Monday 29 April 2024

Game Design #105: Suppression, Pinning, AoE

Q: What does Generation Kill, Green Zone and Battle for Los Angeles have in common?

 A: They are all movies I have watched recently with my wife, and have prompted thoughts about suppression/AoE in wargames.

Here are a few shower thoughts. I reserve the right to add to/edit this post as I "concrete" my thinking so apologies if this post changes a bit vs what is in the comments. Also all my wargame books are boxed up for my shift so I can't check details.

What does pinned and suppressed even mean? Which is better/worse? Are we using the right terms?

I kinda presumed pinned means "can't move" and suppressed means "can't shoot." But definitions seem vague in wargames. I'd be interested to know what the correct usage is. 

Usually in wargames pinned is a worse result (frozen in place, unable to return fire); but should it be? If a unit is "pinned" in cover it could presumably return fire (maybe at a reduced effectiveness). Something that is "suppressed" is rendered ineffective, right? So... no shooting? And no moving either? Or is it merely "degraded" enemy shooting/observation?  I also read "suppressing fire" "pins down" the enemy and stops them from moving but "covering fire" stops them from shooting and allows you to move. Ugh, confusing.

I'm not sure if this is semantics but do wargames actually treat this the right way? The terms seem to be two different effects in wargames or two "levels" of impact. I'd be interested to know the proper usage. I'm pretty sure my various army rellies used the word "neutralise" but I think it's just the Aussie term for "suppress?"

Are there two stages of suppression? And if so, what effects should they have to best mimic real life?

I'd like a lot more clarity as to the correct terminology... are wargames even using the words right? 

Are wargames too lethal? Is aimed fire too lethal? Does this diminish the value of suppression?

Should you need to suppress first to reliably kill?

I have 0 real world experience, but in milsim PC gaming, the ones getting kills are the ones who are not being suppressed; or the unspotted ones/ambushers with the leisure to aim carefully. When both sides are suppressing each other/spraying fire from cover there is less casualties then if one side has "won" the lead-slinging contest. I'd presume this is even more so when there is real life risk involved. Aimed fire tends to be close range or when there is less risk to the shooter.

Should it almost be a sequence where you have to suppress first / make yourself safe from return fire (can include first turn of an ambush), THEN your chance of getting an actual kill say ...doubles?

Ambush Alley has units "defend" with a pool of dice that represents their active return fire etc; and as a unit takes fire it looses dice from this defensive pool; making it more liable to actually take more losses.

Rolling a 4+ (50%) on a d6 to hit is crazy high, even for a burst of fire. Heck, even 6+ (17%) is high. It almost infers for modern games we need d10, d12 or d20 to allow the low probabilities and allow modifiers.

Should suppression always include the chance to kill?

Quite a few games have "suppression" effect as merely a morale roll. But shouldn't the suppression actually include danger? Having no chance at all to be harmed (however small) seems a bit contradictory.

Should being suppressed/pinned be a choice?

Should units be able to voluntarily "pin" themselves? Maybe units can choose to override the pin at risk of casualties? (risk vs reward) I.e. WW2 USSR troops would probably push through fire that would pin say US troops  - but would certainly take more casualties. (I think Zona Alfa does this?)

Suppression - should it be an AoE marker?

A bullet suppresses ~1m or so; a artillery shell/bomb might suppress to 100x that...

Should suppression be an "area" i.e. a high RoF weapon like a SAW might suppress a 6" diameter circle but an assault rifle a maximum of 3" - representing the volume of fire. (And even then the AR may need to do some sort of reload afterwards). A .50 cal mount on a vehicle might suppress 9-12" due to the bigger rounds...  How long will suppression linger (before cease fire/enemies recover)? Can you place a "suppression" marker as a sorta hazardous terrain token?

I've always liked AoE effects which I've explored more here already...

Squad/Platoon vs Individual Minis - Different Mechanics for Different Scales?

I feel a game that operates on the Bolt Action/40K level (you move clumps/squads of 4-10 men) will probably need very different mechanics to games where you move and fire individual minis (a la Infinity or Necromunda) - i.e. the effect of suppression on a group vs an individual. This would probably also effect the infliction of suppression; 10 squaddies with semiautomatic rifles could probably "suppress" an area or enemy squad; whereas a single guy's semiauto rifle probably would not be viewed as "suppressive" weapon; whereas a single SAW/LMG might...

Suppression/Covering Fire: Should it effect the move sequence?

Wargames nearly always move then shoot; maybe you must shoot (or suppress) then move; or indeed need to suppress to be allowed to move. Can a successful suppression shift the initiative or change unit activation sequences? I.e. the "flow" of battle. 

