Wargame Wednesday Guest Post: The Finger of God: Weather in Wargaming

Wednesday , 2, January 2019 5 Comments

Modern combat is largely defined with tools that transcend the traditional human experience: satellites giving near real-time updates to commanders many kilometers from the dangers, night-vision and infrared goggles, drones and more. Yet even we, with our mighty ships, aircraft, field hospitals, and logistics are not immune to the dramatic effects of the weather.

Weather has been decisive in hundred of battles. Dunkirk and the Battle of the Bulge were both essentially decided by cloud cover, and there are numerous instances of mud and cold, blowing sand and heat deciding things as much as bullets or manpower—how would Agincourt have played out without the mud from the rains? I recall some of the older game systems like 1958’s Tactics II had a weather chart but cannot think off hand on weather being incorporated in recent wargames I have played.

Individual battles are certainly more interesting and precise to apply weather to, as flexibility is less of a concern in the design. More than just affecting the actual fighting, the weather profoundly affects the conditions which lead to a battle: Kublai Khan invading Japan, Napoleon at Waterloo, and Philip V of Macedon at Cynocephalae all fell victim to poor conditions leading into oft-dissected battles. I cannot help but wonder: Are we too concerned with designing an accurate infantry charge mechanic or artillery strike model, and not enough in terms of real fighting conditions for our wargames?

Here are a few ideas for how you can add weather effects to your favorite wargame:

Roll a D6 on a chart. 1-3 results are negative, 4-6 are positive. They apply to both armies equally. Some armies or units could have resistance to different effects, or have unique effects of their own on certain numbers. Example: Positive effects might be veteran units gaining 1″ of range on a 4 result, on a five that adds in an effect assisting units in movement through difficult terrain, and a 6 increases morale effect for all units. On the negative side, a 3 increases artillery scatter chance, 2 means all movement is reduced by 1″ plus the scatter, and a result of 1 adds a range reduction or accuracy difficulty at long ranges to all that. This is a system-agnostic permutation that I used to play with.

For more variety, make a deck as thick as you like for global weather conditions that effect both armies equally. Of course, this could easily be made more elegant if specific for your system—maybe the winner of the initiative gets to choose when they attack, or you mix terrain placement in with weather choice!

Does anyone have any weather-related resources, or mods or options that they have made? Do you like how a game or system handles the weather? Have you ever made your own? We can do better than Blood Bowl with such a fecund topic. Comment below on your opinion: Should the weather be more involved in our hobby systems? Here’s a pdf with some tools and templates to use if you want to start taking a crack at it yourself.

Zach Wood

  • John E. Boyle says:

    Thanks for the post (and that pdf)! Your question is a good one, and not just for board games.

    I say, Yes: weather should be more involved in our hobby systems. Easier said than done, however.

  • Terry says:

    I think it would depend on whether you are designing a game or a simulation. The more you are striving for the latter, logically the more weather should play its historical role. The more you are trying to design a “what if” (unless it is what if the weather was x) then the less impactful the weather should be. Since most games are trying to do some of both, I suppose the importance of the weather would depend on where the design falls on the spectrum. My preference is to build in the possibility of a variability , just as I enjoy, say, a variable reinforcement chart, or variable results of a leader casualty.

  • Emmett Fitz-Hume says:

    For a non-combat reference, another good example is the Ice Bowl of 1967, Packers vs. Cowboys.

    “For more variety, make a deck as thick as you like for global weather conditions that effect both armies equally.”

    The Ice Bowl makes a decent case that weather won’t affect both sides equally. Or, at least many Packers fans felt that way! But the Cowboys gave a good accounting of themselves playing at -13 F.

    And, though it wasn’t a war game, the best received D&D campaign I ever ran was a thinly veiled rip off of John Carpenter’s The Thing: A haunted, possed glacier, a blob-like parasite that infected people and made gross doppelgangers, etc.

    The campaign took place in the winter, on a northern coast (think Scandinavian winter). And two blizzards blew through the region. It changed the make up of the game play so severely (4-5′ snow drifts; rough terrain, no visibility, almost instant hypothermia, etc) it was like playing another game.

    But in a good way. In the end, despite some initial reservations, the players loved the change in the game. We still talk about it. Adding weather effects to games, war or RPG, is a terrific idea.

  • Skyler_the_Weird says:

    The only weather related board game I remember was GDW folio game for the forty years War battle of Lutzen. You rolled a dice every turn for fog which impacted the range of cannon fire.

    I recall several scenarios in Battlefield One like Passchedaele where it is raining quite heavily impacting visibility. The old Atari cartridge game Eastern Front 1941 had mud and snow rules that crippled the Player if he could not get the Axis to win by Autumn.

    I think the Original Squad Leader had some rules regarding snow and fog.

  • David says:

    The board/war game Dragon Pass has rain occurring as a random event which slows movement and can cause trouble for units in river hexes.

    Well, one time I was playing the marathon 28-turn game where the only way to win is to capture your opponent’s capital city. In the last turns of the game I had victory firmly in hand with my opponent’s armies crushed and I was stationing my forces surrounding his capital city for the last attack that would win the game.

    I wanted to guarantee overwhelming victory so I waited until the last turn…only to see the rain event turn up. Now half the forces I had assembled couldn’t reach the capital city even with the roads, so I attacked at half-strength and his walls and remaining second-string forces held me off to end the game in a draw.

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