Deep Battle Design Notes 3 – Musing on Creating Intensity

Any long time reader of my blog will know I’m a fan of Crossfire. Crossfire’s initiative system makes it the most intense wargaming experience I’ve ever had. Even if you are the other guy, waiting to have your turn, you are actively involved and can’t afford to lose interest. And your turn comes around pretty quick. I want to bring some of that intensity into Deep Battle, my as yet unwritten Operational level wargame. I want intensity and I think that needs some kind of initiative or impulse system.

Intense Game
Intense Game

Crossfire style initiative

In Crossfire a player takes actions, potentially an unlimited number of actions, until one of the actions fails. Then initiative shifts to the other player and they start taking actions. The player who is watching is involved throughout because the way to fail a move action is by suffering reactive fire. The non-acting player watches for an opportunity for reactive fire, rolls the dice, and if they are successful stops the movement action and forces initiative to shift.

Other game systems have a similar elements. For example, Advanced Squad Leader has the equivalent of reactive fire.

None of the game systems I looked at in my Review of Wargaming Rules I could use for the Operational Level of War use this style of initiative. Probably not a surprise because there is no obvious equivalent of the reactive fire mechanism. Particularly for the larger resolution games where there is no ranged combat.

Impulse-based turn system

A more promising option are impulse-based turn systems. As it happens Drive on Moscow, one of the game systems I looked at in my Review of Wargaming Rules I could use for the Operational Level of War, uses an impulse-based turn system.

Wikipedia: Impulse Based Turn System explains:

An impulse-based turn system is a game mechanic where a game turn is broken up into a series of discrete, repeating segments, or impulses.

In games that use the term impulse, such as tabletop wargames, a single game turn generally comprises multiple impulses, in which players take some portion of their possible actions; for example, activating a subset of their units.

Effectively each player gets lots of tiny little turns. And your turn comes around so frequently you must stay focussed.

In Drive on Moscow the active player activates an entire area and all (un-expended) units in it. Once activated units can (optionally) move and then must fight any enemy they end up in the same area with.

In contrast, in the board game “Storm Over Stalingrad” (that Chris and I played last night) players activate a set of units that are colocated in an area, but not necessarily all units in the areas. An player can do one of three things; move units, fire units, or play a card. Units which have moved or fired become spent, cannot move/fire again this game turn, and are more vulnerable in combat. That means, a unit generally gets only one action per turn, however, certain cards allow more than one action because units can activate without being spent.

Note: in both Drive on Moscow and “Storm Over Stalingrad” enemy units can contest the same area.

Card based initiative

There are lots of games out there, e.g. from Two Fat Lardies, that use a card based initiative system. Units are activated by drawing from a custom deck of cards. This is a common game pattern, but I’ve never understood the logic behind it and I can’t imagine it increasing intensity. Thing thing about Crossfire style initiative and impulse-based turn systems, is that you can choose where to focus your efforts. In a card based system this is random.


On balance, for Deep Battle, I think I’ll experiment with an impulse-base turn system similar to Drive on Moscow or “Storm Over Stalingrad”. Probably activate a hex/square, move, fight. Other guy activates a hex/square, moves, fights. Repeat until end of game turn.

From my perspective an impulse system is i-go-u-go, but the turn around time is much shorter. I get a tiny game turn, then you get a tiny game turn. This, hopefully, will create the intensity I’m looking for.

7 thoughts on “Deep Battle Design Notes 3 – Musing on Creating Intensity”

  1. Looking forward to this.
    One thing I considered in the past was the adaptability of the Blucher system – where the opponent rolls for your initiative/impulses secretly – then lets you know when you are complete i.e. you keep pushing the impulses allowed in the hope that you still have some left…until the opponent announces ‘that’s it’.
    It does focus attention on doing the important things first, which operationally, might be representative of events.

    • I was thinking of a system where the impulses stop after a random number. How does Blucher ensure your opponent does not cheat on the initiative/impulse rolls?

      • The initiative dice are rolled and kept concealed under a cup (or similar). When the opponent announces that the initiative has run out (s)he lifts the cup to show the dice. It is a fairly simple mechanic, provided you have an opaque dice cup.

        When I first played Blucher it seemed to place a lot of pressure on players, but as they get better at playing it becomes less and less of a constraint. It is now pretty common when I play Blucher that we run out of stuff we want to do rather than initiative dice to do it, so consider the learning curve.

        Secondly, Blucher makes it cheaper to activate units through the command chain, rather than as individual units.

        Thirdly, there’s no link to the supply status of the unit activated, which makes sense in the context of a tactical Napoleonic game, but probably not in an operational twentieth-century context.

  2. Personally, I don’t care for the micro turn mechanic as it removes nearly all the fog of war. Imagine what a surprise flanking manoeuvre might look like with such a system. Have you thought about what hidden elements you might have? E.g. could units’ movements not be represented on board right away, but only be discovered later when they engage an enemy unit (or when some intel mechanic determines that they have been observed in a new position)?

    • Good point Ross. One of the beautiful aspects of Crossfire is that it allows on table flank marches and allows a side to punch through a hole before the other side can react.

      I wary of including a lot of administration into Deep Battle. Most hidden movement mechanisms require added administration so I’m wary of this.

      However, I think I can include some opportunities for surprise without undue administration. At the operational level I think surprise is mainly about building up reserves and supplies for a big offensive without the enemy finding out. And then hammering the other guy when the offensive starts, before he can respond. At least this is what I’m focussing on.

  3. Steve. I think that you have the TFL mechanism wrong. The card based (and their dice based) system randomizes what units you can move or fire, but the player decides which units to apply that ‘permission’ to. So you can pull of attacks, flank attacks, withdrawals. etc. But are dependent on your units “following your orders” as dictated by the randomizer. I.e. I as the active party roll 5 dice. a 1 allows me to activate at ‘team’ a 2 – a squad (section) without the immediate control of their leader, a 3 – the squad and their leader, a 4 – a Senior ldr a 5 adds to my wild card Die (6 accumulated 5s will give me a ‘wild card’) and a 6 tells me the next phase goes to my opponent when I finish mine. Multiple 6s allow extra phases, or end the turn. So I would review this possibility in greater depth before I discarded it as a mechanism for your game. (the Dice method, not the Card). I can send you more details if you don’t have the rules.
    Dick Bryant

    • I’ve got I Ain’t Been Shot Mum, Charlie Don’t Surf, Troops Weapons & Tactics, and Chain of Command. I was thinking specifically of IABSM when I made the comment above. IABSM has these Compulsory Cards …

      One card for each platoon, armoured troop or platoon
      One card for each “Big Man”
      One Axis Blinds Move
      One Allied Blinds Move
      One Tea Break

      It is the unit and Big Man cards – the majority of cards – that make it kind of random which units act when.


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