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Morten’s guide to the States of Siege series – part 5: Dice, event resolution, and combat

Morten Monrad Pedersen
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After a long vacation I’m back with the next installment of my guide to the States of Siege series of games. This time the topic is dice, event resolution, and combat.

1d6 resolution

More or less everything that needs to be resolved in a SoS game is resolved by dice. You’ll be rolling a d6 (6-sided die) many times and comparing it to a target number. E.g. roll 5+ to push back a strength 4 army or 3+ to upgrade a strength 2 fortress to strength 3.

In many cases the die rolls will have modifiers applied (called DRMs, Die Roll Modifiers). E.g. a +1 modifier for attacking a specific army with strength 4 means that you succeed on 4+ instead of 5+.

The DRMs come from a variety of sources such as event cards giving you a -1 DRM when attacking the Italian air force in Malta Besieged because an aircraft carrier was torpedoed, +1 against the Luftwaffe because you send in your Spitfire squadron, or a -2 DRM when fighting against Rommel, because you haven’t been tending to your North African supply lines.

It’s an extremely simple system, but it leads to varied gameplay and interesting decisions, e.g. do I go all in on the skeletons in Legions of Darkness this turn, because I have a +1 DRM against them while ignoring the Dragon looming close to my castle?

The DRMs offers more strategy than you might think, because as you learn the contents of the event deck, you’ll get a feel for the distribution of DRMs, advances of specific armies, and important special events (or you can straight up look through the deck and count before playing). That knowledge can be used to guide your overall strategy on which armies to attack when and how many times so that you can use the DRMs to maximum effect.

With only a 1-6 scale with DRMs added it’s bound to happen that rolling over a target number can become impossible (having to roll 7+) or ensured (1+). To avoid this, a common SoS rule is that a natural 1 (the physical die shows a 1 with DRMs being ignored) is always a failure and a natural 6 is always a success.

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The heart of States of Siege event resolution. Image credit: Stephen

2d6 resolution

A few games use the sum of two 6-sided dice for specific subsystems in the game, such as the Confederate morale in The Lost Cause where you compare a 2d6 sum with a target value, but other than that the system is the same.

Dawn of the Zeds (1st edition) goes several steps further and uses 2d6 in a more nuanced combat system, which we’ll get to shortly.

The advantage of a 2d6 system over a 1d6 system is that it’s less swingy. Instead of all results being equally likely the likelihoods of average results dominate the extreme results. The average of 7 has a probability of 1 in 6, while the extreme results of 2 and 12 each have probabilities of 1 in 36.

This means that it’s easier for you to predict the outcome of a die roll and you’re less likely to get hosed in situations where you have an overwhelming advantage and vice versa.

Other games such as Zulus of the Ramparts and Empires in America went further and used even more dice per battle. In those games each die is treated as an individual d6 vs. target number, but the larger number used for each battle of course calmed Lady Luck further.

Combat systems

In the vast majority of SoS games, combat is resolved by the usual 1d6 + DRMs vs. target number where the enemy armies are pushed back and forth. Casualties of battles aren’t represented and so the enemy armies become abstracted frontlines of indestructible armies. Well, that’s not quite true, since in multiple games, armies can be knocked off the board, which can be considered destruction, but if so it’s a zero-one thing that only occurs in special situations at the extreme end of the tracks.

Hit points and combat resolution

The third game in the series, Zulus of the Ramparts added casualties to the battles by representing enemy armies (the Zulus) by small stacks of chits that act a hit points and if an army is reduced to 0 hit points it’s removed from the game no matter where on a track it is and so the game has no indestructible frontlines.

When you want to attack a Zulu army, you don’t spend an action and roll the usual 1d6+DRM instead you play a “volley” card and roll a number of d6 based on the distance to the army and cause 1 point of damage per hit. Hits are determined on a per dice basis using the usual 1d6+DRM system.

Board Game: Zulus on the Ramparts!: The Battle of Rorke's Drift – Second Edition

Zulus on the Ramparts on Tabletopia. The hitpoint chits can be seen below the Zulu standees. Image credit: Ivan Karmanov.

The next game, Empires in America reinstated the indestructible frontlines, but it added armies with hit points that are partially decoupled from the frontlines. Those armies are represented by a leader card and a number of battalions (hit points).

Each enemy (British) leader and his battalions are assigned to a track upon arrival and help advance the frontline, but if the leader and his battalions are eliminated the indestructible frontline marker stays on the track and can move.

The player also gets leaders (French) and battalions, but they’re even more decoupled from the frontlines and can be sent to any one of them to fight the enemies.

