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Randomness of Card Battles over Dice Battles.... european no luck mechanics?

6 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/20/2010

I am kind of stumped on a battle mechanic for a sci-fi game. Battles take place in space only and all units are the same. Each side however may have a unique tweak depending on what faction they play.

For battle I have eliminated dice rolls as an option all together. This is due to the fact that even stratified dice rolls like those in axis and allies often leave one with a sore feeling after he's miraculously lost 4 fighters to a couple infantryman.

I would prefer a no luck european style mechanic like that in Smallworld ( I reference this game a lot as it is hands down my favorite) but I am willing to settle for a card mechanic which reduces luck do to card management and acquisition.

The combat system I devoloped was:

Your spaceship strength (1 per ship) + strength of a card (either a 1 or 2). Each player would play a card face down and combat would be resolved once each player has added the card to their ships strength. The losing side would lose one ship and be forced to retreat.

Now I have begun to question this system as I am considering the removal of cards all together. I like the cards but I feel what I have now is still kind of iffy as you know that if u can play a 2 card you can tie or win a battle unless someone has some odd effect to change things up. I am also considering maybe if it is tied there will be an option to play another card. This would force players to decide if it is really worth spending all their cards on one battle since they cost resources to get.

Anyway I bring this here asking firstly, what are your opinions and secondly are there any euro style combat systems that may work well (no luck). It is a two player game so diplomacy style combat is no good.

I should also note that not many ships will be around in each battle, the game is designed so that a 5 ship per side would be HUGE due to resource management. Anyway any critiques would be greatly appreciated!

Joined: 12/20/2010

Sorry for the double post but this link details a lot of systems I am considering that are diceless:

Of these the only considerations I found were:

adding a rock paper scissor type aspect. This idea is ties in with the one below.


adding a matrix of outcomes and actions so each player would write an action and depending on the matrix you would recieve a bonus. The problem with this is, an action like "flank" would mean nothing and so this would just be a luck thing and so I'm not really digging this unless each action also had some other meanings rather than a matrix result.

Pastor_Mora's picture
Joined: 01/05/2010
RPS attack resolution

I didn't follow the link. I was thinking Cosmic Encounter with the +X cards. But some ideas you gave made me wonder about the RPS mechanic also.

Since you get a card for every spaceship you build, your RPS choices are limited, and that gives the mechanic a neat twist. Opponents can predict to an extent what choices you have available.

Say a "spaceship" token can represent "4x Frigates" or "2x Destroyers" or "1x Cruiser" cards in your hand. Cruiser beats Destroyer beats Frigate beats Cruiser. Players play a card face down and reveal simultaneously or one of them retreats from battle (and from the system) after the first attack is resolved.

Since you are constantly showing your cards, opponents could be able to "profile" your fleet composition, thus reducing randomness and increasing tactical play. If you set up a 5-way RPS mechanic with limited number of spaceships on the board, "profiling" could be a lot more accurate.

Say a "spaceship" token you placed in the board can represent "16x Frigates" or "8x Destroyers" or "4x Cruisers" or "2x Battleships" or "1x Carrier" cards in your hand. Frigates beats Carrier and Battleships, Destroyer beats Carrier and Frigates, Cruiser beats Destroyer and Frigates, Battleship beats Cruiser and Destroyer, Carrier beats Battleships and Cruisers.

If you know your opponent has been fielding some heavy fleets (Carriers and Battleships) your best choice would be to field some Frigates against him. If he has a swarm of light vessels (Frigates and Destroyers) you better get some Cruisers ready for battle.

Still RPS, but with a twist.

Keep thinking!

Joined: 12/20/2010
Thanks for the reply. I want

Thanks for the reply. I want to stay far from cosmic encounter by having the limitation being a 1 or 2 on a card rather than a ridiculous range from like 2 to 13 or whatever cosmic encounter has. This way someone can say, well he can either aument his fleet by 1 or 2 unless he has some ability or something to play so with 5 ships and a 1 card from my own hand I can be fairly certain that this battle will be mine. In CE it is like well he could play a card with 10 on it, I have no idea... these 4 ships I brought mean nothing really.

As for your Idea of putting ship types on a card that may work as well. I meant myself that you'd have a hand of one time use cards to add to ur ships in battle. The rock paper scissor idea would add the effect that lets say you play a card that has:

Forcefield (a defence for lasers or something) and it has a 1 or 2 and the opponent plays Missiles (a ballistic weapon that ignores such fields) this weapon type woul negate the other players card and he would lose the effect of his card.

