July 18, 2024

Wargaming Terms

Wargaming Terms

Originally compiled by Lorne Marshall, with input and collaboration from users in the wargaming forums at BoardGameGeek, and refined by the Armchair Dragoons.

AAR, or After-Action Report: An AAR is a summary of a game played in the past, ranging from a quick synopsis of who won and how to a turn-by-turn breakdown of the entire game. You may also see the terms debriefing or battle report to describe the same thing. 

AI, or Artificial Intelligence: Some wargames are designed for solitaire play, and the game mechanics that determine what the player’s opposition is doing are collectively called the AI. You will sometimes see multiplayer wargames providing AI options if, for example, there aren’t enough players to control all factions in the game.

AP, or Action Points: Some games allow players to select a limited number of actions per turn. These actions can include movement, shooting, rallying demoralized troops, or close quarters combat. Each such action has a cost in action points, which count against a player’s limit for the turn.

Area Control: a wargame in which the board or map is divided into areas, and having military control over an area will provide resources or benefits for the occupying player. In some games, it is possible for both sides to occupy the same area simultaneously.

Area Impulse: a type of game characterized by a turn being divided into phases, or impulses, and the number of impulses a player gets in each turn varies due to randomizing factors, such as situations calling for dice rolls or drawing random cards. This mechanic adds a level of prioritizing, uncertainty, and strategy to each turn. It also adds complexity and can make games longer.

Area Movement: a wargame in which the board or map is divided into areas, which may or may not be of uniform size or distance. Movement in such a game isn’t measured in units of distance, but instead in a number of areas that can be crossed.

ASL: an abbreviation for Advanced Squad Leader, a popular tactical hex-and-counter wargame.

Asymmetric Game: a game in which one side is significantly stronger than the other. You’ll usually see asymmetry in wargames depicting rebellions, raiding, blockade running, guerilla wars or other military endeavors where weaker forces take on stronger ones. To keep such games fair, the weaker side usually has objectives that are more easily achieved, and/or the stronger side sometimes must defeat the weaker side within a time or turn limit.

Average dice: six-sided dice that are not numbered from one through six in the conventional manner, instead being numbered with 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5. Everyone knows that a conventional six-sided die has an equal chance of rolling any number between one and six, with an average result of 3.5. Sometimes, a game designer wants more predictability in a rule set, and seeks to avoid the extremes of a result of one or six; to accomplish this goal, the dice are labeled with different numbers to help ensure a more ‘average’ result. The different numbering scheme makes it easier for players to estimate the effects of their die rolls before committing to movements or attacks.

Base: a flat piece of card, plastic, or other medium, upon which miniatures are attached. Many games will require miniatures to be placed on bases to govern how forces of opposing sides interact when in contact with each other. For example, if all infantry units have a base that is three inches wide and one inch deep, it isn’t possible for three infantry units to attack the front of one enemy infantry unit – they just won’t fit in the available space.

Block Game: a wargame in which units are represented with wooden or plastic blocks, with stickers or decals on one or both sides indicating the combat statistics of the unit represented. In some of these games, the stickers are only applied to one side, with the blank side facing the opponent. As a result, the opponent knows the field position of your units, but not their type or current strength.

Campaign: a group of individual wargame battles which are connected. They could be connected by history (like re-enacting the WWII invasion of Sicily), or by location (like several battles fought in the same geographic area). Often, the outcome of early battles affects later battles in the campaign; the loser of the first battle may begin the second with weaker forces or worse field position.

Card-Driven Game: a game in which a player’s actions during a turn is limited to whatever is permitted by the cards in her or his hand.

Chit: in wargaming, a chit is a small square of cardboard, just like a counter or marker; it is not surprising to sometimes hear the terms used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Chits tend to have a role in determining random outcomes, such as whether and/or which enemy units appear as reinforcements, how many units of which sides can activate during a given turn, or which units will be targeted by an attack. Often, the chits are placed in a small bowl or bag, from which chits are randomly drawn. The act of drawing chits in this manner is called a chit pull.

