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Subject: What Is Solo Wargaming? Why Do It? rss

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p55carroll
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Another current thread ("There Are No Gateway Wargames") just took a turn I like. Since it's a new subject, I thought it ought to have its own thread. So, here it is. And here's where the other thread turned:

Rindu wrote:
Hungadunga wrote:
On of the things I find really interesting is solo gaming and what I'll just for fun call game model porn. Other than jigsaw or 3d puzzles, solo wargaming, mostly with 2-player games, is something I think is unique to wargaming - it's an intellectual exercise.

Game model porn is where wargamers read the rules, MAYBE play a couple of practice sessions, and that's it - they've gotten their money's worth. Sure, this is partially due to lack of opponents and lack of time or space, but many wargamers get satisfaction from just being able to figure out the model and roll it around in their minds. I think this is a phenomenon that is unique to wargaming.

True, in chess and in go, players derive satisfaction from studying other people's game sessions, but the game model is already understood.


I've been thinking a lot about this lately, but I think it's a different discussion. What IS solo "gaming?" I don't think it's gaming at all, and solitaire gaming misses the point of wargaming in the first place. Yet there seems to be some value and enjoyment in it...but what is this? It's a very odd behavior.
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
For me, it starts with just learning a game--teaching it to oneself. Eurogamers and Ameritrash gamers also play new games solo in order to make sure they've got the rules down pat before they teach them to their gaming groups. Just reading the rules isn't enough; you usually have to play at least a couple turns to make sure you see how the rules work in practice.

The first time I ever played a wargame solo, that's just what I was doing. And in a way, I think it's what I'm doing every time still.

But as Hunga points out above, sometimes once you've comprehended the model, you feel you're done. You can put that wargame away and start learning another one. Especially if you don't have an opponent to play against anyway.

I don't usually intend to do that. I set out to learn a game so that I'll be able to play it--preferably with another wargamer. But if it sits for a long while before that other wargamer shows up, I may have to play it solo again just to brush up on the rules.

Once I get started, though, I usually enjoy the experience. The thinking I'm doing and the feedback I'm getting from the game is just about the same as when I play it against an opponent (though of course not as tensely competitive, nor as socially interactive). So I keep doing it. Playing a couple turns might have been enough to drill the rules back into my head, but now I want to see how the rest of the game plays out.

At that point, there's some chesslike thinking going on, but there's also some make-believe generalship. In short, it's fun.

Also, for me, the absence of an opponent can be a plus. If I were playing a designed-for-solitaire wargame (e.g., Mosby's Raiders), I'd be intent on optimizing my moves and winning, and that would create a lot of mental and emotional tension. Same if I were playing a computer wargame against an AI. When I'm just relaxing at the end of a long day, sometimes I don't want stress of any kind. I could watch a movie or read a book, but a solo wargame is another good option.
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David
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
On the subject of solo wargaming, probably one of the biggest solo wargaming events ever, is happening right now, and it's impressive:

CASE BLUE
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
Solo wargaming is all about the confidence of knowing the other side, times two.
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
For me, lo these last 40 years, it has always been about learning the system(s) and tying that to the history. Towards that end, an opponent is not required. I recently sat down with a complete copy of Seekrieg 5 for example. I'm woefully ignorant of WWII naval warfare, especially at this level - but that was part of the enjoyment. I had a totally free weekend so I just got a cup of coffee and sat with the rules and then pushed things around. It fitted with the OCD in me and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I learned a lot in short. I just use this game as an example. I've done the same with countless other games. For me, it is learning the system and how/why some things are modeled and some are not - and how it relates to the history. So yes, solo is a valid way to learn.
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
On the up side, you always win.

On the down side, you always lose.
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
There is a difference between solitaire wargames and playing a wargame solo.

1. Solitaire: When I play The Peloponnesian War, 431-404 BCwhich is a solitaire game, it feels like I am playing a game against an opponent (the game AI). I am trying to win. It feels like a little like playing against an opponent. There is an intellectual challenge. It evokes my competitive side.

2. Solo wargaming to learn rules: Sometimes I play to learn the rules before teaching the game to an opponent. I just want to learn the rules. I won't even play a whole game.

