Design Theory: To Pre-measure, Or Not Pre-measure…

…that is the question Shakespeare wrote so eloquently about.

Well I’ve been talking to people, soliciting opinions (thanks Richard) and mostly mulling this one over since it blossomed into a big discussion in one of the comment threads. Because I love you all I have selflessly burned whole tens of brain cells to bring you this considered opinion on the matter. Of course, there’s no telling whether this is any more valid than my unconsidered opinion, but I like to feel that those brain cells did not die in vain.

So, what’s it all about?

Pre-measuring, in case it isn’t clear, is the tabletop game concept that you can measure the distance for something like a charge or a shot before you declare you will do it. As you can see beforehand if a task is possible, the unit should never be in a position where it is asked to do the impossible.

Not allowing pre-measuring means that you must declare that you will, say, shoot at a target which may turn out to be beyond your weapon’s range when you measure the distance, thus wasting that unit’s turn. The general rule is that once you have declared a unit will do something then they must attempt it, and if it is beyond their reach then they will fail.

Pre-measuring seems to be a rather polarising idea, with people arguing passionately for both sides. I find myself getting quite heated about the whole thing too, so I wanted to understand why and look at it a bit more calmly to see if I’d missed anything. Having run demos and intros of thousands of games over the years, and enjoyed games that both do and don’t allow pre-measuring, I thought back to these different experiences to test this particular feature. My views are included below.

However, as I write this blog to hear other people’s arguments too, I also re-read all the pertinent comments (mainly on the Kings of War Review part 2) and tried to distil the arguments both for and against. Here they are:


Allowing Pre-measuring


  • Faster and easier to play – claimed by both camps.
  • Hassle free and allows you to concentrate on moving your army – no worries about guessing wrong.
  • Reflects on training of troops – real units know how far they can shoot.¹


  • Gives an advantage to faster units and those with longer ranged weaponry.²
  • Little or no Fog of War – because you can always check.
  • Reduces the drama, excitement and tells a less interesting story – because there are fewer surprises.
  • No ad hoc tactical challenges – because you can always check.


Not allowing Pre-measuring


  • Faster and easier to play – claimed by both camps.
  • Gives the underdog a chance – even masters occasionally guess wrong.
  • More “realistic”³ – because nothing is certain in war.
  • Adds drama and story – because the unexpected occurs.


  • It’s stressful and frustrating – because you can be wrong.


Some Observations and Possible Conclusions

Both sides claim that their method is faster and easier. Logically both cannot be right. My view is that both can be fast and both can be easy if you have the right players. On the other hand, if you have players that are prone to over-analysis then you have the same problem in either case. If you do not allow pre-measuring then they may spend ages looking at a gap, trying to decide whether their proposed move is in or out of range. If you allow the pre-measuring then a simple move is easily sorted, but anything more complex becomes a problem of intricate geometry and multiple measuring to cross-correlate the many permutations in position between several moving friendly and enemy units. In short, I don’t think there is much to choose between the principles on these grounds.

Both methods require the player to learn a skill: one is guessing ranges, the other is geometry. Like any other skills, you can be good or bad at them, and you will improve through practice and training. My experience is that it’s very easy to show someone that they can measure a range beforehand. It’s also simple to teach a game where ranges have to be guessed. In terms of learning a game I don’t think there is any real difficulty either way. I think the difference lies in the fact that guessing ranges introduces an element of risk and therefore potential failure, and that people naturally don’t want to fail (especially not in front of their cool new gaming buddies). However, this risk and reward element, this gambling on your guess, is also an exciting and story-telling element which is entirely absent when the ranges can be guessed. It’s also far more realistic³ than pre-measuring.

Both skills have very different learning curves to go from introduction to master. If pre-measuring is allowed, then when you start it is very easy and unthreatening because you only measure one thing at a time. There is no challenge, no stress, no risk/reward and no story to this. It is cold, clinical and very simple to do. Many people like this. However, as you start to add considerations of more than one unit the complexities grow very quickly indeed and the learning curve steepens drastically. To play these games at the highest level takes a great deal of skill and dedication and is not achieved by many. It is a complex data analysis/geometry task.

Guessing ranges starts with a steeper learning curve as you always have to take the risk and make a guess from the simplest movement. You can be wrong, and this can be stressful. However, it doesn’t get a lot harder and a basic competence is easily achieved by most people with a little practice. In running demo games with people I’ve found that once they overcome the initial reluctance to be wrong and appear foolish the vast majority are right more often than they are wrong by the end of their first game. Once over the initial hump, the curve is much shallower than when you can guarantee the ranges. Analyzing the interrelationships of many units becomes increasingly hard as uncertainty is compounded upon uncertainty. The meta game is not played with geometry and data analysis as it is with pre-measuring, but with intuition and feel for the game which comes with practice and experience.

I think that it’s harder to be really good at games that allow pre-measuring than those that don’t, and that the gap between the average player and the really good player is bigger. This has a number of different impacts. Firstly, if your group hasn’t got any real masters at this bit of the game, then pre-measuring is probably the simpler and less threatening way to play. Personally I think it is also colder, more clinical and far less interesting as having to guess (and manage what happens when you are wrong) because this uncertainty introduces drama and story elements which simply don’t come up otherwise. I like my games to be dramatic and tell a good story. If that’s not an issue for you, then pre-measuring is the way to go.

