Saturday, January 4, 2020

Using Card Activations Without Breaking IGO-UGO Rules

As I indicated in my last post, I do not like injecting game mechanics into rules for the sole purpose of creating randomness to simulate "surprise" as it can break some rules whose turn sequence and turn-to-turn sequence are finely tuned. That said, someone of the solo forum I read asked a better version of the questions normally asked. He asked "I want to play (IGO-UGO) rule set X solo. Do you have any tips or ideas to do that?"

I bought a set of rules some time ago and, for whatever reason, I set them aside unplayed. (Probably because I rotated out of tabletop miniatures gaming at the time, but it could be that I was scoring a fix as I am a "rules junkie".) The rules were from Osprey Publishing and they are called Black Ops, by Guy Bowers, editor of Wargames, Soldiers, and Strategy magazine.
Ironically, the solo card set Hostile: Tactical A. I. (HTAI) was written specifically for playing the defenders in Black Ops scenarios, according to the author of HTAI. (I did a two part play through and a review of HTAI a few posts back. Recommended.)

Back to the subject, Black Ops uses card activations, red for one side, black for the other. Each side's leader is the Ace, Kings are the heavy weapons, Queens the specialists, and Jacks (all of) the soldiers. Now it totally randomizes the card draw – cards from both sides are placed in a single draw deck – so not only do you do not know which side will be activated next, you don't know which figure type. The rules Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA) use this same sort of mechanism – a single draw deck composed of cards assigned to units which are drawn to determine activation order – so this is nothing new to me. However, if you modify the idea slightly – assign a card to a single unit and create a draw deck only for the non-player side, this does not break the rules in any way. You still keep the IGO-UGO sequence between players, but when it is time to play the non-player side, you can take the decision of which unit acts next out of the hands of the player. Let's run through an example.

Let's say the non-player forces consist of the following units. Assign a card to each one.

  • Orc General: King of Spades
  • Orc Bodyguard: Jack of Spades
  • Orc Witch: Queen of Spades
  • Orc Spears: 10 of Spades
  • Orc Swords: 9 of Spades
  • Goblin Bows: 8 of Spades
  • Goblin Wolf Riders: 7 of Spades
Create a deck of these seven cards and when it is the Orc non-player's turn, use that draw to determine the next unit to act.

If your rules are, say, broken down into Movement, Ranged Combat, and Melee Combat phases, and all units complete a phase before moving on to the next phase, then you would use the draw deck for each phase, determining unit order for action in that phase. When the phase is complete, reshuffle the deck and draw again for the next phase. So in this example, there would be three sets of draws, one for each of the three phases.

If your rules are broken down into phases, as above, but a unit completes all phases before moving on to the next unit, you would simply only draw through the deck once a turn for the non-player's units.

Sometime there are glitches simply following the order generated randomly, especially with moving. Random generation may not allow a group of units to act in concert, such as marching in column down a road. Black Ops, like many rules, provide a mechanic to deal with that. In Black Ops it is giving the "Reserve" order; other rules might call it "Hold", "Wait", "Standby", or similar. It is basically the order that says "I cannot make the move I want to make because another unit is blocking the way, because it has not moved yet. Once it moves, I will make my move."

You can fix this glitch simply by placing a marker on the unit being ordered, and fixing in your mind the unit it is waiting for to move first. When that unit then moves, the waiting unit takes its move immediately after. This, in fact, may cause a cascade of units that were waiting to move, say if all of the units in a road column were selected to move before the head of the column is drawn.

In summary, you can easily add the randomness of card activations to help the player decide the question "Which unit should act next?" without disrupting or materially altering the way the game designer intended the turn sequence to function. (See my last post on the subject of decision making and activation order for more information.) This is a much less disruptive way that strapping on a Red/Black card activation model to replace IGO-UGO.


  1. I believe Muskets and Tomahawks uses something like this - there are cards by Unit *type* and when that type's card is drawn, the units can act. I think they also vary the number of cards by type, in that elite units can move on their type card, e.g. "Formed Infantry" and also act on their elite unit card.

    I guess my problem with it is that in real life units don't usually move by type, they move according to some "plan" even if that plan is just "let's all get over there as quickly as possible to feed them their entrails" [sounds like an orc plan to me!].

    I think it would be more realistic if the cards were the commanders of the various groups of units, or the various commands into which the force is divided [say, left, right center and reserve]. And you'd need to be able to "hold" a card if that force had nothign to do yet. Kinda gets complicated!

    Overall, I think the easiest thing is also the simplest and best. I play both sides as best as I can, or decide on a plan for the one side to try out. If two possibilities seem equally good [or less bad] than I dice them off. I think your ATE system is good to point out the decisions available. Perhaps all one has to do is introduce a "stupid" decision on a worst roll, say a '1' on a d6.

    So going back to your recent OHW Scenario #7 example, when you had a knight approach the hill from the south facing a knight on the hill and a Unit of archers on the hill, you could shoot with the archers - an obvious choice. If they are out of range you could maneuver them to get into range and present a threat for next turn. But the knights... they can stay put or they can charge. If my archers were in range and I could get a shot then charge with the knights, I probably would have as knights who charge first have a good chance to win.

    I realize is isn't a consisten AI, bu it is simpler than trying to program and the story of decisions creates a sensible narrative of decisions, I think.

  2. Just had a thought about your hill defence rules in Mr Babbage Beats Me. Units will face towards the greatest threat if within your or their charge range. I suspect you can't write rules for very option that may occur, only the expected and 'reasonable'

  3. From one Dale to another, I just wanted to say hello. I'm retired and "discovered" wargaming a couple of years ago. I play solo, and enjoy reading thoughts from other solo players. Always something to learn. I'm sort of a rules junkie too. My career was in software development (programming back in the day), so maybe that's where the fondness for rules comes in. We like rules and logic. Randomness does add a lot of interest to solo play, but I like to play both sides. Twice the thinking action that way. But randomness along the way makes it more fun and requires you to change your plans often during the battle.

    I was poking around the internet and came across your blog and so far have found it very interesting. I'm posting at this spot because the card deck ideas you presented sound interesting and can't wait to try it out. I'll spend some time going through your other posts a bit later.