Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jan 1, 2011 (1/1/11) is Solo Gaming Appreciation Day

A suggestion has come up on the Solo Wargaming forum and on TMP that wargamers should plan out solo gaming events for Jan 1, 2011 to "help a few players out there find enjoyment and satisfaction sooner, if we share our experiences and resources and express our enjoyment as a community." Basically a way of highlighting how solo gaming is positive and fun.

So, I better buckle down, now that I have some time off from work, and get cracking on SDBA, and get a game going.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Battle of Ashkelon - Philistines versus New Kingdom Egyptian

We have started getting a weeknight DBA going here in Sierra Vista - meaning we have had two games now :) - and I thought I would write up the interesting ones. This particular game was against Steve, who is just getting back into DBA and gaming in general. His last DBA game he used my New Kingdom Egyptians (option b, with the Warband) and I used the Philistines (option a, with the Blades). He didn't do that well with them so he decided to try the Philistines this time, so we reversed the armies.

I am going to try and write this battle report up using some of the ideas from my Writing Battle Narratives blog entry. Narrative will be in plain text and game notes in italics. This report is (mostly) written from the Egyptian point of view. Let me know if I succeeded in writing a better, more interesting battle report.

This is a timed game.

The Battle of Ashkelon

"If we do not find these pestilent Philistines and put this rebellion down, the Pharaoh will surely send me to the Fields of Aaru before my time!", the Egpytian general muttered. What was this, twice in as many years that the Pharaoh has had to send an army to punish the tribes around Ashkelon? Nebkare's thoughts were broken when a scout came riding up. "We have found the rebels sir! They are hiding in the next valley."

The Philistines are defending and the New Kingdom Egyptians attacking. My opponent, the Philistine general, sets up a crossroads and has a long woods and a medium-sized Steep Hill flank the crossroads. This makes for a narrow pass between the two terrain features, restricting the battle. I try and approach from the direction that would leave the open area to the Philistines, but the board rotates on me, leaving my troops in the open.

As the Egyptian army approaches the valley where the rebels were spotted, another scout barrels up to General Nebkare shouting, "Sir, the rebels have taken a secret path through the hills and have shifted their army onto our right flank! They are approaching us through a narrow pass on the road to Ashkelon!" Quickly the general orders his troops about and presses forward to the attack, lest these slippery rebels wriggle from his grasp through another "secret path".

The Egyptians are arrayed with their Blades pointed down the road, towards the pass, lest any Philistine chariots charge through the gap suddenly. The archers are to the left, to cover any flanking chariots, and the Gasgan mercenaries (the Warband), are on the right to move through the woods and spring an ambush on any Philistine Blades that pass too close.

I did not want to commit three chariots to the open left flank, so I placed one on the right, in hopes of drawing the enemy towards it. In hindsight that was a stupid idea as I was facing a slow army and he had already deployed his chariots in the center rear. No one was going to chase the lone chariot down.

My typical battle plan calls for me identifying four elements (or two, plus the enemy camp) that I will destroy in order to win. My game then revolves around hunting down those elements. Sometimes the enemy throws me a curveball and races other elements forward, getting them killed, allowing me to stop hunting some of the elements on my list.

This matchup is a tough one, as the NKE army is not really a good match for the Philistines as much as it is for itself. With three Bows facing all of those Blades, the NKE army is almost "outnumbered". The best you can hope for is to use the three Bows to take out the Philistine chariot, then move them to the rear so they are not easy targets for the Philistine Blades. It is a possibility that they could gang up and take out the Auxilia, but that is very hard to pull off given the speed advantage of the Auxilia.

With four chariots to the Philistine two (or, not counting the Generals, three chariots to one), it should be a quick victory for the NKE chariots, leaving them free to attack the enemy camp. With the Bows targeting the chariot and my chariots targeting the camp, that leaves one more element to get to 4 VPs. I decide that the best chance is either the Bows ganging up on an Auxilia or the Warband and my General ganging up on a Blade for the win. We will have to see which develops.

Given my targets the Bows go on the left and the chariots on the far left, the General stays in the center, with the Warband moving up through the woods.

This is not going to be easy...

All of the confusion of shifting the army to the right caused for great distress amongst the Egyptian troops. It takes some time before they get moving. Meanwhile the messengers from the right flank indicates that the whole of the Philistine army is on the move towards the pass.

Suddenly, a plume of dust rises, indicating a fast moving body. "Sir, the rebel chariots have appeared in the pass and are moving rapidly to our open left flank!" "Send forward the chariots of the Reed and Sky Squadrons and destroy them!" The swirling dust from the battle obscures both sides' chariots from the rest of the army, but soon a cheer is heard from the rebel infantry on the hill. Out from the dust come the remnants of the Sky Squadron, with the Philistine chariots not far behind!

The Philistine general opted for a daring move with his chariot unit and force marched them down the road within charge range of the Egyptian chariots. I rose to the bait and charged his chariot, easily getting an overlap in the process. But, Ra was not favoring my Egyptians that day as I promptly rolled a '1' to the Philistine's '6', getting doubled on the first combat. This did not bode well. Philistines 1-0. The chariots continue to press the attack on the remaining chariot, causing it to recoil.

Shock waves ripple through the Egyptian army as the men call out "Ra! Ra! Do not abandon us! We beseech you!" The army was paralyzed. Only the chariots on the right obeyed Nebkare's orders, shifting from the right to the left flank. With a roar the Philistine army continued to march towards the pass, ready to deal justice to their oppressors.

General Nebkare comes to his sense and realizes that his army is crumbling before his eyes. He signals his chariot squadron forward and races along the battle lines yelling commands and encouragement, just as the sun pokes out from behind the gray clouds... "A sign! A sign from Ra! Forward!!!"

