Red Storm – Solitaire Development

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One of the aspects making the Downtown series great is its intense fog-of-war.  The combination of dummy flights, hidden AAA/SAMs, generic flights, and unconfirmed bombing results add up to a lot of uncertainty for both players in most scenarios, a situation that is both realistic and fun, since neither player knows the full picture.

As cool as the system is, the extensive fog-of-war adds a lot of rules, an issue for some players with limited time, while also making the game less appealing as a solo experience.  To address both issues, early in the development of Red Storm, Gene gave me the task of working in some solo rules.  I examined as many different solo systems I could find, while also reviewing some draft solo rules that Lee Brimmicombe-Wood and Antonio Peña worked on for Downtown but never published formally.  After that research and some tinkering with various options, I settled on a “two tier” system of solo rules for Red Storm.

Limited Solo Rules

I’ve dubbed the first tier of solo rules the “Limited Solitaire Rules.”  For these rules, I removed all the fog-of-war aspects in the game.  So, rules for hidden AAA/SAMs, generic flights, dummy flights, dummy SAMs and such are not in play.  For setup, there are no hidden units.  Everything just goes on the map at start, the solo player resolves pre-game SEAD fires and the Early Warning Phase, and off they go.  From there on, the solo player has to follow a “do what’s best for both sides” approach, seeking to maximize the OOBs generated for the NATO and WP forces.  For situations where choices have to be made, such as some random events, players can choose to “do what’s best” or use random selection.  Overall, this approach provides close to a full Red Storm experience while also requiring use of fewer rules and letting a single player see the scenario from both sides.  An added benefit is that this limited solitaire rule set can be used for almost any of the existing scenarios.  There are only a few that feature a bit of “extra” fog-of-war that wouldn’t be suitable.

Once I went through the rules and sequence of play, it was actually pretty easy to “extract” the fog-of-war mechanics.  Here is a sneak peek:

33.12 Rules Not Used in Limited Solitaire Play

The following rules are not used by either side when playing with Limited Solitaire Play (LSP) rules: Generic Flight Counters [4.11], Dummies [4.12], Hidden AAA [14.3] [14.52] [14.62], Dummy SAMs [15.14], Dummy Radars [15.15], Hidden SAMs [15.11], or SAM Warn Markers [15.12].  Ignore all references to these rules.

 33.13 Sequence of Play Prior to Scenario

  • Weather Phase: No Change.
  • Ground Planning Phase: Do not use Dummy SAMs or Dummy Radars if provided.
  • ISR Phase: This phase is skipped.
  • Ground Deployment Phase: Place all ground units (Army ground units, AAA, and SAMs) on the map for both sides. No units are kept hidden. All AAA and SAMs setup located [15.11].
  • Raid Planning Phase: No Change.
  • SEAD Phase: No Change. Select targets that make the most sense for each side.
  • Early Warning Phase: No Change.
  • Air Deployment Phase: No Generic Flight Markers [4.11] or Dummies [4.12] are used.
  • Radar Phase: All SAM and Radar AAA radars start “On”.

I have played a couple of test games using these “Limited” solo rules, which worked quite well.  More testing needs to be done to work out the kinks, but I’m hopeful this first approach to solo rules will provide players a quick and easy way to get into the game on their own.  My other idea to make this process easier is to somehow highlight the rules cited above in the rulebook, making it easy at a glance to see what rules apply to solo play and which ones don’t.

Start of a scenario in the vassal test module using limited solo rules. No fog-of-war mechanics, so everything just goes on the map and you can fire up the scenario…

The “Limited” solo rules also offer a more streamlined play experience for two players who wish to dive right into the action without the rules overhead added by the fog-of-war rules. Sometimes you just want to drop some iron and launch some missiles.

Full Solo Rules

The second and more challenging to design tier of solo rules is the “Full Solitaire Rules.”  Here, the human player fully controls one side while the other side’s actions are controlled by a set of rules and a “bot” for controlling enemy flights, SAMs, and AAA units.  In addition, there is a an activation mechanism so that the human player will never be exactly sure what he’s up against.

