommended the book written by William Silvester, or is it another publication or article with the same name?

  11. George Banic says:

    Hi Scott,
    Many thanks for your email and comments. I took a leaf out of the LW Journal ‘book’ or rather, I followed some advice one of your members had written regarding looking at my old wargames rules and board games for useful mechanics. Yes , you nailed my bright idea of a chit type system to activate units on the battlefield. I have ‘The Guns of Gettysburg’ board game by Bowen Simons (from memory), which allows you the option to randomise unit arrival for both sides via a chit based system. So this multi Corps engagement fought over three days seems an excellent candidate to me, seeing as I’m looking to develop a system to cater for Napoleonics and the hyphenated wars of the later 19C.
    I think the chit based system will probably be the way I go initially as this will address the ‘order of march’ requirement I had which would drive the sequence of unit arrival on the battlefield ‘marching to the sound of the guns’. I will still detail lines of March as this will dictate the entry points for arriving units.

    You’re also following a similar path to what I was thinking for command friction. My smallest manoeuvre elements will be Brigades and I intend to have leader attributes at National, Army, Corps, Division and Brigade levels, i.e. aggressiveness, initiative, competence etc. I also have the ‘Napoleon’s Battles’ (NB) rules by Avalon Hill, which are army level rules with Brigades as the manoeuvre units. Unit formations and tactics are abstracted and catered for by the tables/charts used, so the player’s focus is ‘which Division am I going to send in’ as opposed to deciding to send out skirmishes or form square.
    NB also has stats on most of the generals who fought during the Napoleonic wars and has a neat adjustment for how said leaders would perform when promoted to a higher level, e.g. a Division General required to lead a Corps due casualty.
    I was reading an article in an old Practical Warhammer magazine about writing orders for battlefield manoeuvres. I intend to use this for my games as I believe it reflects the way actual battles were fought. As a general, you would seem to locate the enemy and understand his dispositions to the best of your ability via reports and/or personal reconaisance. You concentrate your army to meet the enemy, hopefully on ground of your choosing that maximises your strengths or minimises those of the enemy. You develop a battle plan to defeat said enemy and issue orders to the elements of your army, e.g. when/where to attack, who attacks & who supports, objectives of each attack etc. You have limited control once battle is joined and must rely on couriers and aides de camp to communicate any changes to your plan due to changing circumstances or unforeseen events etc. There are time delays to communicate your orders, particularly to remote commands and sometimes the orders don’t get through or arrive out of sequence, sowing further confusion. How well your orders are carried out is also an issue, i.e. delayed marches, formations using the wrong routes, misidentified objectives, timid attacks or overly aggressive demonstrations, etc. all have the potential to derail the battle plan, as the historical accounts attest, so I’m looking to capture the ‘friction war’ as a key aspect in my games. A lot of this should be able to be catered for by dicing against commander attributes and also a table of outcomes and/or chance cards etc. The chance cards in particular have been a very interesting idea I picked up from you guys!
    Also, seeing that I’ll be running a campaign, the post battle outcomes will also need to be addressed, but I think this again can be handled by a table of outcomes and/or die rolls based on magnitude of defeat, availability of fresh units to conduct pursuit, competence and/or willingness of commanders to actually order/conduct the pursuit and how aggressively, etc. This then determines additional losses to the defeated side and its ability to reform and conduct further operations etc. Similarly, the scale of defeat and the resilience/morale of the defeated army will have a bearing on the national strategy and will to fight etc.
    I’ll definitely be hunting down the ‘Solo Wargaming Guide’ you mentioned, sounds like it has the potential to fit the bill admirably!
    Many thanks again for your emails, excellent points raised!

  12. Scott Hansen says:

    Thank you George. It’s great you have the same ideas I do. Napoleon Battles Rules are a great resource for stats of all of the Napoleonic Generals. Napoleons Battles were one of the first Napoleonic Brigade rules that let you fight huge battles instead of parts of battles.

    It looks like you have developed several good ideas which is great.

    Good luck with developing your rules. If you decide to write an article for Lone Warrior in the future, I’m sure the members will enjoy it.

    • George Banic says:

      Hi Scott,
      Many thanks, I’ll look to send something through once I’ve codified my ideas into workable mechanics. No doubt I’ll be revisiting ground you guys have already covered, so I expect I’ll be getting some even better ways of doing things based on the collective wisdom and experience of the Association, once I put forward my concepts. I’ll be ordering the Solo Wargamers Guide tonight. Thanks heaps for the pointer to the ‘Joy of Wargaming’ blog, once I saw how the book could be used to set up a campaign I was sold on it. I’ll also be getting the Adjutant Introuvable rules to drive the in-battle generalship. The host of the Joy of Wargaming blog indicated the post battle mechanics in the Solo Wargaming Guide were a bit light and he used ideas put forward by Tony Bath to cover casualties/ losses incurred by armies post battle, time to reconstitute etc. If these mechanics are detailed anywhere on the LW site I’d appreciate a pointer. I haven’t got Tony Bath’s book unfortunately, although that said, if there are comparable mechanics that you’d recommend I’m all ears, or eyes as the case may be! I also liked the look of the ‘2×2’ wargames rules used to fight the battle in the blog, optimised for 2mm (on 2ft square table) but they may work as a quick play set for my 10mm stuff on day a 4ft square or dining table, again looking to keep things simple initially. The main areas I think I’ll be looking to develop will be the scouting and intelligence aspects to identify enemy movement, composition and intentions and then the responses of the opposing forces. The next area will be the post-battle outcomes, both for the armies immediately involved and also the impact on higher level strategy, alliances, national will etc.
      Thanks again for your time and advice, have been blown away by the responses I’ve received so far! Great to know there’s a pack of Lone Wolves out there to bounce ideas off!

