It’s been hard to get games in over the past couple months. It’s been good to see people get a lot more painting done while being locked away at home but I still hunger for that that occasional dose of real gaming! Firelock Games has quickly put together an excellent set of solitaire rules to help us gamers get some games in while we continue to avoid getting together in person. I’ve been playing some solo games by simply controlling both sides to the beat of my ability but that both hurts the brain and takes away a lot of the element of “surprise” and unknown that makes the game fun. This is my second game using the official solitaire set of rules and while it leaves one or two of the game unaddressed, overall I think it works really well, as far as AI systems go. The activation deck really helps the AI player have some variation in how they act so you can’t always perfectly predict their actions but it doesn’t make it insanely complicated with pages of flow charts.
I did a practice game using the same forces and this is the second game using a similar scenario and forces.
For the AI player, I built a 200 point Dutch Navy force in a Sloop.
Their force included:
- 12 Zeelieden without pistols assigned to the 3 pairs of Light Cannons with a Musician and an Experienced Dutch Sea Commander attached
- 8 Soldaten
- 8 Enter Ploeg assigned to the 4 Swivel Guns in the stern
- Zeelanders faction ability that lets them reroll a failed Fatigue dice when attacked from within 6″
At 29 models, it only takes 7 casualties to give this force a Strike Point. The Musician gives the Commander Inspiring to help counteract the Strict aftermath and should help vs the Fatigue the bows usually hand out.
For my own attacking force I used the Westo Native faction. I consider them a “middle of the road” Native faction that has neither the super Poisoned Arrows of the dreadful Sound of Thunder ability.
Both Ruthless and War Cry can be useful in sea battles and they have a fine selection of core units.
My 200 point Westo Force included:
- 7 Veteran Warrior Musketeers with a Seasoned Northern Tribes Commander and the War Captains upgrade
- 7 Veteran Warriors with Thrown Weapons and sidearm Muskets with an Officer attached
- 5 Warrior Archers with a Grizzled Veteran attached
- 5 Warrior Archers
- 4 Young Warriors
- 5 Canoa
I rolled for the scenario and it came up as Control the Field.
As the Defender, the AI ship was placed near the downwind board edge. They would give me a Strike Point if they got upwind of me during the course of the game.
I placed all 5 of my canoa 24″ away from the Dutch Sloop. I would give the Dutch a Strike Point at the end of turn 6 if my “flagship” was still upwind of the Dutch. The canoa flagship always strikes me as funny…
The Dutch drew a Spade on the first activation which went before my Club. The value of the card not only controls the style of actions the active unit will perform, but also the way the enemy ship will sail. In this case, the AI demanded the Dutch “move directly towards closest player ship.” This would mean the ship would pretty much immediatly get stuck in the wind’s eye and no self respecting Dutch Navy commander would do that so I slightly adjusted the movement so the ship moved towards the enemy, but not foolishly into the wind’s eye.
Then another strange thing with the AI popped up. The cannons were out of arch, the swivels were out of range so the only AI units that could really fire were the Soldaten, but according the action chart, they will only fire if they are closer than 20″. With the vessels slightly more than 20″ apart, it appeared the AI system would hold and not fire at all. I decided to bend the system a little and let them half fire because that’s what I would have done.
But they didn’t get any hits anyway…
Then the bows opened up! I had the Warriors with bows on my Left flank fire 3 times into the main deck of the Sloop and then had the attached Officer command the neighboring Warrior Archers fire into the same deck. It wasn’t even the commander’s activation and I shot off 26 arrows! It’s always difficult to actually get kills with arrows against men in ships since the combined Hard Cover Save bonus combines with the Arrow Save bonus so you only get kills on Saves rolls of 1-2. I think I got 1 kill out of the 26 arrows but I did get 3 Fatigue on Soldaten.
The Dutch were able to fire their cannons on the next activation and one of them made contact with the Low Profile Canoa scoring one hit. I Saved the model but then had to roll for every model in the boat to see if they would fall out from the Unstable rule. I lost one model of the second unit of Warrior Archers.
The arrow barrage continued through the turn, punctuated by the more effective musket volley from the deadly War Captain/Ruthless/Savvy/Veteran Warrior Musketeers. I’m coming around to being OK paying that 25 for the Savvy Southern Tribes Commander. Getting rid of Slow Reload is a big deal for these guys.
