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"Should software be allowed in a miniatures game?" Topic

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1,241 hits since 30 Aug 2012
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(Phil Dutre) Inactive Member30 Aug 2012 3:53 a.m. PST

An interesting issue (for me, at least) came up during the discussion on the Variable Length Bound (VLB). It was about to what extent software should/can be tolerated in a miniatures game.

In my opinion, software has no place around the miniatures table (except the software that runs your camera or your e-reader perhaps). I think the idea of miniature gaming should be that you play with toy soldiers, and that the gaming mechanics should be tactile, e.g. throwing dice, using measuring sticks, using a spinner, drawing cards, … It's a matter of style and substance.
Inserting 'modern' technology in the game is a bit like introducing a pistol in bow-and-arrow shooting, or using a car in a horse-race, or using photoshop instead of painting on a canvas.

One of the counter-arguments is that some combat resolution engines and keeping track of unit statistics is so difficult, that they would be impractical if not done on a computer. That might be true, but for me, such game designs are bad designs. You should simplify the game in that case, not introduce software. If you can't resolve the actions with some simple die rolling, without the need to do extensive bookkeeping, the rules are probably not worth playing.

Another argument might be that the toys are not the focus, but the procedures that model combat are. Whether you use toy soldiers, or paper counters, or a computer screen to visualize the ongoing process is irrelevant. I can see that. But then you're really playing a computer game, not a game that's centered around miniatures and the visualization of a battle on the table is just a proxy of the underlying computer model and state of the game. Why bother setting up a nice splendid table in this case?

I realize this is all highly dependent on personal taste, and my post should not be read as the 'good way' vs. the 'bad way'. I'm just curious what other people think.

Angel Barracks Inactive Member30 Aug 2012 4:00 a.m. PST

I prefer to keep them seperate.

I like both, I play tactile games with things I made myself.
I play games on the PC and the Xbox.

They both offer me different things I am happy with that.
Like you, if a game is so complicated that a computer is needed then I will play a computer game instead.
My favourite rules are FUBAR, which are a single page, although I have created a page of house rules, so it is really 2 pages.
That is the right level of mechanics for me.

If I want much more complicated/detailed rules then I will go the computer route and let that to the crunching based on what I tell it to do.

nsolomon9930 Aug 2012 4:02 a.m. PST

Nope Phil, I disagree. Anything that helps me enjoy the experience is worthwhile. If I can have my iPad beside me with an index to all the rules and other supporting tools it just enhances the experience and lets me focus on the spectacle of beautiful terrain and thousands of gorgeous Napoleonic/SYW uniforms without rulebooks and sheets of paper and junk cluttering the table. It can even play background music to add to the ambience.

CPBelt30 Aug 2012 4:06 a.m. PST

It's a hobby. People can do as they please. End of discussion.

Yesthatphil30 Aug 2012 4:18 a.m. PST

I can't see much difference between an iPad type device and a book. Except in the book you can only look up the result on a chart, whereas the device might be able to do the calculation for you (thus enhancing the game's illusions) …

However I have not played many computer moderated games nor do I have my rules loaded up on a tablet – so I'm just speculating …

And what CPBelt said …

Dynaman878930 Aug 2012 4:19 a.m. PST

Other then the fact that I personally find computer assisted gaming more trouble then it is worth, and slower, I have no problem with it. I'm not personally going to key in the data to a computer but if someone else wants to then more power to em.

CPT Jake Inactive Member30 Aug 2012 4:49 a.m. PST

I eagerly await the game that comes with a snazzy software package for unit creation and roster tracking. Ideally it allows the user to 'fill in' a good looking unit roster or figure stat sheet, scroll/flip through various ones, export them to your buddies system, import them from folks, track weapons/ammo/hit points/morale or what ever during the game and so on. Screw dry erase on cards or pen and paper.

olicana30 Aug 2012 4:58 a.m. PST

If you have to enter data then NO, NO, NO. I've played a few 'computer moderated' table games and the time it took to put the data in made them turgid beyond belief. It's much simpler and quicker to use one's brain.

However, rules on tablets are possibly a good thing, though I don't use mine for it. Given the completely rubbish index in most rules, a word / phrase search function might be very, very useful – lets face it, when it comes to looking rules up we often give up saying: I'll find it later.

forrester30 Aug 2012 4:59 a.m. PST

Looking at an I-Pad is just another way of looking at the paper rule book, and I think the original post was about using a PC to work out the results rather than doing the calculations.
I am happy at times to use a PC game, as it works out all the outcomes, sets out the table and troops for me, and tidies them up afterwards!
Of course there is no substitute for having the troops as tangible objects-it's a matter of time and space. I've never done it, but something next to the table that does the boring maths might be nice-though with MY keyboard skills there would be a lot of frowning and impatient foot-tapping. My inclination, as an old git, is that never the twain shall meet, and if use of the rules requires electronic assistance, then the rules are too complex-for me, anyway.

