Deadzone Designer’s Notes: Turn Sequence

One of the facets of Deadzone that has surprised a few gamers who’ve played my other games is the idea that it has an i-go-u-go turn system. It’s just not what I do. So why have I done it this time? Am I losing my marbles?

Well no, at least not all of them. It starts out as an i-go-u go system – it’s just not where it ends.

These days i-go-u-go systems are sometimes thought of as a bit old fashioned or even clunky, especially in skirmish games where people might expect more fluidity or interaction. However, all these good things come at a price.


Go Team!

Games such as Infinity allow a great deal of flexibility in the way you act within an i-go-u-go system (with interrupts from the opponent). To explain briefly for those who haven’t played it, each turn you get an action per model and may then give out those actions as you see fit. So if you had 10 models you would get 10 actions and you could then  theoretically put all of them onto your best model. Of course there are wrinkles, but this is the core idea. Unfortunately this tends to involve half the army standing about doing nothing except feeding actions to the really good bits, hence the fan nickname of cheerleaders for the cheap troops.

An alternative action based route might be to force people to use, say, half the army one turn and the other half the next, but I felt this too rigid and restrictive. It does avoid the cheerleader issue though.



Early versions of DZ experimented with a variety of action based and alternate activation mechanics, but each one caused as many issues as it raised. The God of Battles system of alternate activations works well for the slower pace of a field battle, but in a skirmish I wanted to be able to act with fire teams in close mutual support. I wanted rushes of units, bursting through doorways into rooms or out of alleyways. Alternate actions breaks this up.

Then there are push-your-luck systems like Warmaster and that could work, though it suffers from a similar focus on the good bits of the army at the expense of the rest who get to stand about and watch.

Having not been happy with the first experiments I went back to basics: i-go-u-go. Each model on your side would do something, then each model on mine. This allowed for team actions, it made everyone do something and left no cheerleaders behind, all of which was good. Unfortunately it was also a bit predictable and cold. I don’t really like this as a pure system, though it works in some contexts. Here I felt that I just had to mess with it. I couldnt’ resist. So, I’ve added a set of Battle Cards for each faction, tailored to their specific fighting style. They can be played in addition to the basic actions of a model and allow them extra moves, bonuses to actions and some unique actions.

So instead of a system that says you can only act with half the models per turn (leaving cheerleaders) you have a system that lets you act with everyone once and some twice, which at least means that all your army is involved. A sort of one and a half activation instead of a half.

To encourage interaction between players there are several cards that can be played during your opponent’s turn and then there’s overwatch. So even though it’s i-go-u-go it doesn’t feel like a vanilla version of that concept at all and both players have reason to be paying attention at all times. It also encourages synergies and support, with models providing covering fire as their mates move across open ground. I really like this and it feels quite credible. Almost all I read these days is historical books, mostly memoirs, and this gives an oddly credible flow to the battle and the tactics you need to use to do well. I’m finding that the people who understand real world tactics are doing better than those that just treat it as another game, which is interesting. Part of the next phase of development will be to build on this and expand the effect.

Going back to overwatch for a moment, this also keeps your opponent honest in his turns. With so many actions in a player turn you might be able to overwhelm the opposition without overwatch. As it stands it works very well to balance out the wave assaults and mass fusillades. Other things that help are some of the Battle Cards which allow you to mess with your opponent somewhat. One forces him to discard, perhaps messing with his plan. Another takes away a model’s action for the next turn, and at a key moment this Distraction can cause havoc. Still more add to your own dice rolls, making it easier to survive attacks or to ignore the effects of suppression. Of course, there are only very limited supplies of such cards, and so managing that resource becomes very important.

Overall, what with one thing and another, the turn sequence in Deadzone works very well to both allow concerted efforts, team actions and synergies whilst keeping both sides involved. The fact that it plays so quickly stops a turn dragging on and there are enough unpredictable events to keep things fresh. But you don’t have to take my word for it for very long. The Alpha rules will be uploaded tomorrow so you can try them yourself 🙂

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23 Responses to Deadzone Designer’s Notes: Turn Sequence

  1. Scott says:

    I really dig Bolt Action right now with it’s random activation. For those not familiar you put a token, die, turd ball, whatever for each unit in a container of some sort (each side using a different color). You then choose a die out of the bag and whomevers color it is gets to activate one of their units placing the marker near it to indicated it has acted, so on and so forth, unti all of the units have activated then you are on to the next turn. Another way to eliminate the cheerleader effect (nothing like activating your Squalo 10 turns in a row!), is to indicated the unit has acted with a marker of some kind, if a model has 2 markers on it, the only action it could take would be to clear the markers (I guess this is like Heroclix to a degree).

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Bolt Action uses something like the old Epic system IIRC. I did try random activation and wasn’t happy with it. It’s fun, granted, but it also makes it much harder to coordinate actions and you lose a lot of the story. Didn’t feel right for this as I wanted more small team co-ordination.

      I also tried a system with markers for those that had been and making it cost more actions to act again with someone who’d been already. Again it worked, but I felt that it was getting to be a bit cluttered with all the tokens and decided I wanted something that didn’t use any. I don’t mind having the odd counter on the board, but I’ve already got items, aggression state (occasionally) and wounds (occasionally).