In some ways it’s all about information. In perfect information games like chess, everything is known all the time. Allowing pre-measuring on a tabletop game in essence attempts to replicate the certainties of a gridded board. Unfortunately, to do this completely the player needs to be highly skilled at geometry, and very few people are.

Pre-measuring allows you a degree of control and certainty that generals wish they had, but never do. Requiring players to guess ranges places them in a simple ersatz version of the position of a real general with a steady stream of risks to weigh and decide on. This, in turn, is a far better model of the randomness, uncertainty and sudden unexpected events that history tells us turns up in battles across time and cultures, and which seems only reasonable to apply to any fantasy environment also.

As you will have been able to tell, despite my attempts at even-handedness I am firmly in the camp of not allowing pre-measurement in tabletop games. If I want to play a perfect information game then I’ll get a board game¹¹ with a clearly marked board. One of the charms of tabletop games is this difference in information levels, and denying it simply loses one of the strengths of the medium and replaces it with a system of perfect information which is very hard to use well (pre-measuring).

If you want to use pre-measuring or not is down to you and your gaming buddies as it’s easy to house rule either way. For my money, I want a game which is credible, tells a good story and is full of drama and excitement. For me, being able to pre-measure stands in the way of all of these, and so I avoid it when I play and rarely put it in my own designs.


¹ Do they? Unless they have laser rangefinders they are doing exactly what a player might be: guessing the range. Perhaps on the firing range or at the butts, but on the battlefield? Even when well trained, a rifleman is only guessing that the target he can see (and which appears to be the same size as the paper target for 200m) is, in fact, the same size. A smaller target will be closer when it appears the 200m size and a larger target further away. Accounts of people firing short and shooting too early are commonplace in ACW or Napoleonic battles where fire control of panicky troopers was a frequently discussed topic and the cause of several revisions of doctrine. The War of the Roses battle of Towton (I think it was) was largely decided by the windiness of the conditions making one side shoot further then the other – something that was apparently not clear to those shooting at the time who wasted their arrows loosing into the wind and falling short. Highly trained bowmen making huge errors. Under battlefield conditions, with all the uncertainty and danger that includes, people do not behave the same way they do on the calm of a range, and in their panic they routinely make bad decisions. This is quite apart from the massive difference that wind and weather can have on shots.

² The argument that this could be counterbalanced by reworking the points values does not work because of the gulf between average players and really good players of pre-measured games. If the points are set for the average player then the really good players get another massive bonus; if they are set for the really good players then fast units become prohibitively expensive for average players. You could have a sliding scale depending on the abilities of the player, but how would you quantify that fairly?

³ By “realistic” I do not mean that goblins et al are real creatures. What I really mean is that it is reasonable to assume that imaginary battles between fantastical creatures would contain comparable experiences of confusion, uncertainty and risk to real historical conflicts. Regardless of the race of the general or his opponents, he is still dealing with the uncertainties of shooting effects and melee (modelled with dice as well as movement – should dice be the only source of uncertainty?). He is also dealing with unknowns such as the time it takes for a unit to move between two points. Whilst this may be predictable on the parade ground, it is simply impossible to be sure on the battlefield. Historical accounts are replete with accounts of units arriving early or (more often) late, and the outcome of battles often turns on this. In a pre-measured world this never happens. To suggest that this information is irrelevant to recreating battles on the tabletop just because the races are non-human seems both foolish and irrational. And illogical (captain).

¹¹ I am aware that not all board games are perfect information systems. They are, however, generally (but not always) perfect or near-perfect in terms of movement, which is the equivalent of measuring in tabletops.

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61 Responses to Design Theory: To Pre-measure, Or Not Pre-measure…

  1. Ben says:

    Having been involved in said discussion on the KoW thread I’m not surprised at the conclusions drawn and I see no need to retread my opinions. Suffice to say that having played WFB on and off since 2nd ed and for the first time seen the effect of pre-measuring on the game with the release of 8th ed last year, none of the issues identified with pre-measuring (favouring faster troops, less “realistic” and less drama/story) have been experienced by ourselves.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      That’s grand, and as I said if it’s not an issue then I can see how pre-measuring would be easier, especially to teach new gamers. This post is mainly trying to capture the discussion from the KOW review and put it somewhere it can have its own space as I thought it was a topic that deserved it. It also makes it easier to find later if anyone has a new thought to add to the debate.

      To be fair, the more random additions you add to a pre-measuring system (eg, dicing for distance on charges), the more it behaves as one where measuring is not allowed simply because the information is less perfect. KOW has far more of the cons listed than WH8 as it is a purer version of pre-measuring.

      • Ben says:

        The last point is probably something I didn’t emphasise enough in the discussion on the KoW thread. The variable charge distance in WFB 8th adds a random element to the game but is something I consider a separate issue from pre-measuring. If I have a unit which charges 5+2D6 then I can pre-measure and make an informed decision about whether to charge, weighing up the risks based on the situation. I could pontentially fail a charge of anything over 7″ but the further the distance the more likely I am to fail. As with much in WFB my fate is in the hands of the dice and I can do nothing more than make an informed decision. This is different from finding your M4 unit is 8.5″ away from their target.

  2. And… unsurprisingly I agree with you Jake. If you allow pre-measuring I think to an extent all things that require measuring should have a random element to them from charging to ranged combat. In this way the system leaves you no certainties and shifts you to controlling the random element rather than guessing distances. Both are skills, and both are very different. But without the management of some uncertainty I think games can become a sterile game of geometry.