3. Solo wargaming: Here I like strategic or operational level games. I want to learn history. I am looking for wargames (or history games) with clear easy rules (don't want to spend my time reading the rulebook), that have fast turns (so I can see history unfolding)and that simulate the war accurately. I play reasonably fast, not doing factor counting. I don't identify with one side or the other. I am a neutral observer. Every once in a while I will stop moving counters and study the situation for one side or the other, and try to understand the strategic decisions that were made historically. Then I play a couple of turns fast to see what unfolds. I expect a good solo wargame to be able to recreate the historical result effortlessly (without special rules to guide the game). This gives me confidence in the game's ability to predict the result of "what if" decisions that deviate from history.

I actually also enjoy reading rule books and seeing what the game designer thought was important about the war. I especially enjoy a game that accurately simulates a war and its decisions without having too many special rules and exceptions.
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
I know what it's not:
Playing Twilight Struggle with yourself
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
Harae wrote:
I know what it's not:
Playing Twilight Struggle with yourself


So Twilight Struggle is not a wargame?
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming?
rubberchicken wrote:
There is a difference between solitaire wargames and playing a wargame solo.

1. Solitaire: When I play The Peloponnesian War, 431-404 BCwhich is a solitaire game, it feels like I am playing a game against an opponent (the game AI). I am trying to win. It feels like a little like playing against an opponent. There is an intellectual challenge. It evokes my competitive side.

2. Solo wargaming to learn rules: Sometimes I play to learn the rules before teaching the game to an opponent. I just want to learn the rules. I won't even play a whole game.

3. Solo wargaming: Here I like strategic or operational level games. I want to learn history. I am looking for wargames (or history games) with clear easy rules (don't want to spend my time reading the rulebook), that have fast turns (so I can see history unfolding)and that simulate the war accurately. I play reasonably fast, not doing factor counting. I don't identify with one side or the other. I am a neutral observer. Every once in a while I will stop moving counters and study the situation for one side or the other, and try to understand the strategic decisions that were made historically. Then I play a couple of turns fast to see what unfolds. I expect a good solo wargame to be able to recreate the historical result effortlessly (without special rules to guide the game). This gives me confidence in the game's ability to predict the result of "what if" decisions that deviate from history.

1. Check
2. Check
3. Mmmm, mostly agree, but then this is what YOU get out of a solo wargaming experience - and more power to you.thumbsup

With me it's a little different. I remember trying to play chess with myself all those years ago, and not succeeding. For all of its complexity as a game, it just wasn't complex enough to easily play well against myself.

With wargames it is much easier to solo because there are so many more possibilities. To me it's like a puzzle I'm trying to solve. Granted some puzzles are easier than others - the more cut and dried the game's situation, the easier it is to solo. For example a game on Rorke's Drift doesn't leave a lot of room for tactical subtlety - it's pretty easy to play solo, but it isn't all that interesting. But more complex games, and especially larger sized (full map operational or mini-monsters are my favorites) or larger scale games (operational or strategic) involve such a variety and range of decisions that, as long as you can maintain a degree of impartiality, it isn't too difficult to play both sides straight against each other. With absolutely perfect intelligence on both sides, you are compelled to come up with a solid plan for your operation. This is the puzzle of which I speak, and it's the reason I play solo as much as I do.cool
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Looks like there's a parallel thread here.
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K G
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Wm Seabrook
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Make it solo.
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I've played lots of solo in my day, but I still don't think it's gaming. As a kid, I remember playing Fortress Europa and Panzergruppe Guderian by myself, and within the past five years I played lots of GBoH (which I didn't log on BGG because I still can't think of it as "playing"...but what verb do I use?).

When I say it "misses the point," what I mean is this: warfare is ABOUT besting an opponent. You are trying to close with and kill the enemy. War is by its very nature competitive. It is not something people engage in to "understand" a situation. It is visceral, bloody, and violent. As such, wargames put you in a position or stance from which you are trying to accomplish something: win.

In solo gaming, you've removed yourself from that subject position. You're floating above the action, seeing what would happen if one side did such and such, or how a puzzle could be solved. But what you're not doing is agonizing about what the other guy might do, what you hope they do, or what they might do you didn't notice.

When you forego playing opposed, you lose that essential element of warfare, and forfeit all claim to be studying the simulation value of a wargame, because opposition is a vital part of war. The what it's like of war is bound up with having an Other you're fighting against, not yourself. Otherwise you're only studying the specific mechanics of the ruleset and pondering that, but you aren't playing a game. It can be incredibly enjoyable, though, and I'm not denying that at all.