Chrome: wargaming slang for aspects of a game that provide atmosphere or understanding specific to the conflict encompassed by the game. For example, a game recreating the Battle of Gettysburg might have special rules to cover Pickett’s Charge or the 20th Maine Regiment’s defense of Little Round Top, making that game feel and play differently from other infantry combat games, or even other American Civil War games.

COIN Game: COIN is an abbreviation for counter-insurgency, or a war conducted by a government against a force trying to overthrow that government. The term COIN Game references one of a line of moderately complex wargames from GMT Games along this theme, which lean more heavily on diplomacy than battlefield tactics.

Column Shift: see Combat Results Table.

Combat Results Table (CRT): a table that indexes attack roll totals and the various combat outcomes associated with those rolls. Some CRTs simply indicate casualties and morale effects of an attack based on die rolls; others compare the relative strengths of attackers and defenders; still others have a wider range of possible results spread across several columns, and the player may have to perform a column shift. A column shift involves looking up the result on a different column than usual to account for special conditions like poor visibility, being in a fortified position, or bad weather.

Command Control: a term describing how much control a player has over his or her units in the game. In games with high command control, units always perform exactly as instructed and never retreat unless ordered by the player. Many wargames, however, have mechanics in place that reflect how orders aren’t always sent in a timely fashion, sometimes aren’t understood if they arrive, and might not even be obeyed, especially if the commander is ordering a unit with poor morale to carry out a suicide charge. 

Command Level: this is one way to describe the scope of a wargame. There are basically three levels:

  • Tactical Games, where one figure equals one soldier, involve battles fought between squads or, at most, a platoon or two. 
  • Operational Games, where a figure may represent 10 to 100 soldiers, involve battles representing companies or battalions fighting over a larger area. 
  • Strategic or Grand Strategic Games have figures representing corps-strength forces or entire armies, and battles are fought for entire continents or an entire planet.

Commands and Colors: a popular card-driven wargaming system, which has been adapted for several periods in military history. The games feature hexagonal boards that can be configured with terrain tiles to re-create historical battles. Games in the core C&C line use blocks to represent units, while derivative games may use plastic figures or counters for that purpose.

Corner Clipping: the practice of cutting the tips of the corners off the square, cardboard counters used in many wargames. Strangely, there seems to be some controversy in the wargaming community about whether corners should be clipped. Proponents suggest that clipped corners look better, fit better on map hexes, are easier to move with tweezers, and, when handled, are less likely to fray at the edges than square corners. Opponents generally don’t feel the time expended clipping corners is worth the suggested benefits, or that the suggested benefits are so subjective that there isn’t much of a point in discussing them.

Counters: these are typically small squares of card, which represent two broad groups of game elements. The first group is units, which can include individual soldiers, formations of troops, weapon systems, or vehicles. The second is conditions affecting those units, such as being fatigued, demoralized, wounded/understrength, out of ammunition, or suppressed/pinned down.

d* (where the * is a number): A person doesn’t have to be in the gaming hobby for very long before encountering dice that have more or fewer sides than the traditional six-sided cubes everyone knows. For the sake of clarity, many game companies have adopted the unofficial standard of using d* to denote a die with a specific number of sides, so d6 is a six-sided die, while a d10 is a 10-sided die. It is also possible to use this notation to indicate the roll of multiple dice at once; for example, rolling 2d6 means rolling two six-sided dice and totaling the result. Lastly, there are two special cases, d66 Table and d100, which have their own entries on this list.

D66 Table: sometimes, a wargame designer creates a game that uses six-sided dice, but wants to produce a table with more options than one toss of a handful of dice can generate. This higher number of options can be created by rolling two six-sided dice, then reading one as the ‘tens’ digit, and the other being read as the ‘ones’ digit, in a fashion similar to d100, below. Thus, the table will have entries for the numbers 11 to 16, then 21 to 26, continuing the pattern until the final entries between 61 to 66, generating a total of 36 options by rolling only two dice. 

