Solo Skirmish Games Mid-2021 Update

 

It's the middle of the year! Who knew? It feels like yesterday when I made up my Top 10 list, and now 6 months have flown by! Sheesh.


Now, one of my 2021 resolutions was to play some of my unplayed games. Not exactly Shelf of Shame as they are mostly rulesets for minis agnostic games. But maybe PDF Hall of Shame? 


Wonder of wonders, I actually managed to do that. Plus some games I only discovered after I'd made that list. So... overall, not bad! Especailly considering I'm separated from most of my games in my Top 10 list right now thanks to the pandemic.


And now without further ado... here's an overview of the new games I played, in NO particular order (except alphabetical). 


BURNING SANDS


This game was built off the rules for CROM but eventually became its own thing. It's specifically written for 15mm but it's not hard to translate up to inches for 28mm gaming.

The rules are light, with an emphasis on fun. You get a dice pool but unlike CROM, they are allocated to specific stats (Prowess, Wits, Vitality) that you use to fight, move, HP etc. The stats are multipurpose and can be used for several types of actions.


The heroes and bad guys also get some skills/traits to help differentiate them.


The dice then get formed into an availability pool based on your Vitality and that's the number of tasks you can perform during your turn. When you get hit, it lessens your Vitality, reducing the number of tasks (and how effective it is) you can perform.


Here's what I wrote in one of my earlier blog posts: "Burning Sands is similar to CROM (when you squint at the far horizon, you can just about make it out) with finite actions (6 for the main heroes, giving them a max of 18 dice vs 12 for CROM) but you always multiply your Vitality (actions) by your stat value. Hence a 3 Combat stat will mean you roll 3 dice for each Vitality point you choose to use for that turn. You could use up 2 Vitality for an action to roll 6 dice. But the max Vitality you could use for Combat will be 9 as you can't use more Vitality than your relevant stat line. Pretty cool vs CROM's "here's 12 dice use it how you want" approach. Both are fun and as always... there are pros and cons to both approaches.


There are many tasks you can perform (climb a tower, pick a lock etc.) and you roll a number of dice based on your stats then + your vitality vs a specific target number.


The game focuses on storytelling more than killing all minis (although that might be the eventual outcome) and gives you certain specific objectives to accomplish.


As I said, it's fun and seeing your heroes perform heroics on the tabletop, hacking and slashing their way through bad guys and monsters is very... Conanesque.


If there was one downside, it'd be the way the dice pools are set up. There's a certain amount of tracking/upkeep that needs to be done. Even though there's only one stat that needs to be tracked, the way the dice pools are broken up means you also have to track EACH enemy you're facing. Not fun when you're facing 4 bandits all with similar stats. There's a neat hero/enemy sheet that helps with this... but these take up table space (OK, not much considering you're playing on a 2x2 table) but you'd also need to number each bad guy so you can track them. Hmmmm...


All this wouldn't be much of an issue were it not for...


CROM : A Skirmish Game Set in the Hyborian Age (Henceforth CROM)


Even though I got this off Wargame Vault, the core rules are free


Much like Burning Sands (I played CROM first) it's fun, fast and furious. I've seen others mention it's meant to be played with 15mm minis... but I don't see any mention of that in the website or in the rules. In fact, all the photos in the rules are 28mm minis!

Anyway, scale aside, this game is even simpler (in concept) than Burning Sands. You have a dice pool... and that's it. You can allocate your dice to 3 different sub-pools when it's your turn but how you allocate them is entirely up to you.


So Conan would have say 12 dice (as a hero) and he can split them between Movement, Combat and Special dice pools. So you could allocate 4 dice for movement and 7 dice for combat and 1 die to Special, then roll 2d6 to move (yup it's roll to move! And don't think you won't get snake eyes, either!) and see if you reach a bad guy. If you do, select how many dice you want to allocate to combat, then roll vs the bad guy's dice. A minion typically has only 2 for combat. Higher rolls win and you minus HP based off that. Once a minion stat hits zero, he's dead. A hit typically does 2 damage, so you can see if Conan allocated 3d6 vs 2d6, he'd normally (but not always!) decapitate the enemy with one Attack. If you don't reach your destination, you can roll your last 2d6 to continue moving.


Ah... but unlike minions (whose movement and combat stats are fixed) heroes need to have dice left in their dice pools if they want to DEFEND against an attack. Which makes for some interesting decisions on your turn. Go all out, hoping to kill all the bad guys (who typically move in groups) ... or keep some in reserve to defend against their attacks should the RNG deities be against you?


