Friday, November 11, 2016

A Relatively Simple System for Relatively Complex Solo AI

While playtesting my Invasion:UFO (working title, and yes I know about the British TV series) rules, a comment from  a playtester got me thinking -- could my simple AI with semi-random movement be adapted to actually consider Objectives like a human would?  After a bit of thought I came up with a relatively simple way based on the pathfinding that units do in computer games.  It still leaves a lot to the player, of course, but it does achieve the goal of making the AI appear as if it is considering objectives.

I'm putting this out here for others to use if they would like while playtesting continues.  No frills here - the is the rough draft of the rules.

Following the rules is a playtest in action.


A Relatively Simple System for Relatively Complex Solo AI

ARSSRCSAI -- not a very good acronym!

Right now this is aimed at land operations as they usually have one thing in common -- objectives to take.  This is usually less so with aerial, space, navy, etc. although I think it would be interesting to try it with the Aeronef games being kicked around on other threads.

I've tested this half a dozen times now and I think it works, but I worry that my own biases of knowing how it is supposed to work might be influencing it, so...opening it up.  This grew out of skirmish gaming for my Invasion:UFO project but it also worked beautifully with a Victorian Sci-fi game that I ran.  Anyway...the rules!

Components required:
2 six-sided dice
Objective markers - I'm using slips of paper for now - marked
  1 - marked with 30
  2 - marked with 20
  3 - marked with 30
 Enemy force markers aka "blips" or "blinds"
    So far, I've only tested this with 3 markers.  But it should work ok with more -- and including "dummy" markers would make the game more interesting.
    How you divide the forces is really up to you -- but try dividing them into a primary and secondary group at least and maybe a tertiary.  Or the tertiary could be the dummy blind. 
        For skirmish gaming I had 2 groups of 2 figures and 1 group of 3. 
        For the VSF game I had 2 squads with 1 marker, the commander and a command squad with another, and a skirmish cavalry group with a third.
Optional:  Stance cards -- stolen temporarily from Invasion - UFO. 
    NOTE: This is _entirely optional_ but it does give the enemy a little more random movement while _tending_ to move directly toward the objectives.  But if you like, skip this and just move the enemy toward the objective when you get to that part.
    Decide what the enemy commander's temperament is or just roll d6
        1,2: Aggressive
        3,4: Confrontational (this will be renamed - it's really "normal")
        5,6: Cautious

3 foot by 3 foot game board -- I think it will work for larger areas but haven't tested it.  What's important is that you can divide it into roughly equal "squares" and having squares of 1 foot on a side is convenient.  For the AI, the board is divided into 9 numbered squares but the numbering is different for setup and objectives.

For Setup the board is numbered:
        1    2    3
        4    5    6
        X    X    X
    (where X is the human deployment zone -- no enemy units will be placed there)

For objectives the board is numbered:
        X    X    X
        1    2    3
        4    5    6
    (where X is the AI deployment zone -- no objectives will be placed there)

    Up for discussion but what I do: 
    1.  Pick the side for your forces to come in on.  Place your forces - either randomly as per the AI below or however you like.

