Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Solo play review: No End In Sight

This is a review of No End In Sight, a platoon-level tabletop game for post-WWII conflicts (that may also serve for near-future conflicts) by Nordic Weasel Games. I intend to give an overview of the game and discuss its solo playability.

Rules summary
The game is designed to be played with about one platoon per side, although there are optional rules for playing with less figures, like a squad per side. There are also rules for vehicles, artillery support and aerial support but the focus is clearly on infantry.

Each squad has a leader, and the platoon may have an additional leader too. Game turns involve alternating activation of leaders. A die is rolled to give action points that the leader uses to move soldiers under their command. The same leader may be activated more than once per game turn, but they accumulate stress points. Normally, three stress points are removed each turn but leaders might start accruing permanent stress, that make them less effective.

Troops have three different quality levels (irregular, trained and professional) that are assigned for each squad. These influence their effectiveness when moving, attacking and making morale tests. Small arms, squad automatic weapons, heavy weapons and grenades, as well as body armor are handled in the rules but there are no detailed equipment or weapon stats. Most weapons have unlimited range, except due to intervening cover.

Firing is handled with shock and kill dice, the amounts of which depend on the amount and quality of troops shooting. Shock dice cause units to be "pinned" (i.e. suppressed and unable to act until an action point is spent to "unpin" them), while kill dice cause hits, which may result in casualties or wounds. Cover essentially gives a "save roll" against hits.

Movement for troops is 3" when in cover or out of sight of enemies, or given by the roll of one die, when making risky moves. These short movement ranges, combined with the rules for firing, mean that the game requires a good amount of terrain and cover -- and the author remarks this clearly on the book.

When troops are 6" away or less, they enter "close assault" which is handled as a more vicious firefight, with only kill dice rolled. Figures that somehow get into contact fight hand to hand, with a simple opposed roll.

Each vehicle is handled a a squad, with each crew member requiring action points in order to make the vehicle perform a given action. So, for instance, if the gunner is pinned, the vehicle cannot fire. Besides this, each vehicle may have one or more attributes that give modifiers for some actions. There are rules for combat between vehicles and between infantry and vehicles.

Gameplay review
Prior to writing this, I played a bunch of games using MapTool. I started with very simple scenarios just to learn the rules, e.g. a single squad per side on a small board. I then moved to a 3'x3' board with one platoon per side, and lastly 4'x4' with vehicles.

My first comment is about setting up a good board. I found out that, more than lots of buildings, what seems to work is lots of terrain pieces of varying sizes, and lots of cover. Making a maze of buildings with short corridors between them means that troops will often meet in close assault range, which is a very bloody affair.
Example of what I found to be a bad board design for No End In Sight. Gray areas are buildings or tall walls, sand-textured blocks are cover (barricades, low walls.) The firing corridors are too short so that, most of the time, when troops can see each other they are already in close assault range.
Still on the subject of board setup, in my games a 3'x3' board felt a little cramped for a platoon vs. platoon battle in 28mm -- even with the short movement ranges. The problem is related to the need for lots of terrain and cover, leaving less space for maneuvering.
Example of a map that I used for a few battles. The goal of the blue squads is to occupy and hold the area marked in pink. until the end of a game turn  Blocks with a brown outline are buildings. Dark green areas are wooded terrain. Black contour is impassable, small green "blobs" indicate individual trees and bushes that provide cover.
Vehicles may also suffer in a cluttered battleground, even though tracked vehicles have the option of trying to crash through walls. In scenarios involving vehicles, I have found it even more important to plan how to lay the terrain.

My first few games were a complete mess. I kept forgetting to switch between safe and risky moves and would move 3" regardless of situation. I also kept forgetting to mark stress on the leaders and about the close assault rule. Afterwards, however, I must admit there was very little to look up during the game.
An ambush scenario (on a 4'x4' board) that I used to try vehicle x infantry. The two gray rectangles are light vehicles (HMVs) with a commander, driver and gunner. Dark green areas are woods that may be traversed by infantry.
The activation system is very interesting. From the start, you have to choose between moving at a slower pace or risking more activations in order to reach a tactically useful position first (e.g. a barricade overlooking a street.) After troops start shooting each other, these decisions become even more critical.

There are many tactical decisions for players to make: which leader to activate next, what to do with your action points, whether to suffer permanent stress, how to move the soldiers on a squad and so on. I suppose these might make for a very enjoyable game between two players. On the other hand, they make solo play a little harder.

For instance: two opposing squads are firing at each other from cover. One of them activates and manages to pin two enemies. However, the leader of that squad had activated a couple of times before, in the current game turn. Should he activate again, taking a permanent stress point, and try to move some soldiers for a close assault?

The suggestions for solo gaming given in the book are helpful to solve these situations. The system for leader disposition can be used to decide if they would take the risk in the previous example. Having well-defined tactical objectives helps deciding how a leader should spend their action points when activated. I would also advise using the "random turns" optional rule, to avoid having to choose which enemy leader to activate next.

Another common concern for solo play is bookkeeping. In the case of this game, it is limited to the number of permanent stress points for each leader, and possibly markers for pinned and wounded figures, as well as exhausted leaders. Roster sheets for squads and vehicles are also provided with the book and might be useful for head-to-head and solo play.

No End In Sight is a platoon-level tabletop game that offers many tactical decisions for the players. In my opinion, its main feature is the activation/stress system, which motivates many of those decisions. Some players may be put off by the lack of fine detail for weapons, equipment and vehicles. I think that they serve to emphasize the decision making during the game (as opposed to the force-building aspect.)

From a solo player's perspective, the advice and optional rules given in the book almost allow one to play against a virtual enemy. I would add a set of "behaviors" to give more autonomy for the enemy -- for instance, making a list of priorities for spending action points in a given scenario -- but that goes beyond the rule book.

One thing I did not test but seems very interesting for solo play is the campaign section of No End In Sight. It includes several ideas about following a single platoon through several linked games, and how their performance affects a larger military operation. These are not limited to rules for replacing and upgrading soldiers; they include systems for controlling territory and gaining support from the local population. I have the impression that the campaign system might be easily adapted for other rules too.


Ivan Sorensen said...

Glad you enjoyed the game. You are very correct that the campaign rules are pretty agnostic. You could stick them on another system and not really have a problem at all.

Ricardo Nakamura said...

Thanks for the comment! I really have to try the campaign...

Dale said...

Great review! I really like the section on emphasizing the importance of a good battle board. Have you ever tried the rules platoon forward? They seem really geared toward solo players.

Ricardo Nakamura said...

Hi Dale, thanks for the comment! I have read good things about Platoon Forward but I still have to try them.