Both the Egyptians and the Philistine have a brief spell of PIP starvation. With the Philistine chariots on the other side of the hill from the General, they need two PIPs to get moving, so when they roll a '1', things started to look bad. The Egyptians finally broke their long spell of poor PIP rolls with a '6', causing the army to come to life.

The chariots of the Sky Squadron on the left pulls back, allowing the archers to deploy into line. The chariots of the Blood Squadron on the right continue to shift to the left flank as the whole Egyptian battle line lurches forward.

The archers ready themselves for their advance to the Philistine chariot - this is their chance for some glory - when the enemy charges forward and slams into the archers, running down the right wing!

This is the second close combat of the evening and with a light chariot charging my bows with overlap support, I still managed to get beaten and quick killed. The Philistines are still winning, 2-0.

Nebkare barks to his messenger, "Go to the Sky Squadron and tell them that to flank the rebel chariots and destroy them, or prepare for the demon Ammit to eat all of their damned souls! They must not fail!" On the right the Gasgans move into the woods in an attempt to encircle the left flank of the Philistine main battle line, which is already bending  as it enters the narrow pass between the woods and the steep hill.

A great crash resounds on the left as the Sky Squadron encircle the Philistine chariots, with support by the remaining archer units. With a hail of arrows from all directions, the Philistines are destroyed by the combined might of the Egyptian left flank.

The Philistine chariots actually only recoiled, but they hit the Auxilia on the Steep Hill at an angle, so they were destroyed. The Egyptians are finally on the board, with the Philistines ahead 2-1.

Ra continues to smile on the Egyptian army, as the Philistine army takes flight and retreats up the valley, leaving one unit behind to block pursuit. "This seems too suspicious. Surely the rebels have not given up so easily." Nebkare, unsure of the Philistine ploy, halts the battle line as he considers how he will defeat the enemy hiding behind the hill.

One observing the game, without knowing the rolls or the rules, might have interpreted my moves as being stumped on how to proceed, but in fact I rolled a '1' on PIPs again. But it was funny because it looked like the Egyptian general paused, trying to figure out if the Philistine retreat was a trap.

The original plan of hunting down the single light chariot, sacking the camp, and destroying one auxilia still looked good, however, the Philistines had not had enough PIPs to retreat one of their Blades, who was close the Egyptian General and the supporting Warband. So, I decided to try and pick the Blades element off with the General and the Warband while the two light chariots swung around the hill on the left flank and threatened the camp.

Nebkare knew that he had to push out of that gap so he could turn the flank of the main battle line before the enemy reserves swung into action and turned his own left flank. Ordering the soldiers of the Sky Troop to push down the road, Nebkare swung his chariot squadron to the right, and with the Gasgans, advanced to attack the isolated Philistine unit. These promptly retreated towards the Philistine reserves, while the main battle line sprang forward.

The Royal Guard Troop give way as the Weshwesh come screaming down the hill in attack, while General Nebkare swings his chariot squadron back to the left to support the Sky Troop being pressed by the enemy left. Seeing an opening the isolated Philistine unit advanced towards the right flank of the Egyptians, threatening the General. The combat swings wildly back and forth as each side tries to turn the flank of the other.

Again General Nebkare swings his squadron to the right, but this time the Philistines cannot retreat fast enough and the Gasgans catch them in the flank. The Philistines do not give up easily, but they die nonetheless. However, the enemy reserves advance forcefully, ready to take the Gasgans' flank in turn.

Much of these turns was spent recoiling, using PIPs to recover the battle line, and threatening units on the flank, who in turn retreat. Finally the Philistine Blades get too close and the Egyptians get too many PIPs, resulting in the Egyptian General attacking the Philistine Blades, who also get flanked by the Warband. I still lose the combat though - I rolled another '1' - and end up in a very bad position as I recoil into the woods. Fortunately the following turn sees the Philistine Blades follow up and get doubled, resulting in their destruction. The game is tied at 2-2.

General Nebkare says a quick prayer of thanks to Ra as he quickly moves his squadron out of the entanglement of the woods he was forced into and rejoins the battle line. His archers on the left are still entangled with the Sky Troop soldiers and cannot effectively bring all of their bows to bear, but they are nonetheless effective at forcing the Weshwesh back up the hill. The chariots squadrons have disappeared from view, so Nebkare suspects they are rounding the hill and on their way to attacking the enemy camp. On his right the Gasgans are threatened by several thousand rebel warriors, but no panic is ensuing.

Slowly, as the Weshwesh are driven back by the archers, a gap starts to appear in the rebel line between the hill and the right of the rebel heavy infantry. With a roar the Green Troop soldiers charge forward into the flank of the enemy heavy infantry, destroying them. This sends a convulsive wave through the rebel line.

To the rear of the rebel army the Sky Squadron has finally charged into battle against the chariot squadron of the Philistine general. Although initially repulsed, the Blood Squadron begins to maneuver to support the Sky Squadron in another charge against the enemy general. It is only a matter of time...

Unfortunately, the curtain draws to a close on this game as two frowning librarians kick us out of the library before we can complete the game. This, of course, will lead to much speculation about why each of us would have won the game had we been able to complete it. :)

The game ended with the Egyptians in the lead 3-2 as they had destroyed a Philistine Blades element in a flank attack. I rolled my PIPs for the following turn and it was a 5. My move would have been to hit the Psiloi from the front and flank with two Blades elements. The question would have been whether to take the overlap (making the combat 4 to 1) or to risk the General in an overlapped combat with Blades  supported by Psiloi. Probably not...


So, my plan was to take out one light chariot (check), one auxilia element (not even close to happening, especially once I lost a Bows element), and the camp (getting there, but it would have been three to four turns before that happened). Instead I got one light chariot and two Blades. I honestly cannot remember if I got the first Blades element by doubling with the General or by quick killing it with the Warband.