    • Sami Mahmoud says:

      ” If you allow pre-measuring I think to an extent all things that require measuring should have a random element to them from charging to ranged combat. In this way the system leaves you no certainties and shifts you to controlling the random element rather than guessing distances. Both are skills, and both are very different. But without the management of some uncertainty I think games can become a sterile game of geometry.”


      Having said that, I’m firmly in favour of pre-measuring. Distance guessing should be confined to serious business simulations, not games.

      But yes, KoW is particularly sterile in the movement phase, which is why I’ve imported the WFB one into my “Kings of Warhammer” house rules.

  3. Simon says:

    One additional point I´d like to add is that modular terrain, simply by being divided into sections allows some degree of pre-measuring by default and I´ve seen people start arguing about this. Now I like my rivers set into the field, but in a system in which pre-measuring isn´t allowed you either have these “helper lines” or you have a preset field of battle, in which case you give a tremendous advantage to a player that has fought a few games on that table. The same holds for some commercially available terrain pieces you see a lot – you know their dimensions.
    A better option to represent the uncetaincy of reaching particular points IMHO is making movement dependent on dice rolls to some degree. WFB 8th has charge ranges determined by dice rolls, 40k has difficult terrain tests, etc. In the same way one can consider the uncertaincy of having the right range for shooting built into the firing procedure – to hit characteristics represent in part the ability of the shooting models to estimate their effective range well. This adds the same uncertaincy and then some (after all not only could the cavalery misjudge the distance to their opponents, but they could also misjudge the conditions on the ground – more rabit holes than though slowing them down, etc.).
    This also gives the designer more control over the uncertaincy the players must cope with – D6″ is D6″, whereas the probability of misjudging the distance by a player may depend on whether that ruin is one bought from GW or built from balsa wood.
    And off I go revising my draft…

    • Quirkworthy says:

      You have a good point about features of the board giving the player a virtual measuring stick to help his guesses. However, you miss some important ones out. The table itself is a give size, and people deploy a defined amount apart. You can, of course, set up an inch or two back from your allowed limit to fox your opponent. Regardless of these, and regardless of whether you have known sizes for board modules or terrain, you will always have the units themselves. These are based on fixed size bases, with known frontages, and there is always one conveniently near where you want to calculate because it’s either the moving/shooting unit or its target. So on the tabletop you will always have a guide to size and distance in the troops themselves. This is something that a real commander would have as well, gauging the distance by the relative sizes and positions of the regiments involved.

      In short, I don’t think that the presence of modular boards and known size scenery elements is a real issue. It helps to estimate ranges, sure, but so do the units themselves if they have a known footprint (which they often do). Also, both sides have an equal access to this information so it doesn’t favour either player.

      Remember also that the whole concept of chopping our imagined reality into turns is an artificial one. Whilst real troops can still be out of range for shooting, a real unit would not stop 5 yards short of a target because their turn was over. In both systems this kind of thing looks a bit silly (which is why it doesn’t happen in God of Battles).

      Random movement distances in terrain is a nice idea and does a fair job of replicating the unpredictability of difficult ground. But that is only one thing that impacts movement rate, and most are routinely ignored. Enthusiasm of troops and commanders, desperation to flee or aggression to advance, proximity of enemy troops (real or imagined) and so on all play a part. So what do we model and what do we ignore?

  4. DrBargle says:

    I’m all for pre-measuring. If you play a game with sufficient modifiers for long range, you can still have the realism of a wasted volley, and with some randomness to charge distances you can still have the realism of failed charges. If the chances of failure are both based more on the capabilities of the troops in question – BS and M, say – than the dice (though the dice provide the randomness) then the ‘player skill’ is about the successful deployment and use of [imaginary] troops, not an intuitive grasp of distance (which. of course, is not the intuitive grasp of distance that a ‘real’ fantasy general would use – distances in the hundreds of yards – but in inches, judged against miniature figures and scenery that varies in scale.

    I would say that the randomness in WFB8 is too great, having failed with a crucial charge using Spider Riders (that would have rolled up the enemy’s war machines) from a matter of inches – but then these unlikely events can always be translated into colourful narrative. I can see that it would annoy a ‘competitive’ or ‘tournament’ player.

  5. Hum_Con says:

    Personally, I’m not very keen on the idea that any particular game mechanic is ‘generally better’ than another, so I find myself almost agressively neutral, if that makes any sense.

    In defence of pre-measuring, as the thrust of this post is anti, I would say that to some extent that the lack of control and certainty in a game that allows is represented in other ways. Just about every game requires a random roll to see if you hit your target and even the most skilled missile troops can roll a clutch of 1’s. The hit rolls is that they are entirely out of the general’s hands. It’s a mechanic that works well for Warhammer 8th’s random charge distances. I like it because it represents not just a lack of knowledge of battle field conditions but also a lack of consistency in the behaviour of troops. Who actually runs at a consistent speed all the time?

    Take your battle of Towton example. In a game that allows no pre-measuring you could represent this by giving one side a range boost and one a range reduction. But in a game that does allow it, it could be done by giving one side a +1 to hit at long range and the other a -1 to hit. Similar effect, but different mechanics.

