Friday, 13 January 2017

Musing on the state of play for my WW2 rules at end of 2016

This post is a very long winded ramble on why I changed from a single die roll mechanism for my WW2 rules to multiple dice rolls.  Feel free to ignore.

My latest incarnation of my homegrown rules has had a change in how I read the dice rolls.  It was worthy of a few paragraphs as part of my latest WW2 AAR featuring the new mechanism to help make them easier to play,  It got very long so I separated out to its own post. so take this post as a ramble on rules design to get to where I am.

The new mechanism is not radical - it is moving away from a single d6 with modifiers to rolling 1, 2, or 3 d6 where a 4-5 on a die is 1 "success" and a 6 is 2 "successes".  This mechanism is used in all the areas a single d6 was used - spotting, firing, calling for artillery and rally/morale.  To find out why I moved read this lengthy post.

To find out how the rules went on its first outings, wait for the AARs that should follow!

Background - the Take Cover!! derivatives 
I have been tinkering with the Take Cover!! rules (a Rapid Fire clone) for about 10 years now. Take Cover!! is designed for 20mm figures with 1-3 battalions on the table.  Scale is roughly 1 figure = 1 section; 1:3 for crew served weapons, 1 AFV = 1 troop (3-5 vehicles) and ground scale is 1:900.  My main tinkering was to speed up the rules and provide some consistency in the mechanisms.  I also went to card based activation rather than using a defined turn sequence.  What I really liked with my derivatives is that 1 figure fires with 1 die then you add or subtract modifiers.  This made it very easy to play – no tables to look at for fire resolution.  It has been one of my de facto design principles to try and stick with the 1d6 for a figure as multiple figures firing is so easy – just roll that number of d6s.  The battalion level rules worked really well at both 20mm and 6mm as at 20mm 1 figure = 1 section and at 6mm 1 stand - 1 section.  I play 6mm on a 2'x2' so I also reduced the distance scale by 2.5 simply by converting inches to centimetres.  So I have a set of rules that worked for both my WW2 gaming scales.

The dilemma foreshadowed
A few years ago I was finding while playing it was hard to resolve in my mind the 1:900 scale with a single 20mm figure representing 10 soldiers (and 1:2250 for 6mm!).  One solution would be to use my 6mm collection to play on larger boards than the 2’x2’.  But I have a lot of 20mm WW2 and 20mm terrain and really like to look of 20mm tables, so I then thought of scaling the game down to company level. I have done some testing of my 20mm WW2 rules at the company level and they have been OK.  All I did was double the moving and firing distances, infantry is 1:3 (3 figures to a section) and 1:1 for vehicles - just like Charles Grant's Battle rules. At the company level, I really want to have suppression occur a bit more than how it does under Take Cover!!. So I modified the 'to hit' result so now every successful infantry hit will have roughly a 50% chance of suppression and 50% chance of a kill.  The rules worked OK.

For 6mm company level, I mashed together the newer 20mm rules with the older rules (with the 1 stand = 1 section) and just played with inches rather than centimetres. I did need to halve the distances at 6mm to make it work.. It worked well for a few of the 6mm games I played. I combined all these rules into one ruleset that worked at both 6mm and 20mm and for battalion and company games...but morale was a bit dodgy due to different unit sizes, the 'to hit' was different as the 6mm had difference chances due to 1 stand = 1 section, and distances still ended up being different for 6mm and 20mm.  These were just a few of the workarounds required to make it work well across both scales.  I felt I was getting somewhere but it was still much the same ruleset and I was not really satisfied I had captured company level gaming very well.  I knew there was still work to be done but I just could not pinpoint where to next other that playing some more games to see what I could tweak.

An example of the to hit table (for all targets) from these rules -  Advance to cover  (this is the 6mm version).

To hit – 1d6 with 4+ to hit.
Die modifiers:
Firer moving or pinned or green; or infantry target moving in open.
Target greater than 18”
Target in soft cover +inf supp/pinned in open
Target in hard cover
Target within 3”
Vehicle target is its flank
Vehicle target suppressed/pinned/stationary
For 7+ to hit, reduce dice rolled by 1.
Infantry: if equal roll, then retreat 3" and suppressed, if greater; then rout
Note that vehicles have a subsequent penetration single die roll based on an attacking gun factor and a target armour.  

The Ah-ha moment to move away from modifiers
I also played a game of 20mm WW2 with my children (age 7 and 9 at the time of the game) in August 2016 using a simplified version of my rules. Note: some of the content from that post has made it into this section of this post, so it may seem familiar.  One of the first things I found out is that the children found it hard to add and subtract modifiers but found it really easy to add or subtract the number of dice rolled. 

