With my new Death Star board finished up, I decided to put it through its paces. The biggest question is “how” in this new age of social distance gaming. Until some tech improves, Solo is my only option (since I’m wanting to play physically and not use one of the online ports).

Luckily, Fantasy Flight has provided just such a solution: enter the Solo Play Open Alpha ruleset.

This is a free alpha testing rules document put out officially by the design team to play X-wing solo. I’ve never seen them release an “alpha” stage document before as usually those are too rough cut to see any kind of legitimate play but, having seen their alphas before in my testing days, this is a bit more polished than previous work.

That isn’t to say the rules aren’t rough. For the most part they are 100% functional and there aren’t a lot of immediate edge cases. However, I say ‘functional’ as in you can follow the rules and the events will unfold appropriately. That isn’t to say the AI for the ships is actually effective. It is, more often than not, random.

To be true, the system they are building with this is fantastic in its simplicity and ability to work across most (if not all) of their ships. Unfortunately, it needs some tweaking as I found after my first play, the AI or “solo ships” behave erratically and have a high chance of making big tactical errors. While some randomness is necessary to push the illusion of an opponent, this system seems so random that it isn’t worth the trouble.

That would be sad if the system wasn’t salvageable but that is the beauty of an open testing system. FFG is actively looking for feedback. Unfortunately, it’s been over 3 weeks and no word on what they’ve done with the feedback or what changes they might make. That is too long of a delay to sit idle so I started working on some fixes only to find the X-wing community was way ahead. Paul Heaver (of X-wing World Championship fame), recreated an AI chart that was exactly how I was thinking the system should operate.

After testing some more and making some tweaks, the Heaver AI system proved to be a big step in the right direction. I have redone the AI charts in case users want to try it out and replace the existing ones in the rule book.

What I like about Heaver’s change is it takes into account the tactical position of the solo ship’s target (ie. your ships). One of the big AI flaws is the original Alpha did maneuvers based on a combination of random die rolls based solely on where the target was in its arc. It didn’t care if the target was approaching or retreating or any other option. This caused too many variant fly paths for the solo ship to use and most of became ineffective without more information on the target. The system I was working on looked at the target from a range perspective but Heaver’s is better as the target ship’s attitude is going to be more important than range (if you are only looking for one variable).

Range is important and I find Heaver’s system breaks down a little bit for ships outside of range 3 to any target so I would amend that the solo ship’s “Attitude” should always be “blank” when outside of range 3 of it’s Tally (ie. its target ship). I would extend this to include if the ship is also the last one on the board as it should be aggressively trying to stop you and not prolonging a game further.

The Heaver design also works well in it simplifies the system further while making it better. Ships responds better to the game state and stay on targets, getting more shots on you, increasing the difficulty of the game.

FFG’s Solo Play Open Alpha isn’t the only option for solo X-wing play. Heroes of the Aturi Cluster has been out for years and has a devoted following. It is a more complicated system devoted to specific AI charts per ship type and involves a much deeper AI simulation.

Unfortunately, with a deeper AI comes a lot more book keeping and the learning curve is steeper. I played a game of HOTAC (as it is usually referred to) at Gen Con a couple years back and found it very fun but I didn’t have to run the AI, the host performed that task for the most part. Along with the tedium of running the AI, the system requires a lot of upfront commitment to print out the source material.

All of these issues created a barrier and unfortunately, the system never took off for me. With FFG’s system, it is simple enough to tweak on my own and can easily co-op the great campaign structure of the HOTAC system as well. I think this blend will make the best system as the FFG/Heaver AI is easy to execute and the HOTAC campaign system is very thorough and engaging.

I have a quick test report using the FFG/Heaver Solo system that I’ll post up next as it also let me test out my board and put all of this into action. Until then…