Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Game Design #60: Movement : Shooting Ratios and Scale

This is another "genre blind" (to borrow Warren's term) topic which applies to all wargames, and one which I've been considering in my latest Aeronef homebrew rules.

What is a Move: Shoot ratio?
Simply how a unit's movement range compares to its effective shooting range.  A traditional wargame where a unit moves 6" and shoots 24" would be 6" move : 24" shoot, i.e. a 1:4 ratio in favour of shooting.  In other words, you can shoot 4 x further than you can move in a single turn/game phase. 

I'm going to abbreviate this as m1:4s to make it clear what part refers to the moving and what part to the shooting; though usually shooting is the larger range this is not always the case. For example if you see m2:1s it means you can move 2x further than you can shoot. 

A Balancing Mechanism
A game where you shoot 4 x further than you shoot (m1:4s) tends to favour shooting (unless you make the weapon fire deliberately inaccurate or weak); a game where move 4 x further than you shoot (m4:1s) tends to make movement and manueuver all-important. 

Whilst is is not a blanket rule (terrain and % chance to hit/kill obviously have an impact) changing the ratio tends to favour either movement or melee depending on how you weight it, especially if you are working on "standard" lethality parameters.

*I call this the 50-50 rule; inmost games have a 50-30% chance to hit, and a 50% chance to "save" or survive a hit.  This tends to mean a single shot has a 25%-15% chance of a kill.    In LoTR:SBG, for example missile lethality is quite low as it's usually 50% to hit, 30% to damage (15%) and cover further reduces that by 50%. So a bow shot against a unit in cover has only a 7.5% lethality chance.  Hmm.  "Standard Lethality", modifiers and their impact on gameplay might merit it's own post. Anyway, where were we?

All things being equal (and it's surprising how often this is the case) changing the move:shoot ratio can radically change how the game plays.  Games Workshop and it's bastard offspring (Bolt Action, LOTR, FoW) tend to work off a m1:4s ratio so I'm going to use this as my benchmark.

But they need to remember, it's not the only balancing mechanism...
The problem lies when you lazily use move:shoot ratios to balance your game, without regard to ground scale or historical context or simply common sense.  For example, in Bolt Action rifles shoot 24" - which, if 1" translates to 2 yards, gives a .303 Lee Enfield a "true" effective range of 50 yards, beyond which targets are completely immune.  It also looks visually stupid - the models look like they could hurl rocks at that distance aka failing the common sense rule.  Finally, it does not fit with ground scale - the rifles do not actually fire the length of the Arnhem Bridge model which makes it unhistorical to boot.  I'm pretty flexible when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy but if the game is based on historical warfare it should at least bear some resemblance to it.  If your rules result in a  historical battle where the troops can't shoot each other, something is wrong...

Absolute Ranges, Table Size and Ground Scale
 Now some genres have very flexible scale.  For example, a space game simply has to "compress" ranges and radically alter the scale - presuming a 1:2000 warship, even 1:2000 of an Astronomical Unit (150 million km) is a bit hard to represent on a tabletop.   Even warfare with modern warships (WW1-present) will have to compress ranges to fit on a 6 x 4 table; presuming 20km engagement ranges that'd require a 20-yard square (aka a tennis court) at 1:2400.  Modern fighters (1:600) would require 33x33 yards, presuming the same 20 km/20,000 yard engagement range. (Yes, I know 1 yard =/= 1 metre, but I'm regarding them the same for simplicity (and 'backwards' Americans) as it doesn't impact on the arguments I make). So unless you have a 60x60ft table or bigger, the scales have to be compressed with some genres.  

In addition, both these units can play fast and loose with terrain scale. For example a spaceship is not expected to be in perfect scale with a planet in the "vast depths of space" you know, perspective and all that - in addition there is still the implicit expectation it cannot be in scale.   A fighter plane or an aeronef flying high above the ground is also not expected to be in scale. In fact I prefer use out-of-scale 1:1200 terrain and ships with 1:600 planes so the planes look "higher" above the table. 

