Monday, December 2, 2019

Playing Against Mr Babbage

Whenever I read someone's post about Dan Mersey's The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK) inevitably someone will mention the solo rules Playing Against Mr Babbage (PAMB) that are included in the rules. To be honest, that is the only reason I purchased those rules. So, what are they?

PAMB is essentially a programmed opponent, mixed with some rule changes to TMWWBK to compensate for the fact that the programmed opponent will never be as smart as the player. In general I do not like modifying rules, even for the programmed side. As a solo gamer I acknowledge that gameplay will never be as challenging as a live opponent, so I solo game to try out tactics or strategies, refine lists or decks, or to create an interesting or amusing narrative.

So, how is PAMB programmed? Basically it is a simple rule-based system with priorities identified for each unit type and general actions to take if the unit-based ones do not apply. The first system is for programming the natives, but includes a second system for programming the Imperial forces. Here is a small sampling, to give you an idea. (But not all. You should buy the book.)

  1. I like my shooting units to find cover and stay there. Failing that, I like them to advance to short range and fire, avoiding melee.
  2. I like my melee units to advance quickly into contact, towards the closest enemy they can see, except as noted in rule 3.
  3. ...
Pretty simple, but descriptive enough for the player to reasonably determine what should be done when it comes time to act with a unit. Note, however, that the rules are not written in order of precedence (as indicated by rule 2 stating there is an exception in rule 3). So you have to read through all of the rules to see which one makes the most sense.

As stated previously, PAMB also has rules that modify the TMWWBK rules, such as randomly appearing native units (similar to the Two Hour Wargames' PEF concept), native action modifiers (which include the unit leaving the table), and recycling native units.

My dream has always been for solo gamers to be able to 'trade' programmed opponents. My schemes have always been too complex - essentially requiring other gamers to have computer programming skills to define the rules - and I can see that PAMB's method is a good start towards codifying such rules for programmed opponents. The one change I would make is that rules have to be in order of precedence and that when you hit a rule that applies, you stop evaluating the rules.

I still think that generic opponents would be harder to create than ones for a specific scenario for a specific time period. Maybe that will be my next project.


  1. Maybe I'm missing something but I still don't get how to use them. Does each rule apply to the entire army? To a single unit? Do you start with rule 1 and work your way down? They needed a better explanation.


    1. These are unit-level rules. As it says: "In Mr Babbage's rules for automated combat, you do not choose the actions of those units opposing you (unless something ever so obvious and beneficial to a unit can be agreed)." Given they are solo rules, it is easy to get your opponent's agreement. :)

      "When play shifts to the native force's turn, select one native unit, roll a die and consult Babbage's Table 2 and implement the Outcome to determine their action during their turn; do this for each native unit currently on the table."

      So basically roll for each unit against Table 2, using the rules at the start as a 'modifier' of sorts. So, for example, when you roll 'Advance' for a shooting unit, and you are already in cover and able to fire, you would stay put and fire as the roll allowed moving and firing, but the rule stated that you stop moving if in cover and able to fire.

  2. I have put off picking up TMWWBK but this is the second mention of "Playing Against Mr Babbage" I have seen in as many days and my resolve is weakening. It does look like an interesting tactical solo engine.

    1. I probably did not describe it enough. I always err on the side of not giving away the secret sauce.

      Basically there is a table that defines how cautious or bold a unit will act. You roll against that table for each unit in the programmed opponent's force. That is essentially the modifier for the base rule, which I described above.

      In addition, there are a number of additional rules that are provided for the programmed opponent in order for it to 'cheat' in a consistent way. The rationale is that this provides a rule-based edge over the player, as a programmed opponent will never be as smart as a player.

    2. Oh, and check out my previous two blog posts on Hostile: Tactical A.I. if you are looking for a tactical solo engine. It answers all of the basic questions a solo system should have: who gets to act; who acts next; how do they act. The Mr. Babbage system ignores the first question (because all units get to act in TMWWBK) and the second, and only deals with the third. So consider it a starting point, not a complete, generic system.