I have come to realise that my children do so much better with adding and removing dice than with dice modifiers.  e.g. 5, 6 on a d6 is a hit -  roll 2 dice to hit, 1 dice if in cover (compared to roll 1d6 and a 4+ is a hit, 5+ if in cover).  I have been adding and subtracting modifiers to d6s for 35 years and it comes automatically to me - I just *know* what 4+2-1 is :-).  Not so my children. I can definitely see how not using modifiers can streamline games and if using only small number of d6s the odds of wild swings are not really there. Actually, I should have seen it earlier - we have played WarHammer Quest for many years now with modified combat rules: you roll x dice (depending on weapon and magic items) to hit and all 5s and 6s are hits; The target rolls x dice for saves (based on armour) with one save for every 5 or 6.  So they are quite familiar with adding and subtracting dice to a dice pool.  I don't really like buckets of dice - anything up to 5 regularly would be fine and more at the odd time is OK but 10? 20? Not for me.  I can understand the appeal but not fond personally.

Another game that crystallised the roll x dice and count the successes was the Arkham Horror boardgame that I played around the same time.  It simply adds and subtracts dice from a pool with a 5+ (or changed to a 4+ with a good card) for a success.  I see the attraction of this now, after 35 years of having a preference for single d6 with modifiers!

Another thing that stuck in my mind was that, even though we used card activation for the WW2 game, we also used a limited form of reaction fire for when fired on (1-2 fire back, 3-4 do nothing, 5-6 retreat 3") and I really liked that as I don't have reactions in my rules, except at a skirmish level and those are similar to NUTS!  I have thought about how to apply skirmish level reactions in the company games, but whatever I think of or write down just does not feel right, so have not done so.  I have NUTS! Big Battles and need to give them a go to see how that reaction system works with stands representing more than 1 figure.

The FiveCore revelation
I determined that the next 6mm game I played would be with a set of rules that does not use modifiers and adds and removes dice.  I have been looking to play Nordic Weasel's FiveCore Company Command for ages and it worked very well as can be seen in this battle report (I played a couple of games prior of the FiveCore skirmish game to get myself familiar with the FiveCore mechanics). I liked the Five Men at Kursk activation mechanism for both the skirmish and company games.

Five Core has a different reaction system to NUTS! - not better or worse, just different. It also has a novel approach to cover - either you are hiding in cover and cannot be hit (but also cannot fire) or you are peeking and can fire (but also can be fired at).  It ties neatly into the reaction system as generally when you go from hiding to peeking, an enemy unit can reaction fire at you, and firing has a good chance of making you hide again!  It is all about being in the right places at the right time to take advantage of the activation rolls you get.

Fire Core also has no modifiers applied to the dice.  The basic roll is two different coloured d6s - one Shock die and one Kill die with a 1 or 6 on each die producing a different result.  Additional Kill or Shock dice are added or removed in certain circumstances (such as resolving different artillery fire, weapons or anti-tank penetration).  One of the things I really liked about this system is that there is no "to hit" roll - you simply roll the Kill and Shock dice and apply the result.  I liked this so much I began to wonder how to combine single dice roll resolution (no 'to hit' roll and then a 'to kill' roll) and no dice modifiers for my rules across infantry, antitank and artillery fire (Infantry already was a single to hit roll, but anti-tank and artillery were not).

I started modifying the 6mm rules to produce different results based on a single d6 roll.   I already had pinned, suppressed and KO results built in the rules so I just went with 4 = pinned (harder to fire) 5 = supressed (no moving or firing and need to rally), 6 = KO.  But this does not account for cover etc and vehicles were a bit different so I ended up with this ugly "to hit" table.

To hit – roll xd6, 1 per figure, -1 die if greater than 18”
Firer pinned if target able to return fire
No effect
No effect
Target pinned
Move 3” if not in cover or enemy in 6” or already pinned
AFV suppressed
Target suppressed:
2nd infantry suppress no effect
2nd AFV suppress KO
Target destroyed/KO
Unless in hard cover then:
suppressed (already suppressed are KO) unless within 3” then always KO
+1d6 if infantry target in open ;+1d6 if target within 3”
Infantry firer moving or pinned: target in 12” and ignore 6’s
Vehicles also had to add penetration and subtract target armour to the roll.

The 1 result was an easy way to handle reaction fire - if you missed the target and the target could fire, then on a 1 you were pinned.

I do like the way it might work, even though it would require more thought to get it right. However, it will remain untested as I have moved away from this thinking.  I would just play FiveCore rather than if I was to continue down this path.

I also was thinking how I would apply this to 20mm on a 1:3 scale where 3 figures is one section and then fire as a section.  They would fire at another section  but then pinned and suppressed would be applied to a single opposing figure, rather than the section as a whole.  This would not really be what I wanted.  I then started looking at how to apply multiple hits to a section to best represent this but realised it was not great.  I needed a better system that would straddle 6mm and 20mm.

