Friday 24 March 2023

Tank Mordhiem: Activation Musings

The Background

My 'Tank-Mordhiem' is a skirmish game where tank crews are kinda the 'ships' of a post-apoc style wasteland. Stalker-Mad Max-Pirates-Mortal Engines meets Fury. 

Basically there are colonies (vaguely themed after/using tanks of WW2 nations e.g. Teutonica, Britannia, Slavia, Federation) who trade across the wastelands. WW1 has gone wrong, with poison gas and deadly weapons creating a WW2 era of mutants, wastelands and weather that conveniently makes flying a no-no so planes never really got developed. Also the WW2 theme means if I need to reuse the tanks for an actual WW2 game, the paint jobs will be OK....

I'm making my own rules: basically we have 4-12 units per side, with tanks usually operating in troops of 2-4. They kinda act like sailships of the wastes, escorting merchant half-track convoys, exploring and raiding bases and villages. Yes of course, there are tank pirates.

I'm kinda using the real stats, but balancing them more to the middle - nerfing late war tanks and buffing early war models. So a Pz38 would actually have a small chance to defeat an IS-2. 

In the playtest stage, my trusty wooden blocks usually serve as terrain.

The Activation Problem

Anyway, here is my problem. I'm pretty chill with combat mechanics, but activation is bugging me. I have 3 ideas currently. Since mechanics are simple and we've only got 4-8 tanks per time, I can use some complexity, but still want it to play fast. The crews are kinda 'heroes' who have their own crew stat, and often a special skill or trait. (Think Battletech pilots)

Option A - He who moves slowest, shoots first (been playing LOTR lately, simple is good)

Basically kinda a modified LoTR. Movement goes:

Tanks moving fast 

Tanks moving normally

Tanks moving slowly

This means, slowest tanks see who goes first. Better crews go last if a tie. Shooting works in reverse:

Tanks who don't move fire first

Tanks moving slowly fire next

Tanks moving normally fire next

Tanks moving fast...   ...don't fire at all

This has the advantage of being fast and very easy. It's also pretty logical. If you're parked you'll probably get your shot off first. But it's also rather rote and predictable. I could sexy it up by allowing tanks a special order a la BFG order/LoTR might where they can snap shot first; or even allowing a dice roll where one side can drop a step in the sequence. This is quick and clean but may be better suited to a mass battle tank game. There isn't any uncertainty, friction or randomness. You can kinda plan ahead too much for a skirmish game. All crews get the same amount of actions, just better crews act at a better time; so better crews DO have an advantage...

Option B: Song of Tracks and Cannon (original method)

As seen in Chain of Command or SoBH. After you choose a tank, you roll a bunch of "Crew Die" or "Skill Dice" to see what you can do. E.g. a crew might roll 3d6, and get a bunch of orders/actions for each success (say a 3+ for elite., 4+ for regular, 5+ for rookie).  So you will score a random amount of actions, with better units usually getting more. Failing rolls could mean initiative swaps.

Orders could include: pivot tank, adjust tank 2"/reverse, move half, move full, acquire target/slew turret, shoot, aim, load special ammo, overwatch, repair tank etc.

This gives a nice RPG feel, with some randomness, but you have a tank that could move AND shoot before an opponent could respond. Method A has only 1 action each side. This method could have a tank taking 2-3 actions before opponents respond e.g. fire twice and take out two tanks. I'm not sure if I like this... but it might be good. It's certainly no worse than other skirmish wargames and their aternate move. It's also quite consistent, rules-wise. Better crews do act more often, which I like as it shows their coolness under combat; they process and co ordinate better.

Option C: A bit of both (latest idea)

Each tank gets a single action and can roll a single "Crew Dice" for a second action, similar to Method B above. Failing the crew roll means initiative swaps (or your opponent chooses who acts next).

Movement goes: Roll crew dice

-if pass, may pivot AND move

-if fail, may pivot OR move you can do more stuff, but not much... 

