Skuffle Wammer with zombies

Dev diary

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Last year, I developed and published Skuffle Wammer, the universe's smallest wargame. It's designed to be played in 5 minutes or less, with the intent of being the tabletop gaming equivalent of a good stand-up-and-stretch at work. The play area is an A4 sheet of paper, you throw out some miniatures and some dice, and play to the end. The dice are used as both ammunition and as hit points, and each mini possesses just 3d6, and its rules are just half a page, so it really is a fast and fun game, and easy to play. Lately I've been experimenting with expansion ideas, and my first idea is to bring some zombies into play.

Ghoul stats

To my surprise, I only own one zombie miniature. It seems like an unlikely oversight for a horror movie fan and avid gamer, and yet it's the current state of things. Keeping with the WYSIWYG principle of wargaming, I decided to save zombie rules for later and work on ghoul rules instead. (At least, I thought that's what I'd decided.) So I started running Skuffle Wammer games with the four ghoul miniatures included in Games Workshop's Blackstone Fortress.

Normally in Skuffle Wammer, a melee attack of 3+ is a hit. But these are ghouls. These are undead creatures that specialise in shredding the flesh off of a living body and feasting upon its internal organs. I think a ghoul auto-hits. No roll required. When it's in melee range, it hits on its turn.

That's an exciting and terrifying concept, but surely overpowered?

To balance that out, I decided that each ghoul would have 1 less die than its opponent. Skuffle Wammer defaults to 3d6 for each mini, so a ghoul gets 2d6. They're undead, so arguably they should be harder to kill than average, but then again they're undead. They're the remnants of a living crature. I think it's fair to say that they come apart pretty easily. They're ghouls, not zombies (don't quote me on that).

I was still worried that auto-hitting would be too powerful, plus an auto-hit is tough to define. If it's an automatic hit, do you still spend a die? Or do they just keep attacking until you shoot their die away from them?

At the last minute, I decided they'd hit on 2+ instead.

Playtest 1: That wasn't so hard

The first battle went well for the Citadelâ„¢ Space Marines. They slaughtered the ghouls with only one loss to their own force. It didn't help that I made the horrible choice if testing an unrelated weapon rule (one of the miniatures had a flamer, and I couldn't resist making that an area attack). (It's really bad to test two unrelated changes together, but I'm just a hobbyist game designer and sometimes what's cool to me as a gamer interferes with what's correct. I fix the issue in my next playtest.)

I was surprised to find that rolling 2+ wasn't as powerful as I'd expected. Obviously the percentage is high, so the likelihood of it being powerful is great, but it's not guaranteed. The marines rolled high, the ghouls missed a lot, and also I was being foolish and allowed a marine to fight ghouls with fire.

Playtest 2: Still not hard enough?

I swapped out the miniature with a flamer for a miniature with a regular old gun, and then played again. This time, there were no winners. There was one loss on either side, and everyone else got away with no dice but no fatal wound (in Skuffle Wammer, a miniature is dead only when a dice is removed by combat damage).

There was much metagaming, as there is in Skuffle Wammer when you see that a miniature has no dice left. And there were lots of bad rolls. If you pretend that metagaming isn't a thing, then the ghouls would have won, because the marines wouldn't have ignored the dice-less ghoul standing right next to them in order to shoot the ghoul across the battlefield who does have dice.

It's a quirk of the game system. I justify it in game design because the contest is to see who's left standing, not necessarily to kill every miniature. I justify it in-world by declaring that no dice means incapacitated.

If you pretend that the marines hadn't rolled poorly, the marines would have won.

It's important to pick up on the reasons why one side loses in a playtest. For instance, a poor tactical decision that loses you a game doesn't mean the game system is broken, it means the game system punishes poor tactical decisions. That's probably a good thing.

Similarly, dice rolls aren't persistent. Marines won't always roll poorly, they just rolled poorly during this playtest. Had they rolled well for every bad roll, then the endgame is reversed.

At this point, I'm not sure whether 2+ is enough of a threat. Maybe it's time to consider 1+, which is functionally "auto-hit" except it makes it clear that you still have to spend a die to achieve it. I felt that another playtest was probably in order.

PLaytest 3: Bring back the zombies

This time around, I felt certain that 2+ with only 2d6 to spend was nowhere near as powerful as I'd anticipated. It makes sense, if you think about it. Every space marine on the board could literally sacrifice each turn until the ghouls have no further dice left, and then you roll 4d6. Even just one hit means the marines win just by the number of miniatures left standing.

It's still fun to see how the battle shakes out, so I do think it's a valid variant. But it's not the rules for ghouls. I'd set out to create rules for zombies, and then changed to ghouls, but appropriately I ended up with rules for zombies. Zombies have two major tactics: Infection and numbers. Inventing a system to represent a miniature getting bitten and infected by a zombie, and then turning against its allies would be difficult in Skuffle Wammer. You'd have to swap miniatures, probably, and bring back some dice to reset health to the whatever the undead default is. That's too much admin for this game. But representing a flood of zombies who are relatively easy to put down, but are dangerous in number, is exactly what I hit upon with the reduced dice pool and ultra-low hit number.

The only questions now are how many zombies are enough zombies? And do they hit on 1+ or 2+?

Playtest 4: One hit one kill

The problem with flooding the Skuffle Wammer board with miniatures is that each mini is supposed to have a dice pool that it carries around with it. That's bearable for a normal 4 against 4 game, but 4 against 8 is a lot of die to keep track of.

New idea. If a zombie is one hit one kill, then there's no need for zombie dice at all. When a zombie is within melee, it auto-hits, and a zombie dies when it's hit even once.

I played with 4 marines against 8 zombies. It was gruesome. The space marines tried to keep their distance, but the zombies just kept flooding in. The zombies suffered casualties, but the marines were rolling poorly again and ended up heedlessly throwing away dice. The zombies were definitely the last ones standing.

Zombies rule with zombie rules

After a few more playtests using the one-hit-one-kill rule, I decided that the feel of the game play was spot on for zombies. It felt exactly like a zombie fight. As soon as you took one out, there was another one in your face. And as each marine fell, the zombies swarmed the next available one. The final marine on the board fell to three zombies.

The final zombie rules I'll write into the forthcoming expansion pack:

  • Zombies have no dice, and hit automatically when attacking within melee range
  • It only takes one hit to remove a zombie from the board
  • After placing zombies on the board, place 1 + 1d3 additional zombie miniatures on the board.

Download the game

You can download Skuffle Wammer from As of this writing, the expansion is still in development, but eventually they'll be added to that download.

Images by Seth Kenlon

, Creative Commons BY-SA.

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