I noticed this thing in Age of Wonders I some time ago, but I can imagine this problem popping up in any other game system where units with equal attack range spend their move points on either moving in range or attacking.

In this game, both sides start far away from each other, not being able to hit each other. They have to spend a couple of turns advancing. At some moment it happens that one player moves their units closer to the enemy units to be able to attack them, but also ends up in the opponent's attacks' range, getting damaged before being able to attack themself. Not very good!

Sometimes it is acceptable and intended, like if I attack an army of cavalry with an army of archers, my opponent is essentially allowed a free attack because cavalry can usually move further than archer's shooting range. But if both armies have equal ranges, the game can turn into a stalemate, because nobody wants to move forward and be hit first. Getting the first strike is so important that it overshadows a strong unit stats advantage.

Even the AI knows to abuse it, waiting for an infinite amount of time before the player attacks. While it is easy to counter this as a player against AI by flanking the enemy ranks in such a way that only one of their units gets in range of many my units and the enemy is forced to advance, a real player could just back off with this unit and wait for me to fully advance, getting hit severely and likely even losing my upper hand if I had one.

Thus, it feels like an example of very bad design. How do I design TBS combat in a similar system so that it is not completely disadvantageous to move in and attack unless you have a range advantage?

The only possible solution that I see is making the ranges more different, so it is less probable to see units with similar attack ranges, but even in that case such a situation r still not impossible. I am sure that some more elegant solutions exist. So, what are they?

  • \$\begingroup\$ There are other solutions. Like, asymmetric victory conditions... one side is on defense the other offence, and there's a limited time for offense to win. Then the defenders are expected to wait. I'm not convinced your analysis of the problem is complete. \$\endgroup\$
    – Almo
    May 8, 2018 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Almo Indeed, setting asymmetric victory conditions should help. Some mechanism to detect such a stalemate can be introduced and set to end the combat if noone advances. The attacker is hence supposed to attack if they are planning to achieve anything, and it is their job to think of the potential losses. You could share it as a very useful answer! \$\endgroup\$ May 8, 2018 at 23:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you deserve a fuller answer than my comment. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Almo
    May 8, 2018 at 23:59

5 Answers 5


First move advantage, or more accurately first attack advantage, can be quite game-breaking. Extra Credits made a video about it, by the way.

A few solutions I have seen in turn-based strategy games over the years to make it less important.

  • Symmetric combat mechanics (Battle Isle series and its spinoffs, Civilization) When a unit attacks, both units deal damage and take damage. So the only advantage of being the first to attack is that you can pick your battles... unless you find a victim which is unable to retaliate for some reason, for example because it has less range than your unit.
  • Counter-Attack (Seen in many games, but often only as some kind of special ability granted to a few unit types) A weaker form of symmetric combat. When a unit is attacked and survives, it gets to attack back immediately (if able).
  • Simultaneous turns (A rare solution I only remember seeing once. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the game where I saw that). Both sides make their moves simultaneously and they then get resolved simultaneously. It's a mechanic which is a bit unintuitive for the player and has a lot of edge-cases to handle, but it can also have some very interesting depths and allows to play some interesting mind-games with the opponent.
  • Action points (classic X-Com, Jagged Alliance). Instead of allowing attacking or moving, give each unit a number of action points which can be spent on attacking, moving or a bit of both. The one who moves into range will have a first-attack advantage, but won't attack with full action points. The defender (should it survive) will then already be in range and can then retaliate with their full action points. So the stronger second attack partially compensates the first-move advantage.
  • Embrace it. (the majority of turn-based strategy games) Use the classic move-then-attack mechanic. Fully accept that there is first-attack advantage and build your game around finding the strategy which gets you the first move as often as possible. You might be able to do this with move-or-attack if you add some mechanics which discourage turtling and allow to bait the enemy into traps.

40k attempted to solve this with Assault weapons, Rapid Fire weapons, and some quick fire rule I forget the name of.

In "assault weapons" case, you get to shoot even though you moved; and you could even assault on top of it (charge.) In Rapid Fire's case you could shoot even though you moved. And in the case of other weapons (heavy and their ilk) you could wing a shot out there that only had about a 33% or 25% of your normal chance to hit.

This did, over time, make the game more mobile.

Another option akin to this is a kind of "assault move" like throwing your javelins, having a bow show ready at a reduced speed, etc, and combining it with the move action (and maybe even for free so you can't even not do it.)

I think you may also consider things like Smoke Bombs, temporary shielding, a movement-based "Cover bonus" (harder to hit moving targets), and other forms of defense that the advancing army can use.

Finally, I think whatever you do, you should consider seeing if one side wins a few percentage points more often and then adjust the rules slightly until you get something within the 52% range or so. Note: even at 52%, that means that the player with advantage gets a "free win" every 12 wins or so; or in other words is a relative 8+%. Quite a difference!

  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought about solving this e.g. by giving archers an ability to shoot after moving, but it would just increase the range by which it would become desirable to stop. E.g. bow range is 8 tiles, I can move 6 tiles. If I can either shoot or move, the stalemate happens on the ninth tile from my enemy, but being able to move and shoot it would happen on the 15th tile (8+6+1). Using temporary deployable defenses or terrain sounds interesting, though. Especially combined with an "instant win for the defenders" if nothing happens. \$\endgroup\$ May 9, 2018 at 1:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ And of course the Orks didn't get an aim penalty while moving, because they never aim anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – Almo
    May 9, 2018 at 15:52

One issue I see with your problem analysis is that: Range is a huge advantage.

