Solo pen-and-paper wargaming campaign

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Solo pen-and-paper wargaming campaign

Postby josta59 » Tue Jul 28, 2015 10:07 am

Hey friends,

I drove myself half crazy the last few days looking for a pen-and-paper game mechanic that would allow me to play solo on the go. Some of you might remember back last fall when I went through this while my wife was having surgery. That day I invented what I called Smartphone WWIII (see here for those rules).

The past few days I got particularly interested in two games: Vietnam Solitaire and Utopia Engine. I was hoping that something in their mechanics would inspire a great idea. But it didn't quite happen.

So last night I finally decided to merge Smartphone WWIII with my Showers of Blood rules (here). I decided to use a notebook, which turns out to be a lot easier than a phone or even a tablet since I can easily sketch a grid whenever I start forgetting which units are where.

And then I decided to make things really fun by finally incorporating my game-within-a-game campaign idea. A while back I wrote about the possibilities of using chess as a campaign springboard, playing miniatures games whenever a chess piece was taken and basing campaign results off the minigame (see here). And then I saw someone, somewhere, write about using the Central Front maps as campaign maps, launching minigames whenever a battle ensued on those maps. Very inspiring stuff.

So now my 4x4 grid in Smartphone WWIII has smaller 4x4 grids within each area. I have companies squaring off on the large grid, and when they enter the same grid area I launch a squad-vs-squad minigame using the same rules.

Coming up with ideas as I go has been great fun. For example, on the large grid, if a platoon damages an enemy platoon from a distance, when they meet later in the same grid area, you can see which squad was damaged by the long-range attack, and the enemy platoon is now at a disadvantage at close-range (using the strength points from Showers of Blood).

I had other fun ideas like on each new day in real time, I'll check the weather forecast and add reinforcements to the enemy on a 10-50% chance of rain, to my side on a 60-100% chance, and none on a 0% chance. I'm brainstormin' now, folks!

The non-player side is always seen, since I have all identical units for simplicity (except my side is elite) and, being a modern game, I have eyes in the sky. But enemy units deploy randomly and move somewhat randomly--except that they don't move backwards unless they're at half-strength.

I'm playing defense in this campaign, trying to prevent the enemy's westward movement, just as in Smartphone WWIII. I always have fewer units than the enemy, but like I said, mine are elite, which gives an advantage when targeted, when rolling for initiative and activation of units, and for opportunity fire.

Each grid, both large and small, has one area with open terrain, devoid of cover. It's random each time, but if I return to a small grid I played in before, I'll look back and see where the open terrain is for consistency.

Stacking is unlimited, so it's possible to have some very one-sided minigames. That's something to watch out for.

Dice rolling is minimal in this game. It's very strategic and tactical in nature, and with very little area to move around in, there's a lot of action. I had a great time last night while sitting around with my family, and there was no guilt about having my nose in my laptop. And I'm looking forward to more. These benefits are not always easy to come by in a solo wargame, so I think I've hit upon a winning formula.

Stay tuned for more. Here's a scan of the first page in case anyone's interested in seeing what it looked like or what occurred. I didn't use the shorthand that I used in Smartphone WWIII, so this might actually make sense.

Solo pen-and-paper wargame campaign_page 1.jpg
"...military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood—that serpent's eye that charms to destroy..." --Abraham Lincoln, 1848

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Re: Solo pen-and-paper wargaming campaign

Postby josta59 » Thu Jul 30, 2015 4:34 pm

I want to try and provide not just a dry play-by-play AAR, but more of an explanation of how I did this, for anyone who might want to give it a try for themselves. It helped that I had already played my previous games before, especially Showers of Blood. If you have a favorite combat method, you may want to apply it to a similar style of game.

As I said, I have a 4x4 grid, and each of the 16 areas was itself a 4x4 grid. When several movements had been made, I would redraw the grid and label it "large grid" or with the name of the area if I was playing on one of the smaller grids (this is a great advantage to playing in a notebook rather than on a handheld device).

