Monday, December 18, 2023

Wargame Design: Sometimes I Just Get So Tired

 As we all know, the 4Ms of Wargame Design are Movement, Melee, Missiles, and Morale.  However, those broad categories cover a wide range of areas.  My recent look into Logistics and RPG-Lite spawned some great discussion on various places online, and those types of discussions help energize my thoughts.  The topic of exhaustion and fatigue came naturally came up in these discussion and I felt like that was an area I needed to spend some time thinking about.  Fatigue and Exhaustion probably fit into the Morale part of the 4Ms, but I wanted to take a deeper dive into modeling exhaustion in miniature wargaming. 

Tired Examples
There are a number of ways I have seen "exhaustion" covered in rules.  Not surprisingly, it various a bit on whether it is a Model vs Model, Unit vs. Unit, or Big Battle scale.  However, no matter the "scale of the battle" exhaustion can still be a key component to a wargames design.  

#1- Bushido
Bushido is a boutique skirmish game with named, bespoke characters making up your force.  Typically you are using 3-10 models and actions are resolved by model level interactions.   In Bushido, each model picks up "Fatigue" tokens that lead to modifiers on action rolls.  However, fatigue happens very easily in this game, and just moving around can cause fatigue to start to accumulate.  

#2 Bolt Action
Pin Markers represent a sort of escalating "Battle Shock" that accumulates on units that they have to try and shed.  Simply moving around does not generate fatigue, but their are a number of factors that can cause Pin Markers to accumulate.  The most common is taking fire from the enemy.  

#3 Blucher
At the start of a player's turn, their opponent rolls 3d6 to generate a number of Momentum points for the turn.  This is kept secret from the player.  As they activate and move units, it costs Momentum Points.  Once all Momentum Points have been spent, the player can no longer move anymore units.  

They then move to fighting.  Fighting causes a unit's Morale to be reduced.  Firing is easy, but hand-to-hand and charging reduces a units Morale.  It is possible to become "Blown" where the unit over-extends and no longer has the morale to keep going.  They are broken.  

Why Model Exhaustion in Miniature Games? 
Fatigue and Exhaustion add an element of friction that a player needs to manage to get the most out of their troops.  Adding these elements provides the following options for a game designer: 

1. Add Resource Management
2. Unit management
3. Add a tactical layer of decision making
4. Morale elements
5. Victory conditions

These elements are places where a designer can highlight their Point of View on the nature of the warfare being represented and how it plays out on the tabletop.  Some designs will emphasize a certain design goal or Point-of-View more than another.  

Resource Management
There are a couple ways to approach Fatigue as a resource.  The first is that Fatigue builds up and creates limitations, therefore managing the amount of Fatigue is the resource.  Similar to how Heat is used in Battletech.  Once you reach a certain limits, actions have negative modifiers until a unit is non-operational.  

The second is using a command resource to reduce or remove fatigue.  A simple way to think about it is using a Command Point (or the equivalent) to boost an abilities remaining ability to absorb hits or fatigue.  This could also be used to off-set a growing amount of Fatigue with additional actions.  

Unit Management
A key part of games with a Fatigue related mechanic is knowing how to add units to the conflict, and extract the ones that are all ready engaged.  This unit management adds decision making that a commander needs to make through out the game.  Often, this leads to decisions as early as the deployment phase, as you need lines of retreat and lines of advance available to your units.  Then, through out the game players will need to decide when to maneuver in and out of combat with depleted and fresh units.  

Tactical Decision Making
To me, when I think of tactical decision making; I am referring to decisions made while playing on the actual tabletop.  In this case, Fatigue can be a natural limiting decision point.  A player will think, "My unit can not break through here because they will acquire too much fatigue while doing so." This leads to a decision on what they should do instead or in addition to.  Even a victory can leave a unit so depleted to be "blown" for the rest of the game.  These kind of decisions are the heart of wargaming.    

Morale Elements
Fatigue can naturally been rolled into a Morale or even Hit system.  What is being lost by enemy action is not necessarily death and injury, it could just be soldiers getting to tired to continue.  This is an abstraction common to wargames.  Conversely, I have also seen it as its own "factor" in command and control. 

Victory Conditions
Causing Fatigue on an enemy is a good way to erode their will to fight.  Therefore, it makes a natural victory condition.  The most innovative often have a "trade-off" between combat results to gain VPs and Fatigue reducing VPs.  Therefore, the decision is how to cause as much damage as possible while limiting your own Fatigue in doing so. 

Thinking About It as a Designer? 
So, let's talk about how this concept of Fatigue plays into game design.  Often, it is not as obvious as a mechanic that is labelled fatigue.  

In ancient warfare, you will read accounts of soldiers getting tired, maneuvers designed to help relieve this fatigue, and battles that last hours and days.  We know that a person can only engage in hand-to-hand combat for a limited amount of time.  However, the ancient authors are not always as clear about how all of this works as we would like.  Therefore, a wargame designer has to think about this ties into their design.  Therefore, when designing for this period, it is a big element of ancient warfare. 

