In our recent game of Twilight of the Britons, we used markers for the hits taken. But after the game Chris suggested moving to hits remaining. This post explains that element of Game Design and when I’m tempted to use these two contrasting mechanisms.
Why record hits
Some rule systems, like DBA, have no record keeping. A unit on table is alive and if it is destroyed/routed then the unit is removed from the table. Simple.
But most other rule systems try to simulate the gradual attrition of fighting ability. Different game systems use different names for this mechanism, for example Tilly’s Very Bad Day tracks a unit’s “resolve”. But Volley and Bayonet calls them “casualties” and Shako tracks “kills”. For this post I’ll call them hits, which happens to be what One Hour Wargames calls them.
Players usually record hits on a roster or with markers on table. In either case, both the rules writer and the players have a choice: do they records hits remaining or hits taken.
Tilly’s Very Bad Day tracks the hits remaining. Actually it is “resolve” remaining rather than hits remaining but same, same. A regular pike+shot unit starts with resolve = 4, but when it takes a hit it goes to resolve = 3, then 2, then 1, then routs and is removed. I use a marker next to the unit to show the resolve remaining. As the game designer I did this because resolve is used in the game. In combat a unit rolls a number of dice equal to their current resolve (hits remaining). It is simpler for a player to roll the number of dice they see (hits remaining) than do a calculation (starting resolve = 4 less 2 hits = 2 dice to roll).
Note: the photo is from Small Kircholm – A Tillys Very Bad Day Battle Report 2.
In contrast, for Twilight of the Sun King, I used hits taken. The hits taken have no in game effect, except when the unit has no hits left it routs and is removed from the table. If you want to know how many hits does this unit have left, then you have to do a calculation i.e. starting hits = less hits taken = hits remaining.
Note: the photo is from Twilight of the Britons – A Battle Report 2.
This whole question came up because I’m working on a variant of Twilight of the Sun King called Twilight of the Britons – Fast play rules for the English Invasion of Britain. By default I started with tracking hits taken because the original set of rules did. That seemed okay to me as units are at full strength until they have no hits remaining, then they rout and are removed from the table. But in play testing Chris asked that we track hits remaining instead, even though the number of hits remaining has no in game effect. Presumably to be able to assess their relative resilience.
What do you think?
My wargaming group are leaning towards tracking hits remaining, like I did in Tilly’s Very Bad Day .
What do you think?
What do other game systems do?
What is best?
10 thoughts on “Hits Remaining or Hits Taken – Game Design Musing”
From a perspective of information “hits remaining” is a better, more dense format. You can evaluate the health of a unit with a single number.
In terms of usability “hits received” is easier for the player. The unit “received” a hit so it makes sense that a number goes up. Similar to this, when I “spend” a command point a number naturally goes down.
I prefer displaying remaining hits, especially when the number of hits units can take vary wildly (which is more usual in Fantasy/SF I think). I would default to this in rules but give the player options.
In Black Powder there are actually both mechanics when I play. I count down to 0 hits and then display (temporary) excess hits counting up with a different colored die.
If the number of hits received have no affect on the unit’s performance, then hits received is easiest. We track with a small d6.
If you wish for the number of hits to affect the unit’s performance, hits taken is best.
In both cases I would err on the side of least work for the player.
Hits remaining makes sense if it affects how the unit performs on the table, like number of dice rolled. It will use more markers since all units must start with markers. Otherwise it is a toss up.
It is a lot more book keeping to record hits remaining, unless it has a direct impact on unit effectiveness (as it does in many figure/base removal type rules) I’d stick with hits taken. I guess you could have a progression of OK, wavering, shaken, routed or whatever as each state can be represented by a single marker.
Hits remaining means all units need a sort of maker even if never engaged? Unless they are all the same and it is easy to remember. The visual dwindling number without calculation to know who has to ge withdrwn is also good. Difficult to say. If it has no impact on actions nor fighting like in the twilight rules, the remaining is best. Alo use tiny d6 with dots of different colours for quality.
Like others have said, hits remaining requires more bookkeeping: every unit on table will always have some sort of counter on/near them. I would avoid this option unless there’s a gameplay need like the one you mention.
A couple of games I know where this matters are Zona Alfa and Exploit Zero (by the same author): “health” is directly related to “action dice remaining”: a veteran unit has 3 action dice it can use for 3 different actions, but as it gets hurt, dice are removed. So it makes sense in that case.
For many of my own rules, particularly for naval gaming, I use “hits remaining”, because this also reflects the offensive strength of the unit. However in other games, particularly for WWII, I use “hits taken” because there is a chance of using an activity to shed those points and recover fighting status.
With hits taken, you must know two numbers, the number of hits taken, and the number of hits a unit started with originally. By marking current hits on all units, you can see the state of units (and hence your army) at a glance. It also reduces complexity of combat by one step, which speeds play, and is kinder to aging brains. With regard to having a marker on every unit – this is true, but the way we play almost all units will get casualty markers during the course of play. You are merely doing the book keeping up front when you are fresh, rather than a couple of hours in once you have begun to tire.
use of sabots allows for either mechanism to be applied. If you dont mind sabots then their use can be quite aesthetic in this regard. This is especially true for grid based games. Use of a rear line to insert/remove counters or even better individual figures might be an option.
Other mechanisms such as using the number of bases in a unit to equate to their original strength would allow you to remove a base at a time until gone eg if HI is a strength of 4 or needs 4 hits to remove, then a unit is based on 4 x stands. remove a stand each time there is a hit. If you dont like the visual impact of this then replace a stand of normal figures from the above example with one showing casualties (or a single casualty.
I am playing around with things like this currently for my own ruleset so still not completely nailed down yet but very interesting!
I tend to go with an increasing number to represent the number of hits or unit fatigue for land games. More often than not, on those odd occasions I play a naval game, it is a decreasing number where the ships tonnage is reduced through hits.