Storage container (50 cent challenge)

 Finished this….whatever it originally was. Green translucent plastic, like a cap of something that you could stack? Could be a gamepart? Northstar flat base glued to the bottom, 1/76 Matchbox wheel rim glued on top. Quick paintjob, some spare Space Wolf decals and done.

Now really wishing I had more of these….and this one is going right into my 28mm Sci-Fi bits collection.




Hitpoints vs Wounds & “Downed” Characters

Most folk know I strongly dislike hitpoints. This is due to early exposure to Battletech and Starfleet Battles as a new wargamer. I swear I spent more time photocopying data sheets and filling in hitboxes than playing the games.

What I hate are hitpoints for human characters. I grudgingly agree that a kilometer-long spaceship or a skyscraper size mech may need to take gradual, incremental damage due to their vast size, but with a human character it is silly. Especially if losing the hitpoints has no actual effect. I.e. you lose 9 of 10HP due to giant axe blow, but 1HP remains = you are perfectly fine, operating at maximum capability. Then a rabbit bites you and you lose the last 1hp = boom – you dead. It’s both illogical AND a waste of time

I was excited about the new Kill Team. GW finally breaks free of 40K to make dedicated skirmish mechanics! Then I saw this. Proudly advertising – “Even a humble guardsman has 7 wounds hitpoints? F– off.

But aren’t wounds just hitpoints with a different name? Yeah, but traditionally characters only have a few wounds, and they nearly always have an effect; i.e. 1 wound= -1 to all rolls, -1″ move; 2 wounds= -2 to all rolls, halve move; 3 wounds = dead. They often correspond to real life injuries – flesh wounds, serious injury, and incapacitating/lethal damage. Wounds tend to be simpler, more practical hitpoints. I prefer only 3 states (1 wound) – OK, wounded, dead – so you can represent the wound by tipping the model on its side if you want to minimize tokens.

When your infantryman has 7 wounds, they ain’t wounds anymore, GW. They’re goddamn hitpoints.

And usually, wounds are only for named heroes or big stuff. You know, something to make your hero last a bit longer than the average mook, who is usually just alive/dead. My rule of thumb is:

Is it a rare hero or gigantic monster? = 2, maybe 3 wounds are OK

Is it a average grunt? = nope, no wounds allowed – either alive or not

How many minis have multiple wounds? = if 3-4 or less, then ok I suppose

Does the wound have an actual effect in-game? = if no, then no

Is the base unit a fire team or squad? = then probably no – the individual models are the “hitpoints”

Are the wounds actually needed? As a rule of thumb, I avoid wounds unless the heroes and monsters need predicable survivability that a damage re-roll just won’t give them. Or the setting seems to indicate it. I’m revisiting wounds as part of The Forgotten – my homebrew sci fi horror game where wounded soldiers dragging their bleeding stumps away from nameless horrors would fir the mood and style of the game. So right now, I am very interested in wounds.

In re-opening? the discussion on wounds, I’d like to look at two damage/wound systems that have caught my eye. 

The first was Reality’s Edge. 

Each side takes turns activating a few models, and any shots place hit markers on the opponents. However, the actual effects are only resolved just before the opponent moves.  The intent was: in the chaos of a gunfight you can pump shots into a target and not know if it actually goes down. Instead of shooting something until it dies, then swapping targets – there is a decision point – do I score a hit and move on to a new target, or do I fire multiple shots into something to have a better guarantee of a kill.

Whilst I love decision poins and thought it was a cool idea (choose: how many rounds do you put into the charging alien) – I felt this wasn’t worth the effort of tracking multiple hits of different strengths. The complexity cost was too high for the actual impact of the mechanic. Interesting, but no thanks.

Secrets of the Third Reich. Like Battlefield Evolution, a game that improved on the 40K formula; ironically a Weird War II game is a far deeper and more tactically ‘realistic’ game than Bolt Action.

Also sitting out for ‘reference’ was Secrets of the Third Reich. 

This one was much better. Shots hitting targets either “kill” or “down” them. E.g. with a rifle shot against a human roll d6; 2+ to down a target, and a 4+ will kill them outright.  Now downed targets are disabled for a variety of reasons – they could be merely shocked, stunned, winded, or holding their guts in or dragging an amputated leg. Downed targets can’t shoot or even defend themselves (they die to any CQC) – they can merely crawl/drag themselves 2″/turn towards squad mates or a medic. A second downed result also kills them.  

