Principal Wargame Mechanics
W B McCarty
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This is a list of the principal wargame mechanics. Of course, my use of the word "the" may be a bit like throwing down a gauntlet--or perhaps I should write, throwing down the gauntlet. My criterion for inclusion in the list was simple: I included every mechanic listed in the BGG database for any game published in Strategy & Tactics magazine. I will concede that this criterion is extremely arbitrary. It came about because I happen to own quite a few S&T issues and had interest in exploring the mechanics used in the games I own. I hope that readers can overlook this bias and find value in the list, which I originally made for my own, idiosyncratic purposes.

A GeekList cannot be a list of arbitrary things. In particular, a GeekList cannot be a list of game mechanics. So I have organized the list as a list of games, using for each entry the chronologically first S&T game title of a game using each mechanic. However, to add variety to the list, no game is listed more than once. [Exception: Because the game "Kampfpanzer" is the only S&T game using two particular mechanics--Action / Movement Programming and Simultaneous Action Selection--it had to be listed twice.] If you believe that the referenced game is not an adequate example, please respond. In the long run, I'd like to include an exemplary example for each mechanic and, ideally, I'd like to reference specific game rules establishing the mechanic.

In the process of constructing this list, the author discovered that only four mechanics are used in at least 5% of the 241 S&T games: Area Movement (17 games, 6%), Dice Rolling (34 games, 13%), Hex-and-Counter (241 games, 87%), and Simulation. Only one S&T game, "Goeben, 1914," uses none of these mechanics and that game is forthcoming. Only 25 games, less than 10% of total, use at least one mechanic other than these four.

The author originally suspected that the BGG database frequently fails to include pertinent details of game mechanics. However, at the time of this writing, only 15 of 277 games (about 6%) entirely lack data on mechanic. The author suspects that if he had realized how little variation in mechanics exists, he would not have expended the considerable effort necessary to create this list. However, it was necessary to create the list in order to be able to demonstrate that the list is largely unnecessary, at least for its original purpose of demonstrating and identifying variation. The investigation was stimulated by a remark attributed to Greg Costikyan to the effect that wargames demonstrate an abundance of creativity in comparison with video games. At least with respect to novelty of mechanic, the games published in S&T do not appear to confirm his claim. However, it may be important to note that the S&T games adduced as examples here have an average BGG rating of 6.08 which compares favorably with the 5.98 overall ranking of S&T games, suggesting that wargame players may respond positively to mechanical novelty. Note that the author has not performed tests to determine the statistical significance, if any, of this difference. And, also note that BGG rankings are submitted by game players generally not only those who would identify themselves are wargame players.

In addition to these 16 mechanics the corpus of games published by GMT [The choice of GMT as a publisher of reference is another arbitrary choice, occasioned by the relatively large number of GMT games in the author's personal collection.], not all of which are wargames, includes 6 additional mechanics:

1. Area-Impulse as used in two games: "Grand Illusion: Mirage of Glory, 1914" and "Tigers in the Mist."
2. Card Drafting as used in "Pacific Typhoon."
3. Hand Management as used in "1989: Dawn of Freedom" and 13 other games.
4. Modular Board as used in "Commands & Colors: Ancients" and three other games.
5. Partnerships as used in "Virgin Queen."
6. Pick-up and Deliver as used in "Successors (third edition)."

As in the case of games published in S&T the GMT games do not exhibit wide variation in mechanics, at least as reflected in the BGG database.

The BGG Wiki identifies additional mechanics, some of which don't seem obviously suited to use in wargames (e.g., Acting, though one might wish that political disputes not resolvable by Voting might be resolved by Rock-Paper-Scissors rather than military conflict):

* Acting
* Area Enclosure
* Auction/Bidding
* Betting/Wagering
* Commodity Speculation
* Crayon Rail System
* Line Drawing
* Memory
* Paper-and-Pencil
* Pattern Building
* Pattern Recognition
* Rock-Paper-Scissors
* Role Playing
* Set Collection
* Singing
* Stock Holding
* Storytelling
* Tile Placement
* Trading
* Trick-Taking
* Voting

A similar GeekList lists mechanics pertaining to boardgames generally. This list was discovered by the author in the process of constructing this list. soblue Perhaps because this list focuses exclusively on wargames it may have some small benefit beyond that afforded by the earlier list.

Public notice: No electrons were harmed in the making of this list. It has been rumored about that an indefinite but small number of positrons may actually have been annihilated, but no evidence of this has been found during thoroughly diligent ongoing inquiries.
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1. Board Game: Kampfpanzer [Average Rating:5.62 Overall Rank:14245]
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Action / Movement Programming

"In programming, every player must secretly choose the next 'n' turns, and then each player plays their turns out according to the choices made. A game has the programming mechanic if it exists a choice of actions, preferably several, with a mechanism of executing those actions such that things could go spectacularly or amusingly wrong, because the status of the game changed in ways one did not anticipate, or hoped would not happen, before the action is executed."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database shows only two S&T games using this mechanic: "Kampfpanzer" and "Sea Devils." "Kampfpanzer" was designed by Jim Dunnigan and "Sea Devils" was designed by T. Garland.
 
