Home Forums General Game Design Ammo limits?

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    Ivan Sorensen

    So most games ignore ammo, except as a scenario rule.

    Makes sense right? If a tank in WW2 carries 50ish rounds of ammunition, odds are it’ll be dead before it’s empty.

    But what about cases where that is NOT the case?
    A Bazooka crew (to continue the WW2 example) may have only a few rockets available.

    An infantry support tank might carry only a limited supply of armor-piercing ammunition.

    The Elven archer may have only a few magical arrows of dragon-smiting.

    So how do you handle that? Count the shots for those cases? Ignore it? Dice roll? Give them one shot in the game? (I think Command Decision did this for some ammo types)? Ammo exhaustion roll? Run out on a critical failure?

    Something else entirely which is completely brilliant and you’ll discuss it below?

    Nordic Weasel Games


    I guess that the mechanism will differ depending on the scale of warfare being modelled; for example, in Battlegroup, each tank has a set number of “shots” that the player keeps track of. Small arms ammo is not recorded. But, in a game like Shadow Wars: Armageddon, every type of weapon right down to a sidearm has an ammo rating. I’m a bit hazy on the details, but if I remember correctly, every time a 1 was rolled on a to hit, you would have to roll against the weapons ammo rating to determine if the weapon ran out of ammo.

    I honestly prefer the second type of (semi-randomized) system because it is less predictable and requires less book keeping. Whether this system should apply to small arms or only tanks/artillery depends on the size of battle being played.

    If you are including ammo rules in a game, I think that it is important to include interesting resupply rules; it could be something as simple as the resupply rules in Battlegroup (drive your resupply truck up to the tank to be resupplied and transfer the ammo), but I prefer something a bit more detailed, like the resupply rules in the FNG supplement “Beans and Bullets”: you determine what resupply vehicle is available (choppers, because it is ‘Nam), decide what items you need, and determine how much of your request is fulfilled. Again, I like this system because it is less predictable. You might run out of anti-tank weapons, and then your resupply mission fails to bring the additional LAWs that you requested, and then you are in trouble. Knowing this, you have to be a bit more careful about how trigger happy you are.

    Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let's go kill them!

    Chris Pringle

    Semi-randomized – a function of the firing dice, with no extra roll required, rather than having to do book-keeping and constantly count everyone’s rounds. Two examples at opposite ends of the scale: Check Your Six!, the best-selling award-winning air combat game where the unit is individual aircraft, and Bloody Big BATTLES!, C19 warfare where a unit might be a 10,000-man division.

    BBB is simple: roll 2 dice to hit, and 11 or 12 means not only major effect on your target but also the unit becomes Low on Ammo.

    CY6! is subtler and I was very pleased with myself for thinking it up. Every aircraft gets a free first fire that needs to be checked off on its record sheet. After that, every shot risks running out of ammo. Again the system is 2D6 to hit. Doubles are bad, and the higher the double, the worse. More experienced pilots are less likely to run out of ammo; bigger heavier weapons with fewer rounds carried are more likely to run out. There is also an optional “just a jam!” rule that gives a chance that the low ammo result was a jam that can be cleared.


    Bloody Big BATTLES!





    Count shots (typically artillery,  special ammo), randomise it (small arms) , apply a time limit (units of x size typically run out of ammo after y time)  I like the combined random/count thing in Fire and Fury (units go to low ammo on their first failure).

    In Minschlact it is randomised, but the effect is that unit becomes disorganised, so you can rally the effect off (representing resupply). Brilliant.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Les Hammond

    I only count ammo for the SiG33 auf PzI, which carried 3 rounds of 15cm! This is negated if the SdKfz111 munitionschlepper is within cohesion.

    6mm France 1940



    I used to play early versions of Command Decision that required you to track ammo for every vehicle. I like having the challenge of having to think about supply, but I much prefer the new system in CD where running out of ammo is dependent upon the firing roll. It’s requires less brain power and book-keeping which suits my ageing brain nicely. I’m happy enough to count shots in small skirmish games like Laserburn, though. It really depends upon the size of the game, the time frame and the level being played. At an army level, I don’t want to have to track individual units’ ammunition. At small skirmish level, it seems like part of the game, and in between, I would generally either randomise or state that units have enough ammunition to last for the whole game or for a specific time-frame.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.



    There was an SPI boardgame where a counter was a NATO platoon or Sov Company where ATGMs rolled to deplete with either a 1,2 or 1,2,3. Once depleted, the unit lost a lot of its ATk power.

    I am working on a WWII spearhead level of rules where units with limited special ammo have their power to attack tough units improved. So a 6pdr troop might get an improved attack V big cats, but not against stugs and PZIV to reflect their access to a few APDS shells.