But there is still uncertainty as to how bad they are hurt – just like Reality’s Edge. Do you keep shooting? At the start of each turn, downed models roll a d6. 1,2 = they jump up and recover. Just a flesh wound! 3-4 = they stay Downed and drag themselves around, 5-6 = they bleed out and die. Having a medic nearby improves the roll. 

Now this is better than Reality’s Edge for a range of reasons. First, it is much simpler. Instead of tracking multiple hits and how strong the hit is, you merely need to tip the downed model on its side. There is less complexity and “overhead.” And it also gives you the same decision point – keep shooting or move on to a new target?

Secondly, it actual gives a proper wounded effect; a meaningful, ongoing effect in game. (The Reality’s Edge ‘mystery damage’ merely impacted a very small segment of the game turn). So in addition to giving the same decision point, it gives extra decisions (i.e. do I try to carry this model, do I try to move in a medic). With less tracking.

OK, so my space horror game gets wounded models dragging themselves around, vulnerable to being butchered by passing aliens or hellspawn. Sold! Even better, it is so fast/easy to resolve I could probably allow quite a few models (heck perhaps even everyone) to have a ‘hitpoint’ wound.


Game Design #85: Morale Rules Suck

While changing mechanics in my 15mm space horror homebrew (think Event Horizon meets Doom) I was thinking about key design elements to emphasize. One of them was morale.

Obviously a sci fi horror game would have to have strong/influential morale rules. Definitely a key design plank. 

How would I do it?  Maybe a shared “morale resource pool” that slowly is nibbled away as scary stuff happens? How do I link squad or individual morale to overall army morale? I grabbed out a few random rulebooks to see what ideas I could borrow (originality is overrated imo). That’s when I realised….

Morale Rules Suck!

Morale is always something I’ve been a bit ambigous about it; apart from noting that willpower/morale is finite and can be eaten away slowly (and perhaps should be a global resource or dice pool).

But it’s obviously something other game designers are ambiguous about as well.  Activation and initiative is something many ignore – but I’ve seen some brilliant innovations. Campaigns and scenarios are often put on as an afterthought – but I’ve seen great, deep campaign rules. 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen good morale rules. In fact, they are usually unclear, obscure, and most look like they were thrown together in 5min with minimal thought. Activation rules have moved on from IGOUGO – but morale remains mired in the dark ages. It’s an area even more low-effort than campaign rules yet it’s a vital part of the game.

Let’s grab some examples. On top of my recent rules pile, somewhat topical to my rules:

1.Reality’s Edge cyberpunk was a hefty 320 page book. Less than 1 page was devoted to morale. Models test when: they are wounded, a leader is downed, crew is reduced to 50% or 25%, or by a special ability. A failed Will test means they move towards their board edge*, preferably to cover if possible. Once they get to the board edge they test again, a fail = removed from play.

Wow, so many questions. So many gaps. So – can a model re-test each turn, or only when it gets to the board edge? What if moving to the board edge moves it towards the model that caused the test? if they hit the board edge and pass the test, they are back to normal?  *If a model didn’t deploy from a “home edge” it attempts to escape to the nearest edge…

There is also suppression rules – if a model is hit but not damaged it must pass a Will test or move to cover within 3″ or go prone. What if the cover is closer to a flamethrower? 

OK let’s skim a few more rules…

2.Zona Alfa near future sci fi/horror was a 64-page Osprey. There was actually no morale rules, but just suppression from a non-damaging hit – you must pass a Will roll or collect a Pin counter. A model can collect up to 4. It needs to spend an action to remove them and cannot do anything (except defend in melee) until Pins are removed.  FAIL/INCOMPLETE.

3.Space Hulk – Space Alien Horror (admittedly a boardgame) has 0 morale rules. Well, I suppose they are superhuman Space Marines, so I’ll let that pass. PASS not GRADED

4.Dracula’s America – Wild West Horror. 137 pages. Less than a page. The whole crew makes a single morale test if 50% or more models are down. If the leader is down, less dice are used. A failure means the entire team is magically removed and the game ends. 

There is a “Shaken” – an unsaved hit can be 1-2 shaken, 3-4 damaged, 5+ dead. Shaken is basically a permanent penalty to everything* – so it’s not suppression, but basically a permanent wound with a different name. (*this game is one of those ones who proudly use “one stat does everything” in the mistaken belief they are smart). EPIC FAIL.

Lol this is getting ridiculous.