[As for games specifically designed as solitaire games...well, I don't know. I've pre-ordered Fields of Fire and The Hunters reprints to see what that's like.]
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The fact is that the hobby of war gaming is an aging demographic. This is due to many factors and the advent of computer games and console games. When we were kids in the 60's , 70's and even early 80's board games could do what modern computers could not graphically and also in depth what a good war board game could. So we have a dwindling number of players to play against. This is why a lot of us do it. The lack of opponents who can take 2 hours or 20 minutes here and there to play a ongoing war game. Just my thoughts.
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To paraphrase Woody Allen:
"It's wargaming with someone I love."
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Re: What Is Solo Wargaming? Why Do It? How Can It Possibly Be Fun?
Rindu wrote:
When I say it "misses the point," what I mean is this: warfare is ABOUT besting an opponent. You are trying to close with and kill the enemy. War is by its very nature competitive. It is not something people engage in to "understand" a situation. It is visceral, bloody, and violent. As such, wargames put you in a position or stance from which you are trying to accomplish something: win.

In solo gaming, you've removed yourself from that subject position. You're floating above the action, seeing what would happen if one side did such and such, or how a puzzle could be solved. But what you're not doing is agonizing about what the other guy might do, what you hope they do, or what they might do you didn't notice.

Thanks. I think this gets right to the crux of the matter.

And while I understand and agree with what you say above, I want to bring up a point that may sound like hair-splitting. Yes, "warfare is about besting an opponent"--but that's not the same thing as playing a game to win. In short, war is never a game. War is about killing and destroying until the other guy cries "uncle" or is eradicated. Even military people speak of war in game terms, but it's just an analogy. There are key differences between warfare and wargames.

For one thing, the rules of war are just loose conventions on how things will be done. In a game, the rules are everything; without them, there is no game at all. In war, rules get broken all the time; in a wargame, breaking the rules is cheating, and it spoils the whole thing.

In war, the victory conditions are uncertain. It goes on and on as long as there's any resistance. In a wargame, you might instantly win by capturing the enemy flag or capital, or by eliminating a certain number of units. Without specific victory conditions, a wargame won't work; but real war almost never has any such specific victory conditions.

In a wargame, you're a god in absolute control of all the forces at your disposal (except that you have to stick to what the rules allow). In real war, nobody is ever in that position, though top commanders might wish they could be. Orders go through a chain of command--a complex staff system that's sometimes efficient, sometimes not. Lee vs Meade at Gettysburg was really nothing like two opponents sitting at a chess board. But when we play any Gettysburg wargame, what we're doing is almost exactly like two players at a chess board.

In sum, a wargame is fundamentally a very different thing from warfare.

Quote:
When you forego playing opposed, you lose that essential element of warfare, and forfeit all claim to be studying the simulation value of a wargame, because opposition is a vital part of war. The what it's like of war is bound up with having an Other you're fighting against, not yourself. Otherwise you're only studying the specific mechanics of the ruleset and pondering that, but you aren't playing a game. It can be incredibly enjoyable, though, and I'm not denying that at all.]

I'm sure you're right about all that too. But IMO you're pointing a finger at just one "essential element of warfare"--opposition. What about all the other elements, some of which I touched upon above?

IMO, a wargame is so completely different a thing from warfare that it's nothing but fantasy to suppose one is vicariously experiencing warfare while playing. If you're playing the Roman side in a wargame on the Battle of Zama, I don't care how much work went into that "conflict simulation"; what you're doing is a LOT more like what Bobby Fischer did than what Scipio Africanus did. A whole lot more. I'd go so far as to suggest that what you're doing is playing an elaborate chess variant while fantasizing about being a Roman military commander.

However, that's not to say there's no educational value in wargames. There is. Designers do a lot of research and work to make the games as true to history as possible. So what I called fantasy above is actually a valid way of studying history or military art/science. What you're doing is a lot like reading a military-history book and pondering the maps in it. Your intent is to gain an understanding of what happened--and maybe of what could have happened. So you study the maps and read the text; you see where various units went, and you wonder what might have happened if they went somewhere else instead.

If you were at a military academy, you might set the situation up on a sand table (or these days, on a computer screen) and study alternatives. And as the instructor demonstrates the various maneuvers and options, you and the rest of the class would get a clearer picture of how things worked.

That, to me, is what a wargame basically is--and all it can ever be. You can add the element of opposition you're so fond of, turning it into a contest between two players or two teams. But that won't change the basic nature of the thing: it's still going to be a big, complicated chess game--nothing more, nothing less. Since it is, in fact, a game--and not anything remotely like actual warfare--you're always going to be a game player, not a commander.

