Tuesday 23 March 2021

Project 10 - Distilling Units

Project 10 has really been keeping me busy.

And looks like these little guys will be doing the same for my evenings.

Order and Chaos

I explained the basics of the system in the previous post, and the tests that I've done so far have really highlighted the weird mix of order and chaos that exists in this game. 

There's no explicit command and control or morale in here. Lots of wargames simulate the fact that a commander doesn't have total control over their units, so sometimes they just won't do what you want, and in the heat of battle they might turn and run or freeze up.

I get this from a simulation point of view, but it's never appealed to me in gameplay. The systems can feel a bit fiddly for me, and I find them more frustrating than interesting. So in this game there are still times you'll want to withdraw a unit so that they can regroup, but that's all in your control. For movement and positioning, units always do what you want them to.

It's a different story once the fighting gets started. 

The Combat Dice you roll for attacks (imagine d6s with the 4, 5, and 6s changed to 0s) really deliver those moments where you line up the perfect flank charge and roll a handful of zeros, or your peasant levies get a sudden surge of bloodlust and cut through an entire unit of knights in two turns. 

Even something small like rolling for first-turn each Round can make the whole battle flip because of chance. You knew that there was a chance the enemy would get a double-turn, but you just didn't want it to happen right now when they've got everything lined up. Now that two-turn peasant-on-knight bloodbath is happening before you even get a chance to respond. 

You get moments that feel great, and moments that feel like you've been cursed, and this is very much by design. Manoeuvres and strategizing feels orderly, but then the bloodshed provides spikes of chaos. 

For now I'm happy with that, but it'll be interesting to see how more players respond. 

The Units

I've always been interested in how mass-battle games handle different unit types. At this scale it's common to have a few unit archetypes with quite specific rules for how they interact with the battlefield and each other. 

Pikes can't move through woods but get advantage vs cavalry. Swords get advantage vs Pikes etc. 

One Hour Wargames, which was the catalyst for this game, has some units that work this way, but most units are just specialised at doing one or two things, rather than being explicitly designed as counters to another unit type. 

On the one hand, this sort of game is often based around a web of hard and soft counters, but I prefer a more subtle guiding hand. Some unit types are made to excel against others, but I don't want it to be an outright paper-beats-rock situation. 

The chaos mentioned above helps with that, but the unit design is really where it comes in.

Units are now defined entirely by Traits, of which there are currently sixteen (and I'm always looking to chop this list down). A typical unit might have two Traits, three if they're fancy or elite, with four being restricted to those that need some weird restrictions to feel right (typically artillery and chariots). 

So let's look at the current list and see if they all justify their place on the page. We'll split them into a few broad categories to help with comparisons. 


Agile: Each pivot may be up to 180°. You can perform your Movement phase at any point in your turn. 
This is here for your loose units that can't gallop around like cavalry, but get a lot more flexibility for how they use their movement, allowing for some clever manoeuvring. 

Fast: Move 2 Measures in open terrain.
Other than Fly, this is the only way to move further than 1 measure, and works as an all-purpose Trait for cavalry and chariots. The limitation to open terrain is easy to remember and adds a nice little bit of terrain impact. 

Fly: Move 2 Measures, ignoring terrain and enemies.
Super niche trait that sort of needs to exist, but it really is just a better version of Fast. I wanted to avoid complex systems with different types of flight, soaring, landing etc, so this works as a simple approach for your eagles, harpies etc. 

Clumsy: Cannot enter Rough Terrain or Support allies.
This one emerged out of a playtest this weekend, where a catapult unit potentially ended up supporting an infantry unit, which didn't make any sense at a range where their catapult couldn't even fire. It also keeps Chariots from crashing through forests. 

Rigid: Cannot disengage from Melee.
Another one that arose out of necessity to stop artillery crews from fleeing melee with their cannons in tow. Wish I could roll this and clumsy together, but Rigid doesn't apply to chariots, so afraid they both have to stay for now. Could be used for things like Dwarf Slayers, but decided not to for simplicity.


Short X: Shoot X CD at up to 2 Measures. Moving and one pivot allowed.
For this game I'm using tight firing lines, rather than a more typical 45 degree arc, so pivoting your ranged units to line up with their targets is key. This really helped me in making the three different ranges feel different. Short is for units with a limited range, but they're able to move and pivot before shooting, keeping them much more mobile than their long ranged counterparts. Great for getting at enemy flanks. 