Let’s try some more. I’m grabbing randomly from my horror/pulp section of my rules cupboard*. (*Yes it is an embarrassingly large cupboard and 90% of them have only been playtested a few times then abandoned)

5.Empire of the Dead. Weird Steampunk includes vampires etc. 152 pages. Another single morale page. Again the “everyone tests when 50% casualties” but can use leaders morale if within 6″. Must also test Will to charge a scary critter <- ooh after 3 rulebooks focussed on horror – the first actual reference to scary things. Anyone failing a morale test is magically removed. *poof*

There’s  kind of suppression – after you are hit, you roll – can have no effect, suppress (move only 2″ can only defend in melee); wounded, or dead. Since it actually wears off after a turn, it’s actually a temporary effect not a wound (glares at Dracula’s America). FAIL.

6. Malifaux 1st ed (Steampunk Horror) 202 pages. 1 page of morale rules. God, it’s been 10 years since I played this. Umm no force-wide morale rules at all, but there is a morale “duel” against scary things – losing it means you fall back at 2x normal walk toward your board edge, avoiding enemy melee and hazardous terrain if possible. If forced to fight it does so at a penalty. Once it hits the table edge, it skips a turn, rallies and returns to normal. FAIL/INCOMPLETE

7. Strange Aeons – Cthulu Mythos Horror 74 pages.  Ok this is all about horror – but there’s till only 2 pages!  There are no whole-team tests (unless you are literally the last man standing) but models must test if: a friendly is killed nearby; if no friendlies and 3+ enemies close by; hideous enemies in CQC or any scary enemies nearby, or if trying to cast a spell. Hatred of a particular foe allows you to ignore its effects. A failed “Will” test means you may be catatonic (skip 2 turns); stupefied (skip 1 turn); revolted (run towards own table edge), or go into a frenzy (CQC against nearest enemy, pass all further  morale tests). It’s go more detail, but given the whole bloody book is about horror, I’d give it a MEH.

8. Secrets of the Third Reich (Weird WW2 Horror incl vampires aliens zombies). Man this is such a good game. So underrated. A  fantasy game much deeper and more realistic than Bolt Action. (Admittedly not hard bar to step over). About 3 morale pages from 154. Some effort made….

Squads take a morale test for each time any squad models are ‘downed’ – a failure means they must flee at speed towards cover, and if in cover become “disorganized”; if no cover in range they flee toward their table edge and go prone. In melee, the unit suffering the most casualties must test. Tests must be made to fight horrifying foes.

Squads with enough firepower can “suppress” either units or terrain features like houses – forcing units to take morale tests and interrupting overwatch.

Disorganized units may only move to cover and rearrange themselves behind cover/to improve coherency to leaders. They can be regrouped by a leader command, or by themselves at a penalty.

Models which are hit can be dead or just “downed” – which includes everything from stunned to wounded. Downed models are helpless and crawling 2″ – which can recover. PASS

Wow 8 rule sets before a valid set of morale rules. Let’s do one more.

9. Kill Team (not the last one). 205 pages, 1 page (paragraph, actually) of morale rules. Ok there are whole team morale rules; a whole team is broken automatically if all models have wounds/are shaken, or if 50% are wounded/shaken and the best morale model fails a test. 

There’s also shaken aka suppression – test each model that takes a wound (or everyone if the whole team is broken). A shaken model must miss a turn. The test is modified if friendlies are nearby; negatively if the friendlies take injuries. MEH.

OK, this was a random grab out of my cupboards pulp/fantasy/sci fi section. Let’s discuss:

The Math = 1338 pages of rulebook. Merely 11 pages of rules devoted to morale (and that’s being charitable). That’s .008 – not even a tenth of a percent!

And you can see the rules, usually are desperately poor.  A complete token effort. And these are mostly rules about supernatural and horror – surely a key design element would be the morale rules. All of them left huge questions and ambiguities.

Let me create a typical morale rule for you, the amateur designer.

“If 50% of a team/army are killed, the rest must test their Will: if they fail, they magically disappear”

“If a model is hit but not wounded, make a Will test: if they fail they move towards cover/the table edge”

Boom! Publish me now! Insert this as needed into literally any skirmish ruleset you want….

To return to my argument. Morale rules suck. They are low effort parts of the rulebook and are very seldom done comprehensively. Morale is a very important aspect of warfare – and is one of the core 4M mechanics – Melee Missiles Movement…. and Morale.  But it’s definitely the unloved stepchild.

