D’you know I could never fathom out how chess players played with themselves…No! Let me clarify that a little. How they played a game of chess against themselves. Surely you know what other-you has planned so you-you can simply plan and act accordingly…it is, I am sure, not possible to pull the wool over one’s own eyes with cunning strategy? My enquiring mind was never quite so enquiring as to actually make a concerted effort to ask any one of these unusual chess type gamers to find out.
Now this is where my story starts.
This line of thought did, however, extrapolates its self, albeit in a somewhat meandering fashion, to the hex n chit war-game fraternity. I always fancied getting involved but as a solo gamer thought ‘how the ‘ecky-thump do I do this solo?’…and ultimately ‘what would be the point?’
Meat & Potatoes
Now this is where my story really starts…. and here comes a rather surprising discovery! Certainly one I didn’t see trundling along the battlefield worth sinister content in my direction… right at me, the complete war game outsider. Whilst absentminded perusing the files of BGG and watching the occasional instructional playthrough of several wargames… and nodding-off at some of the rather unnecessary over the top analysis-paralysis, I chanced upon a piece from a C3i magazine (#26) which could have knocked me down with a feather (always assuming said feather spanned several metres in length and weighed-in at several hundred kilograms)
A solitaire rule set for GMT’s No Retreat: Russian Front, no less. A giant feather indeed.
Now we’re talking, I thought to myself!… and this is where my story really starts..
To the printer, quick, said I. But halted in mid stride as I discovered this was not an all singing, all dancing super Bot, akin to those found lurking in the depths of sixth titles as A Distant Plain or Labyrinth the Awakening. Not at all. It turns out that we, as the only player have to play both sides. ‘What is the bloody point in that?’, I mused. And mused I did well. I did very well at musing, musing being something I did well.
And this is where my story really, really starts…. here is the interesting part. Yes! You have to play both sides but, and here is the canny part of the master plan, there is a small deck of opponent action cards. A card driven AI action deck, if you will
These cards have a series of actions intended to be followed by the opponent, revealed only once the live player has completed their movements.
There are actions, reactions, decimals and fractions, that should be followed as close as is humanly possible to the letter. When moving and acting on behalf of the AI opponent the intention is to act in the AI’s best interest. This intervention ta certain extent helps take the pressure off the player, reducing the need for them having to formulate strategies for both sides…….and pretend that they are in the dark with regards to the opponent’s future actions.
…but this still feels a little too much like playing both sides for my liking so far. It doesn’t have a true solo feel to it does it?…so, just how is this considered solitaire?
I told you it was canny little fellow!
Let’s say we are trundling across eastern Europe as the Axis side, hellbent on USSR destruction…and we think “I know, I’ll make those dopey Russian units blunder into a bog or some-such. That will make life so much easier for me and victory will be mine…it WILL BE MINE, I TELL YOU…muahahahahahahahahahaha!”
Well, this is what I think is particularly clever. Firstly, if you don’t carry out the objective actions set out each turn by the action card, you forfeit victory points. What is more, part way through the game events/circumstances result in an initiative switch and the live player has to change sides. So now, rather than being the German behemoth war machine crushing all, destroying everything, eating all the ice-cream in its path, we are now the Russian defenders completely on the back foot without any mint-choc-chip.
Win conditions are different for each side and it would appear you can only win if we have the correct conditions and the initiative. So, it pays to play both sides as evenly, aggressively or as defensively as each other because at any moment the table swings round (slowly, I hope, because there are a lot of small counters for centrifugal force to wing off the playing surface.
Multiples of Solo:
I am not in the habit of over justifying myself but this little system has provided, what I think, is a devious, and ingenious way of making a 2 player head to head war game challenging for the soloist. There is a nice 4 page rule book that provides how, when and where all the interesting solo-ish stuff gets applied to the main ruleset and links references to this rulebook.
(Minor disclaimer: I will point out I was using the living rule book from the GMT site so do not know how the original set that shipped with the game plays differently)
This ‘not-quite-a-bot’ puts immeasurable pressure on us, the only player, to play as optimally as possible for each side because….well anything can happen in love and war!
This sort-of-but-not-quite-a-Bot battles its self to a solitary BSoMT 1d8 roll of (6) for making this title so much more than just a ‘play with yourself’ variation of what ultimately is an excellent title for the soloist war-gamer.
Something for the Weekend Sir?!
RBM Studio: https://twitter.com/RBMStudio1
GMTGames No Retreat Russian Front: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-444-no-retreat-the-russian-front-deluxe-ed-reprint.aspx
Game System Design: Carl Paradis
Solitaire System from GMT website: http://www.gmtgames.com/noretreat/NoRetreatSolitaireSystem.zip