FK&P – Thinking About Solo Play

The header picture is “The Alchemist” by Cornelis Pieterz Bega, circa 1663.

I am continuing to enjoy my experiments with FK&P, but wanted to set down a few more notes on solo play.

My next For King and Parliament trial is to take one of the historic battles on the Celtic Fringe that I have already done and set it up in a small play area. This picture shows the preliminary setup forThe Battle of Inverlochy, Candlemas Day, 1645

The pursuit of the perfect way to play wargames solo is rather like the alchemist’s pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone, much fire and smoke but progress is often ephemeral. Nothing can quite beat the presence of a human opponent since, as far as I know, not even the best artificial intelligence can simulate the unpredictability of the human mind. It is our creative intelligence, prideful obstinacy and flawed perceptions which are, at least for now, well beyond machines.

Much is done in wargame rules to increase the “fog of war”, to limit the god-like view  players have of what is happening on the table-top. This of course cannot be perfectly done and in solo play it is even more difficult to achieve. When playing against myself I try hard to be of two minds but it is impossible to wall off what the other guy knows. One way I’ve found to help lose the big picture view is to force each side to respond to the most current tactical situations only.

One way to do this is to place rigid time constraints on play. For example when I play computer chess, I play it as fast chess. The AI is given 15 secs to respond (much of what makes a chess program “smart” is giving it sufficient time to evaluate every possible move). Of course I have to move within the same time limit, thus the game is multiple moves of tactical chess which becomes strategic only when the hardware count on both sides dwindles to only a few pieces. While time limits were used by one of the earliest wargamers, H. G. Wells, it is generally not practical for the solo player – there is simply too much mechanical stuff to take care of and it becomes an unenjoyable frenzy.

IMG_0078

Probably my favorite solo battle boardgame which I have played several dozen times. It is extremely well balanced making it very competitive.

It is also possible to use card driven (scripting) scenarios that are successfully used in many solo boardgames and these can be quite engaging.  Victory Point Games (VPG) has designed some excellent solo games, none better than Cruel Neccesity or Zulus on the Ramparts (above). Card scripting, when well done, is probably the most successful way to provide at least an echo of a human opponent. To set it up for even a simple battle game like Inverlochy would require a great deal of planning (over and above what is already done) to design a scripted approach and in the end it is very difficult to escape the limitations of your own viewpoint!  Cards are useful for introducing period flavor and narrative potential but not creating utterly novel situations.

The very best way I have found is to return to the idea of forcing the solo player (Myself) to deal with limited tactical problems by switching in a random way between sides. Like several rules that I favor, including Baroque, For King and Parliament (FK&P) divides each side into discrete commands, “brigades” in this case. When this is done it is simple to add a random brigade selection process (not original to me) which I have now tailored specifically for FK&P.

Brigade Selection Cards

The card deck used to randomize brigade selection in FK&P. Each symbol represents a brigade on each side (red and blue) allowing up to ten per side. The extra cards are optional, two for each side.

FK&P is an IGOUGO system. Within a game turn one side is active until all units have potentially played, then that side becomes passive while the opposing side becomes active (although the passive side often has a selection of reaction decisions to make).  To simulate the IGOUGO approach the red and blue decks would be kept separate, red running through his deck first (for example) followed by blue.

I prefer to use the cards in a single deck, one card for every brigade on the board, so that the action shifts from side to side in unpredictable ways. While the card selects the brigade, the units within it still must be activated in the normal way (command moves for a side being made on their first brigade being selected in a turn).

I then play the brigade in the normal fashion to meet its local tactical situation. When a brigade is selected, units within it can be activated in any order and multiple activations are possible. Even better you don’t have to finish with a unit before going to the next, you can jump around (although activation failure increases each time you try to reactivate a unit). When you fail a unit activation the turn is over for that brigade. Planning and risk assessment are paramount. The level of complex action within a single move is amazing! For an example see “Move Five” in the previous post.

I am not as yet using the wild cards but briefly:

Draw StrategemFK&P provides an optional set of cards that work as event triggers, deployment delays (or assignment of brigade objectives in solo play?) or as playable tactical advantages. These might be added to only the deck for the first turn or introduced only on certain turns.

End Turn – when drawn the turn is over and any brigades not yet drawn lose their turn. Should I decide to use both a red and blue deck an “End Turn” is added to each deck and would effect only the one side if drawn.

Clearly there remains a good deal of work and experimentation to do here!