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Searching a simple combat mechanic that allow a lot of unit variety in low quantities

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

It's for a Star Craft variant and a solo board game in design, I thought I could use similar mechanics for both ideas.

I am looking for a simple combat, like for example axis and allies is a simple system where you only roll 1 die per unit and assign hits. But it needs to allow a large variety of units where at most 4-5 units will be present in a battle.

I first thought of a system like each unit has a value from 1 to 5 and try to roll lower or equal to hit. For more variety, you can add movement type (flying) to change unit movement behavior and targeting, you could put an initiative letter like in "Space Empire 4X" to give some attack priority to certain units.

Then I thought of Star Craft upgrades or special effects using unit types. For example, the Firebat could hit by rolling 1-2, but if you roll 1-3, you could hit a biological unit. So 33% chance to hit any unit, or 50% chance to hit a specific type of units.

But maybe there are better system out there than axis an allies. One thing that bothers me with that system is the need of padding for the stronger unit to soak hits. But when you have few units, this is not much convenient unless units can soak many hits like in "Wizard Kings" block game.

If you have any mechanic idea, or other ways to diversify units, let me know.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Here is a suggestion

Easy question. But a tough one to answer since the possibilities are almost infinite.

I think that the modifier that you have mentioned, is the best way to go. After all, I sense that you want to keep a
1 unit, 1 piece, 1 die, 1 hit, policy.
It is only a matter of how to apply this in the best way.

Best way in my eyes would be to keep the hit chance as it is. Firebats have 2. Yet applying a -1 modifier on the roll, against a certain hit. Important here is that this modifier happens by accident after rolling. Thus you target a biological unit at the right time with the right unit. And the modifier goes -1 for a certain hit. Rolling 3 means a miss, yet the die awaits its turn in case the 3 becomes a 2 = hit.

For as soaking up damage/tracking health. This forum is overloaded with suggestions already. Just search for "health" related items.

I don't know what you have in mind exactly. But could you describe the rest of the game in more detail?
A combat mechanic often depends on more than just the combat.

ElKobold's picture
Joined: 04/10/2015
Personally I`m not a fan of

Personally I`m not a fan of "build your army, attack, then roll to see if your setup was good enough to beat the odds".

Dice can still be done with allowing meaningful choice.

For example, you could roll a set amount of dice and then activate units by paying the cost in specific dice values. Sort of like in Alien Frontiers.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
You could have a POOL of dice

Maybe use a POOL of dice which is the MAXIMUM amount of each TYPE of units you can control per "party". Then you can have a tech tree with upgrades than can alter this.

Like say there are THREE (3) TYPES of units:

1. Melee: ground attack units
2. Ranged: ground support units
3. Flying: air support units

You start with something like:

3 Melee, 2 Ranged and 1 Flying with a Maximum of 3 units per "party".

You could have Tech tree advancements such a +1 Melee units (so 4) or +1 party units (so 4 units per "party"), etc.

Then you can use an RPS to control what dice causes a HIT based on the COLOR of the dice.

1. Melee (RED) is beaten by Flying (BLUE)
2. Ranged (YELLOW) is beaten by Melee (RED)
3. Flying (BLUE) is beaten by Ranged (YELLOW)

So Melee could be RED dice, Ranged could be YELLOW and Flying could be BLUE.

You can have other tech tree attributes which control bonuses of the each dice.

How it goes is pretty simple, choose your dice (according to your party: declared attackers) and then roll them. Your opponent does the same... Then you match dice according to the VALUES and COLORS.

So the attacker lays out his dice in sequence. The defender then tries to counter the "attacks". If I rolled a 6 RED, to defend I would need to have a 6 BLUE or a 6 RED. The defender declares what units he uses as his defense... Otherwise the 6 RED would inflict "X" damage based on the VALUE difference: let's say 6 RED is countered by 4 RED = 2 Melee Damage.

And you could of course have a tech tree for additional bonus damage for each type of attack... Like +1 Melee vs Melee attack. So instead of 2 Melee Damage, it would be 3 Melee Damage.

