Imagine a table top like game, where you have a map/battlefield you play on with your units moving turn based. Can you think about a way to make an illusion of a sudden attack? Sure, you could do something like your opponent has to leave the room while your turn or close his eyes but this is not a good solution.

For further explanation an example: player one is setting up an ambush. Player two would never walk into it with his units because he knows the players position.

The only way i see is moving your opponents attention to another point but easier said than done.

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    Put tokens all over the place. Whenever your opponent moves into a space with a token in it, reveal the token. Most are decoys, but some are attacks. Feb 14, 2018 at 22:39
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    I disgree with the close votes. It's a specific problem with a short answer (not too broad), and answers can be fairly objectively ranked (not primarily opinion-based).
    – ikegami
    Feb 15, 2018 at 0:44
  • Is it acceptable that once per turn all unit positions are public knowledge, or would secrecy need to be kept for multiple rounds? Feb 15, 2018 at 1:47
  • @TheChaz2.0 Tokens are still a visible element. Its actually a good idea to control/trick your opponent but it's not the intention of my question.
    – Ressid
    Feb 15, 2018 at 6:48
  • @KenHerbert For clarification: Everyone knows the common tactic to sudden attack enemies from above when they walk through a ravine. I want to have the same effect on your opponent. So even if he knows once your position he will not move through the ravine, he will probably shoot upwards .
    – Ressid
    Feb 15, 2018 at 7:01

3 Answers 3


How you should look at these tabletop wargames

You need to remove the idea that "what you see is what really is" to do this. Right now, you seem to base your idea on the game that if a unit is in a certain location on your map, that's really where it is, at that moment. Instead, you might want to consider that this is just where your opponent thinks it is.

Remember that your players are the generals in the battle, giving orders to their soldiers. They are relying on the information being passed along by scouts and signals. So basically, your players are each looking at the battle like this:

Generals planning a battle

Of course, in your game they are both looking at the same map because that makes the game far more manageable, but in the real situation your game simulates, your players would each be looking at their own map, based on their own intelligence of what the actual battlefield looks like.

That means that when your opponent looks at the map (the same map you are looking at) and he sees the ravine, and he sees none of your units there, that's because he thinks that's the current situation. When one of your units suddenly "teleports" halfway across the map to the top of the ravine, that isn't because it has some kind of weird technology, it's because you knew those units were there all along, but your opponent didn't, and now he is in a tough spot. The map isn't a perfect representation of reality, it's a representation of what both sides know and what both sides have convinced the other side is true; that might change at any time when it comes to hidden maneauvers.

Some ways to implement this

The hardest part is implementing these rules in a fair way, because obviously you don't have actual soldiers in some far away area fighting and it won't be fun if each player can just claim their guys did something. Here's some mechanical ideas for how you can include ambushes, bluffs and tricks in a tabletop war game in a fair and fun way.

The 'stealthy' property

Some units might have a property or attribute that makes them 'stealthy'. What this means, rule-wise, is that when no enemy unit has line of sight to them, you mark them on the map as 'hidden' with some kind of marker. Every turn, instead of assigning them an order, you just add another 'hidden' marker. This signifies that the enemy player doesn't know where they are, just where they last spotted them.

During your turn, you can decide to reveal where your ambush units are, by immediately moving them to any place they could have reached over the course of the number of turns they've been hidden from sight and removing their 'hidden' markers.

A possible downside is that hidden units are essentialy everywhere within their range; the commanding player doesn't have to pick where they are while they are hidden. This gives them a big advantage. This advantage can be reduced by using markers that have an arrow on the bottom that shows where the unit went, which requires the player to decide each turn, just not show. Downside to this is that it's a bit more finicky to execute.

The hidden reserve

At the start of the game, you might have some units that have the ability to be left outside the battlefield. Essentially, your opponent doesn't yet know they are even involved (or just doesn't know where they are yet, depending on whether you need to reveal your army before the game). During your turn, you can decide to move these units from the edge of your field all the way to any location they could reach given the turn-number, as long as they don't move through any enemy unit's vision.

