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Flying Solo (FFG X-Wing Solo Play article up)

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To those talking about FFG buying/licencing/copying HotAC, they probably can't as WizKids already bought HotAC for Star Trek Attack Wings co-op campaign system

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2 minutes ago, Surak said:

To those talking about FFG buying/licencing/copying HotAC, they probably can't as WizKids already bought HotAC for Star Trek Attack Wings co-op campaign system

Really? Nice.

You snooze, you lose, I guess.

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I wish they did this a long time ago. I used to buy stuff for the game but stopped due to not having anyone that wanted to play.

Got rid of my collection after reading the Aftermath novels and watching The Last Jedi killed my love of Star Wars.

Solo rules at the start would have caused me to spend a small fortune on the game. Now it makes me mildly interested in trying but not enough to make me want to spend money on Star Wars products. 

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9 hours ago, kris40k said:

Really? Nice.

You snooze, you lose, I guess.

Yeh, it's called Star Trek Alliance and they got Josh (the guy who created HotAC) to design it. Unfortunately, as with most things Attack Wing, it seems to be in a cycle of delay after delay.

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5 hours ago, TechnoGolem said:

I wish they did this a long time ago. I used to buy stuff for the game but stopped due to not having anyone that wanted to play.

Got rid of my collection after reading the Aftermath novels and watching The Last Jedi killed my love of Star Wars.

Solo rules at the start would have caused me to spend a small fortune on the game. Now it makes me mildly interested in trying but not enough to make me want to spend money on Star Wars products. 

Why are you here?

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Posted (edited)

The HotAC system was made available to FFG, but they wanted full ownership of the system and all derivatives of it. I'm not aware what they offered Josh in return, but he already had plans to use it for other games he was developing so said no.

As well as the Trek game, Josh has run a kickstarter for his own game. Possibly more than one game, I might have missed stuff.

For Armada, several people have been developing AI systems which could be used for either of the official campaigns, but none are as good as the HotAC system.

Edited by Gilarius
grammar

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It's great to see FFG is taking a step into this direction. The approach is quite underwhelming though. The solo system they propose is quite primitive, predictable and not really streamlined. It has several very significant flaws:

  1. "During the Planning Phase, solo ships are not assigned dials". FFG's system has the AI selecting a target right before activation. What if the target ship has not yet moved (will miss the target) or if it has already moved (easy target)? This creates a very predictable AI. You will learn to "game" this AI in no time.
  2. One essential aspect of X-Wing is not knowing which maneuver your opponent will select, FGG's solo system robs the game from this.
  3. The double dice rolling (one green + one red) makes it quite cumbersome for the level of complexity. More complex AIs (more on this later) have about the same level of tables with much richer AI behavior.
  4. There is no system for avoiding obstacles, overlapping, out of bounds, etc.
  5. There is no system for the AI ships to utilize pilot abilities, upgrades, etc.

Flaws #1 and #2 will make this AI very predictable after a few games. It will all become pretty stale after a few games. Flaws 3, 4 and 5 could be corrected with future versions of this system and for now could be left alone. But I do urge FFG to look into improving 1 and 2 and later consider 3,4 and 5. The game gets very stale if playing against solo generic ships.

Why do I mention this? Because I have spent dozens of hours experimenting with HotAC, before concluding that even this great system had its limitations. I then spent perhaps hundreds of hours designing the Tactical Droid AI system for 1ed:

https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/161995/tactical-droid-i-x-wing

The Tactical Droid AI overcomes the above flaws by:

  1. The AI will pick & track a target during the planning phase, and not while player ships are activating.
  2. The AI selects a maneuver and remains hidden from the human player, just like in a real game. The AI ship maneuvers will then be revealed when the AI ship activates, just like in a real game.
  3. While there is comparable amount of dice rolling and look-up tables, this same overhead is used to drive an AI engine that is more complex and capable. One you overcome the small learning curve to use the system, the Tactical Droid AI actually plays faster than the human player.
  4. It has a system for the AI to avoid obstacles, overlapping with other ships, going out of bounds, etc.
  5. It has a system for the AI to use any pilot ability and upgrade. This is critical because otherwise playing against wave after wave of AI generic ships gets very stale. Perhaps a campaign or story-driven scenario can make playing against generics more compelling, but the fact remains that the combat & flying will get stale.