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2. Board Game: Hannibal: The Second Punic War [Average Rating:5.67 Overall Rank:12725]
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Action Point Allowance System

"In Action Point (AP) Allowance System games, each player is alloted a certain amount of points per round. These points can be spent on available actions, until the player does not have enough remaining to "purchase" any more actions. This method grants the player greater freedom over how to execute his or her options. Pandemic is an example of a game that uses this mechanic. In Pandemic, players are given 4 action points to be allocated between several actions: Movement, Air Travel, Special Action, and Special Ability."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database indicates that Hannibal: The Second Punic War is the only S&T game using this mechanic.
 
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3. Board Game: The Fall of Rome [Average Rating:5.80 Overall Rank:11369]
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Area Control / Area Influence

"The Area Control mechanic typically awards control of an area to the player that has the majority of units or influence in that area. As such, it can be viewed as a sub-category of Auction/Bidding in that players can up their 'bids' for specific areas through the placement of units or meeples."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database shows only three S&T games using this mechanic: "The Fall of Rome," "The Hundred Years War," and "The American Revolution: Decision in North America." Joseph Miranda designed the third of these games and, with David McElhannon and Beth Queman, he also co-designed the second.
 
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4. Board Game: Tito [Average Rating:5.60 Overall Rank:14074]
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Area Movement

"Area movement means that the game board is divided into areas *of varying size* which can be moved out of or into in any direction as long as the areas are adjacent or connected. Risk is a classic area movement game.

Area movement is one way to handle movement on a game board. Two other commonly used ways are Grid Movement and Point to Point Movement. However, Area Movement is arguably just a form of Point to Point Movement, in which areas act as "points" with implicit "lines" connecting each area to all adjacent areas."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database shows 17 S&T games using this mechanic, about 6% of all S&T games.
 
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5. Board Game: Catherine the Great [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:10235]
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Campaign / Battle Card Driven

"The Campaign/Battle Card Driven mechanic is a relatively recent development in wargames that focuses the players' actions on cards they have in their hand. The very basic idea is that performing a single action uses a single card. Games where cards are used to determine the outcome of battles do not use this mechanic.

"This GeekList argues that it is simply a subcategory of Hand Management."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database indicates that "Catherine the Great" is the only S&T game using this mechanic. "Catherine" was designed by Joseph Miranda and published in 2005.
 
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6. Board Game: The Ottomans: Rise of the Turkish Empire [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:12582]
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Chit-Pull System

"Used in war games to address the problem of simulating simultaneous action on the battlefield and issues of command and control. In such a system the current player randomly draws a chit or counter identifying a group of units which may now be moved. Schemes include moving any units commanded by a particular leader, moving units of a particular quality or activating units not for movement but for fighting. This mechanism is often associated with designer Joseph Miranda who has used it in many of his games."

Although Joseph Miranda is a frequent contributor to S&T, at the time of this writing, the BGG database shows only two S&T games using this mechanic: "The Ottomans: Rise of the Turkish Empire" and "Julian: Triumph Before the Storm." Both these games were designed by Mr. Miranda; the first of them was published in 2004.
 
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7. Board Game: The Battle of Moscow [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:11588]
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Dice Rolling

"Dice rolling games are games where dice are used for randomness."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database shows only 34 S&T games, about 13% of all S&T games, using this mechanic. Presumably this is an oversight whereby those who add games to the BGG database often overlook the obvious.
 
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8. Board Game: 1066: End of the Dark Ages [Average Rating:6.03 Overall Rank:11906]
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Grid Movement

"The Grid Movement occurs when pawns move on the grid in many directions. Usually the grid is square (like in Chess) or hexagonal (Abalone).

In a game there can be many pawns (like in Chess or Checkers) or only one (like the bishop in Fresco)."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database shows only four S&T games using this mechanic: "1066: End of the Dark Ages," "The French & Indian War," "Holy Roman Empire," "When Lions Sailed." Each of the four games was designed or co-designed by Joseph Miranda. The BGG definition of the mechanic explicitly subsumes the hexagonal grid of the Hex-and-Counter mechanic which applies to 241 S&T games--about 87% of all S&T games, so the database greatly underestimates the number of games using the Grid Movement mechanic.
 
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9. Board Game: Crete [Average Rating:5.83 Unranked]
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Hex-and-Counter

"Classic wargame mechanic, played with 'Counters' on a map with an Hexagonal grid allowing to move the counters in more directions (6) as opposed to a square grid with only four directions.

