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Innovative Battle System (sort of)

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Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009
A sample battle in my material heavy game (100% mockup)

I am currently working on a battle system suitable for wargames, boardgames or even simple roleplaying games. The main focus is to create a very simple system that provides enough space to expand it by adding new content. Magic the Gathering for example works only with a few attributes (strength/toughness) but is inifinitely expandable just by adding new cards and rules.

My system suits best with fantasy miniature games, maybe card games or abstract wargames played with tokens. I think it really works for close combat, futuristic combat with all the ranged weapons and artillery might not be so easy to represent. Okay, lets go:

Every unit (creature, combatant etc.) in the game is represented by a card or a template. On this card you find all the basic statistics like the name and a picture of the unit. The unique thing is, that on the lower half of the template of every unit there is some kind of gauge, or display called the Health-Meter. The Health-Meter shows a single number between 1 and something like 10 and represents the units life or hitpoints.

Each unit enters play with a full health-meter: Use a token or a dice to keep track of the current lifepoints. When attacking, a unit rolls as many six sided dice as it has health points left. This is also true for defending and morale rolls - in fact: whenever a unit has to make a test of some sort, you roll d6 equal to its health. This means, the more health a unit looses - the weaker it becomes, reducing its chances to hit or dodge enemy attacks.

A short note on tests and dice rolls: Imagine a health-4 unit is attacking a health-5 unit: The attacker rolls 4d6. Please note that the results are not added, instead each dice counts as one attack attempt. The attackers results are: 5, 3, 1 and 6. Now the defender rolls 5d6 showing: 3, 5 , 6 , 1 and 3.

Now the defender pairs the dice in a way trying to block as many attacks as possible. An attack is blocked or negated when the defender pairs an equal or higher result against it. Only one die can be paired against another - as the defender rolled more dice than the attacker, he has just one more chance to negate a high result.

The result looks like this: 5 blocked by 5, 3 blocked by 3, 1 blocked by 1 and 6 blocked by 6 - the additional 3 the defender rolled is left unused. As all dice have been negated - the attack was dodged successfully (If the attacker rolled one more 5 or 6 - the dice would have been unblockable and dealt damage to the defender).

Now on to the meat of the battle system: I needed a way to handle all the "fun-stuff", the modifiers, rerolls - critical hits and extra attacks. And of course - the special rules of the units like siege engine rules, flying abilities, magical powers and so on.

So, next to the health meter of every unit there is a rules box that shows all the special abilities a unit has. The trick is, that every special ability is tied to the amount of health the unit has left. This means that a unit not only gets weaker when taking damage: It also looses more and more of its special abilities the more damage it takes.

But, the whole health-meter and tied abilities concept can be used in different ways: there could be units wich GAIN abilities when loosing health (like werewolves going berserk). I could also imagine units starting only with a portion of the maximum health shown on their card. Those units could be able to gain health by killing other units and by that gaining new abilities too etc. etc. etc.

Okay, one more example and a picture of a sample card template for you and then it should be enough talk:

Imagine Runegrogs Axemen fighting a unit of Undead Skeleton Warriors. For simplicity we assume that both units have exactly the same attributes and abilities.

The fight begins and the Axemen swing their first attack: Being at full health they roll 4d6 and looking at the card template we see that they add +1 to each attack roll as long as the unit has 3 or more health left. We roll: 1, 2, 4 and 5 - after the modifier this turns into: 2, 3, 5 and 6.

Now the Undead Skeleton Warriors raise their shields in order to block the incoming blow: Also at full health they roll 4d6 and due to the Shield ability (available only when health is full) they add +1 to each roll. Results: 1, 1, 3 and 5 - modified: 2, 2, 4 and 6.

The defender pairs the dice: 2 blocks 2, 4 blocks 5 and 6 blocks 6. There is an unblocked 3 left wich means that Runegrogs Axemen sucessfully dealt damage to the Undead reducing its health by one point. This loss of health not only reduces the Undead dice rolled from now on from 4 to 3, it also indicates that the units lost their shields.