Gaining fire superiority is often a precursor to maneuver... so shoot, check, THEN move/flank somehow?

Also... should we allow some sort of joint activation, where one unit covers/suppresses a target and the other unit moves in a single action/activation?

Games like Infinity have reactive/suppressive fire that can stop miniatures dead; but it does not interfere with the move sequence. I think Crossfire did swap the initiative when an action was hindered by enemy fire?

It's very late so I'm off to bed; but I'll probably return to expand upon, and add questions.(And hopefully some solutions - I'm just a bit handicapped due to my move not allowing me to experiment. This topic probably links with other posts; on morale/willpower, activation and lethality.

EDIT #1 - Further Thoughts: As you can see from the comments, there isn't a lot of consensus of what a term exactly entails. 

In my googling I realize we may be rehashing a debate from TMP - who also didn't properly define the terms!

-Looking at the AAP6 NATO terms recommended, suppression "degrades" (limited fire and/or move?) as long as the fire lasts*; neutralisation is the next level up; it renders a target temporarily ineffective/unusable (no fire or move?). I kinda like this as the two main "levels" of effect.

-Wikipedia is not ideal but it is a 'common source'  and is suggests "pinned" is a colloquialism like "keeping their heads down" - it's just suppression, rebadged. Relation to cover probably differentiates suppression from pinned; most movement of a suppressed unit is going to be towards cover; once it arrives it'll be 'pinned' there? I'm wondering if pinning = suppressed; and the idea of pinning > suppression or pinning > suppression may be more from our wargaming rulebooks than 'real life.' 

Pinning may just be one aspect of being suppressed; suppression fire by nature isn't too precise - your minis are relatively safe unless they try to move or shoot back. So allowing a risk/reward choice mechanic (stay put and be safe vs try something and risk death/penalties to hit) might be available to better troops. These options could vary - fanatics may be allowed to move/charge despite enemy fire; while trained militia might only be able to return fire and not move, for example.

-Suppression is temporary and limited by ammo. HE/grenades can be used by suppressed units to "counter suppress" ('win the firefight?'); smoke/flares can technically be used to suppress nonlethally through giving/denying concealment....         ....So should these be factored into a wargame? I.e. a single model using suppressive fire with a non-belt weapon may need to reload - a squad may have reduced attack dice etc in the next turn etc? And you can throw grenades and (if it breaks LOS) next turn you squad gets bonuses to "unsuppress" themselves etc.

-The use of marksman/snipers to suppress interests me; I think I mentally classed it as "aimed/directed fire" - intentional killshots the opposite of "mad minute" sprays and AoE blasts; but they are listed as a suppressive weapons and it does kinda make sense. Didn't the USMC ditch its SAWs altogether?

-Suppressing enemies seems integral in doctrine to allowing allies to move freely - so I am increasingly thinking, yes -  suppression in a wargame should be linked to activation; i.e. successfully suppressing a unit may allow a 'free' move to an ally nearby, or allow joint activations between supporting units; anything to control the "flow" of the game; not just a penalty on the target.


  1. This is a great post, and I don't really have hard & fast answers other than "it depends". My sense is that one includes pinning / suppression mechanics because there is an attempt to model varying reactions when coming under fire. In a 40k schema, you can consider the morale effects of being targeted by shooting/magic, being fired upon, taking potential wounds, taking unsaved wounds, losing models. And then cross that against being in the open, in soft cover, behind hard cover, being unarmored vs being fully armored. There's also the knowing who firing, with what, and how lethal it might be. There's the whole fanaticism vs command thing. Finally, it's a question for what one intends to simulate vs detail and resolution time.

    Depending on all of those factors, being shot at can have wildly different results in gameplay.

    - GG

    1. "Depending on all of those factors, being shot at can have wildly different results in gameplay. "

      Unfortunately we need to boil it down to something simple and playable.

      Random thought re: factors and results: a unit in cover may be more LIKELY to fail a morale and be pinned; because it is comfy where it is and unlikely to leave; whereas a unit in the open is more likely to push forward.


    2. I totally agree that the net result needs to be a simple mechanic, but there's a lot of variance in how it should work. I've been playing the PUBG action survival shooter game for a very long time now, and when my squad gets shot at, the biggest question, by far, is "where is the shooter?"

      If I don't know where the shooter is, then moving becomes very risky, as they have tactical advantage in addition to tempo.

      If I'm in the open, I will immediately go to ground / move into nearby cover until I can 'fix' the shooter. Action is temporarily Suppressed because movement is so risky. If someone is Down, I may be Pinned until I can recover them safely.

