There comes a moment when you are playing a design and a mechanism comes alive and invigorates the entire design. Incidental or integral to the design, here are five great mechanisms in war games.

Army Morale from Fading Glory (GMT Games)

               Victory in this series of games is rather straight forward: drive the enemy’s morale to zero. Easy enough. But there’s a catch. Morale can be willingly expended to gain a temporary advantage. Need to up the odds on a risky attack? Commit the Imperial Guard? Rally additional troops? That’ll cost you. Fading Glory brilliantly intertwines the overall cohesion and fighting capacity of an army with it’s limitations. You may need to push the limits of what your army can do to drive victory home. It’s a high risk mechanism that can produce dividends and ties neatly into the narrative

Reaction chits from Battle for Stalingrad (Exaclibre Games)

              Instead of the IGO system, this game features a reaction chit system. Not quite chit pull, the chits are pulled to see if the Soviets get to react and move their forces. If one isn’t pulled, the Germans continue their assault. Various modifiers and the use of Chuikov enable the Soviets to move but their relative paralysis is a reflection of the decentralized command over the pockets of resistance in the city proper. This lends an unpredictability and tension to the gameplay as the Germans never quite know when the Soviets will be able to interrupt their attacks plans. Similarly, the Soviets will be desperate to react, hoping to regain the initiative.

Using discarded events from Red Flag Over Paris (GMT Games)

               In some CDGs like Twilight Struggle, the use of an opponent’s card will automatically trigger the printed event prior to the use of the card for your own benefit. This expertly illustrates the cost/benefit of every action taken on the international stage. However, Fred Serval’s Red Flag updates the mechanism for the better. Instead of mandating the use of the card by the other side, it’s discarded and made available for use by the opponent if they exchange it for another card in their hand with an equal or higher operations value.

This heightens the drama and tension when you use an opponent’s card, hoping they don’t have one of value to replace it. I like the added decision point and the nuance over previous iterations of this design element.

Determined defense from Normandy ’44 (GMT Games)

               Despite your best laid plans, a bad roll of the die can undo a defensive position and threaten your whole line. But in Simonitchs’ 19xx series, there’s a Plan B: determined defense.  A mechanism that allows a player to stave off a retreat by doubling down and having another go at combat. The results are sure to be bloody for the defenders but provided the right terrain, troop quality and a dash of luck they can inflict more losses on the attackers and keep possession of the hex.

Panic result from Longstreet Attacks (Revolution Games)

               There are moments in gaming where the rules leap from the page and come alive in the hexes. This was certainly my experience the first time using a panic roll in Longstreet Attacks. With this mechanism, if a unit is hit hard enough, the retreat can bleed out to other units and cause them to panic and flee as well, especially if their morale is low. This realistically simulates the fragile nature of troops as other brigades collapse and flee around them. Although they were not subject to the attack themselves, the demonstration of violence was enough to push them back.

This small but important rule has tremendous impact on play and truly brings history to life.