This week I played my first round of solitaire play and on the urging of several members, I now offer you a short battle report with thoughts of my experiences of playing using the recommended solo system.
I mainly play solitaire, but until now I had rather awkwardly attempted to play both sides as usual. This presented various problems, the main being that I easily became confused and I was quitting in mid-session because I no longer knew what I was doing!
To summarize the recommended system, one of the sides is played as normal, with a full hand. On the opposition’s turn, I draw two fresh cards, choose what would be the best for them, then return both cards to the back of the pile. This means there is still some logic on their side, but the choice is much easier. I was a little concerned that because the opposition only had a choice of two cards each time, there may be mismatch. The team being played properly can choose from four, five, six or even more cards depending on the scenario, so wouldn’t they have an advantage?
For my first scenario using this system I chose Wake Island, the second scenario from the Pacific Expansion. It worked well for a number of reasons- the layout is very simple, there are almost no fiddly, complicated special units or unusual terrain tiles, and most importantly, because I have had the expansion for over a year and had never played it until this point. Wake Island is an interesting scenario. If you are accustomed to playing Normandy scenarios, all of the beaches are being guarded by the Axis (Germans) and being assaulted by the Allies (usually Americans). This time, the beach is being attacked by the Japanese in great number, and being defended by a very small but well positioned group of Americans, so there is a little bit of role reversal.
I was very interested in the Japanese infantry because of their in-built character. They don’t retreat easily because they ignore first flags by default, and they have a very interesting special attack- if they are still fully staffed they battle with an extra die at close quarters. I wanted to try these out, so I decided to play with the Japanese this time. I decided it would be easiest if I played with the board set so that I had the Japanese just in front of me, and the Americans were yonder, as shown in the booklet. I note this because when I played the rematch, I turned the board around so that I had the Americans directly in front of me and the Japanese at the other side. This made it much more easily to manage everything. As I was only playing with one side, I arranged my five Japanese cards on the back row just behind the medals. The American cards didn’t need holding, I was simply drawing them from the pile each time. As I drew them, I deliberately drew and help them upside-down. This really helped me in being able to play quite quickly. I had previously had them sitting in racks and got confused because I was flipping the sides in my mind. I play late at night, so my brain couldn’t always work it out easily, as silly as that may sound.
The Americans start this particular scenario and it was fairly easy to choose their first move- I used their artillery to take two Japanese infantrymen down. My Japanese side had a nice choice of cards, I elected to move three groups out of the sea on the left flank to approach the field bunker that is a little isolated from the others. As play continued, my American turn seemed to speed up and the game was played through in about twenty minutes- much faster than I was playing when I was trying to do both sides at once.
The Americans were cutting down the Japanese from their strong bases. In fact, there was very little American movement until the latter stages. Their single artillery unit is very nicely placed for them because it straddles the right and central sections, and is close enough from the onset that it can cause real damage. My Japanese infantry worked hard to take out the central field bunker. It took them a few goes because the Americans used a well-timed Medics and Mechanics card and recharged to full strength. The Japanese were impeded by the wire that spans the board. I removed the wire with one of the groups and then let the others through in a drip-feed. In hindsight, it might have been better to open several holes in the wire at roughly the same time and then storm the middle field bunker with several units on the subsequent turn. The Americans moved from the airfield at one point to get into the nearby field bunker, but this was ultimately costly for them- one of the still fully-staffed Japanese groups made use of its added die at close range and caused big damage, they later followed it up with a barrage card to finish the American unit off. To some extent, the Japanese are slowed by starting in the sea, but this is not really to the advantage of the Americans because they’re out of reach there. I don’t think the American’s cause would be helped by them moving down the beach to intercept the Japanese because they too would get stuck in their own wire and would be firing at a disadvantage. Strength in number, as you may have guessed, ultimately prevailed, and my Japanese won 6-2.
Wake Island is very tight for the Americans because they begin with such a comparatively small number of units. Every single unit truly counts. They are also quite widely fanned out, so their chances of causing damage by strength in numbers are few and far between. If the Japanese can break through the wire and take one unit from one of the three sections, then I think it is difficult for the Americans to win the game. They must hold their position and cause as much damage as they can. The special cards can play a big part in this- barrage, air power and firefight can be particularly nasty! The Japanese are also awarded a medal by gaining the airfield, this too is easy for them if they can take that side because the Americans will not be able to get close with other units in sufficient number.
The solo system worked really well for me, especially for this scenario. It made gameplay speedy and exciting, there was much less time spent on card management and very little confusion.
I actually played the same scenario again on the same day, switching sides. It was another convincing Japanese win, and my Americans lost out again. Knowing the outcome of the first game, I tried a little bit of a different strategy in the second game, I attempted to move the Americans together while the Japanese were still slowly moving up the beach. They could fire as a group now, but one of the groups was now vulnerable and not sheltered by the field bunker. The Americans did last a little longer and caused more problems for the Japanese in the second game, and the Japanese also played much more defensively- if a unit was reduced to just one infantryman, I got him out of harm’s way by going back towards the sea where he would be out of range, including from the artillery.
In summary, I have renewed enthusiasm for the game as a whole, but of course to solo play. I recommend at least trying the solo system, I think you might like it too…