Playing Pirates Solitaire

Ahoy, admirals! Did ye ever have th' problem of bein' all ready fer battle, but there was no enemy to be found? Per'aps ye was tempted to play against yerself, were ye? But 'ow do ye play a fair game when ye already know everything worth knowin' about the enemy an' 'is intentions?

These are some untested, but reasonable-sounding, rules guidelines for playing Pirates as a solo game. I'd welcome any feedback you might have.

  1. Making the Fleets

    1. Decide on a point total. Build a fleet that you want to test or play with.

    2. Create six other fleets. Build good fleets, and make sure that there is a rough balance between any special attacks or defenses in your fleet, and countermeasures in the other fleets. That means that if you use a submarine, be sure to give two or three of the other fleets the ability to shoot submerged ships. If your fleet has a ship that can't be shot within S range, make sure that some ships in the other fleets have L cannons. That way, there's a chance that your stratagem will catch the enemy flat-footed, and there's a chance the enemy will be prepared for you, just like in a "real" game.

    3. Some crew are especially effective when they hit you by surprise; I'm thinking Firepot Specialist here. Surprise is just about impossible in a solo game. One way to come close is to put two Firepotters and two other gunnery Specialists face down, and pick one at random. Keep it face down until you're ready to use it.

    4. Pick one of the enemy fleets by die roll, and play against it.

    5. For a totally random game, just make two good fleets and pick both by die roll.
  2. Laying Out the Battlefield

    Put out islands, terrain, and treasure according to the normal rules. Make the map symmetrical. It won't look realistic, but it won't give an unfair advantage to one side or the other.

  3. Playing the Game

    1. Handle your own fleet exactly the way you want to. That's the easy part.

    2. The hard part is playing the enemy fairly. This requires some will power on your part, and it depends heavily on the enemy fleet. If you made a fleet full of gunships and Captains, don't send those ships to wild islands in search of gold. If you put a derelict-stealing ship like the Philadelphia in the enemy fleet, that fleet shouldn't sink every derelict it creates, but leave a few for the Philly to make off with. A Corsair fleet should board whenever it has a 50/50 chance or better of winning; a swarm of cheap Pirates ships should go for gold and nothing else; a 2-masted gunship should not take on the HMS Titan. Use your head, be consistent, and be as fair as you can.

    3. Follow a few basic principles, such as:
      • Avoid sailing through terrain unless the alternative is losing the ship.
      • A gold ship should head for the nearest wild island and load the best treasures.
      • A fully loaded gold ship, or one that's being approached by one of your fighting ships, should run for home.
      • A fighting ship should engage any of your ships with equal or fewer masts, or even with one more mast if the enemy gets the first shot.
      • All ships should try to use their special abilities as much as possible, unless this involves kamikaze tactics.
      • Ships with special attacks (Royal James, HMS Leicester) or special defenses (Nubian Prince, the original El Acorazado) should be unusually aggressive.
      • Sea monsters should stay under water until they're ready to ram. They should never pick on something bigger than they are, or get in a gunfight with something big enough to hurt them badly.
      • Don't ram and/or board unless that's what you would do in that situation.
      • Any ship with one mast left should run for home and repairs.
      • If an enemy move makes sense, but also plays into your hands, roll a die. On a 1-3, don't do it.
      • Don't do anything you wouldn't do. Don't make up excuses for why the enemy ought to do something stupid.

    4. A ship that requires special tactics should probably not go in the enemy fleet, although it may work out in your own fleet. Sea dragons and submarines fall into this category.

    5. A ship that requires a special response from the foe just won't play well in a solo game. In particular, I see no way to fairly use a home-island robber. Such a ship must get to the enemy home island when no enemy fighting ships are nearby. But if such a ship is in your fleet, how will you justify leaving the enemy's home port wide open? If the enemy has such a ship, would you ever give it a chance to loot you? Such a ship probably should stay in your storage box until you're facing a human opponent.

    6. Sometimes, you'll just have to trust your tactics to the dice. Suppose an enemy ship loads a 5 coin and a 6 coin from a wild island. In a real game, if you knew about this, you'd do anything to keep that ship from getting home with the gold. But you probably wouldn't know about it. In solo games, where such privileged knowledge can affect how you play, assign a probability to the special action, based on your style, and roll the die. If you normally chase enemy gold ships, then your nearest ship can chase the enemy gold ship on a 4-6. If you aren't that aggressive, make it a 5-6, or just a 6. If you fail the roll, your ships will go about their business and ignore that enemy ship.
Even the most fairly played solitaire game will never be as exciting as a battle against a worthy opponent. But it can help you hone your tactics, it can give you a Pirates "fix" to hold you over until your next live battle, and it can be fun in its own right. Go get that horizon!

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