Long X: Shoot X CD at up to 3 Measures. Moving or a single pivot is allowed, but not both.
This is the one for your blocks of archers and gunners. They're not quite as restricted as artillery, but you'll have to think carefully about positioning them to be able fire most effectively. 

Artillery X: Shoot X CD between 3-6 Measures. One pivot is permitted.
Sometimes feels like this should be able to fire over hills and forests, but for the sake of simplicity we're keeping the regular line of sight rules here. They can be devastating, but so far in testing they've worked as more of a threat, forcing the enemy to break formation to stay out of their sight. 

Breach X: Shooting CD of 1-3 cause X extra Damage.
Essentially, when you do damage you do even more damage, so it's great for cannons, units with guns, or even magical attacks. Works as a soft-counter to Shield, but the Shield still dampens the effect slightly. 

Volley X: Shooting CD of 4-6 cause X Damage.
Sort of an opposite to Breach. You get a guaranteed minimum amount of damage, but it doesn't do much to boost your overall output. Good for softening up a target before sending in a charge, or finishing off a unit that's badly hurt. Soft-countered by Shield, especially when rolling just one Combat Die. In fact, with 1CD it could be considered a hard counter, but you can turn it around if you get at their flanks. 


Fight X: Roll +X CD in Melee if you have not moved or pivoted this turn.
The Fight/Impact split is working pretty nicely at the moment. Fight is for any unit that's generally designed to form up, stand and fight. Impact is flashy, but Fight wins you the long brawls. It suffers when you get charged in the flank, as you have to use a pivot to turn and face your charger, meaning you have to wait another turn to benefit. Good for blocks of spearmen or other heavy infantry. 

Impact X: +X CD on the turn you charged.
Impact units have the advantage on the charge, so it's great for cavalry, berserkers, anything that you want to hit hard and then flounder slightly after that first hit. It can feel weaker than Fight at times, but if you avoid getting bogged down, and remember to hit the flanks, you'll see the advantages it has. 

Brutal X: Melee CD CD of 1-3 cause X extra Damage.
See above under Breach. Exactly the same, but for Melee instead of shooting. Having them as one trait caused weird issues when ranged units got into melee, so the split was necessary. This is used for line-breakers carrying big two-handed weapons, and monstrous attackers like ogres.

Vicious X : Melee CD of 4-6 cause X Damage.
As with Brutal, this is here as a Melee version of Volley. I chose similar-sounding names for these two pairs to help keep them together in your memory. Used for hounds, hordes, and attackers that go for a sort of "death by a thousand cuts" approach. 


Shield X: Ignore X damage from each attack to your front.
A very simple rule that's gone through a lot of changes, many relating to the now defunct Armour Trait (largely replaced by Tough below). Originally I didn't want it to only apply to the front, as it felt like a sort of double-reward for flank charges. However, having that counter of a flank attack means that any unit can potentially bypass a Shield if they can get into the right position. 

Tough X: Automatically recover X CD of Damage at the end of your turn.
The other side of the coin to Shield, and still not quite proven on the field yet. This is for units that can shrug off piecemeal attacks and need to be focused on. Works for hordes of orcs, monstrous ogres, and is especially relevant for trolls. Compared to Shield they don't have anything to protect them from just getting wiped out by focused fire or a precision strike, but they're much more well equipped to avoid getting chipped away across a number of turns, or recovering from an early onslaught. 

No Hard Counters

So you do still have counters in here, but they're generally soft. 

Fast units can run down those shortbow archers, and chariots are great at slamming into the flanks of shielded infantry, but those matchups are just one third of the game alongside manoeuvring and the luck of the dice.  

A good example is that Shield previously only protected against ranged attacks, with Armour (now cut) protecting against melee. This was a nice little split, forcing you to think about which units to send against which targets, but then I ran a playtest where I had three Shielded infantry units up against an enemy force of entirely melee units. Now the Shields would have literally zero impact on the battle.

Now things are designed so that every Trait has the potential to impact every battle. Even if you get matched up against an enemy army full of your soft counters, your units will still all be able to do the thing they do. You might be fighting uphill, but you'll still have your sword. 

Distillation in Action

With such broad strokes there's no room for subtle details. You can't give this specialist unit a +10% boost to something because it represents a specific historical factor. You've got to distil those units right down to their essence. Forget the tiny individuals. What does this unit, as a whole, do in a battle.

I'm using Warhammer units to test this out on Tabletop Simulator, but the miniatures I've bought from Pendraken are somewhat more grounded medieval troops, albeit with a suitably anachronistic span of equipment. 

