My wife, having hated boardgames as a child, is suddenly really enthusiastic about them. It's cos she has abandoned Monopoly, Risk and Snakes and Ladders and embraced 'newer' games like Catan, Carcassonne - and more particularly, Sagrada and Azul.
It's basically cos new games are much better designed and thus more enjoyable. I could dissect the many, many reasons why they are better, but one in particular they all have in common has stuck in my head.
In many good boardgames, you are dealt your luck FIRST and then you decide what to do with it. A bit like getting a hand of cards - you can see you have a crappy poker hand and plan ahead how to maximize it. This is in contrast to most wargames where you decide on an action and THEN roll to find out if it works or not. Your cool plan may be wrecked by an unlikely roll of the dice.
Now wargames' usual "decide first, then roll to discover you succeeded/failed" is realistic (there is a lot of friction, uncertainty and randomness in warfare) but does it make a good game?
I hate hitpoints, but I understand them.
Games like the latest '21 Kill Team and Warcry have swapped to use my particular bugbear, hitpoints.
Hitpoints are fine for some circumstances, like spaceships, but are needless recording (and stupid) in human-scale skirmish games where you can take 9HP from a battleaxe and be perfectly functional, then loose your last 1HP from a rabbit bite and fall dead. /rant
I understand WHY they use them though. Mordhiem or Necromunda could be so punishing - a bad roll or two permanently deletes your lovingly painted mini - or allows an enemy to survive an impossible series of blows. Exasperating. Having hitpoints allows for some incremental progress and less binary dead/alive results. Even with bad rolls, you will nibble some HP off a foe. Hitpoints - aka having a wider, more predictable spread of results - can ease the swing of luck. I reckon it's why 'buckets of d6' tend to be more popular than a single d20. It may give similar results but seems less punishing and tends to give a more predictable 'average.'
Resource Pools - Controlling Luck
...Anyway, I was talking about predictable luck (or being dealt your luck first). No, I'm not advocating a deck of cards (I haven't found one card-based wargame that didn't seem gimmicky-for-the-sake of it). Nor am I saying you must pre-roll a 'hand' of dice (although that could be fun).
I'm talking about resource mechanics, where you get a pool of actions (or bonuses of some sort). Spending the resource allows you to take extra actions or modify your luck. LoTR:SBG (and it's "Legends of" historical spin offs) did this with assigning Might to heroes. This finite resource (usually 1-3 per hero) could be "spent" to allow a mini (and allies nearby) to act out of sequence, perform extra combats, and modify dice rolls to mitigate luck. This elevated the games' rather basic activation mechanics (Side A Move, Side B Move, Side A Shoot, Side B shoot, Both Melee) and added a lot of depth and decisions - to the extent that there is a rule of thumb of "1 Might (resource) per 100pts (6-7 minis)" - i.e. too little Might allows an opponent with more to control the battle too much.
Random Aside: ...Amusingly, as I was designing a sci fi 15mm game for my son, I decided on a similar-to-LoTR activation (as my son knows how to play this), only instead of only heroes with Might the whole army generated 1 "Resource" or "Order" per squad or hero, to be spent universally, in a similar way. I then thought "rather than it be guaranteed, maybe either roll to generate the order or to spend it (with rookie units having less % chance than a veteran unit).... ...and realised the mechanics I was describing was remarkably similar to FFG's Dust, with extra steps. A game I haven't seen anywhere since about 2013...
1.5 APT (Controlling Luck through Choice of Actions)
Note: This is more a specific random example to illustrate how luck can be controlled in a different way, rather than a broad recommendation like 'resource mechanics are good.'
Most wargames allow your mini to take 2 actions. Move + Shoot. Move + Melee. Move + Move (aka Sprint). Sometimes Shoot+Shoot. Now for a game to be as 'real time' as possible, all units on both sides should act simultaneously. Failing that, they should do a small action, minimizing the time the enemy spends 'frozen' unable to respond.
The less actions your unit can do, the less time the opponents are unrealistically frozen. However we don't want our lovingly painted mini to do nothing. A few historical games have turns end abruptly, leaving minis 'stranded' without having ever activated. They call it friction, and I see why this mechanic is used - but I just think it feels unfun.
So my homebrew rules tend to have 1-2 actions - i.e. 1 guaranteed action, and another 'maybe' action if the right circumstances are fulfilled. Now just rolling a dice against say a "Skill" stat does not implement any decision making from the player, but can be used to signal when initiative switches (i.e fail a roll, other player can start activating his minis). This is not ideal, but some decisions can be implemented - say if you take only 1 action you may retain the initiative (risk vs reward).
I also like to encourage behaviour with modifiers. This is obvious normally, in any wargame. Let's say using a d6, you hit in melee on a 4+ and wound on a 5+. But when shooting you hit on a 3+ and wound on a 4+. There is no incentive to melee and every reason to stand off your opponent - it's more lethal. But if melee was 3+ to hit and 3+ to wound, and shooting was 6 to hit, 6 to wound - you are likelier to go hand-to-hand. Another example is in Infinity that shooting is very punishing unless you are in cover, where you get whopping +4 to both avoiding being hit and also +4 to your wound roll. You are strongly incentivized to avoid standing in the open.
I like to apply this to my 1.5 APT activation - so if you choose particular second action or combination of actions you are more likely to get a second action. In my tank rules, a stabilized US tank gets a +2 to it's activation roll if it moves and shoots. So there is an incentive to roll forward and shoot. A German tank with better optics may get +2 to acquire and shoot but an overworked Soviet crew may get a -2; allowing German tanks to get the first shot off. A tank with bad reverse gear may get a -2 if any movement is a reverse move.You can control your odds of getting a second action by the action/s you choose.
At the same time it allows you to program the way a unit will act most of the time; modifying the action roll to strongly influence the controlling player to choose particular actions - or play a particular way. I'm fiddling with tying this to a chart for solo play - a kinda if/then tree based off the optimal choice.
....While this seems completely different to a resource pool, it's just another, different example of allowing you to better control your luck - by choosing actions with likelier/unlikelier outcome.
EDIT: You can also respond the the bad luck (getting 1 action not 2) - which has occurred prior the actions - by choosing which action to keep/or a new action, making the bad luck more manageable.
TL:DR While it may be less 'realistic' having more methods to control luck makes for a better game.