Publisher: Lock ‘n Load Publishing
Game Designer: Sean Druelinger, David Heath
Artist: Blackwell Hird
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 120-240 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $69.99
LnL TACTICAL FOR ONE
The LnL Tactical system is a proven, solid system, replete with enough depth and chrome to keep tactical gamers happy and busy for quite some time. As with most any wargame, these can be played solitaire, with a gamer taking both sides, but nothing compares with real head-to-head competition. That is, until now.
Lock ‘n Load Publishing has revamped their entire catalog, beefing up with a host of new titles, and consolidating their Tactical series into single box solutions. One of the most anticipated of these is the release of the dedicated LnL Tactical Solo module, a complete and reliable solitaire AI system. Gamers no longer have to fret when game night plans go FUBAR, they can now saddle up and take action in any theater they want, against a rather potent AI opponent.
SOLID TACTICAL PLAY
The LnL Tactical Solo module (LnLS) is the product of a licensing agreement between Lock ‘n Load Publishing and Academy Games. It has been reconfigured from the Conflict of Heroes Solitaire system, and is intended for use with all LnL Tactical games. The good news is, it works surprisingly well. I say surprisingly because the East Front Solo System (EFS) was specifically built for Conflict of Heroes – Awakening the Bear, while this is a port of that module into a different tactical system. Seeing it translate this well across systems really proves the versatility and legitimacy of the original design from Academy Games, and shows that it can be used to greatly enhance similar systems.
As you might expect, it’s doesn’t work 100% smoothly like with CoH. There are situations where minor input is required of the gamer, because unlike EFS, it’s not fully automated. While nearly all tasks are determined for the AI, there are a few situations where the player will need to choose a better course of action for the AI. With that aside, LnLS does provides as compelling and challenging an AI opponent, and it’s very fun, making it an important addition to your library.
If you’re familiar with Academy’s East Front Solo System, you already know how good it is. If not, you can read my review to get a deeper overview. Most of what is said of the AI’s abilities there also applies here, save for the differences in how the systems work, and some small rough patches due to the fact that not every action is fully administrated. What doesn’t change at all is a merciless AI that is great at testing your ability to lead troops in battle, just as if you were playing against a human opponent.
Component wise, the expansion comes with multiple large cardstock foldout flowcharts, reference cards, a deck of AI cards and a very well laid out manual. The manual is much more verbose than the EFS rules from Academy, clocking in at 34 pages. Of that, the rules are covered in great detail to page 13, and the rest presents an excellent walkthrough tutorial of the system. This will be a great help in getting gamers up and running with LnLS, so you can start cranking through all of your favorite missions in the series.
The AI opponent in LnLS is known as the Artificial Enemy Opponent (AEO), and while LnLS doesn’t strictly manage every step like EFS, the AEO still reacts nearly as well to the myriad situations that arise in LnLT. AI actions are handled via a card and flowchart system, and from time to time there is some player input required for some decisions.
The reason for this is simple, and quite obvious when you think about it. Unlike EFS, LnLS is not a purpose-built, closed eco-system, so a little effort here should be expected because not every eventuality can be covered directly. Given the breadth of situations available in the hundreds of existing scenarios and era’s, the decision to keep things generalized was really the only solution. Overall, it’s an easy system to use, especially if you are an experienced LnLT player, and you get extra bonus points if you’ve used the EFS.
The first difference to note, is that there are no pre-canned mission setups, as we’ve grown accustomed to from the EFS. Instead, unit setup comes down to using your own tactical sense, along with the mission guidelines. Having no stringent setup gives you a wide latitude in creating your own tactical problems to work through. This freedom lets you tailor the game experience to your choosing, make it easier, or harder, whatever you’re in the mood for. I think this freedom is a good thing, and actually more of a positive than the strict control of the EFS. So while it may be seen as a slight negative, in requiring more decision making from the player, in the end it’s a positive because you have total control. Aside from the setup, most of the decisions necessary for the AEO are simple, common sense items, and should always be made from the point of view of the AI side. Act as if they were your units, just as an in any other solitaire played wargame.