Let's look at how these could be built. Bonus points if you can spot each unit in the image at the top of this post. 


Mixed bases of men-at-arms and crossbowmen. I've actually split these further, with one unit's men-at-arms being more heavily armoured and carrying shields, while the other carry mainly spears and other polearms.

Again, let's think about what this unit's purpose is on the field. Clearly the crossbows are providing long ranged fire, so we'll give both units Long 1.

The unit with shields might seem like an obvious choice for Shield 1, but remember we have to think about the unit as a whole, not just the individuals. Is this unit designed to withstand damage from its front? I think you could go either way on this, but on balance I'll say yes and give them Shield 1.

Polearms are generally designed to withstand a charge or counter cavalry. We don't have such hard counters in this game, so giving them Fight 1 means that they can stand up to a charge and apply ongoing pressure to an enemy unit, hopefully forcing them to withdraw. Cavalry are usually Impact units, so we're getting a bit of soft countering in there. 

Shield Infantry: Long 1, Shield 1
Spear Infantry: Long 1, Fight 1

Foot Knights

So I said that most units had two Traits, but remember we're not chasing perfect balance here. It's fine to give a unit three or even four positive traits, just be aware that you're essentially creating an elite unit, and it's good to avoid creating good all-rounders in this way.

With these Foot Knights they're heavily armoured, carrying shields and mostly swords, and they look fancy enough that we can roll out an extra trait for them.

I like to start with any unit by considering how they attack, as most units will be getting one of the attack Traits. They certainly aren't set up for charging in that heavy armour, so giving them Fight seems like the best fit. But I'd argue that these are purpose made for engaging in standing combat with an enemy, so let's give them the full Fight 2. 

Shield protects from the front, but this unit's defensive prowess looks like it would come more from their heavy armour and general hardiness. Tough is a good way to represent this, so we'll give them Tough 1. Now they're really a unit that the enemy won't want to get stuck into a prolonged fight with. 

Foot Knights: Fight 2, Tough 1

Mounted Knights

Pretty much all cavalry starts with Fast. Then a common addition is Impact. These knights are modelled mostly with swords and axes, unarmoured horses, and large shields, so even without heavy armour or lances I think Impact makes the most  sense as an attacking trait. You could make an argument for Fight, but really a cavalry charge is always going to carry a degree of impact. 

Standard charge-focused cavalry could end here, but their large shields do seem to suggest the Shield Trait. However, on balance I don't think this unit is built to withstand damage from the front with their unarmoured horses. We could make them Tough like the Foot Knights, but again I think this smaller unit is best reflected as somewhat less resilient. They're for hitting flanks and weak targets, not standing up to a prolonged brawl.

Knights: Fast, Impact 1

Outriders (Mounted Arquebusiers)

Again we'll go for Fast, as this is a cavalry unit. They're carrying guns, which might feel like they should be Long, perhaps even having Breach to give them extra punching power, but this unit is definitely meant to be more of a mobile threat than a gunline. For that reason we'll give them Short 1. 

If we wanted them to feel like a more elite unit of outriders we could give them Agile, letting them dance around enemy units after firing their guns, but we'll keep them simple for this army.

Outriders: Fast, Short 1

Organ Guns

I can't believe it's taken me this long to realise that organ guns are so named because their barrels look like a pipe organ. I just assumed it was from some bastardised French word. 

So these are artillery pieces, which are slightly awkward in that you really need to give them Rigid and Clumsy so that they can't just act like a regular infantry unit.

These are definitely not built for Artillery range, so we'll give them Long 1.

Volley is a clear fit here, so we'll throw that on there. 

Now because Rigid and Clumsy are both negative, and we only have two positive Traits on there, we'll want to give this thing a boost to avoid it just feeling like a more inconvenient unit of archers. 

Here it's worth remembering that not all Traits are equal. An extra point of Long is generally better than an extra point of Volley (mean damage of 2 vs 1.5). But I'd argue that Volley better represents what this unit is for. I mean it's basically a Volley Gun. 

Organ Gun: Long 1, Volley 2, Rigid, Clumsy. 

Best of all, this entire army fits on an index card.

The Anachronistic Order

Shield Infantry: Long 1, Shield 1
Spear Infantry: Long 1, Fight 1
Foot Knights: Fight 2, Tough 1
Knights: Fast, Impact 1
Outriders: Fast, Short 1
Organ Gun: Long 1, Volley 2, Rigid, Clumsy. 

