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XIA : Variants of a Solo System

Kevin L. Kitchens
United States
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Snowflakes Melt

When Xia: Legends of a Drift System first came out I was quite fascinated by the concept of a beautiful, well-made space exploration sandbox system. I played it some solo as is and had a great time with it. Sure some of the rules were VERY gamey, but it general it was a fun way to pass a few hours. But there was only so much that could be done for solo play, so like most games without staying power, it found another home.

Then I was honored to be selected by Far Off Games to take part in the beta test of the (now) just released Xia: Embers of a Forsaken Star expansion. Among the other features of the game, it was going to include rules for solo play. Not quite an AI, but additional features to challenge the soloist in their games.

It was definitely a good start and I enjoyed giving the new rules a whirl, playing the system as is several times. But ultimately the solo concepts did not do enough on their own and they -- as well as the other expansion features -- added even more gameyness to an already gamey game.

Which is frustrating for me because I know there is something great in there somewhere! (I've never played multiplayer, so that may be fine as is, though I would think some aspects like the random movement distance etc. and homing comets would still be troublesome).

Of course you can house rule anything you want, especially in solo where you don't need the approval of others to do so. (In my solo games of Monopoly, "Free Parking" always contains $10,123 minimum for example)

Unfortunately, my second copy of XIA also found a new home after the beta test was over, but fortunately, I kept these notes and am sharing them in hopes that others might put them to use (with or without more adjustments as needed).

Alternate Antagonists for Solo

I tend to only want to play "the good guy" in games. I'm conservative in my actions, low-risk, and tend to stay on the right side of the "law". In light of this, the non-outlaw player only has one opponent in the solo variant. The Enforcer won't deal with them and the Merchant may as well not be there at all. So you only have to worry about the Scoundrel, which while you lose out on fame (infamy) from criminal activity, you also have less hurdles to deal with.

Propose changing the two aggressors as follows:

Solo Aggressors
The Xia system is patrolled by a band of armed pirates who will do anything to grow their hold on the system. This includes pursuing and attacking any ship that might be caught unaware.

Two brothers run this band. One an out and out mercenary. The other a crooked officer of the Xia security forces.

Rogue Scoundrel (uses Scoundrel mini)
Pursues the player across the system into any neutral or criminal sector. If the player is located in a lawful sector, the Scoundrel will get as close as possible and wait.

The Scoundrel enters play as usual when the Loath sector is placed (even at the start of the game).

Rogue Enforcer (uses Enforcer mini)
Pursues the player across the system into any sector. Will not attack player from inside a lawful sector (so will stop just outside sector if in missile range). Will attack from outside a lawful sector if in range.

The Enforcer enters play when the first lawful sector is placed (even at the start of the game).

Each of the ships begins as a level I. When the player upgrades to a Level II or III, these ships immediately are upgraded to the same level. If a ship is already upgraded, it will not upgrade an extra higher level on player upgrade. (note level of ship on card with 1000 cr. coins, this is also reward for killing them)

If one of the ships destroys the player ship, it (not both) will be upgraded to its next higher level immediately.

The stats of the ships are as follows:

Level I: Level I engine, Level I Blaster (Scoundrel), Level I missile (Enforcer)
Level II: Level II engine, Level II Blaster (Scoundrel), Level II missile (Enforcer), Level I shield.
Level III: Level II engine, Level III Blaster (Scoundrel), Level III missile (Enforcer), Level II shield.

Each of the ships moves using the engine of their current level toward the player ship. Roll the die corresponding to their current engine (minimum = 1/2 the max) and move the ship that many spaces. (example: level I engine = d6 so MP = 3-6 (1-3 = 3)).

Attacks and shields are resolved as normal for the level. Damage to the NPC is resolved as normal and does not change per level.

Upon attacking the player, the Rogue Scoundrel will flee at his max engine speed toward Loath and end his turn. The Rogue Enforcer will flee 1/2 his max engine speed immediately away from the attack (distancing himself from it). All normal rules for avoiding hazards apply.

Some of this is based on having a second antagonist for the goody two shoes player like me Some is based on what I felt was a little overpowering with the current implementation (though this might need tweaking too). However since you now have two pursuers it seemed like something needed to be done to keep them a little less in-your-face (10 mp kept the scoundrel around me a lot), yet keep it variable as well (die rolls for their MPs vs. fixed number). Plus it increases their difficulty with both their success and the player's.

Except for the abilities of the ships, the risk for the outlaw player is the same: pursued by two enemies. However they don't have to break the law in order to have this extra stress.

As for the Merchant, you could even make that a third brother (or sister) doing illegal trading, etc... so it doesn't make you an outlaw to attack them provided they are not in a lawful sector.

Automa Deck

I'm not a big fan of the NPC random die roll for Fame Point Gain at the end of each solo round. It's too swingy and I lost once because the NPC got +3 and +2 in back to back rounds to win 11-7. Had the +3 come when the game was 7-7 and they won on a die roll, I as a player would be a little steamed.

This got me thinking about other solo games and how they handle AI progression.

Viticulture and Scythe both have an ingenious "Automa" AI deck (created by solo genius Morten Monrad Pedersen) that blocks various actions as if a player were playing. It's a simple set of cards and each turn the player flips one and puts the AI worker on the designated spaces and then takes his own turn. It works great.

Except for the NPCs buzzing around the AI has little effect on the game itself. In addition, the pure random die rolls can turn an otherwise enjoyable game sour very quickly.

Doing something similar to an Automa deck in XIA would be a nice plus. There you'd have maybe 12-14 AI cards. The player would turn one of these over at the start of each round (vs. the end). Each card would have a sell section, buy section, game effect section, and then FP gain section.

Buy and Sell Sections
The AI would take actions like sell and buy certain cargos and amount. Buy 2 Spice. Sell 1 Cyber. This would bring the new cool Economy board into play more for solo games and all the effects it has.

Game Effects
This would trigger stuff happening on the board. Examples would be

"Roll d20, NPC uses closest Gate" (would remove that FP bonus from player if not already used)
"discard x missions"
"Scoundrel bounty increase"
"Merchant destroyed" - Forces restart of Merchant and loses accumulated credits for example.
"Enforcer recalled to Kemplar II"
"Roll d20, remove closest Exploration token"
"Remove a Excavation counter"
"Move the Kiln."
"Expand an additional tile"
"Reshuffle Automa Deck"

FP Gain
To replace the random die roll, the FP gain section on cards would have some +0s, a lot of +1s, and a some +2s as a fixed gain for the AI. Then a quick check for an additional +1 to be added (to the card amount) would be based on a die roll and any current modifiers (similar to the current system) Result: 1-15 = +0; 16-20 = +1.

An Automa deck would keep variability without it being purely randomized. Plus it would affect other parts of the game keeping it interesting. "But I was going to take that exploration token!!!"

Someday I hope to reacquire a copy of XIA (third time's the charm?). There is just so much goodness in there, that I cannot believe a GREAT classic solo game system cannot be added to it. But for now, rather than these notes sit static on my hard drive, I eject them into the deep space that is the solo community where they might find rescue and resuscitation. (Boy did that line stink!)
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