Play works just as in the standard game, with one side taking an impulse and activating unit(s), and then the other following suit. Once the mission is set, you determine if the AEO is in either an offensive or defensive posture. The 55-card order deck is then constructed into an appropriate offensive or defensive one based on this, and is what drives the AEO’s reactions. There are 12 defensive, and 12 offensive posture cards, with the rest being used in both settings. The cards also serve the dual-purpose of resolving die rolls, if you choose not to roll the dice for the AEO. To assist in making the cards even easier to read, Lock ‘n Load Publishing has made these cards tarot card size, something I really like. Please note, the copy of the game I received was a preview copy, so the cards aren’t as nice looking as the production version will be.
AEO Orders are broken into two sections, Priority and Secondary, and work exactly as they do in EFS. The AI actions are made in hierarchical order based on range between units first. Early in most missions, before the ranges close, the AEO works to either harass or move to engage with the player, or possibly even pass.
Harassment comes in the form of mortar and/or artillery fire, and you’ll see that more often when the AEO is in defensive posture than attack. This keeps you honest, as you can’t do anything stupid, thinking your troops are immune against an unthinking AI. The AEO is still as merciless, aggressive and at times cunning as in EFS. It will make you pay for your mistakes.
AEO movement, fire and counteractions are all handled through a mix of order cards, stance table and one of the many behavioral flowcharts the game comes with. The need for multiple, dual-sided flowcharts is in order to deal with the various actions the AEO may take, depending on posture. Defensive movement is fairly simplistic, while moving in an offensive posture is more involved. If the action from the flowchart doesn’t make good tactical sense, simply ignore it and choose a more viable option.
Movement stances cover everything from infantry, to vehicles, and aircraft. Don’t expect these units to react like a simple and dumb recruit, they won’t just walk into the waiting maws of your support weapons. The AEO will use terrain to its advantage by low crawling, and using stealth or assault movement, just as a human player would. Fire combat and close assault both work in similar fashion, much to your chagrin, as the AEO lights you up repeatedly.
The AEO will actively work at attaining mission objectives, while stopping you from reaching yours. It will frustrate you, right when you think you have it outsmarted, and it is relentless at this. As I said earlier, in the instances where the decision tree doesn’t make good tactical sense to the situation, a judicious application of common sense puts things right back on track.
When this happened, I used the charts as more of a robust guide, than something to be adhered to strictly. For the majority of the game play however, the LnL Tactical Solo module is solid. It works surprisingly well given the massive number of the eventualities it covers between the existing 400 plus missions, to those created with the Battle Generator. LnLS is definitely worth having, and will make for many fun and challenging solitaire missions for years to come!
When LnL CEO David Heath first played around with the East Front Solo System, he quickly realized its potential for use with the LnL Tactical series. After digging through LnL solo, I heartily agree that this was a good call. The successful Academy system is a fantastic base to work from, and you can see that it has been further developed to work in concert with LnLT.
Unlike EFS, which is purpose-built for Conflict of Heroes, LnL’s solo system is intended to work with their extensive scenario catalog, and any missions created with the Battle Generator. That’s quite a massive feat when you think about it. An open-ended system cannot fit every situation exactly, so some small decision making must be expected on the player’s part to mitigate this. The majority of the time, the cards and charts for the AEO decision process do the job really well, fitting nearly all situations smoothly. Where they don’t, simply treat them in a spirit of the law way, rather than the letter.
The small efforts required by the gamer to utilize the AEO are a slight trade-off when getting a challenging AI, and a solid system that plays across multiple era’s, covering hundreds of missions, in return. It’s a testament to the strength and versatility of the original EFS design, and the further development to adjust it and make it work successfully with a completely different system by the folks at LnL.
If you’re a fan of the LnL Tactical series, and are looking for a new challenge, LnL solo should definitely be a part of your library. You can be confident that this tool will provide you with a quality solitaire experience. For those interested in picking this up, I’d recommend taking advantage of the pre-order price, while it’s still in effect!
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Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.