Furthermore, if it is sci fi or fantasy you always have handwavium/magic to cover your butt.   For example, Dropzone Commander uses short weapon ranges - because all vehicles are equipped with active point defence which can easily track and shoot down projectiles unless they are fired from close range.  It makes perfect sense and is a good justification for short shooting ranges.

However, ground combat needs to stay within certain "acceptable" norms due to terrain.  This is even more important if it is historical ground combat where we have certain, established expectations of how a weapon should work (as opposed to sci fi where we can make it up).  Basically, drastically compressing ranges in ground combat makes the game unhistorical and it looks stupid as we look at the tabletop and our prior knowledge of the topic says "that can't be right." 

Absolute Ranges
The 6" move, 24" shoot is pretty standard.  This works well on a usual 6x4 tabletop as it strikes a sensible blend between "painfully slow" and "teleporting from one end of the table to the other ignoring all terrain."   Obviously we have "double speed" moves and suchalike but most units in any wargame move between 4"-12" on any given turn.   Imagine a game where each unit moved 2" per turn.  It would take 24 turns to cross even a small 4x4' board. Zzzzzz.   Or a game where each unit moved 24" - wham, wham - in two turns you can be on the enemy baseline. 

Ground Scale & Absolute Range (+ turn length)

I'm going to talk ground scale in 28mm WW2 platoon-level combat.  Now we can be a bit flexible, but not too much,due to the presence of buildings and historical factors. A 1" figure is about 2m if we want to be "exact."   However, we can probably bend the scale a bit without anyone noticing (see the "does it look stupid" rule).   I reckon we can make 1" = to 5m without anyone noticing.   

Why would we do this?  Well, reducing shooting ranges emphasizes maneuver and helps differentiate between the weapons.  I.e. at "true scale" a handgun might be effective to 24" (50m) at which range an assault rifle is murderously point blank.  Furthermore, it is linked to "time scale."

Time scale aka turn length
How long does a turn last for? Most games say they are cinematic which is an evasive way of saying "whatever we want it to be" but we can assume a 'common sense' time period for the genre. I.e. a modern platoon game is likely to have a turn that's somewhere around 5-10 seconds, not 5-10 minutes or 5-10 hours.  

So let's take our ~5-10 second move and apply it to our troops movement.  I reckon a combat-loaded trooper could scurry 25m in about 5 seconds, which at my 1" = 5 yard scale is ~5"/turn - pretty much spot on for "normal" wargame unit speeds.   

However time does not impact on weapon ranges - that impacts rate of fire and lethality, but not the absolute range of the weapon.  Your .303 will still shoot to 300m.  Even with my rather generous 5 yards = 1" scale, that gives the .303 a range of 60" (5 feet) - almost the entire long side of a standard 4x6' table and effectively "unlimited range" on a 4x4' one.  

That's a far cry from the stupidly-short 24" range of Bolt Action, which if we assume a 300m small arms range, has compressed scales so 1" = 12 yards.   So while you can play around with relative scale a bit, there are some hard limits.

But... having limitless range rifles is insane! Do you want the game to devolve into a gunnery duel from baseline to baseline?  That's why cover and terrain are important, just like in real life(tm).  Perhaps the completely open 40K table with two token gothic corner ruins may not actually be suitable terrain?  Also, the cricket-pitch flatness of your normal tabletop ignores the fact in real life terrain undulates in small rises and dips providing "cover" even in open areas.  A good game designer can factor all this in to the lethality of shooting, and combined with tabletops sporting a sensible amount of terrain, "unlimited range" rifles work very well. 

Turn Length & Time
These impose some constraints on your move:shoot ratios.  Even if you ignore them and call it "cinematic" a time ratio is implied.  Imagine a 28mm WW2 platoon game where the turn goes for 5 minutes.  The units could travel 50 feet (3 laps of the board) and a rifle squad could fire thousands of rounds - literally bucketloads of dice.

