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Symbiloc Dice Combat

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Joined: 12/01/2008
Symbolic Dice 1
Symbolic Dice 2

Fair warning, this is a long post!

For a while now, I've had a hard time trying to reconcile two opposing game concepts in a empire building fantasy game. As such, this game has remained on the back burner for years now. Heh.

Namely, how to get detailed, evocative, fantasy combat in an otherwise high-level, empire strategy game.
The more detail in the combat, the slower that game gets. But too much combat abstraction, and the warfare feels bland. And that's especially worrisome in a fantasy game with many possible unique unit types.

I suspect quite a number of designers have run into this problem.

Well, I think I've found a neat compromise.

I have interesting units with various abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and a supporting tactical element. A "full-scale" battle can be resolved in under a minute. (But there's a bit of variance here: A small battle could be 15 seconds, and something quite complex might take 2+ minutes)

At least, so far, it appears to be a good solution. See what you think:


At the top level, you may have army markers on the map. This is just an abstract representation that you have some kind of army in that territory. What it is exactly, isn't tracked at this point. (Though there's no reason it couldn't be a token stack to indicate the number of units, if it fits your game.)

Army composition can be controlled by two main factors:
1) The max stack size, and
2) Actual units you have produced or have access to. And these can be cards you keep in your hand or in front of you. (You get a unit, you draw a card.)

So when one of your army markers gets engaged, you then need to make two choices: How many of the units in your hand to commit (up to your max stack size), and in what order.

Here's where things get interesting.
In large part this is a symbol matching system, based on the concept that can be though of as, "This, unless that."

You roll a die, and the resulting symbols say (effectively) either:
HIT unless (Symbol)
MISS unless (Symbol)

Expanded, this means if the Hit pip is rolled, your unit HITS the opposing unit UNLESS that unit has the matching defensive symbol.
Alternately, you might MISS, UNLESS your unit has the matching offensive symbol.

That's the basic jist of the die rolls.


Next, here's where the unit order comes into play.
The unit on top is the current mainline unit, and the others are supporting units.
Your mainline unit is the starting point of your main offensive and defensive stats (symbols), and your supporting units add to these.
As your opponent breaks through your ranks and mainline units are eliminated, then next one in the stack becomes the new mainline unit.

Additionally, units may have different abilities when mainline or supporting.
This is represented by front and back sides of the unit card. As supporting cards peek out from the bottom of the stack, additional symbols may appear that contribute to the dice rolls representing supporting abilities.

In this way, interesting tactical concepts can be represented, such as healing, flanking, arrow barrages, etc.

With a little adaptation, this system works with many other genres, and lends itself well to some fantasy concepts like undead armies that convert fallen opponents into zombies (killed units grant you a new card, possibly even added as support units within the battle)
Heroes can be added as a unit themselves, or maybe by granting various other effects, such as increasing the stack size, or allowing killed units to go back to your supply.


Ok. More about the dice themselves.

Note the image displaying the various dice faces, and some example mock-up unit cards showing what they might look like.

Each unit has a prominently displayed attack mode:
Melee (Yellow)
Ranged (Green)
Magic (Purple).

These three correspond to which die will be rolled for that side's attack, and armies roll against each other simultaneously.
(Additionally, there's no reason you couldn't give units multiple attack modes, and make the player choose one. This also works because the attack bonus symbols are different and will only apply to the corresponding dice, allowing for different strengths of those multi-mode attacks.)
(In a space empire themed game, these modes might instead be Cannons, Beams, Missiles. There's lots of ways to adapt this.)

Each of these dice have four normal HITS (The large eight-sided star) UNLESS the opposing unit has the corresponding symbol in the corner.
The other two lone symbols on each die, are MISSES UNLESS the attacking unit has the matching symbol.
If a hit is scored, the opposing unit is eliminated (And the player discards that card) Then turn over the next card in the stack, and the next round begins until once side is victorious.

The other two dice are the supporting dice.
The red die represents the majority of supporting abilities, and grant extra chances to score a hit.
The blue die is used for ambush and healing abilities.

If an army has any supporting units showing red symbols, the red support die is rolled as well (only one roll, no matter how many symbols) If a matching symbol comes up, a HIT is scored (if no corresponding defensive symbol) regardless if the mainline roll hit. (Multiple hits per round don't eliminate more than one unit, but can be useful to out-damage healing.)