Most “real” battles are decided by morale. Casualties (regardless of era) in history tend to be around 2% (not 50%!) until the mopping up stage aka after one side breaks (or if the battle runs for weeks not days).

Morale is important in real life battles, but not in wargames. Is this because wargames intrinsically unsuited? I mean, removing 1 man of 20 (5%) then ending the battle is lame – you’d spend more time setting up than playing. But can we do better? I think so. I’ll explore this a bit myself when making my own sci fi horror game, but I don’t promise any clever solutions. 

However I think this rant is worth keeping in the Game Design series – merely because of the consistently weak effort by a wide range of designers. If you’re making a wargame, think carefully about your morale rules and what you are trying to achieve. If your rules are uncomfortably similar to my spoof rules above…. *shrugs*

Battle of Vimiero – August 21, 1808; SCenario for Filed of Battle, 3rd edition

 This scenario has been adapted for Field of Battle, 3rd edition, by Brent Oman, from that in the Early Peninsular War Scenario book for Over the Hills, by Jonathan Jones. We will be playing it at the gaming club for Jared’s  school later this morning. Note that OTH uses variable battalion strengths; I have converted that to uniform strengths, which is why the number of infantry units is different from those shown on the map.  

Map from JJ’s scenario book is used as is. 

Terrain Notes

Vimiero Hill is  Class II terrain. The crest line is about 12″ in from the table edge. Most of the British are deployed on the reverse slope. 
There are Vineyards before the Village of Vimiero, which count as Class III terrain for movement, Class II for cover.  
Vimiero itself is a class III village. 
The Woods in the left lower corner is Class II. There are fields (not shown) scattered in the open areas. 

Background:  British forces under Wellesley have landed in Portugal to support the Portuguese and Spanish resistance to the invasion of the Peninsula by the French earlier in the year. The British repulsed a hasty attack by the French at Rolica on the 17th. Wellesey has deployed on a ridge line, protecting the landing of British reinforcements a short distance beyond his position. 

Objectives: French- control Vimiero Hill and/or village, thus compelling Wellesey to retreat to the beaches, or break the British army.  British – prevent the above, or break the French army. 

Overview of the battlefield as set up in my basement, British to the left, French to the right.

View from behind the French lines; with a 6 foot deep table, I have placed the reinforcements on the table as well. 


General de Division Jean-Andoche Junot  LD 10

19 Morale points

Battery 8 lber Foot Artillery  DD 6   CD 12

General de Brigade  Thomieres  LD 10
3 battalions French Ligne CD 6 DD 10
1 battalion 4e Swiss (sky blue facings) DD 6 CD 12
1 battalion converged Voltigeurs DD 6, CD 12

General de Brigade Charlot  LD 10

3 battalions Ligne    DD 6   CD 10

1 battalion converged Voltigeurs  DD 6    CD 12

General de Brigade Kellerman  LD 12

2 battalions converged Grenadiers  DD 8    CD 12

Colonel St. Clair  LD 10

2 battalions converged Grenadiers  DD 8    CD 12

Cavalry Brigade, General de Brigade Margaron  LD 10

4 Dragoons   DD 6    CD 12

Note: Kellerman, St. Clair, and Margaron start off table but may enter along the table edge in squares 20-24 on the first MOVE card

View of the French from their left…
and from their right.


Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley  LD 12+1

15 Morale Points

9 lber Foot Battery  DD 6    CD 12

6 lber Foot Battery  DD 6    DD10  

6th Brigade, Brigadier General Fane  LD 10

2/95th Rifles  DD 8    CD 12

5/60th Rifles  DD 8    CD 12

1 British Line DD 6    CD 10

Light Battalion    DD 6    CD 12

7th Brigade, Brigadier General Anstruther  LD 10

3 British Line DD 6    CD 10

97 Foot (Queens Germans, pre KGL – dark blue facings)  DD 6   CD 10

Light Battalion    DD 6    CD 12

8th Brigade, Brigadier General Ackland  LD 10

2 British Line DD 6 CD 10

Light Cavalry Brigade, Colonel Taylor  LD 10

Light Dragoons   DD 6    CD 10

Portuguese Dragoons  DD 4    CD 10

Note: Ackland’s brigade enters along the road behind the village of Vimiero on the first MOVE card.

View of the British Deployment from their right…

and from their left;  the troops in March column are the 2nd MOVE reinforcements. 

Blunders On The Danube