This however leans back into the randomness realm of dice where it is will I roll a one or in this case "will my card type beat his", since there is no way to account for this in the way there is to account for "he can play a max of 2 should I go into this battle.

rcjames14's picture
Joined: 09/17/2010
Ends and Means

What are you trying to achieve? It sounds like you would like a game that functions much like Smallworld with just a little bit more uncertainty. However, unlike any game where the uncertainity is the result of random chance (Smallworld), you would like that uncertainty to arise from hidden information. As long as the outcome of each battle is determined only by cards, tokens, pawns or objects that players play, then the outcome is deterministic and the game changes from a game of risk management to a form of RPS.

However, in its most abstract sense, RPS is a dynamic that emerges out of a system in which you can guess and/or bluff true intentions. It need not actually involve rock beats scissors beats paper, or fighters beat capital ships beat planets, etc... In fact, I would caution against using such a straightforward A>B>C>A system. I don't know if you've played Maginor (by Knezia) but it is a terribly boring game (and unbalanced too) because RPS is so thinly veiled as to be embarrassing.

Usually the most interesting RPS systems are the ones where RPS is an emergent property of the system rather than a fiat property. Perhaps, once you add resource costs, strategic position, transportation capacities and a range of other factors into attack/defense value, you end up with a situation where it makes sense for you to build, deploy and attack your opponent with a lot of fighters if all he has are capital starships. But, it is not because fighters always beat capital starships by fiat. It is because the numerical system under which combat is resolved and the movement system under which ships are moved allow you to swarm and destroy... or some other emergent property (usually called strategy).

Off the top of my head, the fiat properties in starship battle game should involve things like:
Cargo Capacity

All these properties can (and probably) should be placed onto the tokens themselves. But, you can also add some more ephemeral aspects to the game through hidden tokens / cards like:
Command / Piloting
Special Equipment
Formation / Organization

For the purposes of efficiency, you might want to place all fiat properties on tokens (visible to all) and all hidden properties on cards and limit card play to the attacker only. You'll need to balance the strength and numbers of tokens to compensate for the attacker bonus. But, this way, when its your turn, you know what you are up against and you don't have to keep track of which set of tokens is associated with which set of cards. Much like Memoir44 (without dice), the game will move away from being about tactical surprise on any given turn, to strategic decision-making over many turns. As long as the time between attack and counter-attack is not very long, there may not need to be any surprise on defense. And, you will have accomplished your goal of adding a little bit of hidden information to a system that is pretty deterministic.

Koen Hendrix
Joined: 11/24/2010

Redcomet wrote:

That list contains some great combat systems. Specifically, theA Game of Thrones system works very well for the type of battles you describe: generic units, low unit counts, and little randomness. It uses cards; each player adds one card from their hand. Cards add combat strength (+0 to +3 or so) and/or a special ability such as destroying enemy units or cancelling the other's card combat strength.

In A Game Of Thrones, the cards' strengths and special abilities largely determine the five playable Houses' flavour and combat style. This is less appropriate for a two player game. So here's the simpler, alternative system I suggest:

I assume your sci-fi game consist of more than these space battles. There might be space exploration, ship or spaceport construction, planet harvesting, alien race diplomacy or what have you. Re-use cards from those game elements by adding combat strengths to them: +1, +2, +3. The better construction/harvesting/whatever cards would have the high (+3) combat values, making you choose between being stronger this combat or having better cards in the other aspect of the game. Simple combat, with a tactical decision, no dicey randomness, no determinism, and no extra cards or bits required.

~Koen Hendrix

P.S. you could give each player a 'blank' +0 card that's always returned to their hand, so it's never certain whether a player will choose to add strength or not.

simons's picture
Joined: 12/28/2008
Hidden Army Strength

First off, I definitely agree with Koen's idea about capturing certain territories (or something) can give you more +2 cards or +3 cards.

Just to make sure I understand your system, if I have 3 space ships on a space, and you decide to attack it with 5, then we will each play a card secretly. Unless I can get higher than you, you've won, right? What happens then? Is it goodbye my 3 ships and your 5 are fine?

If # of ships is the biggest randomizer, maybe you could make it that the number of ships are secret. Like, instead of having 5 ships on a board, you could have a little token that says "A", and somewhere secretly have it recorded that "A" is 5 ships. I will see this A chip moving around in space, possibly splitting into an A and B chip, but I won't know how much it is worth. The only way I can find out is by attacking it (thus making this somewhat like Stratego). Then, once I've attacked you, and seen that you have 5 ships, and I have 4, then we get to play our cards.

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