Solitary Soundings

Musings of a solitary gamer. "The advantage of conversation is such that, for want of company, a man had better talk to a post than let his thoughts lie smoking and smothering." (Jeremy Collier) Comments welcome.
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Things I'm Thinking about Doing

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Games are like songs: you never get tired of playing the best ones over and over, and you can enjoy them all by yourself.
"Fun I love, but too much fun is of all things the most loathsome. Mirth is better than fun, and happiness is better than mirth." (William Blake)
The title of this blog entry would make a good title for my autobiography. I've spent my life thinking instead of doing.

But here I'm just focusing on games. And today I realize I've had several game-related plans percolating. I wonder which I'll follow through on and which will go unfulfilled.

While I'm mulling these notions over, feel free to make a suggestion if you like.

Magic Realm

After playing this two or three times, I put it away to make room for--well, whatever I played next. I figured I'd get back to MR someday, but I had had enough for the time being.

Now I've downloaded RealmSpeak (and gotten it to work, thanks to excellent tech support from its creator last weekend). It opens up more possibilities for playing solitaire as well as playing the game with others. Sounds like it can be a good learning tool too--and I still have a lot left to learn. I've barely scratched the surface yet.

What attracts me to this game? I've never been a big fantasy guy, and I've always steered clear of D&D and other RPGs. I think part of what I like about MR is that it's not a typical RPG; it's abstract and more "mechanical"--i.e., the rules comprise a system that works without any need for an umpire and can even work for a solitaire player. Another thing I like is the challenge--of learning the rules in the first place, but then also learning to play each of the sixteen characters reasonably well.

I guess I also like the community, even though I'm not (yet) part of it. Fans have stood by this game for thirty years, supporting and promoting it in various ways. And from what I've read (I've never met another MR player face-to-face), these are not just groupies identifying with something quaint; they're devoted gamers involved with a truly great game. That makes me want to investigate the game further.

I've always been odd that way, though: I find the community very important and am influenced by it--and might want to influence it in return, when I have something to contribute--but I'm very likely to only ever play MR solitaire. I want to be off by myself, doing my own thing in my own way--but I also want to keep in touch with the community, preferably at some distance.

One problem with that is that it's hard to find sustained motivation when you're only playing a game solo. Sometimes I end up asking myself, Is this really worth it if it's just for me? My enthusiasm comes and goes. Right now it's on an upswing again.

The MR components are a bit of a barrier too--especially the combat sheets. Each character in a clearing needs one, and I don't relish the idea of coordinating actions on several of those sheets at once. So far I've only had to deal with very simple one-on-one combat situations. But if I forge ahead, I'll soon be hiring natives, controlling monsters, and so forth. Sounds messy--and I really dislike anything messy.

Yet, it's a fascinating game, and one fan is writing up a tutorial for it which should make my journey a lot easier and more pleasant. So, I'm tempted to get back into this one.

World at War Series

I've got World at War: Eisenbach Gap on the table right now, with scenario 3 in progress. The game is growing on me, and already I'm thinking of getting others in the series.

One thing I like is that it fits the complexity level I seem to prefer nowadays. It's much simpler than Magic Realm, for example. That's like comparing apples and oranges, though. But if my memory still serves me after nearly forty years, WaW is also much simpler than PanzerBlitz. That means some rich imagination-grabbing detail is forfeited, but in exchange WaW is eminently playable. The first two scenarios were very fluid (once the rules had begun to sink into my head). So I now feel that this game is user-friendly: it's a game I'll never mind throwing onto the table and just playing.

The subject of the game is not a strong interest of mine. But that's growing on me a bit too. For most of my life, I've been a low-tech kind of guy; my military-history interest has been limited to events prior to the twentieth century, and I've always been put off by machines and electronic gadgets. Lately, though, I've been owning up to the fact that I grew up in a mechanical-electronic world and it's as valid as any other world. I'm taking an interest in modern vehicles and weapons and events that occurred in my own lifetime or my father's lifetime.

I also like that WaW ties in with Lock 'n Load: Heroes of the Gap, since LnL is another favorite wargame system.

So, I'm thinking of finishing the scenario in progress and then playing the others as well--and of buying the rest of this series and maybe trying Nations at War too.

One small drawback is that WaW is strictly a two-player game. That's not true of Magic Realm, which comes with an AI system that makes it playable as a true solitaire game. In WaW, I'm always playing both sides against each other. That's not a problem for an old solo wargamer like me, but lately I've been wondering whether I'd be better off with designed-for-solitaire games.

