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Subject: App for the Solitaire Variant: The Empire Attacks rss

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Yan Bertrand
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Hi all!
I'd like to discuss here the features and other points that we would like / not like an "app" for the great solo variant created by Dale to let us play Rebels on our own while the rest of the house is asleep.
I'd like to mention I've read about the Probe Deck App (website) and the Android Rebellion App (a production assistant, for now). These are great tools, but the app proposed here addresses a different need (though it would be nice to reuse/keep in common some of their efforts).

I'm using the generic "app" term for now, as I'm still thinking about how I'd go ahead and develop such a program. I'm a developer by trade, and I can do Android development. I'm not versed in web development, though that would be (I'm guessing) my favored solution for this "app", since it would be most widely available. (So maybe I'll learn.) But we're far from even having to discuss this. Also, I may or may not develop the app depending on my available time and my whims. And the purpose of starting this discussion is to discuss what we'd like it to be like, and "design it as a community", such that not just I, but others, could go ahead and implement it. To close on the "me" topic, I've only got 2 plays under my belt, but I'm really liking the game so far and my motivation is currently up to contribute.

But back to the intended topic here: designing the app.

First and foremost, the great advantage of using dale's rules is that almost everything is already decided with regards to how the Empire behaves. ("Almost" just because there always are weird cases, but the Golden Rule tells humans how to handle those cases; computers might struggle with the Golden Rule a bit more. )
I've taken a look at the phases as described in the rules, and triedto think of what inputs / outputs would be needed for a fully-autonomous AI. (We may find in this discussion that such a program is not desirable if it brings too much "maintenance" work for the human player to keep informing the program of things happening on the board + the human executing on the board what the AI programhas decided. I'mstarting this discussion with the hopes that it is not the case, but we'll see.)

Note: I'll hereby call "rules" and "rulebook" the sum of the game's rulebook and Dale's rules for solo play.

Here is what I can see, phase by phase:

SETUP
- input: player chooses normal or advanced setup.
- input: player chooses whether to use action cards or not. (This could be infered from normal vs advanced, but I'd personally like to have a choice here, as a newbie SWR player.)
- output: reminder to remove "Heart of the Empire" lvl 2 objective.
- Design choice: input or output: starting systems (adv game only). This could either be left for the player to do using the probe cards as described in the rulebook, or something automated by the app that would just spit out the systems for the player to mark on the board. Implementation: A view of the map with allegence markers, like shown on the Android Rebellion app would be great, and/or messages to tell the player to set allegiances.
- output: which extra leader the Empire gets as part of setup.
- input: player's choice for a Rebel base. (It's needed because the corresponding probe card cannot stay in the probes deck. The AI will have to promise not to cheat!)

ASSIGNMENT
- input: number of missions the Rebels attempt, and leaders per mission. Implementation note: a stupid list of variable length, 2 entries per line, could be made nicer-looking with a pic of the leaders if time allows.
- output: number of imperial missions for this turn (starter+main's).

COMMAND
I'll split per possible choice of action, showing a sequence of in/out's for each of them. the complexity here lies in describing this for each mission, which I'll keep for a subsequent post.
- Rebel Mission:
. input: reveal a mission (among the prepared ones), choose a system for activation.
. output: don't oppose / oppose with leader X.
(design choice if opposed)
. input: the player rolls dice and tells the app if the mission is successful or has failed.
OR
. output: the app tells the player if the mission is successful or not.
. input if mission is successful: what the player does with the positive effect of the mission. Could impact a wide number of things - to be discussed in a later post. I'm including here the possibility that an objective be completed. (There will be a design choice to include objectives assistance to remind the player when they're accomplished, at the cost of having to input them in the app. Not convinced this is a high priority for now.)
- Rebel system move (without battle):
. input: leader, system, troops moved.
- Rebel attack (=move with battle):
. input: leader, system, troops moved.
. output: opposing leader added
Design choice:
. manual battles: the player rolls dice as needed to execute the combat. This is my favorite option "a priori", as it keeps the fun to the player, and it requires little-to-no development. App could provide a "mandatory rerolls counter" to track how many Rebel successful attack dice have been rerolled because of the tactical strength of the imperial leader.
. input: battle results (destroyed units on either side and theatres, as well as retreat decisions if any).
(no output apart from an image of a raging fist in case the Empire loses, and a fiery fist if the Empire wins. the same image, lol.)
. auto-battles: automatically roll the dice, just let players input their tactics cards played / choice of imperial units to damage when they hit them / choice of dice to reroll. I'm not a big fan of this and it would require a good user interface to keep battles alive. Probably wouldn't bother without an artist with animation abilities on the project.
- input: Rebel player pass.
- Imperial mission:
. output: mission, leader & system.
. input (if possible for mission vs available leaders): opposing leader / don't oppose.
. Design choice: same as for Rebel missions resolution.
. output (if successful): choice of impact of the mission. Here the program is expected to choose according to the Card List, and that's where I really expect most support / time gain from the app.
- Imperial move:
. output: leader, system, troops moved. (Troops moved could be optional in a first step, since the Empire will always move everything except a grunt.)
- Imperial attack (=move with battle):
. output: leader, system, (troops moved).
. input: opposing leader added (if applicable).
. Same design choice as for Rebel-initiated battles.
- output: imperial pass.

