|40mm wooden Dark Ages Warlord|
Recently I started playing Saga, a set of Dark Age skirmish rules (see my review on my Dale's Wargames blog) that have some really interesting game mechanics. As a part of learning rules I typically play a game or two solo, usually by playing the best you can for each side. Probably the absolute worst way to solo game, from an "excitement" viewpoint. It was while playing a learning game yesterday (actually, it is still set up and on-going) that I ran into a situation where I could play a reaction ability against an enemy unit and then I thought "wait a minute, it would be better to react to this other unit". I then realized that the other unit I was going to react to had not declared its action yet; I was reacting to an action my "opponent" (me) had been thinking about, but had not actually done. Put more simply, I was anticipating my moves as the opponent using knowledge I should not have possessed. This is always a problem with solo gaming and "playing the best you can for both sides". This creeps into our solo gaming all the time and usually manifests itself as a bias towards one side or another.
That got me thinking that I need to get back to working on solo gaming mechanics – specifically how to model what the best (?) move your NPG should take – and set aside the campaign ideas for the moment. (Don't worry, I am sure that I will come back to them.) I decided that one way to help me solve this problem was to take a look at what computer programmers are doing for AI in their games. I went out and purchased Programming Game AI By Example, by Mat Buckland.
|Solo game with wooden Napoleonic figures|
This led me to question my own cardinal rule about changing the game rules for the NPG. In the past, solo gaming had been a vehicle primarily to learn a set of rules or tactics, or to prepare for a tournament (see the work I did on De Bellis Antiquitatis Solus on the Solo DBA Development forum on Yahoo). As my face-to-face opponents wax and wane, especially as I use rules or periods that others are not interested in, I find that solo gaming must become more of an option for personal entertainment. Put another way, game solo or don't game at all. (Well, or game the popular rules, like Warhammer 40K, Warmachine, etc.)
If I did decide to break the rule by altering the rules for the NPG, what might it look like? Would I, for example, give an automatic +1 to the combat roll for the DBA NPG? What would the impact of such an action be? For one thing, it would require that I think and plan my attacks much more carefully. I could not rely as much on "the odds" as they would now be against me. That might certainly sharpen my play and allow a sub-optimal move by the NPG win out. Put another way, it takes the pressure off of making perfect moves for the NPG and allows "good enough" moves to present me with a surprise.
So, what are some of the other ways you can break the rules that lead to a tougher opponent, forcing you to sharpen your game? There are numerous ways to change or add to the rules in the NPG's favor, of course. I am looking for mechanisms that increase toughness, but don't essentially break the game for the player. Increase the challenge, but not the frustration. I would like to hear from you if you have ideas. In the meantime, I am going to keep reading the book and figure out ways to translate the concepts to the tabletop.