THE CLASSIC SOLO WARGAME
Table Top Talk, January 1964
There are a great many war gamers who for one reason or another just cannot find opponents with whom they can fight battles. This situation has plagued war gamers for years, and though the condition is improving it is by no means eliminated. Thus, many good war gamer sit in frustration, looking at their armies but never having any chance to use them.
There is, however, a partial solution to this problem. It may not be quite as satisfying as an eyeball-to-eyeball competition with a good friend and opponent, but it will bridge the canyon of frustration and help war gamers who can’t find opponents to “get going”. This solution is the Classic Solo Game. You can fight these Classic style solo games; even enlarge them into solo campaigns. You can move at your own pace and in your own time, always being sure in the knowledge that your “opponent” will be available because the “opponent” is you!
To set up a solo battle without favoring one side or the other, the first thing you do is to bring out two identical armies. I’m quite aware that under most conditions two opposing armies are not usually exactly the same. But this is a “Classic” game, a huge game of chess-with-chance. In illustration let us say you are fighting a Napoleonic period action and each force will consist of ten infantry units, five cavalry units and five guns.
Next, you must layout your table with balanced terrain. You need not make this lay-out identical for each side of the table, but it must be balanced. If you position two steep hills protecting the French left flank, then you might set up several small groups of forest areas protecting the British right facing it. For every terrain advantage you give one side, give a compensating advantage to the other.
When the table is set up you must now position what I call the “critical areas”. These can be villages consisting of a house or two set inside a small square area marked off in chalk; several stacks of miniature barrels in another chalked-off area representing a supply dump, or perhaps a few folded pieces of cardboard and a flag and pole stuck in clay, also in a chalked off square, and representing a HQ area. Each side or army should have two of these critical areas, and you should position them about a third of the way in from either end of the table, and opposite those of the enemy. In your Classic Solo Game the objective of each army is to control three of these “critical areas”. The army which controls three (as either of its own two and one of the enemy, or possibly one of its own and both of the enemy’s) at the end of any given sequence of turns (a sequence of turns is a turn by each side) wins the battle.
With your armies organized and your terrain and “critical areas” set up you are ready to begin your Classic Solo Game. You now have arrived at the point at which the problem of disposing the troops of each army fairly and without bias appears. If you had a live opponent each of you would set up an army as each saw fit. But in solo games you will know the dispositions of each side before they are made and there is always the danger of bias creeping in. To prevent this you now must turn over certain critical decisions to the dice. First you take 60 percent of each army and assign 20 percent of each to its left flank, its right flank area and the center area. Thus you would take 6 infantry units, 3 cavalry units and 3 guns of the French forces and dispose 2 infantry, one cavalry and 1 gun on each flank and in the center. These forces should be positioned so as to take advantage of terrain in their area of the battlefield.
When 60 percent of each force is positioned you are now ready to roll for the “Tactical Decision”. Beginning with one army, roll one die for each of the remaining units and guns (of the remaining 40% not yet positioned on the battlefield). If a 1 or 2 turns up on the die place that unit with the forces on that army’s right flank. If a 3 or 4 come up put the unit on the left flank. If a 5 or 6 are thrown, place the unit with the center. In. each case these “Tactical Decision” units should be positioned right with the original 20 percent flank or central forces they have been told (by the die) to join.
Once you have both your armies in position you must now roll for command decision, Roll one die for each army. If an even number turns up one Army’s die then that Army’s commander has decided to attack on his right in an attempt to take the enemy’s left flank “critical area”. If an odd number turns up the commander has decided to attack on his left flank to take the enemy right flank “critical area”. When command decisions have been made for both armies, roll two dice to determine by high number which side has the first move. Then from here on it is a matter of “following orders” with the solo player rolling dice for fire and melee and moving the troop s of both side s towards their objectives.
It can happen that both armies will be ordered to attack on the same end of the battlefield. Under these circumstances it will be left to hard fighting and to numerical superiority who will win. It can also be that one army will attack on the right while the other will attack on the left producing a cart-wheel-like 90 degree turn in the opposing lines. Under these circumstances it is not unlikely that one side will take the “critical area” of the other on the left while the other will take the “critical area” of the first on the right during the same turn sequence. The battle continues, if this happens, until one side or the other controls three “critical areas”. However to make the battle more interesting under such circumstances, the solo player can make ,a second “command decision” at this point, rolling dice to see which flank (left or right) will now be attacked.
This balanced Classic Solo Game may seem a bit formalized but bear in mind that there are many variations within its formal framework. The solo player can make up two armies which are balanced in strength, but not in numbers. Or he can set up a strong and a weak army, giving the weak side terrific compensating advantages in terrain. The variations on the Classic Solo Game are infinite.
Nor is the solo player limited to single battles. He can create an entire campaign based on the foundation of the Classic Solo Game. He can set up two groups of strategic armies on a strategic map, using the Command Decision dice roll to determine area of attacks. Then, when the armies meet, he can transfer action to the tactical field, the table top, and set up his usual solo game. He must always bear in mind however, that the Classic Solo Game presupposes balance between forces. Thus, if two French armies meet one British army on the strategic map he should fight a solo battle between one of the French armies and the British army first, then if the British win, eliminate the first French force and carry on with the battle between the second French force and the victorious British. This
might not sound realistic as one would suppose the British army though victorious, would be cut in strength, but still the second battle should be a balanced one to maintain the fun of the campaign and the tactical battle. The effect, however, finally is the same as if you had originally fought two-to-one on the tactical battlefield.
To the many war gamers that lack opponents this Classic Solo Game can be a fine bridge, something to carryon with until a live opponent can be found. The Classic Solo Game is not a real live opponent nor is it, quite as much fun as a battle against such an opponent. But it can be fun nevertheless. Potential solo war gamers don’t procrastinate… CHARGE!