[Gameplay] Tactical movement restrictions, unit zone of control, flanking and position

By on September 16, 2010 3:14:29 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums


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Tactical Battles.

With the current movement system it's impossible to create any sort of useful formation or make use of "position".
While these posts seem to address separate issues, they do not. They interlock. You simply cannot have flanking when movement is not restricted.
Of course you would always move the attacking units "in position" and get the extra bonus without any challenge or cost in achieving it.
Not doing so would be stupid so it would merely be a free bonus without any depth added to tactical combat.

  1. Movement restrictions and unit Zone Of Control   (first post)
  2. Flanking units. Making use of position.
  3. Line Of Sight and hidden units.
  4. Size of battlefields and random terrain.
  5. Unit size should have a direct impact on combat speed.


1. Movement restrictions and unit Zone Of Control

A fast unit like a champion or buffed cavalry can zip straight through any number of heavy enemy troops to take out the vulnerable ranged units behind them.
That can be an archer or the enemy's sovereign. No matter.
Especially with sovereign death being a game ending condition that is not acceptable.

Formations are (among other things) used to protect the vulnerable units in an army. With the unrestricted movement that we have now that is not possible.

Many boardgames (and computerised versions like Battle Isle) use a zone of control to limit movement.

  • A unit can step into a ZOC but then it's immediately stuck for the rest of the turn. It may attack when it has movement points left but that's it.
  • If a unit does not attack after doing that, it's turn is over. No saving attacks for later in the turn. I'll explain below why that is necessary.

That allows for protective formations using a reasonable number of units.
In WoM we have 12 units to play with. It takes 5-8 units to protect a single vulnerable unit. That is nonsense!

In this example the red team is attacking the blue team.
The blue shaded squares are the Zone Of Control of the blue units.

The red Melee unit wants to attack the blue Bowmen.
The blue Melee units obviously would like to prevent that. They have armor and are designed for melee, the bowmen... not so.

Zone Of Control rules

The green path is what we currently have. Unrestricted movement.
The red path is with ZOC rules enforced.

Going along the green path it's virtually impossible to protect the bowmen at all. You'd pretty much have to completely surround them with units, which is just not fun.
Too many units to move in boring and repetitive ways. Far too much micromanagement. Bad gameplay.

The red path is more interesting.
In the first example with only one protector, the attacker has to take a litte detour, but likely just far enough to not quite reach the bowmen in one turn.

In the second example we're starting to see tactics and use of position and movement.
This is a basic skirmish line, designed to prevent surprise attacks and protect the main body of the army.
The melee units screen the vulnerable units behind them by forcing attackers to either

  • enter their ZOC and get a club upside the head
  • take a huge detour around the block to get to the bowmen. That will hurt, because it gives the bowmen time to pincushion the attackers.
  • take 3 entire turns to get there because every time it "enters a ZOC", ending it's movement for the turn.

Example 3:
Lets say the attacker moves 3 squares along the red path. All the closest defender needs to do is move one step to the left to cut them off even further.

That is how you get "formations" to work without requiring insane numbers of units.

And it's somewhat realistic, too.
Example 2, green path. Would any unit run straight into such a death trap? Both flanks exposed and enemies ahead? Not. Bloody. Likely.


Alternative way of resolving ZOC:

A unit can enter a ZOC and nothing at all happens.
If the unit now tries to leave the square (includes entering another ZOC square), the controlling unit gets a free opportunity attack.
That could actually be a more solid system because it doesn't add a "dumb" restriction. (noone likes those)
A single guardian peasant couldn't stop a charging dragon in it's tracks.  The dragon would romp right past him, ignoring the flailing peasant.


Explanation for "not saving attacks"

If a unit does not attack immediately after entering a hostile's ZOC, it's turn is over. This is to keep the flanking system balanced.
If saving attacks were allowed, two units would move into flanking positions.
The second unit would attack the now flanked defender while the first unit is waiting patiently.
Then the first attacker would attack, the defender again being flanked by the second unit.