I have played a lot of solo games and have come to favor some approaches over others.  My first goal is to avoid adding any new/special counters to the game for solo play.  Doing so wastes precious countersheet space that is much better used for cool additions like extra airplane types instead of solo-only counters.  My second goal is to design the bots to perform roughly as an experienced real player would do in most situations, but with some randomness thrown in to create uncertainty for the human player.

Random Events

The Random Events table in Red Storm actually gives players a lot of choices when an event comes up.  So, one of my first tasks was to write some basic rules for the bot to make those decisions.  I am trying to keep it simple and follow a “what would a good player do?” approach that will both challenge a human player and help them learn some tips on how to play the game.  For example, here is the choice order for the “Fuel Starvation” event that allows the enemy player to choose among damaged or crippled enemy aircraft to have crash:

Fuel Starvation Event

Selection Priority for AI flights:

1)    Choose Crippled aircraft, if any, in this order.  If no Cripples, choose Damaged in same order.  If more than one in a category, randomly select:

  1. a) Close Escort / Escort
  2. b) CAP
  3. c) Bombing Tasking
  4. d) SEAD Tasking

So here, the bot would work its way down the list to sort through the available human player’s flights to choose, in theory, the most damaging option to the human player, just like a real opponent gleefully would.

What a small “One Raid” NATO strike solo scenario might look like. The Soviet HQs and Missile units are well defended, but NATO doesn’t know which of those SAM Warns are real. The human player also wouldn’t know if those Warsaw Pact CAP flights in the back are old DDR MiG-21s or top of the line Su-27s. He’s going to have to send in his SEAD and Escort flights ahead of the A-7s to find out…

SAM/AAA Bot

The SAM and AAA bot has two components: an activation check and action priorities.  Activation checks are, for the most part, triggered by human side flights coming within a certain range of a possible SAM.  For a “Possible SAM” I’m planning on using the existing SAM Warn counters in the game.  Whether or not a real SAM is generated depends on the number of SAMs already in play as well as the size of the scenario.  For example:

Large Scenario: Roll one die.  1-6 Real SAM.  7+ Dummy SAM.

Modifiers:

– 1     0-5 Real SAMs on map
+1     6-10 Real SAMs on map
+2     11 or more Real SAMs on Map
No roll     15 or more Real SAMs on map.  Auto Dummy.

If it’s a real SAM, players would then roll for the type, with the SAM’s distance from the front line determining the category of SAM (Long-Range, Medium-Range, Short-Range) to be generated.  The scenarios would provide limits for each type of SAM available to the bot side:

WP, Long-Range SAM.  Roll a die.  1-3 SA-12,  4-9 SA-4, 10 Dummy SAM.

      Modifiers:
-2      No SA-12/SA-4 on map
-1     One SA-10/SA-4 on map

     Limits: See scenario.

AAA activation would work similarly, so for a Warsaw Pact bot the AAA type generation might look like this:

WP: 1-4 ZSU-23, 5-8 AAA Concentration, 6-10 AAA Concentration+Fire Can

AAA Concentration strength: 1-5 Light, 6-9 Med, 10 Hvy

Flight Bot

The flight bot will be the most complex and difficult element of the full solitaire system.  However, I have a starting point with some draft solo rules for Downtown that provided some ideas on how to govern the actions of bot flights in a way that makes sense but also includes a bit of randomness so the bot isn’t predictable.

The “generic” flight counters in the game provide the perfect starting point for bot flights.  Just like playing against a real player, you won’t know what’s real and what’s not.  So, all bot flights start as generic flights until either activated as a real flight or determined to be a dummy.

And, like in the Downtown solo rules, to simplify matters, the bot side will only consist of CAP flights trying to intercept the human player’s aircraft that are trying to accomplish whatever goal the scenario lays out (bombing specific targets or a fighter sweep).