    2.    Place the AI units using the Setup numbering. 
    3.  Place the AI objectives.  You will place one 30, one 20, and one 10 marker.  Roll a d6 and place the marker in the square indicated -- place it in cover, on top of hills, in buildings -- this is a case where the more terrain the better, probably.  If you roll the same square -- well, this is a case that needs testing.  I think it works best to just roll again so that there is only one onjectice per square but I could be wrong.
    4.  Finally, roll the Enemy Mission.  This is to determine what happens when the AI hits an objective.  So far I just have:
        1-3: Take and Hold.  The enemy will stop when it achieves an objective
        4-6: Patrol.  The enemy will continue to move when it hits an objective.  I'm not sure how well this would work, actually.  Each blip would need to track which objective it had already hit, which would be messy.  Alternately maybe each objective would simply be removed instead of reduced by 10?  More thought needed here.
    The enemy remains as blips until the player's units identify the blip.  I've just been using LOS but it depends on what kind of game you are playing.  I think it would be very interesting to play a naval surface fleet versus an AI submarine fleet, for instance, and use sensor rules to determine when the blip converts to models. 
    Converting - the provess of exchanging blips to models.  For my skirmish game I don't place the models right on the blip when it converts; I roll an offset with a d6 and a direction die just to add more uncertainty.
        Movement rate prior  to converting is abstracted.  I use 6" for my blips.  They ignore terrain and can end up on impassable terrain since I then roll an offset when I convert them (see above)
        Here's the heart of it!
        1.  Starting from left to right, select a blip.
        2.  Measure the distance to the 30 objective. 
        3.  Subtract the distance from 30 to get a score.
                    If the 30 blip is 24" away the score is 6.
                    If the 30 blip is 31" away the score is -1.
                    If the 30 blip is 9" away the score is 21.
        4.  Repeat step 2 and 3 for the 20 objective and the 10 objective.
        5.    From this you should have 1 high score -- if a score is tied the higher numbered objective wins
        6.  Take the stance card and place it against the blip.  Aim the "This side toward enemy" arrow at the winning objective.
        7.  Roll 2d6 and move the blip in accordance with the roll  (or move it toward the objective if not using the stance cards)
        8.  IF THE BLIP CONTACTS AN OBJECTIVE (or I usually give a little lee-way like within 1" or 2"):
            A) The objective is immediately demoted to the next lower level.  A 30 objective becomes a 20.  A 20 becomes a 10.  A 10 objective has been achieved and is removed from the board.
                a) the blip contacting the objective makes no further movement this game.


In this example, I did not use the Stance cards for clarity.  So the blips always move in a straight line toward the highest scoring objectives.  I used Battle Chronicler for the maps -- it's my first time using it but I think it will work pretty well for future examples.  I'm really grateful to the author for providing his work for free.

In this example, I am resolving the objective calculations from left to right (ie A then B then C).

I used random deployment in the top 3 squares.  A and B happened to end up in the same quadrant.
Objective 30 is the biggest draw on the board.  All 3 blips start moving toward it.

Nothing's changed in this relatively simple example, so all blips continue towards the Primary Objective (30).  Notice though that C is close to Objective 20.

Objective achieved!  A makes the first move and moves onto Objective 30.  Objective 30 now becomes a "20" objective.  B moves next.  Both objective 20s are a draw, but the former Objective 30 is stronger since it is closer.  B moves onto the farm house and further reduces the objective value to 10.   Finally, C resolves its move.  There are two "10" objectives quite a distance away, so C changes its path and heads toward Objective 20, the secondary objective.

Both A and B are on an objective and this is a "Take and Hold" mission.  They will no longer move (unless forced off the objective - which would up the objective by 10 - need to add that in the rules above).  C takes the hill and that ends the game as far as the AI is concerned.

Of course, this is a simple example but even this simple example has a neat flow to it that goes beyond just using semi-random movement.

Please let me know in the comments if you try this out!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Update with photos!

Yes, I actually managed to create some terrain today for Too Fat Lardies' Sharp Practice Deployment Point Contest (whew)!

Here is my accompanying letter with the photos:

Most esteemed gentlemen (and Rich),
I realize that I may technically be too late as I am submitting from across the pond where there is 1 hour and 15 minutes until July 1.  But no matter -- it was worthwhile getting these done.  And I would have had it done sooner if not for those weedy coves at
You see, my plan for this vignette was to use only items which I had built myself -- including, if needed, building models in a 3d program and having them 3d printed.  The ammunition boxes and barrels were done by this method and they arrived at my home today -- in fact only 6 hours ago -- rather than on June 27 as the aforementioned weedy coves had promised.  Alas, the Martini-Henry rifles which I created seemed a bit anemic when placed in the vignette and I fell back to using some spare Wargames Factory bits.  (I will have another go at the rifles -- it's not uncommon to have to print a couple times to get the dimensions exactly right, especially for miniature items)

