Tuesday, 18 June 2019

The Portable Wargame - Card-Based Initiative

In 'The Portable Wargame' there is described a card-based initiative system which I like, mostly because it is geared up for solo play. Indeed I use it for face to face games as well, because it has a nice level of unpredictability.

I should say that I use a variation of the system, as Bob's method uses two packs of cards, whilst I use one. So the odds are different, but the principle is the same.

Essentially the system is this:

(i) Assign each side a colour - Red or Black

(ii) For a given side count up how many units it has. Halve that number, rounding up. This is the Initiative Value for that side.

(iii) In a deck of cards, find the two cards of the Initiative Value of the appropriate colour. In addition find the two cards for the Initiative Value + 1 and Initiative Value - 1. You should have six cards per side.

(iv) Shuffle the twelve cards together, along with a single Joker.

A 'turn' consists of drawing a card. The side whose card it is gets to perform actions with a number of units corresponding to the card's value. If the Joker is drawn the deck is reshuffled.

It's a simple system, and creates a nice ebb and flow. Mostly.

An issue with it is that it's possible for one side to get a run of cards, leaving the other somewhat flat-footed. In most systems which allow this as a possibility the side which loses out can be sure of getting their own run. But the Joker in the deck means that often one side can get a run of actions and then a reshuffle happens, creating a new deck before the other side gets a go. It happens often enough to be a little frustrating.

I have been considering how to limit this issue, whilst maintaining the essential nature of the system. My answer - currently untested - is this:

Assume you're starting with a freshly shuffled initiative deck. Draw a card as before. The side whose card it is gets to act with as many units as correspond to the value. Then draw another card. If it is for the same side, then its value is reduced by one when determining how many units can act. The next card in a continuous sequence for one side is reduced by two. And so on. If the value is reduced to zero or less, ten it is treated as '1'. This progressive reduction of value continues until either a card for the otehr side is drawn, or until the Joker is drawn, causing a reshuffle.

Example: Red has an Initiative Value of 5, so the six cards they have in the deck are two 4s, two 5s and two 6s. The first card is drawn and it is a Black card, so Black activates some units. The next card is a Red 6, so Red activates 6 units. The third card is a Red 4. Because this is the second Red card in a row, its value is reduced by one, so Red only activates 3 units. The fourth card is a Red 5. This is now the third card in a row for Red, so its value is reduced by two; Red once again only activates 3 units. The fifth card is the Joker, so the deck is reshuffled. And the first card from the new deck is a Red 5. Because the deck has been reshuffled, Red can use its full value and activates 5 units. And so on.

As you can see, it's still very possible for one side to be sat watching the other take continuous actions, but reducing the card values should tend to reduce the momentum such runs otherwise builds up and prevent the non-acting side being steamrollered.

The next step is, of course, to try this out.


  1. That seems very fiddly to deal with in play. What if you used both jokers, and only reshuffle after you turn both?

    Or force play to alternate by ignoring runs. After a red card is drawn and played out, ignore red cards until a black card is turned or the deck is shuffled.

    1. Not that fiddly. You can see how many cards there have been in a run, and the arithmetic is simple enough. The only fiddle would have been if the reduction in value continues after the Joker, since you'd have to remember the length of the current run. That's why it *doesn't* continue after the Joker.

      If you ignore runs altogether, you can simply ditch the cards, and do alternate moves, with a player rolling a D6 and moving Initiative Value -1 units on a 1-2, Initiative Value units on a 3-4 and Initiative Valuen + 1 units on a 5-6. That's pretty much the effect you'd produce. But I *want* runs; what I'm trying to do is limit extreme runs.

    2. You would still get the occasional run of 2 cards when the deck is shuffled. And the impact of the joker forcing a reshuffle.

      Using both jokers seems to be a better solution. Or maybe even use four kings instead. Only reshuffle once all four kings are shown. That ensures you usually get most of the way through the deck.

    3. The four Kings or two Jokers is an interesting idea.

  2. About that ‘run of cards’: this argument comes up often, so I decided a while ago to do the math and some experiments. Turns out the average run is less than 2 cards ... http://wargaming-mechanics.blogspot.com/2018/02/drawing-cards-from-deck.html

    1. This is true. And I appreciate that runs are infrequent. I don't really regard the mechanism as flawed. I just felt it was possible to create a mechanism which deals with the uncommon extremes.

  3. Interesting stuff Kaptain - I intend to give this a go

  4. I've considered using a card based activation, but giving each player their own deck of cards. Similar to what you have described, a player's deck would have the cards equal to 1/2 of their initial force, but with +/-2 card rather than +/-1. Each deck would still have 2 cards for each value. At the beginning of the turn, the player with the higher number would go first. This would have the effect of limiting runs to 2 consecutive turns (lower card turn 1 and high card turn 2). Ties would be resolved with the higher dice roll choosing to go first or second.

    1. That's a neat idea. And it has a dramatic card reveal built into it as well.

      Maybe on a draw both players simply deal another card.

      Each deck contains ten cards, yes?

      (Give each player one Joker, which is treated as having a score equal to half of the player's units. But after the deal in which the second Joker is drawn, both players reshuffle their decks)

    2. I like the Joker and re-draw ideas. It saves another dice roll.

    3. One problem that came to me with your idea is that if the forces are of different sizes, the side with the larger force will tend to 'win' the initiative more often, because their deck will have higher value cards in it than that of their opponent.


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