    So I am in agreement with you that pre-measuring games should introduce more random elements to compensate for perfect information about distance. But, I would argue that this can make for just as realistic a game if the rules are well written and we recognise what the different elements are trying to model.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      “Aggressively neutral” has done Switzerland no ill for centuries, so stick with it!

      Just to clarify my position on this, there is no such thing as a bad mechanic as such, just one that’s in the wrong place or poorly employed. However, there are mechanics that are inherently less good than others, and in addition to the above reasons there are the common problems of being overlong and unwieldy. It isn’t that no game with this in can be worth playing, nor that it can’t be used as part of an engaging system. generally the issue is what kind of game are you aiming for (hyper-detailed, fast and furious, silly, serious, etc).

      It does seem to me though that the randomness you have to layer on top of charges, ranges and so on to hide the pre-measuring is covering up an inherent lack in this rule, and that there are simpler ways round it with smaller rules footprints. As you say, you can model any given event in a number of ways.

      • I am in agreement with you Jake with one concern. If a unit is charging I would expect the charge to complete if it was off by a fraction. If troops are charging in reasonable range you would expect them to get there.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Ah, there’s the rub.

          At some point you have to draw a line. How far is reasonable range? How close is “off by a fraction”? Half an inch? An inch? Two? Can I keep going indefinitely? And why draw the line there? If “off by a fraction” means up to half an inch extra (but no more), then all you’ve done is say that there is a firm line of their move + half an inch and you’ll get the same whining about being three quarters of an inch off when you say that’s too far.

          Unless you completely freeform the whole thing you have to have a limit to how far you can move, shoot, and so on. Regardless of whether you have fixed distances or random ones or a combination of the two, there must be a limit somewhere.

          In practice, when I’ve seen people being allowed to get away with being out “by a fraction” then that fraction will just keep getting bigger each time. And everyone’s idea of reasonable is different too. That’s why I think it’s easier to just have a firm cut-off: you’re in or you’re out.

  6. pancake says:

    I can’t guess measure to save my life, but that does’nt stop me playing the games that use this system for shooting and charging. Allso i like games where you pre measure. It makes a big difference in the type of game its applied to. Why people get so up them selfs over pre and non pre measure is a mystery. Its a game at the end of the day. If your not having fun with pre / non pre measure then play the other
    no one is going to stop you. Who’s to say one is better than the other, it boils down to what you like. And me well i dont mind i’m happy with both.

    no one is going to stop you.
    The problem is to many people take winning to far
    no one is going to stop you.

    • pancake says:

      Well sory the post above went all mental on me. I blame my phone. LOL.

      • We’ll believe you!!! 😛

        I talk about internal consistency in games an awful lot. On the whole I don’t think there is anything wrong innately with any mechanism in any game. It’s how those mechanisms interact with each other. Pre-measuring and absolute certainty about all actions that require distance as a factor, will almost certainly lead to a game of geometry. This is my biggest bug bear in KoW. The issue say for WFB is that not all movement has random elements and ranged combat has complete certainty. It’s a guaranteed return if you will, whereas charges aren’t. It fails to be internally consistent, and as such will lead to certain strategies being more ‘valid’ than others. 8th was a horrid hodge podge of a change. Meanwhile we have KoW which, is actually internally consistent, but what it leads to is a sterile game for me. The timer isn’t enough either to add pressure onto the person doing the moving in my experience, just take as many tape measures as you can and leave them locked at various distances… is that really gamey of me 😉 . I guess what I’m trying to say is that the effect of pre-measuring on both games is for me calamitous, but for very different reasons.

        • Hum_Con says:

          I would argue that in Warhammer 8th, there already is a random element in shooting, which is the hit roll -> wound roll -> saving throw. There isn’t really a need to add anything else. The change does make shooting more effective in 8th edition, but I’m not sure it isn’t warranted, especially given that large infantry units have also gotten much more powerful in close combat.

        • @Hum_Con, perhaps I didn’t explain myself very well. The issue isn’t one of having more or less random elements in the game per se. The actions to hit, to wound and to save are the exact same actions you will find take place in close combat. The only difference being that the ‘threat range’ of a charge is now random, whereby the threat range of many ranged attacks are known quantities. Whether you think so or not, that does allow a certain degree of optimisation of that tactic on the board that isn’t open to a close combat orientated army when pre-measuring is introduced. Essentially playing geometry within the mechanics of the game to keep you at arms length. Why? Because normal movement isn’t random and the range of my weapons is fixed. Ditto some magic spells.

        • Ben says:

          Is this what you are doing in games of WFB 8th ed or are you theorising?

        • GloatingSwine says:

          Randomising the charge range seems to just be a way to reintroduce the risk factor that a game without pre-measuring has on charges. You’ll still know the odds of getting what you need to make a given charge you’ve pre-measured, so any given charge is a case of deciding whether it’s worth the risk of going for this particular charge given the odds of getting there successfully.

        • @Ben, yep that’s exactly what I’ve done in a number of games. It’s allowed me to position and move my forces to place the risk of the failed charge on my opponent. Plus if my army is heavily defensive gun line I can shift the risk of the failed charge totally to their side of the table. Did it with Dwarfs and even a highly mobile Wood Elf army against Chaos Warriors where I bashed his Chaos Knights off of the board with fire and used fast cavalry to keep out of range of everything else. I severely wound that guy up and he loved the idea of pre-measuring prior to that game. Soon changed his tune though. lol.