I rolled for which of the 16 areas would be devoid of cover, which increased the number of decisions during movement and made it more fun. This applied to the large and small grids. If I had drilled down into the cover-free area to see it up close, I would've included a few areas with cover, but that didn't happen. Not to say that units never entered the cover-free zone, because sometimes that looked like the best decision.

All units on the grid were identical, but of course you can change that up if you wish. Keeping them the same made things much easier for me, since I didn't have to keep flipping back to get details on individual units. I gave them all 15 strength points (SPs); you can give more for a longer campaign. Mine went pretty fast. Of course, you can also play on a larger grid with more units.

Both sides had 1 leader unit, both on the large and smaller grids. On the large grid, each company had a lead platoon unit, and on the small grids, each platoon had a lead squad unit. Units had to be in the same or adjacent area (not diagonal) to get a leader bonus.

I found it a fun challenge to always start with 1 fewer units on the grid, whether it was the large or small grid. When platoons met in a small grid, I would roll to see how many enemy squads were on the east edge and place 1 fewer of my own. I would roll to see where the enemy squads were and place mine accordingly. I also had to decide how many SPs each squad had based on what the platoons entered the area with, which took some doing but wasn't too bad.

My army was elite compared to the enemy, which helped a lot. My units were harder to damage, initiated turns more often, and opportunity fired more often.

LoS was a little funky because platoons could start firing at each other from a distance when they came within 1 area of each other on the large grid, but if they entered the same area they suddenly couldn't see each other until they came within 1 area of the small grid. I didn't think this through when I started. There was a big blind spot between the big guns' long range and the smaller units' range. So that's something to think about. Should units always be in LoS on the small grid? That would certainly change close-range combat.

In this campaign I used 1d6 for all combat rolls. In previous games of Showers of Blood, I would increase the number of dice depending on the size of weapons being used. Keeping it to 1d6 simplified matters a great deal for the campaign.

There was a chance for opportunity fire whenever units came within 1 area of each other, which was the LoS requirement.

I found it really fun to defend the west edge from the enemy's westward progression. That way it was easier to decide what each enemy unit wanted to do before I rolled to see what it would actually do. I got the idea from the Central Front series of WWIII games, and I recommend it. Other scenarios might work great, too.

The enemy company entered with 3 platoons, so I started with 2 on the west end. The enemy initiated the first turn and moved one of its platoons (Z) westward. I countered it with one of my own (B). Z didn't opp fire, so B fired and did some damage to Z, which missed on its return fire.

I initiated turn 2 and moved platoon B into Z's area to engage it at close range in area C3 (denoted as in Battleship). At this point I deployed 2 enemy squads on the right end of a smaller C3 grid. They were called squads Z1* (* for leader unit) and Z2. Then I deployed my own squad B1* on the left.

The next day there was 0% chance of rain, which meant no reinforcements. I initiated turn a of the minigame and moved squad B1* eastward. The enemy squads were at the top and bottom of the grid, so I had placed mine closer to the middle. Squad Z1* started moving west, so in turn b I moved B1* north to area A2 so I could fire at Z1* in A3. Z1* opp fired but missed. I did it just a little damage, and the return fire missed too.

Z1* then active fired, doing minimal damage to B1*. My return fire hurt them a little more. Z1* then engaged B1* in close combat in area A2. In turn c, they launched their assault but did very little damage. My return fire hurt them a little more. Z1* then got past me and moved to A1, 1 space from getting away (I later made a rule that you can't move through an enemy unit). I fired at them as they left, bringing them down to less than half strength. They missed on return fire, and then I moved B1* into their area to finish them off, which I did in turn d.

Squad Z2 had stayed hunkered down on the east end this whole time. They started moving north and south for a few turns, and eventually we started moving toward each other. They opened fire at the bottom of the grid in a coverless area--I failed to opp fire--but they missed. My return fire hurt them, and then my active fire destroyed them. B1* was still fairly healthy after taking out 2 enemy squads.