Only Warlock Inactive Member30 Aug 2012 5:00 a.m. PST

While I often play games set in ancient times, I live in the 21st Century. I keep about 20 rulebooks on my Smartphone and my Tablet has rules, army builders, and preset forces I can refer to during the game. in addition my Smartphone has dice rolling software. This way I often only have to lug around minis (and beer) instead of minis and books and dice (and beer).

advocate30 Aug 2012 5:07 a.m. PST

Phil, it's a matter of taste.
However, some of your arguments are invalid. In what way would inserting modern technology into a Modern or SciFi game be wrong?
As for needing a computer being bad design… no, it's just different. A computer is a tool, nothing more or less. If you can use a computer to add degrees of detail that would not otherwise be practical, or if it can manage admin for the game that would otherwise be onerous, then why not take advantage of it? I'm not experienced in computer-moderated games, but in principal I don't have a problem other than the fact that my dice will not run out of battery.

OSchmidt Inactive Member30 Aug 2012 5:19 a.m. PST

Dear Phil

I am in complete agreement that all sorts of things like computers, software, ipads epads, maxi-pads and all other electronic filth has no place in games. But my resoning is different.

It is a distraction from the game, and a laborious procedure to put the data into the computer to get a result out. Further, everyone sits around waiting for "the cyclops" to get over it's bought of data constipation, and frequently the data has to be resent and input.

I designed my rules with a rigorous attention to the principles of industrial engineering. For those not in the know Inudstrial Engineering is concerned with time and motion studies and operating efficiency. This all started thirty years ago when I was in a game where I was commanding a "refused flank" waiting to hold off a flanking movement coming in on that edge of the table.

Translation: "You are going to sit here for six hours and do nothing because this game takes so long to play we will never get to turn 5 when the enemy are supposed to come on.

Well I realized this and decided that rather than puttering around my host's wargame room or reading a book or being a kvetch to the other commanders, I would IE the game. My wristwatch had a stopwatch and I did time and motion studies on the game.

At the end of it everyone was congratulating themselves on what a great game it was (no, the enemy had not come on on turn 7 because we had only made it to turn 5 1/2 after 7 hours) and I chimed in that it was a rotten game. When they were shocked I explained that I had determined anything that they did where they were not moving troops, pointing at situations, discussing tactics or rolling dice was productive and anything else was non productive. The non-productive included reading rules, arguing, looking up rules, fiddling with charts, calculating modifiers, or not playing the game was non productive.

I told them "If this was a production line you'd all be fired at the end of your first day as a supervisor. You had only 15% productive time and 85% non productive. I explained the whole thing. They were shocked that they had spent literally 6 hours doing the non-productive.

I then went back and designed my rules with this in mind and came up with a good, fast realistic game which reaches a decision in 3 to 4 hours, and which has, the last time I measured it, about 7% non-productive time.

Computer "assisted" games (I've IE'd those games too!) are no different than the original game I IE'd having about 80% non productive time.

They take too long, are an interruption to the game, and break up the free flow of action. They have one other problem. I deal with computers every day in every way at work as a Director of Planning and Production Control, and I want to leave them behind when I go to a game.

Sundance Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2012 5:28 a.m. PST

I agree wholeheartedly, Phil. Especially since the one computer moderated game I've played was so atrociously bad, I will never play another one of them. It wasn't just something stupid like I lost the game or something like that, it was there was no rhyme or reason to movement, to combat losses (of course, we couldn't see the losses as they weren't removed from the table), or to anything in the game that I could tell really. And the rules of the game apparently allowed things to happen that were completely ahistorical to boot. Nope, no software in a miniatures game for me.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP30 Aug 2012 5:39 a.m. PST

The local club here uses computer moderated games extensively. They are a HUGE benefit. You don't need to know the rules, just weapon ranges and movement rates. It is faster than rolling dice and looking up on charts, plus it does all the odd checks at once (leader loss, morale, critical hits, etc.).

Once players get the hang of the system it really moves. Playing 10-15 turns in 5 hours is normal – allowing for socializing, snack breaks, etc.

Green Tiger30 Aug 2012 6:33 a.m. PST

Well whilst I agree in principle (as a decendant of actual Luddites). I think if you are using the horribly complicated rules that people seem to favour these days a computer would be easier than leafing through your 200 page rule book every time someone has a query.
Also as suggested above working out points and unit rosters is easier with a computer – I used to use an excell spread sheet for Warhammer army generation.
The wider Strategic elements of campaign would also be best handled by a computer.
All that being sais I don't game like that anyway and get around these problems by using dead simple homem made rules and conducting campaigns in my head (when I 'm supposed to be working)

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2012 6:34 a.m. PST

Another argument might be that the toys are not the focus, but the procedures that model combat are.

