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Infantry Firefights in the Modern Era

July 8, 2009 5:33 PM - Posted by Phil - Category: Games Design

I have been thinking lately with desgning some rules for infantry squad-level firefights, perhaps with a few vehicles thrown in. We could use these rules for Vietnam, Iraq, or even maybe Scifi skirmishes. Possibly even WW2 fights. Setting: table with a lot of cover (jungle, urban, …), roughly 10 squads of 5-10 figures each a side, a few of which have special weapons, along with the odd vehicle (1,2,3 each side).

Since I really liked the development of our house rules for ACW and Tactique with everyone making suggestions on how to improve the rules, I thought it might be fun to brainstorm a little with everyone before writing up a first draft.

So, here’s my thought experiment so far … ;-)


I like systems that use activation of units, the core idea being that you do not have control over all your troops all the time. In pre-radio times, this can easily be explained by the fact that couriers need to be sent to subordinate units, orders are delayed etc., thereby creating fog-of-war.

In a modern setting, in which orders are given by telecom-devices, this might be a bit too far stretched (“the radio malfunctions again!”). But, there is still the issue that a commander cannot spent all the time fully focused, and so the pace in which fresh orders are given should be varied.

Hence, the following system can be used: The player has 4 cards (numbered 1 to 4). At the start of his turn, he can play a card, and that card says how many units he can activate that turn (1 to 4 units). He puts that card aside, and the next turn, he only has 3 cards left. This goes on, untill your hand is depleted, and you regain all 1-4 cards. Thus, at the start of a full cycle, a player knows that there will be a turn during the next 4 turns in which he can only command one unit (and a turn in which he commands 2, a turn in which commands 3, and a turn in which he commands 4) — but he has control when that turn will be.

Turn Sequence:

Most wargames use a turn sequence in which troops move first, then fire. This creates a lot of problems for small-scale firefights. Troops can put themselves in ideal positions before firing at the enemy — the enemy does not have the opportunity of shooting back when he sees those troops moving into position. This problem is usually solved by creating rules that allow opportunity fire, or by some form of interrupt actions.

Now, if you fire first, and then move your troops, most of these problems are resolved. You have to move your troops into position in one turn, and only in the next turn you can shoot. In between, the enemy can shoot at you, or take the opportunity to move (retreat) to cover, as a form of reaction on your move. I think this simple reversal of the move and fire actions in a single turn can produce better tactics on the battlefield.

The alternative of course is for each unit to only move OR fire during a given turn, but I always found this gives too much advantage to the side in a defending position, because their fire rate roughly doubles during the game. If you want a game with a lot of movement (as in infantry squad firefighting), you need to give an incentive to move around.

Firefight resolution:

Basic mechanism: when shooting with an infantry squad at another squad, simply count the number of hexes to the enemy squad. Roll a D10 for each man firing. If the die roll is equal or larger than the range, a hit is scored. Possibly another check should be made to check for actual damage (e.g. 1-2: dead, 3-4: wounded, 5-6: safe).

Effects: - Maximum range = 10 hexes. Far enough is there is lots of cover on the table. - The closer you are, the easier it is to hit your target; - This will encourage players to seek out good firing positions as close as possible to the enemy, thus encouraging movement on the table (and moving in to gain ground)

Additions: - Line of sight still has to be checked, of course; - Machine guns can roll multiple dice for each shot; - Modifiers for cover: -2 on the die roll. This reduces the chance of hitting a figure, but at the same time also reduces effective range; - Powerful weapons (hvy mg’s …) can have a + modifier, increasing effective range as a side-effect. Of course, it is always possible to limit range as a function of weapon type, but I would not do that: the underlying assumption is that all weapons have maximum range across the table.

Special Actions:

In addition to the 1-4 cards (see activtion above), at the start of each full cycle of 4 cards, a player also draws a special command card (or rolls for such a card on a table). These special commands indicate special actions or circumstances that you can use during any of the 4 turns in the coming cycle. If you don’t use it, you lose it and it is replaced by a new one when the next cycle starts.

Effect: At the start of a cycle, the player has the 1-4 cards and a special command, and he can plan the next 4 turns carefully, taking into account the additional special command. This simulates opportunities or setbacks that each commander might get, and upon which he quickly has to improvise, although it is not completely random (leading to frsutration on the player’s part).

Examples: * Your ‘1’ card becomes a ‘2’ card for this cycle only. * Your ‘4’ card becomes a ‘3’ card for this cycle only. * One unit fires with a +1 modifier. * One enemy unit fires with a -1 modifier. * Landmine: moving enemy unit takes xxx hits. * One unit can take a double move * Ambush: One unit can fire at start of enemy’s turn * …

Such special commands can also include scenario-specific random events (helicopter arriving, ammo dump explosion, …)

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