Hornet Leader: Carrier Air Operations

My most recent purchase. It just arrived about a week ago, and I've yet to even punch and sort the counters or take the shrinkwrap off the cards.

This is one of several designed-for-solitaire games I've bought. Others include Field Commander: Rommel, Field Commander: Alexander, and Luftschiff. Except for a brief stab at FC:Alexander (I stopped after a couple turns), I have yet to play any of these games. But I got them because I figured a solo wargamer ought to have some true solitaire wargames. I got Hornet Leader: CAO in particular because it gets such rave reviews; I just have to find out what all the hoopla is about.

Reading through the rules led me to wonder if this wouldn't be better as a computer game. I suppose that's always my thought when I see a game with a manual AI opponent. Why not automate it instead of making the player do the work? In this particular game, I'm worried about the hassle of keeping all the cards and counters sorted. But maybe that's an unfounded worry that will disappear once I start playing.

The trouble with any designed-for-solitaire (DFS) game is that it can only be played solitaire. That tends to make me feel trapped. I don't mind playing solo, but I like to tell myself I'm just practicing for the day when I'll play the game against someone else; and that's not ever going to happen with a DFS game.

Another worry is about the operational nature of this game. I've read that it's all about preparation--selecting aircraft and armaments to suit the missions. In my experience, I'm always happier with games that focus on the fighting rather than the planning. I gave up almost instantly on Pocket Battles, for instance, as it turned out to be all about planning (i.e., preparing the lineup); actual combat goes much too quickly in that game.

Anyhow, I'm thinking I ought to get this game onto the table soon and try it out. It's too pretty and has gotten too much praise to just let it sit. It could turn out to be one of those games I won't want to stop playing once I get started.


No, it's not a wargame. But neither is Magic Realm. I've read such great things about Friday that I just had to get a copy. It's supposed to be one of the very best solitaire games around right now. I didn't find a copy locally right away, so I traded Balloon Cup for it. I got the short end of that deal, as BC has increased in value, but I wasn't playing BC anyway (and I always was annoyed by its two sets of rules), so the trade got Friday into my hands and relieved me of a game I had no real use for.

I've so far only gotten as far as reading the rules to Friday, then printing out a plain-English version of the rules from the BGG files. I'm sure it'll be a wonderful game, but I've been busy with other games and haven't gotten around to this one yet.

When I do, it'll be a rival of Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game. That's another game I like that sets up and plays quickly and provides a real challenge.

Yet another rival will be Solitaire for Two, which I also got very recently.

I'm not sure why I can't find more time for games like these. Maybe it has something to do with computer games being so much more convenient. Between my netbook computer and smartphone, I'm able to kick back in a recliner and enjoy games in great comfort. Getting myself to just get up, take two steps to the board-game table, and sit upright in a chair there seems very hard sometimes--especially at the end of a long day. I'll do it if I'm going to be playing something as involved as a wargame, but it's hard to make myself do it when it's a fast-playing solitaire game.

Lock 'n Load

I can't believe how my stack of LnL games has grown! It seems like only a couple weeks ago that I bought my first one, Lock 'n Load: Band of Heroes. I've so far played only a couple scenarios from that. But now I own just about everything in the series. The expansions are arriving so fast that some are still in shrinkwrap.

Now, if I were still twenty-something, the pace would probably seem slow instead of fast. But at fifty-seven, I'm seriously wondering if I'll have time to play all the scenarios from all those games. I'm thinking about doing it--but I'm thinking about doing lots of things.

I've yet to have a bad experience with LnL. I first played it in 2008, and I liked it right away. I've probably played less than half a dozen scenarios since then, but I've had a lot of fun each time, and I always walked away wanting more.

So, that's certainly something else to get back to. It might actually be all the wargaming I'd ever need. If I weren't such a dilettante, I might be playing LnL instead of thinking about all these other games.

Ancient Battles Deluxe

This was one of the first wargames I bought when I returned to wargaming (after about ten years away) in 2008. And it really caught my attention. Between ABD and LnL, I realized I have a decided preference for tactical-scale games.

I was impressed enough to buy all but the most recent expansion for ABD (the latest is a DYO kit, and I don't desperately need that). But I've only played six or eight of the many scenarios so far.

Since I got into ABD and LnL at about the same time, I thought it was cool that I had both ends of history's time line covered. That prompted me to start seeking an open-ended tactical wargame to cover the in-between period--between the Renaissance and World War II. I didn't find the perfect fit, so I settled for a game that falls within that period: Battles & Leaders. I haven't tried it yet, though. But I did pick up a rival game--Rebel Yell--so now I have two to compare someday.