I plan on using these for my own Imagi-Nations colonial gaming and Victorian Science Fiction gaming.  Without further ado, let me present the deployment points of Victoria's Own Barsoomian Rifles, featuring ammunition boxes based on images from Ian Knight's website, the ubiquitous Martini-Henry rifle and a water barrel for those dry nights on Mars or wherever on Earth they are called to serve.
Just for interest I am also including a picture  of the 3d printed ammo box fresh out of the box at 4pm this afternoon.
Enjoy and thank you so  much for running this contest and for producing Sharp Practice!

Small update - I found my original sketch.  So now this post has the full path from concept to design to print to finished product!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Combat mission and Sharpe's Practice

A change of plans

Best-laid plans and so forth -- haven't done much on the miniatures side.  That's because I received Sharpe's Practice 2 and have been working on the chips for the game.  Chips which I promptly cocked up and turned what I thought would be a 1 hour task into going-on-8 hours.  Ridiculous, but they are nearly done.

Combat Mission

My poor old computer won't play modern games, so I've been playing a classic: Combat Mission.  It's now available on Good Old Games and I highly recommend it.  Do the graphics suck by today's standard? Sure.  But it's still the game that comes closest for me of the feel of playing a miniatures game on the computer.  That it still holds my interest nearly 10 years on is testament to that.

I've decided to try and play-through as many scenarios from each side as I can and keep notes as I go.   I'm trying for a Major Victory from each side.   In the past I often couldn't remember which scenarios I'd played and so I suspect I've skipped some while playing others over and over.  For fun, I've kept some notes.  Here's the first two scenarios I've "beaten" -- played enough that I've moved on.  Needless to say there are some spoilers here:

Aachen - Small - Oct 1944

Allies - I put both armored vehicles in the middle.  Then split a squad on each street to act as scouts.  Even knowing I was walking into an ambush situation, I still managed to lose both vehicles before the end -- the Sherman died without firing a shot.  The second playthrough I played so conservatively that I had to rush a bit at the end, but I kept both armored vehicles alive for the Major Victory.  I even managed to get the Flamethrower team into action -- that was fun since they are so fragile they usually die quickly.

Axis - Stepping through the entire 14 turns without giving a single order gave me a Draw.  Shouldn't be too tough to convert this to a win.  Notable event though - the tanks actually maneuvered with some intelligence.  And even though my AT gun put a round through the Sherman, it kept coming (it actually destroyed the AT gun in the same second as it had its hull penetrated).

Playing to win, I maneuvered aggressively and kept the Americans from penetrating past city center.  It was fun setting up trap after trap and the shot of the match went to the Panzerschreck team who had a 10% chance to hit the SP gun and evidently rolled a 10 to score the brew up!

Chambois - Medium

Excellent played as the Allies.  Will teach you to use terrain - fast!  I lost twice before figuring out the lay of the land.  Then it was pretty easy but even one German tank can ruin your day.

As the Axis, play that you can only exit the map from the road in the middle of the map.   (The one in front of the wooded area).  This forces you to use overwatch and protect the fragile trucks.  Even with that it was a cakewalk as the AI can't put up much of an offense, but at least I felt like it was worth my time playing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Update sans photos

I've had a couple of photo-heavy updates that have been waiting for me to get the photos off the camera.  And I realized if I kept waiting then I was never going to get anything posted.  So I decided to just do an update and then post pictures as I'm able to.  The problem is that with the new baby, I can either work on projects or blog about them and I've been choosing to work on them.  But I'm going to try to update at least once a month and try to keep to a Wednesday schedule.

To keep myself accountable, I've added that to a task on my Google calendar.

Speaking of Accountability 

All wargamers have a lead mountain.  As I believe Neil of Meeples and Miniatures said, it's easier to buy new figures and be enthused by a new project than it is to finish an old one.