Of course, the first thing to do is to look at your Design Goals and see how Fatigue plays into them?  Often, these goals will also establish the "Scale of the Game", is it a Model-vs-Model, Unit-vs-Unit, or Army Group-vs-Army Group.  Finally, you need to determine where you want to abstract and what you want to track in the game.  All three of these elements will play into how you want to use the concept of Fatigue in your games.  

Let's use Wars of the Republic as an example.  This was a Unit-vs-Unit game that was designed to be played in about 1 hour with about 5-10 units on each side with a focus on abstracted units with minimal tracking.  Therefore, speed of resolution and reduced tracking was important.  Therefore, I chose to abstract Fatigue in the following ways: 

1. Fatigue was wrapped into the concept of Courage, and therefore was a Morale Element
2. Fatigue (Courage) could be managed with Commander's Gaze, adding Resource Management
3. Loss of Courage led to units fleeing, and units fleeing led to Collapse and loss of Resources.  Therefore, Fatigue played a role in Victory Conditions

I made a conscious choice to abstract Fatigue into the Damage process of the game, instead of making a separate process to maintain or track.  I made these decisions based on the design goals, scale, and what I wanted player's to track.  

Final Thoughts
Fatigue is a fact of life.  It is a fact of warfare and fighting.  Therefore, designers need to think about how they want to represent it in their games.  This decision should be based on the larger needs of the game and what the designer is trying to represent on the tabletop.  Thankfully, there are a number of ways Fatigue can be implemented into a game, and not all of them are as obvious as just creating a Fatigue stat or measure.  

As always, the designer needs to choose the best tool for what they are trying to accomplish on the tabletop.  This might make Fatigue an obvious and blatant part of the design.  Alternatively, it may handle Fatigue as part of a large mechanic in an abstract way.  However it is handled, Fatigue is a great way to add Friction and Meaningful Choice into a game.  

Well, this post has made me very tired.  

Second Wind Bonus Content! 
The True Crit Gaming Guild had a nice day of painting and then playing just before Thanksgiving.  There was a nice turn out, with several folks showing up to paint various models for various games.  A few 40K guys, a few D&D guys, some Holiday themed models, and just random bits and bobs.  I painted a Reaper Hillbilly model.  Why and for what?  Only time will tell.  

Undercoating a Hillybilly from Reaper

Then, after we all got some painting, we set up a few games of Kill Team to get going.  We had a few different tables, and more players than space.  Therefore, I participated in a 3-way game.  I took on some Chaos Legionaries and Grey Knights in the standard 3-player mission.  I was using my Voidscarred Corsairs for this game. 

I set-up a decent firebase as my more mobile troops moved up.  My standard tactic is to hang back a bit the first turning point or two, and try to time my rush to the objectives carefully once I have worn down my opponents.  

The Grey Knights managed to get on the objective early and we had a hard time dislodging them.  Here my Warlock bravely moves forward to try and use psychic powers, which he promptly failed the roll and fried his own brain!  I knew there was a reason I rarely used him for that. 

This time, they were wise to my tricks and I was whiddled down to just my Felarch left.  Of course, no one else was in a much better place.  The Grey Knight only had their leader left, and Chaos was the best off with 3 models.  I blew my final turning point and ended up getting cut out of the scoring all together this game.  The Chaos forces and Grey Knights tied, but since the Chaos models had more paint on them we awarded them the victory.  

I had a small morale victory when a heavily injured Chaos Champion attacked my Felarch and I ended up killing him in Hand-to-hand.  Normally, if my Felarch gets caught out he gets deleted pretty fast.  Not today Chaos!  Otherwise, not my best showing but I still had fun.  

Oh yeah, I took a picture of my finished Hillbilly when I got home too....

There he is on the painting table along with my 6mm Egyptians and some Dark Eldar in the background.  I did manage to get the Hand of the Archon box undercoated and ready for paint. 


Until next time! 

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  1. La fatiga es algo que algunos jugadores evitan, y creo por lo idealizados que están los wargames (todos los uniformes iguales e impecables, fornidos e igual de altos, etc.) y muchos no quieren ver su ejército cansarse (a veces ni siquiera huir).

    Hay juegos como Saga que la fatiga que generas la usa tu oponente cuando cree oportuno, representando que la fatiga aparece cuando menos lo esperas.

    Clash of Spears también usa la fatiga muy bien, haciendo que tropas con armadura pesada se fatiguen más al marchar o por terreno difícil.

    Juego con muchos jugadores que no les gusta introducir el concepto fatiga en un juego, a mí personalmente no me molesta, aunque no es algo que busque o priorice en un wargame.

    Lo que más me molesta de algo como la fatiga es el rastreo y los marcadores en la mesa, sí, soy un manioso...

    Un artículo para reflexionar. Muchas gracias, un saludo.


  2. I think your blog has played a large role in my growing interest in Killteam. I picked up some boxes this weekend, and it has been a blast kitbashing some Veteran Guard operatives.

    From what I have read, however, these poor Guardsmen likely do not have long for this world

    1. I'm sorry. : ) I was almost off the GW bandwagon, and they pulled me back in again.

      In my experience of Kill Team, no one has long for their world.

    2. In the grimdark future, there is only commercialization.

      It looks like a fun ruleset. I am eager to try it out.

      I tried to get back into Infinity earlier this year, but I just couldn't. The game did not connect with me the way that it used to.