          @GloatingSwine that was the exact point I made.

  7. Poosh says:

    I find myself agreeing with a lot of what everyone says here even though that’s a bit contradictory.

    It’s true that soldiers with guns KNOW their ranges, they KNOW if they’ll be able to reasonably hit their targets or not. They KNOW roughly if they have enough stamina to reach the enemy and engage them. Not allowing pre-measuring is unrealistic, in this sense. However, the player represents the General/Commander and history is filled with idiot generals who did not listen to his men/officers, and told their men to do things the soldiers knew they could not do. So in this respect it becomes realistic. You’re not playing the soldiers, you’re the general.

    The only thing to do is really play each game twice, one with pre-m and one without pre-m and see which one prefers, ha ha.

    It does seem unfair, though, for people who are bad at guessing ranges, and haven’t the time to build up a learning curve (I should imagine the average player only gets to play maybe 2 games a month). They pay the points for a weapon, in addition to having to roll to hit/risk missfire with a warmachine etc. Yet are hit over the head by the need to guess the range, in addition to the factors just mentioned.

    That being said, guessing ranges really isn’t *that* difficult is it?

    • Spiffy Iguana says:

      Soldiers, particularly pre-modern ones, know far less than you think. One of the reasons Pickett’s Charge failed so spectacularly was that it was believed the artillery bombardment prior to the assault had softened up the Federal line. Think about that, not only did Rebel gunners not know the range of their weapons, but because their targets were in cover they didn’t even know they had missed. A real battlefield is a scene of such absolute chaos no game can really replicate it.

      Genuine target practice with firearms didn’t really appear as part of basic military training until the last hundred or so years; so unless a specialist sharpshooter, or a former hunter, the soldier probably doesn’t know the range of his weapon, he likely hasn’t even fired it until the day of battle. In the age of black power smoke would reduce visibility to a few hundred yards. In any age soldiers behind the front rank are blind due to the men in front of them. Terror and excitement is going to reduce what a combatant ‘knows’ still further. I think it a huge leap to assume that soldiers in the age of battles knew much beyond what was immediately in front of them.

      The tabletop general always has vastly more information then his real life counter part. He can see the lay out of the battlefield, knows whats on the other side of hills and woods, and knows the fighting qualities of his own and likely his enemies forces. Short of not letting the players see the table and making them play by telling an umpire generally what to move and where there is no way to simulate anything like a real-world fog of war.

      • GloatingSwine says:

        I would say that even modern soldiers only know things in general terms. A soldier knows the effective range of his rifle in clear weather when he’s just cleaned it, and he will know by and large what a target looks like at a number of different ranges so he has some experience on which to gauge range, but he still has to make that judgement call and the particular conditions of every shot will change that. Heat haze, rain, wind, they all change the effective range of your weapon, so the actual effective range of the weapon in the current conditions is a guess, albeit an educated one, each time.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      In war, a general does everything he can to get more accurate information, and fails more often than he succeeds. In designing games, we start with perfect information and seek to erode some of that to get a little closer to the general’s position to replicate his challenges.

      Who the player is supposed to be is an excellent point Poosh. In many games it isn’t clear as you get to make choices at several levels.

      To take a well-documented example from the ACW: a common problem for attacking unit leaders was the tendency for the men to stop and fire back at the defenders they were advancing upon. If they could not maintain the discipline, the officers would lose control of the men who would open fire at far longer range than would be effective, and once they had stopped to fire would continue to blaze away into an ever-increasing fog of smoke, to no effect. Whilst they may have known their range in theory on a range, in practice the fear they quite reasonably felt and the helplessness of advancing at people who were shooting them both encouraged them to do something in return – to take back a semblance of control. Once they were in the familiar routine of loading and firing they were “safe” and could focus on that instead of the enemy battle line they were advancing towards. The smoke hid the foe from view. This problem was identified time and time again. and various methods were tried to overcome it. What they were isn’t relevant here; what is pertinent is that this was a common problem on both sides and it demonstrates that the troops aren’t thinking about the battle as a whole, they’re thinking about how they and their mates can survive. If firing from too far off keeps them in one piece, then blaze away lads!

      It’s easier to talk about modern warfare because there are many more first hand accounts. most 20th century accounts will include some variation of the idea that you fight for your friends and not the army, your country or some nebulous concept of honour or duty.

      Another common feature is the idea that you can’t always see your enemy (something gamers are reluctant to model – they’ve bought the toys so they’re going on the table!). Several accounts I’ve read include people firing at impossible targets or at places that might contain enemy to bolster their own morale rather than kill enemy. I can’t think of a game that models this. it does, however, illustrate another example of the pragmatism of real combat, and contradicts the idea that combat soldiers would only fire if they knew they could hit a target.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Oh, and Poosh – you can’t agree with everyone. You’ve got to burn some of the heretics 🙂

  8. Spiffy Iguana says:

    The biggest problem I see with pre-measuring is that once you allow something you can’t rightly take it away, but if something is forbidden you can always allow it on a case-by-case basis. In a game without pre-measuring the chance to pre-measure one unit’s action for a turn could come from magic, divine intervention, computer targeting systems, spies, etc. With pre-measuring a whole range of potential abilities and events are lost. Along the same line, you can always let a weaker player pre-measure as a handicap to his opponent. Back when I played a lot of pick-up games of WHFB 6th edition I always let the under-14s pre-measure, I let them take back moves too. In a game with pre-measuring I lose that method of giving new or young players a little boost.