This completely destroys the dynamic of the game. You don't have units rushing up to engage the enemy, then sitting down to have a tea break when they see the white in their eyes.
When the unit does not attack it merely feinted the attack. The defender is still flanked because it had to react to the imminent attack.
But it was a feint.
The attacker stops dead while the real attacker hits the now unprotected flank of the defender.

Of course, the first attacker (moving into position) has the option of attacking - just without getting the flanking bonus because the second attacker isn't there, yet.

Realism aside, In gameplay terms it means that you cannot exploit the "wait" feature to stack flanking bonuses.
The flanking bonus is free. The flanking unit does not need to attack and take damage - only move into the position.
Tactics demand tradeoffs. If something is free like the flanking bonus, the cost would be that the flanking unit passes up it's chance to attack.

You can still use the wait feature to organise your unit's maneuvers. Sometimes a unit has to get out of the way to let another unit pass through the formation.
That is perfectly fine and no restrictions should apply to the order in which you use up your unit's movement.

A system like that can then be expanded by specialty units like real skirmishers which are able to enter and leave a ZOC in the same turn.

They'd need severe armament and armor restrictions but could be very useful tactically by well... skirmishing.
Harrassing (attacking and retreating again) or trying to outflank units. (that's when we'd really get some tactics going)

Idea for seriously differenciating melee / cavalry / ranged units.

Idea for retaining the XP of experienced units and combining smaller troops into "modern" and larger ones - without the rat's tail of problems that most suggestions come with.

Quoting Frogboy,
The reason for the delay will be really obvious after next week's announcement and I think will make people very happy.
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September 16, 2010 3:25:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

A major problem with tac battles is the size of the battlefields - or rather their lack of size.

Spells having unlimited range and even (long)bows having unlimited range for all practical purposes - that's a big part of the problem with first-turn annihilation of the opposing forces.
There is not even a chance to maneuver or do anything else "tactical" when one side is heavy on ranged troops and can start decimating the enemy in turn 0.

And an initiative system does nothing to prevent that. For this problem it's only a band aid, not a fix. 
If the enemy has lots of archers it doesn't really matter if you get to act first or not. You're going to get shot to pieces while trying to get close to them.

The only way to keep ranged weapons like that in the game is to

  • make the battlefields larger so you cannot engage the enemy in turn 0.
    Even the 4 tabletop map sheets for the original Battletech created a larger and more varied battlefield than that.
    This would create more "fight spots" than just the tiny bit between the two forces and allow pincer maneuvers and other cool tactical stuffs...
  • introduce LOS rules so infantry / cavalry has a chance to blind-side the archers / channelers, using hills or woods for cover
    while the ranged troops in turn would seek high ground to lessen or eliminate that effect.
    Archers would rule in swampy terrain.  Mostly open but hindering movement of melee troops.  Forests would be their bane.
    Note that one under "interesting choices" because on the strategic map you would aim to engage armies of
    ranged troops in hill / forest tiles, resulting in a more foresty tactical battle map.


Even randomised terrain should be an option.
Some squares (choke points) may have to be flagged as static so the randomiser doesn't unintentionally block the only point of contact between the two forces.
Most of the battlefield could get random terrain features like areas of swamp / hill / forest, depending on the type of the strategic map tile.

That would allow to alternate between more generic tactical map templates (for greater variety) while filling them with "apropriate content" to match the strategic tile type.

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September 16, 2010 3:36:47 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

So on to the next big issue.

Flanking units. Making use of position.

That's a staple of any halfway serious wargame.

Again, the red team is attacking the blue team.

Flanking a unit

The rules are actually pretty simple.

1.  Have a red unit in any of the yellow fields and the defender has been "flanked".
     The attacker gets a 20 % attack bonus.

2.  Have a red unit in the red fields and the defender has been "surrounded".
     The attacker gets a 40+ % attack bonus.

Sounds overpowered but it's not.

Couple it with the ZOC rules above and it takes work to successully get a unit into a flanking position.
That unit must be fast enough to get there, meaning it's most commonly a light unit.
A light unit, adjacent to the enemy, ahead of the main body of it's army... that's a bad position to be in.
After all, it had to enter a ZOC to get there. It's now stuck and will still be there when the enemy's turn starts...