Of course I am biased -I created the system!- but have a lot of experience on the subject and have managed to play incredible games against the Tactical Droid system both alone and in coop with other players against it. The result is that games are much richer. The AI is much more competent and unpredictable at the same time. This creates a solo system you want to revisit and invest on a longer and larger scale. What a missed opportunity, I was hoping FFG would create something of comparable game experience.

TLDR, as a veteran solo player, FFG's attempt is underwhelming. As a solo beginner, it could be a good starting point.

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7 hours ago, Surak said:

Yeh, it's called Star Trek Alliance and they got Josh (the guy who created HotAC) to design it. Unfortunately, as with most things Attack Wing, it seems to be in a cycle of delay after delay.

Glad to hear he got some work out of his efforts.

 

11 hours ago, TechnoGolem said:

I wish they did this a long time ago. I used to buy stuff for the game but stopped due to not having anyone that wanted to play.

Got rid of my collection after reading the Aftermath novels and watching The Last Jedi killed my love of Star Wars.

Solo rules at the start would have caused me to spend a small fortune on the game. Now it makes me mildly interested in trying but not enough to make me want to spend money on Star Wars products. 

You could always grab the core set on a sale to get the templates, cardboard and such, then proxy ships.

 

29 minutes ago, OoALEJOoO said:

It's great to see FFG is taking a step into this direction. The approach is quite underwhelming though. The solo system they propose is quite primitive, predictable and not really streamlined. It has several very significant flaws:

<snip>

There is a feedback form you can use to submit your criticisms to the team on the Alpha version of the rules. With as much thought as you are putting into this, that would probably be worthwhile.

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1 hour ago, OoALEJOoO said:

It has several very significant flaws:

I don't disagree, but you got some of these wrong.

1 hour ago, OoALEJOoO said:

"During the Planning Phase, solo ships are not assigned dials". FFG's system has the AI selecting a target right before activation. What if the target ship has not yet moved (will miss the target) or if it has already moved (easy target)? This creates a very predictable AI. You will learn to "game" this AI in no time.

I think this AI will miss its target more often than not, even if the target already has moved. But the ship itself will still be moving somewhat unpredictably. This is made up for by the larger number of enemies you will face (what is it 1.5-2 AI points for each player point?). Anyway I'm positive this is why they have an open alpha instead of just publishing it – they want our feedback, to see whether it's sufficiently hard or too easy to game, and what changes would make it better. More companies should embrace the open alpha in terms of tabletop games. Good on FFG.

1 hour ago, OoALEJOoO said:

One essential aspect of X-Wing is not knowing which maneuver your opponent will select, FGG's solo system robs the game from this.

How do you figure? As you said, they don't select their movements until they activate, and the players still set their dials in the planning phase. The randomization of the enemy ships means they'll actually be kind of tricky to catch, even if they aren't fully on target most of the time.

1 hour ago, OoALEJOoO said:

The double dice rolling (one green + one red) makes it quite cumbersome for the level of complexity. More complex AIs (more on this later) have about the same level of tables with much richer AI behavior.

The advantage of this system is that there's one simple AI chart for every ship in the game. It takes a little longer to get down, but once you do it transfers from Vulture Droids to the VCX-100. I really really like that. On the other hand, it means the TIE Defender will be flown far less optimally than, for example, the TIE Interceptor. Still, it seems fairly streamlined to me, and their method for dealing with red maneuvers seems much better than the HotAC "Enemies get free locks and can't stress" system.

1 hour ago, OoALEJOoO said:

There is no system for avoiding obstacles, overlapping, out of bounds, etc.

Did you read the rules? Sure they'll run over obstacles a lot, but several of the maneuvers on the chart are specifically "Away from the nearest obstacle" and there's a specific contingency for out of bounds; they partially execute the maneuver and then rotate 90°/180°, whichever points them closer to the center of the table. They can't flee. And for overlapping they would just partially execute the maneuver like anyone else would...

1 hour ago, OoALEJOoO said:

There is no system for the AI ships to utilize pilot abilities, upgrades, etc.

Yes, there is. It's a little vague, but the basic steps are still spelled out. I appreciate that it takes a more human approach (similar to Arkham Horror's Grim Rule) rather than an overly mechanical one. If there are necessary rules to add, that's why they have an open alpha. We'll see what the community drives in terms of modifications.