  9. I agonized over this question when designing Skrapyard. In the end, I came down in the camp of preferring to allow pre-measuring for three reasons:

    1. It made my rules a lot easier to express: if you want to know a distance, you measure it. Economy of expression is highly desirable in rules.

    2. It reduces opportunities for cheating or pseudo-cheating. No one can be accused of “covert” measurement (elbow to wrist, length of hand, measuring this shot and applying it to that shot…) if overt measurement is the rule.

    3. All the cool kids seemed to be doing it.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Well you can’t argue with 3 😉

      Point 2 is also true, though my house rule for cheats is that I simple never play them again. People who cheat are probably not worth playing anyway. Also, when I’m writing rules, I can’t stop people cheating. If you feel this genuinely mitigates a problem, then fine. I think the cheat will just find another way. I once fought a battle report, which I eventually lost. It had been a hard fight, and it had been going my way until we’d taken a tea break whereupon all my luck fled. Actually, I discovered years later that my opponent had snuck out on the pretext of going to the bathroom, and had stacked the deck (literally – this was 40K with psychic cards). He then boasted about how he’d beaten me, which was how I eventually heard. if there had been no deck I’m sure he would have found another way to fiddle things: it’s not the rules, it’s the players who cheat.

      1 is understandable. Economy of expression is a worthwhile aim. Personally I don’t think it is worth what you lose, but that’s a judgement call and there is no right answer.

  10. Depends on the game. For some I would use it for others not.
    For pre-1900 I tend to not-premeasure and post-1900 to premeasure. But it still depends. Especially with modern and futuristic armies there is so much data access that premeasuering is not out of place.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      If you are going to lean on the argument that modern troopers have access to lots of data then you need a load of extra rules for how they screw up so frequently. Also, watching film of modern skirmishes and reading first hand accounts of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I really don’t think it’s as much of a help as you might think. To start with, it frequently either isn’t available or doesn’t work.

      • Often the problem is not the equipment/soldiers but rather budget cuts, political schenanigans and the outright greed of some suppliers. These days you often fight more against beaurocrats, political con-men and people out to make money at any cost than against the real opponent. Also Iraq and Afghanistan were from the beginning on wars that could not be won because they were already lost at home even before the war started because of the above mentioned reasons. Also the US-Army these days is by far the worst measure-stick to evaluate the performance of modern equipment.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Whilst all of these political, economic and other reasons do indeed impact on the performance of equipment in the field, I don’t see this as being especially different from any other decade, century or millennium of warfare.

          From ancient accounts we know that lances and spears break and swords can bend. The battle of Gettysburg was sparked by patrols looking for a supply of shoes. So equipment has always been prone to failure and not always in sufficient supply.

          Why should futuristic or fantasy warfare be any different?

        • Because quite some national and private armies are already so efficient that a game about them would be really boring since they win 9 out of ten times and we seldom her publicly of them because they are so efficient.

          BtW the US-Army theses days is a pale reflection of what it was even 20 years ago, it is the worst possible measure stick available. Even the chronically underfunded russian Army is in a better shape. No wonder. Being constantly ripped of for equipment and supplies by Halliburton and Co with the help of former advisers of two former presidents, nearly all special duties sourced out to overpaid Xe and Co, supplied with Hummers that never should have seen battle and are already themself a danger to soldiers (geartunnel overheating and burning soldiers), send out with way to few soldiers to solve the issue at hand, etc.

          In the past that was also partially imcompetence or some fraud involved, but never to todays degree. And the ones in power do know full well what they do, but do it anyway because it literally pays off (in the billions) for them to act like this. Or to be blunt: That´s willfull sabotaging the US-Army and normally would be considered high treason and in every nation on this planet there is only one punishment for high-treason.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          That would be corporal tickling.

  11. One quick point I’d like to make on the comments which mention a ‘roll to hit’ creating enough randomness in its self, is that a soldier needs to gauge the range of the target before firing his first round and any adjustments made from this ‘ranging shot’ are done from the resulting affect, this doesn’t however mean that any subsiquent shots will automatically hit, he may be off by a hairs breadth and by then the target is aware of him and has reacted.

    In a wargame the player will be aware of the range after the first time he measures it for shooting but there will still be some kind of ‘uncertainty’ generator the see if he hits that target.

    Also on the point of Generals not needing to deal with the problem of ‘ranges’, at Waterloo Wellington took personal command of the battalion who faced the last French colum and gave the order to shoot at which time he would have needed to gauge it to best effect.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Good point about the player learning the range.

      The Wellington example is an interesting one as it leads to the discussion about different styles of generalship – something fantasy games tend to ignore (though a few historical games deal with it). Perhaps it’s better to say that most generals don’t need to worry about it. Those that do lead from the front, like Wellington occasionally did, should suffer penalties to their overall control of the remainder of the army when they are focussed on a single regiment like this.

  12. Von says:

    What it comes down to, for me, is nerd rage.

    Situation one: I can premeasure, declare what I’m trying to achieve and negotiate how it works within the rules with my opponent. All is known and explicit and we can discuss things like gentlemen. Then I can’t roll an eight (or whatever number) and I sigh or maybe swear a bit because there’s not really anything I can do about that.

