I am been working on combat system for a civ like game for years and I probably tried at least 30 different system that failed one after another. The reason I am writing is because I found and Idea that could probably work and I was looking for comments and suggestions.
What makes it complex is that the system must respect the following criterias
- Allow a large variety of units: It must be possible to have between 50-100 different unique units. So a high range of stat permutation must be allowed.
- The resolution must be quick: The whole warfare resolution must be resolve in less than 1 or 2 minutes.
- Allows special effect add ons: It must be possible to easily use spell or abilities to add a large variety of effects to the battle.
- Used in 2 games at once: The unit design must also be reusable for a more detailed tactical game focusing only on the battles. So the same unit must be used in a simplified and detailed system.
You might say that I am asking for the moon, yes I am. But I think I found a solution lately to the problem that could respect all the criteria above.
First, the difference between the tactical and simplified version will be mobility. In the tactical game, the unit will move on an hex map like any other war game. In the simplified version, units will be arranged in a formation before the start of the battle following a hex pattern as a front/bottom row. Each player place their formation in front of each other, and each unit can target 2 different unit in front of them (like a binary tree). The type of unit (archery, cavalry, infantry) will determine which unit can be targeted.
The second difference between both games is that the simplified version will roll the dice once for the whole round of battle instead of seperatly for each attack. Not sure if there will be 1 die per unit type, or per flank, I'll see to that. The goal is to speed up the resolution by avoiding multiple rolls.
What ever the method used above, units are going to get matched together and they are going to fight. The resolution system is very simple. Roll 1D6 + attack value > 4 + defense value. It's a simple linear system similar to Eclipse where 1 and 6 are auto fail and success. This is nothing new.
Now the particularity is that each point of attack and each point of defense is in fact a unique Icon that explains why this unit has this bonus. For example, an enchanted cavalry unit could have 3 icons for attack for a +3 on their die roll because of:
Lance + Charge + Flame Weapon
A rogue unit could have the following attack icons
Sword + Poison
This follows the idea that there are no weapon deadlier than others, so instead of giving a damage rating to each weapon, you simply count the number of ways the unit can kill it's target.
Same thing for defenses, a knight could have the "Heavy armor" icons that will raise TN to hit by +1.
Enchantments simply add icons to the unit's attack or defense.
Now this is where it gets tricky. The reason why the source of each icon is detailed is because each of them can be countered individually by a counter icon. A counter icon, is generally the same icon but of a different color. Attack icons would be red, and counter-defense icons would be yellow. While defense icons would be blue while counter-attack icons would be green. Here is an unit example:
Attack: Halberd + [Heavy Armor]
The  marks that it's a counter icons, so the color is different. In the example above, the halberdiers get +1 on their attack (for the halberds) and they will ignore the heavy armor and the charge icon of their opponents. So it will reduce the attack and defense value of their opponent.
So the idea of detailing icons is that I can have an infinity of permutations allowing a very level of unique units. Some icons will be more common than other, or some icons will be more countered than others making some of them more valuable.
What do you think?
Will it be interesting?
Will it allow a large variety of units?
Will it be fast to resolve?
Are you defining all the unit types? Because that's less flexible and interesting than the Eclipse tool-kit approach that allows players to define the unit-types they want to create. There's also a nagging issue that some enhancements should be better than others, or apply in many situations. For example, a kevlar vest should be +1 but should also counter a wide variety of attacks. Or maybe it should just be +2 or +3? You may be better off creating somewhat broader categories of weapon groupings that could be countered as a whole (eg blunt, slash, stab, explosive, etc.)
If you read my post before the edit, nevermind; I misread your opening comments.
Anyway, I agree with the poster above. Rather than having 150 different units you could just have blank units with variable icon slots, with perhaps tactical ratings for what level of icons they could hold. Then you could have 150 different icons that could be chosen/bought/whatever to change the units, which would also allow them to be altered according to changing battle conditions.
Unfortunately, in game customizable units will not be an option. Too much management, too much components. Even in video games like Elemental:Fallen Enchanteress, I don't like it. But if people want to make custom units as a variant, that could be possible to do.
Initially, the variety of icons seemed unmanageable, however the use of "counter-icons" of the opposite color should balance that out.
Can a unit have 2 of the same icon? For example, 2 Heavy Armor icons = Super Heavy Armor?
I'm not sure how many icons you were planning to use, but at some point, you may run into an issue where there is so much variety that players rarely have counter icons to match. Do you think the common/uncommon/rare approach will address this issue?
I have not thought of double icons, but that could be an option. I expect that each unit used between 1-3 icons + the counter icons which I am not sure.
