Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Heights and their effect on the battlefield

I’m working with some friends to produce a set of WWII war game rules and I've written about our approach to activation and actions before. We’ve now drafted some rules for hills, heights and depressions that we think reflect the impact that height and height differentials have in battle and we’re seeking feedback on the approach.
The game we have developed could work at any figure and unit scale but is primarily designed for use by smaller scale miniatures at 1 stand represents a platoon and using the battalion as a manoeuvre group. Ground scale is flexible but is in the 1” is 50 -100 yards range.
The rules we have drafted are as follows; 

High Ground

Height advantage in AHLL is based upon the difference in height between two the opposing units or formations. Each change in ground height is referred to as a tier. A battlefield is likely to have multiple hills or ridges, some of which may have multiple tiers. When applying the high ground advantages, it is the differential in unit height which is important, not the height of the hill.

1st Tier benefits

  • Units can see 6” further providing that light and weather conditions allow.
  • Direct fire does not suffer the long range to hit penalty (the penalty to hit infantry at long range still applies)
  • Units benefit from cover when direct fire is targeted at them, even if they are in open ground.

2nd Tier benefits

  • All the benefits of the 1st Tier
  • Units can draw a line of sight over Linear Terrain features, such as hedges and walls
  • Disguised/ Dummy formations are detected and removed if they move to within 24” of any unit or formation on the tier. Genuine formation counters still deploy at 12”
  • Any FO or HQ calling in supporting indirect fire or aircraft rolls twice and selects the highest result.

3rd Tier or higher benefits

  • All the benefits of the 1st and 2nd Tiers
  • Units can draw a line of sight over Tall Area Terrain, such as woods and villages, providing the target is at least 6” beyond the furthest edge of that area terrain
  • Indirect fire controlled by a FO or HQ unit gains a bonus to hit reflecting improved spotting and fire correction.


Areas of terrain below the general height of the battlefield such as depressions or perhaps riverbanks and beaches below bluffs, limit sight in and out of the depression. Depressions no matter how deep have only 1 level.

Units within the depression cannot see units above them unless these units are on the edge of the depression, and vice versa. Units on the edge of the depression benefit from the 1st tier height advantages.

Blocking Line of Sight

Higher ground has a number of impacts on drawing a line of sight to units on a hill.

  • Higher ground blocks line of sight.
  • Units on the rear slope of the highest tier of a hill may be declared as hidden by the controlling player. Units forward of these units may not draw a line of sight to them, nor call in fire targeted on them, and vice versa.

Firing at Units on Higher Ground

  • Units may fire at visible targets which are on higher terrain as long as their line of fire does not pass through another unit which is within 2” of that higher, target unit.

Heights Example

An American tank formation is on a low hill (tier 1) looking down a valley. Below the tanks a German mechanised formation is attacking a village held by American infantry. Beyond the village the ground rises sharply up a larger hill (tier 2). A formation of German tanks is deployed on this hill.

The American player measures the range and finds he is at medium range against the German infantry and long range against the tanks.

The American tanks have tier 1 advantage against the mechanised formation. In this case providing cover to the Americans against any direct fire from that formation.

Should he fire at the German tank formation, the Germans gain the benefits of tier 1, granting cover against the American tank fire which remains at long range.

The German tanks however have tier 2 advantages over the American infantry defending the village and tier 1 advantage against the American tanks. German tank fire at the American tanks would be treated as at medium range and the American tanks would not be regarded as in cover

Feedback please

What do you think?

Does this adequately reflect the impact of height?

Is it too complicated?

Have we missed anything?

Keep rolling those dice!

Charles the Modeller


  1. Hi Charles,

    An interesting set of ideas I hope you progress these rules through, however I feel your rules are unnecessarily complicated. Being elevated on the battlefield allows you to see over intervening terrain but also be seen. I wonder if you are making being on hills too effective with the shooting and defense bonus.

    1. Hi Dougie, thanks for the feedback. I think you are right we haven’t considered being seen.
      I am also concerned about complexity. My expectation though is that most games would have no more than 1 Tier.
      Some scenarios though would have genuine high points where hills were really important. I feel that many rules don’t give players the incentive to really fight for the high ground, I mean really fight. So I wanted to try and give players a reason to capture high ground and hold it.
      Does that make sense?

  2. Hi Charles,

    I would agree with you that hills and high ground are incredibly important, I only wonder if become too important with players utilising them as forts. I would imagine as you play test it through you'll find out either way. I will be very interested to see how that works.


    1. Our next game will be a Battle of the Bulge game roughly covering the Elsenborn Heights, designed to test artillery and height rules. I hope we’ll learn a lot. I promise I’ll post an update. Thanks for the comments!

  3. I'm following this thread with interest. Regarding depressions, the same effect might be observed for other levels of terrain, when adjacent to higher levels.

    Do you intend to consider the slope gradients and their effects on visibility and movement? There is also a sort of folding ground that can conceal troops even when close to the enemy, without necessarily being high enough to warrant another tier. I guess it depends on what you choose as the difference in height between tiers.

    1. Hi NPG, it is a tricky question!
      I think a lot depends on the scale of the game. We intend our rules to be fairly large scale - 1 stand for a platoon, 1 inch for 100 yards. Therefore we are abstracting a lot of things - line of sight and visibility to varying degrees. We have chosen not to have hidden movement or complicated spotting rules to simplify and speed up the game play. The ability to hit a target includes an assumption about whether it is visible or not. We also apply a general visibility range based on the general environment with steppes having a greater range than bocage!
      In one version of the rules we distinguished between shallow and steep slopes. I doubt this will make it into the final version but it might survive as optional rules for scenario specific play. Ridgelines that break LoS are still in but I don’t think we’ll apply that at lower tiers of hills only the highest tier.
      I can absolutely see that for some game play dead ground etc would be an appropriate consideration. I have climbed too many hills thinking that the ridge I can see is the top only to be very disappointed, so I know what you mean.
      I think the option might be to allow units near to a ridge line (variable by game system and ground scale) to benefit from cover against fire from units higher up a hill? Use a change in the hill tier to represent each ridge.
      However I think my original question was aimed very much at the strategic question. Why take the hill? What major advantage does holding it grant? Why expend so much effort and so may troops to hold that particular piece of ground. Why did/ do hills matter so much and how to reflect that in a set of rules.
      Thank you so much for commenting!


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