As I said in the beginning, the New Kingdom Egyptian army is not designed to take on an army like the early Philistines with six Blades (or the Sea Peoples, with their eight Blades). The NKE have too many Bows, making them vulnerable to easy destruction by the Blades.

What I notice with my play is a bad tendency to not use PIPs when I have high rolls; there is this "pull" to use them all as they are such precious commodities. However, sometimes using a PIP causes you to commit an element that should not be committed. In fact, this is what happened to my opponent when he played the NKE and I the Philistines; he used PIPs to move the Bows closer to my Blades so he could shoot. It is this desire to "do something" with everything every turn that is so hard to resist.

In this game I was fortunate in that I kept some discipline and kept the Bows away from the enemy Blades, putting a steep hill between us. This allowed me to stand off 2" and shoot into the enemy Auxilia on the end of the line, in an attempt to keep my Blades from being overlapped or flanked. For the most part it worked.

As for the chariots, my play with them was horrible. My choices were to drive up the right flank and try and go through three Psiloi-backed Blades - not too probable - attack the right flank of the Philistine line, which happened to be Auxilia in Bad Going - also not too probable - or swing wide around the left and try to attack the Philistine camp or rear. The last course still looks like the best course, but that is such a PIP drain that it is unlikely to succeed. Upon reflection one other choice is available, and that is to serve as a second line reserve and plug any gaps or exploit any breakthroughs. But that is not very sexy... :)

All in all this was a very good game. We played slow because it was tense, swinging back and forth, but that proved our undoing as we did not get to finish. Next time then!

By the way, let me know whether you like the use of Battle Chronicler for mapping out the game. There is a sharp learning curve and time spent developing the core components, but once that is done, future battle reports can be generated faster and with less effort, so I just might keep investing time in this tool.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pondering Terrain Deployment and the Matching Battle Plan

I think most will agree that how the defender sets up the terrain greatly influences the resulting battle. I'm not one of those that think the battle is over because of bad terrain placement, but I do think it greatly changes the odds of your success or failure. Understanding why it does one or the other is the hallmark of a good gamer.

I think most will also agree that how you deploy your troops greatly impacts the odds of your success of failure in the subsequent battle. Again, I am not one that believes that a bad deployment means you will lose - there are too many variables that allow either player to lose grasp of victory - but I do believe that it can give you a deficit of a few VPs.

Quantifying what constitutes a good or bad deployment is a key to understanding and will help you not only in your solo games with DBAS, but in your face-to-face games. I don't claim to be an expert by any means, but the first step to quantification is to put it down on paper (digital or otherwise) so all can see, discuss, and dissect the results. So, here is my straw man.

The (Polybian) Romans

I've played a number of games with and against my Polybian Romans, both solo and face-to-face, and so can use that as a test-bed for discussions.

Against Auxilia-Heavy Armies

The Romans, on paper, do well against Auxilia-heavy armies. They have six Blades with a factor of +5 versus the Auxilia factor of +3. Attacking up a Gentle Hill results in a +5 versus +4 battle. Attacking in Bad Going results in +3 versus +3. Getting overlapped on one side makes the battle +4 versus +3. Sounds good overall with the Romans always having an upper hand.

That said, I have had the Ancient Spanish hand the Polybian Romans a loss even when the Romans won the terrain and put postage stamp sized terrain down. How can that be? One factor not mentioned is the Blades have a movement of 200 paces while Auxilia moves at 300 paces. That does not sound like much, but it really is. Added to the ability for enemy Psiloi to ZOC the Roman line and throw it into disorder (i.e. the element has to peel off from the Roman battle line to deal with the element) and what quickly comes to mind is that the Romans don't do as well as the combat factors portend.

So, if the Romans Blades anchor their flanks on Bad Going terrain (like Woods), it really does not do them any good against these armies as they move through it like butter (although they could have PIP problems due to having a shorter command radius), don't suffer a penalty against others in the Bad Going, and do not have their ZOC affected by terrain, so they can still disrupt you.

If the Romans are going to anchor their flanks, at least the gap should not be so narrow that the enemy General sitting in the center of the pass is within 6" of both forces on the flanks, thus allowing forces on both flanks being in command.

Against Light Horse Armies

The basic combat factors of Blades versus Light Horse is +3 versus +2, so the Romans have a slight edge, but given the incredible movement of the Light Horse it won't be long before the Romans are overlapped and flanked, making the odds +2 versus +2 with a recoil being a quick kill. Having the Psiloi in rear support changes the odds in to +4 versus +2 or +3 versus +2, but that is a thin margin to bet on. Given that the Light Horse cannot be destroyed in a straight-on fight with Blades, they have no reason not to keep tossing the dice in an attempt to break the line (think Carrhae - not Polybian, I know, but the same principle applies).

Quite simply the Romans cannot afford to let the Light Horse get on their flanks or to be without rear support from their own Psiloi. This leads to wanting the flanks of the line to be anchored on Bad Going terrain. This largely restricts the Light Horse to frontal attacks, and if the gap between terrain is narrow enough, gives the Romans a second line for reserves to plug any breakthroughs the Light Horse may be able to force.

Against Heavy Infantry Armies

When facing an army similar to itself, especially Blade-heavy armies, the Romans need to rely more on their auxiliaries, the Velites (Psiloi) and Equites (Cavalry), to get on the flanks of the opposing army and crush the center that the Roman line is holding. This means that the flanks need to be clear for those forces to operate efficiently.

If the enemy line is weaker - all Spear, for example - or less numerous then the Blades on the flanks can start to cave in the flanks and slowly roll to the center, making the cavalry battle on the flanks less of a concern.

Against Knightly Armies

This is probably the least favorable matchup the Romans face. Factors are +3 versus +3 and the loss results in the Romans being quick killed. The Romans can throw in the Psiloi as rear support and get +4 versus +3, but they risk the loss of two elements on one die roll. Not my kind of odds.

