Surprise Attacks

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Attacks that come unexpected to the target of those attacks.

Many games put players in conflict with other players or diegetic enemies. A game has the potential for Surprise Attacks when either side can attack the other without that side being prepared.


Players of Chess and Go can be caught in Surprise Attacks even if they can see all their opponent pieces. This since they may not be able to calculate all possible future moves by their opponents and due to this miss attacks being prepared. This can also happen in Diplomacy, but in this game winning strategies often hinges upon betraying an "ally" at a convenient point by doing a Surprise Attack on that "ally".

Game masters in Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Dungeons & Dragons and GURPS can easily create Surprise Attacks for players in the form of traps or hidden monsters. Many times, however, players are given some chance to discover these to let characters with high perception help the group of adventurers.

In the first installment of the X-COM series, the player's characters could only see enemies in their line of sight. This could easily lead to Surprise Attacks if rooms where not completely searched or aliens had the opportunity to sneak up behind the characters.

Using the pattern

Surprise Attacks are typically included in games to provide variation or extra concerns regarding Combat. Generally, they can occur in any game that has Combat and Fog of War or Imperfect Information related to that. However, Solution Uncertainty can make Surprise Attacks possible even in games with Perfect Information.

Stealth and Traps are patterns that in themselves can provide Surprise Attacks or can let Agents work towards performing such attacks. Scouting can also do this, but typically as a consequence later after some preparation has been done.

Taking control of the game system, Game Masters and Ultra-Powerful Events can enforce Surprise Attacks and guarantee that players only can react when they are supposed to due to the game design or dramatic purposes.

Providing Flanking Routes and Sniper Locations allows greater possibilities to launch Surprise Attacks.


Surprise Attacks are by definition ways to have Surprises in games. They allow distinctly different type of Combat events to occur, which can cause Tension either by occurring or by players expecting them. Planning Surprise Attacks requires Tactical Planning but so can planning to minimize the effect of possible Surprise Attacks. Such planned attacks can be prime examples of Betrayal.

Surprise Attacks that cannot be detected in advance can be seen as a form of simply giving Damage. Such Surprise Attacks can work against players feeling an Exaggerated Perception of Influence, especially if the Surprise Attacks are presented as Cut Scenes.


Can Instantiate

Betrayal, Cut Scenes, Damage, Surprises, Tactical Planning, Tension,

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Game Masters, Scouting, Stealth, Solution Uncertainty, Traps, Ultra-Powerful Events

Fog of War or Imperfect Information in games with Combat

Can Be Modulated By

Flanking Routes, Sniper Locations

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Exaggerated Perception of Influence


New pattern created for this wiki by Staffan Björk.