Unlimited Moves
I always view games with unlimited moves with suspicion.  Like the designer made a bet with himself  "I reckon I could make a rule with no measuring*   As movement and time scale are tied together, it tends to infer the game is "cinematic" (i.e. the designer decided to ignore inconvenient factors like time). "Unlimited Shooting" is natural and logical in the context of 28mm ground scale and a 4x4 or 4x6' board.  "Unlimited movement" - not so much so - unless you are operating with weird, unusually long game turns like the 5min WW2 example above.  I tend to view unlimited moves as an affectation by the game designer; unless convinced otherwise that was indeed essential to gameplay and tactics. 
 *Actually, this is how Crossfire came about

But I don't care about historical factors, I care about gameplay!
Then why are you making a 'historical' game?  If you're going to make a medieval fantasy or sci fi game, call it that. Don't give me a fantasy game in a WW2 skin.  Also, if you can't make historical wargame that is both plausible and fun, then I suggest the problem is the designer.  

If you think scale doesn't matter, imagine a WW2 platoon game where rifles fired 4" and infantry moved 24."  If you think historical realism isn't important, why not have jeeps move 4" and infantry move 12" - or rifles shoot 6" and pistols shoot 48".  Exactly. 

Hmm, I've drifted a bit off topic. Back to move:shoot ratios.

Ratios are important.  A game where units move 6" and shoot 12" (m1:2s - medieval skirmish?) leads to different tactics to where units move 6" and shoot 48" (m1:8s - WW2 platoon?).  A game with high movement and low shooting ranges  - i.e. 12" move, 6" shoot (m2:1s - WW2 dogfight?) makes the movement part of the turn important.  

This even impacts other areas of the game; for example if you can move in and out of range with impunity, when you move (activation mechanics) assumes a greater importance.  

Move: Shoot Ratios - a design example

I'm going to use my homebrew Aeronef rules as an example.  As this is a naval/aerial game and a lighthearted fantasy one too boot, I can be pretty free with scale.  Now most naval games (and most space games, which are inevitably based on WW2 naval games, sigh) tend to heavily favour shooting in the move:shoot ratio.

In GQ III, most WW1 ships move 15-30cm (1cm=1 knot) i.e. 5-6" speed battleships to 12" speed escorts (I notice even in a relatively "realistic" historical game the time scale has been doubled)  and guns range from ~180cms (72") on battleships; 120cm (48") on cruisers and 90cm (36") on escorts.   That gives a move:shoot ratio of m1:12s for battleships, m1:6s for cruisers and m1:3s for escorts.  Firepower ranges dominate, if we regard m1:4s as the 'norm.'  Time scale is 3-6 minute turns, which is sensible for the genre.

Now Aeronefs move much faster. I presume about as fast or faster than a blimp or zepplin (aka 50-75 knots) which is double or triple the speed of a naval vessel.  Not only does that make them hard to hit, but the lack of shell splashes/addition of the vertical plane renders fire control problematic.  Toss in the fact that fire control is probably more primitive, and nefs cannot mount battleship guns - the move:shoot ratio is going to move radically in favour of movement; probably close to m1:2s or even m1:1s.  

Now gameplay wise, I don't want to double or triple the movement distances - I want plenty of room on a 6x4' table and I don't want nefs zipping from end to end; I want plenty of room to flank.

I'm going to say battleships move 50kts (25cm or 5") and escorts can go 80 knots (40cm or 8")...  ...which can increase in a dive.  You see I've compressed the scale yet again to 1cm = 2kts.
(After testing I may end up making it 1cm = 1.5 knots which would increase the speed of escorts back to 30cm/12")

Since the actual on-table movement distances are similar, we're really going to "take an axe" to the shooting ranges.  Since we halved the speed from 1kt:1cm to 2kt:1cm, we'll also halve shooting ranges.  That gives us a range of 60cm (24") on cruiser guns and 45cm (18") on escort guns.  That gives us ratios from 1:4 through to 1:2 for escorts.  Since I want to emphasize maneuver more (and I have justification i.e. 3D shooting, fast moving targets, no director fire control etc) I'm going to halve ranges again.  This gives escorts a 9" range gun i.e. ~m1:1s given their ~8" speed.  Big nefs have a 12" range gun which gives a m1:2s presuming a ~6" speed.  

