Alternative Combat Systems for Britannia

Torben Mogensen (Denmark)

The combat system in Britannia is simple and relatively fast, so why would you want to change it?

In my opinion, the system suffers from a number of shortcomings, some more serious than others. I'm sure not all will agree, so take the below as suggestions for variants.

Anyway, the main problem I see with the current system is that it is too random, i.e., that you can get results that are far from the average and this not infrequently. Almost every game will have several instances of a single army killing two opponents and survive and you will often see a small force killing all opponents before they even get a chance to retreat. While this can be quite amusing and lend life to a game, it does retract a bit from the sense of achievement when you win (did I win because I was lucky or because I was skillful?), though it also provides an excuse for the losers. Also, for tournaments, you would want to reward skillful play more than luck, though you can argue that managing luck is an important skill when playing the game.

I do not want a completely deterministic combat system, as this may lead to overly scripted games, but I want one where there is less variation in the results than in the current game.


Analysis of the standard system


The standard combat system has both sides roll a d6 for each army on their side. Each 5 or 6 kill an opponent. This is modified for terrain, leaders and cavalry but I will concentrate on the normal case.

The average number of kills you make in one round is obviously N/3, if you have N armies. But it can be anywhere from 0 to N. If N=6, you would expect two kills, but the chance of no kills at all is around 9%. This may not sound like much, but if you move 6 armies into an area with a single army and a leader in the expectation that you will kill the leader, then you are going to be mightily disappointed when you don't, as your vastly superior force made it look like a done deal. Even if you add more armies to your force, you can not guarantee killing the single opponent (though you can make failure less likely). Conversely, a force of three armies kills one opponent on average, but it has a 22% chance of killing twice that and 4% of killing three times that. And this is independent of the size of the opposing force: You can not reduce your own losses (for the first round of combat) by increasing your force.


Criteria for a replacement system


So, Ideally, I would want a system that:

- Still has a degree of chance (but less).

- Provides guarantees of minimum number of kills if you have a vastly superior force.

- Reduces your own losses if you increase your force.

- Isn't too complex.

- Doesn't use tables.

The last point is mainly a matter of taste, though having to refer to a table after each combat round is bound to slow combat down.

I will look at some alternative combat systems and see how well they fare against the criteria above. Getting all of these right may be too much to ask, so I will be satisfied with systems that do most of the above.


Suggestion 1: Force points


The idea is to calculate a force for a whole stack and make one roll instead of rolling for each individual army in the stack.

Each normal army adds a force of 2 while cavalry and Romans add a force of 3. Leaders add one to the force of each army.

It takes a force of 6 to kill a normal army and 12 to kill "hard" opponents, i.e., cavalry, Romans or defenders in difficult terrain.

If you don't have enough force to kill an opposing army or if you have left-over force points after killing one or more opponents, you roll a dice against the remaining points to see if you kill one (more) opponent: If you target a normal army, you roll a d6 and kill if this is less than or equal to your remaining force. If you target a hard opponent, you roll a d12 instead.

Example: Four normal armies are up against a cavalry and a normal army. The four normal armies have a total of 8 force points. They can kill the normal opposing army and have two remaining points against the cavalry, so they roll a d12 and hope for 1 or 2. Alternatively, they can target the cavalry first and roll a d12 and kill it on 1-8. They must choose before rolling the die. The mixed force has a total of 5 force points, so they roll a d6 and kill an opponent if this is 1-5.

How does this fare against the criteria?

- For forces of more than one army, the degree of chance is reduced. If there are no left-over force points, there is no chance element at all.

- If you have sufficient points to kill an opponent, you will do so.

- You don't reduce your own losses with a larger force.

- It is somewhat more complex than the standard game and requires addition (though only of small numbers). It also requires two d12s.

- No tables, though.


Suggestion 2: Double rolls


The spread of results when you roll N dice is proportional to the square root of N, so a way of reducing the spread relative to the average is using more dice. A simple idea is to roll two dice for every army and require two "hits" to kill an opponent. If you roll the number of hits down to the nearest even number, this actually reduces the average, especially for small forces. Rounding up increases the average, again mostly for small forces, so it is not clear what is best.