There will be a rarity for icons. For example, petrify might be less common than paralyze. And probably counter icons that affect these will also have a rarity.
I will try to do a standardization of the icons to avoid duplicate affects. Else it means placing twice more counter icons to block similar effects.
Especially true for undead which can resist a shit load of stuff.
I like the system, but you need to be careful about the number of different icons you have. Depending on the design (solid colour or shaded, scale, # of units in a typical battle, # of icons per unit) you could very easily end up in an analysis paralysis situation, squinting at the icons and trying to keep a whole bunch of invisible pluses and minuses in your head (even with only ~4 icons this involves a lot of counting).
It seems I'll have to try to see if the icon match up is easy. I intend to use single color icons to make them easier to see.
At worst a unit could have icons from other sources like spells or heroes taking effect on the whole battle. Still, since it's a unit vs unit comparison, it might not be so bad. I think play test will tell.
I'm a huge fan of icon-driven combat dice.
Almost every game I'm working on has adopted an icon system nearly universally for the better.
Each one is a little different, but operate on the same principals. One of the big issues that is an absolute must, seems to be clear design and layout of the die faces.
So far, most of my designs center around rolling a single die per combat - offense and defense on the same die. But there's no reason you couldn't use two different dice and two different rolls. But I try to keep the rolling to a minimum. Additionally there are a couple of statistical tricks you can integrate by combining symbols on the same die faces. More on the later.
On my first design, I think I went through several different graphic iterations, before finding what seems to work best.
1) Shoot for two icons per side. You can push it to three, but in moderation.
2) Icons are clearer if they have their own space, as opposed to trying to make some in the background, or overlapping, or surrounding another icon.
3) Separating solid and outline designs for hits and defenses seems to visually work well. And I prefer solid for the default effects, and outlines for modifiers. For example, a hit might be a large solid pip, and an optional defense might be an outline of a shield. The pip visually stands out, it's what the players are looking for first, then they look for what might cancel it. Thoughts process like this, "Roll roll roll... Pip! That's a hit!... unless the target has the shield."
4) Also realize, that most dice come in one solid color, and one "print" color, and this will limit your graphic options for distinguishing effects. Though, it should be noted, that thegamecrafter has dice available built to accept full-color stickers. But for most manufacturing, you are limited to one graphic color.
I'll share some of the things I've come up with so far, but I have to go to work in a few. I'll post a bunch of things tonight or tomorrow.
Matching icons on dice is not really what I wanted to do but it is a nice mechanic. I remember playing heroquest, heroscape, battlemaster where the icons made it easier to play.
Ohh. I see what you're doing now. That's what I get for reading too fast.
Each icon adds +1 and icons can be canceled out.
Well, that's really what the dice are doing, but it's 'baked in'. But I think you are planning on having too many icons to make icon dice workable.
I won't post all the examples I was planing, then.
As to what I think of your system, I think that there is going to be loads of flavor, which is nice. But I'm not sure it's going to save any time. Any time saved is probably going to be eaten by players mentally adding and subtracting and how to arrange units (and when trying to predict outcomes while panning their move) And any real time savings are going to instead come from only rolling once per battle, flank, etc. or what other streamlining details you implement.
But even if it's a wash, adding flavor is always good.
Definitely try different graphic approaches to see what works well. Be careful with only using colors to indicate offense and defense (roughly 7% of males are colorblind)
Have you ever looked at the Fudge RPG dice mechanic. This could be easily be used for what you need.
In short Dice + Skill + mods vs TN
TN could be a fixed number or skill + dice + mods
The dice have the following faces +, +, blank, blank, -, -
Roll 4 dice, You add the +'s and subtract the -'s from the skill/mods to give you a final result. thus the dice give you a range of -4 - +4 in a somewhat bell curve.
If you match # skill levels to number of dice results it makes it possible for the lowest stated unit could theoretically defeat the highest (quite a low chance, but a chance)
In fact, I want to stay away from dice since they take too much time to resolve. So the latest idea is that each unit has 1 strength value like in rune age, both player flip their top card, compare the values and the lowest unit dies.
Still, the value can be broken down like for example cavalry could have:
Melee|Metal: Strength 3
Charge: Strength 2
Armor|Metal: Strength 3
So that a unit like like halberdier who has:
Reduce Armor 2
WOuld nullify the + 2 str from charge and would reduce the armor value to 1 giving a final strength of 4 to the cavalry unit when fighting halberdier.
A "Metal Melt" spell would simply remove strength given by Melee and armor because they are both made of metal.
This is the system I intend to use so far.