In scale terms, that means gun ranges will be altered from 10 cm or 4" per 1000 yards  (1" = 250 yards) to 1" = 500 yards.  This means the longest effective gun range for cruiser-sized guns is ~6000 yards.  Time scale is around 2-5 minutes (by this stage, I was too lazy to do the math).  

I'm going to fudge it so guns range from 6", 8" to 10" depending on calibre, and speeds from 5" to 10".  But you get the idea.

With regards to gameplay and game balance, the low absolute weapon ranges and the ~1:1 move/shoot ratio means ships can dart in an out of range, emphasizing maneuver.  Whereas even 48" guns (let alone 72" ones) can practically cover an entire table; and a m1:6s means it is very difficult to break contact even with a low absolute range; the combination of low absolute range and 1:1 ratio dramatically impacts gameplay.  Now agile, speedy ships have a bigger advantage.  Surprise attacks and flanking maneuvers are easier to perform. 

I think my ranges are plausible (if indeed flying battleships need to be plausible), it makes sense for the gameplay I want to emphasize - my only concern is that I violate the rule of "does it look stupid"as having a 4" long battleship only move 4" seems a bit sluggish for what is a game of flying battleships.  (In Firestorm Armada some battleships could not even move their own length, which I always found a bit dumb)

Anyway, point being, quite a lot of consideration goes into the scale, move:shoot ratios and their impact on gameplay - and I pretty much got a "free pass" on time/scale due to the naval+aerial+fantasy trifecta.

Hmm. That rambled a bit. The "core point" I am making is:

(a) move:shoot ratios significantly alter game balance (and it's surprising how often all other things are equal)
This can emphasize/de-emphasize other aspects of the game,like the activation sequence.  
(b) move:shoot should not be the only balancing mechanism
(c) absolute ranges (or even the lack thereof) are important (i.e. painfully slow vs teleporting)
(d) land wargames are relatively fixed in scale; naval, air and especially space games are expected to vary
(e) historical games need to meet certain expectations; sci fi and fantasy can do what they want**
(f) even if timescale is "cinematic" (i.e. designer doesn't bother) a certain timescale is implied by factors like rate of fire and movement
(g) remember the common-sense rule (aka "does it look stupid.")

Move:shoot ratios, ground and time scale all need to be considered in a wargame, and measured against "do they fit the gameplay or tactics"?  

Copying the ranges off 40K doesn't work for all genres, m'kay?  

**Which always annoys me when all sci fi games are simply copies of a historical era. I.e. 40K = reskinned fantasy, most near future = Vietnam-in-space.  Why not a game that the core tactics revolve around telepotation or nanobots instead of tacking them on to a WW2 game and calling it sci fi.. wait I've already done that rant....


  1. You got a point with Bolt Action and the dumb shooting range. I do prefer SOTR for that matters (most weapons have no maximum range, like rifles, tanks, MMG...), it forces people to use terrain intensively and really pay attention to movement. If you are just out of range, players tends to deploy in the open, without having deep thinking.
    Having intensive terrain needs also to include the suppress fire (pinning the enemy, not trying to kill it) when units are well covered and almost impossible to shoot. This trigger different play type (different from the 40k, where shooting becomes a rolling-dice skill between A shooting B without moving).

    You introduced the notion of Shooting/Save ratio that I knew but never got it explained so clearly.

    Good luck on the game design

    1. Shooting/Save ("Lethality Parameters") will probably appear in another post, combined with the "proper use of modifiers" (say the last bit in a British accent)

  2. Another really interesting post in this series, and an aspect which far too many game designers dont spend enough time tweaking for their game to get the effect they want.

