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Subject: A Solo Playtest Report rss

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Paul Borchers
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Keller
Texas
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I volunteered to proofread the rules for this game, but Kevin asked me to go further and try some solo playtesting. So, I spent some time this past December assembling counters and reading the rules after Kevin sent me a copy of the map. After a trying a few turns, a restart to re-read some key rules, and a forced restart (thanks, cats!), I played through a complete game over a few short evenings this week. What follows is a report that I sent to Kevin, and post here with his permission. The game starts in the spring of 1812.

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British forces quickly took Detroit, and then proceeded to work their way around Lake Erie, threatening Buffalo from Presque Isle. In the meantime, another force took Fort Mackinac and moved on to Fort Dearborn. American forces regrouped and planned an offensive for the following year, while Napoleon retreated from Russia and lost the Battle of Nations in late 1812. Zebulon Pike began organizing a force of Rangers to guard St. Louis. The USS Constitution gained fame in her fight against HMS Guerriere, but otherwise the oceans were quiet.

Winter saw American counterattacks toward Lake Erie, and desertions (card play) crippled the British expedition at Presque Isle, giving the Americans a chance to fight back. Tecumseh was taken out of the game by an American attack, but spring 1813 saw Blackhawk appear in Prairie-du-Chien. The British continued to dominate Lake Erie, while the Americans built a substantial fleet on Lake Ontario. This lead to a number of attacks and counterattacks between Buffalo and Queenstown; none of the action was truly decisive, but it did stretch British manpower.

The Americans struggled throughout this part of the game (late 1813, early 1814) with poor leadership (many generals with 4 for initiative, and once or twice turns with low-valued cards). The British concentrated on building the military blockade and pushing to Peoria and Rock Island in the west.

Napoleon fell earlier than in history, but the British were able to enjoy just one turn without his presence as he came back into power (the "Napoleon Escapes from Elba" card). William Henry Harrison eventually became Secretary of War, helping American card draws, but the military situation on the board (several expeditions destroyed and eventually full blockades in two zones in early 1814) pushed the American Peace marker forward and ultimately subtracted cards from the American hand.

Going into mid-1814 the British were drawing the same number of cards as the the Americans. Despite being short in Regulars, the British held a stable front around the lakes. I realized now that I committed an error and should have let the British have 10 points of Regulars after Napoleon was defeated the first time, and that would have had a significant impact. The Brits were able to play the "Indian Nation" card to the map, making their western progress more significant. The Americans slowly brought Regulars toward the Great Lakes from the coast, but Cochrane made a late appearance (late 1814) to tie up troops. He failed to burn Norfolk, but he did tie up a number of behind-the-lines Regulars.

Pike eventually pushed Blackhawk out of Rock Island. As the Peace Markers closed in on each other, he made one desperate attack on Blackhawk. The Ambush card had an impact on American numbers, but in the end both forces annihilated each other and Prairie du Chien remained British.

The British had driven the American Peace marker into Marginal British Victory territory. Counting Ghent points moved the markers to Substantive British Victory, and neither of the last two card plays could change it.

It was an interesting game - the civilized tribes never went to war, but in the end the west played a decisive part. Now that I’m more familiar with the rules, my speed of play is generally faster, and I’ve been able to find most of what I need during play on the charts. So far the British have had a fairly easy time establishing their blockades, but this comes from playing solo and playing with some knowledge of what’s in the American hand. By that same token, the Hurricane card hasn’t come out at a time to play a decisive role. I found that I wasn’t looking at the frontier trails and river routes properly in my first couple of attempts to play (the routes around Detroit and to the south weren't clear to me at first), so I will try to handle that (and take advantage of the troops that the Americans can raise) in my next game. I have encountered no serious problems with the counters, maps, or charts.
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Steve Pultorak
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Hudson
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How do you play solo when the cards play such a big influence on game play?
 
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Paul Borchers
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Keller
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I don't find it any different from playing most other wargames solo. I generally have a goal or two for each side, and then try to play each turn as if I had no knowledge (or very limited knowledge) of what cards the other side has. I think it gives a plausible idea of how the game could play out.

It also depends, I think, on how you approach these games in general. I play for the "competitive historical experience" rather than winning in game terms. I like to have fun playing the games for what the games show, even if it means my troops are getting slaughtered because I'm not a good 19th Century general. That's probably more conducive to the "let's see what happens when one side does x" solo play.

Now, having said that, I have only a few plays of this game under my belt, and I'm sure I'll learn a lot more about strategy and opportunities that I've missed once I play against another opponent, and see replays written up about the game.
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