By the end of the turn, the Swivel Guns had done a nasty number on my command unit, killing 3 of them and leaving them prone, but the arrows had done their work as well. The Soldaten were still prone, the mighty Enter Ploeg had 2 Fatigue and had lost 2 models and after Rallying once, the Zelieden only had 1 Fatigue.
Native casualties stood at 5 while the Dutch were at 3 models.
Throughout the second turn, the AI activation cards vacillated between moving towards me and maneuvering for a broadside.
The Dutch Commander with the help of his Musician was able to take all that Fatigue off in one activation! My Natives had to start the whole process over again!
I was able to get some more Fatigue down and get my canoa closer to the Sloop while the Dutch hemmed and hawed.
And on the 3rd turn I was able to strike with my canoa of Warriors! On a Spade I was able to fire my sidearm muskets, grapple, and then use the Officer’s Command Point to charge into the melee! The Zelieden were prone so they took a nasty beating. I didn’t measure down the the 32nd of an inch, but I made the Warriors use the Climb/Charge action with the Command Point and gave the Dutch a bonus -1 on their Fight Saves.
Thrown Weapons managed to score 100% hits and while the Saves came through pretty well for the Soldaten, the War Cry rule made the the prone Zelieden panic pretty well and they withdrew to the back deck with the remainder of the Enter Ploeg while the Soldatan stayed engaged.
I got the Zelieden up to 6 Fatigue! The engaged Soldaten activated next and they massacred all the remaining Warriors in a brutal attack.
That Inspiring Dutch Commander activated next and cleared all 10 Fatigue off his ship in one activation!
Then my very Savvy commander responded with a commander volley of arrows to the Soldaten so they took Fatigue, then a Great Warrior/Ruthless volley of musket, a successful grapple and Ruthless charge into the now prone Soldatan. They were destroyed.
The Dutch Commander took initiative on the fourth turn and counter-charged the Warrior Musketeers and drove them back to their canoa. The game of seesaw continued!
With more casualties than the Natives, the Dutch started to sail away while the herd of canoa tried to keep up.
Another turn went by with the Natives pushing themselves to keep up, grapple and dump arrows into the stern of the Sloop.
The last two Enter Ploeg got another shot off with the Swivel Guns and took down a Young Warrior. Those swivel guns are pretty nasty, especially when crewed by Veteran Expert Artillery Crew.
My Young Warriors grappled and then climb/charged with a command point on the next activation. They finally killed one of the Enter Ploeg and the last one failed one Fatigue check putting him at 2 Fatigue and removing that unit from the ship.
But they didn’t manage to rout the Zelieden. On the next activation the Dutch Commander rallied his men again and destroyed the Young Warriors, once again taking back control of his ship.
But with only one remaining Dutch unit, they couldn’t hold out until the end. With three Native units left, the Westo warriors overpowered the last defenders, killing them to a man.
The Dutch Sloop had 4 canoa grappled to it by the end of the game. Four different times, the Natives had successfully charged into the ship and 3 times they were thrown back. A very dramatic and enjoyable game!
Post Game Thoughts
- This game was my most successful and enjoyable solo game so far. Blood & Plunder in the age of COVID isn’t the same but it’s still fun to set up a game, even if you can’t immediately share it with others. Thanks to the Firelock team, Mike Tunez in particular for putting these rules together so quickly so people could enjoy them during this time. And thanks for making them free! It could have easily been a $5 download but they chose to give it out for free and that’s awesome.
- How did the AI rules work? Overall, pretty well. There were a couple moments were I either didn’t even consult the charts, or I let the AI do something that it clearly needed to do rather than leave something up to chance (order of unit activation). There was that moment were the Soldaten could take a shot but the action chart didn’t advise it but other than that, it worked very well. I didn’t see a provision in the action chart to let cannon crews abandon their guns, but that was clearly the best thing for these Zelieden to do in this game so I deviated a bit from a strict reading of the AI. And to be fair, the solitaire rules specifically say that’s a good thing to do.
- I would say that the AI rules are probably better suited to land warfare than sea, but they worked just fine at sea and I haven’t use them on land yet. Just my impression from looking them over and playing a couple sea games with them.