To do that I started with an activation mechanic similar to that for SAMs, where the size of the scenario and the number of real flights already generated influence the likelihood of a bot generic flight becoming a real one or not.  Case in point:

Large Scenario: Roll one die: 1-6 Real Flight / 7+ Dummy

Modifiers:
-3     0-3 Real Flights on map
-2     4-5 Real Flights on map
+0     6 or more Real Flights on Map
No roll      8 or more Real Flights on map.  Auto Dummy.

If real, players would then use existing OOB tables to generate the specific aircraft type:

NATO, roll a die.  1-5 Generate QRA Flight (OOB Table A), 6+ Generate CAP Flight (OOB Table B).  Select random unused flight counter of the appropriate suit for the generated aircraft type.

In addition to an activation system, I need to come up with a way to actually make the flights, both generic and real, carry out appropriate actions.  My current working concept is a three-tiered action system that works like a flow chart on a player aid.  At the top level are “Primary” actions that bot flights have to take in certain circumstances, such as if they start movement marked with a status that requires taking specific actions, such as a maneuver, SAM avoid, disordered, or aborted marker.  After a flight deals with whatever primary actions are required, it would move into secondary actions, prime among them trying to engage human player flights in air-to-air combat.  If they meet certain conditions they would roll to see how they try to engage.   For example:

(1-5) Attempt BVR Combat (if no BVR weapons, cannot get into range for BVR combat, or ROE prevent BVR combat with nearest detected enemy flight, go to Attempt Standard Air-to-Air Combat).  Otherwise:

 1) Determine target (nearest detected enemy flight, randomly select ties).
2) Move into position for BVR engagement, move as follows:
2a) Dash Throttle.  Spend MP to remove BVR Avoid if necessary.  Move to target flight altitude band and into max range
longest range BVR weapon. Attempt BVR engagement.
2b) If successful, resolve attack. After attack, or if BVR engagement attempt unsuccessful, then move 1 hex ahead and turn 90 degrees to left (odd) or right (even). If MP still remaining, move straight ahead.

This flowchart depicts a pretty standard Beyond Visual Range (BVR) engagement technique where a flight shoots at max range and then turns to make a return BVR shot less effective, much as you’d see a canny human opponent employ.

If a flight doesn’t engage, then non-engagement actions options kick in, such as this one:

(1-4) Advance/Climb

1) Combat Throttle.
2) Spend MP required to remove Maneuver, BVR, SAM Avoid Markers.
3) Climb one band if able.
4) Move as necessary to get as close as possible to nearest enemy flight.  Turn to keep it in front arc.  Randomly select if more than one enemy flight.

Scenario Design

At this point the full solo system will probably require specially designed scenarios.  However, they will come in several flavors for both sides (close air support, deep strikes, SEAD, fighter sweeps, etc.) with varying portions of the map, or the entire map, in play. The system will basically feel like a random scenario generator since, each time they are played, the bot side’s forces will vary greatly.  For example, I can foresee a solo scenario with the NATO player tasked to get a deep strike raid into East Germany at night to hit critical enemy missile units.  The scenario would specify where the SAM Warns and generic flights setup, but each time it is played the NATO (human) player would encounter a very different experience depending on what SAMs and aircraft types the bot side generates.

With the addition of both “limited” and “full” solitaire rules, my hope is to make Red Storm accessible to solo gamers interested in fighting out the air war over Central Germany in 1987.


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4 thoughts on “Red Storm – Solitaire Development

  1. Great news about the solitiare system, Doug. Are the target locations of the scenarios fixed ? Maybe there could be some (randomized) variants.

    Anyways, can’t wait for the game 🙂

  2. Wow! This is an exciting piece of game news. A WW3 break out in Germany has always been a war gamers’ premise of many possible outcome. Making it solitaire will be a sell out. Any idea how soon can this game be put on sale?

  3. Know it is early, but any thoughts on how portable the solo rules could be to either Downtown or Elusive Victory?