This is one of the matchups where the Romans want to be in Bad Going. Sure, they are -2, but so are the Knights, and the Knights also get quick killed on a simple loss. It will be ugly, but with rear support they are +2 versus +1 to the Knights.

Given the Knights movement, they are like Auxilia in that they will out-maneuver the Romans (in general) so can place their superiority where they want.

All-in-all not a good situation.

Against Warband-Heavy Armies

This is an interesting matchup in that the Warbands do not have much of a superiority in movement (a little bump with extra PIPs), have lower factors like Auxilia, but they quick kill Blades. With Blades getting rear support from Psiloi against Warbands the factors are +6 versus +3, so it does not look good for the Warband army. (I don't double-rank my Warband, as I do not like to commit two elements' destruction to a single die roll, so they rarely have rear support.)

Like Auxilia, however, they like Bad Going, so the Roman army is going to want to keep the flanks away from Bad Going terrain like against Auxilia-heavy armies.


So there you have it. The Romans like to stay away from anchoring the flanks on Bad Going, except when they want it or want to be in it! :)

So where are we. What has this little mental exercise gained us? Well, if the goal is to develop a means for "programming" an opponent, and that opponent is a a Polybian Roman army, we have a start on how they might choose terrain if they are the defender or how they would use terrain, based upon the army you chose. I see these choices as:

  • Avoids Anchoring on Bad Going terrain
  • Anchors on Bad Going terrain
  • Deploys in/moves to Bad Going terrain
One you have the basic strategy - to anchor, deploy in, or not - your battle plan writes itself. You choose a forward line of defense and that becomes your objective. Once you have the objective identified for your elements, you can use that for your scoring system in the Tactical Engine.

I would love to hear your ideas on these basic thoughts. Please feel free to respond here or on the Solo DBA Development forum.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Splitting it off

I've decided to split off my DBA gaming off into a separate blog - this one - so that those who are following my blog Dale's Wargames for the DBA content won't be annoyed by all the non-DBA content.

So, look for the DBA and DBAS (De Bellis Antiquitatis Solus) content here. If you drop following the other blog, I will understand. :)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

DBAS - Scoring the Side Effects of Moves

Continuing on with the catalog of combat moves, still looking only at a single element moving. Next let's look at the single element flanking, or attacking from the rear, an enemy group.


When we looked at a single element flanking a single enemy element, there was no obvious advantage to the contact as combat to contacting the front edge; without another element in place, the enemy element simply faces to make front edge contact. Without other factors to consider, that produces no advantage or disadvantage.

Let's look at four basic flanking moves.

DBA.DBAS,catalog,moves DBA.DBAS,catalog,moves DBA,DBAS,Moves,Catalog DBA,DBAS,Moves,Catalog
Move to Flank Contact Move to Flank Contact of Group Move to Flank Contact of Deep Group Move to Flank Contact of Supported Group

The first, Move to Flank Contact, we have seen before. Again, with no other context this move produces no greater value than the Move to Front Contact. The Move to Flank Contact of a Group, creates an advantage for the attacker in that it fragments the enemy's command (i.e. it will now require two PIPs to move the two elements where previously it only required one) in addition to creating a threat of destroying an element should it recoil twice.

The Move to Flank Contact of a Deep Group - which would apply not just to elements with base depths greater than 1/2 the base width, but also to elements in two ranks - creates an even greater threat; if the flanked element recoils once, it is destroyed.

The Move to Flank Contact of a Support Group adds an additional advantage over the Move to Flank Contact of a Group: the flanked and turning element no longer receives rear support. Whether this is advantage should be scored separately is questionable; it will be factored in with the Combat Value differential.

The more I ponder the moves the more I realize that the moves themselves are not the keys, but the list of advantages and disadvantages the move brings. If you consider named advantages and disadvantages, such as:
  • Fragments enemy command
  • One recoil will destroy*
  • Two recoils will destroy
  • Breaks rear support**
  • Combat Value differential
  • Can Quick Kill enemy element
  • Etc.
* This is effectively the same thing as a Quick Kill on the Combat Outcome Table, so should be scored the same.
** This will be a factor in changing the Combat Value differential, but is there additional reason to score this?

So, can the actual moves be ignored - thus saving me from cataloging their variations, ad infinitum - and you simply score the side effects the move will produce?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

DBAS - One Attacking Many

Last time I looked at a single element attacking a single element and didn't really find any reason to differentiate between the moves, so now I will try the same thought experiment with a single element attacking a group of elements and see what changes.

Move to Overlapped Front ContactMove to Double Overlapped Front ContactMove to Supported Front Edge Contact

The first move is the Move to Overlapped Front Contact. Essentially this put the attacker at a -1 disadvantage. Compare this to Move to Double Overlapped Front Contact. Although this move results in a -2 disadvantage, does it warrant being treated separately? The last is the Move to Supported Front Edge Contact, resulting in a +1 advantage to the defender.

Consider the following:

MoveCombat FactorDifference
Move to Front Edge Contact+3+3+0
Move to Overlapped Front Edge Contact+4+3+0
Move to Double Overlapped Front Edge Contact+5+3+0
Move to Supported Front Edge Contact+4+4+0

Given that the difference in each combat is the same, should the moves still be ranked separately or do they have equivalent weight, as they all result in a single element coming into front contact with a group of elements and resulting in a combat at +0? Put another way, which is more important: the move itself, or the resulting combat?

One factor in weighing the Move to Supported Front Edge Contact more heavily is that, unless the supporting element is a Pike, there is the potential for destroying two elements in this single combat. That alone warrants weighting, and thus differentiating this move from the others.