But this brings us full circle back to your point. You said, "opposition is a vital part of war." And now I've said yeah, but we're not really dealing with war; we're dealing with a game. But opposition is a vital part of games too. So, how do I address that?

Even designed-for-solitaire games have opposition: there's some kind of AI (manual or computerized) that the player struggles against. Facing that resistance and possibly triumphing over it is what makes the game worthwhile. It makes for good mental exercise, and it can give a player a sense of satisfaction.

But what's going on when one decides to just play both sides of a two-player wargame? How can there be any value in that? And how can it be fun? Well, here are some things that come to mind for me:

1. It's an extension of reading military history. I've got a book with maps, but the maps only show me static situations, and I wish I could move the units around and make them do stuff and see what would happen. With a wargame, I can do just that. It's a "living map," a dynamic, hands-on illustration of a battle or campaign or war. Playing around with it helps me better understand what I've read about.

2. There's still some tension and opposition involved, even though I'm not playing against another person. Some exercise programs work by using one set of muscles to resist another set, and you can work your mind the same way. As you're figuring out the best moves to make for side A, you're having to think; and when you switch and start figuring out the best moves for side B, you're thinking again. You might not get the same kind of mental exercise you'd get from playing against an opponent, but you're not just randomly pushing pieces around. There's no reason not to play as thoughtfully when you're by yourself as when you have an opponent across the table from you.

3. You still get to fantasize about military command. In fact, you get to do twice as much of it, because you can be both Napoleon and Wellington. Being by yourself doesn't hinder the imaginary re-creation of battle at all. On the contrary, it enables you to do it in your own way, at your own pace, without anybody else intruding on your dream world.

There may be other reasons for playing wargames solo, but those are the ones that occur to me at the moment.

Some gamers just have to have player-vs-player opposition, and that's fine. But other gamers are fine with multiplayer solitaire, true solitaire, or even solo play of two-player or multiplayer games. I've tried all those things and enjoyed them all in various ways, to varying degrees. For me personally, opposition is just an option, not an absolute necessity. I find that it enhances a game in some ways but can spoil it in other ways.
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a. Nobody to play with.

Love solo gaming.

DDay at Omaha Beach seems fantastic so far, though I am still learning it.

Also, when you Solo, you aren't always under times constraints to finish a game, or to wait for someone to show up.
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Christopher O
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To come at it from another angle, what is single player PC/Console gaming? Does the fact that you're playing against AI invalidate the experience/excitement of it - would one only consider it a valid experience if you were playing against human online opponents?

Some solo war games are set up with a AI (c.f. Where There Is Discord: War in the South Atlantic, Fields of Fire, Ambush!) but many people play games that are otherwise considered two-player games as solo games. In this case, you're merely putting yourself in the role of the AI.

In the case of the former style of games, the artificial intelligence is "primitive" (in the sense that it's a couple dozen or less routines and subroutines, compared to many more for video game AI) - many of the games mentioned above have an elegant "AI", but in the case of the latter style of games, you're literally playing against your own skill level.

The trick is compartmentalizing and objectively playing each "role" as if you were that commander.

So, to me solo gaming, while not as optimal as a FtF or multi-player game would be, is an entirely acceptable and fun thing to do.
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There's an unfortunate tendency in the wargames community to criticize forms of play and certain games as not inauthentic or badwrongfun. Usually because wargamers think they're engaged in something more than merely playing, and the games have to have some simulation value and come in for criticism as being "inaccurate." (I am even guilty of this.) I think some of the more defensive reactions to my comment in the other thread may be motivated by the fact that we're so used to people in the community making arguments like this.

I want to make clear that I also think solo play is "entirely acceptable and fun." How could it not be? How could I insist someone is not actually having fun? My contention is simply that it isn't really gaming, but something else. It's a form of play. Yes, I do subscribe to the view that gaming and playing are conceptually distinct activities.
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Rindu wrote:
There's an unfortunate tendency in the wargames community to criticize forms of play and certain games as not inauthentic or badwrongfun. Usually because wargamers think they're engaged in something more than merely playing, and the games have to have some simulation value and come in for criticism as being "inaccurate." (I am even guilty of this.) I think some of the more defensive reactions to my comment in the other thread may be motivated by the fact that we're so used to people in the community making arguments like this.