A brief sideline into investigating Pulp Alley type games for my children

My daughter (now 10) really enjoys mystery books, shows and stuff.  Over the last year or two, and especially in the last six months, I have been thinking how to run a mystery type game on a small table with a few figures – one for each of me, my son and daughter and maybe some hangers on.  The idea would be a co-op game against the system where you go around the table collecting some clues and figure out the mystery.  I started looking at RPGs and there are some good ideas there.  I was looking for a system that uses a number of dice per attribute rather than modifiers.  Pulp Alley looks good too, especially with the Solo Deck that can be used to play against the system.  It uses a lot of attributes and different dice types but I like the idea.  I was also looking on an easy way to randomly create a mystery rather than collect clues.  Finally, after acquiring at least a twenty or so new rulesets (RPG and miniatures), I stumbled across The Department based on the Goal System system (other notable Goal System based rules are Blasters and Bulkheads and Void Pirates).  The Department is BladeRunner like, but the thing that struck me was the Goal System dice mechanism – roll a small dice pool and every 4 or 5 is one success, and every 6 is two successes.  The reason this was a revelation as I was wondering how I can stick with 1 die but get different results, and also increase the severity of the result when rolling more than 1 die. And still give the chance of a single figure (with one die roll) inflicting different results (in my case a pinned or a suppression).   So 1d6 will produce 1 or 2 successes, 2d6 will produce 1, 2 or 3 successes (and a 1/36 chance of 4 hits) etc. and this seems like a good idea.  1 success could be pinned (penalty to fire), 2 successes suppresses (no move or fire) and 3 successes is KO.  

Bringing it all together

So what does this actually mean?  Where am I after 6 months of constant tweaking alongside a voyage of discovery and application of new mechanisms?  Well, one thing is I have never written down design principles for these rules.  In reality, for my company level rules I just wanted something that was like Take Cover!! but more streamlined and consistent.  These are some I came up with that I was seeking to implement in the latest rules:
  • 1 die roll for one figure
  • No modifiers to the die roll – add or remove dice in limited circumstances with a 4 or 5 being one success, 6 is two successes.
  • No to hit and then to kill.
  • Scale is about 1:300
  • Would play just as well with 6mm as at 20mm, with 20mm simply doubling distances
  • Implements some form of reaction to fire.
  • Keeps what I like from Take Cover!! particularly spotting and suppression
  • Reuse most of the ruleset I have already – apply the new mechanisms but keep as much of the old rules
  • Don’t change the armour and penetration value number categories (ie. Don’t force all the guns that were labelled “3” to have to now be labelled “2” due to the new mechanisms).  This is really as I am used to the broad armour and penetration values I already have.  One day I will go through and re-validate them.
I have kept the card activation as I really like it. Roughly it is put in a card for each unit on each side – Black for Axis, Red for Allies and pick a unit that has not activated when a card of that sides colour comes up.  There is the joker that is an end of turn card – pick the cards up and shuffle (like the I Ain’t Been Shot Mum Tea Break card).

I created this results table, including the number of d6 to roll. D6 are rolled per vehicle, crew serviced weapon (e.g. MMG) or per platoon (3 stands at 6mm) or section (3 figures at 20mm):

Infantry to hit roll xd6 bases/figures in 1”
+1d6 if infantry target in open
-1d6 firer moved greater than ½ distance or pinned

Vehicle to hit (vehicle no move)
Roll 3d6 + attack #d6  - defence #d6

Each 4-5 is 1 success; 6 = two successes

If target able to return fire then if one or more 1s rolled then firer pinned.
Target may return fire if any ones rolled
Target pinned; move 3” if not in cover or enemy in 6”
Target suppressed.
Pin and Damaged
1 target destroyed/KO 
1 target destroyed, rest pinned
(5+ rest suppressed
6+ two destroyed etc)
Soft/transport vehicles” pinned/damaged = KO
Pinned: ½ move OR fire with -1d6
Suppressed: no move or fire
Vehicle 2 x damaged = KO

The infantry was easy.  The vehicles were harder to figure out.  Gun and armour categories are rated from 0 to 6 with a Sherman 75mm being a 3 and Sherman armour being 3. So roughly a gun 3 can penetration armour 3 at about 500m and armour 4 at closer ranges.   I started with 1d6 +penetration value –armour value and read the result. This was in line with the current rules  But that was deviating from the principles.  So then I went for roll xd6 equal to penetration value and xd6 for the armour value and compare the successes on the table. But this meant that a gun rated “1” was not going to be able to KO a vehicle with armour “1”, and the chances of gun 3 penetrating armour 3 was not great either.  But then I hit on rolling 3d6 per vehicle (why 3d6?  Well, that is the number of dice you would normally be rolling for a full infantry section.