  13. Scott Hansen says:

    Hi George,

    I’m glad you checked out the “Joy of Wargaming” you tube channel. I’m very impressed by the host, Jon. He’s posted several play-throughs of “Absolute Emperor” Napoleonic rules by Osprey. These rules use a different approach than 2 x 2 Napoleonic Rules.

    People have adopted Bloody Big Battle rules meant for 1840’s thru 1914 for Napoleonics. Join the BBB I.O. group if you are interested. The rules do combat by bases and are flexible. They are focused for fighting big battles. I’ve used to fight battles of the Russo-Turkish and Russo-Japanese Wars. My favorite set of the rules for the period.

    • George Banic says:

      Hi Scott,
      Thanks again for putting me onto the Joy of Wargaming blog, agree, the blog is both highly entertaining and informative. The blog was particularly helpful in showing how the Solo Wargaming Guide actually worked to develop a campaign, so was invaluable to me on that score alone! Many thanks also for the recommendation for rules, I’m open minded on rules so am happy to investigate something new! I’ve heard of BBB before and seen them recommended for the FPW, I have yet to play a multi Corps battle, so if Naps Battles or 1870 don’t ring my bell, I’ll be looking for other options! I’ve considered getting 19C Russian and Turkish armies to complete the set for Europe pre-WW1, but I haven’t found any decent 10mm figures for Turks and Russians yet. I’m still working my way through painting 1870s French and Prussians and 1866 Austrians at the moment; and I haven’t even started on my ACW armies yet!
      That said, was toying with idea to use my ACW Union army as ‘counts-as’ Italians, Danes and Russians, by making the flags removable. Just need some generic European cavalry and generals to flesh them out. A lot cheaper and far quicker option than buying and painting another three complete armies!
      Great to hear from you again, and many thanks for your advice and recommendations!

  14. John Parus says:

    There is another tool that is inexpensive and extremely useful for solo gaming. That is the MYTHIC Game Master Emulator (GME). In the past, there was a Yahoo Group for its use. It became about a 50-50 split between Role Play Gaming (RPG) and miniature wargamers. One gent did a Northwest Frontier Campaign game using it, while I used it for skirmish gaming with a re-envisionment of “The Magnificent Seven.” You can use it for pre-game setups, off-board events, introduction to new characters that may or may not be helpful, successes or failures of events or intended actions.

    On the simplest level, anything you want to determine is done with a question, and based on your perceived level of difficulty for success, your roll will result in anything from (forget the correct terms) but an absolute success, a success, a neutral result, a failure, an absolute failure. What are the odds of downing an enemy fighter with an umbrella? Yet Dr. Henry Jones Sr. did just that. Rare and improbable yet possible. Similarly, you can have an extreme failure where in spite of proper planning, sufficient forces, and getting the drop on your opponent somehow things just turn to worms. Most results are less extreme as you might expect. There are also triggers for things going differently that planned. Your “scene” will likely go as expected but you can have an interrupted event, or a modified event. Again, simple explanation of each would be where your planned activity cannot occur because of other event or occurrences that interrupt it and force you to adjust on the fly, where a modified event is one where the event you planned but the result is different than expected. So the first might be when planning to load your forces on pirate ships to escape as Spartacus did, he arrived at the rendezvous only to find the ships went to a higher bidder. A modified would be like what was planned or should have taken place, but not in the normal expected way: “Major Strasser has been shot…Round up the usual suspects.”

    These same set of mechanics can run diplomatic events, spying results, field arrivals and disposition, contents of unscouted terrain, and just about anything you can think of.

    I’ll be happy to share more specifics if folks are interested, or, you can message me on Facebook under “terrement.” There are likely some other folks on Lone Warrior who can share their own experience with it.

    Another would be the use of opposing argument resolution like in Matrix games. You come up with a statement for something to occur and three reasons why. The opponent comes up with a counter argument with three reasons why the proposed event did not take place (no – and) or it did but with different results (yes – but). You then judge the relative strength of each argument, weigh them accordingly and dice for the result that does take place. Arguments that succeed then have the points they used as substantiated and therefore true and usable in future arguments. For example: “We learned of the composition of your advancing force because (1) there was no attempt to hide what you were doing, (2) we already knew approximately what it would be based on the known forces in the field elsewhere and (3) we have more than one spy active in the city of Ubek where the force was mustered.” Counter arguments might be “No you don’t know what the composition was since (1) the force is composed of more that what might have been seen in Ubek, (2) the deployment of other forces in the field has recently significantly changed and (3) we just hung your spies after “interrogating” them quite thoroughly. If you think they are equal arguments, then the outcome is 50-50. If you think one side has an edge over the other, then you might make it 65-35. If you think one side is significantly stronger, maybe 85-15. the weighting never is such that it would guarantee a result.

    • George Banic says:

      G’day John,
      Many thanks for your email and detailed description of the GME. Yes, I am definitely interested in learning more about the GME, so keen to get more details if you have the time to put fingers to keyboard! I can’t speak for the rest of the SWA crew, but I’d be surprised if I was the only one interested!
      Thanks again for taking the time to write and also for providing such a clear and concise description of the GME mechanics, has definitely whetted my appetite for more of the same!

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