... to be continued

Hope this is more or less understandable. I would be interested in feedback of all sorts: Do you think the system is playable, is there too much book-keeping or is it too complex to handle with lots of units on the board?

PS: Oops, after posting the topic I encountered a major design flaw: If a 7 dice unit attacks a 3 dice unit - the 3 dice unit will never be able to dodge all the attacks - no matter what results the dice show. Please ignore this error for now, there will be a solution to the problem sooner or later.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
This design makes me think

This design makes me think about master of magic video game. Some units had many miniatures and some units had 1 minituature. Each minieature hit once, but when miniatures dies, your unit get weaker. But if you have a dragon, since there is only 1 miniature, it won't get weaker.

The only problem I have with the system you explained above is how do you keep track of the Health of all the units on the board. That was basically my problem. In MTG, all the units are healed at the end of the engagement, so there is no need to keep track of anything. I assume that in your system, the health is calculated for the duration of the battle only.

Lucas.Castro's picture
Joined: 10/22/2008
Terrific System

First off, this is a very rich and elegant system to be starting with. If you can resolve minor issues, this should be a great system.

On the issue of a 7-health unit attacking a 3-health unit, I think you could deal with it three ways:

1) If the attacker have twice the health of the defender, they deal a killing blow with the attack (automatically wipe out the defender). This is simply an explanation of what will happen.

2) The lowest number of dice is always used both for attack and defence (those with more dice simply have a bigger pool of dice rolls to choose from).

3) A unit with half or less health compared to an attacker may flee before any (major) damage is caused.

Option 2 would probably prevent big units from being overpowered and just running over everyone who is smaller, while still being pretty solid (because they will have so many dice to choose from).

On the subject of complexity: I think that you should keep the number of special abilities per unit fairly low (e.g., 0 to 3 abilities per unit). If you think about, having gaps between abilities (e.g., a unit has an ability at health 5, nothing on 4 or 3, then another on 2, and nothing else) could be useful. Some units might be able to take some damage and not lose any abilities, while others might lose abilities right away.

More importantly, I tend to agree with Larienna’s concern of the difficulties in tracking the health of all units (which is unfortunate, since health-tracking is at the core of this system). I see a couple of options that would allow you to keep the system intact and resolve/alleviate this issue:

A) Produce the game with some sort of physical device for tracking health with each unit (maybe on a standard bearer, for units with multiple models), a là HeroClix. This seems VERY expensive to get started.

B) Use multi-model units for almost everything, except heroes, vehicles, and monstrous creatures. For the former, the number of models equals the health of the unit. For the latter, use a 10-sided die. This would at least significantly reduce the number of units to keep track of.

Mind you, this issue is really a non-issue if the number of units is really small (e.g., about 5 units/characters per side). But if you want to leave the possibility of bigger games being played, option B is probably the way to go.

My only other concern is that I believe you are relying too much on dice as the DECIDING factor of the game. I think dice are great for adding risk, variety, and an element of the unknown to a game, but not as the deciding factors (especially without modifiers).

For example, unit X (health 8) is attacked by unit Y (health 5). They roll...
6, 5, 5, 5, 1
4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1

Now, I know these are not high-probability rolls, but when these situation do pop-up they cause a great deal of frustration. And to be fair, your system does mitigate the chances of catastrophe by allowing the defender to match up any dice with the attacker. But in this case, X is now not able to easily retaliate either, because it now has only 4 dice to attack with. So Y may be able to slowly finish off X without taking too much damage.

I would personally prefer this system if it was almost exactly like you describe, with the following modification: each unit has a Combat Rating that is applied during any combat. This could be one of several options:
- A value from 1 to 6, and works like a free dice roll (so a unit with CR 6 always counts as having rolled a 6 in one die, no matter what).
- Same as above, but with multiple dice (e.g., a great unit could have CR 5, 5).
- A value that is a modifier to all rolls (cumulative with other such modifiers); probably 1 to 3.