The next day there was a 50% chance of thunderstorms (and we did get a big one), so the enemy received a new platoon W on the east end of the large grid. I continued turn 2 on the big grid. The enemy rolled badly and only activated 2 of its 3 platoons (X*, Y, and now W). X* and Y changed places so the leader X* platoon could fire on my slightly weakened platoon B, which couldn't opp fire because it had just spent most of the turn in combat. X* fired at long-range, doing minimal damage. My return fire missed.

Then, interestingly, X* and Y changed places and Y started firing. I may have to remember this technique later, because it was very effective (turns out you can actually learn tactics from a random AI). B still couldn't opp fire, and Y did more damage to B.

The enemy started turn 3. Y stayed where it was and got to fire again, taking B to half strength. Return fire missed. Then Y and X* switched places again! What dumb luck! B failed to opp fire, but fortunately X*'s attack did no damage. My return fire missed again. Then, as if giving me the finger, platoon W started moving westward while I was busy with the other platoons. B opp fired at W but missed. B was trapped. W active fired, hurting B yet more. My return fire missed again.

I called a retreat and moved B westward. I started moving my leader platoon A* eastward for support. I put it in the cover-free area adjacent to platoon W, which couldn't opp fire. A* fired at long range and did minimal damage to W, which did minimal damage to A* on return fire.

I initiated turn 4 and moved A* into W's area for a close-range attack. W deployed 3 squads on the area B3 grid, W1*, W2, and W3. My squads were A1* and A2, which had more SPs than the enemy squads since there were fewer squads to distribute SPs into, a nice advantage.

I initiated turn a of the minigame and moved A2 eastward. W1* moved west and then south in turn b, while W3 moved west. I moved A2 into firing position, and W3 failed to opp fire. A2 fired, hurting W3, but the return fire hurt badly.

I started turn c and moved A2 into W3's area for a close assault. I destroyed W3 with 1 die roll. This put A2 into LoS of W2, since W3 was out of the way. They opp fired, bringing A2 below half strength. My return fire did minimal damage.

Then I moved A1* east to fire at W1*, which failed to opp fire. A1* did it minimal damage, and the return fire was similarly ineffective.

Then both of the remaining enemy squads moved in for a close assault on my two squads at the same time, in different areas. A2 was nearly destroyed, but A1* was ok and nearly destroyed W1*. In turn d I retreated A2 westward and had A1* fight on. They destroyed W1* and moved north to support A2, which was still under fire from W2. W2 destroyed A2 at a distance, my first loss of a unit.

I started turn e and moved A1* north to engage W2, which failed to opp fire. We started trading shots, and then W2 came at me for a close assault. We missed each other. The enemy initiated turn f and kept firing, bringing A1* to half strength. But A1* finally was the victor.

With platoon W out of the way, platoon Y was free to fire at what was left of platoon A, which wasn't much. They destroyed A in one shot. I now had 1 very worn down platoon B against 2 completely healthy enemy platoons nearby (Y and X*). I had done so well, only to now face a hopeless situation. Maybe I was too aggressive. The enemy reinforcements certainly hadn't helped.

Platoon X* moved in range of B and wore it down some more, and return fire was ineffective. I held off for reinforcements, but today there was a 0% chance of rain, so my hopes were dashed. B fired back and missed to start turn 5, but X* missed too. I began a rearward advance, and both enemy platoons gave chase. B opp fired, barely touching X*. They missed me on return fire and active fire. Maybe there was hope?

I initiated turn 6, and I was at the west edge of the large grid with the enemy next door. All that was left to do was a desperation move (more fun than surrendering), so I moved B back east to close-assault X*. I missed, and so did the return fire, but not the active fire, which did me in. GAME OVER.

Hope you enjoyed. I'll take questions now.
"...military glory, that attractive rainbow that rises in showers of blood—that serpent's eye that charms to destroy..." --Abraham Lincoln, 1848

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