    Situation two: I have to guess, compensating for visual distortions, and if my opponent disagrees with a measurement we have to discuss it after I’ve taken the crucial tactical decision. Stress and tension are likely to ensue. Also, if I get it wrong I have only myself to blame.

    I don’t argue that systems without pre-measuring aren’t more realistic. I don’t play games to simulate reality, though. I play games to play games, and if a game becomes stressful to me I have to start asking if it’s worth playing. Given my terrible eyesight and bad habit of beating myself up over perceived failures (I had to have counselling. It didn’t help.), that means I tend to find pre-measuring games less stressful. Warmachine is a nice compromise: there’s a set area in which I can pre-measure but still enough guesswork and opportunities for error for the game to feel tactically challenging.

    • chrixter says:

      Warmachine in which you can measure some, but far from all, distances is a HORRIBLE solution. It slows the game immensly (well, a bit at least) when you can measure some distances in order to gain more information so your trigometry will tell you the distance.

      I’m in the pre-measure camp, to me not allowing pre-measurement revelas a poor game design. The few situations where measuring is difficult can be discussed before the crucial decision is made which leads to less “heated” arguments and an overall calmer and relaxed environment. Furthermore, if you really requires an uncertainty related to distances in the game I suggest to allow premeasuring and then, after the action is declared, roll a D6 (or whatever) and reduce the maximum distance by this amount in order to represent FOW/unknown conditions/randomness.

      • GloatingSwine says:

        Man, even Dreadfleet doesn’t randomise every range ever….

        The uncertainty obtained by randomising ranges is different from that obtained by not allowing premeasurement. If you can premeasure but then randomise then the question isn’t whether you were right, but whether the dice liked you. Not having premeasurement means that judging range is a matter of player skill, and really the matching of skills is what makes a competitive game, so mechanics which allow it to factor in are to be preferred.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          i would agree, but clearly it is not an entirely fashionable view. However, I am sufficiently long in the tooth to know that the wheel will turn once again, and Truth and Light will once more be triumphant!

          Hey wow, the pomposity was turned up really high there….

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I think Warmachine is an odd and slightly confusing compromise. It really does seem like they couldn’t decide. In terms of design, either system can work, but the hybrid makes it harder for each to function optimally, and why make life harder for yourself?

      • I think the issue in Warmachine is that you don’t move all your troops at once. Then shoot all at the same time. You activate individual units and complete all their actions. In effect they probably didn’t want premeasuring, but their design pretty much meant the game was open to abuse. I think it’s clunky and far from elegant myself.

  13. andymeechan says:

    I like to pre-measure based on what is happening to the active unit. That is, while activating Unit A in, say the Movement Phase, all you can measure is the movement(s) allowed to that unit. Then proceed to Unit B, etc. What you couldn’t measure would include your opponent’s potential move (/threat range). In the Shooting Phase, measure the ranges to various targets, but not their impact on you, or indeed any of your other unit’s ability to hit the same target. (The latter would allow for a ‘wargear’ upgrade perhaps?)

    Of course in a game where an active unit has multiple choices, such as Movement and/or Shooting then allowing that unit to pre-measure all it’s options makes sense.

    Again, i’d stay clear of measuring your opponent’s areas of effect, gaps between buildings and so on. This, plus some dice cubes should bring a nice level of ‘game’ to the game. For me at least.



    • Quirkworthy says:

      IIRC the Warmachine compromise is based on a similar concept, but because it’s WM it’s all based on the ‘caster.

      I wonder how people would have thought 10 years ago when KOW wasn’t born and WH was all guess range?

  14. Doguidogui says:

    Warmachine is a great example of the importance that premeasuring has in games. You can always measure only one, and only one thing: the caster´s control area.

    It´s a game about bits of a inch missing a shot and getting the first charge as close as the limit as possible. Models with useful ranged abilities are usually weaker and squishier and the skill relies on getting them on the perfect spot to use them, without being outranged or charged.

    Any legal “trick” you can get your hands on to premeasure is used as an important source of information and there´s actually a single model that allows any kind of (non caster CTRL area) premeasuring.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      If you were able to pre-measure everything in Warmachine would it work?

      On the one hand you can argue that a pre-measure game is only a guess range game where you’re right every time, but it’s more than that: it’s the certainty.

      I have a feeling that if you played Warmachine with pre-measuring for everything then the ends of the spectrum of good and bad armies would be exaggerated; the whole spectrum of army potencies would be stretched so that the difference between more and less powerful forces was bigger. Has anyone tried this?

  15. I feel the only argument for NOT pre-measuring is if you play skirmish or platoon size games
    Once your role is that of a general – with two dozen units, say 500+ miniatures on the table, you are entitled to pre-measure as a matter of course and an emulation of the chain-of-command beneath you
    40k, Infinity, Rules of Engagement, Warhammer….I can see how pre-measuring gives the more experienced player an edge. Field of Glory, Blitzkrieg Commander, Kings of War……the scale demands pre-measuring. This isn’t a skirmish. This is a battle!

    • Ben says:

      Obviously the rules should reflect the realism of the battle. Just as one army on the battlefield tends to stand around doing nothing while the other moves and shoots, so wargames do the same.

      Or maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s just whatever abstractions you’re prepared to live with.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Ben perhaps put it better, but I’m going to pick at some details.

      “…the scale demands pre-measuring”.