So, with my previous example (and the first option above), say that unit X has CR 6 and unit Y CR 3; their rolls would now be:
[3], 6, 5, 5, 5, 1
[6], 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1

So in this case, at least the damage goes from 4 to 3. That is still a solid dent out of the uber-unit, but it still has a slight advantage to fight back from (rather than a disadvantage).

Of course, the other side of it is that if an uber-unit is having a bit too much luck (rolling a slightly above average number of 6s and 5s), it may be VERY hard to take down (and even harder with a CR). But if units can flee, that might at least mitigate the impact of uber-units (if opponents get them out of position and then just flee to avoid damage). Also, you can give a bonus to an attacker that has support (e.g., another unit also in contact with the defender), which would let multiple smaller units take on large, powerful units.

EDIT: I also just noticed that having a bonus for multiple attackers would help keep small, damaged units relevant. As it stands, the system heavily favours large, intact units (because damage causes units to lose attack, defence, and special abilities). Mitigating this preference would also allow players who have taking some damage early own (especially if they did not get to go first) to stay in the game.

Any ideas on how you would handle these issues (or whether you would just rather let luck take its course)?

Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009
Helpful answers

Thank you for the quick and qualified answers, lets
see how this discussion develops - everyone is welcome
to contribute thoughts and ideas!

@ Larienna:

The point you speak of is exactly why i started developing
this system: I know many board- and computergames where there
are very powerful units, wich just dont get weaker as you hurt
them. I did not like this fact at all, and I dont know many
games wich do it different. I just wanted the dragons and all
those mighty war-maschines to get weaker as they take hits.

As the damage is permanent, keeping track of all the health
values will be really tricky. But as Lucas.Castro stated in his
post - there will be as many multi-model units as possible in the
game. So most of the bookeeping is done on the playing field itself,
just be the number of models present in a unit. whats left are all
the special characters, monsters and war-maschines - here you have
to use dice or tokens or whatever.

@ Lucas.Castro:

Very constructive post, thank you! It will take a while until I
fleshed out all the details to make the system work fluently without
any flaws - but i think the core-system can be real fun to play.

* Regarding the 7 VS 3 issue:

1. I thought about something like that. Leaving it as it is - the
defender is killed outright. In Magic the Gathering a lower toughness
creature automaticly looses combat, without any dice rolled - so why
should I bother in my system. But: This is not elegant and seems to
be a poorly designed solution.

2 and 3. I like both ideas, but they suit better in special abilities
of some sort and not as a core mechanic. Again its just not elegant enough
in my eyes and seems like a tacked on solution.

So, the 7 VS 3 issue still needs work. basically its about giving even
a very weak unit a chance against very strong units. I have to think about it,
maybe someone has more thoughts to share.

* The complexity issue:

Yes, I want to limit abilities to a maximum of 4 abilities per unit. Where
0-2 is common, 3-4 abilities on a single unit are a rare sight.

see the larienna answer above about the health tracking issue.

* Dices as Deciding factor:

I dont think this issue is serious. I like dicerolling and having a random
element in the game. Imagine all the possible modifiers, rerolls and other
abilities wich will alter the results almost all the time - this should take
some of the weight out of the dice factor.

Again, I like your Combat Rating idea - but again as a ability that many
units have. Not as a core concept. Not elegant enough, its another statistic
and seems tacked on (repeat my blabla from above).

* The last paragraphs:

Yes, its the uber-units right now. I did some tests, playing against myself
with mockup units and the result was horrible. With good mixed and evenly
distributed forces between the players its okay. But when I imagine that both
players design their armies before the game according to a point system - each
one of them will try to max-out their fighting power. It opens the door for
powergamers - a serious issue in my point of view.

Why? Because, you already said it: unhurt big units are the key to win. Well if
we say that a Dragon at 10 is as strong as a unit of 10 soldiers - its okay. But the
dragon will have more and stronger abilities and so on. So its really not the same.

