From time to time I have heard criticism of the "all or nothing" combat system used in this game, where the larger fleet suffers no losses but totally annihilates the smaller force. I recently read a description of the diceless combat system used in an old Parker Brothers game, 1863 (that's the name, not the publication date!)
Here is a description of the 1863 combat system posted by Ralph Mazza:
"The combat mechanics are simple. You can only attack if you have the larger stack (with one exception). The attacker decides how many enemy units to destroy. The attacker loses 1 less. Thus, if you commit the forces for a major decisive battle to eliminate an enemy stack you will lose almost as high a percentage. If you instead do desultary attacks killing 1 enemy and losing nothing you give the enemy time to withdraw to a better position or bring in reinforcements. This deceptively simple mechanic really drives home how minimal the differences were in training and equipment, and how important attrition was to the war. The North has more units than the South and can better afford trading off losses. The reluctance of a player to fight a major battle and take big casualties captures the reluctance of many early Northern generals to committ. If the North does only little dink attacks in the east they give the South plenty of opportunity to move faster cavalry around to capture key targets in the west."
"Sacrificial attacks. The only time you can attack with a smaller stack is when you attack with a single unit. The unit automatically dies and inflicts no casualties but pins the enemy force down so it can't move for a time. This is a key way of catching your major army up to a major enemy force, by delaying it long enough to get there. Cavalry, with their ability to move two spaces are important for this, sending them out to die and allowing your big army to catch up 1 space per troop sacrificed. Very abstract but you definitely see the usefulness of cavalry and mourn their absence when you don't have enough."
It seems that a variantion of this system could be experimented with as a variant for 4000 A.D. The attrition inflicted on the attacker could simply be the same as the number of ships in the smaller force (i.e. the smaller force is totally destroyed and the attacker loses a corresponding number of ships), or the attacker could choose an amount of enemy ships to destroy and lose a corresponding amount. On the other hand, this sort of tinkering might require counterbalancing with the ship construction procedures.
In any case, I thought there was some food for thought here for those who enjoyed the other aspects of 4000 A.D. but were disappointed with the all-or-nothing combat resolution.
I just played my first game of 4000 A.D. this evening against my wife. We didn't play it to conclusion, just to the point where it was obvious that my more agressive nature and my willingness to take advantage of her inattentiveness would win me the game (not exactly a fair of me, I admit - but you don't know my wife. Odds are, she'd beat me! Honest!).
Anyway, my wife pointed out the brutal nature of the combat system. Having already read Caleb's review, I had been thinking about combat variants, so logged on to post my thoughts and ran across The Maverick's ideas (above).
Let me offer the system I'm thinking of, one that would better reflect the benefit of outnumbering your opponent:
1. Calculate the odds (round down to nearest integer). For example Red's 14 ships against Green's 6 ships rounds down to 2:1.
2. Completely eliminate the defender (obviously, no change here).
3. A CRT could be composed to offer these facts at a glance (or not), but it would be based on this simple rubric:
1:1 = Attacker loses same as defender
2:1 = Attacker loses 1/2 of what defender lost (rounded down)
4:1 = Attacker loses 1/4 of what defender lost (rounded down)
This would give incentive to obtain 2:1 or 4:1 odds and make the Attacker bear some of the cost of war. In other words, if Green has 4 ships guarding that star, I can plan on losing 4 ships taking it, unless I can bring 8 to bear on it, then I'll lose only 2.
Is this really an improvement? How would it affect production and movement? While "feeling" more realistic, would it just have the effect of dragging the game out? Did the designers forsee this and chose to adopt their seemingly "unrealistic" combat resolution simply to produce a game that plays better? Hmmm...
We'll have to try it out and get back on this...