Sunday 30 October 2016

Game Design #71: "Zone of Influence" Facing, Focal Figures, Arcs & Flanking Fire

"Zone of Influence"
I'm using this in the sense it is the area a unit can impact: it is basically a unit's move+shoot.  A unit with a 6" move and a 24" shoot would have a 30" zone of influence. 

I was pondering this when fiddling with my homebrew Aeronef rules.  I was balancing smaller escorts (10" move, 8" firing range) to cruisers (8" move, 10" firing range) to battleships (6" move, 12" firing range) and noticed the symmetry. 

Whilst there is obviously gameplay implications (re: move/shoot ratios and unit balance) I was musing more on how this relates to table size & terrain density (i.e. units with a 48" zone of influence on a 48" sq table vs units with a 18" zone of influence on a 4x6' table).  Also, could we look at "effective zone of influence" - the range at which a unit can effectively engage enemies. I'd say my rule of thumb for "effective" range is 25% lethality (i.e. 4+ on d6 to hit, 4+ on d6 to wound) with 12.5% if a unit is in cover. 

Weapon Arcs
My train of thought then veered to weapon arcs (common in the naval/space genre, and by default my game of flying battleships as well).  Maneuvering to bring optimal weapon arcs to bear while remaining out of enemy arcs adds many decision points. 

Obviously, weapon arcs are often used in skirmish games (where each side controls a squad of ~10 individually activated soldiers al la Infinity, Mordheim etc) to determine which way a soldier is facing and to allow maneuver into "blind spots" as well as creating more positioning decisions. 

But what about in platoon games where a squad of 4-10 is moved as a singe entity (Bolt Action, 40K)?  Most games give the multi-figure units a 360 field of fire, presuming at least a few guys are always facing the right way, but that isn't necessarily accurate.

My suggestion: rather than try to face all minis the same way, perhaps have a "focal figure" (i.e. leader or guy on unique base) who determines the actual facing or location of the unit.  Then you can scatter the other figures (aka hitpoints) around artistically. I'm not saying a unit cannot have a 360 field of fire, but perhaps all fire to the "blind side" is -1 or -2 penalty or something to show the unit is primarily focussed elsewhere.

I think having a "facing" or optimal weapon arcs adds more decision points - aka tactics or opportunities for you as a player to influence the game.

Back to the focal figure - I think this has applications for AoE and cover.  This is not a new concept, but one I think that deserves more currency than it presently enjoys. 

Perhaps a little off topic: I also like the rule "you're in cover if you are within 2" (or whatever) of a piece of cover - regardless of the side of the cover you are on."  I like the fluidity it suggests - figures are not precisely frozen in place on the tabletop like waxwork dummies, but the placement of the mini shows the "approximate" location of the actual soldier, give or take a few seconds. I.e. they notice contacts, then dive through a nearby hedge.   This generally means units are in at least modest cover unless they are really blatantly crossing an open paddock (or you have a really wide open, boring gaming table).  What I'm trying to say is: I like the idea that a mini shows "roughly" where a soldier is, rather than precisely denotes the exact "freeze frame" location of the soldier.

Flanking Fire
I'm not claiming this isn't common in historical games, but I've noticed many of the "popular" wargames I have do not really emphasize this much, if at all.  Given the "pin and flank" is a core tenet of warfare, you'd think games should always have pretty hefty bonuses for outflanking.  It's not tricky either - especially if we use our "focal figure" - then any unit engaged from two units more than 90d+ apart suffers significant defence penalties or maybe loses cover bonuses. 

Well, this is not the most deeply-thought out article ever, and each topic could be explored in better depth. A quick TL:DR of points covered:

+ If our units have a "zone of influence" (move+shoot) what implications does that have for table size/design?
+ Weapon arcs/unit arcs - they add more decision points than "everyone sees and fires perfectly 360"
+ Using a single "focus mini" to define unit facing/position; this also opens up other game design options
+"Fluid positioning" i.e. minis do not precisely denote the exact "freeze frame" position of the soldier/unit
+Flanking/flanking fire - a key element in warfare, but many popular rules don't emphasize it much

As usual, I don't claim to have the "best answers" - I'm more tossing out food for thought.  Why do wargames make certain predictable design choices? Are there better options?


  1. My most recent forays into big skirmish games all use a focal figure, either the NCO or the MG. Fluid positioning follows on quite neatly from that. Is the FF in cover/in range? Congratulations, so are you. Arrange aesthetically to your heart's content.

    Flanking/rear rarely gets a look in in lower level games, admittedly. If I recall correctly, TFL games like 'Chain of Command' double the morale damage if you are hit from outside your front 90o. Simple and effective.

  2. Mantic has been adding this concept to their sci-fi rulebooks. Methinks it's merely a brilliant idea to fasten and objectify
    the criteria used in wargames.

    In reference to the facing, having in account has additional issues.

    The first, a logistical one: the facing angles shall be marked on involved miniatures.
    Using a reference model in every unit simplifies the work, but you have to do it yet.
    Most of times you have to dirty the base with marks or use special, already marked bases to put models over them (as a second base).

    The second problem, the arguments. Unless you play against mature people, facing will become a new source of arguing.
    Luckily today there are tools to ease the tracing of straight lines on games, and this mitigates (in part, too many madmen on the loose) this effect.
    Every subjective source of information generates this kind of conflicts.

  3. I recently started playing Planetside 2, so I've got a tiny bit of first-hand first-person experience with fields of view in a SF skirmish. Flanking matters for two reasons:

    #2 Your targets have less cover/less movement.
    #1 Your targets can't react well. They don't have time to acquire you as a target and return effective fire before you kill them, and they can't reliably pick the correct direction to dash for cover.

    They're both big advantages, but #1 is bigger.

  4. I wrote up the exact same ideas in my rules draft regarding unit facing and flanking fire. Just got through all your articles after a year of on and off reading. Thanks again, very insighttful.