Saturday, March 7, 2009


I grew up on ZOCs.

No, it wasn't a breakfast cereal. It was the infamous "Zone of Control." All the earliest Avalon Hill classics had them, as did most of the old SPI quads and their kin. I learned about them so early in my wargame career that for a long time I gave them little thought, despite some articles in MOVES magazine about them. It was easy to forget what an artificial thing they were, and how they could distort game tactics.

Mastering the effects of ZOCs was required for good play in those old classics, but I don't think they really added much in the way of realism. One of the refreshing things about XTR's games was that almost all of them dispensed with ZOCs.

When you really think about it, a ZOC probably means that the there's a mismatch between the size of a unit and the size of the hexes. If a division can cover a 12-mile front then perhaps the hexes ought to be 12-miles across and not 4 miles across with ZOCs accounting for the other 8 miles.

ZOC rules lead to oddities such as occupying every other hex along a hex grain, whereas in actual operations you would generally occupy a more-or-less continuous line.

Overall, I think ZOCs are best dispensed with.


  1. Some games don't have ZOCs at all. Great War In Europe Deluxe, for one. Most area or point to point movement games for many others.

    However, ZOCs do have their place. While a game might feature units in every other hex to hold down what is in reality a contiguous line, it may be that the design is intended to show that a unit in motion and a unit set in a defensive line look very different, and the ZOC allows you to keep the unit a single abstract square.

    ZOCs also demonstrate the extension of firepower that a given combat force has. Ancients games typically have ZOC projected in a specific direction, showing where the pointy end of the stick is, a much more compelling argument than the back of the phalanx. In more modern games, where projection of force can extend for distances measured in miles, ZOC is absolutely necessary - without it, the size of the force and the size of the hex can't possibly match up.

    Also keep in mind that a "continuous line" is a fairly recent phenomenon, within the last 100 years or so. Up until that time, warfare was army against army and equipping a million men with rifles wasn't possible - the food requirements alone would strip the region bare, and often did (see the 30 Years War for an excellent example).

    Some games, like Raicer's Red Storm Over The Reich, change the status of a unit's ZOC as it loses supply or combat effectiveness.

    ZOCs are no more or less unnecessary than hexes, CRTs, or any other mechanism/system in a wargame. They're a design tool, just like anything else. Since wargames are forced by their very nature to be compromises, I personally find that when used well (like every other design tool) they are very effective and get the job done. Are there games that abuse this design element? Sure, but there are many more (and more all of the time) that use them well. Or don't use them at all. It's all about what you as a designer are trying to accomplish and what choices you make in that effort. ZOCs in and of themselves are no more archaic than movement points or the use of NATO symbology.

    And if you disagree with me, step outside and we'll interlock our ZOCs!

  2. Dispensed with or seriously re-written... Which might destroy the playability of a game. ZOC's are especially useless in any modern game where the lines are so blurred and there is no 'front' or 'rear' areas.

  3. I agree. I also remeber that you made the same comment about Avalon Hill's 'Guns of August' when it first came out.

  4. Hear hear.

    A lot of gamers are very used to them, but I think a game feels so much cleaner without them. And the wargame hobby needs "clean" games if its going to survive.

  5. Well, not some games call them EZOC's which really bothers me! I have always thought of them as a way to model a fluid situation statically. It varies from game to game, but to me a ZOC means that a unit could respond and engage another unit passing by its area. In some games, it just costs more movement points to move through them. It sure seems that you might be more cautious moving by an enemy division than you might be otherwise! I love ZOC's. Save the ZOC's!

  6. Oh, I'm not against using ZOCs when appropriate. It can be a useful item in the designer's toolkit.
    I just think that too often it's automatically used when it might not awalys be appropriate.