Similarly you could also have units with attack damages (similar to the tech tree but used by units...). Like Firebat = +2 Range Damage, +1 Range vs Range Damage, and a roll difference of 2 = 2 + 1 + 2 = 5 damage.

Anyhow this is how I would see a "Simple" Attack system with Tech tree advancements which can affect different aspects of the dice rolling.


Update: You could also use another "type" of attack "unit vs. unit" or "unit vs. GROUP". So if my damage is 5 Melee and I have the Tech of "unit vs. group" for Unit Type "A", then I can kill 1 Range unit using 3 Damage and maybe damage a 2nd Range unit for 2 Damage (as per my Firebat example).

Update #2: You could have multiple units of each kind for each TYPE of unit. And notice this system allows BOTH players to ATTACK simultaneously using different units based on the dice selection.

Update #3: You may also either want a unit attribute that is "BEATS". Like if the opponent attacks with a Melee of 6, your Flying unit has the BEATS property, it can counter any Melee unit with whatever dice power you want... so a 6 Melee is beaten by a 2 Flying, for example.

Update #4: You can initially have 0 Range and 0 Flying. And would have to upgrade your Tech tree to allow you to "build" these units and in specific quantities... Just like in the real game.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Some more light on this combat mechanic

You could even have both the GROUP and the BEATS properties on some very powerful unit(s). It could be like the Protoss "Carrier" with its "Interceptors". So a formidable unit against large groups of Melee units such as "Zerglings".

Again just some ideas to have more vast choice of capabilities!

Update: Of course the goal is to mix and max units to try to have a "fall-back" plan for your them such that you can counter the enemy's offensive moves. And since this dice method implies simultaneous attacking by BOTH players (based on the dice rolls), you'll never know what happens with your units because the dice rolls have such a big impact...

Note: A "combat" example for reference =

3 Melee Units (Player #1) vs. 2 Melee Units + 1 Range Unit (Player #2)

5(M), 4(M), 1(M) vs. 4(M), 3(M), 4(R)

Each of Player #2 Melee Units suffer 1 Melee Damage + Any bonus Melee Damage inflicted by the Melee Units themselves. Player #2 Range unit suffers no Damage as the Melee Unit only has 1 Attack.

**Remember**: The Attacker declares his attack sequence - the Defender gets to counter. Had the Melee unit had the "BEATS" property, the Range unit would have also been destroyed...

Joined: 07/03/2013
A system I keep toying with

I've designed a handful of games with a combat mechanic, and when I include simple combat, usually I allow each unit to roll a d6, with a hit on a roll of 5+. When there's some sort of advantage, I let a unit roll a d8 instead. My playtesters really like the idea of rolling a bigger dice with more sides, even though it's mathematically the same as your firebat example (adding a +1 to hit on a d6 takes it from a 1/3 to 1/2 chance to hit).

I'll also allow a unit, when it rolls a natural 8, to get a special benefit, such as rolling again or allowing the attacker to choose who dies rather than the defender (The second one has also been very popular among my playtest groups, since it breaks the Axis & Allies norm).


Another possibility is to allow each player to roll the dice for present units (perhaps bigger dice for more powerful units or other advantages), add them together, and the total equals the amount of "armor" or "health" that an opponent must remove from their force as a result of the conflict. This could be made more interesting by not including health loss tokens to put on units - if you dealt one additional damage beyond what they've removed so far, they have to remove another whole unit, or choose a different set of casualties.

Maybe combine this with an initiative number (I would have 3 layers at most), and have both players roll simultaneously for each initiative number, then have the opposing side remove casualties. I would put Artillery as a lower number, so it shoots first, while mobile units would hit next, and slow infantry or siege equipment goes last, meaning that some casualties may have already been taken out of the slower forces before they even get to fire. Of course, the player who owns the units would choose what units would die, but it would make for a very interesting choice - do I sacrifice my artillery units, which don't hit as hard, and have already fired, but consistently fire first; or do I sacrifice my harder-hitting tanks before they get to fire?

You can play with initiative order in that sort of system very easily - maybe if a unit is in favorable terrain, or has been upgraded, it gets to fire on a higher initiative than before? Of course, upgrades could also cause the unit to hit harder too.