In my mind I have only found one case where the movement of a single element into combat is materially significant; all others seem to indicate that the resulting combat factors are the differentiator. I would like to hear your thoughts on this, either here or preferably on the Solo DBA Yahoo forum.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

DBAS - Contemplating the Simplest Moves

To start let's consider the moves of a single element against a single element. There are basically three moves to contact:

Move to Front Contact Move to Flank Contact Move to Rear Contact
Move to Front Contact Move to Flank Contact Move to Rear Contact
Moving into flank contact from the left and right are technically two different moves, but functionally they are the same given our "universe" with no other factors.

This leads me to wonder: if there are no other factors - this is simply one element on one element and no other element comes into play now, or in the near future (i.e. within the Zone of Control of an enemy element or within one move of contact) - is there really any difference between the three moves? Does it necessitate cataloging all three variations and ranking them separately?

At this point, I am willing to say yes catalog them, just to be complete. But at this point I have no means of saying one move is more or less valuable than another, so they will all be scored the same. As I catalog other moves, I think either the proper scoring will come to light, or the need to differentiate these moves will disappear.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

DBAS - Contemplating Moves

As part of my involvement with the Solo DBA development effort, I have a tendency to get on an idea of something to try, and then try to catalog all of the variations of that idea. The latest idea to get this treatment is available moves.


A fundamental problem for the solo gamer is to determine what move - from all of the possible moves - should be taken for the non-player, or programmed side. In a game like DBA, where you have a command and control mechanism that does not necessarily allow a player to move all of their units every turn, you end up with an additional twist, which is to evaluate the chosen "best" move for one unit against that of another unit and determine which should be taken in those cases where you are restricted and cannot move every unit.

So, to restate, the problem is two-fold:

  1. Determine, from the set of moves that an element or group could make, which is the best move to make, and
  2. Determine, from the set of best moves found in #1 above, which ones to make if not enough PIPs are available to do them all.

Solution (or Attempts at Solutions)

In previous versions of De Bellis Antiquitatis Solus (hereafter referred to as DBAS), my version of rules for the wargamer to use DBA for solo games, my approach has been as follows:

  1. Determine the "best" move for any given element or group of elements. (The "best" move is the one determined as having the highest score - see below.)
  2. Score that move, based on:
    • The Non-Player General's (NPG) current mood (called the Strategic Stance).
    • The category of the move (Combat, Defensive, or Approach).
    • Conditions resulting from the move, such as whether the following combat gives you a tactical advantage, retreats you out of a losing combat, moves you towards and objective, etc.
  3. Play out each move, from highest score to lowest, until the NPG runs out of PIPs for the turn.
This process worked well, and despite the sound of it, did not take a lot of time to calculate the scores of the various moves. (After awhile, you pretty much got the feel for which move was better than another.)

Where I did not like the system was that I tried to bite off too much; I was trying to provide a different scoring system for each Strategic Stance of the NPG (there were five). My last effort was to reduce the Strategic Stance Values to three - Cautious, Moderate, and Bold - and then provide a preference to the type of move (Combat, Defensive, or Approach) based on the Strategic Stance. A simply table shows how it works.

If the Strategic Stance is......the First Preference is......the Second Preference is......and the Third Preference is...

As you can see from the above, the NPG's mood determines the type of move favored. As I used a scoring system I simply add +4 to the score for the moves in the First Preference, +2 to the score for the Second Preference, and +0 for those in the Third Preference.

This is a good start, but it still requires you score out all possible moves for an element or group before you can figure out what gets the first PIP.

What About...?

So, one of the ideas is to rank the actual moves and consider them in order. Essentially this means cataloging the possible moves and giving them point values. If each move has a value, it probably needs a modifier based upon how good it is compared to other like moves.

For example, consider the basic Move to Contact, where one element moves into contact with another element. If Move A results in a combat of +5 versus +3 and Move B results in a combat of +3 versus +3, should Move A be valued higher than Move B because A has a better chance of winning the subsequent combat (all other things being equal)? In the past my answer was yes (and probably still is).

Now consider a Group Move to Contact (two elements, moving as a single group, move into front-edge contact resulting in no overlaps but rather initially two one-on-one combats). If the Group Move to Combat results in two +4 versus +3 combats does that move rank higher than a Move to Combat resulting in a single +5 versus +3 combat? As you might imagine, the resulting scoring system that takes all of this into account could probably get out-of-hand pretty quickly.

So, if you go down this path of cataloging moves and assigning scores to those moves, your next basic decision is, do you:

  1. Rank the moves in order.
  2. Compare each element/group that can make that move to determine which ones get PIPs first.
Or do you:

  1. Rank the moves in order in order to assign a basic score to that move.
  2. Modify the scores based upon additional factors.
  3. Execute the moves in score order.
The latter sounds right, on face value, but is much more difficult to pull off, I think. Next, I'll look at some simple moves and pose questions on how to go about tackling these issues.

Friday, September 24, 2010

DBA Solo Game - Baltic Greeks vs. Skythians

I finally picked up working the De Bellis Antiquitatis Solus rules again (found in the files section of the Solo DBA Development forum). I am not happy with the table that scores moves (i.e. determines which move is best for the non-player opponent to make), as it is too complex. So, I decided to simplify. Rather than five levels of aggression for the non-player general (NPG), I reduced it to three. Rather than have that factor affect both the types of move preferred and the score of each move, I decided to drop the latter modifier. These changes made calculations much faster.

It also struck me, during the test below, that some moves into combat can be considered both combat moves and defensive moves. This has led me to consider cataloging all of the basic moves and naming them, so I can refer to them in the scoring system. Not sure if that is insane or not, but it is my current thought.

The game I decided upon needed to be vastly different than the previous ones - which should not be hard because they were almost all Polybian Roman versus Ancient Spanish - so I chose to use my new Skythian army. Rather than have both sides be NPGs, I decided that I would run the Skythian side and its opponent would be the NPG. Looking through the list of opponents, and what I had available, I resisted the idea of playing yet another Bad Going Infantry army (like the Thracians, of which I have two lovely armies) as it would be too similar to the Ancient Spanish with an NPG. Something really different would be the Black Sea Greeks (II/5i) - a hoplite army against a Light Horse one.

This is an interesting match-up because the Light Horse are weak in combat factors (+2 versus foot and mounted), but they quick kill Spears (which are +4 versus foot and mounted). Because of that, the Light Horse will kill the Spears 17% of the time, get no result 11% of the time, recoil 47% of the time, and flee 25% of the time. If the Light Horse get an overlap (+2 versus +3) the chances change to 28%, 14%, 47%, and 11%, respectively, so getting overlaps will be critical.

In the Greeks favor is that they have enough Psiloi to form Spear "T" formations, or three Spears in a line with one Psiloi in the rear directly behind the center Spear. This allows the Psiloi to provide rear support to all three Spears facing forward, raising their combat factors to +5. If this happens - and it should be the primary NPG tactic - the factors become +2 to +5 (8% to destroy the Spears, 8% no result, 50% recoil, and 33% flee), unless the Light Horse get an overlap while also being overlapped, in which case it is +1 to +4 (8%, 8%, 42%, and 42%, respectively). As you can see, the odds favor the Greeks heavily, but note that the worst result the Spears inflict is to force the Light Horse to flee. In order to win, the Greeks are going to have to either use their other elements, Auxilia and Cavalry, to destroy the Light Horse or they will have to start flanking them, which will break up the hoplite line and create gaps for the Light Horse to exploit.

This should be an interesting game.

Black Sea Greeks versus Skythians
Pre-Battle Sequence

1. Determine Your Army Composition
My army will be the Skythians (I/43) with 1x2LH(Gen) and 11x2LH. The army type is Mounted and the force type is Light Horse. Its condition type is that it Fears Bad Going.

2. Determine the NPG Army Composition
The NPG army is Later Hoplite Greek, Others (II/5i) with the following required elements: 1x4Sp(Gen), 7x4Sp, and 1x2Ps. This makes the army type Foot and the force type Spears. There are still three elements to select. The choices are 1x3Cv or 4Sp and 2x4Sp or 4Ax or 2Ps.

The first optional element to deal with (section 2.2.2 Selection Criteria for Optional Elements) is the Psiloi. As the force already has one Psiloi, it must select at least one more. Once that second Psiloi element is selected, however, the NPG army gains an additional force type, Psiloi Support, as it now has two sets of three Spears plus one Psiloi.

The next optional element is Spears. As the enemy force type is Light Horse, only two elements need be selected, so this criteria is met.

The next optional element is Cavalry. As the NPG army does not have four Cavalry elements it will select the one element available.

The next optional element is Auxilia. As the NOG army does not have four Auxilia elements it will select the one element available.

The NPG army is this: 1x4Sp(Gen), 1x3Cv, 7x4Sp, 1x4Ax, and 2x2Ps.

3. Roll to Determine the Attacker
The Skythian aggression is 4, while the Greeks are 1. The rolls determine that the NPG is defending.

4. NPG Determines the Terrain
Although the Greeks do not Favor Bad Going, the Skythians Fear Bad Going, so placing Bad Going terrain is to the advantage of the NPG. As the Greeks have a Home Topography of Arable they are allowed (up to): BUA (1), Road (2), River (1), Steep Hills (2), Gentle Hills (2), Woods (2), and Waterway (1).

I am still fleshing out the terrain selection and placement rules, but I thought I would give you my thought process.

First, as a BUA is allowed, I determine if that will be in play. A BUA gives the defender more control over the board as it restricts the attacker from not being able to select two sides as the favored side when determining baselines. (Essentially, it changes the odds that the defender will get the baseline that they want.) As mounted have a hard time attacking BUA, and I have plenty of Spears to defend it with, using a BUA is favorable to the NPG.

The primary advantage of the Skythians is their mobility, especially around the flanks of their opponents. To hinder that mobility it is best to place Bad Going terrain close enough to the board edges so that elements must go through the terrain. Further, it is best to use line of sight-blocking terrain to hinder the enemy's command and control, should they try to sweep around the flanks. Given my LOS-blocking, Bad Going terrain choices, Woods are my favorite. So two Woods it is.

The basic plan is for the Greeks to dominate the center of the board, anchoring their flanks either between two Woods, or the BUA and a Woods, depending upon which board edge they get as their baseline. So, using those three terrain pieces, the goal is to set it up such that:

  • There is no gap 40mm or wider between the Woods or BUA and the board edge(s).
  • The distance between each terrain piece is roughly the frontage of the Greek army, no matter which baseline the Greeks end up getting.
As the NPG is Psiloi Support and the enemy Mounted, you should already have in your mind the basic deployment. The NPG will group the elements into two sets of 3x4Sp plus 1x2Ps, garrison the BUA with 1x4Sp, leaving 1x4Ax, 1x3Cv, and 1x4Sp to be placed separately. So, that makes the frontage of the NPG army a maximum of nine elements wide, or 360mm. This will help you gauge the distance between the terrain pieces.

These factors help me determine that the BUA and two Woods will form a triangle, with the terrain pushed towards the edges, cutting off flanking moves. As I am allowed a Road, and Light Horse armies gain little advantage from them, I choose to run one up the middle, should I need to reinforce the BUA. (In hindsight, I should have selected two, so I covered all possible baselines I could get.) Here is the terrain placement for the game. (I'll go over troop deployment and baseline selection later. I just forgot to take a picture before putting all of the troops on it and rotating it.)