One more thing i occured in testing is that the damage system leads to some kind
of downward spiral: the more hurt a unit is, the weaker it gets - wich increases
the chances of getting even more hurt - rendering the unit almost useless.

Okay, all in all its and idea - and a concept. A start.

tdishman's picture
Joined: 08/05/2008
I like it!

It has many applications, and is pretty simply to learn and implement.

I have an idea that might help to fix your "Oops" comment. What if 1 dice roll was able to defend multiple attack rolls, if the sum of the attack rolls was <= the defense roll? For example, a 1d6 defender rolls one 6, and the 3d6 attacker rolls a 1, 2 & 3, the defender blocks all 3 because their sum is less than his single roll of 6.

Another example: A 3d6 defender rolls 5, 2 & 2. A 4d6 attacker rolls 1, 1, 3 & 5. The defender takes only 1 "hit", under any of the following outcomes:

5 >= 1+1+3 (hit on 5)
5 >= 5, 2 > 1, 2 > 1 (hit on 3)
5 > 3, 2 > 1, 2 > 1 (hit on 5)

Since this gives a little more power to the defender, you could make it so the defending roll must be greater than the offensive roll (so a 6 on offense is unblockable).

Any defensive roll can block as many attack rolls as you can fit "under" it. This would allow (with some luck) a defending unit to last quite a while against unfavorable odds.

simons's picture
Joined: 12/28/2008
One other thought...

This might go slightly against the spirit of your game (and is basically what they use in Heroscape), but what if instead of comparing numbers, the way you do in Risk, you just say, "Any result of 4+ is a hit or a block." (or, maybe say 4+=block, 5+=hit)

The example: 3 vs. 7
The attacker rolls 7 dice: 1, 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6 = 4 hits
The defender rolls 3 dice: 2, 3, 5, 6 = 2 blocks
Thus, the defender would take 2 hits (and if I'm not mistaken, this is the same result you'd get under the previous system)

One advantage though, if your 7 gets a really lucky roll, it is possible for her to just clobber the 3, with no hope of survival.

The issue you mentioned, with the weakening characters becoming useless, I've heard it called a "Death Spiral." The worry that one has in a game like this is, well, lets say you have a dragon (10), and a large unit of soldiers (also 10). The soldiers go first, and score a lucky hit, and do 3 damage. Now you have 7 vs. 10. In future rounds, the soldiers will have a decent advantage, and will able to push this advantage (since having a health advantage raises both attacking and defending values, which in turn grant a larger health advantage). Because of this, most of the time the dragon will then lose without some sort of intervention (almost making the remaining rolls unnecessary). I think this was a big reason for Hit Points, so you could take one bad hit and keep fighting. That said, I do really like your idea, it isn't something you see done enough.

And if you're worried about strong characters being too powerful, give some sort of advantage to the attacker. Make it that even a 1 has a small chance of hurting a 10 (maybe say that the defender needs to roll higher, so a 6 will always cause 1 damage w/o some kind of special). Of course, at the same time, this means that if a 10 goes up against a 1, the 10 will basically always kill the 1.


Lucas.Castro's picture
Joined: 10/22/2008
Making Small Units Matter

I quite like Simon's idea of using a 4+ for success. That would further mitigate the power of luck: a player rolling 5, 6, 6 is no farther ahead then a player rolling 4, 4, 5.

However, I still think that there are two simple ways to address the power of large, undamaged units at the core:
1) Make it so that health does not affect attack and defence (probably not a viable option in this case); or
2) Make it so that having a unit is useful, no matter how insignificant that unit is.

I think you will find that by implementing #2 you will get all kinds of benefits (depending on how you do it): minor units may be useful for getting objectives, they could threaten the flank/back of units if ignored, they could get/give bonuses by ganging up on defenders.

Which options you have depends on your game and what kind of objectives you have, but making small useful should greatly improve balance and the quality of your game.

Joined: 12/01/2008
Some thoughts...

As others have stated, tracking many units can be a problem. Also, if you're going to have a separate card for each unit, you'll likely run into table space issues as well. Or, wait, is this more abstracted? Or is there going to be a terrain map too? If map, then space issues maybe. If no, then space should be ok.

