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Unpainted Lead: Cover-based Combat in Tabletop Wargames

Richard Wilcox 02/28/2012 Reviews

I know I’ve said this many times in the past, and I will say it again: Even though I play wargames and have made some independently, I am far from an expert in any one given area of game mechanics, design, or play. Despite this, I do have an opinion backed by experiences from playing and making such games that enrich my viewpoint without making it wargame gospel.

Though if a wargame gospel ever were compiled and written with me in it; I do ask that they Photoshop my face onto Ryan Reynolds body, going into battle against an army of zombies, while whielding a vorpal sword, atop an armored unicorn.

Now to get to the subject:

Games are fun. Games are great. Games are a pain in the foot to create! Or…is it just me?

During the play testing of Henchmen: The Tabletop Battle Simulator (HTTBS for short), one of the problems we ran into was the issue of cover-based combat. Now, I know there is a huge debate of this issue amongst video game coinsures. When used correctly it creates a strategic challenge to the player thus enhancing the game, and when done wrong it makes for poor game design and cheap terrain mapping. But in a tabletop wargame against another player, this is the equivalent of trench warfare. In certain scenarios and game types this result is desirable, but in most scenarios the game becomes all about lucky shots and holding position unless an extra element is added.
Discombobulated Henchman
Naturally, the best way to avoid a game devolving into each team hiding in foxholes, or behind cement barriers (As in the case of HTTBS) is to introduce ordnance weaponry into the combat. Therefore, cannons, mortars, grenades, etc, can remove the element of cover-based combat. I would say this is only for modern wargames, but with catapults, trebuchets and wizards in fantasy tabletops this can cover a variety of combat scenarios. Players would then start utilizing distances, throwing/launching arcs, and blast radiuses, forcing tactics and strategy that would change a simple shooting skirmish to into a full out battle of skill.

And for most (if not all) wargames, that would be the end of the discussion. Just add an element that can be launched or thrown in an arc pattern which causes a large amount of damage within an area of effect. The rules for such would include distances, throwing skill/rolls, launch accuracy, and blast radius for each type of ordnance.

That would be an extra set of at least four rules. Not to mention extra stats for each game piece in play; in turn complicating the game further. Don’t get me wrong, I love my complex games that last for hours on end, but when developing HTTBS I wanted to keep it simple. For the uninitiated or new player these massive amounts of rules and stats can be overwhelming and at times confusing. And let’s face it; for as small as the wargaming community is we need to remember what makes it fun for us. I’ll give you a hint; it’s not the 3,001 page rule book sitting on your bookshelf.
Naked Henchman
Thus, while making Henchmen: The Tabletop Battle Simulator (Yes, the name is supposed to be that long) we removed explosives keeping the game fun and new player friendly and removed all waist high cover such as cement barriers to prevent any cover-based standoffs. Don’t get me wrong, there are a slew of expansions in the works right now. Some of which include ordnance weaponry up the wazoo, but by the time the newly initiated player gets to those they have become so comfortable with basic warfare that a new piece of ammo in their magazine pouch will only enhance their game instead of hinder their learning curve.

But maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps the best games should include ordnance weaponry and tactics from the get go. You tell me, would you prefer to start wargaming a complex or simple game?

Richard Wilcox is a tabletop enthusiast with a penchant for epic battles, join him in Unpainted Lead every Tuesday for a weekly look into the art of tiny war. Also, players, store owners and game developers spread the word: Wednesday, August 8th 2012 is now Skirmish in Public Day

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About The Author

I like to play games, write about them and sometimes make them. Sometimes I make films too.

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