- The best part of this method is not having to select an activation card from a hand of cards for your enemy. Trying to independently think about the best move for both sides while pretending you don’t know what activation options your enemy has really hurts the brain and ultimately can’t be done very well. So I like the blind draw off the top of the deck for the AI!
- I really like the variation the numbers of the activation cards give the enemy units as well. Very well done.
- The solitaire system can’t fully address each scenario and you will have to make some adjustments to help them focus on the various objectives you might come across. In this game, the direction the ship sailed didn’t have anything to do with the important scenario objective. I was OK with that because I knew it was going to get into close melee combat and that objective ultimately wasn’t going to be the deciding factor.
- This is the first time I’ve use the Dutch Navy and they did not disappoint. Their units are clearly good, but the best thing about them in this game was their faction Zeelander ability. This ability lets them reroll a single failed Fatigue dice after being attacked by an enemy unit that’s no more than 6″ away. This happened a lot in this game. There were many point blank arrow volley, charges and fight actions and this ability kept the Dutch in the game. It’s a really good counter to Native sea tactics.
- On the other side of the equation, War Cry proved useful to the Natives. That was the only way I managed to finally take out those blasted Enter Ploeg! They’re so tough! When they save on 3’s and have a Resolve of 4 with a potential reroll, they’re extremely hard to take down with arrows!
- The Dutch cannons didn’t do much. They fired once and put one point of damage on one canoa. Once the Fatigue started raining down, it was difficult for the Dutch to stay focused on reloading and firing when they had to rally and stand multiple times.
- If a real person was playing as the Dutch, they could have just run with the sloop and the canoa would have never caught up. That’s how you have a “not fun game” so it was nice to have a AI who didn’t suck the fun out of my Natives play style.
- I felt the teams were pretty well matched. In fact, I ran a very similar game to this immediately prior and the Dutch won. The scenario was differen’t but it played out very much the same until the very end when the Dutch ended up killing more Natives, then getting far enough ahead they were out of danger of being boarded again. I still feel the Natives are much less powerful at sea than they are on land, but if the opposing player doesn’t just run, it can be an even match.
- I like the Westo faction. I consider the factions with Poisoned Arrows to be stronger by a considerable margin, but with Ruthless, you have something to work with and that War Cry makes those dramatic charges even more decisive. I think they’re one of the better Native factions for sea games.
- In the Native force, each unit had its role at the beginning of the game, but by the end, every unit had to be willing to get into melee. The Warriors are clearly the best option for that job, but when they need to the Archer Warriors can accomplish a decent charge as well, especially if you can take advantage of the Ruthless bonus.
- I’ve been leaning towards running fairly small Native units, partly because you can deal out more Fatigue that way and partly because a canoa can only hold 8 models. You can split a single unit between multiple canoa but I haven’t been doing that. I wish I hard a larger unit in this game! That unit of Warriors did a great job in that initial charge, but since there were so few of them, they just didn’t have the staying power. Their lousy Fight Saves don’t help that equation either but I felt the disadvantage of small units in this game when I was up against a for with 13, 8 and 8 man units.
- I finally made friends with the 25 point Native Commander. I don’t consider many of the Seasoned commanders worth the 25 points, especially when could take a historical commander that might be better and have some fun story behind him. But the Natives don’t really have many historical commanders (when compared to the French, English and Spanish especially) and the rules the 25 point Native commander gets are actually very helpful. The command range is generally worse on the Native commanders so moving up the Seasoned with 12″ range is actually meaningful, especially when you have a fleet of canoa. The Savvy rule is pretty important as well. This faction doesn’t even have Sound of Thunder and it was still worth it, just to lose the Slow Reload on the one unit. Getting those accurate Warrior Musketeers firing that much more often is a big deal. If you can get one more volley that kills two more enemy models over the course of the game, you’ve basically paid the 10 point cost right there. 25 points is a pretty big chunk of a 200 point list, but in this case, I’m thinking its worth it.
Thanks for reading! If you’re needing a game and haven’t been able to get one in due to current health restrictions, I highly recommend you print off the concise solitaire rules off the Firelock Games website and play yourself a game! I can’t say its the same as playing a real game with a real opponent, but its still fun. Better than nothing!