D100: rolling dice to generate a random number between 1 and 100, also called rolling percentile dice. While some manufacturers actually produce a 100-sided die which can be tossed once to achieve the result, the roll is more commonly carried out by rolling two ten-sided dice, with one result being read as the ‘tens’ digit, and the other being read as the ‘ones’ digit. Thus, a roll of 0 and 4 is a result of 4, rolls of 3 and 1 yields a result of 31, and rolls of 0 and 0 are read as 100.

DBA: an abbreviation for De Bellis Antiquitatis, a popular miniature wargame focused on the Ancient and Medieval periods.

Die Roll Modifier (DRM): wargames often use dice to determine the outcome of an attack, but they also want the ability for circumstances to affect the outcome beyond just a random roll. This ability is reflected by adding or subtracting from the die score. For example, consider a game where the rules state that infantry need to roll a four or higher on a six-sided die in order to hit at a certain range. The game may choose to add a +1 bonus if the attacking units are sharpshooters, or apply a -1 penalty if the defenders are sheltered in a trench. Modifiers can be applied for a wide range of things, from field position to morale to low visibility. 

Dummy Counter: a form of counter that doesn’t actually represent any soldier or unit of soldiers at all. Instead, it exists to mislead opponents, who may alter their field position or strategy to react to the phony threat presented by the dummy counter.

Facing: in some games, the direction a unit is facing is very important. While many skirmish-level games allow for 360-degree movement and shooting, in a game involving a unit of 100 ancient spearmen, turning everyone around to face an enemy approaching from behind involves a great deal of precise, coordinated movement; attacking those spearmen from behind before they can face in the correct direction is often a winning strategy.

Fog of War: in historical warfare, commanders didn’t have omniscient knowledge of the enemy deployed before them. Some wargames, however, grant this knowledge to players; after all, you can see all your enemy’s units across from you on the table and know what they are doing. Some rule systems employ mechanisms to add some uncertainty to that picture, via dummy tokens, the use of wooden or plastic blocks to represent units [with the blank side of the block facing the opponent], or written orders conveyed through a judge or umpire. All such mechanics that contribute to uncertainty about what is in front of a player collectively make what many players call fog of war.

Ground Scale: the ratio between an actual measurement on the table and the distance that measurement represents for units in the game. For example, in the 28 mm or 1:72 scale, one inch of tabletop represents six feet of game distance. On board wargames with maps, scale is often represented by the width of a single hex or square representing a given distance.

Hex-and-Counter: an unofficial classification of wargame involving a map or battlefield setting overlaid with a grid of hexes, with counters representing various units and troop states.

Hexes: many wargames use grids to help gauge distance or define boundaries for topographical features like hills, forests, or rivers. Instead of using square grid sections (like graph paper), wargames often use grids made of interlocking hexagons, (like honeycomb). Hexagons are generally better than grid squares for measuring distance. The distance along the sides of a square is shorter than the distance across the square diagonally, while the distance between the center points of any two adjacent hexagons is always the same.

Initiative: sometimes, during a turn-based game, players don’t always alternate turns in the same order. In some games, a game turn constitutes both players acting, but the order in which they act during that turn is determined by dicing for initiative. The better roll goes first in that turn, but the other player may roll better on the following turn. This mechanic helps to simulate the ebb and flow of battle.

Interpenetration: a fancy word for the extent to which one unit of troops can move through space occupied by another. Usually, it is not possible for units to move through enemy troops without fighting, but some games allow friendly units to pass through each other without disrupting their formations.

Line of Sight: a game mechanic that verifies whether units can see each other. Generally, units need to see an enemy in order to shoot at that enemy.

Marker: an object placed on the game map or board which indicates the location of something important to one or both sides in the game. Markers can be placed to pinpoint physical locations which, when occupied, grant victory points to the occupying force. They can also represent prisoners in need of rescue, supplies that could be captured, or anything else that isn’t a combat unit for either side which is important to the game.

Melee: a fancy term for hand-to-hand combat.

Memoir ’44: a popular, relatively simple, card-driven wargame that re-enacts battles from World War II.

Missiles: In wargaming, a missile is an attack launched or fired from range. Depending on the historical period in which the game is set, missiles could be arrows or sling stones, ranging to futuristic ion cannons.

