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Troop/Army size limit thoughts

9 replies [Last post]
Joined: 11/05/2015

OK- I know the reasons (or at least some reasons) why limits are in place with troop sizes in war games. It discourages turtling; thematically on any spatial map a hex/grid/territory can't hold an unlimited number of troops- those borders are to simulate limited space; it "caps" how much power you can amass and mitigates a runaway leader.

I get and agree with the reasons why- especially the turtling bit. My current design I tried an unlimited unit cap, risk style, and 1 guy just kept building his army bigger and bigger and someone else won before he could even get it in play. I think it was more poor play on his part, but it wasn't "fun" for him to sit there with a big army doing nothing to then lose. Even though I can't stop poor play, I can at least design in a way that discourages it and points people toward optimal play.

So I think I need a unit limit. But if I can avoid a rule just for the sake of a rule, I try. I listened recently to a bit on design theory, I believe in a podcast, but I listen to quite a few so I don't recall which (or maybe it was even a post on here?). But the guest made the case to design in such a way that encourages good behavior and discourages bad behavior without adding arbitrary rules. The example was Skyrim. The designers didn't want you to beat up every person in every village, but instead of making that impossible with a game rule (like many games), they just added a consequence: guards who will mess you up. so you COULD beat up villagers, but you don't WANT to do that because of the consequence. A consequence (or reward) while I suppose are still "rules," fit the theme, and add to the immersion verses a ruleset of cans and can'ts.

So design goal #1- implement consequences and rewards in such a way that discourage turtling and encourage getting into the fray quickly.

But that's not all. See I think this can be "solved" pretty easily. Add some kind of governor like "houses" or "food" or "money". You need to have enough of X to get Y army size. Or you need to pay an X upkeep to keep Y army size. That's all fine, and is even thematic I suppose. But is arithmetic and bookkeeping fun? Not really.

Design goal #2 therefore is implement design goal #1 in such a way that doesn't add a layer of complexity and bookkeeping. I'd rather just have an arbitrary unit size than do that (which is how I'm playtesting my current design.)

Any ideas? Or examples you've seen an elegant solution to troop size? I'm thinking hard on this one- I hope I'll come up with something myself as well and I'll post here if I do

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
just some suggestions

I don't know how your game will look like. But there are many reasons, but also ways to go about this.

One of the simplest ways is that you give your units an actual physical size.
Keep it grid like for the pieces: 1x1, 2x2, 1x2, 3x3, 2x3, 1x3 etc.
It is the area of the pieces that also indicates the "weight".
1, 4, 2, 9, 6, 3 etc.
This might even help you balance the game.
Or limit pieces in a region.
No bookkeeping, but...
Downside is the squared nature of the map.

Another way is to simply tell the players, that there is a maximum for each unit type. And the players need to count the pieces for the game first. Excess pieces are put in the box, and are not used at all.
With that, you could apply some faction differences. Where the usage of the same pieces, can be different for the different players. Simply by their statistics and number of pieces.

I use the latter due to the size and rules of my game. But the first one, I once used for my Risk pieces on a square grid map.

For stimulation. I award players that go into combat. These players don't need to win. Even if they do slightly worse. They can gain XP from it. And use this XP on making certain units stronger. The "victim" too will gain some of it. But is more often, worse of.
It is very hard to balance the reward in such a way. That the XP gain is better than the loss of units. And thus, beneficial for the player when having to face a tertiary player afterwards.

polyobsessive's picture
Joined: 12/11/2015

So your problem is that you want to prevent turtling. It probably isn't a viable strategy, but that is not necessarily apparent to players, so some will do it and have a bad time playing your game. As a result you want to prevent this unfun and unviable strategy from being used.

Did I summarise things right there?

Assuming I did, then a unit stacking limit is one possible way to approach this problem. There are others.

Game designer Gil Hova (The Networks, Prolix, Wordsy, etc) is fond of repeating his mantra: "Incentivise interesting behaviour" (he spells it differently, but I am British!). In other words, what the game rewards you for should be the fun, exciting or otherwise engaging choices, and that should be apparent.

So here's one possible suggestion: give victory points for making attacks.

That is almost certainly the wrong solution for your game, and even if you used it, it would probably not work on its own and you'd need other sources of VPs, but let's just use it as an example.

So if the reward for making attacks is set at the right level, anyone sitting back and turtling will spend the game watching other players launching skirmishes around the board and racking up big VP totals as they do so. You haven't prevented the turtle, but you have sent a very clear message that this is not how the game is meant to be played.

You don't need to prevent all counterproductive play, but if the incentives for the "right" style of play are clear enough, that is fine in most cases.

Rick L
Rick L's picture
Joined: 08/22/2016

Take the game of Risk as an example - the only way to acquire a card is to conquer a territory, so you have incentive to at least conquer 1 new territory each turn. Cards can be turned in as sets for more armies.

It doesn't stop turtling completely, but that shouldn't be the goal. Some turtling is "necessary" to strategize - no one is going to win a combat game using the strategy of "spread my forces out as thin as possible!"

But there are plenty of ways you can create incentives for engaging in more combat - stealing cards from players, controlling more locations that give boosts to stats or re-rolls (if using dice). All depends on the theme and mechanics of your game.

BenMora's picture
Joined: 02/13/2012
Twilight Imperium implements

Twilight Imperium implements a limit mechanic that contributes to an interesting gameplay choice you must make (I think in any game, the more meaningful interesting choices the better.)