Like many things in war, it's a gamble. Can you weaken the target far enough that your now exposed light unit will survive the retaliation?
Even if the actual target is completely taken out, your unit is still endangered by other hostile units which can now set up a flanking attack pretty easily - with the unit being out in the open and all.

See the first post, Example 2, green path. That's the exact kind of death trap you want to avoid at all costs.

But that's where the maneuvering for position begins.
You want a good position for the attack but you don't want to take too long to get there while getting pincushioned by the enemy's archers.
And you don't want to leave your flanks exposed, either. So you advance in formation, maybe using (often sacrificial) skirmishers to stop advances on your flanks and rear.
Even with small numbers of units you get to think about where you move.

In a word... tactics.


Other "rewards" for flanking a unit

As Sethai pointed out, the percentages I suggested are less intuitive than a digital feature such as completely preventing counterattacks as a reward.
Actually a good point but, IMO, a UI issue instead of a gameplay one. "No counterattacks at all" is a very powerful bonus and not as scaleable as a % value.

Proposed solution:
With the current system you always see the attack value of your currently selected unit on the interface.
If you mouseover a target, this display would be updated with the actual number that would be used for this attack, possibly with an audio signal to point out the change from the norm.
Additionally, a tooltip would say "Unit flanked: 20% attack bonus" or "Unit surrounded: 40% attack bonus".


Consideration for unit size

In most wargames, unit sizes are balanced, meaning you have a full infantry company vs a unit of 1-3 tanks.
In WOM they are anything but balanced.

It is unreasonable that 1 man fully "flanks" a 20 man squad. The rules must reflect that.

For flanking, I'd propose a rough draft like:

If the flanking unit is half of less the unit strength of the defender, only half the flanking bonus applies.

The reduction of this bonus should be lowered/negated by unit experience.
This would put emphasis on keeping your flankers alive instead of using them as throwaway units "just to get the bonus".
If an experienced unit gives you twice the effect, you think about it...

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September 16, 2010 4:38:35 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

This gets really interesting once  Line Of Sight and hidden units  are added.

In some wargames, infantry can hide in forests, ruins, or similiarly obstructed terrain.
Obviously that would be different in WOM because practically everything is an infantry unit...

In spirit, it would mean "small and easy to hide unit".
Make it... unmounted troops with a squad size of 8 or less.

Summoned creatures like stone giants or dragons would not hide in a forest. Not successfully at least.
Ideally, all applicable units should have a "can hide" flag so small summoned units like imps (who would be perfect for such ambushes!)
can be told apart from the big ones.

Such a hidden unit would only be spotted if you move adjacent to it. And the "Scout Pack" would become really useful
because a scout with extended sight range would spot them at a greater range.

Also: a unit that end it's turn with more than half movement left would get +1 sight range at the start of the next turn... until it moves.  This unit would be "on the lookout" for hidden units, avoiding an ambush by advancing cautiously.  The "start of next turn" is necessary to avoid abuse. Otherwise you would move a fast unit halfway, spot the ambushers, and proceed to engage them with other fast units. This would practically remove the hidden unit feature against armies with fast/buffed units.

Why all this is important?

  • A hidden unit gets an automatic "surprise attack" when a unit enters it's ZOC.
  • No counterattack possible.
  • The ambushed unit's movement points are set to zero.

Blithely sending your army into any woods or ruins is not such a great idea. As the three roman legions found out when they rode into the Teutoburg forest.


LOS / hidden units would also be the very first step towards having dungeon encounters because it would look pretty silly getting a little maze of a dungeon but seeing every single creature in it from a bird's eye perspective...


Hey presto... we have ambushes and guerilla tactics!

That's how light units in difficult terrain can really do a number on a large, ponderous army.
Take out the enemy's scouts with bows and ambushes, then keep setting ambushes for the larger forces.
It's a dangerous job when the army keeps a close formation. Other units would be close enough to move up in support and attack the ambusher since it would still be the army's turn.
But who said beating the odds would be easy?


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September 17, 2010 4:43:12 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

One thing that bothers me about the WOM units is how our older, smaller units become completely obsolete.
This does not have to be so.