      Does it? In what way? Your suggestion is that as an army commander I am more aware of the details of distance relating to an individual unit than the people actually present in that unit. That doesn’t make any sense to me. If anything you have a better argument the other way round (not that I think there is a good argument in any case, just a less terrible one).

      “…an emulation of the chain-of-command beneath you”

      This is another statement that makes no sense to me at all. In what way is pre-measuring emulating chain of command?

      Pre-measuring gives the experienced player a massive advantage and one that is unmitigated by chance. This problem exists entirely separately from nominal game scale, genre or anything else except the purity of the system. The more pure a pre-measuring system you have (ie the fewer dice rolls that modify ranges), the worse the issue.

      No amount of scale change will modify the fact that I can guarantee my troops being in range and yours being out, etc.

      @Ben – nicely put.

  16. I belive a good wargame should JUST focus on the intelectual decisons of the players representatives.Thats why we have specified distances and % chance of sucess.

    Guess range weapons just give unfair advantages to those people that are better at guessing ranges.(FACT)
    Can I ask for all close combat resolution to be ‘arm wrestle your oponent?’As having a good arm I could use this as my advantage to cancell out your ability to guess ranges better than me!(lol)

    I prefer rule sets that ‘level the playing field.’
    Wargaming is an intelectual persuit, totaly deviod of the physical trama of warfare. And therfore physical skills should not realy be utilised.(Apart from rolling light plastic dice, and moving minatures.)
    As already said dice rolls can generate the ‘randomness’.(EG roll for scatter/malfunction.)
    So why do you want to put in a resolution method that IS unbalancing and makes accurate costing

    How do you cost a guess range weapon/unit acurately?

    And WHY artificialy restrict the gamers with poor range guessing skills to non guess range weapons/units?

  17. Pingback: Design Theory: Pre-measuring Revisited |

  18. Nitorbits says:

    Great post!

  19. Chris says:

    Just to say we avoid guess ranges at my club. One chap, Ian, has a supernatural ability to guess, to the extent at 2 or 3 metres he is still right to within a cm or 2. Bionic eyes maybe?

    As to the modern world determining range is relatively easy, however that does impact as much as you would think on behaviour. US soldiers with carbines will still fire wildly at targets 2 or 3 times their effective range, perhaps encouraged by their support weapons which are in range.

    And as I can’t resist – contrary to the view of the US infantry above the British infantry in Afghanistan are the best equipped in history, but it has taken 6 years to get their and it shows you can always spend more money to get more (one of the biggest problem western soldiers now face is the weight of all their gear…).

    • Quirkworthy says:

      It seems a bit odd to pick on a skill at guessing ranges to deliberately hinder when you allow people to have all manner of other skills without question. I am better than some people at concentration of fire and maintenance of aim in games. Should we arrange the rules so those skills are negated too?

      If I am better at an aspect of the game than you, should you complain and house rule against me or make an effort to increase your own skills? I’d say the latter, but as in all these decisions, it’s what suits your group best. Games, after all, are meant to be fun.

  20. I personally prefer not to pre-measure, terrain and tables give a fairly fair concept of distances, yes there are the opponents who could declare a rock lobber attack at 17.5 inches and be spot on every time, but even they screw up time to time. I don’t have a problem in most cases with pre-measurement though some people do abuse it, but no more than some of the higher competive infinity player (non-premeasuring) can do trying to find the optimum path with no lof except to the model they wish to target. War machine drives me slightly nuts with the over dependence of measuring command distance from the caster to give a yardstick, I would much prefer all or nothing measuring (this could vary dependant on the phase).

    The biggest problem with no premeasure (and I am usually in the no-premeasure camp) is it does give an advantage to the person who knows the terrain the best, but then the same can be said of reality and to a lesser extent premeasured games where the player plans more turns ahead.
    One problem with the no-premeasure is the first model or unit moved gives a fresh yardstick often close to the next model or unit to move making thee astigmatism progressively easier within a given turn, unless all movements /shooting are declared prior to the first measure it is never going to be fully non-premeasured.
    One way we used to counter this was in our 10000 point WFB (4th ed) games we tended to have the board set up and then rolling a scatter dice to generate the angle of the deployment zones which helped negate the table edges to a degree, as the brain has to work harder with angles.

    But irrespective of pre-measure or not the best system is one where both players apply it with a similar level of zeal. When demoing games of infinity and with most people I play with at my Local store I am more of an approximate mover with accurate shooting measurement, but if at a tournament I will always try to maintain my accuracy to the same level as an opponent, becoming more precise to suit their style, as I normally play quickly for the story and fun, but it is unfair and less fun for an opponent if they are playing competitively and firmly by rules and I played my normal style (some are happy for me to keep my normal style but even then I try to moderate to match their accuracy).

    I agree games with squares or hexes do simplfy the conflict, they are a bit different in style and provide a more level playing field at the cost of some tactical decisions, though some of Jakes/Mantics rules are interesting in the blurring of the styles with real LOS and large zones, but these are unusual and I need to play some to trial. Another method is the Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing and amarda where learning to gauge curved lengths is critical and is the most reliant on developing spacial skills, as opposed to guessing a linear distance, the fact you have to decide all your movement before moving any model helps

  21. CZ says:

    Thanks for finally writing about >Design Theory: To Pre-measure, Or Not Pre-measure <Liked it!

  22. Kadmon says:

    This is useful insight into game design! I’ve included your work in my game designer resources:

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