Friday 16 January 2015

Game Design #24: Favourite Mechanics Part 2 (Movement)


This seldom sees much interesting innovation.  Most fall into #1 and #2, with some historical games in #3. Probably because there is only so many ways you can skin a cat.*

1. "Everyone moves 6."  This is sometimes explained away by "everyone is moving at combat speed" or some such thing.  I find this a needless simplification, as (a) it's pretty unusual to forget how far you can move (b) it is usually amended by adding in special rules like "Fast" and "Slow"and "Very Fast"and "Very Slow" which means you then have to remember how far a Very Fast mini moves (c) it makes the assumption everyone's combat speed is the same. As a PE teacher I know there is massive physical variation within the human race, let alone aliens and fantasy critters.  I'm sure some creatures are more confident in combat, and some are simply more nimble at skulking from cover to cover...  I put this one under the "Needless Abstraction" and "False Economy."
Usually this system involves a free combat action, or you give up the combat action to sprint or charge 9-12." Also known as The Warhammer 40,000 standard.

2. Pre-plotted.  There's nothing that breaks immersion for me, more than writing "I will move forward 6", then wheel 60d left" like a naughty schoolboy writing lines.  I wanna move my stuff around shouting "Pew! pew!", not retire to my side of the table to for silent writing time. It's bad enough that many games are a book keeping exercise, but to make it a writing exercise too is just cruel.  Any realism gained by this method tends to be lost if anyway, if units teleport around without enemies able to react to them any better than IGOUGO. Laying down order cards in sequence such as those used by Wings of War (and Sails of Glory?) are better, but it still is a bit of a guessing game.

3. "Yes, not everyone is equal." This actually allows that some people races might actually be faster than others.  It also adds subtle tactics in movement, in a more graduated way. I'd expect this, but I like to see it combined with other things, such as:

4. The unpredictable move.  This usually involved dicing for how far you move.  I used to hate this - I mean, in real life I can consistently run x distance in a set timeframe, so why would I, who runs say an average of 7", run 4" one minute then 10" the next?  Whilst this is a bit fast and loose with timescale, it does slice through the premeasure/don't premeasure Gordian knot. I now quite like it, as long as there isn't extreme swings in distances moved from turn to turn, like "infantry move 1d6", or 1d10").

This is of a kind with  the unpredictable activation.  This meshes with activation, but basically some troops get to move, and others don't.  Like the Action Pool (and to a degree the unpredictable move) this presupposes a somewhat flexible timescale. Sometimes figures fail to move. A bit similar to the Action Pool but with penalties.   Both of these types can be good, depending on the genre/type of game. 

5. Action Points.  This makes movement and ranges a little less predictable as someone can spend all 4APs on move 24"; or say 1AP to move 6" and use the rest for shooting/other stuff.  This is good as it is controllable yet unpredictable - it makes it hard for an opponent to set up precisely 1" out of charge range.  Good for skirmish games where you can take time to "spend" the AP.  More realistic but less dynamic (and with less decisions) than the:

6. Action Pool. Each player has a pool of actions (which may be fixed/variable) for their whole team which they can "spend" - sometimes repeatedly on the same unit/mini.  This adds a strong aspect of resource management as well as making it near impossible for the opponent to "game" distances.  it's cinematic but sometimes looks a little weird as one guy charges around and the rest just stand about cheerleading.

Example: Lords & Servants get 3D6 actions for their whole force (of which they can conserve half to interrupt their opponents' turn) which can be spent in any manner. Leaders moving groups conserves AP compared to individual movement.

Infinity gets an action every mini in the force - they can spend them in their turn, and get free reactions in the opponents' turn. It's possible for one mini to "rambo" for 10+ turns in a row and move say 80" (to one end of the board and back) - but combined with unlimited enemy reactions, he'd be unlikely to survive. 

I'm sure there's some historical games that do different things...   ....and I have this nagging feeling I have forgotten a category (or two).  I'm sure the blog lurkers will enlighten me though, and I can add them in later.

*I googled this, and it seems there are many, many ways to skin a cat, most of them facetious.  
I wonder if we could do a wargamer's guide to skinning a cat.
Napoleonics cat: You've got the wrong colour skin for 1806. (Wait til cat removes skin, then swipe.)
40K cat:  Get a giant tank. Then drive the tank over to the cat and skin it with your chainsword.
Bolt Action/Mantic cat:  Tell it that the 40K cats are all going skinless this season.
Indie designer cat:  Remove the cat's "skin" stats. Neglect to include "skin" as a special rule
Ancients cat:  Tell the cat you have a cool new game. Tell the cat it's skin has the wrong basing to play.
American gamer cat: Explain the French really won their War of Independence.  Watch as cat's fur spontaneously combusts.