You might tell us what you mean by "many" units. I almost feel as if this might be better suited for an RPG style game rather than a battlefield game.

Another thing. It seems ten 1-point units are better (or equal) to one 10-point unit. They both have 10 attack dice, but unless the 10 point unit can attack multiple units, it can only kill one at a time.

I get the feeling you want units to react to damage, and give the player enough time to change tactics if the battle is starting to turn. I imagine you have 10(!) hit points per unit to soften the effects of high or low random swings. There should be a way to get similar results without having to resort to 10-20 die rolls per unit.

Here is something you might consider to alleviate some issues.
Rework the unit cards to have less overall hit points. Give units a base number of attack or abilities that they always have no matter how hurt. Then, you divide an area of the card into boxes, and different boxes may contain an extra attack, or special ability, or movement points, or nothing at all (armor). As a unit gets hit, you place a token in box and it can eliminate the ability in that box (or activate it for the werewolves). I would imagine the controller of the unit gets to decide where the hits get placed, and maybe critical hits allow the other player to place the hit. You could even have an ability attached to multiple boxes, requiring both be hit to remove (or trigger) it.

Perhaps think about rolling attacks vs. a set defense number. This will reduce the number of die rolls, and might tend to reduce wild randomness as well, and reduce the instance of both sides having to add various modifiers.

Some math:
For 1 attack roll on (1d6) vs. 1 block roll (1d6) you have possible 36 results, with 15 chances to hit. 15/36 = 42%. You might have saved yourself a lot of trouble and rolled 1d10, hitting on a 7 or better (40%). Adding in the modifiers, with a +1 modifier (to either side) you change the chance to 28% or 58% chance of hit, swinging that result 14% and 16% respectively. So by using a d10, you even get better granularity to your modifiers too, only moving the chance by 10% per +1. (Did I do the math right?)

You can retain the cancellation functionality by giving some units a 'parry' special ability to roll to cancel an attack. Saved it as a special, as opposed to something that occurs every roll.

You might be able to get the same feel that you want and lessen the number of die rolls and intensity of the tracking.

FYI: With no modifiers active, and blocking occurring an an equal or better roll, you effectively get an automatic miss on one end, but no automatic hit on the other. This also explains why an even match up gives 42% chance to hit, and not 50/50. At least until the defender runs out of blocks, and then everything is an automatic hit. A unit that is ahead in attacks will tend to remain ahead, as even a 1 point difference suddenly confers a hefty advantage. This may or may not be a problem in your design, but make sure are aware of it.

Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009
Thank you very much for the

Thank you very much for the replies,
It will take a while until i chewed through all the answers and extract what I find useful for my game. Keep em coming - until now, nothing is decided!


I like the idea that the defender is able to block as many attack rolls as "you can fit under it".


I already thought about the 4+ solution. Warhammer and in fact all games-workshop wargames use a system like this. Including modifiers you have all sorts of 2+ to 6 success rolls. Although I am a big fan of this kind of dice roll, I think its not really in the spirit of my game (like you said).


Its around 6 to 24 units per side, per battle. Where a unit is composed of one upt to 6 models (if models are even used in the game).

The defense number reminds of the saving throw you find in games-workshop games. This is all nice and interesting - but again, it seems like to be against the spirit of my game. We see fixed numbers and modifiers all over the place. I dont say that I dont like the idea - but I would like to do some more resarch until i settle with a bulletproof system like this.

I would like to give you a bit more background information about the game itself (maybe some of you remember my old games and designs, there are many similarities), although this has nothing to do with the battle system. The battle system alone could be used as it is in completely different games:

# In my game you dont start with your whole army in play. Instead you build up your force while playing. Each unit has a point cost you have to play in order to place the unit on the playing field. Larger units are very expensive, and can only be brought into play later on.

