alright so there's been a lot of posts and discussion on how to improve tactical battles and make designing, recruiting and using armies more fun, and i agree completely. the system as it is is just crude and lacking in nuance. some things that battles lack that i think most people agree on:
- the lack of importance of maneuvering; being attacked from the rear or flank is currently no worse than being attacked head on. the game has just become a race to make the most attacks as quickly as possible without thinking about positioning
- the lack of importance of terrain. there are no important bottlenecks to control, or great shooting positions.
- the lack of strategic variation in weapons. right now we just have bad and worse quality weapons; weapons have no strategic roll based on their type. we want spears to be good against cavalry, short swords to be better for mobile skirmishers and the such like.
and i agree with all this. the question is how to do it all in a way that is fun and balanced and intuitive. it is for this reason that i want to encourage people to STOP ASKING FOR MORE SPECIAL ABILITIES, because i really don't think they're the best solution. by special abilities i mean stuff like the spells that certain monsters and the such can cast that you select on the bottom menu. these have their place, but the problems with combat would be much better fixed by better mechanics than a plethora of special rules. here's why
- new players will forget to use them. if i have a special ability called shield wall for my spearmen that i have to activate, then a new player coming into the game might not notice it. he'll just make some spearmen send them to attack and wonder why they aren't handing cavalry cans of whoopass. i shouldn't have to use a special ability to inflict the awesome power of a cavalry charge. these things should just happen as a normal part of the gameplay. equipping lances and mounts should be part of mechanics that give charging units a damage bonus.
- they're difficult to balance and confusing to remember. anyone who plays warhammer hates the way that every new unit seems to come with a new, slightly different special rule to describe how "fearless" they are. it results in creep as new features are introduced, and the whole thing would be easier to remember and better handled by simply making the morale system better and more nuanced, and describing them through that.
- they're difficult to retcon and make them work with stuff you add later. say you give spears the ability to always strike first because of their reach. but what happens when you add pikes in an expansion? or a monster with really long arms. do you go back through every unit editing "except against this?" far better surely to give each unit or weapon a "reach" stat and then have the game automatically know what to do when you add content. what if caltrops have a 50% chance to immobilize, but then you add in hovering/flying monsters? far better to say "immobilized on a failed reflex saving throw," and then give your flying creatures good reflex saves. i already run into mobs of spiders who are able to immobilize my sovereign for 100 turns in a row with their OP special ability (despite the fact that when i auto, i walk right over them). the ability has clearly not been balanced or thought through. how much more often will this happen when every unit has one?
- they must be more difficult to program AI for (and i admit this is speculation). if AI has to programmed to tell enemies when to use their phalanx special ability, we'll probably never see it used. if it's part of mechanics it'll happen automatically.
- if they're everywhere they're not special. special abilities are one thing for a monster you fight once a game, but i shouldn't need special abilities to use normal units and fight normal battles against units of men. all the basic strategic differences should be handled by the game's mechanics. give us rules of facing, weapon reach, charge bonuses, lines of sight, varied saving throws, damage resistances.
people don't seem to like numbers for some reason, but i'd rather have a couple of new numbers per unit to familiarize myself with, then 100 new special rules that i see once each per game. if the mechanics are designed well then people won't even need to understand them, because they'll produce the same results as the player's imagination expects.