Solitaire’s The Only Game In Town

Pre-Play Thoughts:
Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Operation Barbarossa 1941 (Second Edition) has always received high marks from gamers and when the chance came to get it, I got it. However, trying to play the game solo just didn’t work for me. The pool of action points for an activated unit and the staccato rhythm of the back and forth between sides was too disruptive to play both sides effectively. So I traded it. Then I learned of this solo expansion and my interest was renewed. Making a wargame truly play solo? That was too good to be true. So I reacquired a new copy of CoH and waited for the expansion to be released. And waited. And waited. And waited. Though nowhere near so long as many of you.

Components:
Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front – Solo Expansion includes a rulebook, scenario book, a player aid card, solo tracking sheet, one sheet of 1″ counters, and a deck of 55 AI Order cards.

The solo tracking sheet and player aid card are glossy cardstock of the same quality as the action point trackers in the base game. The solo sheet tracks the current VP total as well as the players command action points (CAPs) each round. In fact all the components are up to the same high quality standards of all of Academy’s games. Nothing to complain about there.

The 35 new counters include 19 Rumored Enemy (RE), six reversible cows/civilians, eight No Enemy markers (for when an RE is revealed, these are mixed with real units in a draw cup), a reversible German/Soviet VP marker, and a Mission Track marker.

A rules summary is provided on one side of the player aid card and the other side is a flowchart for processing the AI order. However, the rules are only 12 pages cover to cover so looking things up there when necessary is pretty simple. The scenario book is twice the size at 24 pages and features a two-page spread for each of the 10 missions included. There are four standalone missions (one with instructions on how to play the opposing side), and two campaign groups: the first a four mission affair with the player as the Germans and the second a two-mission series as the Soviets. Each two page spread includes a full page with the map layout, deployment areas, and key areas of note for the mission. The mission page details all the specifications required to play the mission, plus special rules, the mission tracker (with any events that can or will occur), and scoring criteria.

The star of this package is of course the AI order deck. 55 cards for running both the German and Soviet AI in the provided solo missions. The cards, while of very good quality, will need sleeving due the repeated shuffling the game requires. The instructions on the cards are very clear, however resolving them might be a little tricky. But by following the examples in the rulebook, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Don’t overthink it, just read each instruction top to bottom, left to right.

Rules:
The COH Solo rules are not a very complex addition to the COH system, as attested to the essentially 8 pages of rules included. The balance of the 12 page book is filled with detailed examples of solo gameplay to help you learn the system and how to handle the AI instructions. A very well done and well thought out set of rules. However, there are always going to be loopholes and exceptions. For example, one mission has the Rumored Enemy counters prevalent on the board. They are treated as being a real unit until such time as they are revealed (by attempting a fire order, being fired upon, or just being in line of sight of a player unit). However what happens if, based on mission orders, the RE is the unit that captures an enemy control point? This was not spelled out in the rules or mission instructions. (The answer, per inquiry to Uwe Eickert, is that when the capture is to take place, treat the unit as revealed and draw a counter (either real squad or No Enemy) from the draw cup. If it’s real, the capture occurs, if no enemy, then it does not.)

Another question I didn’t think of while playing, but had when making notes for this review, was also concerning the RE counters. When they move, do they use the Hidden movement rules (+3 APS) per move that players do? The counters are simply marked with a “1” base movement, so I was using that, but it seemed if the player is revealed for moving less than cautiously, the AI would too. I’m sure as more players get this system in their hands other rules questions will crop up. But like the ones I’ve noted they should all be simple clarifications.

Overview:
At its core, CoH Solo provides a series of 10 missions you can play against the AI. Eleven if count reversing sides in the first mission as noted in the instructions. Six of the missions are split into two campaigns of four and two missions each. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, the replay value of each mission is quite high and you can vary the difficulty if you like. In addition, with the FFG you can create virtually unlimited missions that work hand in hand with the solo AI.

To play the solo game, you setup the mission per the instructions and map included for each. These are beautifully done and for the most part very clear. One thing I noticed was the the order of battle (OOB) is not always fully spelled out, so don’t plan on getting out the counters needed and putting the game box too far out of reach. Some additional counters may come in via the Mission Track and therefore you’ll need to gather those later on. The mission setup explains any special rules in play, AI priorities as well as the special events that might or will occur as the timeline progresses in the mission. When the time tracker reaches the end of the track, the mission ends immediately: so no lolly gagging around.