The limit of how many ships you can have in a hex is equal to the number of Tokens you allocate to your "fleet supply" pool. The thing is, you need to also allocate some of those tokens to your "command pool" which determines how many Tactical actions you can take, and your "strategy allocation" pool, which determines which Strategy actions you can take. It makes the decision interesting, kinda like space games where you have to manage the allocation of energy to/from sheilds and thrusters and weapons, etc.

Joined: 11/05/2015
Thanks all for the responses

Thanks all for the responses.

I've considered an XP system. In the most recent version I've added leaders that give player powers depending on how "leveled up" they are. I was debating how exactly to "pay" to level up, but perhaps XP is the way to go to help incentivise combat. ***It sounds like you've tried this to some extent- do you have any more thoughts from your experience on balancing an XP system?***

You summarized correctly. I want optimal play to be apparently fun- and the players to intuitively WANT to do the correct thing based on the game design rewarding like you said, vs learning to do the correct thing by being punished (losing).

Some of my favorite games in this category grant VP for winning battles. I'd like to experiment with other ideas- most games these days go for the VP route for a reason- it works well. I'm just testing if something different could work and be fun. Or perhaps a better way to put it is a way that leads to a winner that is less abstract than VP- and also isn't player elimination.

Rick L:
Yes- I definitely need more incentives for combat. This thread is making me realize it's not enough of an incentive to say "this is how you win." The process needs to be fun too. Something has to be added to make combat rewarding. I come from a heavy chess background so sometimes its hard for me to break out of that mold. The only "fun" in chess is outplaying your opponent and feeling clever. The process isn't "fun" exactly- if you lose you certainly don't look back and think of it as "fun" (at least I don't).

That's a great example- I haven't played but perhaps I need to look through the rules. I'm certainly going to think on this a bit- I really like the idea of having that "energy allocation" or, in a wargame setting "command allocation." I coincidentally have a version of this to handle movement/resource gathering/recruiting/basically every game action, but I see it could be possible to expand in meaningful, interesting ways, like adding population into it somehow. Interesting... Thanks for the insight.

To give a little more context- this is a lite wargame similar in weight to risk/kemet/cry havoc/etc. The theme is non-traditional fantasy (no orcs, dwarves, elves, etc.)- The story of the game is, there is a "place of power" that is said to give whoever unlocks it's secrets, well, power. So players move their dudes around the map, collect a limited resource called "Arcana" and bring that to the "place of power." whoever brings 5 Arcana there first wins. King of the Hill with a little item collection.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Troop Max Increases Conditionally

The troop limit in a region can be based on the number of buildings you've constructed there, or the level of technology attained.

If you're concerned about army sizes being too big, increase the cost based on the size of the existing military. Making the first few troops is cheap, but making additional troops after a player already has a large force is expensive.

In effect, you conceal the upkeep cost into a one-time payment where no future math is involved. It also allows for defeated players to rubber-band back into competitive military shape after devastating losses, and to quickly conscript useful military forces (provided they have the resources).

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
spaff wrote:X3M: I've

spaff wrote:
I've considered an XP system. In the most recent version I've added leaders that give player powers depending on how "leveled up" they are. I was debating how exactly to "pay" to level up, but perhaps XP is the way to go to help incentivise combat. ***It sounds like you've tried this to some extent- do you have any more thoughts from your experience on balancing an XP system?***

Yes, I had plenty of failures to learn from. And still do.

Using XP in a wargame is like adding extra topping to a cake with topping. You don't really need it and it can become a mess. Unless you are designing a RPG.

Make sure the initial game is balanced. Once the game is done in all other aspects. Return to adding the XP system. That is my advice.
If you do it the other way, you can get problems like I have for the past 2 weeks.

Centrilising XP spending is key. And having a leader to gain the XP is a good way to do so. Individual XP tracking and spending is a no go.

It is better to start a new topic about this.

BenMora's picture
Joined: 02/13/2012
Oh, another few ideas for

Oh, another few ideas for you!

In The Game of Thrones Board Game your army size limit is determined by the number of supply icons in all of your controlled territories.

Or you could maybe not limit the size per se, but make it somehow harder to maneuver a larger army. Perhaps 3 or less units can move 3 spaces per turn, but for every unit beyond that they move 1 less, or something along those lines.

Joined: 01/27/2017
Command points that strut around on the board

If you don't want to go into fully abstract command points, you can limit the effective number of units per space with commander units. I'll go into where these come from in a moment, but first this is what they do:

* Base units each include an implied Captain, and Captains can self-organize up to 4 units in same hex

* A Major unit can control up to 8 base units in the same hex

* A Colonel can control up to 2 Majors in the same hex

* A General can control up to 2 Colonels in the same hex

If you aren't doing massive stacking like this anyway (sort of a Civ 5 model), then units that don't have the proper commander coordinating them can't support one another with their buffs.

In either case, commanders earn XP rather than base units.

If base unit wins a battle (or does something else interesting and fun and pro-social in a war-gaming sense) then its Captain earns enough XP to become a Major. Pay the upgrade cost if desired and put a Major in the space.

A Major can spend XP on abilities or a promotion to Colonel. There may or may not be an upgrade cost above Major, depending on the game's economics.

Likewise, a Colonel can spend XP on abilities or a promotion to General. Generals only get abilities from their XP.

The player can have several commanders in the same space, and should probably be given lots of latitude assigning the pool of earned XP across the commanders present.

Note that the player needs to do "interesting stuff" to get XP, and turtling is not among the options for earning them. This forces the players to skirmish (or perform other approved actions) to improve their army strength.

Once this is in place, you can weave it into other game elements. Have random event cards? Maybe an ally sends you a General to get your sorry-ass colonial soldiers in line...

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