An option may be to let one hit wound an opponent and one more hit kill it. This leaves the question of what to do with wounded units after the battle is over or if they retreat. If wounded units can survive by retreating, it is no easier than before to kill a single army with a superior force, so it seems reasonable to prevent wounded units from retreating. To compensate, wounded units that survive the battle should return to full force at the end of the battle.

This can be used to give players more tactical choice: If I roll two hits, I can choose to kill one opponent or prevent two from retreating. Adding more choice seems like a good idea, so let's stick to this idea.

Leaders, cavalry, etc., modify dice in the normal way, for example a Roman hits on 4-6 and requires 6s to hit.

Wounded armies can be marked by rotating them to be diagonal to the board edges. Flipping them over doesn't work in FFG's Britannia, as pieces are identical on both sides. If you aren't too keen on keeping your set pristine, you can mark one side of each unit with a pen, so flipping over will work. An alternative is to put a wound marker on top of each wounded unit. You can use glass beads or some such.

Let us see how this fares against our criteria:

- It is still random, but has lower spread.

- There is no guaranteed minimum kills, but since you can prevent retreat by giving a single wound, you reduce the chance of the enemy escaping before you kill him.

- You reduce your own losses with superior force against a single opponent, as the chance of a single army killing an opponent in one round is only 1/9 (instead of 1/3) and a superior force will reduce the chance that the single opponent survives to get a second round.

- It is more complex than the standard system as you have to roll twice as many dice and keep track of wounded armies.

- And, of course, it doesn't use tables.

You can use the same variant without doubling the number of dice rolled. This will increase the number of rounds a battle takes instead.


Suggestion 3: Risk-like


In Risk, both sides roll dice and match highest to highest and second-highest to second highest, with the winner of each match removing an opposing die (ties count for the defender).

We can do the same in Britannia: Each side rolls a die for each army and match highest to highest and so on. Since there is no general defender advantage, ties should count for neither side, i.e., no armies are removed.

Risk battles are usually three dice against two, but there can be much larger differences in Britannia. Having superior force is still an advantage, but there is a strong degree of diminishing returns. To reduce this, I suggest the larger force make a number of groups equal to the number of defending armies, with free choice of how these are made. Each group adds the dice it rolls. Example: Four armies attack two. The attacker decides to split his four armies evenly so there are two groups of two dice. He rolls 1+4 and 2+2, so his highest number is 5 and the second-highest is 4. The defender rolls a 5 and a 3, so one match is tied at 5:5 while the other is 4:3 in the attacker's favour, so the defender removes one army. Had the defender rolled two 5s, both sides would have removed one army. Note that when a group loses a match, only one army is removed regardless of the size of the group.

What about leaders, terrain, and so on? A leader can add 1 to all dice on his side, as in the normal game. Attackers against difficult terrain can subtract one from each die, so this cancels the advantage of a leader, as in the normal game. Cavalry and Romans can use d10s instead of d6s when fighting in non-difficult terrain.

When rolling against a mixed force of cavalry and normal armies, the type of dice (d6 or d10) used on the losing side shows which type of army (normal or cavalry) is removed. If a losing group has both d6s and d10s, a cavalry is removed. If a group having one of more d10 has the same sum as a group having only d6s, the group having d10s is put before the other in the ordering from highest to lowest.

A mixed force of Romans and fort use the same rule, but unless all Roman armies are removed due to losing their matches, the fort can not be removed, even if it should lose its own match.

When comparing against the criteria, we get

- The spread on even-sided battles is actually larger than in the standard game, with a fairly high probability of one side wiping out the other with no losses of its own. But larger forces have a definite advantage because they can make groups, which reduces the spread of results in uneven battles.

- At 6:1 you can't lose an army and at 7:1 you are certain to kill the opponent.

- You definitely reduce your own losses when you increase your force.

- It is by far the most complex of the suggestions.

- But still no tables.


Which to use?


The three proposals are quite different, and one is not clearly superior to the others. So your choice depends on what you want to achieve:

- If you want the least degree of chance, use method 1.

- If you like extra tactical choice and closeness to the original method, use method 2

- If you want to give a superior force a clear advantage, use method 3.

Obviously, you may still prefer the original method.