Mechanics Lab: A Diceless and Statless Game?

A long time ago on a blog far far away I wrote a post about solo gaming and the issues of playing non-solo games (Warhammer 40k for example) solo. The main issue I have with solo gaming is not playing the game itself, I’m fairly happy to take on both sides, but it is the time spent having to look up stat lines (speed, melee attack power, range, ranged attack power, defence etc) and rules since you don’t have the added brain power of a second player. To this end over the years I’ve tried out a few different statless systems. The ‘statless’ nature of these games is a little bit of a lie, they aren’t actually games with figures without stats. But what they are is games where the stat line is essentially invisible, where other rules mechanisms carry the weight instead of your memory or time (spent looking things up).

Keeping things simple I picked up a large bag of plastic counters from Amazon and they came in a variety of colours. Using a permanent marker I wrote on each counter the faction and figure in question. For example ‘Orcs’ on one side and ‘Boss’ on the other. The colour of the counter determined the action or stat in question. Green was for movement, red for melee combat, yellow for ranged combat and blue for defence. All the counters for all the figures were put in a bag and drawn at random – green the figure in question moved, red they performed a melee attack. A figure that was fast had more greens in the bag, a figure that was good at shooting had more yellows etc.

Initially I added white counters and here’s where the diceless part comes in. You draw counters until you draw a white, the white counter either initiated a round of melee combat or a round of ranged combat. Then each figure that had had counters drawn for it (after the last white was drawn) would spend them. Each red dealt one point of damage to an enemy in melee. Each yellow an enemy at range. Each blue reduced the amount of damage a figure received. In theory it worked, in practice it was a little dull as you often drew counters and just begged for the next white so something could happen. I also quickly realised that greens couldn’t be the only way a figure moved (initially 3” for a green drawn, and the figure moved immediately) because movement was incredibly slow. So I changed this slightly so a figure moved 4” per green but could spend any other counter to move 2”. Also after the last white was drawn of which there were four all counters were put back into the bag. Each figure has 6 hit points, and that’s it.

Moving forward I think it might be worth removing the whites and having each figure act immediately, allowing greens to be used for defence from attacks so they don’t become useless once you’re locked into combat, but maybe two greens are required to block 1 point of damage (so they’re not obviously better than blue). Or a green allows you to leave a combat but you only move away 1” allowing an enemy to follow up without too much difficulty if you don’t get away first. Also for ranged combat maybe being outside of 12” gets a defender a bonus blue, and/or being in cover. I’ll probably throw one white in that puts all the counters back in the bag for added randomness. Or maybe other white counters for random scenario conditions.

Random blabbing aside I really like the efficiency of this system. By efficiency I mean all your stats, turn structure and combat are folded into a single mechanism. It should be great for beginners and hopefully I can squeeze in enough depth for experienced gamers.

Just thinking out loud. As always comments, questions and suggestions are much appreciated!

3 thoughts on “Mechanics Lab: A Diceless and Statless Game?

  1. It’s a great idea, condensing everything into the counter bag. Very slick. How did you manage the actions when a white came up – did both sides attack, and if so, in what sort of sequence?

    I can imagine that aside from the issue of needing a lot of patience while waiting for the white counters, when that white counter did arrive you would then have a fairly mathematical challenge when planning your attacks without any luck to enliven it. And wouldn’t there have been some excessive gamesmanship e.g. why would you attack a character with a pile of blues stacked up ready and waiting?

    If you allow immediate actions, won’t that mean that each action is a single counter, and counters are never stored up (except perhaps blues)? It might be a bit slow…

    So, ideas. Here goes…

    Well, you could introduce some chance into the actions using a good old d6. For example, if you use a green counter to move, roll d6 for the distance. If you attack, roll d6 to see how many points damage you score; blue counters subtract d6. That sort of thing.

    Also, you could perhaps experiment with allowing an attack round every N counters, just in case that hits a sweet spot between long waits between actions, and action that is too bitty.

    What if you used cards in place of counters? You can fit more info on cards. So, for example, a card might contain a mix of actions (possibly some combo of ‘ands’ & ‘ors’) that you execute immediately. It might be difficult to get the balance right, especially if the forces vary per game. But then maybe you could do a deck per faction, and in a game you shuffle the two relevant decks together?

  2. No worries lol, it didn’t appear as a single block for me. To answer your first question when the white came out they attacked each other simultaneously. The gap of N sounds good. To stop the issue of a character stacking up blues and essentially becoming indestructible I’ve considered just increasing a characters hit points. They start with 6 and then every point put into defence just increases it by 1. So there wouldn’t be any blues at all or alternatively instead of increased hit points blues allow you to make armour saves. That could end up being pretty bloody lol, but it wouldn’t feel slow that’s for sure.
    I’m definitely looking at including more randomness, but keeping it minimal. There certainly needs to be more disadvantages to ranged attacks, they’re not completely balanced with melee and a dice roll would certainly help that. I started initially with random movement, but found since the counters were coming out randomly I didn’t need it, but I’m also playing on a small board (Killteam size 22”x30”) so there’s not too much distance to cover.
    I did also consider cards, I think what I prefer about the counters is how easy it is to replicate for each faction and the simplicity. I have some strange obsession with simplicity. I think I might be adding a number to each attack counter though, just to differentiate between multiple light attacks (more counters low damage) and heavier attacks (less counters but higher damage) it hasn’t felt right that when the big troll I’ve got hits he does the same damage as a goblin. Thanks for the input! I’ll keep mulling over your ideas! The game is small and simple enough that I can play stray multiple ideas in a single session which is handy!

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