    We just keep track of it for each soldier or weapon, if it is a relevant issue given the scope of the game.

    A Lot of Gaul

    In the ancients ruleset To the Strongest!, most bow-armed troops have enough ammo for three shots per game, while javelinmen have two shots. IMHO it makes for more interesting tactical choices and decisions.

    "Ventosa viri restabit." ~ Harry Field

    Darkest Star Games

    but I prefer something a bit more detailed, like the resupply rules in the FNG supplement “Beans and Bullets”

      I”m very glad you brought this up Paul, as you have reminded me that I need to try to put this into FNG3 as basic and not a supplement!


    Really I would think that if an item or ammo is rare enough to have a limited supply then it should somehow for sure be tracked with more detail than “normal” ammo, whether that be via paperwork or markers.

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    John D Salt

    There was an SPI boardgame where a counter was a NATO platoon or Sov Company where ATGMs rolled to deplete with either a 1,2 or 1,2,3. Once depleted, the unit lost a lot of its ATk power.

    Mech War ’77 — an interesting game. Ammo depletion rolls only applied to ATGW armament, so US infantry platoons that had run out of Dragons, or BMP companies that had run out of Saggers (Milyutki) were replaced with counters showing lower ATk strengths and ranges, and specialist ATk elements armed only with ATGW were simply removed from the map. IIRC their original “Red Star/White Sar” game just had the counter removal rule for missle-armed elements (and the US was still using ENTAC in those days).

    Missiles (whether anti-tank or anti-aircraft) are probably the ammunition nature most sternly affected by limitations in the number of rounds, but plenty of other weapon classes come close. Hand-held anti-tank weapons have been mentioned — a couple of carriers of 3 bombs each is probably it for a PIAT team, for example. Some weapons are throwaway — LAWs are the obvious example, but most infantrymen won’t usually carry more than one or two grenades, and especially not bulky anti-tank grenades like the Gammon Bomb or RPG-42. Among the jolly German inventions of WW2 was the Einstossflammenwerfer, a disposable single-shot flamethrower intended to be used during a final assault. Flame weapons, especially manpack fllamethrowers, are pretty limited in ammo supply — a Lifebuoy holds only enough for about four squirts. Trolley flamethrowers carry more, as usually do vehicle flamethrowers, and the ultimate flamethrower vehicle, the Crocodile, pretty much carries enough not to worry about; although depending on the time scale of the game you might want tohave a time linit after which the trailers need to be re-pressurized.

    Special ammunition natures have been mentioned for ATk purposes, but a particular nature likely to be in limited supply is smoke. Early WRG rules had smoke rules that permitted the cautious player to cover the table with what looked like a low-lying layer of cumulonimbus, and these were fixed in later rules by restricting the ammunition supply. The WRG rule, which I thought was a good general rule, was that with ammunition in restricted supply, you had only enough for three shots.

    Although artillery shells and mortar bombs are seldom scarce, the sheer rate at which they can be fired, and the fact that they do not need to see their targets directly to do so, mean that these are liable to run out during the course of an encounter battle. In a “set-piece”, one can argue that a dumping plan has been made to keep the supply adequate, but if you compare the first-line holdings of, say, a 25-pdr or 3-in mortar detachment with the weapon’s rate of fire, you’ll see you could if you wanted fire off the lot in a few minutes. Some games I’ve seen limit the number of fire missions (often conveniently not specifying the nature beforehand). I quite like the later WRG approach of allowing players to buy “doses” of pre-game fire preparation. SPI’s “Cassino” game made HQ units represent the supply of mortar ammunition to the troops, such was the volume of morar fire during the battle.

    As I’ve been known to bleat about before, infantrymen only carry enough small-arms ammunition to last five or six minutes at the rapid rate. An interesting way of handling the problem is in Phil Sabin’s “Fire and Movement” game, where infantry elements are burned up to reflect ammunition becoming depleted.

    SPI’s “Grunt” had some nice ammunition rules, with the US amble to request an ammo resupply by helo, and the VC able to replensih from ammo caches. The VC could also transport ammo caches using elements of porters, which had no combat value, but were still useful for this. The provision of carrying parties is a dull but important part of non-mechanised warfare, especially in difficult terrain. Recall that 81st and 82nd West African divisionswere the most mobile formations in 14th Army in jungle, because they head-loaded everything instead of relying on vehicles.

    While ammuntion limitations do add a bit more complexity to a game, they reflect concerns that real-world commanders have, and if the rules cover resupply, they give point to otherwise largely useless vehicles such as jeeps, Bren carriers, small half-tracks, panje wagons, and Les Hammond’s Munitionsschlepper.

    All the best,


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