      OTOH, if I have intervening hard cover from a known shooter, such that any shots are low odds in low exposure, then I have freedom to reposition, engage or disengage at my leisure. It's VERY comforting having a solid building, boulder, ridgeline, or earthwork protecting you. I may be temporarily Pinned while I formulate my best course of action.

      If I've been ambushed at close range, where I can clearly see the enemy, then I'll counterattack from cover if available, or else Assault through.

      All of the above presumes ordinary human psychology, ordinary human toughness, and typical high lethality weapons with only moderate body armor. If I'm fanatic, bulky and armored like a Space Marine, maybe I just fight and shrug the enemy shots.

      - GG

    3. This is why a common agreement on terms is useful. Listening to your description, I'm sort of, but not 100% sure:
      "Pinned" = not moving... also not firing?
      "Suppressed" = crawl/reduced move, maybe also reduced firing/no aimed fire?

      I'm going off gaming terms but it would be nice to have official terminology.

      I do get the difference between "aimed" fire directed at a specific target (say semi auto rifle shots at a human target/directed killshot) and "suppressive/covering"/"area" fire (hosing a window, even a whole building with a LMG or bracketing with mortars etc = focus on area denial/morale effects/degrading enemy effectiveness.

      But the effects are a bit unclear...


    4. Honestly, I would LOVE a formal terminology, and I suspect that it's in a military manual somewhere. As I understand it:
      - "Pinned" is clear, when you're figuratively pinned to a specific location that you can't leave. The in-game effect is easy, too!
      - "Suppressed" simply means actions are restricted, so you don't have the freedom to move and act without consequences. In game effects would suggest reduced movement, reduced accuracy, risk of casualties. To wit:

      IMO, Suppression Fire and effects would be an alternative to typical Aimed fire, along with Overwatch. In a gaming context, because things are so muddied, one probably needs to define the terms in game so it's clear to the player.

  2. If the question is about gameplay, then the "correct" definition is not important and it's a matter of game balance or what you want to achieve. It's about simulating something that happens in real combat, I'd suggest that videogames might not be a good source. There are good books on combat psychology and many historical accounts that provide a basis.

    1. My sense is that videogames are a better source compared to the movies as originally mentioned. Videogames, airsoft, paintball at least have an immediate survival mechanic, whereas movies are simply about showing somethat looks good and/or tells a nice story, where realism isn't necessarily true to life. There are exceptions, such as the in Heat, where the robber vs LAPD shootout shows good weapons handling, use of cover, and suppressive fire.

    2. Not sure why you're so fascinated with the methodology? There isn't any - I'm not giving solutions, but asking questions...
      (I.e. focus on the bold sentences with the question marks - that's what I'm interested in) The rest is just elaborating on the questions/putting them in context.

      When I say I watched a movie, I'm not claiming any validity in what I saw; just that it inspired questions... (....Just saw Heat the other day, and that shootout scene is cool though!)

      I find combat accounts less helpful because of unclear terminology. You can boil it down to "people don't like to be shot at" but hopefully there's a better classification somewhere, which will help with organising game mechanics.

      For example, is "neutralizing" something a more drastic effect than suppressing it? Or is it the same "level"? Does pinning include suppression? Which is worse? Should game effects escalate from suppression to pinning?

      I'm hoping some military folk jump in...


    3. Sorry, I just wanted to distinguish between experience, however meager or virtual it might be, vs visual storytelling.

      IMO, the specific mechanic depends a lot on the other game mechanics. For example, if you roll initiative for variable activation, then suppression is a just a modifier. Or, if you have a Command phase, then you can address it there. Or, you can force a GW-ish Morale test to Freeze or Break the unit.

      - GG

    4. Q1:What if I changed
      "....the specific (suppression) mechanic depends a lot on the other game mechanics."
      "what specific suppression mechanics would give the best simplicity/speed/realism"?

      Give how suppression/pin/fire and maneuver is so important in modern warfare, should specific suppression mechanics be a starting point and you then choose activation mechanics etc based on what you want to achieve? I.e. make the other rules dependent on suppression not vice versa?

      Q2: Should suppression link to morale? I.e. as part of a sequence "suppress->pin->break" or should it be independent i.e. fanatic irregulars vs well-trained militia.


    5. I'm pretty sure Suppressed and Neutralised can be considered the same, a few source I found just suggest is the US versus Commonwealth terminology, and NATO's "AAP-6 Glossary of Terms and Definitions" (which you can find at various places online) says that Neutralised is also the preferred French equivalent to Suppressed.