Unit size should have a direct impact on combat speed.

A large formation is harder to turn around and one man can travel faster than a unit of 20.

  • The default speed of units should be 3.
  • Any formation size above 1 should reduce movement speed by 0.5

As a result our small but experienced older units are not completely useless. They are the flankers of the future.
They do not have the attack or defense to defeat big armies on their own but they can make a dent by weakening the enemy's position.

We have our faster and experienced units outmaneuver the enemy and the larger units to put the hammer down.
Sounds logical to me...

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September 17, 2010 10:30:23 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

some great ideas here.

one thing i must point out first: i myself usually am able to block off my vulnerable ranged units with melee units. only because however, the maps are so small and usually seem to have a choke point about 5 squares wide. that is not a good thing. however, due to the sheer size of squares, making maps big enough for this, better system (which as you rightly point out, is used in many other games) will look rather odd with current art assets, and be difficult to navigate without more distant zoom and/or a battle mini-map. i think this points out the fundamental flaw in having all units whether one man or 12 take up the same space

additionally, instead of a increased attack bonus, i would give flanking and rear-attacking units the inability to be counter-attacked. this would, to my mind speed up combat by reducing the number of counter attacks and removing the need to play all those slow tedious animations. i personally find absolute rules like these easier to remember than arbitrary percentage bonuses that are difficult to keep track of, and accurately represents the advantage of flanking: the inablity of a melee unit to defend itself from two directions at once.

and inregard to combat speed, i don't like to talk about it because i think the whole concept is massively flawed. i probably won't be playing the game in a few months if it hasn't been replaced with a better system, so that part is moot for now as far as i'm concerned.

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September 17, 2010 11:07:55 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Good ideas. I've mentioned something similar with regards to flanking in another thread, which I think can be added here. It has a pre-requisite that the combat mechanics be fixed such that the "chance to hit" stats are different to the weapon attack and armour defence stats. There would be an attack skill and a defence skill stat and the difference should determine the chance to hit. If a hit does occur, the weapon attack would be compared to the armour defence to do a damage roll. A soldier would have base defence skill and attack skills based on experience. Various weapons and items would increase this skill. In other words, weapons and shields provide "defence skill modifiers", but no static defence (as they can only parry blows). Armour on the other hand, provide no defence skill modifiers, but a simple static defence value, that is used to absorb damage.

When it comes to flanking, the way I see it, it should be the opponent's defence skill (and possibly defence) that goes down, not the attackers stats going up. Also, action points need to be used up for rotating, as each unit's facing direction at the end of the turn makes a lot of difference.

My thought was that weapons and defence items should provide "directional" defence skill modifiers and defence values, to enable flanking. For example, take a soldier wearing a heavy cuirass, a shield in his left hand and a sword in his right. If attacked from the front, he has full defence skill, multiplied by the modifiers for the sword and shield. If a frontal attack scores a hit, only the defence value of the cuirass will counter the damage (not the shield, as a "hit" implies the shield did not deflect the blow).

If he's hit from the rear, he gets no defence skill at all, so the attacker will always hit and only the cuirass defence will help him absorb damage.

If he's hit from the left, he still has defence skill, multiplied by the shield's defence modifier, because he can use the shield to parry blows from the left. If attacked from the right, his defence skill is multiplied by the sword's defence modifier (which will be lower than the shield's) because he can parry with his sword. Again, if they hit, only his cuirass defence helps.

Armour should have directional defence too. A soldier that's wearing only a breastplate instead of a full cuirass, would only have a high static defence value in the front. An attack from the rear would deal full damage, as he would have do defence in that direction to counter it.

This now forces the players to use proper formations and flanking tactics. It also makes unit design actually important. You would use "tanks" - expensive troops with heavy all around defence to protect the flanks, while lighter and cheaper troops with only their front protected by heavy armour holding the main line. Combined with a fatigue stat, this would encourage players to vary their troop design instead of building the heaviest troops. The main fighting would have to be done by lighter troops who won't tire as quickly.

