Thursday, 27 July 2023

Game Design #95: Deployment - More than Just Plonking Down Models

I often feel both terrain setup and deployment are seldom emphasized in wargames. Terrain is vital in most IRL battles - often, who arrives at said terrain first to achieve the optimal position. I'm going to cover the deployment here, discussing my thoughts within my homebrew post-apoc dieselpunk tank game. (Mortal Engines meets Mad Max with Tiger tanks and zombies)

Most wargames are "place your units within 6" or 12" of your base line, then opponent does the same" with the only rules being who places first (or alternate) or who gets what baseline. Usually it's a 50/50 d6 flip. Not very tactical.

Two influences on my thoughts at the moment are TFLs Chain of Command and a PC game called Steel Division.

Chain of Command is one of the wargames that made me really think about deployment. It has a pre-game phase where you move 'scout' tokens towards your enemy. The tokens cannot be more that 12" apart and once within 12" of an enemy are 'fixed' in place.  This then allows 'deployment points' to be placed in cover where units can spawn further up the battlefield rather than the usual baseline. Basically, it is a prematch minigame to determine deployment points.

Here is a copyright-free sketch:

Once your tokens get in range of enemy tokens they lock in place and you can place a deployment zone in the angle formed by two enemy tokens (shaded area). I really like the idea - just the implementation is meh.(<-this describes my opinion of most Lardies games to be honest)

I have a problem with this. The abstract tokens are pretty lame. Why not use real units? Why not make deployment part of the game not a separate minigame?

Historical games often have units arriving at different times in scenarios. I was always impressed by the PC game Steel Division which abstracts the concept in an elegant way. Most PC RTS have (ridiculous) base building, manufacturing units on the spot. You can 'tech up' your base, producing weak T1 units, then, with enough resources, average T2 units and finally, with enough time and effort, superheavy epic T3 units. Steel Division sweeps away the building and gives 3 phases - at the start, light vehicles and infantry are cheap, then after 10 minutes medium units (PzIV) become more affordable and finally after 20 minutes you get your Tiger IIs or whatever. It simulates the tech trees without bothering with the buildings. It also matches how light recon units would arrive first, and usually heavy assault units be brought to bear once contact is made. Now, you can bring heavy tanks in at earlier stages, but you get less of them - you might get 4 heavy tanks after 20min, 3 heavies after 10minutes and only 2 if you want them at the start of the game. Risk vs reward.

So let's do this in a tank game, with similar "stages"

1. Scout/Paratroop Phase (Turn 1). There may be no troops on a side that fit this category.

2. Light tanks, infantry and their APCs may deploy in Turn 2. Maybe they must roll Skill to arrive on time.

3.Medium tanks may deploy on Turn 3 (skill roll?). Light vehicles/infantry automatically arrive. 

4. Heavy tanks and assault tanks may deploy Turn 4 (skill roll).

5. Heavy tanks and assault tanks automatically arrive.

Cool. Now instead of tokens we have lighter units arriving first and then slowly the big hitters arriving. Maybe we can give some units a "Scout" trait to allow them to arrive the phase earlier than usual i.e. scout infantry can arrive turn 1. Maybe "Paratroops" can be pre-deployed in the scout phase using a scatter dice. I'll probably rejig this a fair bit after testing, but you get the idea. Light units arrive first, the mediums a bit later and heavies last of all.

Now some risk vs reward like Steel Division. Maybe all units can try to arrive sooner like a scout unit, but they must "Push It" - roll a skill roll and if they fail, their vehicle takes a mobility hit and is reduced to half speed all game - they cooked their engine or de-tracked themselves while pushing their machines too hard. Maybe then vehicles could get a "Reliable" trait that allows this to be re-rolled or "Unreliable" which gives a penalty. Anywhoo, you get the idea.

Chain of Command has the 'deployment zones' placed behind cover in a 'angle' formed by two enemy recon tokens and one of your tokens. 

I'd prefer to base off actual units, so maybe you can drive a unit off the nearest side table edge closest to your foremost unit.  You could deploy anywhere behind your foremost unit. That would encourage two scout units - so you can deploy from both sides of the board. 

Stylish artwork below to help explain the  idea:

You can come in off the baseline (A) like usual or... come in from the side (B) as long as you are behind your foremost unit on that side of the table ....and out of LoS of any enemies.

Obviously you'd have to make it so you couldn't just pop onto the board and start firing, or the reverse - get instantly spawnkilled - so maybe the unit could only be initially placed where it is out of LoS of any enemy.

I like this as it would encourage the sides of the board to see more play, helping avoid a scrum in the middle, and make having forward units on both sides of the board valuable (to make deployment more flexible). 

Perhaps a further variation could be added - allowing reinforcing units who walk in off the usual backline of the board a 'free' move up away from the baseline - maybe up to half the distance of the farthest forward ally i.e. if a unit was 28" forward then reinforcements could move 14" for free. However, at no point in this free move can the tank cross the LoS of an enemy tank and it must end the move out of the LoS of any enemy.

Variation below. 

You aren't stuck coming in from the baseline or the side but maybe get a free move from your baseline up to half the distance of your farthest unit on that flank (C), but must never be in LoS of an enemy on the way....

I'm not claiming this is an ideal or original solution (heck I haven't even properly playtested it) - I'm just trying out ideas. 

The aim is to make deployment a part of the flow of the main game using cool models rather than a Chain of Command mini-game with tokens. Also at same time it can make light units and scout units serve a useful, realistic role (arrive early, secure deployment zones and deny enemy using LoS rules) to set them apart from the heavy hitters. Hopefully it may also give a sense of 'stages' of the game where you may be trying to hold back light units with your light units while waiting for backup to arrive....

I don't play a lot of historical games any more but I suspect there may be a lot of good ideas lurking there based in deployments for specific scenarios, etc.

I may come back to this post when I've explored the idea more thoroughly - so I reserve the right to amend this down the track. I just hope I get others thinking of creative deployment solutions too!

TL:LR Deploying your forces should be more tactical than simply plonking down models 6" from your baseline.


  1. I've been playing with a system in the vain of fantasy warriors where there's a pre game phase to determine how well your side scouted. The more you beat your opponents scoring score the more you're able to effect deployment by moving, expanding, contacting, and splitting deployment areas as well as boosting it penalizing deployment tools for individual units.

    If a side loses control of all it's deployment areas it cannot deploy more units until it has regained control, so games can be won before all units are in play. I think it's easily power gamed, but for friendly games the concept has worked ok.

  2. Often, I find games have a simple "default" deployment and deployment zone that is pretty barebones. However, it is Scenarios that really layer on interesting deployment in most cases.

    For example, the deployment method for an escalating engagement is different than an ambush. It should be different.

    Chain of Command is a great game. However, the default situation is a meeting engagement in a "modern" setting. It would struggle with a different type of game.

    However, I do find it intriguing on how changing the "default" deployment of a game changes how the game evolves and is played.

  3. Conquest have a special mechanic for that, the ligth units start soon as the heavy ones.