The South China Sea has been described as “a crucial link in the ‘global commons’, connecting the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Europe. Right now, along with the East China Sea, it is the most contested piece of sea in the world and one of the main reasons for the current anxiety over China’s intentions”. It will be fought over, at least ideologically for the next decade and will be a source of much concern for the West. You might say it is a powder keg and all it needs is a spark. With this in mind, we are going to take a look at a recent new release game on the South China Sea called Flashpoint: South China Sea from GMT Games designed by Harold Buchanan. The game is a fast playing 2-player strategy game that simulates the complex geopolitical contest currently taking place between the United States and China in the South China Sea. The game is a Card Driven Game that uses cards to allow players to play out the struggle using events based on today’s headlines and use these cards to take actions that will provide dominance over regions and score victory points at any time during the game. We had a great time with this one and I wanted to provide you with some insight into the game to see what makes it tick.

In Action Point 1, we looked at the Game Board and discussed the various Tracks, Countries and Boxes that are used to play the game. In Action Point 2, we dove into the anatomy of the Event Cards and showed how they are used for the printed events or discarded for their Operations Value to take a number of actions. In Action Point 3, we explored Political Warfare and how best to use this interesting aspect of the conflict. In Action Point 4, we discussed how players take advantage of Scoring Cards and win the game. In this Action Point, which is the conclusion to the series, we will take a brief look at the solitaire game mode.

Solitaire Game Mode

First thing that I wish to say about the solitaire mode for Flashpoint: South China Sea is that it uses the same general rules of play as the 2-player game but the Solo Opponent doesn’t have a hand of Event Cards. They use cards, but only typically draw an Event Card off of the top of the deck or use special Solo Opponent Cards. And, the game is brutal. I have played four times as the United States against the China bot and I am 0-4. I have come close once but it is very challenging. As all good solo games should be.

Part of the reason that the game is brutal is that it tries to take into account the actions that a human player would perform during the game. This typically revolves around the use of powerful Event Cards. The Solo Opponent doesn’t ever take Events though so they had to design a way for it to replicate that effect. The text of these Event Cards are ignored and the only way it uses the Event Cards is for the Scoring function and to see if there is a Mode Match which allows the Solo Opponent to remove the player’s Influence Cubes from the board (more on this later).

Also, the Solo Opponent has its very own Sequence of Play which does not follow the same Sequence of Play from the 2-player game. The Solo Opponent uses Event Cards from the deck as mentioned earlier and in addition has their very own unique Solo Cards. These cards are used by the Solo Opponent to determine what actions they will take during their turn and where these actions will be played on the board. First, let’s get a look at these Solo Cards and talk about their anatomy a bit more.

Each of the Solo Cards is divided into three different sections which determine whether the Solo Opponent resolves Political Warfare as a part of their turn, the order in which they place Chinese Reclamation Cubes if playing as the Chinese or Freedom of Navigation Operations Cubes if playing as the United States and the order in which they will place any Influence Cubes on the board. There are eight different Solo Cards and at the beginning of each Campaign, the deck is shuffled. This means that you can see some of the same cards during the Solo Opponent’s turns but there is a good chance some cards will not come out.

I want to show you the Sequence of Play here and then talk about a few of the more interesting parts that are involved. The Solo Opponent’s turn consists of the following steps and are performed in the specific order shown. The player will have to perform each step in order until instructed to end the Solo Opponent’s turn. This is very important that you don’t stop in the middle unless it tells you to stop. Points where it will stop include after the Scoring Card step if they can score the Country shown on the Event Card that is randomly drawn off of the deck and if Political Warfare is successfully completed. The steps of the Solo Opponent’s turn are as follows:

  1. Draw the top card of the Event deck and set it beside the discard pile (do not place it on the discard pile yet). This card is called the Solo Opponent’s Event card.
  2. Check if the Solo Opponent scores a Scoring card. If they Score, their turn ends immediately.
  3. Turn the top card of the Solo deck face-up.
  4. Check for a Solo Opponent Mode Match.
  5. If the Solo Opponent’s Event card has 1 Operations Value, the Solo Opponent adjusts Tension.
  6. If indicated by the revealed Solo card, and Tension is not Critical, resolve the Solo Opponent’s Political Warfare action if there is the nation’s flag in the Political Warfare section of the Solo Card. If they successfully conduct Political Warfare, their turn ends immediately. Note that the Solo Opponent uses a different process for Political Warfare as outlined on page 14 of the rulebook.
  7. Perform Solo Opponent Operations and end their turn.
  8. At the end of the Solo Opponent’s turn, discard all revealed Event and Solo Cards.

To assist in this process, there is a very well laid out and clear Solo Play Aid card. The Play Aid lists the Sequence of Play that we just covered but also provides several very important reminders on the right side. I found this Play Aid to be very important and helped me to get into the game comfortably after my first play.

This process of the Solo Opponent’s turn is really very straightforward and the work is mostly done for you by the cards. There are six Event Card plays in a Campaign round so the player will have to perform this process at least 18 times over the course of the game with the Solo Opponent always going first in a Campaign. I have found that about 30% of the time, the Solo Opponent will score a Scoring Card based on the draw of an Event Card. This means they will score at least twice in a Campaign and the player must be ready for this inevitability. Friendly Mode Match will generally happen at least twice per Campaign and this is the worst part of the Solo Opponent as they will get to remove two of your Influence Cubes from the Board and it just really hurts. I always seem to find that they remove the ones that I needed, or had just played out, in order to set myself up for the large play of an Event. In fact, the other day, I was ready to play an Event Card that required me to have more than 7 Diplomatic Influence Cubes out on the board. I had accomplished this over a few turns and was ready to now use the Event Card to lay out 4 total Influence and also remove one Chinese Economic Influence Cube. This was going to then allow me to score two Countries and provide me with about 5 total Victory Points. It would have made a huge difference. But, my plans were foiled as the Friendly Mode Match portion of the Sequence happened and the removal priority was for Diplomatic Influence as it was during Campaign 3 and I lost my “more than 7 Diplomatic Influence Cubes” requirement to play the Event Card. I was flabbergasted! But this was not the first time that something like this happened. It seems to happen more than you would think and it is almost as if the AI understands exactly what you are trying to do. And that is because it has been well designed and plays as close to a real opponent as possible without the use of the printed events on Event Cards or any type of bluffing. The Solo Opponent is really well done and I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys Flashpoint: South China Sea as it will give you a great run for your money and give you a lot of satisfaction.

Finally, Political Warfare happens about twice per Campaign as well. And if you understand this action, you will know that this plays right into their scoring of Scoring Cards. When they Lock you out of a Country, it will not only mean you cannot place Influence Cubes into that Country to change the final count (remember you can with Event Cards though) but you will have to remove all Influence Cubes of a specific type, which definitely seals that Country for the Solo Opponent.

I hope that this brief look into the Solo Opponent has given you some insight into the challenge you will be up against. I for one really like the Solo Opponent and feel that its implementation really makes for an engaging and enjoyable solo experience for a game that was designed with 2-player mode in mind. I have played it four times, as mentioned previously, and I still enjoy the game and have not tired of it yet even though I have always played as the United States against the Chinese Solo Opponent. I need to switch sides now and go against the United States Solo Opponent to see how the game changes.

If you are interested, here is a link to our unboxing video for the game to give you a better look at the components and what is provided in the box:

Here also is a look at our video review: