Thursday 27 June 2019

Solo Wargaming - To the Strongest!

Regular readers will be aware that I have been playing more solo games recently and its a trend that will likely continue. I'm still attending games at Posties Shed-o-War but I only average about one game a month, especially during the summer when other events and holidays reduce availability to join the lads for a battle. The young Padawan can occasionally be arm-twisted into joining me for a game of To the Strongest! at home, but if I want to play with my 'little men' more often, solo play is the best way forward. This long overdue article discusses how I achieve realistic games using these wonderful rules. You may have a different approach and as always comments and suggestions are very welcome.

I have played quite a few games solo now and have slowly been developing a method for 'automating' one side so I can play against an opponent that still has the ability to surprise me, or at the very least put up a stiff fight. The rules for TtS! already introduce a certain amount of friction and no commander can say with certainty what he will be able to achieve in any given turn. Careful management of activations and positioning of generals can help, but the dreaded Ace (or 1 if, like me, you use dice), can't be argued with! But this still leaves a lot of room for additional mechanisms to make playing an opposing army unpredictable.

I have used the following ideas in most of the solo games I have played so far, and there is always room for new ideas, although I have no desire to make them too complicated or too random...I want to play a challenging opponent, not a schizophrenic machine that makes completely random, unfathomable or stupid moves.

Make life hard for yourself
All my games start by writing up an Order of Battle for both sides. I try to do this in a fair way, without giving any side a significant weakness or advantage. However, I have slowly come around to the idea that the 'enemy' needs to have a points advantage to counteract any unconscious bias I may have during the game. It also means that whatever army I play I have to play well to win. Victory is more likely to be genuine and not the result of bias in decision making. How much of an advantage is a matter of debate but through a bit of trial and error, I have settled on between 5-10% extra points for the enemy army. This equates to one or maybe two more units in the field than they would normally have in a straight fight, so a reasonably significant advantage.

Randomly select and place terrain.
To the Strongest! does include rules for removal and movement of terrain after it has been placed. This effectively randomises the position of terrain making its final configuration random-ish. However, I also like to replay actual battles so sometimes the terrain and deployment are determined by the scenario. 

Dice for sides to deploy
If the game is a fictional rather than a historical scenario, then it is possible to ensure any unconscious bias in the setup of terrain can be eliminated by randomising which side each army sets up on. Pick a side of the table and roll to see which Army will be deployed there. Alternatively, flip a coin to decide. 

Deployment of Commands. 
To the Strongest divides armies into multiple commands, usually three but more could be used for really big armies. Where these are positioned relative to each other (and the army opposite them) is an important decision for the player. Deployment can also dictate strategy, so a strong cavalry command opposite a weak one could prompt an attack. I usually set up my army then deploy the enemy 

Dice for the location of the senior general.
The Senior commander's location can have a significant impact on the behaviour of a command, especially if he is a Brilliant General or Great Leader.
  • 1-3 Right Flank
  • 4-7 Centre
  • 8-10 Left Flank

One VERY aggressive Roman! 
The aggression of each command
This something I have tried to do with all my Solo games. Each command may act differently, with one being aggressive and charging, while the others are more defensive. This makes playing the enemy army quite challenging, trying where possible to follow this instruction and turn it into a strategy with a chance to win.

For each command, roll a D10 (or pick a card) and consult the list below:

  • 1-2 Defensive - Units within the command are not free to move until the enemy is within charge distance. 
  • 3-5 Timid - Units within the command are free to move but will not initiate any melee until at least one unit of the command is engaged by the enemy. 
  • 6-8 Cautious - Units within the command must advance towards the enemy but are free to decide whether to engage in melee.  
  • 9-10 Aggressive - All units must advance and engage the enemy where possible, with ranged weapons or in melee.

Strategum Cards
The use of Strategum cards can also add an element of surprise to a game. Of the twelve Strategumss, two are used immediately after deployment but before the game commences. Four others delay the arrival or movement of units, again introducing a random element into the game that the Living player can't predict either in his own forces or the enemies. 

Chance Cards
A new idea that I am working on (still being developed) is the use of chance cards to inject subtle effects on the behaviour of enemy units. These tend to be little effects that may provide a local advantage or disadvantage to a single unit. 
  • Each turn I roll to see if a chance card comes into play (1-5 = Yes, 6-10 = No).
  • I then roll to decide which command will be affected (1-3 Right Flank,  4-7 Centre, 8-10 Left Flank)
  • Then I decide which unit gets the Chance Card by rolling a 1d10 counting from left to right until I reach the number rolled. If the number rolled is higher than the number of units then I re-roll. I only count (and by extension apply the card to) the front unit if there are shared boxes or multiple rows of friendly units. 
The nominated unit then pulls a chance card or in my case, I re-use the Startegum chits. The result can be a bit unpredictable and may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on timing. Any chance cards that are not used (by choice, or lack of opportunity) are lost at the end of the turn.
  • Hearts: Blood Red Fury - The nominated unit is inspired by its commander to fight harder. If the unit chooses to charge an enemy (this turn only) it will get a one-off bonus attack dice. 
  • Clubs: Shaken but unbowed - The unit must fall back at least one box with its next activation. It may reactivate in the same turn (cards/dice permitting) to move forward again if it wishes. 
  • Diamonds: Tough as Nails - If the nominated unit has to make a save roll, it gets a one-time bonus of +1 to its saving roll
  • Spades: Going nowhere - This unit is stubbornly holding its ground. The unit is allowed to make a Rally activation even if it is in the ZOC of an enemy unit. 

    No doubt more ideas could be developed even further, but what I don't want is to make these additional 'rules' a distraction from the excellent ruleset Simon has produced. The solo games I have played so far using these techniques have produced challenging experiences and sometimes unexpected outcomes. For me playing Solo will never be as much fun as playing against a living opponent, but at least this way I can get a game in, learn the rules and justify the hundreds of hours I spent painting my miniatures! 


    1. Some good ideas there. I spend quite a bit of time doing solo gaming, like yourself, mixed with some face-to-face. For solo, I just try to play each side well, favouring neither, which of course chaos systems help with, in keeping the challenges up during play.

      1. Thanks Norm. My aim is to play against myself, but still feel like I earned the victory (assuming I won of course!).

    2. For solo play, I do the same as Norm. That is, playing both sides optimally without bias.

      1. That's how I started, but my enemy player is a sneaky bugger and I don't trust him to play fair!

    3. Some great ideas Lee. Rem8nd me to show you the event rules in BLB2, when you're down at the weekend.

      1. Looking forward to the game on Sunday. Its been a while since I've played F&F.

    4. Great ideas. I haven't played in a while. This makes me want to pull out my minis again and have a solo game.

      1. I'm hoping to get more Solo games as time goes on. My eldest daughter is moveing out in the next few weeks and I'm looking forward to having a 'spare' room to turn into a games room. Somewhere to store my stuff and set up a table... its only taken 27 years!


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