      Unfortunately AAP-6 does not define "pinned" or "pin down", but based on the military accounts I've read I've always tended to assume it wasn't as bad as being fully suppressed. I would have said a "pinned" unit can't manoeuvre without experiencing unreasonable risk of casualties, but can probably still fight effectively _in their current location_.

      If your mini can't move out from behind a terrain piece without getting shot by enemy reaction fire then it's "pinned", even if there is no specific game rules for that. And I'm not sure if there needs to be specific game states for "pinned", just having a powerful reaction fire mechanic will cause units to be pinned naturally.

  3. I think clarity can be gained by understanding what the terms suggest.

    Shock is something that causes pause. As in, woah where did X come from, or how did that happen? It's sudden, and may be frightening. How one responds depends on a wide range of soft factors.

    Pinned means that ones range of movement has bee constrained. This can vary widely from limited into one channel, or forced to hunker down in place to maintain ones ability to project force.

    Once pinned a unit is at risk of being out manoeuvred, flank, and destroyed.

    Just some thoughts.

  4. Hola.
    Estuve en mi juventud en el ejército, en infantería mecanizada, y hacíamos muchas maniobras, una de ellas era el asalto a cota (básicamente tomar una colina o posición ventajosa a un enemigo) y se usaba mucho el fuego de supresión (siento si la terminología no es exacta, escribo en español y lo traduce google).

    Básicamente la sección se divide en varios pelotones apoyados por ametralladoras y morteros de infantería. Mientras unos pelotones avanzan de cobertura en cobertura, otros abren fuego contínuo contra el lugar a tomar, la idea es que esos disparos (en Español, Fuego de Supresión) impidan al enemigo disparar contra los pelotones que avanzan.

    Cuando los que avanzaban se parapetan y disparan desde una posición segura, los que disparaban recogen y avanzan, invirtiendo los roles. Básicamente es esto.

    Para mí, Fuego de Supresión sirve para mermar la eficacia de un objetivo (y si eliminas a alguien mientras tanto, mejor), y si éste está suprimido es que el Fuego de Supresión ha hecho efecto.

    Espero haber sido de ayuda. Un saludo desde España.


    1. There's still not a lot of consensus, is there?

      "Suppressed" does it mean you are [1] degraded (reduced mobility/fight) or [2] rendered ineffective (no mobility or fight)?
      If neutralized = suppressed, it infers ineffectiveness. Which is worse than being pinned?

      The Spanish army comment sounds like it's "degrading" [1] not completely cancelling out the enemy.

      "Pinned" infers a lack of movement, but is this (A) "stuck in cover, able to freely fire back" or (B) "stuck in cover, unable to fight" which like [2] above.

      ^Depends on whose definition we use, not sure which is a worse outcome.

      ....I may be overly pedantic, but I teach teenagers as a job, and defining the terms/common language is very important so you can discuss the topic properly.

      As I type them out together, it sounds a bit like 3 effects?

      Suppress-degrade (tm) = 50% fight, 50% move
      Suppress-pin(tm)= 50% fight, 0% move (dependent on location?)
      Suppress-neutralize(tm) = 0% fight, 0% move


    2. I think from a gameplay perspective it's best not to deal with percentages. I'd just keep "pinned" as "cannot move" and "suppressed" as "cannot move or do anything else but attempt to rally". A unit that is suppressed will be destroyed if engaged in close combat (or apply heavy negative modifiers of your choice). I don't think more granularity I'd needed because it won't add much to the end result/tactical choices of when to apply suppressive fire.

  5. This actually gave me an idea, when a unit comes under fire there are two reactions:
    - Suppressed: The unit can still move, but as they are getting shot up, they cannot return fire.
    - Pinned: The unit cannot move, but can return fire (at reduced effectiveness)

    My thought was that this was an interesting sort of paradigm because it means coming under fire results in the unit essentially skipping one of its normal actions - either not being able to move, or not being able to shoot.

    Actually, now that I think about it too, in games with action points, perhaps coming under fire could just remove action points from a unit. IE unit has 3 AP (action points) and gets shot at once (removing one AP) and then shot at again (another AP) resulting in it only having 1 Action Point on its turn.

    1. It's very unlikely that a suppressed unit can move in any meaningful way (unless we're talking about a trench system? But I wonder if suppressed wouldn't be more drastic, like heavy bombardment that renders all thoughts but panic impossible).

      Suppressed to me (and in Crossfire) means both immobile and unable to return fire, or to return aimed/organized fire. Think panicked troops, soldiers thinking "I'm going to buy the farm, best keep my head low!".