Like the stealthy property, this gives you the option to suddenly be at the top of a ravine, and it just resembles that the unit has been stealthily making its way there the whole battle. Again, you could mark direction markers on them during the game if you want to force the player to chose early.

bait and switch

You might give units the option to not have their current location be entirely accurate. They are on the map in a certain spot, but have an ability that when the enemy gains line of sight to them, they can immediately move to a different location, or switch places with one another, or take some other order. This will simulate the unit trying to bait the enemy into making a bad move, based on wrong information on their part. They were always in the other spot, but the enemy didn't realize.

(You can also have special counter-units that suppress this ability, so that when they spot a unit that is trying to bait the enemy, it actually gets pinned stuck in its bad positioning. This can signify a unit that's superior at baiting compared to the original unit, and has actually outmaneauvered them.)


Based on the bait and switch option, decoy units might allow you to deploy things that look and act just like ordinary units until your opponent gains direct line of sight. Then, they might vanish or be replaced with different units. You can mark a decoy on the bottom of the figure, for example, so that your opponent thinks units are attemping a move, only to find out upon acting that it's not a real unit. Or a different one. You might have fielded soldiers wearing different uniforms, or clever use of black smoke and logs might have fooled enemy scouts into thinking you have heavy cannons somewhere.

The arbiter

This last one requires a third player; but if you have a way to communicate moves to an impartial arbiter, you could write down moves in secret that deviate from updates done on the actual map. The arbiter would make sure that the rules keep working while your opponent doesn't know exactly what is going on. Although how feasible this is, depends on the game you are building, as the arbiter will need to maintain a bunch of hidden state.


Let go of the idea that what you see on the map is reality. Treat it instead like what the commanders think the field is like. Then introduce clever mechanics that let players change the field in unexpected ways.

  • That's it! I got some pretty good ideas out of that thanks.
    – Ressid
    Feb 18, 2018 at 12:55

It's hard to answer this without understanding the core mechanisms of the game you're talking about.

However for reference maybe you could try playing Star Wars: Rebellion.

In that game you have the Empire vs the Rebels and the Rebels pick a planet to be the rebel base. The base is one of the planets on the map but also has a separate space on the board to represent units stationed at the secret location.

The game is card driven, each turn you play missions from cards, as well as move / attack with units. Some of those cards are things like launching surprise attacks which come in 2 forms:

  • Units from the rebel base can appear on a planet suddenly, if the Empire is present they resolve a combat.

  • Units can be deployed from reserves on a chosen planet and resolve a combat if the Empire is present.

This system works in a game which is card driven, or has some kind of ability system as well as one where units can be deployed to the battlefield during a mission.

That being said you could adapt something similar by having units teleport to a location as a surprise attack, the rationale could be something like their armies had bad intelligence on your army, perhaps you could have it so only a small number of units could ambush at once.

You would need to decide if your game was one of perfect information, ie the current state of play is known to all players at once, I'm sure you could come up with some clever form of trap in a system of perfect information but its going to be a lot harder than something like this.

  • I get your point. The game im creating is a tabletop like game. So you have your units on the battlefield. The century is changing and it is a realistic - historically correct setting. So as long as you are not in the future you cannot teleport. Actually, now that i think about it. It's fitting for an assassin like character. There has to be some kind of rule that allows the assassin to suddenly appear next to another unit and attack it. But my problem still remains with setting up an ambush with a lot of units. Do you have a better understanding now about what im trying to accomplish?
    – Ressid
    Feb 15, 2018 at 9:26

Battletech did this with an extra player to be the game master, and it was probably called "fog of war" or "double blind". Players could see the board, but units would be hidden until they had line of sight (which is a formula in BT, so no random "player 1, make a perception roll" nonsense). Players would write moves and pass them to the game master, who would then compare locations and determine line of sight, and allow attacks and whatnot.

If you only require one player to have hidden units, they could keep track on paper where their units were, and when it is time to reveal, show the other player their move history. This requires the other player to validate the moves though.

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