Saturday 23 April 2022

A Long, Long Time Ago…

 … I can still remember the way the music used to play….

Well, a long time ago I can remember finding Don Featherstone’s Solo Wargaming book, and the validation it gave to me as a, well, solo wargamer. I was but a lad at the time, maybe thirteen or fourteen and I had discovered the wargaming section of my local public library. However, none of my friends were interested in wargaming, and there was no club in the town I lived in. Most of the books assumed a live opponent, and the occasional copies of Battle magazine and Military Modelling I saw had a similar tone.

Thus Don’s solo tome spoke to me in volumes. I was a wargamer even though I had no opponent. My wargames were as valid as anyone else’s. I was not a sad and lonely oddity (as I said, I did have friends, they just were not interested in wargaming) and my wargaming was just as good as the next teenager’s. I must have read it several times before it was due to be returned to the library, and I borrowed it several times more, I am sure.

The book was crammed full of ideas. I suppose on reflection it was not particularly systematically done (why should it be?) but I remember writing out chance cards, and drawing up tactical cards, and, mostly, daydreaming about battles and campaigns for which I had no resources of either time or money. The enthusiasm of the work was clear; perhaps that was the key point for me then.

Fast forward (mumble) years and, as I noted a few weeks ago Henry Hyde’s Wargaming Compendium is, in some senses, mostly the enthusiasm bit, similar. It also makes an attempt (almost certainly doomed, of course) to be comprehensive. It is not a book about solo wargaming, and so there is no reason why it should be brim full of ideas for that activity, although it does have some. Ideas for how to play a solo wargame, mostly by automating one side, are there, and the enthusiasm runs through the pages.

Many wargamers, I suspect, are solo some of the time. Perhaps, like me, they have just got used to it and never sought a club. Perhaps they have lost their normal opponent though moving. Perhaps they just cannot get sufficient wargaming and launch forth solo as well as face-to-face. There are probably as many reasons for solo wargaming as there are solo wargamers.

The thing I find I need most as a solo wargamer is ideas. This is, of course, where the books come in. I can remember reading in fascination Charles Grant’s Table Top Teasers – one month the scenario was described, the next a description of the game was published. I even managed to try a few of them out myself. But there were never enough; my wargame sessions were weekly.

Still, it did set me thinking: if I were to write a book on solo wargaming what would be in it? What sorts of things would I like to see? Now, to be honest, there is an outside chance of me writing such a tome, but at the moment it is just a thought.

This blog, of course, has outlined a fair bit of my approaches to solo wargaming, but without really nailing things down too much. I like flexibility – rules are a matter of taste. Some people prefer everything to be a bit more free-flowing, others like everything to be nailed down. As a solo wargamer you can try to do both. One of the lessons of that is that you cannot write a rule for everything.

Anyway, what would I like to see?

Firstly, I would like a consideration of the different ways of running the sides in a battle or campaign. That is, do I divide myself as the general, or do I attempt to automate the opponent? Allied to this are considerations of ‘fairness’, that is not making your (implied) opponent a walk-over if you automate them, but on the other hand you do need a chance of winning. For the divided self as two generals there is the problme of too much knowledge, of course.

I think a section on battles and scenarios would be good. There are a number of different levels here, from the historical re-fight to entirely fictitious actions, via historical and semi-historical match ups. There are also questions of the scale of the wargame, from role playing through skirmishes to battles small and large.

Many of the solo wargame publications suggest campaigns are the way to sustain the solo wargamer’s interest, and they are probably right. The problem here is, firstly, that for the general in a scenario – knowing too much – and secondly that map based campaigns have a nasty tendency to get utterly bogged down in details. Hence, over the years, I have developed the ‘narrative’ campaign, which is achieved using the armies I have, a map and some imagination. There are limitations, of course. Attrition is one of them.

Moving on, I think some bits on idea generation would be good. Again, reading books, blogs, magazines and so on are a start. The Armada Abbeys campaign started by rereading Geoffrey Parker’s chapter on ‘what if the Armada had landed’ and a couple of books on the Elizabethan military. But there would be a lot more to it, and I think one under-exploited idea is taking a historical situation, such as the ECW siege of York, and re-working it in a different period. My vague idea here is Susa in Alexander’s invasion of the Persian Empire.

One of the things you can do (I try to) as a solo wargamer is aim at some sort of completeness. Included in this are ideas of naval and air operations, which are always related to land warfare, possibly logistics (although that tends to land up in accountancy) and siege operations. In a campaign these sorts of things are essential to reproducing in some form what was going on.

I have not managed to squeeze into this post other ideas – randomization, chance cards, campaign events, personalisation and so on, nor a consideration of which period to play in, or science fiction or fantasy games.

I only allow myself so many words in one of these posts, and I am already over that, but over to you, my loyal reader. What would you like in a book on solo wargaming?


  1. Recent events have focused the min(s) on solo games I think. I routinely play 'Field of Battle' (based on Piquet - but don't panic). It has a card driven initiative and command system, which allows good commanders (with a better deck) to get the drop on their opponent - the point being that this works so well for solo games.

    If you were to write a book along these lines, with skill/card deck based systems, for both fighting and campaigning, I think you'd be onto something.

    1. Ah yes, thank you. I've seen but not played Piquet, and its mechanism has seemed to be very interesting, albeit needing rather a lot of non-figure equipment.

      I can see it working well solo.

    2. Shoot me an email at ducdegobin (at) gmail (dot) com, and I can send you some notes on the systems.

  2. On the fairness point. I found in one of the wargaming blogs I follow the thought that a solo game needs to be fun, fairness is not required as you only need to please yourself. I have found this makes coming up enjoyable games much easier.

    I bring in a bit of fog of war by randomising unit activations using playing cards. I got some 1/12th scale cards that are not to obtrusive on the table and this also helps remind me who has moved and who hasn't.

    1. I like the idea of small cards to make them less obtrusive, and I also prefer to encode as much information onto the table as possible - my memory is not what it was, it seems.

      As to fairness, I suppose the point is not that the game has to be fair, but that each side has to be treated fairly. A solo gamer only robs themselves if they fix the dice slightly for their favoured side...

    2. Agree, you must let the dice stand as they fall. :)

  3. I've been wargaming for 50 years and 90% of that time solo , I like the freedom it gives me .

    1. I cannot claim that long, but I have played about 6 face to face games in my wargaming career over several decades. Mind you, I used to play chess face to face, if that counts.

  4. I gave this some thought myself a little while back...came up with something like the following:

    1 - Why solo game? (pros & cons, but very heavy on the pros)
    2 - Literature review (sounds too formal, but you know what I mean! - what previous luminaries have had to say about it)
    3 - Solo gaming (the differences in approach when you are doing everything yourself; collecting and painting both sides; doing the admin for both sides (therefore use play aids); designing forces to be as useful as possible, table and space constraints)
    4 - Summary of approaches
    5 - 'Turning the table Around' - playing both sides approaches
    6 - 'Procedural generation'
    7 - Programmed scenarios
    8 - Adding solo mechanics onto existing rulesets - tips & tricks
    9 - Special considerations for naval and air solo wargames
    10 - Solo campaigning (narrative and how to set them up better than just saying 'make it up'; 'both sides' approaches; super-detailed campaigns; 'adventure games' (your band of soldiers/adventurers); ladder campaigns (like TFL's pint-sized campaigns); converting board wargames

    1. Thank you very much - that's not exactly a comment, more a book outline!
      There is an awful lot to think about in those ten points. I shall have a ponder.

    2. No. 8 being very important!

    3. I'm not disagreeing, but most rule mechanics can be made into solo-able models.