Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

The Mechanics of Die Fighting, Part II

One of my strongest interests in game design has been turn sequencing and phasing, or the order and procedures for taking actions in a wargame. This is primarily because it occurred to me very early on in designing wargames that the key to design isn’t some “Distance=Time X Rate” equation with great emphasis on the rate of march and other nonsense, nor was it, given the paucity of usable data, getting the percentages of hits from fire exactly right. It was how TIME is handled in the game play. Many designers thought that by quantifying the time that activities were thought to take, and then allowing that many actions in a turn would be the answer. George Jeffries was one such designer. Most people that tried this idea as he proposed it found that the paperwork, and the almost impossible synchronization problems made the design unplayable. Others simply locked into a fixed turn sequence that made time so predictable that all parties could plainly predict and foresee what was going to happen next. Time became a caged animal, when we all know from our experiences in life it is a wild beast whose next event is difficult to count upon.

My first attempt at capturing this was the “Denver Bounce” in Le Jeu de Le Guerre in 1972. This simply said you could keep the initiative in a turn as long as you could effect the enemy. When you couldn’t fire upon enemy units or contact them initiative went to the other side. It was a neat idea that several people found fun and different. A variation on this was found in Rebel Yell! in the early 1990s, which also tried to graft role-playing elements on to the tactical wargame. It was a design I never was entirely happy with though certain elements of that design-especially in morale, made its way into Piquet.

The big breakthrough was the design of Piquet that literally cut up the turn sequence and placed it on a series of cards which made up decks that could be quite different for either army. To this was added the wide variation of impetus provided by counter-rolled D20s. It was a great concept that provided for complete unpredictability of next events, no foreknowledge of who would move next or how active he could be, and allowed an excellent way to model an army of any given period or nationality. My later design, Zouave, used a heavily modified variation that actually created two decks within each army-one for command issues and the other for tactical movements and combat. This allowed some great modeling of command, quite apart from modeling regimental tactical skills.

Die Fighting is a completely different animal. Most of its mechanisms are quite different from Piquet, or any other design for that matter. Certainly, using the expenditure of dice as a unified measure of morale, command energy, and combat effects is original as I described in Part I, but the thing which also sets it apart is the turn sequencing.

A turn is made up of six phases (the number six is a recurring theme in the rules) and there are three major ways to sequence the phases. Each phase is a segment of a normal turn ranging from infantry actions to officer movement. The phases may be sequenced in a Fixed Synchronous manner, where the phases on every turn run from 1 to 6 just as many “Old Line” designs, and each army executes the phases in the same order with only an initiative roll determining which side does the phase actions first. Other than a clever exception which reverses the order of the phases on a turn for both armies, or where a phase is completely skipped over, the play is very much in the move - countermove mould of many classic wargames.

But Die Fighting offers other options! Gamers can opt for a Fixed Asynchronous sequencing of phases where each side starts and ends at a different point in the phase order, but they still perform phases concurrently - so one side may be moving infantry, while the other is moving cavalry! Again, there are exceptions that allow for reverse sequencing for either or both, and missed phases.

But there is more! Another set of phasing options is Variable Asynchronous sequencing which employs cards that allow each commander to select which phase he wishes to perform and, depending on his command skill, select the order at will, or have to lay down cards that commit him to 2 or 3 or more phases in a sequence.

Finally, the six cards may be shuffled and cards revealed randomly a la Piquet-though much simpler and cleaner in function. This allows for excellent solo play, or a way to model a particularly inept commander!

Obviously some phasing methods are better tailored to certain periods, or a specific theater of operations, so Fixed Synchronous fits Marlborough’s Wars, but Variable Asynchronous fits the French and Indian or later 19th century wars better. But the real cherry on top of the sundae is that the sequence methods can be DIFFERENT for the two armies! That’s right, Braddock’s forces may be using a Fixed Synchronous method, but his French and Indian enemies out in the woods are using a Variable Synchronous sequence! Even more interesting is the thought of the sequencing CHANGING from one turn to the next for an army depending on the tactical situation! There are many different sequencing options that the gamers can agree to use in playing Die Fighting-no other design is so flexible.

The end result is that the variety of turn phasing in Die Fighting is a tremendous tool for modeling command quality, period tactical flexibility, army quality, and adds tremendously to the drama and suspense of the game play. The Die Fighting gamer has the ability to control and experiment with the flow of time as in no other game.

Next segment- The three types of D6s and The Rule of Six!