Shooting goes: Roll crew dice

-if pass, may acquire/traverse+shoot, aim+shoot, or shootx2 (RoF/movement permitting)

-if fail, may merely shoot

Horde rule: if one player has activated all his models in a phase, his opponent is -1 to crew rolls

The downside of this is... have I made it more complex with more 'exceptions' to the gameplay? Also, moving second is usually better. So maybe if you pass your movement crew roll you choose if you OR your opponent moves next...

Upside: No one can really shoot before opponents have had a chance to move out of the way... and there is a touch of unpredictability. You can do 1 or 2 things each time it's your go. It's kinda halfway between A and B. Better crews do get to act more often.


As for mechanics, you can presume a d10 roll to hit, d6 or d10 roll to damage/kill, and a d6 roll to see what damage does (mobility, crew, weapons) with only the later step exceeding the complexity of Bolt Action/FoW.

So... which is better for a small-scale skirmish game?


  1. Have you checked out TFL's "What a Tanker!" - might just be an off-the-shelf answer?

  2. It's pretty beer-and-pretzels from what I can see; also designed more for a club game where it's one-player per-one (or two) tanks. If it's similar to Chain of Command it's a bit TOO random.

    ....Also.... it's $30AUD for a bloody pdf...

  3. Are you doing any sort of reactions with this system?

    1. Currently no, except for reserving your fire as overwatch. I feel reactions add more 'special circumstances' and can bog a game too much. Instead, I prefer to slice the 'turn' into small pieces and alternate the initiative to allow minis to 'react'.

      Example Infinity: a mini can make many activations, each with 2 actions, but needs powerful reactions to stop him running amok. Actions per turn; potentially half a dozen or more!

      My Example: A mini can only make a single action, but can roll a dice for another one. If he fails the roll, initiative switches. Average 1.5 actions per turn.

      Tradiotional IGOUGO: A mini may make 2 actions, and the player can move and co ordinate all his models unopposed. Average 2 actions per turn.

  4. Some interesting ideas. Not a fan of Option B as this can result in tanks not doing anything, which while/maybe realistic, is not much fun.
    Option C is a better one as it always lets the player do something.
    Option A sounds interesting and gives some good decision points for each player.

  5. Option B - Easily fixed if that is the concern - give everyone 1 automatic action, and 2d6 for extra actions, instead of 3d6. It's pretty unlikely you'd have more than 1 tank not doing anything as it, though....

    Option A - vanilla, it is a bit too structured, while probably miles ahead of IGOUGO and alternate move which are the norm. Kinda what I'd pick if I was playing with 20, 30 tanks though...

    Option C - has more 'exceptions' - while A and B have a predictable flow.

  6. So, a different sort of combination of both ideas, what if the speed the tank was moving was some sort of modifier. Say, standstill tanks roll 3 dice for actions, slow roll 2, and normal roll 1. Any roll over crew quality would give them an action. In this way, action is somewhat random, but crew quality is still important (# you have to roll) and speed is still important (# action dice rolled). This doesn't, however, deal with the problem of who goes first in initiative, but if you did the typically SoBH alternating when one side fails it could work well. It also brings up some interesting points about which tanks to activate first and encourages activating tanks that moves less first because they have less of a chance to completely fail the roll. If I did my math correctly at leas though, for example, a rookie tank that didn't move (3d6, rolling for 5+) has a 43% chance of success, and a normal experienced with (1d6, 3+) has a 50% chance of success.

    1. Put it in anydice actually, here's the link:

    2. Okay, so I finally figured I've been lurking around this blog long enough and posting anonymous comments, so I finally actually signed in to my Google account, and I've requested to join the google group because I heard a lot of interesting discussion goes on over there.

    3. I quite like your idea btw; a high speed tank wouldn't fire due to not having time to brake/aim; and it would do less everything else due to being jolted around (a friend drove an APC and he said it was like being in a washing machine when going cross country at pace)....

  7. Option A is obviously the best, as long as the objectives are movement -based, and adequate cover is available. The rest is unnecessary overcomplicating things for the sake of extra chrome and noise... unless you are very particularly wedded to Option B or C, which doesn't appear to be the case by virtue of the fact that you are asking the question at all. "Keep it simple, stupid."