REFRESH
- output: reminder to check for accomplished objectives, gather back leaders, draw 2 Rebel missions, draw 1 objective.
- output: whether the Rebel base is found due to the Empire drawing enough Remote systems probes.
- output: reminder to move time forward. Auto-check for rebel victory.
- if recuiting:
. input: Rebel choice of leader. (Design choice: could automate action card drawing, but I'd say it takes some of the fun away from the human player.)
. output: Imperial leader recruited.
- if producing:
. output: list of produced imperial units / time slot.
- imperial deployments: output: list of deployed imperial units/systems
- if producing:
. output: list of rebel units to produce (with # of blue triangles that the player has to allocate as real units)
. input: player's choice of units for blue triangles.
- Rebel deployment: input: deployment locations for Rebel units

...And that's it for the core turn structure. While I've used a lot of text to describe it, I've written a lot of details and I think it's not that complex. The big part that's not mentioned here is having to enter all possible mission/action cards, and providing means of input for all possible Rebel mission outcomes.

Alright - what's everyone think of it (besides tldr)?
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Yan Bertrand
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Maybe to rephrase what I'd like inputs on (and feel free to give other inputs too!)
- among the "design choice"'s above, are there some you'd definitely rpefer one way or another?
- are there things proposed above that you would dislike / do differently / love?
 
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Brian Hard
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I'm 100% behind this idea! As an exclusively Android user and someone who already carries my Android tablet back and forth between both sides of the table when I play Rebellion solo to reference the PDF rules I've downloaded to Google Drive I can see myself getting a lot of use out of something like this and the platform could apply to other types of games as well for the solo CDG.

I'll go through this line by line to see if each input/output makes sense based on my myriad of plays using this system. Then I'll consider what might be missing or could use some extra "help" from a an App.

I will also add here that the best direction for something like this would maybe not be something that has to have 100% round by round awareness of board and player card status but something that can help the solo player work Empire decisions "on demand". For instance, selection of leader to oppose a mission will have the player input select un-assigned Imperial leaders along with Rebel mission leader to oppose and the App will determiine which Imperial leader to send to oppose. Make sense? More to think about I guess.

As someone who is dependent on software code quite frequently in my work I do always think of bugs and how something that has to rely on human input and sequential output might get "bogged down" when bugs pop up so some "fail safe" in the system or human workaround to allow the tool to reset state of the game at certain levels might be something to also consider here but I might be getting WAY ahead of everything with that. Best to just consider I/O for now and what gaps we think everyone can think of.

Super idea and very excited to see where it goes from here. I'll post again soon once I've done the deep dive.
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Delith Malistar
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Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
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I'm more of a visual person but from what I read here, it looks good. I like your caution about keeping the fun on the player's side. I'd prefer to do all my own rolling and leave chance out of the hands of a program. If I am going to roll poorly, it's because of me and not some RNG.
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Brian Hard
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Here's my take on Setup:

For me, Setup would be most useful as a checklist and guide since I’m always having to refer to the manuals on this is what units both Rebel and Empire get to place on the board and such.

1.Choose setup normal/advance
a. Based on selection, walk through the proper setup checklists
b. Set up checklists should have a unit selection checklist to guide what units get placed

2.I would suggest NOT have a probe card app (maybe make it optional) I think forcing the player to use the actual cards to choose setup systems keeps player in the game better.

3.I do think it should allow you to enter into the App how those cards were drawn to help guide Empire setup (which systems get Subjugation vs Loyalty) and then it will allow unit placement guide based on random die rolls and will auto-assign systems to die roll results (again I think the player/user should be using physical die rolls to "stay in the game")

4.Rebel base choice should be an input so that you can then get the app to help you guided through Rapid Mobilization and probe card detection. I'm not real sure of App value for this but I suspect you have something in mind that will be a huge help with Rap Mob and such.