# The game itself takes place on a very small hexmap wich is made from 37 hexes. Its more like a chessboard with limited movement, instead a gigantic terrain-table. There are no terrain tiles in the game, all hexes are equal.

# Each player uses a customized deck of cards that includes his units, special characters, equipment and spells. Just like in a CCG the players draw cards from their deck and bring them into play. This means you not only have to put a specific unit into your deck, you also have to draw the card and gather enough resources to bring it into play actually.

# There are 7 special hexes on the board, wich are objectives the players can occupy.

# New units enter player at the board edge of the player. This means the units have to advance towards the middle of the battlefield (where most of the action takes place). Bringing units into play at hexes of your choice is only possible by using special abilities.

# Players fight to gain Victory Points, the first player who gathers a fixed amount of victory points (between 10 and 30, this is up to playtesting) wins the game. You gain theese points in various ways:

- killing enemy units = +X VP (depending on unit strength)
- occupying a objective hex for one full turn = +1 VP
- occupying the middle objective hex for one full turn = +2 VP

# The resources players need to bring units into play are also very important. For now I am using a resource system similar to magic the gathering and duelmasters: You can discard cards from your hand instead playing them onto the battlefield. Those cards provide you one resource point per turn each. Only one card can be discarded per turn, per player. This means under normal circumstances players have 1 resource available in turn 1, 2 in turn 2, 3 in turn 3 and so on.

There is much more, units act using a simple action point system - where each unit can perform up to two actions per turn. Actions are for example: Moving one hex, attacking or using a special ability. some units can also cast spells, go on overwatch or hide using one action. Each unit can only move/attack or use actions once per turn, unless the rules tell otherwise.

Enough for now - maybe this increased input spawns some new thoughts and ideas. All in all a very good discussion so far - we dont have to focus too much on my game actually. I also like to hear ideas regarding the barebone system itself.

For me its important to keep things quick, elegant and minimalstic. As few Statistics as possible, as few constants as possible, as few modifiers as possible. All in all as few stuff as possible the players have to remember in order to play the game. All the rest - is put into abilities!

Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009
Ah i just prepared a small

Ah i just prepared a small mockup to show you how the whole game looks today. Again, some of you might remember some parts and the setup shown in this picture - its basically the "distillate" from many ideas i had in the past.

I put the pictures on my server, as they are huge. The machine is located in germany - so loading could take a while.


What you see in the picture is the hex playing field made from styrofoam like material.

Then the miniatures, where one unit takes up one hex - the units are made up each from one up to four miniatures in this picture.

The paint-pots on the battlefield represent the objectives - there are 7 in total. The one in the middle, wich features two paint pots ontop of each other is the main objective wich is worth additional victory points.

Then we see that each player has a card deck to draw his unit cards from, the large dice near the deck show the players current victory points.

The small card decks are not a discard pile (there is no discard pile shown in this picture), instead they represent the cards players discarded in order to generate resource points. you almost cannot see, but there are glass pebbles on the small piles showing how many resource points the player gains per turn (equal to the number of cards).

Then we see the white dice used for playing, both players hans (the cards that look like a fan).

and finally a row of cards for each player showing wich units he currently has in play. there are glass pebbles on those cards to represent how much damage the units have already taken.

All in all, just a mockup to wet your tastebuds. I know that i cannot (and will not) force future players to collect and paint miniatures. And i know that this game seems like VERY material heavy. But its just the design i like, and most important of it all is that the game suits my personal taste. Btw - there speaks nothing against using the unit cards themselves instead of miniatures.

Maybe this is able to ignite more brainstorm and discussion.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Combining strength

I know many board- and computergames where there
are very powerful units, wich just dont get weaker as you hurt

A way to consider the effect of accumulating damage on a unit while not having to keep track of health could be done by combining the attacks of various units like it is done in MTG. In my starcraft lite variant it is a bit more tricky because the attacking unit does full damage and additional units does not add as much damage as the attacking unit. For example: a marine does 3 dmgs, but each assisting marine does +1 damage each so that killing a 5 health unit requires 3 marines.

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