Throw me a 6!

I’m finding that game designs are pretty complex these days and I’m not sure why.  Folks will complain that simple game mechanics are boring or unrealistic.  I tell you that is nonsense.  I’ve experimented with very simple game mechanics before and have found that they make the player try to win with actual tactics based on troop types rather than game the system.  My latest incarnation is even more simple.  As the title suggests, the dice mechanic is all about rolling 6s.

Here are the basics. It is an Ancients themed game.  Each unit is made up of 4 stands of troops in a 2X2 pattern.  Each unit rolls just 2 dice for combat.  Dice are added and subtracted based on the tactical situation and difference in equipment.  Missile fire is fairly weak in this game.  But that is the way it was before the advent of the crossbow and longbow.  For each 6 rolled, an enemy stand is removed.  You get to add a die for flank or rear attack and you can get a first strike if you are fighting with pikes vs none or you are attacking the flank or rear.  If you lose a melee combat, you roll a D6 and retreat that many inches.  The die can be modified up or down based on troop grade or the presence of the army commander.  If the die comes up 4 or more, the unit retreats with its back facing the enemy.

Some statistics:

1D6 has a 16.67% chance of causing a hit.

2D6 has about a 30% chance of causing a hit.

3D6 has about a 42% chance of at least causing 1 hit.  Note that there is a 7% chance of causing 2 hits.

4D6 has about a 50% chance of causing at least 1 hit.  Note that there is a 13% of causing 2 hits.

5D6 has about a 58% chance of causing at least 1 hit.  Note that there is a 19% chance of causing 2 hits.

You technically can score as many hits as you have dice but I am illustrating the significant chances only.

In my first fight, a single unit of Roman Lagionares fought head to head with a single Macedonian Phalangite unit.  The Phalangites charged in.  The Romans threw their pila but failed to remove a stand.  The pikes get 2 dice +1 die for a full second rank and scored a hit on the Romans.  Since that is a first strike, the Romans only retaliate with 1 die as there is no time for the second rank to step up.  However, they manage a hit anyway with a 6 (this happened twice in my second game).  So the melee is not lost.  Turn two, the Roman unit now rolls 3 dice as they are continuing a melee.  The Phalanx rolls 2 dice as they no longer have a second rank.  The Romans score a hit and the Phalanx misses.  The phalanx falls back 2″.  The Romans must follow up a half move which keeps them in contact.  Turn 3 the Romans roll 3 dice again as the melee is continuing.  The phalanx rolls 2 dice.  Romans score a hit and the phalanx misses again.  The fight is over as the phalanx have now reached 75% casualties.

I tried this again with 3 heavy infantry, 1 cavalry and 1 skirmisher per side.  I had much the same results.  The cavalry stalemated and failed to score any hits.  A Legionare fought a Thureophorpoi unit and rolled 3 dice from the start because of the difference in equipment while the Thureophoroi only rolled 2.  Pila still applied but it did not cause any damage.  The skirmishers sniped at each other though the Macedonians were armed with bows giving them a longer range.  They managed to score one hit on the Legionares that went against the Thureoporoi but were whittled down by the Velites.  The Romans won this battle as well but not without taking some significant casualties.  None of their units broke but one Legionare unit took 2 hits and another took 1.

The point I am making here is that you can have a plausible battle without all of the fine grained detail of many of the rules sets out there today.  Featherstone’s postcard sized game rules idea seems to hold up well.  My next test will be with 8 units per side.  After I’ve accounted for elephants and chariots, I’ll try a couple of games with armies based on DBA lists.  12 units per side.

6 Responses to Throw me a 6!

  1. Running Man says:


    Have you seen Neil Thomas’s latest “One Hour Wargames”? It’s an interesting take – instead of hits being scored on 6’s, you roll a d6 and score that many hits. Skirmishers subtract 2, Heavy Infantry add 2, HI or units in cover suffer only half damage (round up). Units die when they’ve suffered 15 total damage.

    Thing is, I think he arrived at this after adjusting AMW – which can be thought of as simply giving each unit a damage capacity of ’16’, and rolling morale after every fourth hit. Also, it is very easy to mod or add things in to get the flavour and depth you’re looking for. Great game for kids, but it has some tactical depth to it.

    But your system looks a lot like AMW-lite! I think AMW may suffer from having too many die rolls for not that much gain. I think you’re crystallising the system down to the key items.

  2. acarhj says:

    Mine copy is in the cyber space either something somewhere waiting to materialize on my front doorstep. It’s on back order. I gleaned the game mechanics from the AMW yahoo group but what you say makes sense about Neil synthesizing his previous sets down to dice rolls.

    You reminded me of a post I was going to make. 😉

  3. Running Man says:

    Actually, I look to AMW as a tremendous resource for army lists, ideas etc. It’s on Kindle on my Android, so I can read it on the train! That said, I think the One Hour Wargame represents the next generation of simple, and doesn’t really suffer in the hit department. I based 6mm on 6cm frontage, and painted a small green square with a black letter (A through G) on the rear edge of each base, face up. It is not too distracting, but surprisingly easy to read, so at 6-8 units per side, a roster is super easy to use! No clutter, and you have to pay attention to your enemy’s casualties carefully.

    I think for AMW, 1HWG and your system, I highly recommend some kind of very simple command resource system. I really liked DBA’s system (which itself was a straight knock-off of the command system in some board games like “A House Divided”), but for the 1’s for PIPs.

    For PIPs of 3-6, the DBx/AHD system worked very well. Of course there are other methods, and I highly recommend working a simple system in to these games, to reflect the occasional hesitation/SNAFU involved in getting troops to do what the general wants. If anything, I’ve found kids really enjoy puzzling over not being able to move everything, and having to learn to prioritise in a difficult situation.

  4. Running Man says:

    By the way, given two infantry units slogging it out at 2d6 each, there is about a 24% chance that one side scores zero hits for four whole turns, and about a 12% chance that neither side scores any hits at all for three whole turns.

    I think you should recalibrate your game to scoring on 5-6, rather than just 6. It’s also an issue in Dux Bellorum where shieldwall only get hit on 6’s. Shieldwall vs Shieldwall (3-4 dice a piece) fights go on a long time in that game.

    If you calibrate to 5-6 to hit, (perhaps 6 for missile fire only) and allow units to take 4 rather than 3 losses, you’ll end up with a more dynamic game, I suspect. And it’ll be a lot faster. HI vs HI could be quite a quick fight in reality, due to the very heavy kill rates as soon as one side began to lose.

  5. acarhj says:

    I think it would be an interesting exercise. How fast should a battle be? In my one medium battle, it went 14 turns before victory for one side. All things being equal, with a 5+ to hit, the battle will be over in 7 turns or there about.

  6. acarhj says:

    BTW, there will also be wilder swings of fortune. Sometimes a unit will score maybe 3 hits on a very good roll.

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