(As I thought about this last idea, I felt like it should be done with dice numbered 1-3 instead of 1-6, to reduce randomness of the rolls a bit, but other dice could roll 1-4, 1-6, etc., depending on the power of the unit in question.

Hope those ideas helped!

Joined: 08/21/2015
Somewhat along the lines of

Somewhat along the lines of what the previous poster suggested:
Each unit class can have two dice sizes associated with them: an attack die and a defense die. So a marine might be a D4 for both attack and defense, a siege-tank could be a d12 for attack and a d6 for defense and so on. When you attack a unit, you roll both dice together, and if the attack die is higher than the defense die, the unit is destroyed (or damaged if you want to model that). Special bonuses or penalties could be allowed by adding a third die (probably just a D6). This would be added or subtracted from the attack. You could do something similar (but cheaper) by just using varying numbers of D6s, but then you're going to have to roll a lot of them.

You could account for splash damage to groups of units by rolling a casualty-count dice with a similar number of sides to the group size (probably rounded down), then rolling only one defense die per type of unit. You then eliminate as many units as the number on that die, provided those unit type's defensive die is below your attack score. Then, if I ever play this game and nuke a big group of zerglings I'll finally have justification for having a D60.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Sorry for not replying

Sorry for not replying sooner, I thought I only had 2 thread on BGG.

A nice suggestions that was discussed is that the value rolled is actually the damage inflicted that must equal-exceed the HP of the defending unit. So a marine that needs 1-2 to hit and rolls 2 does 2 damage and have 33% chance to hit.

But a nice suggested variation is that the valid numbers to hit does not need to be between 1 to X. So you could have for example: hit on 3-4, you still have 33% chance to hit, but the potential damage is much bigger.

So this mechanic seems very interesting and offers a lot of flexibility and variety of units especially if you add various initiative letters. I might try to go with this one


In star craft, there is the assist value, one idea is to combine units together by making the assisting unit gives +1 to the damage of another rolled unit instead of rolling.

It would allow for example to 2 marines with a max damage of 2, to join force and roll a 2 then add +1 to kill a 3 HP unit.

The only issue I have with this rule is that Protoss always have a low quantity of unit, the possibility to join force and use your assist value is pretty thin, unless you are trying everything to kill a specific strong unit.

Protoss will have more HP, but the problem with the original game is that it was hard to kill more unit than you are, and since protoss are always fewer, the players never attacked and wait until they could match their ennemy. With 2 or infinite combat rounds, few units could actually survive more easily a combat engagement and actually have a chance to kill more than 1 unit per unit. But the ability for the ennemy to combine forces makes protoss extra strength not necessarily better. So I am not sure yet about this rule.

Still, I imagine you could be unlucky and not of your marine hits, so impossible to add up assist to any of them.

ElKobold's picture
Joined: 04/10/2015
If you're trying to make a

If you're trying to make a "tabletop starcraft" there shouldn't be any dice I think.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
For star craft, I am

For star craft, I am replacing the card mechanic with dice to allow redesigning the units.

The problem with the board game is that many units are simply worthless, and even if the game offers various unit path, you always end up using the same 3-4 units out of 10-12 for each faction.

But since that game is so unflexible, the only way to change the game is to remove the whole combat system which should not conflict much with the rest of the game as it seems to be pretty much 2 separate system.


Then I also have my rats craft board game idea that could reuse the same mechanics since the theme and unit design is pretty similar.

There was another game idea I was previously working on that could use similar mechanic, but since the setting and battle type are different (much larger scale), I might not go that deep. I thinking to use the regular roll to hit with initiative letter, and maybe make each unit unique with a special power. Similar to "Wizard Kings", except there is only 2 steps. Since it's a solo game, I could still put more step since there is no Hidden information, I do not really need blocks, I could simply rotate tokens.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Sorry for reviving an old

Sorry for reviving an old thread, it's just to update what happened.

I tried the method rolling under value X, when the value of the die must be above the defense of the unit. So for example:

A unit hit on 2-4 on a D6, but if the defender has a defense of 3, 2-3 will rout a unit while 4 would kill the unit.