Miniatures: these are the figures that represent troops in what are appropriately called miniature wargames (contrasted with board wargames and hex-and-counter wargames). Depending on a game’s command level, one miniature soldier could represent one, 10, 100, or 500 troops. Dozens of game companies produce miniatures in metal or plastic, in a variety of scales, materials, levels of detail and price ranges.

Movement: while everybody knows what movement is, there are distinct wargaming connotations for the term, notably how far and in what ways units and individual miniatures move on the tabletop. Most rule systems factor the type of troop and the terrain being crossed in movement rates. Some of the more complicated systems factor in special rules for turning, deploying from one formation into another, and moving while being fired upon by enemies. See also area movement and point-to-point movement.

Morale: a concept representing an abstract assessment of a unit’s fighting spirit. Many aspects of a soldier’s life contribute to morale: factors such as level of training, quality of equipment, physical comfort, weather, difficulty of the mission, spiritual well-being, frequency/quality of food, resupply, and medical care all play a role. On the wargames table, units with high morale are less likely to lose cohesion and/or retreat in a disorderly fashion.

Objective: this term describes what a given force is trying to accomplish in a given wargame, which may or may not include destroying the enemy. Objectives might include occupying a given area of the battlefield, to block an enemy’s escape, or to survive an enemy attack. Often, objectives form the basis for victory conditions.

OCS: an abbreviation for Operational Combat System, a popular operational-level rule set focusing on 20th Century battles.

Order of Battle: a list of all units, usually organized by type and quantity, fighting on one side of a battle. You’ll most often see such a list in higher-complexity historical wargames. You might also hear the term army list to represent the same thing. 

Percentile Dice: see d100.

Point-to-Point Movement: in some wargames, the map depicts a number of points often representing cities, military facilities, or key terrain, connected by lines. Players’ units can only occupy these points on a map, and the travel between points is only possible by moving along the lines.

Realism: while no game can recreate the stress of actual warfare, most wargames – especially those based on real-world conflicts – make a genuine effort to be accurate about how troops were organized, trained, equipped, deployed, and resupplied. They also try to prevent things that couldn’t happen during a real battle from happening in the rules. For example, in many video games, armored vehicles have a “health bar” indicating how much damage those vehicles can take; any opposing weapon, even rifle fire, reduces available health. Thus, if enough riflemen shoot at a tank in such a game, rifle bullets can destroy a tank, which could never realistically happen. Wargamers see this sort of thing as sloppy rule design.

Simulation (or, to be fancy, CONSIM, a military acronym for CONflict SIMulation): this term pertains to a wargame that re-creates a specific war, sometimes even a specific engagement. Often, significant research is dedicated to presenting the actual units involved, in their actual locations, with their actual offensive and defensive capabilities relative to each other, and the game is played to see if history will repeat itself.

SOP: an abbreviation for sequence of play. In some wargames, a lot can happen in a turn, and turns are often divided into several steps or phases. For example, your turn might include checking to see if you get any reinforcements this turn, ordering your troops and leaders to move, checking to see if the enemy can fire on them while moving, assigning any casualties to your troops, checking their morale, ordering your troops to fire back, allowing your opponent to assign those casualties to enemy units, and checking to see if your troops can still be supplied in their new position. Following the SOP on every turn will help ensure that you, as a player, don’t forget anything important.

Stacking: in hex-and-counter games, it is often possible to have more than one counter from the same army in a single hex. Customarily, these counters are placed in a small stack in that hex. Such games will often have limits on how many units and/or what types of units can be stacked, and, in some games, the order in which they are stacked is important.

Stands or Movement Trays: some miniature wargames involve groups of miniatures attached onto a single base, or stand; other games place individually-based miniatures together on a movement tray. Usually, stands help to ensure uniform distances for frontage and flanking. Movement trays keep miniatures in the same unit together, and often figures are removed from the trays as a unit takes casualties.

