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How I Write Skirmish Games: Skip To The Good Bit

Skirmish games have what I call generic rules. I hate generic rules, I hate writing generic rules. I’ve written so many versions of line of sight it makes me sick. What I hate even more though, are games made up of nothing but a stitched together set of generics. To help you skip to the good bits, and to recognise if you game is nothing but a patchwork of generics, here are the generics of skirmish games laid out. I generally have these rules internalised and pick and choose them during the grinding part of writing new games. These rules supply the framework of multiple different, but equally generic, versions of skirmish games and would require that alternate options be deleted to achieve agreement. Wordings are not intended to be those that would be used to present to the public, rather technical descriptions of underlying mechanics only. Feel free to pretty much cut and paste these into your own games, I have no problem with you using them but if your game contains only and exactly what is in this article, with neither inventive addition nor interesting subtraction I shall rain down upon you like a furious vengeance, not for plagiarism but for unoriginality.



Models – The markers used by players to indicate the locus of their current action. Will vary widely but largely unimportantly in size and shape.

Tests – A random system is used to generate a number (generally dice, but may be playing cards). If the number generated is higher than a given target number then the test is successful in the current stage. Actions with successful tests pass on to any next stage, unsuccessful ones are wasted. There will generally be a manner of mitigation for the random nature of these tests available to players, either re-rolling dice or having a hand of cards to choose from. This mitigation will generally be limited to a set number per round or game.

Ordering of action

Players take turns selecting the discrete units in their force for activation. Discrete units will be either single models, loose units or tight units, single models may be designated as a part of units, providing them with the support of their abilities in return for suffering the limitations of their movement. Players either select all or one of them. Activation is either total or partial. If total, the selected units perform all of the movement and actions they are able or desired to perform during this round. If partial, movement and actions will be split with the round into phases, units will perform only the activity appropriate to the phase, movement in the movement phase and actions in the action phase. Still, they will need to perform all the movement or actions that they can or will perform this round. When all units of all players have completed a suitable activation, a new round begins.

Force selection

Players agree on a number of points. Models will cost a number of points and may have upgrades of abilities available for additional points. Each model will generally have a limit of upgrades aside from sheer cost of points, and upgrades will be sectioned out so that choice of model and upgrade for a given player is not totally free. Players ‘spend’ all their points, gaining models so purchased for use in the game.


Models will have stats, used to show their prowess at various actions. Stats will generally be, Movement (distance moved), Accuracy (lowering to hit targets when the instigator, may be split between ranged and melee), Toughness (raising to wound targets when the target) and Psychology (lowering psychology targets). They may include Strength (lowering melee to wound targets when the instigator), Agility (raising to hit targets when the target) or Ability (lowering targets for triggering skills, often magic in fantasy settings, when the instigator).


Some skills may come with models, but most will be bought upgrades. They will generally raise stats directly or raise or lower target numbers for tests.


Models have a Movement stat, they can travel up to one unit for each point of Movement stat. They have four rates of movement:

Slow – Units equal half a distance (generally 1”) and gain benefits, usually doubling the effective height of cover (see Terrain)

Normal – Units equal a distance (generally 1”)

Fast – Units equal double a distance (generally 1”) and suffer penalty, usually halving the effective height of cover (see Terrain)

Charge – Units equal double or 1.5 times a distance (generally 1”) and gain benefits if movement ends in close combat but penalties if not (see Close Combat). Penalties are usually moving Slow but with penalties for moving Fast.

Models have three methods of movement

Individuals – Trace a line to the final destination, it is the line of movement, if it is shorter than the distance allowed, move the model there, pivot as you wish.

Loose units – As with individuals except that all models must end within a distance of at least one other model of the unit (generally 2”).

Tight units – As with individuals except that all models in unit must maintain exact relational positioning during movement, pivoting must be paid for by a reduction in available distance (generally a quarter for 90 degrees).

Models that may be attacked with melee weapons (see Attack) cannot move without penalty.

Total – They cannot move.

Opportunity – If they move those that could make melee attacks against them do so.

Skill – The moving model takes a test (generally a melee attack) if they pass the test (generally achieving a wound, although no wound is applied) they may move normally, if they fail they suffer some level of either total or opportunity.


Things placed on a table are terrain, which generally has one or more of a set of qualities:

Cover – Would be difficult or impossible to see though. If abstract line of sight crosses terrain that provides cover, based on height (see below), the action that requires the line of sight suffers a to hit penalty. True line of sight cannot cross cover terrain.

Blocking – Would be impossible to move through. Line of movement cannot cross blocking.

Difficult – Would be difficult to move through, generally blocking of a certain height is considered difficult. Line of movement crossing difficult halves the distance that units equal.

Hard – Would stop projectiles. Attacks suffering a to hit penalty from cover that is hard also suffer a to wound penalty.