Outranging opponents in combat is one of the most powerful tools in warfare. In a vacuum there's no reason to actually risk yourself in an attack if defending is just stronger (which it will almost always be in any system).

Even in the case were both armies are of equal range, the defender still has an advantage since the enemy has to walk into their range first, and that's natural.

So I think that the problem you're having isn't actually a problem. It's the natural consequence.

There are a couple ways I normally see this dull gameplay circumvented

  • Give the players an objective. Control points on exposed locations as a victory condition, extra resources that expire over time, anything that would lead a person to decide "That thing is worth the risk". XCom: Enemy Within did this well with it's MELD. A valuable resource that expires quickly, forcing you to rush into danger to obtain it.

  • Asymmetric objectives. Have one player be on the defense, and another on the attack. The defensive player wins if they hold out for X amount of turns. This forces the attacker to move into the vulnerable offensive position. It's not a TBS but Overwatch's Payload maps are great examples of this.

  • Have something players need to protect. That opens the option for multi pronged attacks. If all your snipers are tied up keeping my melee forces away from the front, a small group troops can cause havoc in the economy/base/back lines.

  • Provide movement options. This is probably my favorite one. If getting into range is too detrimental add ways to get into range favorably. Dropships that can ferry troops in and drop them right on the archers. Short range teleportation to cross the kill zone. Underground tunnels to get behind firing lines. Siege engines to tank the shots and slowly escort the guys in. The possibilities are endless. If players have effective offensive movement options the likelihood of stalemates decreases dramatically. Starcraft is a masterclass in this.

So what I'm saying is: Attacking into a defensive opponent is a disadvantage and that's fine. What is needed are effective motivations and tools for players not to stalemate eachother.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You probably didn't notice that archers don't have a range disadvantage. And this is a problem: if one has a range advantage/disadvantage, there is an effective strategy of moving in to get a free attack (or even two!). The problem exists when two parties of equal effective attack range collide: none wants to engage. \$\endgroup\$ May 9, 2018 at 21:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Admittedly I didn't address the equal range case specifically, but I did provide several examples of ways to discourage this stale player behavior. Especially the ones about requiring goals or time limits. If you provide no incentive to be aggressive, they won't be aggressive. So provide incentives and opportunities to do so. \$\endgroup\$ May 9, 2018 at 22:02

You're basically describing a form of Nash Equilibrium. Assuming you want to design a traditional turn based system and not use something like simultaneous turns as Philipp mentions (an underappreciated mechanic for sure), the easiest way is to make sure the other parts of your system work in tandem with the move and attack ranges in order to mitigate the problem - basically a variant of "Embrace it". I am going to assume though that at least melee units can both move and attack in one turn, if not necessarily move as far while attacking than not.

  • Speed and Toughness: slow units might be heavily armoured and designed to withstand the first assault of the enemy while manoeuvrable light skirmishers will have to use their higher speed in order to move carefully and not be caught out by the enemy
  • Defensive Setup: units may be able to move part of their range and then use some kind of blocking buff that ends their round but reduces damage. Units like spearmen might even be able to damage those charging into their formation. This way you can move into range, prepare for the enemy attack and give a good return. In modern settings with firearms, the equivalent would be the overwatch command.
  • Clever Positioning: in your example of an archer and a cavalry army, why not send a unit of archers into range to pelt them with arrows while having the majority stand back ready to fire? The archers in the front are vulnerable to the cavalry's attack, but attacking them will put the cavalry into firing range of all your archers.
  • Accepting Defeat: If you only have ten archers and they fight ten mounted knights, either you can position them in a fortification or on a cliff or your archers will just lose. Some units counter other units and some units are just more powerful in general. These things are usually balanced through pricing, i.e. resource investment.

Else, Philipp and Scott Maher both make excellent points, especially in terms of having objectives or time limits to force players into action. This is even more useful if there's no great penalty to retreat except for not having accomplished anything. The opponent is thusly forced into action, as they may need to destroy your army, conquer your fort or whatever it may be. If there is nothing to gain by fighting, simply retreat and restore the status quo - the player who wants to change said status is the one who has to move.


If you allow moving and shooting, your archers can in theory kite infinitly, if their movement range matches that of the cc fighters. If you compare it to real life, archers were standing and shooting, while the enemies where charging in to minimize the time getting hit. When the fighters were in combat range, the archers had no chance. So even heavily injured and decimated, your fighters should still win.

Two ideas (assuming your ranged fighters cant move and shoot):

  1. Give your ranged units a minimal range. This way, your fighters could rush through the death zone and prepare and attack in the next turn or following. This would heavily favor cc fighters in an 1v1 situation, but would solve the problem.
  2. Similar to blurrys suggestion of cover: If a fighter is in cc combat with an enemy, make it impossible to shoot on those fighters. Your archers are trained not to shot on own people, so they can't shoot into melee where they could hit own troops. This would do nothing in 1v1 scenarios, but with other troops, this could balance things out.
  • \$\begingroup\$ This does not solve my problem at all. Whatever the range of whatever units, say, I have 4 swordsmen attacking other 4 swordsmen. Both sides cannot hit each other. The side that spends their move points to move in cannot attack this round and will get attacked by the other side, being hit first and most likely losing. The same happens with any other pairs of units with equal range: archers, cavalry etc. You can essentially treat archers as having range of 8 (their actual range), infantry as having range of 6 and cavalry as having range of ~10 (their move range). Changing range changes nothing \$\endgroup\$ May 9, 2018 at 11:39

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