Clearly not all units are equal here, but every one is specialist in some way. The Foot Knights probably have the most raw power, but they won't stand up to focused fire or a decisive strike. The Organ Gun is arguably a touch weak compared to a more traditional missile unit, but when you absolutely need to cause damage to an enemy it'll do the job. Loose it onto an exposed flank and a near-guaranteed 4 damage is nothing to scoff at. 

You could make any number of match ups using these units and I feel like things would hold together. Obviously lots depends on the Scenarios, and I spoke out against pitched battles for this project, but let's imagine. 

Matchup 1

The Green Band: 3 x Shield Infantry, 2x Outriders, 1x Organ Gun
The Red Order: 3x Spear Infantry, 2x Foot Knights, 1x Knights

Aiming for a relatively balanced matchup here, the main imbalance is the Green Band's ranged advantage vs the Red Order's better melee ability. I think this would come down to how effectively the Outriders and Organ Guns could target the Knights and Foot Knights. 

Matchup 2

The Cerulean Company: 3x Outriders, 2x Spear Infantry, 1x Foot Knights
The Amber Guild: 3x Knights, 2x Organ Guns, 1x Shield Infantry

Putting so much on the cavalry here risks the infantry feeling left out, but there's plenty of shooting to be done. Amber has some real damage potential in the Knights and Organ Guns, so it all comes down to whether Cerulean can counter them with clever manoeuvring. 

Matchup 3

The Indigo Legion: 3x Foot Knights, 2x Knights, 1x Outriders
The Ochre Militia: 3x Spear Infantry, 2x Shield Infantry, 1x Organ Gun

Ochre might feel like the odds are stacked against them at first, but those Foot Knights are going to have a tough time facing so much Long Ranged fire. If the Knights and Outriders can break up the infantry blocks enough to allow the Foot Knights to engage then it might be all over, but I don't think it'll be that simple. 

All three sound pretty interesting to me! I suspect they aren't perfectly balanced, but I'd happily take a swing at playing either side in any of them. 

Units are important, but a lot of the flavour of an army comes from it's Commander and their unique abilities. Next time we'll look at how they're coming along.


  1. Obvious question I might be missing: What's the base melee CD? 1?

    1. Oops, that's quite a big omission!

      You're right, units in melee get 1CD as standard. I'll add that in.

    2. Good to know! The original post mentioned units having different ratings of base CD- did you pivot away from this to emphasize units being good at specific tasks?

    3. Yeah, most melee units had 2CD, while non-melee had 1CD, so I thought I'd break that 1CD difference down into Impact and Fight to give a little more specialisation for melee units.

  2. http://web.archive.org/web/20091026194417/http:/geocities.com/anaiselise2nd/sec01.html This looks right up your alley.

  3. These all look like good changes from the version you showed in your playtest video. I hope you're planning to make another one of those soon - it was a great watch.

  4. well this just looks fabulous, I'm absolutely hyped

  5. I'm not sure it's worth the trouble of acquiring them, but the dice used in the boardgame Smallworld are numbered 1, 2, 3, 0, 0, 0 and so would be perfect for your purposes here.

  6. Love this, Chris. I've been getting (back) into light, narrative solo wargaming recently--thanks, Covid!--so this is right up my alley. Being an inveterate tinkerer/designer myself, I'm going to playtest this w/o commanders (will report back), but with a couple changes:

    Instead of Clumsy and Rigid, I'll try:
    * Slow (only one pivot, cannot withdraw from engagement)
    * Clunky (cannot enter rough terrain, cannot support allies)

    I don't love reduplicating the melee/ranged dice modifications, so I'll just add them as tags:
    * Reliable (volley/vicious)
    * Lethal (breech/brutal)

    E.g. Shoot (Close 1, Reliable 1), or Shoot (Far 1, Lethal 1), or Melee (Lethal 2)

    I'm going to make "Flying" ignore terrain and line of sight requirements. (So "Fast, Flying" for e.g. some wyvern, but just "Flying" for a Gnomish Blimp).

    Adding "Counterattack" as a new keyword. ("Deal *x* CD of damage to a unit that damages you with a regular close-combat attack.")

    So one might have:

    1) Basic Chariots: Fast, Clunky (perhaps also Close 1 for javelins)

    2) Elite Dwarven Heavy Infantry: Slow, Shield 1, Fight 1, Counterattack 1

    3) Cannons: Bombard 2, Slow, Clunky

    I'll report back!