Thursday, November 5, 2020

Playing Undaunted: Normandy Solo using programmed rules

In my other blog I posted a first look at the game Undaunted: Normandy (UN) while in the last post on this blog I talked about initiative bidding in Undaunted: Normandy  Since those posts I have played UN a number of times (and hopefully will soon be playing it virtually face-to-face) - and tried to write this post several times. In the course of those solo playthroughs I have come across several solo play systems and mechanics (Board Game Geek account required to download the files), but there was one from "One Stop Co-Op Shop" that seemed pretty interesting and had a YouTube video showing how to use it.

Basically it is a single page of rules representing the program that the AI is supposed to run through in order to determine the programmed player's turn.

The first game I ran I used the program for the attackers (the U.S.) and it beat me. In all games of UD there is a certain amount of "luck of the draw", but this was honestly because I failed to keep my eye on the objective and when the AI had a chance to sneak in a win, it did.

Basically these are proper rules, telling the user which order to play cards in and what action to take when a card is played. There is very little gray area and several opportunities to inject a more "cautious" or "aggressive" personality into the rules.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Initiative Bidding in Undaunted Normandy

Undaunted: Normandy (UN) is a new card, counter, and tile game about combat during WWII in Normandy 1944. I purchased this recently and just played a game solo.

UN has two game mechanics that make solo play generally harder. I wrote this blog post to discuss how I overcome these obstacles.

The first obstacle is card hand management. Actually UN makes this almost a non-issue as you do not manage a hand of cards from turn-to-turn; each hand is played out each turn. You only manage the hand in terms of determining which of the four cards drawn will be used to bid for initiative, with the remainder being used for determining which of your units get to act.

In general, I play one side of UN normally, while the other is semi-programmed. Ultimately what that means is that the side I play makes their hand management decision first. More on that in a second.

The second obstacle is a blind bidding system for initiative. As shown in the image below. the number in the upper-left corner of each card is a number.
The player who bids using a higher numbered card wins initiative and plays first.

So the questions are:

  • How do I determine which card to play for the non-player side?
  • How do I keep the player from knowing the other cards in the hand of the non-player?
I solved this pretty readily by altering the Draw Phase of the turn sequence slightly:

  1. The player side draws their four cards as normally done.
  2. The player decides which of the four cards will be used for the initiative bid.
  3. The player draws the top card of the non-player deck. That card will be used for the non-player initiative bid.
  4. The higher card value wins the bid, as normal. However, if the values are tied the non-player always wins the tie.
  5. The non-player's hand of three cards will be drawn face down. The hand will only be revealed when it is time to play the non-player's hand.
In general, this change will usually result in the non-player winning the bid more often than not. If the non-player acts first, you will be playing with the slight knowledge at what the player is capable of (if you remember the rest of the hand), again giving a slight advantage to the non-player. If, however, the non-player acts second, the player will play their hand with no knowledge of what the non-player is capable of.

In general I find UN very solo-friendly, which is unusual for a game with hidden information mechanics. This is largely due to the card draws defining the limitations of what you can do and which specific units and act and which cannot, along with there being no hand management that carries over from turn-to-turn.

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.