This post is a flow on from #68, where I looked at the amount of actions per turn a unit can do.
I'm interested in "inherent" reactions; not a specific reaction mechanic like say Ambush Alley or Infinity, but the ability to respond to enemies actions.
In the last post, I suggested we could improve alternate activation mechancics (the new "normal" as IGOUGO has deservedly fallen from grace) by reducing the number of actions a unit can take from 2 (the usual move+shoot, move+move, charge+melee etc) to one.
As units can only take a single action, they impact the game less. Less in-game time elapses before opponents can respond with their own moves. A unit which can move only 6" OR shoot, obviously has less time on their hands than an identical unit which can move 6" AND shoot AND melee.
By doing less in a unit's activation, we have by inference made the turn shorter, time-wise.
The most extreme example of
"chopping up" a move into small increments is Star Fleet Battles. Each
turn was chopped up into 32(!) sub-moves or "impulses." You
could only move a single hex (1") at most each impulse; for example a
speed-32 ship could move every impulse, a speed 16 ship might move every
2nd impulse, a speed 2 ship might move on impulses #16 and #32...
(I find the idea of impulses interesting - I've considered reviving them for spaceship or aeronef games. Maybe not 32 - that's a bit extreme - but chopping a turn up into 2, maybe 3 bits it could have several interesting effects, such as easily showing the responsiveness of smaller ships, weapon rate of fire, and turn radius, as well as crew initiative.... maybe food for another post)
This is the ebb and flow of a battle - where one side seizes the initiative (the active player) while the other reacts. The player with the momentum (or initiative) is the one dictating play, forcing his opponent to dance to his tune. However, momentum can be lost. Sometimes it is handed over as part of an activation. Even better, some games allow you to wrest the initiative off your opponent - perhaps by command rolls or by combat results.
I like to use the word momentum - it can be used somewhat interchangabley with the terms "the player with the initiative" or the "active player" but the word initiative can be used in a few ways, and sometimes you might have the momentum/initiative and NOT be the active player (see Forced Activation below).
An IGOUGO game has no ebb and flow. It's like two tidal waves smashing each other to bits. Side A crashes home, with every unit taking lots of moves, actions and attacks. Any Side B survivors who weather the storm hit back with all their units, attacking with everything they've got. There's no momentum - it's just one giant crash, then another giant crash.
An alternate move game has players dutifully taking turns. It's like toddlers taking turns to splash at opposing ends of the tub. While there isn't an overwhelming, synchronized response from an army, but rather a unit-by-unit tit-for-tat, nonetheless I don't like the neat, predictable nature of it. You move a guy, I move a guy, you move a guy, I move a guy. Fine for boardgames, but warfare isn't that tidy.
I suggest a more interesting way is to enable armies to activate several units in a row. Instead of dutifully taking turns with an opponent to activate a unit each (in alternate movement), sometimes a you can "follow on" by activating another of your units, without handing the turn back to your opponent. However this should not be predictable. Even better, your opponent should be able to interrupt and seize the momentum back. As you can see, with a game with variable momentum we blur the lines between reaction mechanics and vanilla activation.
Momentum is not New
This is not a revolutionary concept. I think Warmaster/Epic (heck I forget, it was so long ago) had an alternate movement system - players took turns moving a unit each. However, you could try to "follow on" and move a second unit, if you passed a Command Test. However, each time you tried to "follow on" reduced the command roll by -1. So it would be difficult to follow-on three times as you would be at -3 to make the roll.
So instead of normal alternate activation
1. Player A activates a unit
2. Player B activates a unit
3.Player A activates a unit
4. Player B activates a unit
We have instead
1. Player A activates a unit, he then decides if he wants to activate a second unit or pass the turn to Player B. He decides he wants to act again. He passes the command roll.
2. Player A activates a second unit. Again he can pass the initiative over, or move a second unit. He decides to keep the momentum going. This time his command roll is -1 to succeed. For the sake of our example, he fails the roll.
3. Player B now has the activation. After he activates a unit he may choose to pass or follow-on.
...and so on
You can see there are more decision points for the player. Also, command and control is a factor - the leadership/morale/training of commanders and troops can affect the move sequence.
Another example is Song of Blades. A player rolls 1-3 dice to see how many actions his unit can take. If he rolls 2 failures his turn abruptly ends and it is his opponents' turn. The momentum shift is very abrupt "hey buddy, your turn is over!" but player can remove the risk by rolling only 1 dice (so removing the chance of a double failure) but be guaranteed of being able to follow on and continue their turn. It also adds a pleasing element of risk vs reward. I'm not sure it counts as momentum because your turn is completely over. For me, momentum is more the shift of initiative within a turn.
Crossfire (WW2 platoon/coy) along with its complete lack of measurements, had a distinct momentum system. Units had unlimited movement and unlimited actions. However opponents could react freely. So whilst a unit could technically move the length of the table in its activation, it would be VERY unlikely. If a unit lost an engagement or was suppressed, the turn shifted to its opponent.
(Crossfire is a very interesting and innovative game for its time - I recommend it to rulebook connoisseurs)
Reaction is not momentum. Infinity has a strong reaction mechanic, but no real momentum. The active player has as many activations as he has units (i.e. 10 units, 10 activations). Whilst the reactive player has very strong, unlimited reactions, the active player cannot lose the momentum. He remains the active player until his 10 actions are used up. There is no way for the momentum to shift within a turn.
The Forced Activation
I quite like this and it appears in a lot of my homebrew rules. If you have the momentum (i.e. you have the initiative/are the active player.) But sometimes you don't want to be the first one to act. Sometimes acting second is better. But we want having the momentum to always be a desirable thing. So... the player with the initiative can force an opponent to activate a unit. Sometimes the opponent gets to choose, sometimes you can force him to move precisely the unit you want him to.
To recap - an Ode to Momentum
Momentum is the term I used to show the shift of initiative within a turn, or abruptly losing their turn without activating all their units. Within a momentum system, players do not hold the initiative for the entire turn. There is no guarantees of when (or even if) they will activate their unit. A player with momentum is the one calling the shots - but their is no promises he will continue to do so.
Momentum can be lost in a few ways. Sometimes from adverse effects (a la Crossfire) - a unit takes hits or is suppressed - the momentum (initiative) shifts and the opponent becomes the active player. Other times a unit loses it by failing a roll (command check); other times an opponent might attempt to seize it off him with some sort of opposed roll if he has a command unit within range or LoS.
A system with momentum adds a layer of complexity - instead of players predictably taking turns, it's a game-within-the-game to seize and hold the initiative at key times. It can emphasize command and control - the when (or if) you act is every bit as important as the where. It can emphasize the value of commanders as actual commanders, not just high-stat rambo killing machines *cough 40K cough*. Momentum can add a ability for opponents to react and respond, without drafting on an extra reaction mechanic. It builds an element of inherent reaction into the activation itself.
There are lots of games that use a sense of "momentum" - but it is a concept that I think needs wider consideration. Game designers are belatedly realising IGOUGO is limited, and that there is merit in reaction mechanics (basically extensions of the old "overwatch" concept.) But I think the concept of momentum is still in its infancy.