I think with Setup, the process gets better memorized with usage so the app has diminishing value with usage and familiarity so it should allow bypass of checklists to allow entry to further used data like rebel base choice and whether you’re playing with action card actions or not that would be used as you play the game.
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Yan Bertrand
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Hi Brian!
Thanks for taking some of your time to put these thoughts together in details.

sentient02970 wrote:
Here's my take on Setup:

For me, Setup would be most useful as a checklist and guide since I’m always having to refer to the manuals on this is what units both Rebel and Empire get to place on the board and such.

1.Choose setup normal/advance
a. Based on selection, walk through the proper setup checklists
b. Set up checklists should have a unit selection checklist to guide what units get placed

This sounds good! I'm with you on checklists. They could be a slight small bit lower priority than just "making the AI work", but they sound useful, indeed.

sentient02970 wrote:

2.I would suggest NOT have a probe card app (maybe make it optional) I think forcing the player to use the actual cards to choose setup systems keeps player in the game better.

Mmm. I'm not sure about this. Letting the App handle the probe deck matters for me on 1 aspect + a secondary consideration.
- It's important for me from a gameplay perspective that the Human player does not know which probe cards the Empire has acquired. It's a change compared to non-assisted solo play, and I think it takes the solo game 1 step closer to the human-vs-human experience. As it stands now, in the solo play, I can know which systems the AI has visited / drawn during refresh. It's good to have a little uncertainty.
- The secondary consideration: the game is pretty long as it stands now. If we can relieve the player from a few tasks, then that counts as forward progress to my eyes. (The setup for the solo game does take a good bit of time on the Empire's side.) I very much hear you that the direct drawback of this is the player "learns less" of the game - I agree.
- Like you said, the biggest drawback of this is whether the player feels "in" the game or not.

All in all, I wouldn't mind letting the player choose whether initial systems choice is automated or manual. (Like you wrote, if it is manual then the App has to offer means for the player to tell the App the loyalties of the systems.)
What matters to me is that the probe deck remain hidden in the App during play.


sentient02970 wrote:

3.I do think it should allow you to enter into the App how those cards were drawn to help guide Empire setup (which systems get Subjugation vs Loyalty) and then it will allow unit placement guide based on random die rolls and will auto-assign systems to die roll results (again I think the player/user should be using physical die rolls to "stay in the game")

One small addition to the comment above: I personally don't really like having to roll dice to determine setup. I mean - it works fine, but if I'm given the choice for an app to roll them all setup dice for me, I'd go for it. This is a personal taste, of course.

sentient02970 wrote:

4.Rebel base choice should be an input so that you can then get the app to help you guided through Rapid Mobilization and probe card detection. I'm not real sure of App value for this but I suspect you have something in mind that will be a huge help with Rap Mob and such.

I yet have to go through all missions. This one indeed would be significantly interesting to assist.

I look forward to reading your suggestions on the other phases (or any other aspect of the game).
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Brian Hard
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Oooh! OK I think I have a better understanding of what you are going after here based on your response about probe cards! I think I was making an assumption about the app being more of an assistant to enabling solitaire play by means of helping the solo player work the Empire AI. But I seriously shortsighted the opportunity of the tool to come pretty darn close to doing the AI work for us! I like this goal a lot better!

You are right about the time factor with the solo variant. I think I've played this solo about 8 times and never got under a 4 hour game. I think they average around 5 or 6. I'm so used to the labor needed to manage the AI that even simple things like the checklists I suggested above feel like a major assist. But yeah this app should really shoot for doing as much of that grunt work as possible. That includes the AI die rolls and random selections. That should cut out a huge chunk of time, for me anyway.

That whole bit about "staying in the game" should not really apply when having to manage Empire busy work. So yeah I'm on board with seeing if the app can manage as much of that as possible. In that case and since my epiphany here, let me take another look at Setup and the rest of your ideas for the rest. I think I'm even more thrilled about this idea than I was when I first read about it here.

PS: Rapid Mobilization is the Rebel starting mission card that can be played to move the rebel base after it's been detected. As a starting mission card it's always in the Rebel Player's hand but needs some fancy work with remaining probe cards and remote systems to get it to work in the solo variant.
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Brandon B
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Any update on this app?
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Yan Bertrand
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huskerwr38 wrote:
Any update on this app?

Hi Brandon,
It pains me but my friend moved away (thus my mutual motivation loop broke) and I've been keeping myself busy with other stuff (including minis painting, board games, and a job back). I haven't written anything there so I guess it's safe to assume I'll go the shameful way of doing nothing.

I'm still keeping this thread open in case I get more time available per day. In the meantime, I apologize for getting your hopes up.
(If someone wanted to work on this with me I'd probably get better motivated. Who know? There seem so many programming-enabled people 'round this place... )
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