    And oh. By the way, option A is perfect in defined attacker defender scenarios with hidden defender deployment (chits for possible positions keyed to individual units). Defender is guaranteed first shot from (hard) cover and cannot be discovered or engaged at all for absolute advantage. This is how it should be, and makes for good gaming experiences that perfectly follow real world experience.

    1. I'd definitely prefer A for big actions (20-30 tanks a side, 1:300 scale etc) due to predictability/simplicity. I also would like to differentiate tanks that fire 1x, 2x, 3x a turn (i.e. Sov 152mm vs 6pdr) without having them dump 3 shots off in the firing stage... so it's not that clear cut.

      But I'd prefer small actions of 4-8 or so tanks per side to be more chaotic. I'd like tanks with a 2-3 vs 4 man turret to be differentiated (i.e. multi-tasking commander = less actions for crew) which was an issue on say early T-34s vs Panzers.

      ....Better crews don't just go first; they get more done in the same time frame.

      Given this is a skirmish/quasi RPG I'm Ok to eat a bit of complexity (i.e. typically half a dozen tanks per side) - it's not a traditional microarmour 1:300 or FoW/Bolt Action 40K-a-like.

      I'm actually thinking about option"D"- an impulse chart like Star Fleet Battles, mixed with "A" and "B"!

    2. I'm always a fan of anything SFB inspired!

    3. Getting "more" done could be an extra action point, but it could just as easily be expressed as slightly better stats, depending on the granularity of the mechanics. Note that reality and doctrine matter. How might veterans vs rookies fare under a strict "shoot-and-scoot" doctrine working from prepared positions, and moving after each engagement?

      Anyhow, compare with Flames of War, right? IMO, they get a lot right with a relatively simple system. Have you tried just playing that OOTB?

    4. I forgot to add: IIRC, SFB had 32 impulse steps, which Car Wars initially reduced down to 10 phases, then just 5. If you're dead set on phases/impulse, consider time scale per step vs human perception, reflexes, reaction time and vocalization + coordination ability. IMO, clock-based phases are bad at snappy gameplay, tending to slow things down by forcing players to wait until their sub-turn.

    5. Flames of War was a WW2 copy of a space fantasy game (40K).

      Its rules may have changed a lot since I played it in 2015, but from memory it suceeded in getting 40K players into historicals = commercial success, but brought the things I disliked about 40K (lack of decisions/weak turn sequence, lack of actual WW2 feel/tactics, cheesy game-y-ness).

      32 impulses is a bit over the top! I was thinking modifying method B (d6 for 1-3 actions) and having say 3 impulses. ....Certainly no more impulses (6) than you could use by placing a dice next to the tank.

      The complexity is to be on a par with skirmish games like Necromunda, or LoTR:SBG.

    6. Flames was a 40k clone, but there's nothing obviously wrong with ahistorical tactics or strategy gameplay at the scale that the rules were abstracted. What do you even mean by "lack of actual WW2 feel/tactics"? Do you mean that it streamlined the unnecessarily cumbersome table lookups and slow mechanics that characterized earlier WW2 games with leaden gameplay?

      32 SFB impulses WAS a lot, and fractional energy accounting was very important, because saving your pennies of power added up to enable an useful power advantage in later turns. This is why SFB was actually a wargame for accountants, rather than naval captains, but I digress...

      OTOH, 3 impulses would be optimally organized as Move, Shoot, and Melee, as GW does it in 40k and AoS. Seems kinda silly to do anything else if that's how you're slicing the turn up.

      6 phases is fine, if you add Start of Turn, Psychic / Magic and End of Turn, again, following the GW rubric. Absolutely no point in trying to do "better" for the sake of being different when you'll just confuse the player.

      (obviously tongue very firmly in cheek)

  8. What about B, but instead of it being based on a lower roll requirement for better units they roll more dice if veterans so have a higher chance of a success in their rolls. Now I type this not sure it actually does anything different to your suggestion! Or do you roll, check for a success, remove a die, roll and check for success, remove a die... etc. Veteran's get one additional roll at the beginning with one additional die increasing their odds and by removing dice you limit the maximum number of actions.

    Love the blog by the way been reading it for ages whilst designing tank games with my son.