How Men of Quality Resolve Differences

How Men of Quality Resolve Differences
Poodle attacks - an ugly but inevitable part of any 17th C. British Civil War, "Oh! The Shame of it All!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Design Thoughts: Turn Sequence

It's MOVE, SHOOT, MELEE, then THEIR turn you see? Really quite simple when you think about it...

One of the defining aspects of any wargame is the turn sequence.  This has a huge impact on how players interact with their units, the opposition, and get "period feel" from the game. As I consider tinkering with yet another OHW period, I find myself hankering for a turn sequence that is evocative of the period, encourages historical options/decisions by players, and isn't too gamey...

"gamey" is when a game mechanic seems to exist for itself and not for the game or its historicity, and when the game mechanic has more importance to the designer than the history / reality of the conflict or the fun of the players.

IGO-UGO or unified turn sequence.  I call this "unified" because one side does all their playing then the other side does all their playing.  Sometimes this is broken up a bit by the passive side having to take morale checks or savings rolls, or otherwise react to the "going" side.  While this turn sequence gets used a lot, and has a lot of lovers and haters, let's start with what NT says about it on OHW in the Ancient Rules section, p.9:

"The game relies upon the use of alternate turns, with one player moving, shooting and engaging in close combat, followed by the second player.  This is far more manageable than the option of having both players act simultaneously, and is somewhat surprisingly more realistic.  For it is only superficially true that armies in historical battles acted simultaneously: what generally happened was that one side would act, and its opponent react - and this process can be reflected quite accurately with alternate turns."


More Manageable. Have to agree, especially for new players and for games where there are multiple players per side, IGO-UGO is an easy way to play.
Realism & Simultaneous Action v. Action & Reaction. I'll agree with this, that generally speaking one command / commander is acting and the opposition or other commanders are reacting.  Games often express this by saying one side has "initiative". 
On the other hand, it is gamey to say that one side does ALL their activity and then the other side does ALL their activity.  It is also gamey to say that units move, then shoot, then melee. While it is clearly true that one side must move into melee, upon being in melee one may say that there's no movement at all of the meleeing units [certainly isn't in the OHW rules, with a couple exceptions] so the sequence doesn't need to remain that way.

Conclusion = The turn sequence and timing of action types [move, shoot, melee] needs to be broken up in a way that is more realistic and yet is more manageable.  but how?

I started with looking at a couple of favorites.  Both "The Sword and the Flame" and "Victory without Quarter" have a "broken up" turn sequence where a deck of cards dictates which units have the opportunity to perform actions.  

To have a specific card for each unit and general [if general figures are used in the game] seems manageable, but I also feel it is "gamey" in that real life battles don't feature units and commanders acting in a totally random sequence.  Same with drawing cards by unit types [e.g. infantry, cavalry, artillery]. So players should have a limited ability to plan and execute sequences of action as well as some simultaneous actions with units, such as moving a long column of troops down a road, or advancing together following a unit with the general's banner, etc.  

TSATF has players pulling over a card that is for their side, red [British] or black [natives] so the players can then begin executing plans that way.  As you are supposed to act without knowing the next card that can be a bit unrealistic also, since armies routinely plan and execute sequential as well as simultaneous actions.  In fact, doing so is often the difference between a successful operation and one that is a failure. 

So one possibility is to turn over more than one card, and/or value the cards in such a way as to give precedence and sequence.  For example, say we are turning over cards three at a time.  We turn over a black 7, a red 5 and a red jack.  We could say that as there are two red cards v. one black, that red goes first with both the red jack and then the 5.  Or we could say that the order is jack-7-5 so a red-black-red side sequence.  To give players an opportunity to shape their game, we could also let each side or player save a card or two, so one might save a high-value card that one doesn't need right away for later. 

Certainly there are several possibilities here.  One could also say that number cards move one Unit and face cards two units, Aces three Units.  Draw three cards, and then give each side those Actions in the order of card precedence.  For Example, I draw three cards, Red 5, Black King, red Ace.  Red gets three units activated, black two, red one last unit.

Another possibility that occurred to me doesn't require a card deck but dices off initative. One can roll off with the standard d6 of the OHW, and the side that beats the other gets the number of actions or acting units by which they win. So if Red rolls a 3 and Blue a 5, then Blue has two actions/acting Units to take. The problem of Blue "winning" the roll-off but then "losing in execution" because Blue doesn't want to act at that moment but rather react is solved by allowing Blue to force the other side to use the actions instead.  So Blue has the possibility, by winning the roll-off, of acting with two units or forcing Red to act with two units. 

The unintended consequence of this sequence is that one now moves, melees or shoots in any sequence determined instead by the order in which units act.  I find this much more realistic altho it can be a bit less "fair" for the side that loses.  So I could choose to act with a Unit in melee, roll high enough to destroy the enemy unit and that unit doesn't get to melee back.  Same with shooting - I could shoot at a unit with lots of hits, destroy it with a good roll, and that unit gets no chance to act that turn.  This is also the effect of the above use of cards.