If you add to this charge bonuses, pushback, LoS ranged attacks, landscape modifiers for defence skill and ranged attacks (i.e. higher ground), cover and concealment, etc, we'd have some proper turn based tactical warfare.

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September 17, 2010 2:53:21 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

@ Sethai

I don't know which kind of bonus ends up working best as a reward for flanking the target unit.
"No counterattacks" is a possibility but I think that would be overpowered. An attack bonus goes a long way towards weakening the target so the following counterattack is weaker. Any kind of ability that completely eliminates taking damage in a fight is near impossible to balance.
With a doom stack of super fast units that have the speed to always flank the opponent, you'd only amplify the glass cannon scheme. I don't think that's a good idea.

You have a point about the obtuse percentages, though. I just made them up on the spot.
Nothing worse than too many geek features in what's supposed to be a dynamic combat system. But that's not unsolvable. It's more a UI than gameplay issue.
You always see the attack value of your currently selected unit on the interface. If you mouseover the target, this display would be updated with the actual number that would be used for this attack, possibly with an audio signal to point out the change.
Additionally, a tooltip would say "Unit flanked: 20% attack bonus" or "Unit surrounded: 40% attack bonus".


@ falconne2

I intentionally made up the flanking system without actual "facing" rules.
They are better suited for realtime games like Shadow of the Horned Rat, where it visibly takes time for formations to turn. (damn, I have to see if that one still works)
In a turn based system "time" is a bit more flexible. You can see your units standing around, doing nothing most of the time. It's unintuitive that with all that "free time", they wouldn't even turn towards an oncoming attacker.

Only using position is easier to see and figure out and having to adjust the facing of all units in addition to where they are going is only an additional chore for the player.
The problem is that you have to adjust the facing of a unit after it travels to the destination and if facing is a commodity, it has to cost movement points. Then players would rightfully ask for a feature to reserve MP because they'd move to square X and be unable to turn the way they must turn to avoid getting mauled.
To be consistent this would also be necessary when attacking a unit. Sometimes you might be able to attack a unit, other times you would turn towards the unit and expend so many MP to just be unable to attack as well. Aggravating.
I don't think that this would add any fun to tactical battles.

In realtime that works a lot better. With a mouse flick system you could assign destination and facing of a unit with one elegant motion. They would go there and orient themselves. In turn based it adds too much micromanagement because you cannot borrow MP from the next turn.


Dividing "Defense" into an avoidance and mitigation part has it's uses but then things really get technical and the devs absolutely want to keep their game accessible to the "average gamer".
Sure, you can do lots of interesting thigs with that, like fast and lightly armored "cloth" units that have high avoidance but no mitigation to speak of. Or the opposite. The classic tank unit. Not good at avoiding hits... but not really worried about it, either.

In a more abstract way, the positional flanking I outlined has the same result as your situational damage. A flanked unit takes more damage and even more when attacked from behind or rather, when there is a unit in it's rear. The why doesn't matter as much as the outcome.

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September 17, 2010 3:16:05 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Nice ideas.

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September 17, 2010 11:41:26 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Yes I suppose abstracting the flanking is a simpler mechanic. It just felt to me rather more strategic than tactical, since it's rule based. I was also wondering if you'd be able to develop flanking units that never take any damage because they don't actually have to attack, but I suppose that will be solved once the balance is fixed and there aren't so many one hit kills any more, leaving more time for counter attacks.

As for separating chance to hit and attack/defence, I think that really needs to be in the game. It's been discussed in various other combat threads. It doesn't complicate matters because you don't have to do anything about it. Without it, experience doesn't count for much. It makes no sense that giving a peasant a mace makes him stronger than a veteran soldier with a sword. Also, unit design is pointless without it. There'd be no reason build anything but units with the heaviest armour and biggest weapon. Even with flanking, battles will still come down to has the heaviest troops, not who has the most experienced troops and uses the best tactics and formations.

If the skill stat is separated, I also think that flanking should lower the defender's defence skill, not increase the attackers strength. The reason that's important is that you should still be able to design heavily armoured "tanks" to protect your flanks - who get hit a lot - but their static defence should remain high. Same deal for units like dragons.