I want to make clear that I also think solo play is "entirely acceptable and fun." How could it not be? How could I insist someone is not actually having fun? My contention is simply that it isn't really gaming, but something else. It's a form of play. Yes, I do subscribe to the view that gaming and playing are conceptually distinct activities.


Hmmm... if you believe that "gaming and playing are conceptually distinct activities", and I agree that they are not, I think you have to put yourself in a position to defend (debate-wise) why using a game by oneself is just "playing" while using the exact same game with others (or at least one other) is "gaming".

I'm not angry or defensive about this; I think it's an interesting topic. The problem is the argument starts to delve into semantics, and most people aren't going to see the conceptual difference between gaming and playing, and are just going to be insulted by what they perceive as you invalidating their beloved passtime somehow.

i.e. YOU: "What you're doing isn't gaming, it's playing."

EASILY INCENSED SOLO WARGAMER: "What the... are you saying my hobby isn't a reasonable passtime?"

YOU: "That's not actually at all what I said... I said..."

EASILY INCENSED SOLO WARGAMER: "I heard you saying that I'm not gaming!"

YOU: "It is just playing. But it's still fun!"

EASILY INCENSED SOLO WARGAMER: "Ffuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!" (explodes)

So I guess I'm saying, I see what you're trying to say (playing vs. gaming), but the semantic difference here isn't significant enough for people to register the subtle difference.
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What is it? Either playing a solitaire design war game or playing a two-player war game design by myself, playing both sides to the best of my ability without showing partiality.

Why do it? I find it relaxing and enjoyable.

Yeah, pretty deep stuff.

Edit: by the way, relaxation and enjoyment is why I play games with other people as well.
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Rindu wrote:
There's an unfortunate tendency in the wargames community to criticize forms of play and certain games as not inauthentic or badwrongfun. Usually because wargamers think they're engaged in something more than merely playing, and the games have to have some simulation value and come in for criticism as being "inaccurate." (I am even guilty of this.) I think some of the more defensive reactions to my comment in the other thread may be motivated by the fact that we're so used to people in the community making arguments like this.

I want to make clear that I also think solo play is "entirely acceptable and fun." How could it not be? How could I insist someone is not actually having fun? My contention is simply that it isn't really gaming, but something else. It's a form of play. Yes, I do subscribe to the view that gaming and playing are conceptually distinct activities.

I guess we're really talking about the definition of the verb "to game". I game to have fun, whether solitaire or with others, whether with a designed for solitaire game or a multiplayer game. I used to game for a social experience or to have direct player versus player conflict. Now I find I'm not necessarily looking for either 100% of the time.

To be fair, I can now see your point of view Luke (your post above). If your definition of gaming is that there must be a direct conflict between two or more players, then with less than two it is obviously not a game.

However, that's definitely not my definition or perspective. I consider playing a two player game solo as gaming because that is my intent and goal. My intent is not to study the model or just to learn the rules. Nor is it, I think, a reaction to the oft repeated criticism of how it is "sad" or "weird" to play games alone.

I will not repeat what I wrote on the parallel thread in the 1 Player Guild (this link will suffice). I've been in a hurry as I've typed this as I need to get off to work. If I have misinterpreted or misrepresented any of your ideas it's solely because of that. Thanks for expanding on your quoted post in the original post, Luke.
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For me, I like to play solo because I like to "tinker" with history. One of the first things that fired my mind when I discovered military history was the "what if" questions. So playing alone you can play with history. Also, I think a lot of wargames you can introduce a simple mechanism to force you to make the best move each turn. For example, when I play Washington's War, I play each card one at a time and act just on what I know at that moment(which in some ways it more realistic as you can think of each turn as receiving fresh dispatches from your commanders and you then have to act on them). Granted, you do lose some of the two player interaction with reaction cards, but that doesn't mean you are not gaming or having fun.

Some games, like those with chit pull systems, have that element built in. So when you play Carthage: The First Punic War you are forced to make the best choices each turn.

And, quite frankly, sometimes it is better to play solo to avoid the stress of playing with people who are too intense or in situations where too much emphasis is placed on the outcome. In 2011, I started playing competitive chess again but quit in 2013 because I got tired of all the crazy intensity that goes with playing tournaments. I figure that if my blood pressure is going to go through the roof, it should be for a much more worthy cause. I recently had the same concerns when I tried my first Marvel Dice Masters OP. Thankfully, the people who showed up had the same attitude of competitive play but let's have fun and not get too wound up as I did and I had a good time.
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