  1. Your comment about a single figure rambo'ing it 80" reminds of an exchange I read between a gamer and the gentleman who designed Command Decision.

    The gamer asked "can I really drive my jeep 50" across the table, since that's its movement rate?"

    The designer replied "you can try".

    Battletech cat skinning: Spend 4 hours designing the optimal cat. Realize you made it for the wrong time period. Start over.

  2. I was thinking to use the following: everybody has a fixed movement rate but not the same for everybody and, whenever you move through difficult terrain you roll to see how much you can move; so there is randomness whenever you enter an orchard, swamp or thick wood...
    BTW, I'd appreciate you use a less striking colour to write, especially red and green ones.
    Another thing, I'd be very interested in reading your thoughts about unit activation and orders in war games: IGO/UGO, PIPs like in DBA, Warmaster/BKC orders system, reaction/interruption like in Infinity or THW, swapping cards, by order of initiative, with hidden counters for orders that are showed simultaneously like in NetEpic/Epic 2nd edition, by alternating units between players, etc.


      Is this what you are after? (Sadly it has red-yellow-green - I'll try to restrict it to titles perhaps)

      Random dicing for movement through difficult ground is used quite a lot, although halving movement is more common.

    2. Somehow I missed that. I'll wait for the change of colours, thank you ;)

  3. My pet hate is rough terrain halves movement. Why? I have legs and arms, I can scramble over rocks etc. I mean sure if I am on a motorbike, but for infantry?

    Actually it was one of the few things I liked about Grunts different locomotion types reacted to terrain differently.

    1. You could even argue in a modern+ game you could move FASTER due to the cover provided by rough ground, i.e. you'd be more confident and be able to run/crouch using cover whilst in the open you'd be running and diving flat.

  4. On the matter of Pre-measuring I have to say that in Fantasy I'm against it. In Sci-Fi however I think its reasonable, after all, troops carry accurate laser ranging, live in HUD battlefield overlays from orbiting satellites etc.

    1. I tend to agree with you.

      But for the sake of discussing it, a 100YW longbowmen would also have a pretty good idea of his range. Are we handing the player (the general) powers he wouldn't have in reality.

      Another method is to allow premeasuring shooting ranges, but make the range variable = i.e. 24"+ d6". Cos I do see some "variation" IRL when throwing rocks, slingstones etc.

    2. I have thought that it would be interesting to merge a variable range roll and the to-hit roll. Probably with exploding dies, and natural 1's being misses.

      For example a rifle might have a d10 to-hit die, so to shoot at a target 13" away you'd end up with rolls like this:

      1st roll: 4, miss
      1st roll: 10; 2nd roll: 5, hit

      You could probably go with something like d6 for short-range weapons like shotguns and smgs, and d10 for longer range weapons like lmgs, rifles, etc.

      The system does have a fairly high accuracy at close range, and fairly low at long range though, eg: 90% at close range (<2") with a rifle, versus 8% at 13", or 6% at 15"

      It's also a little limited in granularity for weapon ranges unless you're willing to include more die sizes.

  5. Well, don't forget about Mayhem where you can either choose to take the default [half of the unit's move die] or roll for movement. ;)

    There are also other variables and twists on the mechanic within the system for attempting charges and traversing difficult terrain.

    1. ...but you specialise in being the exception to the rule!

    2. I"ll consider that a compliment!

    3. Well it is. I like reading your rules, even the ones for periods I don't play, as they are always interesting. (Still waiting for Havoc Revised Edition, btw)

      I still haven't go round to properly reviewing Rogue Planet yet, as they look like they'll need a bit more experimenting with than even your "norm"

  6. I think different mechanisms work well for different level games - army level, skirmish etc.
    In the latter I don't mind a bit of variability in dash moves, which brings in the uncertainty of making that next patch of cover of not, but not to the extent where you might end up going slower than a normal move.

    I also don't mind in a skirmish game, somebody saying I will make a move to that next bit of cover and then fir at target X, then discovering that they won't make it and changing the order to a run to the cover and forego firing. Very much a Section Commander taking charge on the spot to look after his lads. Of core, the reverse wouldn't work