5. Roll for Baselines
As I am the attacker, I get to choose the favored edge for my baseline. However, because of the BUA placement I am limited to only two of the four edges for my choice. My roll indicates I don't get my choice and I end up with the BUA on my right flank, as shown in the picture above. (All pictures are taken from the Skythian baseline.)

6. Deploy the Camps
As the NPG had a BUA, it had no camp, so that decision did not have to be made. The Skythians (I) placed my camp in the far left corner, as far away from the BUA and road as possible.

7. Deploy the Defending Army
7.a. Divide the NPG Army into Deployment Blocks
As indicated earlier, with the NPG army a Psiloi Supported force type and its opponent a Mounted army type, two of the deployment blocks will be two sets of 3x4Sp plus 1x2Ps. With the BUA on the board, the third deployment block will be the 1x4Sp garrison. That leaves 1x4Sp, 1x4Ax, and 1x3Cv, none of which are defined to work together in a deployment block, so they become three separate blocks.

7.b. Divide the NPG Deployment Area into Deployment Zones
The deployment zones are:

  • The open area on the Greek left flank (the right side of the picture above).
  • The woods on the Greek left flank.
  • The open area between the woods.
  • The BUA.
Note that a battle plan goes with every terrain setup, so the deployment zones, and how they are utilized, are mostly pre-defined.

7.c. Determine the Deployment for each NPG Deployment Block
As mentioned previously, one deployment block, 1x4Sp, will go into the BUA. As the battle plan for this terrain setup calls for placing the Spear T formations in the center, between the two woods (after the battle line advances, of course) that only leaves three one-element deployment blocks to commit.

At this point, I will admit that I have no rules for determining the position of these elements. So, I am stuck with either logic, dice, or both. I choose both.

The 1x4Sp element, along with the two Spear T formations can be placed in one of three configurations, shown below.

Essentially my decision was either to place the single element on the left or right of the two Spear T formations, or to put them between them. As that element is without Psiloi support, and is thus more vulnerable to a mounted attack I chose option B; to place the element in the middle of the battle line. As I did not want the General to be without Psiloi support, it was a normal Spear element in the center.

With the General being present in a Spear T formation, I had to decide which one, left or right. As the battle plan was to advance the right flank while executing a left wheel, I felt that having the General on the flank where the advancing was going on made more sense. In addition, this was the side where the enemy would be cramped and possibly pinned against the woods, so it was deemed safer. So, as shown in B in the figure above. the darker gray deployment block contained the General (with the Psiloi directly behind it).

With only two elements left - the 1x3Cv and the 1x4Ax - it got a little easier. Both of these elements are best suited for the flanks. I was unsure of whether the Greek left flank or right flank was more at risk. The right flank could be at risk if the Skythians got good early PIP rolls and moved quickly around that flank before the "door swung closed" (so to speak). Putting the Cavalry there would help prevent that from happening, but once the line was anchored, the Cavalry's movement would be as constrained as their enemy's.

Putting the Cavalry on the left flank gave it the potential to move left into the wide open terrain, possibly making a charge if the Skythians somehow mounted a serious attack against the BUA. I

The Auxilia could start in the woods on the left flank, guarding it while the hoplites wheeled left. This would have made that end of the line very hard to attack. Putting them on the right flank makes them vulnerable until their flank is anchored on the woods, but once they were there, they had complete freedom to move about in the woods, and they might possibly even make a strike at the Skythian camp.

I rated the left flank a better spot for the Cavalry and the right flank a better spot for the Auxilia and gave the odds at 1-4 the indicated deployment and 5-6 the opposite. The 1x3Cv ended up on the left flank and the Auxilia on the right.

8. Deploy My Army
The first picture shows the deployment of both armies.

9. The NPG Army can Swap up to Two Element Pairs
There seemed to be no reason to change any element positions.

10. Determine the Initial Strategic Stance of the NPG
The process for this step is fairly simple:

  1. Calculate the Army Rating for Your Army
  2. Calculate the Army Rating for the NPG Army
  3. Divide the NPG Army Rating by Your Army Rating
  4. Lookup the NPG Strategic Stance
10.a. Calculate the Army Rating for Your Army
Basically, the Army Rating is calculated by adding up the combat factors for all of the elements in the army. However, some elements are worth more (or less) depending upon certain factors. As the NPG army is Foot,  my army rating is calculated using the combat factors versus foot.

1x2LH(Gen) +3 x 1 = 3
11x2LH +2 x 11 = 22
Total = 25

However, I said that elements are worth more or less, depending upon certain factors, and they are:

  • +1 if the opposing army has any elements that are quick-killed by this element
  • -1 if the opposing army has elements that quick-kill this element
  • +1 if the element is capable of multiple moves in a bound
As my army is entirely Light Horse, any modifiers will apply equally to the entire army. Light Horse quick-kill Spears, so as long as the NPG army contains Spears elements, the Light Horse will be worth an additional point. As Light Horse are not quick-killed by any elements that the NPG army has (at least, as long as it stays out of Bad Going terrain), it does not lose any points. Finally, as Light Horse are allowed multiple moves per bound, all the time, each are worth an additional point. At +2 points per element, that is an additional 24 points, for a total Army Rating of 49.

10.b. Calculate the Army Rating for the NPG Army
Using the same method:

1x4Sp(Gen) (+4 +1 -1) x 1 = 4
7x4Sp (+4 -1) x 7 = 21
1x4Ax +2 x 1 = 2
1x3Cv +3 x 1 = 3
2x2Ps +2 x 2 = 4
Total = 34

The -1 for the Spears reflects that Spears are quick-killed by Light Horse. The two Psiloi will be worth +1 point each on turn one, as Psiloi can make multiple moves on turn one, but it immediately disappears at the start of the NPG second turn.