Combat is carried out using an initiative system that’s a first in the series. A d6 is rolled for each army with DRMs being added for leader skill and sometimes other factors such as having Indians assist you in a wilderness battle. The army that gets the highest initiative roll, starts and rolls a d6 for each of its battalions and a roll of 5+ eliminates 1 enemy battalion. You can increase the number of attack dice you have by playing cards with supporting units.

After that the remains (if any) of the other army performs a similar attack and then the combat ends often with both armies surviving and the movement of the frontline is determined by who eliminated the most enemy battalions.

Going back to Zulus on the Ramparts, it’s important to note that Zulu armies are not replaced later, which as mentioned in a previous post makes the game swingy. Dawn of the Zeds deals with this issue by continuously adding new zombie groups to the tracks. These are mainly added to the furthest space on the tracks and instead of an indestructible frontline going back and forth there are now varying numbers of zombie and player units on each track with at most 2 on the same space. This makes it by far the most complex game in the regard.

The combat resolution in Dawn of the Zeds is also on the complex end – compared to most other SoS games, but it’s still an easy to learn system. It uses a Combat Resolution Table (CRT), which is likely something that wargamers are intimately familiar with.

The table consists of 7 columns and 1 of them is chosen based on the relative strength of the 2 units involved in the combat as well as column shifts from terrain, barricades, events, and special abilities. The sum of a 2d6 roll is then used to select a row so that 1 cell in the table is chosen, which tells you how many hits each unit takes and who is pushed back.

Board Game: Dawn of the Zeds

The combat resolution table of Dawn of the Zeds (top of the image). It can look daunting for new players, but as soon as you have internalized the system (which happens quickly) it becomes smooth sailing and results in more interesting decisions, more variety, and less influence for the capricious nature of Lady Luck.
Image credit: Victory Point Games.

Turning combat into a minigame

Cruel Necessity takes an ambitious approach to combat. Well, in most cases it uses the tried and true 1d6 win/lose combat system, but for some of the most important battles of the English civil wars, you fight the battle as a minigame with its own rules and its own side-board. This minigame directly influences army positions on the board.

Depending on your definition it’s the most or second-most complex of the in the series minigames (a topic I’ll discuss in a future post) and it takes a couple of minutes each time. Troops carry over to future battles if they survive, which ups the tension (new units are added occasionally by event cards).

In this minigame you draw 6 counters for your own army and that of your enemy. These counters represent parts of the armies and they’re drawn from a pool of units that as said changes over time. These units face off in combat pair by pair and at the end the outcome of the battle is based on who won the most of the six combats.

Board Game: Cruel Necessity: The English Civil Wars 1640-1653

The board for the battle mini-game in Cruel Necessity. Image credit: Chris Hansen.

This system makes these battles feel special which helps make the theme come alive. The number of decisions you make and the impact they have is limited compared to the amount of time the minigame takes, so I like the idea more than the execution.

Still, I prefer to play the game with the minigame than without it, even though there’s a variant in the rulebook for playing the game without them, because of the feel it brings to the game and because it shakes up the formula – the latter being less important to those who haven’t played as many of the SoS games as I have.

Ranged combat

As mentioned, Zulus on the Ramparts includes range as factor in combat by making the number of dice rolled depend on the distance to the army being attacked.

Legions of Darkness added a new twist by treating ranged and melee combat differently. The player has men-at-arms who can attack enemy armies close to castle, archers who can attack units further away, as well as spellcasters who can do both. You normal units can’t be hurt in any of these combat times but special hero units can be hurt in melee and has a 2-hit point system.

If I remember correctly Legions of Darkness was the first game in the series to offer such a distinction between unit types. Dawn of the Zeds also has a distinction between ranged and melee combat, but (almost?) removes the split between which units can do what.

Making a distinction is also a part of Dawn of the Zeds and Keep up the Fire, but for most of the other games it doesn’t make sense to go beyond space-to-space combat because they cover huge areas and deal with the high-level of large scale wars.

Next up?

That’s it for today. I’m not sure, when the next post will be ready, but it’ll likely be about the various track systems in the series as well as physical vs. abstract representation of player forces and enemy armies.

Preliminary table of contents for the series:
1) The boring introduction
2) Event deck structures
Interlude: Sad news about VPG
3) Designer control, storytelling, and pivotal events
4) Tension vs. variation
5) Dice, event resolution, and combat
6) Track systems
7) Embedded minigames
8) The Currency of the States of Siege
9) Math attacks
10) Are the States of Siege games luck fests?
11) The three production processes
+ an unknown number of posts with my ranking and mini-reviews of the games.
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