Destructible – When crossed by line of movement, remove.

Height – Used in abstract line of sight. May be relational and applied to both terrain and models. If relational (generally in games where models move up and down on terrain) measured in distance (generally inches) from a point on all involved level with the base of the terrain or models with the base at the highest point. If non-relational, measured in distance from base to top of model or terrain. If the height of terrain exceeds a set percentage of the height of either model involved in drawing a line of sight (See Line of Sight) it provides cover to the action being taken.

Height cover will either be complex or simple. If simple, if the percentage is 100+ the action automatically fails, if 99 or less no penalty is applied. If complex there may be other penalties at given percentages. Heights may be rounded up or down for clarity. Instigator models within a set distance (generally 1”), of terrain with a height less than 100% of their height ignore it in complex systems.

Line of Sight

Line of sight will be either abstract or true.

True – Players trace a line from the actual eyes (or otherwise designated part) of the instigator model (generally attacker) to any part of the target model. Either by using laser line, small sticks or player vision. Depending on how much of the target model this can be achieved with, penalties on the action needing the line of sight are applied. Generally, with breaks at 100%, 50%, 25% and 0%, with 0% meaning that the action automatically fails.

Abstract – Players trace a line from any of a designated selection of points (generally any point on a base) of the instigator model (generally attacker) to an equivalent point on the target model. Depending on the terrain or other models that the line crosses, penalties on the action needing the line of sight are applied (See Terrain).


Models are permitted to attack once each activation using any equipped weapons. Attacks will be ranged or melee. Models that may attack or be attacked with melee weapons cannot attack with ranged ones. Attacks will have a range in distance based on the weapon used and may designate as a target any model as long as the line of sight that they trace to them is less than the range of the weapon. Attacks take staged tests to hit and to wound.

To Hit – A skill stat of the model sets the target number, the target number is raised or lowered by a range of modifiers:

Cover (See Line of Sight and Terrain above) raises target.

Friendly models nearby when testing melee lowers target.

Enemy models nearby when testing melee raises target.

Friendly models near target when testing ranged raises target.

Distance between instigator and target when testing ranged raises target.

This is not an exhaustive list, skills, environment and injury are usual other modifiers.

To Wound – A weapon power stat is compared to the target’s toughness stat to set a target number. The target is less likely to be raised or lowered apart from by weapon or model skills.

There may be a third ‘Saving’ test, based on armour or such, taken by the target where success wastes the attack, and lack of success allows it to pass on. Attacks that are pass each stage cause wounds.

Wounds – Different weapons cause different numbers of wounds, different models can suffer different numbers of wounds. If wounds caused exceed sufferable number of wounds, the model is removed.

Area of Effect

Some skills or weapons will have an area of effect. Area of effect actions designate an area, either by placing a template or by selecting a set point and distance from that point. All models within that area are targeted by the effect. If an attack they will not test to hit, if they do, they will ignore cover penalties. Area of effects are either temporary (if targeted) or pulse (if emanating from a model), performing their effects and then being removed or permanent (if targeted) or aura (if emanating from a model) remaining in place. If permanent they will continue to affect those that enter into the area at later points, though they may be removed by other events.


If terrifying enemy models or weapons are encountered or if friendly models are killed or wounds are suffered models may need to take psychology tests. If psychology tests are failed models will suffer “broken” status. Models in broken status always move fast towards the edge of the play area when they can move. If they leave the play area they will be removed. Models in broken status suffer penalties to most or all tests. Models in broken status may test psychology at the start or end of activation to remove the status. Leaders lower the target numbers for psychology tests in an aura area of effect.


Actual play will take place within scenarios which will designate a play area with terrain to be placed within it.


Players will place the models they purchased in force selection into an area designated their “deployment zone” which is a block area within the play area exactly mirroring those of all other opponents. They will either take turns placing one designated unit at a time or their entire forces at once. Whoever finishes such placement of forces first chooses who acts first in the first round of the game.


Players will attempt to remove the opponent’s models from the table, have the most models in designated areas of the play area and perform actions at set locations in the play area, or any mix of those three.


The player that most successfully performed the designated aims of the scenario will win.


Players will select from forces divided between these groups:

Horde – Has lots of low skilled, low cost troops, usually even more unskilled at ranged attacks than melee ones.

Elite – Has fewer high skilled, high cost troops. If skilled in ranged attacks unskilled in melee ones and visa versa.

Summon – Can complete skill tests to gain extra troops, also either Horde or Elite.


Play a connected series of scenarios. The player who wins games gains extra advantages for later games, those who lose games suffer extra penalties.


There, that about covers it. There is now no need to ever write another skirmish game that just fills in this template with numbers and a cover of theme. Anything you think has been missed? If you’re designing a game, how have you stepped outside the template to become more than generic?


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