One could unite the two sides by continuing the action sequence of Move - Shoot - Melee, and have the players interacting within that limitation.  The dicing off would just be for all movement, all shooting, then all melee.  Again, this seems a bit gamey to me in that it mandates the order of action types, and of course military reality isn't like that - sometimes you shoot to pin the enemy, then you move in to charge him, then you melee.  Or you retreat, then shoot at your pursuer with supporting fire, and avoid melee, etc etc.

Of the two interactive turn sequences, I like the dicing off better as it doesn't require another "gadget", and works with the gadget at hand, the d6.  For the Pike and Shot rules, one would have to make action types: Charge, Move, and Move-Shoot are the three in the original rules.  As I don't see any reason to only shoot after movement, I'd include Shoot-Move along with Move-Shoot.

The only unintended consequence I can think of at this time that I'm uncertain of is that the moving and shooting represents the continuous shooting by ranks who then fall to the back of the file to reload as another rank of the division steps up to fire.  This produces a continuously moving unit that is also continuously shooting.  Using the above sequence gives a choppy effect that is more like volley fire depending on how much interactivity there is during the turns - it'll increase as units get closer together.  Only way to find out is to try it.

There are some other fun possibilities with the rolling off.  One side could have a +1 or even 2 if they showed a lot of initiative in the historical battle.  Army morale could also affect this - as you lose units you get a -1 to your initiative roll.


Ok, so I did try the rolling off with d6 while playing scenario #4 again [after all it was already set up].  The only added burden is that one needs to remember / mark units as they act so you don't forget if a unit has already move / shot / rolled for melee.  I liked the sequence in that it really keeps both sides closely involved with the game.  You always have the possibility to act, even if you lose the roll as your opponent may want you to act even if he wins.  There's also still plenty of margin for player error and that heightens realism for me also.  Even playing solo, sometimes I don't see an opportunity until it is "that side's" turn and I'm really thinking about it.  

The game was very close and came down to the last couple of die rolls which involved not just combat resolution, but turn sequence being critical to how to move a unit to second-guess where it was needed depending on unresolved rolls.  It was intense how close it was and there was always the slender hope to roll a big difference roll and give a significant left-right combo to the other side.

I also like that since you can't predict easily when you will get to go - at least at the start of a turn, you need to play conservatively sometimes, which is part of the methodical, stately feel of the period.  Commanders preferred to train for predictability and reliability than flashy tactics and wild possibilities.

This is a bit better than the card idea in that one could get a difference from 1-5 and at a critical moment even the difference of '1' mattered.  I'll definitely be trying this turn sequence again.  Thanks to the Swedish rules "Ga Pa" for inspiring the idea!


Final playtest: card deck.
I used the card deck with the following rules:

  • Draw three at a time, blacks were the Blue side, red was the Red side.
  • Attacker wins ties.
  • Play off the three cards in value order, King highest, Ace lowest [a '1' value].
  • Each side can save one card by playing it to their hand rather than on a Unit. The card can be used later to trump a card that has been declared to be played on a unit.  The trumping card is played out from the hand, and then the opponent has a free choice with the card that was trumped.
  • Instead of playing a card or saving it, the player can use the card to force the activation of an enemy unit instead.
  • Stop drawing cards when one side has completed all their Actions, and the side with unactivated units activates all those units.
  • The Actions I used were Charge [move into contact], Move, Move-Shoot.  I want to add Shoot-Move, also.
It gave the player a view to the future a little bit, but without knowing the entire turn in advance.  If three reds were drawn, then you knew you were going to get to act with three units, so a general advance was possible, especially if you had a high ranking card in your hand.

Another very close and exciting game.  I like that the cards give you a few more ways to play, save, and otherwise add to the realism and drama, yet they didn't overpower the system.  I like this even better than the roll-off system, and will stick with it for a while.


  1. We used to draw two cards at time for TSATF and GASLIGHT. The moves were done in order of the draw, but the second card let the next unit get started on their move, unless it was in the vicinity of the first card, the unit waited. It speed things up a bit.

    I like the dice roll and take the difference, and the make the opponent move option is nice.

    I don't know if you need to mark units as having acted. Try it by allowing units to move again and again (but only once per dice roll). So, if you win the initiative with three activations, three units act; and then the next dice roll you win (or lose) those units could act again if the player wants.

    It could lead to some abuse of "elite" units, but eventually, a unit that is constantly activated will become played out and probably be unsupported. Of course I like limited ammo rules, so that would have a moderating effect anyway.

  2. Interesting - I think "All the Kings Men" use this mechanic, and you can activate a unit up to three times. So not "unlimited" but much as you say.

    My problem with this is that people will tend to use elite units a lot, and leave the Militia smoking and joking. It's preferable to use a mechanic that encourages historical usage and "realistic" operations, while giving player's some flexibility.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment!