Years ago when I re-entered my hobby I bought several scenario books ‘for the near future, when my armies are ready’ that since then have gathered dust on my bookshelves – my armies still aren’t ready btw. This week I finally opened one of them that is a must for the home alone coronawargamer: CS Grant’s Programmed Wargame Scenario’s 1st edition. A 2nd edition was published in 2020. CSG aimed to produce a number of universal for any period scenario’s (20 in total) ‘that enable the solo wargamer to take on a realistic, relatively unknown but responsive enemy’.
What is it?
Step 1: For most of the scenario’s PWS offers a 3×3 random tile system: roll 3D3, select one of the 3 tiles from the left row + one of the middle row and the 3rd row= 27 terrain combinations. The missions have a goal (like ‘capture the crossing point of the river’)
Step 2: the player selects forces. He always can choose between about 5 variants of a Blue and 5 variants of a Red Force. He deploys according to the maps. In the scenario’s the player has two sets of maps, if you play Red, you can deploy according tot the red map, with only a vague indication where the Blue forces are, and vice versa. So you set up in a fog of war. The AI opponent setup depends on a dice roll (for example: ‘1-2 light cavalry on left flank, 3 light cavalry in center, 4-5 light cavalry right flank, 6 light cavalry evenly spread along the front’)
Step 3: the player (if you play solo against the AI) makes a starting plan. PWS promotes written orders. Flank attack, center attack, order of attack etc. For the AI opponent you roll a dice. Author CS Grant wrote different attack/defense scenarios with different programmed orders for Red and Blue side and the AI opponent will execute one of the scenarios. Thus, as human opponent, you don’t know in advance which strategy the AI wil select.
Step 4: Play starts. Sometimes specific events (‘hill captured’) triggers a new AI line of action (‘don’t read these programmed orders until this event’). You can play your own favourite rules. The book doesn’t prescribe rules, it only gives scenario’s and an outline of the forces needed. The force guideline is universal, you can play the scenario as a Napoleonic battle, an encounter between the Macedons and the Persians or as Blitzkrieg attack in 1940. With Blücher, Over the Hills, Flames of War of Mortem & Gloriam. Whatever you want.
Step 5: According to the victory conditions – more soft guidelines – the game results in a victory or defeat or sometimes a draw.
PWS includes suggestions for an optional 100+ special ‘unexpected event list’, good, or bad, more or less like the ‘blunder table’ in Black Powder but more detailed.
Will It Work?
I don’t know yet. I have played only against human players, so far, with my never ever finished and always expanding collection of armies. More fun. But this system seems to be well thought out. The programmed orders are scenario-specific, not general random rolls. So the AI opponent is maybe not a sitting duck yahtzeeing his strategy, but a responsive and logical commander within the limits of the scenario. I have high expectations.
Earlier reviewers were quite positive.
“Overall, this is a very useful book for the solo gamer, if not the best book for solo miniature wargaming that has been written. Even if one does not use the scenarios for solo games, they still provide plenty of inspiration for normal player-vs-player games. However, it is not suited for the player who wants to play competitively, or expects a cut-throat solo challenge, trying ‘to beat the system’. The programmed scenarios and resulting games should rather be seen as exploratory games, that can result in an interesting narrative. They should therefore be approached with the spirit of a gentleman-player.”
In his Belgian club blog Tiny Tin Men he explained, after a such scenario: “Too many units were locked up on the flanks, taking a more passive role as per the initial orders. In a “real game”, these units would have advanced as well. Red could have used his artillery better, now they were mostly useless. But that’s precisely the fun part about these programmed scenarios: you get a plan of action, and you should try to stick to it as closely as possibly. (…) Also, the Programmed Wargames Scenarios book provides an outline of a plan, but as a solo player, you still have to implement it at the lower unit-level detail. So I don’t regard such games as “me against the AI”, or “one AI against another AI”, but more as a learning exercise, a way to try things out, and see what works and doesn’t work with the rules you’re using.”
He is using the book again since Belgium has lockdowned.
Coronawargamer Sparkers also dusted off PWS, “Given the pestilence that stalks the land, most of my wargaming is conducted on a solo basis. Time therefore to dust off CS Grant’s Programmed Wargame Scenarios, which allows you to set up a scenario against a ‘virtual’ opponent.” It gave him “all in all an enjoyable game.”
And Rafael Pardo was very positive in 2007 already: “I used the book to run some memorable wargamers and the notes and narratives of some of them, belonging to 1988 such ‘Hill line defence’,’Pass clearance’, ‘Holding action’,’The weak flank’, ‘Crossing point’ and ‘The alliance’, are still preserved in my dusty archives!All scenarios in that book are from small size armies (i.e. divisional affaires) so I plan to use divisional Napoleon’s Battles for running small engagements set in the times of the Campaign of Leipzig in 1813.
Use as playtest and review book
I once bought it for club use but that never happened. I now will use it to playtest and review several (mostly Napoleonic) systems in the future with this AI book as excellent outline. I think I can play the blue and red AI against themselves and watch wat happens, testing the rules in the situations that evolve and later the same situation with different rules. Or, as intended, as AI opponent ‘until we are all vaccinated’, which is probably long after all my armies are finished… :-(.
Other options: if you want an AI opponent yourself, but no scenario’s, you might btw try Adjutant Introuvable, an AI system promoted by the solo wargamers club Lone Warrior. The AI-set, an interesting set of reaction tables, is only 5 dollar (downloadable PDF).