Once again, it's lovely because it's simple and it transfers. Instead of having to create a new AI for every new pilot and upgrade they add to the game, they have some blanket rules that mostly work well enough, and then give a human approach to interpretation. Obviously this would never work for a game like FlyCasual, but for tabletop it's a good start.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, ClassicalMoser said:

I don't disagree, but you got some of these wrong.

I think this AI will miss its target more often than not, even if the target already has moved. But the ship itself will still be moving somewhat unpredictably. This is made up for by the larger number of enemies you will face (what is it 1.5-2 AI points for each player point?). Anyway I'm positive this is why they have an open alpha instead of just publishing it – they want our feedback, to see whether it's sufficiently hard or too easy to game, and what changes would make it better. More companies should embrace the open alpha in terms of tabletop games. Good on FFG.

Exactly, it's great to hear FFG's initiative is producing some great discussion, this will greatly help in shaping up their future AI systems! After exhaustive testing I can say that imho fighting against a large quantity of dumb AI ships is not as exciting as fighting lower quantity of ships with better AI. A lot of this is because of the playing area real state. The moment you have a lot of dumb AI ships, it is just an overlapping fiesta. My feedback is to improve their maneuver selection. The current one is way too simplistic.

2 hours ago, ClassicalMoser said:

How do you figure? As you said, they don't select their movements until they activate, and the players still set their dials in the planning phase. The randomization of the enemy ships means they'll actually be kind of tricky to catch, even if they aren't fully on target most of the time.

Random is good, purpose-less random is bad. Furthermore, the way FFG has it, you can game the AI incredibly easy. For example, on their tally selection logic: a) nearest object it has locked. If you have a locked low initiative ship, you would just bait the AI to pick you and then the skew the randomness in your favor. Same with b) nearest enemy ship in bullseye arc. You can just move one of your ships into their bullseye intentionally on your convenience. All this takes away from the solo experience, you can game the AI extremely easy. This is a solo system for casual/beginner players.

2 hours ago, ClassicalMoser said:

The advantage of this system is that there's one simple AI chart for every ship in the game. It takes a little longer to get down, but once you do it transfers from Vulture Droids to the VCX-100. I really really like that. On the other hand, it means the TIE Defender will be flown far less optimally than, for example, the TIE Interceptor. Still, it seems fairly streamlined to me, and their method for dealing with red maneuvers seems much better than the HotAC "Enemies get free locks and can't stress" system.

FFG's system requires you to have/print the following: 1) 1X Tally ID logic, 2) 4X approach charts, 3) 3X attitude logic (defense, balanced, offensive). That's a total of 8 charts. 9 if you include linked actions. For the level of AI complexity, I wouldn't call this streamlined at all. The only benefit I see is that you only need to print 8 tables. The Tactical Droid uses: 1) 3X logic cards (maneuver, actions, attack), 2) 4X maneuver cards, 3) 1X Maneuver table per ship. If you are playing against say a swarm of TIE Fighters, that is the same 8 tables for an AI that is miles ahead. The disadvantage of the Tactical Droid is that you need to print a table for each ship, but if you have a printer handy that's a non-issue. Indeed FFG's method of dealing with red maneuvers is much better than HotAC but still based on choosing an action after the target ship has moved (which imho is the biggest flaw of this system).

 

2 hours ago, ClassicalMoser said:

Did you read the rules? Sure they'll run over obstacles a lot, but several of the maneuvers on the chart are specifically "Away from the nearest obstacle" and there's a specific contingency for out of bounds; they partially execute the maneuver and then rotate 90°/180°, whichever points them closer to the center of the table. They can't flee. And for overlapping they would just partially execute the maneuver like anyone else would...

The instructions point out obstacles only when certain dice combinations are rolled, i.e. it is not built into the AI behavior as a whole. With this design, the AI ship is caught in a dilemma: if the rolls mention an obstacle (about 25% chance) then the ship ignores the enemy ship. If it rolls to ignore the obstacle (about 75% chance) then it likely lands on an obstacle. We know how easy it can be even for human players to land on obstacles, let alone the AI. With FFG' system you will game the AI by simply playing around obstacles. On the out of bounds, this is a silly workaround, the AI should not pick a maneuver that would make it exit the table to begin with.