Note: as there is a road in play, any element on the road temporarily adds +1 to their value due to the multiple move capability. Again, these values can fluctuate due to casualties, terrain, and enemy casualties, but the Army Rating is only calculated at the start of the NPG bound, before PIPs are rolled.

10.c. Divide the NPG Army Rating by Your Army Rating
34 / 49 = 0.69

10.d. Lookup the NPG Strategic Stance
Anything at 0.75 and below is Cautious and anything at 1.25 or above is Bold. The NPG is Cautious.

Let the Game Begin

Now that we've gotten the preliminaries out of the way, it is time to start the game. If you want to understand how the Tactical Engine, used to determine which choices the NPG will make, use the document Using the Tactical Engine in DBAS as a guide. There are extensive examples in that document.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow, I will hit the highlights.

By the Skythian turn five, the right columns surged around the Greeks' left flank. One element was trying to push past the woods and get into the Greeks' rear (or draw off some elements - doesn't quite work against a solo opponent though!), while two elements on the left were waiting for the Greek right flank to commit so they too could sneak around the woods.

First blood is drawn by the Skythians, however, when the Greek Cavalry is destroyed on an unlucky roll. Skythian 1-0.

On the Greek turn eight the hoplite battle line has made contact and literally won every combat roll after losing that first element. Of course, winning the rolls only mean recoiling or fleeing Light Horse. The Greeks will need to break ranks to overlap the enemy is they want to destroy something.

Note the Skythians on the left flank have started to move around the woods, while the element one the right had is actually in the woods, but still stuck in it. (Not too many times when the Skythians have a spare two PIPs lying around...) The Light Horse facing the Auxilia in the woods have wisely broken off from combat before they get flanked, or contacted by the Auxilia in the woods.

On the Skythian turn nine they finally get enough PIPs to really get in and attack the hoplites. Below you can see a Light Horse element hit the right flank of the Greek line. Because one Spears element had peeled off to attack the Light Horse in earlier turns, the General's element was exposed to the flank attack. Although the odds are not great for the Light Horse (2-6), a 6-1 roll would have ended this game quickly.

As it stood, the hoplite's left developed a gap which the Skythians exploited. The Skythian General attacks a Psiloi-supported Spears element, both of which were flanked. Here is where the Skythians got the good roll. The score is now Skythians 3-0, and I figure that this game is probably done for the NPG.

One the Greeks' turn nine they roll good PIPs and quickly reconstruct their battle line (save for the General on the right flank). Better yet, the Auxilia leaps forward and attacks the exposed Light Horse that recoiled from the General. As they are in Bad Going, the Auxilia destroy the Light Horse, bringing the score to Skythians 3-1.

On the Greeks' turn 10 they rolled a six for PIPs and were able to shore up the battle line. The Auxilia moved onto the right flank, the spare Spears moved towards the left flank, and the two Spears isolated on the left flank retreated, so a recoiling Light Horse would not automatically destroy one of them.

On the Skythian turn 11 the Skythians are poised for a big kill, possibly ending the game. In their right flank they have flanked a Spear while keeping the other Spear occupied.

Unfortunately for the Skythians, they lose the combat badly (being doubled). Even worse, the fleeing Light Horse ends up behind there Skythian General such that if the General recoils next combat, he is destroyed.

A note to any Fanaticus readers who saw my question regarding this situation. When I asked the question I thought the Light Horse to the left of the General had fled, but after recounting the score, it was only a recoil. However, that was after my question...
On the Greek turn 11 what should they roll but one PIP! The Greek hoplites flank the Light Horse still in combat on their left, eliminating it. The score is now Skythians 3-2. Although it looks like the Greeks are back in the game, the Greek line is shattered on the left and the Skythians are swarming all over.

The Skythian turn 12 does not grant a lot of PIPs, but it allows enough for them to move the fleeing elements from behind the Skythian General, removing the threat from a recoil. One element attacks the left end of the battle line, turning it around. Unfortunately, the hoplites hold (the result is a tie) and the game goes on. The Skythians just cannot win any rolls since turn nine.

The Greek turn 12 finds them with a good PIP supply, so the Psiloi springs from the battle line, attacking the Light Horse in the rear, helping to eliminate it. The score is Skythian 3-3. The Greeks could actually win this one!

Let's Pause for a Brief Moment to Review

At this point the Skythians have lost three Light Horse elements. As their elements were worth four points apiece, their Army Rating is now down 12 points from the original, for a total of 37 points. The Greeks are down one Cavalry, one Psiloi, and one Spear element or 8 points, putting their Army Rating at 26. Unfortunately at 0.70 that makes the NPG Strategic Stance still Cautious, so nothing changes. I just wanted to point out that these value change over time and it is possible for an NPG General to gain a little courage if things go their way early.

Now Back to Our Battle

The Skythian turn 13 proved to be the end. The Light Horse lined up with the General and swept in to attack the end of the hoplite line, where the Spears were presenting their rear, having finished off the Light Horse element last bound. In this case they must not have turned fast enough.

Skythians win 4-3!


Boy, this was one of those battles that you thought sure was going to go a certain way, but just would not seem to die. For the Greeks this is a really tough battle. They just don't have enough fast troops to be able to flank the enemy, especially when they are Light Horse. Add the quick kills in there and it is no wonder that the Greek NPG was cautious all along!

Lessons for Solo Gaming

First and foremost, this was a playtest of the solo rules De Bellis Antiquitatis Solus, trying to refine the Tactical Engine and add more to the deployment section of the rules. Although I did not do much of the latter - I still rely on generating a battle plan to match the terrain laid down, none of which have been adequately cataloged - I came to realize that a number of moves that I classified as Combat Moves can also be considered Defensive Moves, thus increasing the choices that a Cautious general can make.

What's next? Another revision of the Tactical Engine document, plus perhaps an update to DBAS itself.