Step: in hex-and-counter wargames, military units are represented with cardboard counters. Sometimes, these units are weak enough to be destroyed by a single defeat in combat; for these units, combat statistics are printed on only one side of the counter, and the counter is removed when the unit is defeated. Stronger units can survive multiple failed engagements with the enemy without completely losing cohesion, and must be defeated and removed in steps. These strong units have combat statistics printed on both sides of the counter, with full strength statistics depicted on one side and reduced strength (representing battle losses) on the other. Thus, when a strong unit is damaged, the counter is flipped to its reduced strength side instead of being removed, and it must be battled again at its reduced strength in order to fully defeat it. When a counter must be flipped in this way, many rule sets call the loss ‘losing a step.’ Inversely, if a damaged unit is reinforced, the rules may call for the counter to be flipped back to full strength, which is often called ‘gaining a step.’ The term step can also apply to block wargames, when the combat statistics for a unit are printed on the edges of the blocks that represent units; as units are damaged, their controlling player rotates the blocks so that the current combat strength of each unit appears on the top edge of the block.

Strategy: strategy is a conceptual approach employed to defeat an enemy. Sample strategies include denying the enemy the ability to move, seizing high ground, capitalizing on an enemy weakness, or to entice the enemy to attack on ground of your choosing. Note that the strategy is only a concept – its implementation is what wargamers call tactics.

Supply: if your wargame is representing a battle that may take more than a day or so, the game may have specific rules for resupply of troops – providing the ‘beans, bullets, and bandages’ from the old adage. Sometimes, supply can be as simple as making sure that each of your units is connected with your other units so an imaginary supply line could reach everyone; other games have much more complex rules for distributing supplies.

Tactics: tactics are the specific methods used to implement a strategy. For example, if the strategy is to limit the impact of enemy tanks, tactics may include hiding troops behind cover so the tanks can’t shoot at them, luring the tanks into a canyon or defile where their mobility or line of sight is limited, or deploying anti-tank guns in your army.

Terrain: unless you are re-enacting ancient warfare, when most battles were fought on broad, open plains, your battlefield will probably include hills, mountains, forests, rivers, deserts, plateaus, ridges, swamps, or roads. Wargames with boards or maps usually have terrain depicted on them, while players of miniature wargames will purchase or make their own terrain pieces to represent these topographical features to scale on the tabletop.

Terrain Effects Chart: sometimes, a wargame will have so many different types of terrain and game affects connected with them that it makes sense to produce a chart for easy reference. Usually, a terrain effects chart will detail:

  • Restrictions or bonuses for movement, including whether a terrain type is even passable;
  • Its effect on attack, such as providing a range or line-of-sight bonus for high ground; and
  • Its effect on defense, like units being able to fortify a position in a town. 

Turn-Based: The sort of game where one side conducts its turn, then the other. Sometimes, you’ll see the shorthand ‘Igo-Ugo’ (as in, I go, then you go) to reference this type of game.

Units: an abstract representation of troops, often using miniatures or counters. The exact number of troops represented in a unit varies with the game’s command level; a unit can represent a single soldier, or an entire corps, depending on the scope of the game. The term can also be applied to any counter in a game, so a player might have fighting units, supply units, and even condition units that denote casualties, being pinned down, being dug in, and similar circumstances.

Umpire: not a baseball official, but a wargame umpire. Some games are sufficiently complex (or opponents so competitive) that a neutral third party must be present to ensure that the game is played fairly by both sides. Typically, you’ll only see umpires at wargame conventions or in large wargaming clubs.

Victory Conditions: tasks that must be completed in order to win, which doesn’t always involve destroying all of your opponent’s forces. Sometimes, the point of a wargame is to be the last man standing. In actual warfare and better wargames, however, victory doesn’t always go to the side inflicting the most casualties. Sometimes, temporarily denying the enemy use of a critical bridge, preventing an opponent from retreating, or raiding a supply column can alter the course of a war. Applying victory conditions to a game helps to re-create situations like that on the wargame table.

WIF: an abbreviation for World in Flames, a highly-complex hex-and-counter World War II game played on a global scale.

Zone of Control (ZOC): in many wargames, the hexes immediately adjacent to enemy units that are conceptually influenced or defended by those units, generally stopping or impeding enemy movement, retreat, and supply.

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