      Pinned means "it's dangerous to move from this position, the enemy is firing on all possible exit paths, but we can still return fire!". Pinned troops are still obeying their commanding officers and keeping their cool.

  6. In Crossfire, "suppressed" is worse than "pinned". Pinned troops end their movements/cannot move, but may still return fire (think "unable to make progress, but keeping their cool"). Suppressed troops are too busy hunkering down to avoid being killed and cannot do anything at all.

    Crossfire is lethal only if caught in the open; actual kills are often done by suppressing the enemy then finishing with close combat (which doesn't necessarily bayonets, in the heavily abstracted play this means fighting close range, throwing grenades, etc).

    The initiative phases when achieving a suppression, not when pinning.

    1. Re: whether suppression is actually dangerous, in Crossfire it is: achieving a second suppression on the target squad will destroy it.

      Crossfire is heavily abstracted so you have to imagine what actually happened, but here's one way to think about it: suppressive fire I'd overwhelming and actually dangerous; your troops have gone to ground or cowering before cover, their friends being wounded or dying. If they don't rally and get out of harms way, and the enemy keeps concentrating overwhelming suppressive fire, eventually enough shots will land on them and/or destroy their cover, and the squad is gone. A comparatively safety situation (incoming fire is not as overwhelming or the cover is sturdier) would be pinning, nor suppression. In gameplay terms, suppression is harder to achieve and may require concentrating fire on a single enemy, so it requires more "effort" from the aggressor.

    2. Ugh, typos. Well, hopefully you can look past them and guess what I meant ;)

  7. Hola, de nuevo.

    Depende del terreno puede afectar la supresión a la movilidad. Desde una cobertura a otra y cuerpo a tierra puedes moverte, y en ocasiones se avanza bajo fuego de supresión de artillería por ejemplo.

    También influye la situación, ante fuego de supresión se pueden realizar acciones como lanzar granadas o botes de humo, solicitar apoyo...en el lugar en el que recibes el fuego quizá incluso puedes montar un mortero y devolver algo de fuego o si tu unidad tiene un Tirador Asignado puede intentar disparar desde algún punto.

    En cuanto a la pregunta en sí, imagino que Fijado se refiere a que la supresión hace un gran efecto y los soldados están aterrados con la cabeza agachada y mirando a su sargento con los ojos como platos.


    1. So your definitions are:
      Suppressed = "can do some limited actions like crawl/move from cover to cover, throw grenades, possible return fire etc"

      Pinned = "suppression has a big effect and the soldiers are terrified with their heads down and staring at their sergeant with wide eyes." <-this made me chuckle!

      ^ I'm rephrasing to save folk going to google translate


    2. Sí, esas serían mis definiciones. Y aunque le hizo reír mi comentario, eso nos pasó exactamente en Bosnia.

      Siento que mi inglés no sea suficiente para poder escribir aquí sin el traductor.

      Un saludo.

    3. Google translate is fine.
      We appreciate your ideas and input!

      ...."This happened to me" is way more useful than "I saw it in a movie"...

  8. Non-combat US military veteran here. I've only seen "neutralized" referring to the target being unable to fight back, dead or wounded. No longer a threat. Suppressing them wouldn't be "neutralizing" them because the second your suppressing fire drops tempo, is the second they become combat capable again.

    1. Yeah I'm from Australia, and I think it may be a different definition here. It's hard to discuss the topic when we can't agree on what different statuses mean!

    2. Ahh that's right. I'm relatively new to wargaming (about a decade as a passing interest, only recently have I been gaming regularly), and I've never seen any consistency between the use of "pinned" and "suppressed" as status effects. I think it's really interchangeable and just depends on what you like the sound of, personally. Either way, I've always seen it as "can't effectively fight back".

      Also I second the thing that was mentioned (forget what game), where suppressed units may move, but incur an attack automatically.

  9. Terms can vary by game system and really only matter if the rules themselves are consistent about what means what.

    I think you would find the "Suppression" system in BlacK Ops by Osprey interesting. IIRC, player A makes the shot as some dice rolls to hit. Then Player B getting shot at then has a choice. They can voluntarily fall back up to 3 inches to avoid it, or they can face-the-fire and make normal resistance saves. It is hard for a model to make those resistance saves, unless they are in heavy cover and/or decked out in kevlar with plates and then it is still 50/50. The game leans into being pushed back is the better choice, but sometimes it makes sense to risk the fire. However, the choice is for the player getting shot to decide how they will respond.

    1. Eric Farrington By-the-way. Blogger commenting sucks lately.

    2. That is exactly the system I was thinking of actually.