Anyhow, I'm thinking I ought to get back into ABD one of these days. I've let it sit too long. Though the combat system is awkward to wrap one's mind around, overall it's a darned good game. The prescribed setups make it quick to get into, and it plays fast while remaining interesting.

I'm easily irritated by gaps and inconsistencies, though, so it bothers me that I don't have a tactical game to cover the period between ABD and LnL. Also that those two games are on different scales. I'm very picky that way; I want everything in my collection to be just so.

If I'm honest with myself, though, I've never had a strong interest in ancient-medieval warfare. When I first got ABD, I thought it might be just the thing for me because there are so few missile weapons; that means fewer line-of-sight (LOS) checks, which were always an unpleasant aspect of games like ASL. Once I started playing LnL, however, I found I liked firing over distance, and the LOS checks weren't that bothersome after all. All the melee combat in ABD makes me enjoy that game less.

So, I've got mixed feelings about ABD. On one hand I'm thinking I ought to get back into it, but on the other hand I'm thinking it might be one of the games I should weed out of my collection for lack of time. I barely have time for just one of the things I'm thinking about (as covered in this blog post); I definitely do not have time for all of them. Something has to give.

The Civil War

No, not that game in particular, but the American Civil War in general. I got interested in it in high school, and I've been something of a Civil War buff ever since. Not as much of a fanatic as some, but I guess I've read more books about the Civil War than anything else. It's the center of gravity for my interest in military history. The closer an event is, in either time or space, to the ACW, the more interested in it I usually am. So, I naturally want to collect and play ACW games--but only as many as I can comfortably handle and will actually play.

As mentioned above, I bought Battles & Leaders and Rebel Yell to fill a tactical-game gap between ABD and LnL. But I never got around to playing either. Instead, I bought a copy of The Ironclads and played that. I figured a game with just a couple ships on each side would be great for a solo gamer like me, and I'd wanted to try a naval wargame.

I got so excited about Ironclads that I bought The Ironclads Expansion Kit and Shot and Shell too. And for a short time, I thought I might just dedicate myself to that game exclusively. I read several books on ACW naval warfare, and I thought I could really get into it.

I didn't give up on that idea, but it got pushed to the back burner. Meanwhile, someone recommended A House Divided. I'd seen that game advertised since 1981, but at that time I was pretty sure it'd be too simple for my taste; I was into some complicated wargames and figured the more sophisticated, the better. Now, however, a streamlined, solo-friendly game was just what I wanted. And AHD proved to be just that. I played a couple solitaire games and a couple PBEM games, and right away I decided this was a keeper for life. Somehow it captures the feel of the whole ACW without really pretending to simulate it. As abstract as it is, it includes cavalry raids, rail movement, amphibeous landings, riverine warfare, foreign intervention, fortifications, and more. I like it so much that I bought copies of all three editions and have preordered a fourth edition.

And then there's Eric Lee Smith's masterpiece The Civil War. I bought a copy when it was new, but I had a strong prejudice against unmounted mapsheets, and the game also looked too big and long and complicated. I finally sold it, unpunched. Now I've gone and bought another copy--just because the ACW is my thing and I figure every wargaming ACW buff ought to own this game. Most agree it's the best grand-strategy-level ACW game in existence, and some say it's the very best board wargame ever designed.

To me, though, it's still too big and long and complicated. I may never get around to playing it. I could; it's supposed to work well for solitaire. But my plate is way overloaded.

So, I'm thinking about getting into some ACW wargame--maybe more than one. But I'm confused by too many choices. I'm happy with AHD, and it's very nice to have a strategy-level game like that as a change of pace. But is an intro-level game like that enough for an ACW buff like me? Part of me wants something meatier and more complex--and preferably something tactical, since my taste leans toward that scale.

I'm jumping over the operational scale. And maybe that's just as well, because there are way too many options there. I made a false start into the GCACW series with a couple games, then into the CWB series with another; but I sold or traded away all those games, as I just couldn't get into them. If I had gotten into them, I'd want to collect all the games in the series--and that could be an overwhelming hobby in itself.

A series I hadn't even heard of until recently is Great Battles of the American Civil War. I guess it's the oldest ACW series around, and I hear it's pretty good. But somehow it completely eluded me--probably because when I was into these standard hex-and-counter wargames, I stuck mainly with Avalon Hill games. Only rarely did I buy something from SPI.