2 hours ago, ClassicalMoser said:

Once again, it's lovely because it's simple and it transfers. Instead of having to create a new AI for every new pilot and upgrade they add to the game, they have some blanket rules that mostly work well enough, and then give a human approach to interpretation. Obviously this would never work for a game like FlyCasual, but for tabletop it's a good start.

I'm afraid simple won't last long. You will game and exploit the simple AI in no time and here is where the fun ends.

The AI rules need to be clear-cut, night or day. The more room you leave for human interpretation then you cause two things: 1) you're back at playing against yourself (like having no system at all) and 2) you really slow the game down. The numan interpretations is what takes the longest.

Finally, I am saying all the above as a  veteran solo X-Wing player with hundreds of hours under my belt and someone who has designed and polished an X-Wing AI system over 3 years. I'll be the first to say that the Tactical Droid AI system is not perfect, but I think the experienced I've gathered during all this time has allowed me to understand the X-Wing AI challenge fairly well. When I post my above opinions it's because I've been there many times, thought about solutions, tried things that didn't work very well, tried others that were good. I have playtested.

Having said all that, I want to say this: thanks  FFG for working on this! I am very happy to see solo gets some love. I understand that it is an Alpha and that there is still work to be done. I hope you can design a system that is complex enough that would make players invest on it. I fear that a system that is too simple will not have long-term appeal.

 

Edited by OoALEJOoO

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, OoALEJOoO said:

I'm afraid simple won't last long. You will game and exploit the simple AI in no time and here is where the fun ends.

The AI rules need to be clear-cut, nigh or day. The more room you leave for human interpretation then you cause two things: 1) you're back at playing against yourself (like having no system at all) and 2) you really slow the game down. The numan interpretations is what takes the longest.

Other AI games regularly use the "do what's worse for the player(s)" answer when there is a conflict between two or more legal answers/choices to the same situation and it works out okay and quick as long as the player is experienced. As experienced players, we can quickly determine what would be the best decision for using abilities quickly. I've never felt it slow the game down, except when I'm learning a game for the first time and trying to learn "what does that ability mean, anyways" which is a player issue, not an AI issue. 

Descent is a typical list of options that it randomizes a list and presents it to you just walk through executing the first one that is possible, similar with Mansions of Madness. It is still pretty predictable, as the majority of the time the answer for a melee unit is "engage the closest hero, if possible."  Yes, you can learn to game it, by placing the unit you want attacked closest, but it doesn't necessarily mean the game is boring. The game is designed with the knowledge that the actions of the players will be more efficient than those of the AI and this is typically dealt with by numbers. Waves of enemies of increasingly difficulty coming at you until you achieve an objective and win, or take to long and are ground down by attrition.

...Which!...

I think will be the endgoal after the Alpha gets tested some more, and perhaps moves into a Beta stage where the AI is solid and we can add content. Survival against waves of enemies is okay to start with, but like they pointed out, scenarios where you have to escort a ship, or some other goal would bring some interest to the game rather than trying to out-predict the most likely die rolls, and survive. 

Edit: One thing I'm not sure if I like yet is the randomly shifting Attitude, but I'll have to get a feel for it more often. The Elder Scrolls uses a set stance for different enemies which favorably weighs/encourages certain behaviors that a roll then determines their action, which can result in a similar odd behavior of "run forward! wait no, run away and hide behind something, now, run forward again next round!" which we may see with an enemy in a good attack position suddenly changes to Defensive attitude due to a bad timed roll, but we'll see how it plays out.

Perhaps a rule like: if the AI ship is not in a player ships firing arc, and has a damaged player ship in arc, shift Defensive -> Balanced, and Balanced -> Aggressive

Edited by kris40k

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Posted (edited)

We play with the HotAC second version ship cards. 1st ed. HotAc does not handle stress well, as said above:

5 hours ago, ClassicalMoser said:

Still, it seems fairly streamlined to me, and their method for dealing with red maneuvers seems much better than the HotAC "Enemies get free locks and can't stress" system.

Which made any player ship's ability to generate or exploit enemy stress useless. Also made strange flying as the AI enemy could do red after red.

4 hours ago, OoALEJOoO said:

Indeed FFG's method of dealing with red maneuvers is much better than HotAC

 

The newer HotAC versions (which also have bullseye and generally much more fine-granulated arcs) from the Facebook group have an extra maneuver selection if a ship is stressed (extra stress box on the ship card) which solves the problem elegantly.