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September 17, 2010 11:50:23 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'd rather enforce this "zone of control" system via attacks of opportunity. A peasant with a club should not prevent a giant or a dragon from moving around.

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September 18, 2010 4:23:09 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I'm a supporter of adding ZoC's into the game as well, I think these are great ideas I'd love to see implemented sometime.

Quoting Werewindlefr,
I'd rather enforce this "zone of control" system via attacks of opportunity. A peasant with a club should not prevent a giant or a dragon from moving around.

See the cool thing about this system would be that you could have special abilities for these types of cases. For example, you could have an ability that allowed you to ignore zone of controls which would make sense for a Dragon like in your example. If they ever added talent trees for champions they could also add abilities for them to avoid ZoC's, reduce flank damage, increase it. In short, there are so much possiblities that would make tactical combat, well, really tactical!

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September 18, 2010 4:37:05 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Civfreak,

See the cool thing about this system would be that you could have special abilities for these types of cases. For example, you could have an ability that allowed you to ignore zone of controls which would make sense for a Dragon like in your example.

Although ignoring ZoC can be a special ability, it doesn't resolve the scenario described fully. A peasant shouldn't have ZoC over a giant, but a dragon should. It's all about relative strength. I do think the AoW;SM style that allows defenders free strikes if you move inside their ZoC is a good way to go.

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September 18, 2010 2:28:22 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I see what you mean, maybe this could be resolved by asigning sizes to troops. Dragons could be Size 5, and maybe a giant size 4? Bigger sizes could exert their ZoC on equal size or lower. I think that could possibly fix that issue, unless there is another scenario I'm forgetting/overlooking. I just came up with this idea looking at your reply and it made me think of another cool thing that could be done. There could be an ability that raises your unit's ZoC by 1 level, so you could possibly have a special giant that instead of the baseline Size 4 it could be increased to 5.

Regardless, I also like the free strikes from AoW and it is much better than what currently is implemented, I'm just tossing around ideas

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September 23, 2010 4:04:36 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

I don't think we need an extra size stat. It's not so much size that's the issue as much as whether the defending unit is strong enough to bother the moving unit or not. Generally bigger units are stronger anyway. A simple calculation based on relative strengths should do it.

Also, I think the same principle should be applied to the flanking rules. For the same reasons as above, a peasant should not be able to flank a dragon. Flanking should not just be an on or off bonus either. I reckon the flanking bonus should be calculated on a scale based on the difference in strength, so that 4 swordsmen flanking a dragon will not bring it's defence down as much as 12 swordsmen flanking it.

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October 13, 2010 4:59:16 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning towards a different implementation of the ZOC rules.  (updated the first post with an "alternative way")
A rule of You stop now because I say so is just dumb and doesn't offer any choice so it's the exact opposite of what I'm usually preaching. =P
However, I won't just edit it out because seeing both sides of the argument actually makes a better point.
(And I don't claim to be perfect or know all the right answers - only to be righter than everyone else. =P)

While I agree that it would be a more "perfect" system to consider the relative strength of a flanking unit,
it would also considerably raise the bar for the AI to use the whole feature efficiently.
That would take a lot of planning ahead to have the "strong" units arrive in the right places at the right times.

I would advocate against perfection but rather see "fun" rules used more efficiently.
Tactical battles are only part of the game and should not be bogged down with a Runequestesque level of detail.
Depth is not just the flanking rules but the combination of all game elements, which includes research and magic.
Over-complicating one of these parts does not automatically make a better game.

Some rules add choices by adding choices to simple actions like "move forward".
Other rules add choices by creating more required micromanagement for all units. (see facing rules with flanking)  Those need to be considered very carefully.


Also included "Size of the tac battlefields" because this is one of the reasons why ranged / magic combat is broken atm.
Small battlefields reduce choices because the player isn't given any realistic choices beyond moving 3 squares forward and battleing it out to the death.

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October 14, 2010 7:48:08 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Quoting Werewindlefr,
I'd rather enforce this "zone of control" system via attacks of opportunity. A peasant with a club should not prevent a giant or a dragon from moving around.
I agree more with this idea.

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