IF YOU FOLLOW MY BLOG AND TWITTER THIS WEEK you can see that I am on something of a Conflict of Heroes streak. Having played two scenarios from Storms of Steel 3rd Edition and Price of Honour (again using 3rd Edition rules) it was time to pull out the Eastern Front Solo Expansion (Academy Games, 2015). This expansion is designed for use with Awakening the Bear 2nd Edition and (technically) Storms of Steel 1st Edition.
Unlike many other solo wargame systems, The Solo Expansion using a series of cards for the enemy AI. Academy Games describes the Athena AI this way:
A player will be able to play Awakening the Bear against a highly reactive game AI. This AI is based on the most modern Emergent Behavior and Agent Based Logic programming systems. AI units are not individually programmed like in past solo games. Instead, each situation is evaluated and the best course of action using available AI resources and unit assets is implemented. This is a radical and groundbreaking implementation of advanced computer programming by Academy Games for their Conflict of Heroes series. Players will be surprised by the AI strategy and actions that emerge as a result of the player’s own battle tactics. This may force even veteran players to hone and adapt their own playing styles in order to overcome the AI.
The Athena AI cards determine the passage of time in a scenario and then present a series of Priority and Tactical Orders. On the AI turn, the solo player draws a card, moves time if appropriate, then works down the list of orders finding the first one that can be executed and does so. If necessary, another card is drawn for the necessary Spent Check of the AI unit acting. On the players turn, the cards are used for a Spent Check at the end of an Action to see if the unit remains Fresh.
Although very simple in concept, the orders on the Athena AI cards sometime require careful consideration. If one plays this game irregularly then this constant relearning curve may slow play. Personally, I found the examples in the rule book most helpful and after a few slow cards the terminology ‘clicked’ and play proceeded rapidly.
Playing with the Athena AI makes for a very different Conflict of Heroes experience. For my game I played ‘Solo Mission 3 – Hunting Chernov” where I led elements of the German 4th Panzer Division against the Soviet 141st Reinforced Tank Brigade on October 1, 1941. This is a large CoH scenario using four maps. Scattered across the map are 21 wrecks from the Wrecks & Destruction expansion and 16 Rumored Enemy. Those Rumored Enemy (RE) is what makes the solo game so fun; as the solo player you see the RE on the board. They move and maybe even attack. When they do attack (or are attacked) they can be revealed (real piece drawn from the Rumored Enemy Cup).
The “Hunting Chernov” scenario also adds a nice element of personalization. One of the Soviet KV1 tanks represents the Soviet Commander. Not only does is this tank worth more Victory Points – and an auto scenario end condition if destroyed – it also directly changes the AI. Once Chernov is revealed, the scenario directs the player to remove Order Cards 1-12 (of 1-43) and replace them with Order Cards 44-55. The result is a more aggressive Soviet AI!
In my game, the Soviet AI got the best of my forces. It didn’t really help that some of the first RE revealed turned out to be both KV1s and a T-35. The heavier, and now more aggressive, Soviet tanks made short work of the best German tanks, a Panzer III Ausf.E and Panzer 38t. The T-35 was lost but the remaining pair of short-barrel Panzer IV Ausf.E and trio of Panzer II Ausf.F couldn’t carry the fight.
Many people rave about the ‘Bots in the GMT Games COIN series of games. Personally, I find them interesting if not a bit boring. In play they feel too logical. I don’t have this same feeling with the Athena AI. Although one must logically work through an Orders Card, the resultant action feels more naturally emergent rather than simply logical. This creates a very challenging game. That may be the Athena AI’s greatest achievement; creating a logical game system that delivers a dynamic input to the game state.