----

2 hours ago, kris40k said:

Edit: One thing I'm not sure if I like yet is the randomly shifting Attitude, but I'll have to get a feel for it more often. The Elder Scrolls uses a set stance for different enemies which favorably weighs/encourages certain behaviors that a roll then determines their action, which can result in a similar odd behavior of "run forward! wait no, run away and hide behind something, now, run forward again next round!" which we may see with an enemy in a good attack position suddenly changes to Defensive attitude due to a bad timed roll, but we'll see how it plays out.

Perhaps a rule like: if the AI ship is not in a player ships firing arc, and has a damaged player ship in arc, shift Defensive -> Balanced, and Balanced -> Aggressive

I'd guess that once we - hopefully *) - have missions or scenarios, then you will have base attitudes assigned, e.g. if the Solo ship group is a convoy, where you need to stop one specific ship by ionising it to free hostages/customs inspection/pirate it, that ship probably has 'defensive', while its escorting solo ships have 'aggressive' base attitude. 

 

*) Might be a Covid19 related issue, but concerning Epic and the enviroment cards, both feel like an aborted attempt. (Apart still not being able to get a Huge ship conversion kit, nowhere to be had in Europe since months back, as there were only a handful delivered) Quite some clamour in the FFG news for these, some half developed scenarios and enviroments (some of them with quite some issues) coming and then total radio silence, and FFG continuing promoting 400/6 deathmatch slog only.

Edited by Managarmr
Spellling

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Took a look at the rules for this finally. I like what I see for the most part (going to have to test it out later) though there is one glaring, to me, thing. Am I the only one that noticed that there is a way to have to leave the board to end the game because only 5 of the possible 6 enemy ships have been destroyed and there is no post wave 7 spawn in leaving the 6th ship in permanent reserve?

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3 hours ago, kris40k said:

Other AI games regularly use the "do what's worse for the player(s)" answer when there is a conflict between two or more legal answers/choices to the same situation and it works out okay and quick as long as the player is experienced.

True, each human interpretation is quite short. However, it only adds time, and if the AI needs frequent intervention, each of those stacks. You go through the AI logic, only to find out it is not clear-cut, then you have to intervene to interpret, double time! It's all about balance. The overhead of running the AI vs. the overhead of going through intervention. As a design principle, it's best if human interpretation is kept to a minimum.

1 hour ago, Managarmr said:

The newer HotAC versions (which also have bullseye and generally much more fine-granulated arcs) from the Facebook group have an extra maneuver selection if a ship is stressed (extra stress box on the ship card) which solves the problem elegantly.

This is the way it's done in the Tactical Droid AI. Correct me if I'm wrong, even the newer HotAC still only choose maneuvers only after the planning phase. Which is my strongest critique of FGG's and HotAC methods. 😐

 

 

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1 hour ago, drail14me said:

They could with an AI app! No need to print cards if you have a good app.

This.

Or! New expansions could come with a little paper with the ship AI?

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1 minute ago, OoALEJOoO said:

Please no App. I would pay good money for an good official hard-copy solo system. FFG's track record with Apps isn't exactly stellar.

Oh yeah, what ever happened to the new official squad builder? It was supposed to have offline mode, ship duplication, better UI, and yet-to-be-announced extras.

Seems fishy.

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Posted (edited)
20 minutes ago, OoALEJOoO said:

Please no App. I would pay good money for an good official hard-copy solo system. FFG's track record with Apps isn't exactly stellar.

They have proven, working AI apps already, just look at Descent 2E and Mansions of Madness 2E. Have you used those before, or are you just basing that on the failed X-Wing Squad Builder? Card systems are fine to use, but trickier to errata.

I'm wondering with the recent division of the company into the FFG Board and Card Games and FFG Miniature Games, if they can draw from the experience they have developing AI systems from their card games for this endeavor :huh:

Edited by kris40k

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I'm basing this on the terrible job with the X-Wing squad builder and also since I do not want to have a screen next to a boardgame. I know some people are in favor of apps + boardgames but I'm more of an old-fashioned kind of guy 🙂

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15 hours ago, svelok said:

Why are you here?

I always get interested when multiplayer games that I play(ed) add a single player mode. This is mostly due to living in a small town with the nearest hobby shop being a 60 mile drive.

Decided to put my two cents in after seeing and reading the article.

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