July 18, 2024

Design x Dragoons: The Golden BB, Or Critical Hits At A Large Scale

Each week, our #DesignXDragoons panel will offer their thoughts on a talk about game design, game development, or gameplay.
You’ll see what they have to say, and get a chance to chime in yourself, either in the comments below, or in our forums

This week’s question:
Many games include a special critical hits table to reflect the infamous “golden bb” phenomena. Other games eschew critical hits and use a non-specific damage model. What say you about critical hits? Also…can “critical hits” be used for large scale (operational) wargames, and if so, what might they be?

Byron Collins ~ Founder/Owner & Designer, Collins Epic Wargames

Critical hits are a great way to give any shot a chance and keep up hope among players who are down. I prefer a low percentage chance for these, but when they happen, it makes an immediate impact and can change the course of the game. I like them more for tactical games than for operational scale.


Jim Werbaneth ~ Game Designer / Publisher, Line of Departure

They can be necessary, and essential.  J.D. Webster’s philosophy in tactical air games is that it’s the critical hits that down aircraft, a lot more than cumulative damage.  Likewise, in naval games, critical hits are at once common and historical.  It is impossible to explain the explosion of HMS Hood without a critical hit, and thus it should be incorporated into game covering its clash with the Bismarck.  For that, Swordfish from the Ark Royal doomed the Bismarck by jamming its rudder.  No critical hits, no history in the game.

In larger-scale operational and strategic games, critical hits are not quite as necessary, but one can see them growing in importance.  In a modern game, a missile strike, or one from a hypersonic weapon, on a headquarters on political power center can be seen as a critical hit. Similarly, while Americans particularly will recoil from this, there is the possibility of incorporating assassination into a game, amounting to a critical hit on an individual.


Peter Bogdasarian ~ Game Designer

A “critical hit” in a large scale operational wargame could reflect operational surprise, the destruction of critical leadership elements, or large scale psychological collapse. In March 1968, a U.S. marine team called in helicopter and artillery strikes on a concentration of the enemy that essentially decapitated the leadership of the 2nd PAVN Division.


David Ensteness  ~ Designer/Owner, The Wargaming Company

I suppose these can be also related to event cards; flip a card and “oh noes freak blizzard, your army is snow blind and can take no action this turn!” Well, thought out, well tested, in limited use, and consistent with design scope – these can be really cool. Otherwise, they can also be just really hilarious. But most commonly, they are just frustrating to players and that is to be avoided. A single Japanese Zero can drop a bomb that manages to hit the main magazine of a huge US Battleship – but in real life, the US Navy already has a problem, this even doesn’t turn the battle. In a wargame, all too often, the “golden bb” completely spins the events to-date on their ear and in that situation they feel both over powered and over represented. So proportional critical hits, definitely absurd – sure in pursuit of funny and fun, but ya gotta be careful so the player doesn’t feel like the game came down to one die roll and the rest didn’t matter. What you want is the player feeling in retrospective that the game comes down to key decisions and in the moment feels like a given die roll is a turning point. But those are feelings you want to generate, not mechanics.


Anthony Gallela ~ Game Designer / Convention Founder

Both have their place. In general, I’m in favor of critical hits. They are quite realistic. I think anyone who has done any amount of real hand-to-hand knows the difference between a real-life hit and a real-life critical hit. This is true in large-scale games as well. Just a few stories from my grandfather the WWII artilery soldier can convince me of that.


Brian Train ~ Game Designer / Game Theorist

I don’t like the idea of “critical hits” as much as I do the term “cascading effects”. I like operational games, and have put these in games like my Third Lebanon War. For example, when the IDF player uses too much firepower resulting in an excess of damage to the enemy, there is collateral damage and they draw a Cascading Effects card. Most of the cards are detrimental to the IDF, but not all, and the larger effect of the mechanic is to show how applications of kinetic force may be locally useful and decisive, but more likely to make things difficult on the larger scale.


Devin Heinle ~ The OG / Game Designer, LNLP

Crits are fine in Tactical and some Strategic games….but in operational I,m not sure they have a place. The scale is just usually so massive in Operational games it would have to be a stellar ‘critical hit’ to have an effect at the Operational level.


Dr. Mike Benninghof, PhD ~ Founder/Owner & Designer, Avalanche Press

That really does depend. It’s a fine mechanic to use to simulate certain events, but that doesn’t make it universally applicable, or inapplicable. You should never find yourself trying to jam a historical event into a set of mechanics. It’s supposed to work the other way around.


COL Eric Walters, USMC (R) ~ DoD Wargaming Practitioner

For tactical air and naval games where “critical hits” appear to be—well—critical to explain how the unlikely can happen, I think such rules and tables are necessary (e.g., the HMS HOOD blows up and sinks in record time due to a particularly well place shot against her).  I confess I also like them in 20th Century tactical ground warfare games as well, particularly in Advanced Squad Leader.  Good critical hit systems account for the improbable but don’t make them unrealistically possible to the point that one can depend on them happening with a too high degree of reliability.

I personally would welcome introducing the idea of critical hits at the operational-level, particularly in showing unlikely buy debilitating effects on logistical and communications infrastructure in particular, and that would include—these days—space and cyberspace. But I think they could even go beyond this, perhaps creating disproportionate turbulence in the cognitive domain in unforeseen ways, which often are covered by various random event devices (cards, tables, hit versus saving rolls, etc.).

The effect should be an illusion of being able to plan an operational concept “well enough” but finding that various improbabilities combine to a degree that the plan is derailed in execution and improvisation must then occur, and occur fairly regularly.


Steve Overton ~ Game & Scenario Designer

Critical hits happen in real life. I try to make or play games that are as realistic as possible.


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Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

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