Saturday 29 October 2022

The Solo Wargaming Guide

Have Amazon voucher, will buy a book, I suppose. After all, that is why the company sends out money off vouchers to customers who have been falling behind their normal purchasing habits. It works, as the following will aver, although until they send me another voucher I might not buy anything else.

Still, the purchase was:

Silvester, W., The Solo Wargaming Guide, Precis, 2013.

I had noted the existence of this book a while ago, during my perusal of recent additions to wargaming books (recent in the sense of post-about 2005, you understand). It looked interesting and so it winged its way to me on a Sunday. Not that there was really any reason for it to be delivered on a Sunday, but that is just Amazon’s way.

It is an interesting book, I think, although not without its flaws. It does have some general ideas for solo wargaming, including the Solo Campaign Mobilization Rules (SCMR) which have a bit of potential. It also covers naval warfare and, very briefly, air wargames. The book is rather dedicated to solo campaign games, although some ideas for tactical wargaming appear, rather mysteriously, towards the end.

Noticeable in much of the book are problems with dice and probability. I have touched on this before, but a lot of the author’s dice rolls for controlling campaigns are based around a single D6. This means that the key commander’s competency rating, for example, goes from a 1 rolled for a bloody idiot to a 6 for superb. This is fine, but actually, most people are average; that is what average means. You are not going to get more than one-third of your commanders as average by this system. The next paragraph notes that most commanders should be rated between two and five. Quite so, but how does that happen in the system?

This sort of problem rather propagates in the rules. A flat roll of 1D6 does not allow the wargamer to adjust the outcomes to favour the most likely route. For example, in starting a campaign it is recommended to select three routes and roll a dice to see which is chosen. With more than 1D6 you can, of course, weight the roll towards the most likely outcome, which while it might make your campaigns or wargames a bit more predictable also removes some of the more outlying (read ‘weird’) results. The problem with the flat roll system is that the wargamer has to adjust the result according to their judgment after it has been decided. My suggestion is to build in the adjustment into the system to start off with. Given a table of probabilities for a 2 or 3-dice system it is really not that hard. And you can still get weird results.

That is not to deny that there is a lot to like about the book. The author adopts a ‘take it or leave it’ tone, which is fine and how wargames should be played. He also refuses to accept that solo wargaming is second best, a position which I agree with. As I have mentioned, many of his systems do need a bit of juggling with to make them accord to probability. As another example, I am not sure that minor damage to a sailing ship in a storm and the ship sinking should have exactly the same probability. I also suspect that steam-powered ships are a bit more resilient when it comes to storms at sea.

I suppose it all comes down to what you want from your campaign game. Loads of low probability results give something that can veer around rather wildly in terms of outcomes and progress. Perhaps I am just a bit boring and want a little extra predictability in my games. On the other hand, even Napoleon might have struggled with rolling for his subcommander’s competence and getting a load of ones. A few sackings in his Human Resources Department might have ensued.

A bit surprising is the lack of personalisation in the book. There is a chapter on it, but that refers mainly to journals and unit histories recorded therein, rather than to the personalities of the commanders. I do feel that this might be a little bit of a missed opportunity, but, on the other hand, personalities do rather equal paperwork or at least a little bit of it.

A strength of the book is that it urges the wargamer to keep administration to a minimum, something I would entirely agree with. I am not sure about his recommendation that you should simply record on a sheet the positions of units rather than stick pins in a map. While the latter does, of course, perforate the map, and heavily fought over areas can start to resemble confetti, it is, in my experience, very easy to miss units when they are just given a map reference. Perhaps I am just not very observant in these things, or my memory is a lot worse than most wargamers.

Still, I do applaud the author for their suggestions for varied wargaming over their imaginations. He seems to have an imaginary world and uses it for different eras, sufficiently far apart both geographically and temporally for the results of one not to affect another. Hence the ancients campaign is about the rise of something that sounds like the Roman Empire, while the Napoleonic era campaign is just that, but between different countries. In Europe, of course, the Roman had long gone before the modern nation-state arose, and a similar view can be taken for an imaginary world.

Overall, then, it was a worthwhile read, but not enough to turn my wargaming world upside down. It is good to read about other people’s take on solo wargaming and their views of how to go about it. I might be adopting one or two aspects of the book to my own games, which is the greatest accolade that one solo wargamer can give to another, but they will, of course, be adjusted, if only because of my views on probability.


  1. Not a ringing endorsement then.

    1. It is a good book, but does not really get this wargamer's pulses racing. Still I am not sure I could do any better...