Who Wins Combat Ties?

Whenever you (or anyone else for that matter) play any sort of war strategy board game, there is one question that will inevitably come up.

“Who wins ties in this combat?”

And it’s a good question because it isn’t always obvious. The way that I see it, there’s really only two answers to that question, because no, the answer “no one wins” isn’t allowed. In a war game, you’re typically fighting because you want to control a certain region or gain influence over something, and therefore it isn’t really that fun for no one to win. I’m sure there are board games in which a tie means that no one loses and the attacker just returns to where they started, but then surely that just means that the defender has won. Right?

So, only two options: either defender wins ties, or attacker wins ties.

Defender wins

I feel like defenders winning ties makes a lot of sense from a thematic viewpoint. It makes sense that the defending player has the advantage when it comes to fighting on home turf. They would know all the ins and outs of the place and would have access to all of their weaponry and defenses. They would have the high ground.

We see this rule in games such as Kemet and Cosmic Encounter, but for two seemingly different reasons.

In Kemet, you are very much incentivized to be aggressive and fight, seeing as you only get Victory Points (called FPs) from fighting if you are the attacker. Therefore, it would make sense that you only gain that FP if you actually beat the opponent, because tying would mean that you haven’t actually proven your worth and therefore not shown yourself to be worthy of gaining an FP.

In Cosmic Encounter, you often (read: very often) have no say in whether someone fights you or not. Therefore it makes mechanical sense for the defender to win ties so as to make sure that the game isn’t too unfair towards the defender, also due to the fact that the reward for winning as the attacker is far greater than the reward for winning as the defender.

Attacker wins

In Scythe and Dune, the attacker wins ties. The way to make thematic sense out of this is by thinking of the attack as a surprise attack. The defending player isn’t ready for the attack and therefore caught off guard. But this also makes mechanical sense.

Attackers winning ties helps incentivize battles. In both of those games I just mentioned, fights are actually somewhat rare (in Scythe because it isn’t always necessary, and in Dune because you only get ten moves over the course of the entire game). Knowing that you have a slight advantage over the other player nudges you towards being a bit more aggressive.

Who should win ties?

I have always been mostly in favor of defender winning ties (unless I’m the attacker in which case, definitely the attacker!) because of one simple reason:

Thematically, it makes more sense.

Sure, as I mentioned, you could think of an attack in terms of a surprise attack to give the attacker the advantage, but in most war games, all the acting parties are definitely acutely aware of the fact that battles can happen and so they wouldn’t be caught by surprise.

But what do you think? Should defenders win ties? Or attackers? Or does it depend entirely on the game?

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