Unlike the core two-player game, you no longer activate a unit/group and give them seven action points. You simply pick a unit/group, take an action with it, determine the APs used for that one action, then draw an order card and check the point value at the bottom. If the number is less than or equal to the APs used, that unit or group is “spent” and flipped over. This system alone is an vast improvement for both two-player and regular two-sided solo play and takes CoH from great to extraordinary. The uncertainty introduced by this “chit-pull-like” mechanism adds to then tension, excitement and overall enjoyment of the game. Many have commented here on BGG that they want to incorporate this into their regular games and quite frankly, I would not play without it.

When it’s the AI turn, you simply draw a card from the Order deck. These come in two flavors: action order cards (green header) and command order cards (blue header). For an action order, you first do any instructions at the very top of the card — this is normally to affect the mission timer. Then you start with the first order section and work your way down until you find an order an unspent AI can properly execute according to a tight ruleset. These rules are easy to learn and become second nature and if not, the rule book is small enough that look-ups are not a time-consuming hassle. Once the order is executed, you calculate the APs used, draw the next card and check its number the same as with a human player.

For command order cards, you do essentially the same thing, but these mimic the use of Command Points (CAPs). These actions can be applied to any AI unit or group as directed — both spent and fresh. When complete you don’t check to see if a unit is spent, either. This will keep you on your toes as just because that AI is spent you cannot sneak up on him in short range combat or leave your unit in the open and not expect to possibly be attacked the next AI turn.

Similar to the game, each side alternates until both sides pass. This means even if all the AI units are spent, play still proceeds until an action order card is drawn and thus there are no AI to carry out an order and the AI will pass. But command order cards can keep a round alive. I had one battle where each side was down to no units and I drew an action order. However, instead of being over, the header instruction moved the time tracker which resulted in an event placing two new fresh AI on the board! Before that round ended, one of my reinforcement units also came into play, extending the round even further. The uncertainty is incredible.

Finally, when the round ends, you shuffle the order deck again, refresh your pool of CAPs, restore all the units to their fresh side, draw new action cards (from the base game) for you, and a couple of other small housekeeping steps if applicable and start a new round.

There are no round limits or tracking here. You simply play until the mission track reaches the end.

I’ve only covered a brief overview here, but you can watch my gameplay video which goes into even more and more longwinded detail.

Overall Impressions:
I love this expansion which makes me love this game which makes me love Academy Games, Inc…. Well, I already was pretty fond of Academy Games with Freedom: The Underground Railroad and 1775: Rebellion. However the Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front – Solo Expansion has taken a system that to me was pretty good and only so-so solo and catapulted it to near the top of my depth chart. I still think Combat Commander: Europe beats it overall in terms of a wargame engine. But for a pure solo against an AI experience, this one wins hands down. I said this before in comments, but I think of this, overall, as an Ambush!killer wounder. It already killed D-Day at Omaha Beach for me. Here’s why.

Ambush is a great game that produces a great narrative, but its strength has always been the AI and the uncertainty factor. It’s a decent enough combat system, but not great. But the story playing out, the constant checking for events and interruptions by the enemy introduced a tenseness that was unmatched before in the WW2 context. CoH Solo brings to the table an intelligent AI player and adds that to a very good combat system. You don’t get the narrative, named characters dying clutching pictures of their girls, etc. But when I play the CoH Solo AI, I feel like I’m playing an actual opponent. I don’t know what will happen next. And unlike playing an human, the AI might still attack me if I’m not careful. If I see a fellow player has no CAPs, no cards, and no fresh units, I can be as “risky” as I want toward the end of a round. With this system, you just never know. And that same level of tenseness and (again) uncertainty means I’m going to pull out CoH before Ambush! almost everytime. However, it’s only wounded the John H. Butterfield classic, I’m not ready to pull the plug yet.

As for the other WW2 solo mainstay, D-Day at Omaha Beach, it’s already gone. Traded away. I did like that game and the AI system produced (also by Butterfield – who gets a design credit on CoH Solo). But like other games, it was more player vs. the game instead of against a true AI opponent. You made all your moves, then the AI/Game took its turn and messed you up. It was fun, but it was cumbersome and long. Very long. Once I knew I had a better hex and counter WW2 AI to play against, I knew DDaOB would never hit the table again.

Conclusion
So if you haven’t figured it out by now, this expansion is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. If you own Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Operation Barbarossa 1941 (Second Edition), then you MUST buy Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front – Solo Expansion. If you don’t own CoH and were thinking about it, you better get both now. I’m not sure how many copies of the solo expansion exist, but you don’t want to be waiting for a reprint. Academy has promised to add new missions to their website and I hope we do see many – even via more expansion packs. It’s also my hope that the community finds a way to distribute balanced missions from the Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear – Firefight Generator as well.

Author: klkitchens

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