      I do have a more complex variant of random activation which I may use for something else, but that wasn’t right for this. In that the activation mechanic is basically a game in itself.

      As is often the case, there are plenty of choices and you just have to balance the other things that are going on in the game and pick what works best in this particular instance.

      • Scott says:

        IGYG (I go you go) certainly works too. I think the addition of your cards for some randomness and tactical edge would certainly help breaking up the monotiny. Also things like overwatch help as well. Anything to give the other player a little something to do. Do you have any cards that would allow player 2 to interupt an action of player 1 out of turn?

      • Quirkworthy says:

        I’m going to add overwatch cards to the set, enabling a model to overwatch even when it has not been set. Not in the Alpha though. That’s only using a half deck of the Battle Cards for speed. Don’t want to give people too much Blue Peter construction to do before they play 😉

    • Jerry says:

      1. In the draft rules “if you now have no cards left in your hand or the draw deck the game ends. I take it you mean in your hand and then draw deck. As it reads you would always need to have a card left in hand or the game would end.

      2. Turn actions , have you looked at LBG’s SMG game they recently had a KS fro Red Devil’s , they also use 3” tiles , they manage actions by a use of cards which activate soldiers , although this can cause a cheerleader effect , in practice it rarely happens as you need to keep your soldiers in the action. They also abstract line of site. it works well and this game is at a similar scale and does reward players who follow real world tactics.
      IMO it proves that you don’t need to bog down in exact detail and modifires for ever eventuality or millimeter accuracy to design a game that simulates skirmish combat and does it in a fun and accurate way.

  2. killaminis says:

    Sounds Great, can’t wait to play the Alpha Rules over the Weekend.

  3. Gareth says:

    Everything I hear sounds excellent, can’t wait to see the Alpha. Mr. Thornton, you make good games. 😀

    • nathan payne says:

      Looks like i’ll be playing this over the bank holiday weekend. I really didn’t like infinity nice minis but not for me. IGYG is fine its when its your turn and because you couldn’t react to things. Your army as been shot to bits before you had chance to use it. Things that can break up or stop your apponant from doing this are cool. Are there things in the game to restore health ? or do most troops only have one wound ? cheers jake great stuff.

  4. redfox4242 says:

    I am eager to see those alpha rules! 🙂

  5. Hey there Mr Quirkworthy!.. I’ve been mulling over the game test we had earlier today and I’m more than impressed. The alpha rules are solid & they really evoke the idea of fast and ferocious fluidity urban combat! Just try sitting still all game in the DeadZone… I dare you! 😉

    As you know I don’t generally play 28mm skirmish games simply because I don’t feel that they allow me to use ‘real-world’ tactics. Infantry men may get formed up into 10 man fire teams back at base but the’re not attached by lengths of string! I want to be able to use my troops to mutually support each other, fire and maneuver are the corner stone of modern military tactics and have been since the end of the first world war, I doubt that this will change significantly in the far future. DeadZone allows me to do all of this and more! Along with this I don’t have to go through a laborious set of steps to see if my combination works in practice!

    The double orders on the cards add that little bit of head-scratching friction and the line of site is really easy, intuitive and near-argument free! Hug cover and think about you model placement and you won’t get as hurt, as often…Simples!

    • nathan payne says:

      Bob you can tell me all about it at mr richards house saturday 🙂 i want to know more mate. 😉

    • checkmarkgames says:

      That is excellent to hear. I have been looking for a good set of rules for future combat in which actual real world tactics work with. Starting to really get interested in this game now from what is being talked about here.

  6. Philip says:

    A simple IGOUGO system with a Quirk. It sounds good, not only do we have a Dice game, but also a poker game, (if both players hold cards).
    This could also lead to a whole series of different playing styles (dependent upon the deck selected) for the same faction figs.
    Please do not let some pre-pubesent with a phone design the card layout in the final game, my old eyes can not accept small and gaudy print, more on this later,
    too busy Friday. Is it Saturday yet, please let it be Sat.

  7. Aswin Agastya says:

    I’m glad you put a lot of thought and experiments about this. Combat mechanisms are fun to build, but the best games, in my opinion, are games about people. I’m curious though how the actual cards will be. I’m a big fan of Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors design, and have contemplated in the past about faction-specific command decks. This allows for different styles of activation & behavior for each faction. Also special abilities can be activated using cards, so no more remembering each unit’s tids and bits!

    This is getting closer and closer to my ideal game.

    • Aswin Agastya says:

      One more thing about turn sequence. Do you have models randomly move (outside from the aforementioned blast-knock)?

      For example. If a model is exposed, would it, in any way, automatic or guided by design (such as fatality of clear shot on figures not in cover), seek cover? Would some figures be more foolhardy to stay in the open in such situation?

  8. David says:

    This sounds brilliant! really looking forwards to trying this out!

  9. Rich F says:

    As a fellow reader of historical books, I’m always on the prowl for recommendations. Any standouts you care to mention that particularly influenced Deadzone?

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Not specifically for DZ. My understanding of small unit tactics and combat is based on many years of reading and talking to combat veterans.

      I would, however, recommend The Junior Officer’s Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey as very good.

  10. Norman says:

    Very nice write-up. I certainly love this site. Keep it up!

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