Wargame Concepts

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These concepts are likely to be encountered in wargames and, while the player needs to be aware of more details, what is provided here may be helpful to those new to the genre.

Unit Counters

In traditional wargames, unit counters represent a distinct organizational unit in your force, such as an artillery regiment, an infantry company, and so on. Games may use counters with silhouettes or images that depict the represented units (e.g., the outline of a tank). This can be helpful to identify units without knowledge of NATO symbology.

Though to enjoy some older wargames, knowing NATO symbols is essential. Below is a reference to common symbols with some explanation of markings to help remember them. Markings may be used in combination with other symbols as explained in the comments. Explanations for some symbols comes from Wikipedia's NATO Joint Military Symbology.

Symbol Designation Comment
HQ NATO Symbol.png
Headquarters Self explanatory due to the abbreviation.
NATO Symbol Artillery.png
Artillery Symbol resembles a cannonball.
Infantry NATO symbol.png
Infantry Said to reference the crossed belts (bandoliers) of an infantryman.
NATO Symbol Armor.png
Armor (tank) Said to be a symbol of tank tread.
NATO Symbol Armored Infantry.png
Armored Infantry Armored infantry looks like a mix between the armor symbol and the infantry symbol. The armor symbol may be mixed with other symbols; e.g., with the artillery symbol to represent armored artillery,
NATO Symbol motorized infantry.png
Motorized Infantry A motorized unit will have two black circles on each bottom corner. This can be thought of as wheels. Other examples are motorized engineers, antitank, and artillery.
NATO Symbol Airborne.png
Airborne Resembles a bird in flight.
NATO Symbol Infantry Heavy Weapons.png
Infantry Heavy Weapons For this and other counters (e.g., Heavy Tank), the thick vertical black line on the counter's left side indicates 'Heavy'.
NATO Symbol Cavalry.png
Cavalry Said to symbolize the sabre belt of a cavalryman.
NATO Symbol Antitank.png
Antitank Representing a piercing action. It may also remind one of dragon's teeth: anti-tank fortifications used during World War II.
NATO Symbol Armored Recon.png
Armored recon The three circles may be thought of as extra wheels.
NATO Symbol Engineer.png
Engineer Resembles a bridge, or a rotated 'E'.
NATO Symbol Anti Aircraft.png
Anti aircraft Resembles a protective dome.

Zone of Control

A zone of control (ZOC) simulates the threatening presence around a unit. For instance, considering a unit counter on a hexagonal board, every hex adjacent to this unit would be considered it's ZOC. Typically an opposing unit entering this ZOC would suffer penalties for entering this ZOC, such as a surprise attack if hidden by fog of war, or potentially be engaged with the unit whose ZOC was entered.

In gameplay, it is important to be aware of ZOC both in defense (a way of preventing opposing units from sneaking by and potentially cutting supply), but also in being sure to reconnoiter an area. For more information, refer to Zone of Control.


A defending or entrenched unit will have a better chance of repelling attacks (depending on the kind of unit it is), especially in game terrain conducive to defense (e.g., structures, terrain with cover, such as forests). Along that line, units defending against river crossing will in many games have advantages over the attacker. It is important then not only to set units to defend, but to position them where they be best able to defend, though Focus on Objectives must be considered as well.


Command simulates leadership and coordination of units. Typically for a force there will be a Headquarters unit with a specified command range. Units outside this command range typically receive penalties, while units in the range may be more apt to recover from attacks on them that cause negative effects. In most games, the idea is to have the HQ near the units it supports (and in games an HQ may only support units of its own formation), but not have the HQ undefended and near the enemy.

Focus on Objectives

When new to the genre, it is tempting to destroy as many enemy units as possible, regardless that the objective is to capture and hold different points across a game map. In such cases, while you may win the individual battles against enemy units, it will be counterproductive if those battles do not advance gaining objectives. It is vital in games to know from the start where the most important objectives lie (relative to others) or what the victory conditions are and to consider whether actions align with reaching those goals.

It is also important when dealing with formations (e.g., multiple units that may share common HQ) to consider moving them not as distinct individuals, but considered as a group. Still, it is typically best to send reconnaissance forward first followed by others units as the picture becomes more clear.


These are acronyms you'll likely see in forums or discussions. Note that many times acronyms may be used for game companies and, since there are many, they will be excluded here.

  • AAA - anti-aircraft artillery
  • AAR - after action report
  • AP - anti-personnel
  • AT - anti-tank
  • DZ - drop zone
  • IGO UGO - a turn system in which players alternate turns
  • LAV - light armored vehicle
  • LOS - line of sight or line of supply
  • LPC - light personnel character
  • LZ - landing zone
  • MP - movement points
  • OOB - order of battle (list of all units in a force)
  • OOS - out of supply
  • PBEM - play by email
  • SAM - surface to air missile
  • SPA - self-propelled artillery
  • TO&E - table of organization and equipment
  • VP - victory point(s)
  • WEGO - a turn system in which turns are submitted in advance and run simultaneously
  • ZOC - zone of control