Now the problem with this system is the flexibility. For example, some unit hit on 1-4 and had good chance to hit (66%), but If I want a unit with the same odds but that does less damage, I cannot do it. So I first though of using D8 or D10 to expand the possible ranges, but it did not work well either.

I tried to give a fixed attack level compared with a defense level, while the die is only used to know if the unit hits. But the problem is that value must to be compared with enemy units which makes the resolution of battle much longer. Also, you could end up in a situation where no unit can kill the opposing unit. Finally, trying to determine the defense level of a unit is very hard considering the various type of attacks and equipment. Like discussed in another thread, almost all weapon has the same killing potential.

So I took another approach, I decided to keep in the attack only the efficiency by recording 2 value:

The efficiency to rout
The efficiency to kill

I just remembered that Battlemist used exactly the same system but with D10.

So for example, you could have:

Artillery: 2/2
Infantry: 1/3
Cavalry: 1/4

The right value must be rolled equal or lower to rout the enemy unit, or kill a routed unit. The left number is what needs to be rolled against to kill a unit. So here the artillery have a lot of killing opportunity, but only 33% chance to hit.

That could allow me to design for example a 0/4 unit, that has 66% chance to rout a unit, but has no chance to kill a unit. This way, I get a certain amount of flexibility, no comparison with the opponent, and only 2 values are required. I could also use D8/10 for more flexible ranges.

So this is the new mechanics I should be testing.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Maybe, just writing down all possibilities is key here?

That is a rather unusual mechanic.

It is hard to grasp the "logic" to it. Which is needed to get an overal feeling of the usefullness of weapons and defence.

Is it correct to say that an unit with defence of 6: Will always go on rout if the enemy "hits"? Does it also mean that after going on rout, this unit still can be killed by the enemy? Defence is of no use any more when an unit is on rout, right?

Another question(s), just to make sure:
The difference between a target with defence 0 or 1. The weapon is 2-4. It makes no difference right?
What about 1-4. Does it mean that against 0 defence, rolling a 1 means a kill. While against 1 defence, this is a rout. Correct?

Maybe, just writing down all possibilities is key here? I don't know yet. Something tells me that bringing an enemy on rout means a 50% weigh factor. But since it is depending on all the possible defence factors, things are indeed complicated.

Are you using 0 to 6 defence?

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
What ever the method used,

What ever the method used, the roll, or the fixed attack value needs to exceed the defense value for a kill. One a unit is routed, it can be killed with any hit.

Rout is like a wounded unit, but the problem is that they come back into battle at the end of the round. I am not just sure yet if they systematically all come back, or if you roll a die to know what comes back.

When using fixed attack value, you could end in a situation where each side have 1 unit and can only rout each other. You would need a 2nd unit to perform the kill which you don't have. So the combat cannot be resolved because routed units come back into battle.

With the new system, it will be the first unit to score a kill that wins, it could still be a long dice face off.

Another problem is if all human units (Used by the AI) has a defense of 1, what is the need to have units that has a fixed strength of 3, a fixed strength of 2 will kill all human units.

Using D8, Here is the stats I intend to use for human units. Values are Kill/Rout.

Artillery: 3/3, Initiative A, Target chose by opponent
Infantry: 1/4, Initiative B, Target chose by opponent
Cavalry: 2/5, Initiative C, Target chose by player

In the end, the new system could reduce a bit the strategic decisions, because you will not get in a situation where a roll could kill certain unit or rout another, giving you a choice. But I might add battle plan cards to add some variety and decisions to the combat resolution.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Mayyybe... this will help?

Some games have a piercing damage that is always dealt to an enemy. Perhaps you can add something similar?

When 1 unit goes on rout. You roll an extra die. If rolling a hit with this one, the unit is still killed. This could be done with some sort of event die that is rolled with each total attack.

1 side is a certain kill on a rout unit of choice. If you like this idea, you have some more sides to decide on.

Just 1 die extra that is special.
Of course, you could add piercing cards to the deck instead for those situations. I did something similar for dealing with draws.

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