Counters are commonly thick cardboard chit, with printed attributes and identification."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database shows that 241 S&T games--about 87% of all S&T games--use the Hex-and-Counter mechanic.
 
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10. Board Game: Hannibal: The Second Punic War [Average Rating:5.67 Overall Rank:12725]
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Point to Point Movement

"On a board of a game with point-to-point movement, there are certain spots that can be occupied by markers or figurines, e. g. cities on a map. These points are connected by lines, and movement can only happen along these lines. It is not enough that two points are next to or close to each other; if there is no connecting line between them, a player cannot move his or her piece from one to the other.

"With point-to-point movement, you do not have a division of the board into areas which can be moved out of or into freely (like with Risk). Neither do you have a board completely covered in squares (like with Chess) or hexagons (like with [=Tide of Iron]Tide of Iron[/]) that allow unrestricted or nearly unrestricted movement in any direction and to any square or hex.

"Unlike these counterexamples, point-to-point movement arbitrarily restricts areas on the board that markers or figurines can occupy, and it also arbitrarily restricts the ways that these points may be reached. Oftentimes, this allows for interesting strategies."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database shows only four S&T games using point-to-point movement, or P2P movement as it's often called. These are: "Hannibal: The Second Punic War," "The American Revolution: Decision in North America," "War of 1812," and "Goeben, 1914." "Goeben" was still forthcoming and so information concerning it was subject to change. Other than the first game, which was designed by John Sutcliffe, these games were designed by Joseph Miranda
 
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11. Board Game: Campaigns in the Valley [Average Rating:5.80 Overall Rank:13496]
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Roll / Spin and Move

"
Roll / Spin and move games are games where players roll dice or spin spinners and move playing pieces in accordance with the roll.

This term is often used derogatorily to imply that there is no thought involved. Roll and move games [such as] Backgammon, however, contain tactical elements."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database showed only two S&T games using this mechanic: "Campaigns in the Valley" and "Objective: Tunis."
 
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12. Board Game: Grunt [Average Rating:6.29 Overall Rank:11817]
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Secret Unit Deployment

"Secret unit deployment games are games that contain hidden information. Only the player controlling certain playing pieces has perfect information about the nature (or even the whereabouts) of those pieces. This mechanic is often used in wargames to simulate 'fog of war'."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database includes three S&T games using the Secret Unit Deployment Mechanic: "Grunt," "First Blood: The Guadalcanal Campaign," and "Dagger Thrusts."
 
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13. Board Game: 1914: Twilight in the East [Average Rating:7.97 Overall Rank:3683]
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Simulation

"Simulation games are games that attempt to model actual events or situations."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database includes 44 S&T games using this mechanic, almost 16% of all S&T games.
 
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14. Board Game: Kampfpanzer [Average Rating:5.62 Overall Rank:14245]
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Simultaneous Action Selection

"The simultaneous action selection mechanic lets players secretly choose their actions. After they are revealed, the actions resolve following the ruleset of the game."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database shows the game "Kampfpanzer" is the only S&T game using the Simultaneous Action Selection mechanic. The game was designed by Jim Dunnigan.
 
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15. Board Game: Drive on Kursk: July 1943 [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:8233]
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Variable Phase Order

"Variable Phase Order implies that turns may not be played the same way as before and / or after.

Using Puerto Rico as an example, every turn is different. Depending on who starts selecting the roles and what roles they take, you may have to play the 'build' action sooner than you'd wish. In other games, you may be denied from taking certain action.

Most games with limited action and any game without a static game turn order fall under this 'mechanism'. Use of variable player turn order are not Variable Phase Order games."

At the time of this writing, the BGG database shows only two S&T games using the Variable Phase Order mechanic: "Drive on Kursk: July 1943" and "25993." Both games were designed by Ty Bomba.
 
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16. Board Game: The Seven Years World War [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:10334]
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Variable Player Powers

"Variable Player Powers is a mechanic that grants different abilities and/or paths to victory to the players. To illustrate, here are some notable examples.

"In Ogre, one player controls a single powerful piece, and the other plays many weaker units. The net effect is a balanced game.

"In Cosmic Encounter, each player is assigned a random special ability at the beginning of the game. Although each player has the same victory goal (control five non-home colonies), their abilities enable differing means to the end.

"In Here I Stand, each player controls a political power with unique ways to score victory points. Some focus on military conquest, some on religious influence, etc.

"Also, player powers may change throughout the game as in Small World or Sunrise City."

At the time of this writing the BGG database shows three S&T games using this mechanic: "The Seven Years World War," "The Ottomans: Rise of the Turkish Empire," and "Russian Civil War 1918-1922 (second edition)." Joseph Miranda designed the first two of these games and designed the third with Ty Bomba.
 
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