Tuesday, 26 May 2015

An Approach to Solo Gaming

An idea hit me the other day, an idea which was so very simple but made a lot of sense. I've read through a lot of Solo Systems recently and they all have one thing in common.They are two player systems with a Solo System bolted on, this is not new, in fact I have said this before on this very blog. But what does this mean? It means you play the two player game but when your opponents turn starts you let the solo mechanics play out their turn with a little bit of your help. This leads to a system with an inevitably inferior AI opponent, unless by some sheer unimaginable level of luck the AI opponent does exactly what would be right to do at every opportunity. But you can see the problem can't you? Computers struggle to beat humans in games of strategy and tactics due to our innate ability to recognise patterns without having to check all the data and permutations. So why would we think a deck of cards or a few dice rolls would manage anything close?

My previous solution was to remove contact time with the rules, since the major drag of solo gaming was not having two memories to remember all the rules and stats. I did this by producing or attempting to produce a system that had no visible statistics. It was fast, but over simplistic. But the theory stands. Why play an inferior AI opponent when you are the most well balanced opponent you could possibly face? Also that way you also get the pleasure of twice the game, since you play both sides. There is only one flaw to this idea, that beating yourself isn't much fun. The competitive side to all of us would never get its kicks.

A second solution, which is an important stepping stone to where my thinking is now, is to take that simple streamlined system but up the challenge in terms of the games restrictions on the player. My thinking is here, that in some war games, often the better ones, you actually have two opponents. Not just the opposing player but also the game itself. So to produce a solo game that works you could shrink the amount of opposition the opponent gives and up the opposition the game gives. For example rather than going with a simple alternate activation system why not make it so you have to play cards from a hand to activate units. Meaning you'll need to manage your hand well if you want to activate the right units at the right time. A simple system I used for a game of Dinosaur combat involved using cards to activate Dinosaurs. Each Dino had a suit, and each section of the map did too. If the card you played matched the Dino's suit and also the section of the map it was in it got three action points, if the card matched either the Dino's suit or the section's but not both you got two action points, if the card matched neither you got one action point. Cards were then also used in combat, the higher the card the better it was. So before you can think about tackling that AI across the table you have to battle with the hand you've got, do you play that card that will get you three action points or hold on to it since its high value will help you out in combat? Increase the challenge the game presents in and of itself before you look to your opponent. Play both sides have twice the fun? Well not quite, because the previous adage still stands - beating yourself isn't much fun.

I certainly felt like I was on to something though. The major problem with the idea as it stood was that the more emphasis the game put on having you battle it instead of battling your opponent the more strain that put on our AI when it came to its turn. How was the AI supposed to decide on which card to play if the game was set up to challenge a human mind? As a side note here, I had an idea for a smartphone app that acted as the AI opponent. We've all got little computers in our pockets that could easily play against us, they do frequently in strategy games, why not utilise them? Especially for games that are grid based - Ion Age Firefight, Deadzone, Dreadball that abstract movement and ranges to squares or hexes. That with a simple overhead view of the map on the app you could fulfill all your AI opponent Solo Gaming needs. But I'm a little bit of a purist. I'm still obsessed with the idea of creating a system that you can play solo, feel like you've actually overcome something that isn't just yourself again and only uses the dice and tapemeasures we're used to. Afterall if you need a smartphone how are you supposed to solo game in the post apocalyptic world?

"Suppose I should look into solo gaming..."
 So here was the idea that hit me: to stop thinking about your solo opponent as a solo opponent. Don't make them just another player - the major flaw in systems that bolt the solo game on afterwards. And to think, by not making the AI opponent just another player it also means you don't need to see where their figures are at all times. By solo gaming you can actually play a game with real fog of war. So what if, and here's a very basic idea soon to be fleshed out, you have a deck of cards, some of the cards signify enemy units, some random objectives or equipment, and some are simply blank. These are then attributed randomly to grid squares (maybe not totally randomly, but in such a way that it is more likely an enemy would appear behind cover rather than out in the open). When a unit of yours moves in such a way that it gains line of sight to a grid square, or that a grid square is able to draw line of sight to your unit, reveal the card given to that square. If it's an enemy unit they open fire, or maybe if they're out of range or have no ranged ability they move using cover towards the unit they just saw. Enemy units always shoot when able or moving towards your units if they're out of range or can't shoot, but will prioritise getting to cover if they are caught out in the open. While you struggle to activate units maybe using a hand of cards, the AI opponent is allowed to cheat, activating whatever they need to when you move into line of sight regardless of the number of units that is. You have your men turn a corner and spot a number of enemy units with their pants down in a town square, they will all move for cover as they would in reality, it's up to you which you shoot at.

As I said hopefully things will get fleshed out in the future, but I'm off to get married so not for a little while just yet.

Thanks for stopping by!

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