So how does this work at 20mm and 6mm? At 6mm the basic infantry unit is a platoon of 3 stands so firing is done by platoon. AFVs will be 1:1 and support weapons (MMGs) will be 2:1. At 20mm I am going to double all the ranges and the basic unit will be the section (3 figures) with 1:1 for everything else.  I do not believe the dice per figures will need to change.  I will just have to give it a go.  In my head it all works, but that does not mean it will survive contact with the table! (foreshadowing: it survived contact).

A useful effect of firing 3 infantry figures at once is that sections/platoons become less effective as hits are taken.  Hits can be reduced effectiveness (pin/suppress) or a KO.  I really like this.  It is like I Ain’t Been Shot Mum where, as figures are lost, the number of dice you get to roll is reduced (another great feature of the IABSM rules).   It is not deliberate but I did like that part of IABSM.  I even drafted a ruleset about 10 years ago based mostly on IABSM but 3 figures per section (never went anywhere as it would be easier just to play IABSM!).And the dice you roll are 3d6 per section/stand – similar to what I now have where you roll 1d6 per figure.

I also made spotting a 1d6 roll with 1 or 2 successes required to spot; calling artillery is 3d6 with a varying number of successes required based on the type of support; rally and morale is xd6 with a success required to rally (1d6 for green, 2d6 for regular, 3d6 for vets).  Everything is now based on die roll "successes".

I also like the idea - and this was my stumbling block to going to 1d6 per figure with no modifiers - that a single figure has a 1 in 6 chance of suppressing the opposition and a 2 in 6 chance of pinning.  I was racking my brains on how to give a single figure a chance of suppression without putting in some special rules.  So with a sort of special rule - all 6s are 2 successes - the issue was resolved and my brain is at ease once again.  It was very relieving how easy it all fell together, and the odd calculations worked out quite well - just on discovering Goal System and then having a "Eureka" moment.

The last year six months have been really great - I have been quite excited with having the concepts ticking over in my mind and playing them over and having the revelations while I am watching TV or on the train.  It has been a most interesting journey to move the rules from where there were (a streamlined take on published rules) to a ruleset that is fairly clean and based on dice roll successes rather than modifiers to the dice.

Did the rules live up to expectations? My next posts should be 20mm and 6mm AARs with how the rules went.


  1. Hi Shaun, interesting post. Most stuff I seem to be doing these days is number of D6 rather than a modified D6. I also do hits and saves, which I think you might be less happy with, though these days I am much more inclined to see the 'gaming' side of my hobby rather than seeking that level of simulation that in the past for me has generally meant unnecessary complexity.

    I really like your results table.

    One of the things I dislike about the One Hour Wargames WWII rules is that the author suggests a single 1/72 model to represent the unit and then he goes and puts the accumulated 15 hits process in place, so you never get a KO and that just visually looks counter-intuitive. It would have been better to have had three vehicles represent the unit, so it looked like a platoon, since his system is basically about degrading rather than knocking out.

    Anyway a thoughtful piece and interesting to read how the kids cope better with number of dice rather than modifiers.

    Looking forward to your next AAR. cheers Norm.

    1. Hello Norm, thanks for passing by. It does seem that I am playing more games that are number of D6s as well, although sometimes is also changes the number on a die required to hit (e.g. 4+, 5+ or a 6 for a hit). Regardless, it has been around for ages but noticing it a lot more in my gaming.

      The results table is most of the game rules, although there is a simple artillery call table, spotting table and morale table.

      Yeah, I know what you mean about OHW - I have been tempted to play the ancients side of things with 4 DBA bases and count each as 5 hits an so remove the back two stands when you hit 5 and 10 hits. Would be a bit more visually representative of losses, and less counting!

  2. Shaun,

    Excellent, and you're incredible with the in-depth analysis and ongoing testing of your rules. I don't have the patience for that ;)

    "Five Core has a different reaction system to NUTS! - not better or worse, just different."
    Umm, that's not true, 5Core is the best ever ;)

    I really look forward to your Pulp stuff, and you may have inspired me to do likewise, though I'm trying not to, even asked the wife to hide my wallet ;)


    1. Five Core reactions are integral to the entire system; Nuts! Traction system is more 'generic' and able to cope with changes to the rules themselves. You can't swap them in and out so they must be different. But if you like one set of rules over another, then maybe one of them is 'better' :-)

    2. That reflects my understanding of the situation ;)


  3. Great post! I love game design and analysis and this hit the mark. Interesting progression and somewhat the one I took too. Tin Soldiers in Action, which is getting a lot of play in my house, uses multiple dice, modifiers are multipliers to the dice pool, and target numbers are fixed ('6' for ranged, '5'+ for close combat).

    1. Hello Dale. Glad you liked the post. I have been avidly following your playing of TSiA. Although not keen on the period, the rules do sound as though they are right up my alley!