Magic is also its own thing, with dice used for spells being sequestered (you don't automatically get them back the next turn as opposed to dice used for combat/movement). Rather, the dice used represent mana, which you recover slowly each turn. Major villains like Thoth-Amon might recover 3 such dice each turn, while minions like priests only recover 1. So if you use say 4 dice for a spell one turn, Thoth-Amon would get 3 of them back the next turn... but the priests would only recover 1, thus limiting how many times they can cast spells since they might only have 4 dice available to use in their pool whereas Thoth-Amon would have 12 dice to play with, being a major villain and all.


A hit against you removes dice from your dice pool. So if a minion manages to hit Conan, he'd lose 2 out of his available 12 dice. Have 3 of them attack Conan with him having no dice left for defence... you can see how fast even lowly thugs can whittle down a major hero like him!


So... less tracking versus Burning Sands as minions are tracked globally without needing to differentiate the minis. If you hit less than their HP, just place a small token to denote the hits.


However... and here's the big but: CROM really shines when you have Event Cards. These can be anything from a giant spider lurking in the ruins to poison traps to a healing potion that gives you back some of your dice lost to hits.


But you do have to make up your own cards and then set up sort of waypoints on the table to mark when you'd draw the event cards. If I need say 4 Event cards, I'd make something like 8... 1 being the Treasure Chest (my objective) and the others being monsters, traps, enemies in hiding, healing potions etc.) then set aside the treasure chest card, randomly draw 3 other cards, shuffle them up, and start playing.


Downsides? You'd have to make up your own cards but once done, you can re-use them. Without the cards, the game is a so-so skirmish game. And the heroes/bad guys are generic, differentiated by dice pools and nothing else.


But because the rules are so simple, they are easy to hack and I've seen some folks add skills... say 1 skill for each 4 dice in your available dice pool. So Conan (with 12 dice) would have 3 skills, whereas Belit (with 10 dice) would have 2. Ditto the bad guys.


So if you're up to hacking and making up your cards ... CROM gives you a fast, fun hack and slash game that rewards scenario/campaign play. You could play the rescue of Princess Yasmela over several different "chapters" of a given scenario or adventure. But remember : it's all DIY. 


CHAIN REACTION 2015


I've had 5150 Star Army 1st & 2nd Ed and the latest Citizen Soldier PDFs for a while now and haven't played them yet despite the promises of "solo play unlike any other". Mainly because of the way the rules are presented. They are complete. And each section is clearly written and makes sense. It's trying to put them all together to play a game that defeated me.

However, Ed the THW guy made a series of new videos in the last year that helped explain it all a bit better.


So I decided to give it a go, but using the free Chain Reaction 2015 rules set as that was simpler. (I know, I know... paying for rules and then using a free rules set... I'm used to doing things back to front. 😝 )


I played the game a few times to get the hang of the system... and I like it! The CR 2015 rules are man to man. You get say 5 models in your squad versus up to say 10-12 or so (depending on dice rolls) for the enemy forces.


You don't know how many enemies you're facing or indeed WHERE exactly they are at the beginning of the game.


Then as you play, the game unfolds, giving you lots of uncertainty and surprises. You discover where the enemies are and how many you're facing... you discover who reacts first to get off that first, crucial shot... you see the results of said shooting (and you can be trading fire between 2 minis for quite some time before one side either gets hit or ducks back into cover, thus ending the exchange)... you see what your guys and the baddies will do when one of their own falls to enemy fire... heck, you're not even sure if your side can even do what you want them to do when you activate them! 


It all makes for a fun, yet satisfying little game.


So what are the downsides?


Dice rolling. Lots and lots of dice rolling (but if you didn't like rolling dice, what are you doing playing tabletop minis game? AND you're only rolling at max 5 dice, usually 2 unlike a certain grimdark space fantasy game that has you rolling literally buckets of dice... three times per attack sequence!). And tables and charts. Although to be fair, when you're up to speed with the rules, you only need to look up (at most) 3 tables.


The other one is time. Although they are billed as "2 hour wargames", I'm not sure if you play with more than one 5-person squad on your side that it'd take 2 hours. Even when I was up to speed with the rules, just having an average of 6-10 models per side took my about 90 minutes. If the model count went up with say 2-3 squads (5 models each) versus an approximate equal number of bad guys... I'm just not sanguine I'd want to play that. Tracking my own single squad versus the requisite number of bad guys is enough for me when playing solo.


The other down side: now having read and played the free CR 2015 rules, I'm even more sure I don't want to play the full blown 5150 Star Army rules sets... of any version! They add on more and more stuff with more and more tables and charts to look up. 


