Game Design: The Dreaded Roll and Move… Sort of

Some mechanics are considered weak, redundant, or just plain bad by most gamers, and leading the march of this sorry band is roll and move.

Roll and move does what it says on the tin. It’s simple, unsophisticated, and when I was a toddler it was great. Snakes and Ladders was fab when I spent most of my time trying to eat the pieces and couldn’t devote much effort to more sophisticated notions. But things have mostly moved on. Today I only rarely ingest gaming pieces, and I’m with the horde when it comes to militating against such agency-denying rules as roll-and-move. At least, as a general thing. But are they inherently bad? I’d say not.

1024px-Snakes_and_Ladders.jpg

A 19th century Indian Snakes and Ladders board from Wikimedia. I especially like the 7-headed horse at the top right. Sadly extinct now. 

Blast ’Em actually uses a sort of roll and move, and if I explain my thinking, perhaps you’ll see that even such outdated nonsense can sometimes be put to interesting use.

Blast ’Em has three kinds of movement. The first is called a step, and this is a freeform move of up to 2”. It is included in all other actions (including the movement ones) as a free extra, so you can always do a little positioning to hug that cover tighter, or just step around the corner, out of sight. It’s very easy to remember as you can always do it alongside any other action. No exceptions. Two inches doesn’t sound like much, but on a battlefield strewn with cover and line of sight blocking terrain, it can be critical. Indoors it gets even better. Also note that the Step can be taken either before the main action or after it, lending it even more flexibility.

The second type is a Sneaky Move. The third is a Fast Move, or Run. Both use the character’s Speed stat to determine a type of dice to roll. Sneaky Moves use 1 of those dice to generate a distance in inches; Fast rolls 3. I’ll ignore the other (important) differences between these movement types for now.

Using the character’s stat to give a range of variance means that overall, speedier characters go slightly further. Makes sense. Rolling more dice for a bigger average distance when you run rather than sneak also makes sense. But why roll dice at all? Can’t we safely assume that a given character could cover the ground between A and B in pretty much the same time every time they tried?

The randomness of the movement dice isn’t so much about the rate of movement of the character as about their sense of timing. In reality, the average variance in Speed is unlikely to be much. What the roll really reflects is part of the complex and rapidly changing environment of the skirmish and, especially, how alert the enemy are at that moment. Have they spotted the moving character quickly enough to react to them?

This could have been done as some form of alertness test for the enemy characters, but they’ve already been allocated chits and that covers some of the same ground. Also, by making it a roll by the active player, it raises the tension of the action and feels like they’re taking more than the dice into their hands when they decide to go for broke across that gap. The player has much of the same information as the character would: they know where the enemy are, and whether they’re distracted with other things or hunkered down waiting for them to make the dash. They can guess the distance to safety and calculate the risk of their move. Then they can choose whether to take it or not.

Obviously, the player and character are not in the same circumstance in most respects, but by giving them similar things to weigh up, the game can bring up a sliver of the same tension and excitement.

And that’s a good thing!

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