I still have Orcs and goblins unpainted from my very first foray into miniatures gaming in 1988.  Will they ever get painted?  I hope so.  But right now fantasy isn't high on my list.  But at least they are nice old Ral Partha figures instead of Games Workshop!

To keep myself accountable, though, and to make progress against my goal of getting things done, I've decided to create a Trello board.  A Trello board is a kanban board which in this case means its a glorified bulletin board with electronic sticky notes.  It's a project organizer, so in itself that doesn't make me any more accountable.

Opening it up so that you can see it does.  :-)  Here's the link:  Colony13 Kanban Board.

You can even vote on what I get done next.  No promises to follow the voting, but you never know. :-)

Project Update

To give a little context, here are the projects I am working on:
  • Create bocage terrain for Chain of Command (completed just before board started but I want credit for it here.  I have pictures and a tutorial coming for this - they turned out great!)
  • Paint miniatures from the Battlestar Galactica board game.  It occurred to me that these are the perfect size for also playing 5150:Fighter Command (see here) and that it would be more fun to play the boardgame with painted miniatures anyway.  And I will be using my custom 3d-printed flight stands with them.  Status: Vipers and Heavy Raiders are 80% complete.  Colonial ships about 20% complete.
  • Tripods.  I loved the Tripods series of books -- I always called them the White Mountain series but whatever.  The tripods were the stars of the show.  And Alien Dungeon's tripods for All Quiet on the Martian Front fit what I had in my imagination perfectly.  I received the starter set as a birthday present last year and got the tripods built...then decided I really needed to deck them out in LEDs.  And add some 3d-printed parts.   Never mind that I had no idea how to do the LEDs.   So this project has dragged on...but it's going to be completed this year.  As of two weeks ago, the build is completed, the basic paint job on the 3 tripods is done, the LEDs are in hand and so are the 3d printed parts.   I'm hoping to have this completed in the next 4 weeks - or at least get work-in-progress shots up here
  • Victorian Sci-Fi.  My Red Coats on a Red Planet campaign is starting up again.  I hadn't called it that before but here are the previous posts.  I had started this using Too Fat Lardies' Platoon Forward ruleset and am re-invigorated by their new Sharp Practice 2 ruleset to replace 2-Hour Wargames Colonial Adventures.  Painting wise this means finishing up my British colonial platoon - these are primed and ready to be painted using the excellent Perry miniatures.  And a few heroes from Warlord Games and a certain Zulu movie.
  • Following that I have my New Anglian Confederation 15mm platoon and armored platoon from Ground Zero Games -- for Tomorrow's War and the upcoming Chain of Command: Fighting Season. These are painted to base color and just need inking and weathering -- and another try at a airbrush camoflage now that I have my airbrush back in working order.  Mind you, I've never yet achieved a satisfactory result with an airbrush and if this one doesn't work -- you might want to watch eBay.
  • Last but not least I have the Hanging Tree, the Floating Castle (both previously blogged though I've made a lot more progress since then) and Gamecraft Miniatures excellent 15mm MDF middle east buildings (again for TW and COC:FS)
And that's all for tonight.  Take a look at the board, feel free to vote or leave comments and I will (hopefully) be back in a week with some photos!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Playtesting my own 15mm solitatire sci-fi skirmish game

Things have been quiet on the blog simply because I've been too busy gaming!  I've been frantically playtesting my own rules for an X-Com-like solitaire game.  Based on Earth in the 1950s, the game features a shared dice pool mechanic for moving and firing that neatly replicates the feel of "action points" without any bookkeeping.  The aliens are driven by a strategic and tactical AI that sometimes has surprised me with really clever moves.  And finally campaign rules drive both the alien encounters and the advancement of human technology and human troop quality (as they get better at hunting the aliens).

I think it's a good sign that I've enjoyed every game that I've played-- even if no one else likes it I'm having fun! I'll be posting some playtests shortly and may even put together a demo video to highlight how the game works.  And eventually, I will probably follow Matakashi's lead and post most of the rules for free online, then offer a low-cost pdf for convenience.