I know Ed the THW Guy says you can pick and choose how much (or little) you want to incorporate into your games, but just wading through the rules, charts and tables is... probably more work than what I want to invest in right now.


But for a quick solo pick up game with a difference, I think you can't go wrong with the core Chain Reaction 2015 rules. There's the added bonus of being able to hack the Reaction System into your preferred ruleset of choice (if that's what you want to do) to inject some much needed uncertainty and reactions into your solo games.


FIVE KICKS/LEAGUES/PARSECS to ANYWHERE


Wow. 


I've had the 2nd Edition of 5 Parsecs as a PDF for about a year now and it was only this March that I started playing after getting some 15mm minis and all I can say is wow.


A specifically solo SF game with procedurally generated events, jobs, missions, encounters and varied enemy types? With quests?


Where has this been all my gaming life?!!


OK, it's not perfect. The rules are more or less complete but the layout is less than helpful as you need to flip through pages to refer to the relevant tables instead of being there in the specific section of the campaign turn where you need them.

And after you play a bit, the AI rules for enemies tend to be a bit... samey. But that's a conscious design choice by Ivan Sorenson (game designer) so simplify things a bit seeing that 5 Parsecs is designed for solo gaming and the battle is only a part of the whole game.


I started out with a crew of 6 on a planet with my first skirmish against a gang of punks that decided to ambush me. I didn't know who my crew were beyond a collection of randomly generated background info and stats. Then slowly, the crew grew on me... their backgrounds fleshed out (via a free supplement that not only gives you motivations but also what to do with them).


So now each of my crew members is a living, breathing character. Korg is a human gene engineered troll... but he's got a personal quest: the search for a personal Grail that came out of something that happened to him in his youth. Or Scrapper, who is out for the sheer adventure of it all... who abandoned the crew in search of her own adventure just when 'Doc' (captain of the crew) needed Scrapper the most as 'Doc' neared the completion of her own personal quest.


Or how I was slowly able to integrate the newer 3rd Edition mechanics (yes, there's now a glossy updated 3rd Edition courtesy of Modiphius of Fallout Wasteland Warfare fame) into my 2nd Edition storyline, when I rolled an event that caused the tax man to come after me. But instead of paying the paltry 2 credit fee in the table, I used the event as an excuse to have the tax man slap a hefty fine on the crew for not paying taxes on their jobs, so their ship was impounded until the fine was paid off. (In 3rd Ed., the crew starts with a debt on their starship... a loan that needs to be paid off... debts after a hefty repair fee... whatever works in your narrative).


Along the way, the crew get loot, battlefield finds, upgrade their stats and improve all round.


What draws me to 5 Parsecs is the crew growth, personal storyline (RPG-lite) as well as the varied missions and encounters. I also used some RPG material to actually make up my own Quest and now am currently on the track of some organ-smugglers. (Organic organs, not musical ones 😝 ).


(NOTE: I'm currently experimenting with hacking the Chain Reaction 2015 Reaction System into the 5 Parsecs battle rules to see if that works and flows better for me. The core 5 Parsecs campaign is the way for me, as I'm not into the military-only aspect and complexity of 5150 Star Army.)


5 Leagues and (I assume) 5 Klicks are designed in the same mould, with the appropriate changes for the fantasy and post-apocalyptic milieu.


I liked 5 Parsecs so much I shelled out for 5 Leagues as I was looking for an appropriate fantasy skirmish game I could play (I wasn't gong to spend the time to re-print and cut out and sleeve all the Sellswords and Spellsingers cards again... plus I don't think I have enough minis to play the enemy hordes).


5 Leagues is fun, with your warband entering a region and working to reduce the threats to the villages in that region. Said threats being Border threats (ambitious warlords, petty kings, other kingdoms, etc.) or Outlaw threats (bandits, slavers etc.) or Dark Secrets (mystical, otherwordly... Cthulhu type Deep Ones, zombies, skeleton warriors etc.).

The game works, with village events, roadside encounters etc. but somehow the emerging storyline isn't as compelling... partly because (I think) the characters in my warband don't have much depth to them. I made up the warband's background: a Glen Cook-type Black Company warband that wandered down from the Frozen Northlands into a sub-Saharan kind of arid wasteland (but not complete desert) bordered by Arabic, Turkic and Black Kingdoms enemies.


But the members of my warband have no backgrounds... or none that are provided for in the rulebook, unlike 5 Parsecs that allows me to flesh out their backstories and even provide for some character growth beyond levelling up their stats and skills. Sure, I could hack the rules and port over some of the character background info from 5 Parsecs... but some of that is very SF specific and I'd have to do a bit more than just make a transplant if that's what I want. (Said the guy who hacked the THW Chain Reaction 2015 rules into the 5 Parsecs battle rules).


That said, there's a longish kind of story-driven campaign in the back of the 5 Leagues rulebook that leads you into a massive apocalyptic style end-of-the-world encounter with a Big Bad... so I might get into that once I finish my current campaign in Djanzaban, and my opinion might change (again).


But don't get me wrong. If fantasy is what you want, you can't go wrong with 5 Leagues, especially if you've not played 5 Parsecs and are hankering for a solo, semi-campaign style game that's fast and fun to play.


5 Klicks... I don't have the game rules, but from all accounts it's in the same family as the other 2 games in the series, just with a post-apo bent.


So... Mad Max meets Fallout? The driving force here is as you wander the Wasteland, you are also building up your Enclave (or Outpost, whatever the term is) so it's not just a collection of random encounters and building up your warband's stats.


One blog I read online was even more creative as the Enclave wasn't a fixed settlement but a travelling armed caravan. That was amazing and shows how open ended and flexible the system is.


Bottom line: the 3 games give you a framework for an RPG-lite skirmish type campaign that rewards you the more you put into it. You could even invest in some cheap RPG world building books from DriveThruRPG to mine ideas for your games. A simple one for 5 Parsecs is the completely free Stars Without Number that will give you a whole host of ideas to spark off your adventures.


HORIZON WARS


This is not a skirmish game per se but it's the big brother to Zero Dark. However, instead of assembling company-sized forces to fight your battles, you can stat up a small force (platoon level?) consisting of say 4-5 units per side and have a go. 


The core combat mechanics are very similiar to Zero Dark: no fixed weapon stats but roll vs distance + associated penalties.

The units take some time to wear down and destroy, but I told myself the Mechs, infantry and AFVs/tanks represented squads or squadrons with individual mechs that can absorb a certain level of damage before being wiped out.


Works for me.


The background is similar to that of Zero Dark, with choices of background fluff (if you're into that sort of thing) or you're free to make up your own as you play.


I like it, and want to play some more as it allows me to field big stompy mechs in a battle without getting into the detailed minutiae of Battletech*. There's some record keeping needed for Horizon Wars... but nothing like what's needed for Battletech!


Note if you want to play solo, the solo rules are found in an expansion and don't come with the core rulebook.


The second downer is of course the rulebook isn't available as a PDF any more (although the expansion is), so if this is what you're looking for, you have some work to do to hunt for the core rulebook.


*There are other available games that do the same, namely CAV and Heavy Gear... but nowadays I'm all about minis agnostic rulesets that allow me to field some cool looking minis. There's also Gamma Wolves but I'm not sure if that has rules for solo gaming?


ZONA ALFA


This game was totally NOT on the radar in 2020 but an Osprey sale early this year proved too good to resist since I liked the game designer's earlier game, Hardwired Cyberpunk (now renamed Exploit Zero thanks to some supposedly copyright issues with the original name). I picked up the PDF and ran a couple of games.


It's a very rules light system with an emphasis (again) on playing the game an the story that unfolds. Your team of scavengers goes into the Zone and see what they can come out with.

In solo play, it's even more important to place the "hot spots" that trigger when you get too close to it.


Random enemy generation ensures you'll never know what's going to pop out until it happens. 


Once you get used to curves the game throws at you, you probably want to spice things up by using the harder missions. I actually added an NPC team of bandits that would randomly appear on the table to spice things up.


It's a small, fun game. That said, the game will probably shine even more in PvP as the two teams enter the Zone and try to extract as much as they can while contending with the Zone's dangers as well as the opposing team.


I'm glad I got the rules, and used existing minis to play the game.


So if you have suitable minis and like the theme, go for it! 


Yet to be played:


BATTLESPACE (I got all my 15mm and 1/72 minis so what am I waiting for?!) 


SELLSWORDS AND SPELLSLINGERS (not reunited with my cards yet)


THE MEN WHO WOULD BE KINGS (will use paper minis for this one)


CHROME HAMMER CYBERPUNK (solo rules just got added)


PERILOUS TALES (I need to sit down, make the cards for this and get the game to the table!)


So that's it for my mid-year update/overview.


I think those of you who've followed my blog so far this year 2021 can probably guess which games here will make it to my Top 10 Solo Skirmish Games of 2021 list 


I might even go so far as to separate them into 2 lists:

1. A list for minis agnostic rules sets

2. A list for a complete game using rules + minis (e.g. Deadzone)


Let me know what you think!





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