One problem I have with the operational scale is that each game covers just one big battle or campaign. It's highly unlikely that the entire war will ever be covered; and if it were, it would take a lot of games to do it--and some would be better than others. I like games like AHD that cover the whole war, and I like open-ended tactical games like Battles & Leaders that can potentially cover any action anywhere during the entire war. But anything in between feels limited.

In any case, there's no operational-level ACW series I could get into that wouldn't be overwhelming at this point. It'd crowd out all my other gaming, and I don't want that, because I really like the games I've named above and want to do more with them.

Oh, I do own Battle Cry, incidentally. It was the one game I bought during my ten-year hiatus from wargaming. It looked light enough to almost be a non-wargame, and I had always wanted to try something with miniatures. Well, it's a fun enough game, but the battles are so stylized as to be ludicrous, and I'm not keen on wargames with cards. This might serve as a "filler," since I can't seem to get into real operational-level ACW games. I also own a copy of Yankees & Rebels; I haven't played it, but it looks like I might prefer it over Battle Cry.

Hence, I'm thinking about doing something with the ACW, but I don't know what. I've got A House Divided. Maybe that's enough. Or maybe I should keep The Ironclads Series so I'll have a tactical alternative and a naval wargame in my active collection. Maybe the land-warfare system in Shot and Shell would obviate my need for Battles & Leaders or Rebel Yell.

Somehow, I need to limit and focus my ACW gaming. It's not easy, and that's why I'm still just thinking about it.

The American Revolution 1775-1783

Also Arnhem and The American Civil War. I guess The Battle of the Bulge also fits this category of things I'm thinking about doing. These are all games I bought and played when they were much newer. My original copies disappeared over the years, and now I've bought replacements so I can see if I still like the games today.

I know I like Bulge '65. I tried that a year or two ago and verified that it's still quite a good game.

I remember Arnhem being the best in the Westwall quad. I think I only played it once, in 1979, but I made a mental note that I need to come back to it and play it again and again.

Maybe I won't like Dunnigan's ACW game anymore. When it was new, it had no rival, and I loved it just because the ACW was my main interest. Will I still like it today? I don't know, but I'm thinking about trying it.

Lord of the Rings

I bought this as a Christmas present for my nephew, back when it was new. Then I forgot about it until I started reading favorable BGG reviews. A lot of gamers seem to think it's terrific for solo play. I had been wanting a cooperative game I could try with my wife and friends sometime, but it would be especially nice if it were a good game to play solitaire. Then I could practice by myself and keep the game fresh in mind between multiplayer sessions (which, in my world, might be a couple years apart).

Anyhow, I ended up with the base game and all the expansions. So far I've played the base game only, about three times, solo. Haven't won yet.

I like the game pretty well. Though linear and abstract, it's evocative of the story it's based on, and it makes for a very interesting, challenging puzzle to work through.

So, I'm thinking I ought to get back to this game and play it some more. Then I should try out the expansions, one by one.


Unfortunately, not just Chess, but also Checkers, Shogi, Backgammon, Xiangqi, Go, and other traditional board games. I've always loved them, and I've always wanted to pick one and work at it--see how much I could learn, and maybe even get good at it.

So, I'm still thinking about that. But after spending most of a lifetime just dabbling for the most part and trying to decide which game to focus on, I'm discouraged. It seems to be one of those things that part of me wants very much to do and another part of me refuses to do. I can be very disciplined for a while, but then I get fatigued or frustrated and turn to something easier.

Not long ago, I sat studying a Shogi book, working out mate-in-three problems (they'd be called mate-in-two problems in Western chess). It was fascinating. One problem stumped me, and I spent four days working at it. I kept coming back and studying it, mentally going over all the possible moves. It was almost maddening, but it was such a joy when I finally got it!

No other gaming experience I've ever had is quite as satisfying as that sort of experience. I really love getting to where, after a serious struggle, I know I'm in command of at least a certain board situation or a certain level of play. It's great to be confident about something that before seemed overwhelmingly difficult.

Such triumphs show up most clearly in abstract games, I believe. And I'm happiest when they show up in classic, popular games.

Another thing I like about traditional games is that some of them have generated lots of literature. That gives me the opportunity to study my way along, whereas otherwise I'd be learning just from trial and error.

So, I'm thinking about picking one of these classic games and studying it and working at it. Solitaire gamer that I am, I'd practice only against a computer AI--but there are some good ones around nowadays. If only I could zero in on a favorite game instead of shifting from one to another so often.