    While discussing M:s ration you also mentioned lethality parameters. This adds an interesting point where the two can be mixed so you have a m:high lethality s: low lethality s. This is very pertinent in the period you are discussing where practical ranges, effective ranges and maximum ranges were usually very very different indeed.

    And of course, any sort of ammunition tracking or roll to run out of ammo on a salvo changes the decision points on when to fire - just because you can, doesn't meant you will always want to

    1. Yes, there is a lot of overlap (i.e. in the post about spacing out turns everyone wanted to talk about their favourite activation method).

      I kinda ramble at the best of times so I try my best to "focus fire" on a single point as best I can.

      Amusingly, it always seems to be random throw-away tangential(such a word?) remarks that are seized upon in the comments section.

      "...and this explains how IGOUGO could actually be used; with combination/special abilities that require "chaining". Also, I have a cat."

      Comment 1: Awesome, you have a cat? Me too!

      Comment 2:Persians are difficult to keep clean. I recommend a Siamese.


  3. "And of course, any sort of ammunition tracking or roll to run out of ammo on a salvo changes the decision points on when to fire - just because you can, doesn't meant you will always want to"

    As usual, your ESP is uncanny. This morning I've been thinking about ammo tracking and the value of decision points it brings vs recording/tracking.

    The short version: Not worth it.

    The long version: Not worth it, but can't explain as my wife's tapping her foot; I've been on the computer most of the morning....

  4. One thing to consider when making move distances smaller... the shorter your move, the more precise your measuring has to be, which could end up making the game slower or more frustrating (especially if one player is being extremely careful in their moving but the other is playing fast & loose!)
    Battletech is a fairly extreme example of compressed ranges, long range for a machine gun is 3 hexes. With a hex being 30m, having an effective range of under 100m for what is effectively a 50 cal or 12.7mm MG seems daft, especially when a fast light 'Mech could be running 12 hexes or more in a turn!
    Your discussion also ties in with the "fixed move" argument which I seem to recall you mentioning (ranting about?) on a previous occasion. Big guns (but not always long ranged) on a unit makes it slow, light guns allow faster movement which introduce additional tactical options. The practice (I'm looking at you FOF/TW and 40K) of having all infantry move the same distance (eg 6") and all vehicles move the same (eg 12") restricts you to the same fixed m:s ratio. No point in having light vehicles because they don't go any faster than heavy ones, they're easier to kill and they have smaller guns. Especially in TW/FOF game which has no official points system, why bother with ligth vehicles at all?

    1. May I go off on another tangent?

      (Your "precision in measurement" made me think of this)

      I find it interesting that all rules (bar a few) tend to presume models are "fixed" in place at the end of their move, frozen, like a fly in amber.

      Why not presume that is their "approximate" location? I.e. your model moves 6" normally. It ends its move standing near a wall - say a base length away.

      An enemy moves into line of sight and shoots. Why not presume the model naturally reacts by jumping over the ball and taking cover behind it, rather than stand obligingly on the wrong side and take fire.

      The rule could read: any model within a base length of cover are treated as in cover, regardless of their actual location.

      It's why I think true-line-of-sight is overrated (probably features in another rant/post)

  5. The problem with considering the unit location as "approximative" is that you actually open pandora's box. What about facing - why is unit translation approximative but not their facing? If a unit is able to react by jumping into cover, why shouldn't it rotate to face a noise? Also, what about LOS from enemy units? etc. More importantly IMHO, with reference to "realism" (I tend to favor the term "believability" myself), the actual scale of the game should be taken into consideration. If 1" (usually a 28mm scaled base) is roughly 5 meters, is it "believable" that an infantryman would be able to jump 5m instantly to take cover from incoming fire?

    However, I suspect it would be interesting to design a whole set of rules around this concept - a miniature game's take on the schrödinger's cat: as long as I don't interact with an enemy unit, there is no way to tell where it actually is (within a limited radius ofc).