If an army's supporting units show blue symbols, then the blue die is also rolled. Matching a cross (Heal) (UNLESS the attacker has the black drop (Wound) symbol) allows the mainline unit to negate one hit this round.
The first time the circle bolt (Ambush) is matched, it scores a HIT, UNLESS the defender has the eye (Detect) symbol.


Ok. So that's the basics of the system.
Next, I'll just describe a little of what's being accomplished here, and some of the math that's under-the-hood.

Right off that bat, you can see that army composition, order, and match-up has a huge effect on the battle outcome. And at the same time "feels" like your units have some personality and tactics, yet still gets resolved quickly.

Match-up-wise, there's a little bit of rock-paper-scissors going on with how the symbols operate.

Basically, in short:
Double-arrow (Maneuver) largely counters melee and supporting curved-arrow (Flank).
Shield (Shield) largely counters ranged and supporting quad-arrows (Barrage).
Double-circle (Ward) largely counters magic and supporting tri-circles (Affliction).

Each cuts the base hit chance in half, from 4/6 to 2/6. And for supporting abilities, those attacks are already halved to 2/6, and are cut again to 1/6. Additionally, notice supporting attacks already suffer diminishing returns. One ability gives 2/6, whereas two abilities give 3/6, not 4/6. All three support attacks give 4/6, not 6/6.

The last ability on the red support die, the branching-arrows (Surround) is completely countered if the opposing army has an equal or greater number of unit cards. Once this tide turns, things can get very bad for an army fighting such units. (Conceptually, these would probably represent large numbers of weak combatants that derive their strength from sheer numbers.)

Helm (Helm) provides some defense against melee and magic.
Shirt (Armor) provides some defense against ranged and melee.
Pie-hex (Barrier) provides some defense against ranged and magic.

These are weaker but more versatile defenses, but offer no protection from supporting attack types.

Eye (Detect) counters circle-bolt (Ambush).
Drop (Wound) counters cross (Heal).

More on these abilities below.

Infantry unis tend to get melee attacks and physical armor symbols that defend against some melee, and if they have a shield, defend quite well against ranged.

Mounted units largely counter melee attacks due to their mobility, and possibly armor.

Ranged attackers do quite well against mounted units due to their lack of the shield symbol. But have little defense, and are better used as a supporting unit or if supported by a unit that can lend defense symbols.

Magic wielding units tend to decimate units with physical armor, and defend against other magic, but also fall pretty quickly to most physical attacks.

Ambushing units can be used two different ways. If as the first mainline unit, and the defending army does not have Detect, the ambusher gets a free attack round before the main combat begins.
If used as a supporting unit, it gives access to a 50% chance of a one-time hit, not countered by any defenses except Detect.

Stragety-wise, you'll typically want your tanky units up front to protect your other units. Though there are a number of scenarios where other strategies can be employed. Particularly if your have strong defensive support units, or trying to avoid an unfavorable match-up on your tanks.


Here's what the example units represent:
The warriors have decent defenses and a bonus to its melee attack. This makes a good mainline unit, but as a supporting unit can contribute some defense vs. ranged and magic. Somewhat vulnerable to cavalry, however.

The archers have a strong ranged attack but nonexistent defenses. Usually you'll keep them in back, but a front-line gamble could pay off with some supporting heals or defenses.

The light cavalry can do quite good against other non-mounted melee, but has a relatively light attack strength. Other utility is gained with detection to avoid ambushes, and flanking as a support unit.

The shamans are vulnerable vs. non-magic units, but are quite useful in a support roll as they provide both affliction to harm opponents and healing to their own mainline units. Notice, however, that they cannot heal themselves when fighting on the front lines.

Joined: 12/01/2008
I've made some changes to my

I've made some changes to my specific implementation of the system that work better for my game.
In that regard, its not entirely relevant to the discussion, except to highlight the power and versatility of a custom dice symbol system.

As you can see, the dice are less symmetric, but provide some interesting crossover with regard to defenses.

Err... How do I post an image as a response? I have a hard time believing this forum has enough traffic to warrant a blanket ban on image links. :/

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