Thursday, January 17, 2019

Movement and Activation

The mechanics for movement and formation activation are the core rules underpinning the rules for All Hell Let Loose. In my last post I talked about the design objectives and outlined a quick summary of the movement rules. Today I’m going to delve into that in more detail.

The game is based on the movement and actions of a number of formations under the control of two or more players. Each formation represents a number of companies of troops, a battle group, battalion or regiment under a single command structure. Think majors and colonels trying to respond to orders from generals (the players).

Players have a tabletop view and (hopefully), a unified vision of how they want the battle to progress, they know how fast troops can move and they know when they want a formation to move. However troops on the ground have a limited view of the world, limited information, competing priorities and logistical complications.

I want to compare the rules for All Hell Let Loose to those of chess. In chess the location of every piece is known to both players. The order of movement, alternate with white going first, is clearly understood. The move distances and combat capabilities of every chess piece are known and do not vary. All Hell Let Loose does not mirror this approach. Breaking all of these conventions simulates the lack of knowledge, loss of control and sheer bloody mindedness of others that generals faced when fighting actual battles.

Battlefield Knowledge

A number of approaches are taken to reduce the information available to players on the location of troops on the battlefield.

Formations more than 12” away from any enemy forces can be represented by a counter. Individual units, effectively a platoon of infantry or vehicles, are not placed on the table. Whilst the location of the counter informs the opposing player that something is there the other player remains unsure as to whether it is infantry, mechanised, armoured, artillery as well as to whether it is weak or strong. We call it a strategic counter to reflect it is operating in a less restricted manner than deployed troops.

In addition, in most games, players can elect to place a number of dummy counters on the board, roughly 1 for every 3 or 4 real formations. These counters are intended to enable the player to keep their opponent guessing as to where the real strength of his army lies.

Movement and Action Order

Movement and actions are conducted at the formation level, with all the units belonging to a formation acting when the formation acts. This is controlled by players selecting a dice or token at random from a bag or cup. Two identical, but different coloured sets of dice or tokens are needed, one for each side. Each formation on the table, or in the case of artillery, supporting from off table generates one die. In order to do something with a formation a die from the bag must be allocated to it.

Selection of a die is random. This breaks the alternating approach of many games and removes a level of control from players. It promotes tension, particularly during crucial turns and keeps everybody focussed on action at the table.

Dice bag from and tokens by Lego

Allocation of the die to a formation or counter on the table is allocated by the controlling player. It can be allocated to any formation which has not yet acted in a turn. Once all the dice in the bag have been allocated to formations and the formation actions resolved the turn ends and dice are returned to the bag for the start of the next turn.

Movement and Actions

Players can automatically move strategic counters at a faster speed than deployed troops. However, once they move close to an enemy, or the enemy moves close to them, the formation must deploy. The higher speed and automatic movement of these counters is intended to speed units into combat to drive the game forward.

Deployed formations, however, must determine their movement and capacity to act based on a dice roll. There are three possible outcomes,

Limited Tactical Action - move at half speed or fire at half range
Normal Tactical Action - undertake an action such as move at normal speed, fire a full range, enter ambush, reform
Double Tactical Action - undertake two actions such a move twice, move and fire, fire and assault

The higher the quality of troops the more likely they are to be able to act as the player wishes. In addition the effectiveness of a formation’s officers can provide a bonus or penalty to this check. Well led troops are significantly more effective on the battlefield.

Elements of SS Wachbattalion 3 attack at Arnhem - it is arguably the worst unit on the western front

This approach to movement and capability adds more complexity to the decision making. A unit close to the enemy is always under threat from a possible double activation. No attack or action can be guaranteed. Better quality troops and better quality officers can hold off attacks from numerically superior forces.

Penalties are applied to the activation rolls as formations sustain losses but that will have to wait for another post.

Next time I’ll post a blog on some custom terrain I’ve made.

Charles the Modeller


  1. Sounds just like bolt action.

    1. I'm not completely familiar with Bolt Action but my understanding is that in BA the commander chooses an action and the unit completes it. Its a single action and where there are multiple figs etc they all do the same action.

      We don't follow that approach. A d6 is rolled to determine how effective the formation activation is. It can be bad - with a partial activation, normal or very good - double activation. Actions are determined at the unit level, not the formation level. So some may fire, others rally or move. We also incorporate morale in the activation mechanism.

      I don't know enough about BA but we use a strategic and tactical approach to formation movement, as well as the use of dummy counters.

      So, yes we draw dice to determine the order formations act in but its much more complex than that.


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