Advance Wars

Then there are computer games. I have a backlog of those too. I made it through the first two Advance Wars campaigns, and now I'm up to the one in Advance Wars: Dual Strike. Still waiting in the wings, unplayed, is Days of Ruin.

But I also have Civilization V and a bunch of other games. And I recently installed an older game, Sid Meier's Alien Crossfire, to try that out. Another I've been playing lately is Astral Masters.

Besides those, I have about a dozen games on my smartphone. I keep meaning to get back to the ones that are being crowded out lately by Neuroshima Hex!. I usually play that several times a day. (Imagine that--a game I'm actually playing instead of just thinking about!)

The thing about computer games is that I don't often think about them. When I do, I don't think much of them. To combat boredom or while away some time or face a pleasant challenge, I'll play a DS or PC or smartphone game from time to time. But between games, they hardly ever cross my mind.

That's part of why I've often said I don't like computer games. When I say I like something, I mean I admire it and put it on a pedestal; i.e., it means something to me. Computer games often keep me busy, but they have no real meaning as far as I'm concerned. In contrast, some board games do have meaning: e.g., games like Chess are time-honored traditions, and wargames are representations of military history.

Detracting further from the meaning that video games already lack is the fact that there's not much "community" involved. As far as I've been able to tell, there is no BGG for video games. There's VGG, and there are lots of other online venues where video games are discussed, but I have never found a place where video games are discussed the way board games are typically discussed in BGG. Video-game discussions get more technical and tend to fizzle out faster, as each individual is choosing his own game and playing it his own way.

Maybe I'm missing the video-game community that exists somewhere. If so, I've probably overlooked it because I'm not into multiplayer gaming. I'm only interested in single-player computer games.

In spite of those downsides, though, I am thinking about getting back to Advance Wars and finishing the series. Or maybe spending some time with Civilization V again. And since it's just about lunchtime, I'm certainly going to be playing some smartphone game.

When it comes to computer games, I kinda wish there were more to think about. If there were, computer gaming might become my main hobby. As it is, though, all I do is play computer games; I don't have much to say about them. I've tried coming up with things to say (and you can see what little I've said in this other blog), but I usually come up empty.


In the early 1990s, I got enthused over Gunslinger. It was the second time I'd owned the game, and this time I saw it as the foundation for a big expansion I might enjoy creating. I set out to research and design a generic, universal skirmish-level (man-to-man) game--one that could portray combat actions from any period of history or genre of fiction.

In the course of my research, I discovered the GURPS combat system, which I understand is the same as the stand-alone game Man to Man. Apparently someone else had already done more or less what I had set out to do.

I also got tangled up in too much overwhelming detail, and I abandoned the project before I got very far along. But somewhere in the back of my mind, the wish for some kind of solo one-on-one combat game persisted.

Lately it has showed up in purchases of Firepower, Ranger, and Boots on the Ground. And I'd say Richthofen's War and Mustangs also fit this dream, as they represent individual plane-vs-plane combat.

Of course, I used to own and play Ambush!, which is designed for solitaire. But I've often resisted games that can only be played solo. I want to believe I'm practicing on my own for a game I'll someday play with others.

So, anyhow, I'm thinking I ought to do something about this long-standing dream. I played Firepower and Mustangs and Richthofen's War a few times each, and I liked them all. The trouble is, there are too many games like this, and each has a different set of rules. I keep buying new games, thinking I'll try them and see if they're better than the games I've got, and then I'll weed out the ones I like least.

Back when I was working on my Gunslinger project, the idea was to replace all my games with this one of my own design. Finally I'd be down to just one game, and then I could spend the rest of my life just playing it. Too bad that didn't work out. I'd still love to be down to just one game, if it was a game I could be perfectly happy with.

As it is, though, I've got all these games, and I'm just thinking about what to do with them.

* * * * *
Those are some of the game-related things I'm thinking about doing. There are more. But if I tried to list them all, I might never finish this write-up.

I wish there were some expert out there who could say, "OK, I've read your blog post, and I understand all you've said. Now, here's what I recommend you do: ... It's just the thing for you to do, and I know you'll be perfectly happy with your gaming hobby ever after."

But of course no one (least of all me) really knows how to fill in that blank. So I'm sure I'm in for a lot more soul-searching, more trial and error, more buying and selling and trading. Luckily, if I never get it right, it doesn't really matter. It's only a hobby.

I do need to narrow things down, though; that's for sure. I've got way too many irons in the fire.
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