    I find that an elegant way of dealing with the issue is how Brent Spivey did it in Rogue Planet or The Battlefield. If you are in base contact with an obstacle providing cover, you have cover versus all incoming fire, including shots thant don't cross the obstable. The mechanic is assuming that the unit is hugging the ground or the wall and assumes it knows how best to tactically conceal itself. Also, if the terrain area where the unit is currently standing is designated as difficult (aka cluttered), the unit automatically benefits from cover. It implies that the unit is actively using terrain to conceal itself when interacted with, and deals with the abstract nature of terrain modeling (you did not model every rock, every ground depression, every bush on your table, especially due to an abstracted ground scale, but your soldier is still able to benefit from them).

    1. The problem with considering the unit location as "approximative" is that you actually open pandora's box.

      What about facing - why is unit translation approximative but not their facing? If a unit is able to react by jumping into cover, why shouldn't it rotate to face a noise? Also, what about LOS from enemy units? etc.

      ----Most platoon level WW2 games assume a 360d arc of fire for minis/units so I see no problem. Why shouldn't troops rotate automatically to face a noise? Seems only logical. We have reaction tests, why not ASSUMED reactions? Many games do not trace true LoS from each and every model. Again, true LoS is itself flawed so there's no imperative to use it.

      ----The above issues still seem to stem from the mindset that in say a 5 second move, one side moves and shoots, and the other obligingly stands around in a precise location, then they swap roles. Why wouldn't BOTH be moving? Since simultaneous movement and firing bring their own problems, why not at least allow the non-active player a wee bit of latitude?

      More importantly IMHO, with reference to "realism" (I tend to favor the term "believability" myself), the actual scale of the game should be taken into consideration. If 1" (usually a 28mm scaled base) is roughly 5 meters, is it "believable" that an infantryman would be able to jump 5m instantly to take cover from incoming fire?

      ----Why do you presume it is an "instant" jump that covers 5m in a single kangaroo-like bound?

      It would rather a solider/s seeing movement/hearing the first few shots fly in, then scurrying/diving into cover, SIMULTANEOUS with the incoming fire - the reaction might take place over 2-3 seconds of the 5 second move.

      --Yes, the Spivey rules (and AAG ones) were the ones I had in mind when I said "only a few"....

    2. TW/FOF reflects this to some extent - you can claim cover if more then 50% of your unit is within a certain distance (1"?) regardless of which side of the cover they are. More than 6" away from anything and they are caugth in the open giving the enemy an extra die to roll to hit. Most games I play are squad based and infantry have 360 degree arc of fire but vehicles have a fixed fire arc - makes sense, a 25 ton assault gun can't spin on the spot to line up a fixed gun as easily as infantry can bring a weapon to bear.

  6. Good article. The game I'm designing (a fantasy game) actually has 1:1 ratio where an average ranged unit can fire 12" and units move up to 12" (actually it's possible to move a little further, you use cards to move, 1-12, and add a speed bonus of the units, so around 14 would be the absolute max right now.).

    The game is skirmish level, and I kind of like the feel of small range with tightly fit units in a sort of Shining Force kind of feel. Though maybe it is too small, I also kind of picture archers as being more of a senescence than lethal (potentially distracting while something bigger hits you).

  7. Hammers Slammers Crucible is one of the games which has line-of-sight range for a lot of the weapons. With a good enough targetting system, your MBT main gun can shoot down a low orbit satellite as it passes overhead...
    Standard Slammers' infantry small arms are powerguns which can shoot from one side of the table to the other, seems a bit silly if you have a huge table (20' - yes, weapon can fire that far but can the shooter really aim that precisely over such a long distance?) but for a normal 4-6' table isn't really a problem. For vehicle guns, unlimited range makes sense - I recall an article on a Challenger achieving a hit & kill on an Iragi MBT at 4km+ range and most tabletop games involve fighting at significantly shorter scale ranges than that.
    As you said in your main article, plenty of scenery is the answer!