Not the way we play it.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2012 7:16 a.m. PST

I think the proper software could come in handy in some games. The built in camera might even add some augmented reality effects like smoke and shooting.

With recognition software you could have a game system that doesn't openly work with numbers or dice, but relies on information such as "the line seems to be holding well", or "most of the men are fleeing" type results. More fog of war for the players might produce an interesting game.

I'm sure some creative programmers will find ways of integrating computers and miniatures in a fast and user-friendly way and make some game mechanics effortless.

richarDISNEY Inactive Member30 Aug 2012 7:18 a.m. PST

WEll, for minis games, maybe…
For my RPGs, I have a set rules. NO computers or smartphones at the table. NONE.

Mal Wright Fezian Inactive Member30 Aug 2012 8:35 a.m. PST

The entire objective is surely to have fun and enjoy the game. These days I use Carnage and Glory II computer moderated rules for anything horse and musket. AND THE MOST IMPORTANT THING is that the enjoyment level for everyone has risen several notches!

Another argument might be that the toys are not the focus, but the procedures that model combat are.

Nope! Neither of those Phil. Its enjoying the entire experience that has to be the focus. The level of complexity to achieve that will differ from one group of people to another, but it remains the main aim.

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2012 11:35 a.m. PST

I have some friends that swear by Carnage & Glory. I've played the games and the uncertainty is interesting but I prefer charts and dice.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2012 1:07 p.m. PST


1. Folks have different experiences of computer assisted

2. It all depends on what the computer programs are asked to do and how well they do it…particularly in the amount of data entry and time involved.

3. If computer assisted games can decrease the adminstrative tasks, increase the speed as which games can be played as well as add some unknowns in the mix, I imagine any number of folks might reconsider.

But like cards, or the use of a wide variety of dice, or charts or markers or any other play 'aide', it all depends on how well the work for a good game and the particular tastes of the individual player.

Personally, I don't think computer assisted games have really come into their own in what they do now as opposed to what they could do now.


billthecat30 Aug 2012 1:26 p.m. PST

Mee lIkEE vIdEEEOgAMeS !!!

Personal logo Jlundberg Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2012 1:59 p.m. PST

I bought a set (Tigers in the Snow I think) about 15 years ago and could not work out how to build a unit.
I had a set of rules called Angriff and the armour rules were only playable if it was on a computer.
I have faith that computer rules COULD be written that added to the experience, but so far I have not observed anything that beat a gm and players.

Spreewaldgurken Inactive Member30 Aug 2012 2:41 p.m. PST

I'm in favor of trying anything that will make the game more interactive and fun and challenging.

Thus far I've only played three computer-driven games (two horse-n-musket and one 20th century naval), and all three were dreadful. All of the decisions and dialog and interaction were funneled through the Ref and his computer, and everybody stood around waiting for an outcome.

It was the antithesis of everything that I enjoy about a good game: there was little player-to-player interaction, there were few moments of tension or decision as somebody debates whether to take a risk and roll the dice or play a special card…. And they were just too damn slow. Waiting for one guy with a laptop to tell us each what had happened, was a poor substitute for six guys each using his own dice, charts, cards, whatever.

Perhaps somebody will create an app for hand-held devices that will allow it to be more interactive and participatory, in which case I'll gladly try it. Hopefully the app would also obviate the need for a Ref, too.

thehawk31 Aug 2012 3:09 a.m. PST

From a theoretical research perspective (what various sciences would say) the answer is that computerised rules should not be required.

Also, what makes games and other leisure activities enjoyable is a well researched topic and was fairly well documented in the 90's. That research also would not support computerisation.

Optimum wargame rules design is not a mystery either. It could be argued that it was fairly well understood back in the 80's by a small number of designers (not me by the way).

The problem is that almost all rules designers do not have professional backgrounds in games design or related fields such as operations research, design, psychology and so on. So most rules sets contain flaws.

And rules produced now are geared at generating sales not quality of the rules themselves.

But I could see that a program could assist play of an existing set of rules, but this is probably more a reflection on the rules not being designed for the limits of the players. Fixing the design could be more beneficial than writing a program.

flipper Supporting Member of TMP31 Aug 2012 9:23 a.m. PST


My personal view is that if I am going to be spending time on a computer (away from the game that I am playing) I might as well play a computer game.

People say it speeds up the game … well use a set of rules that is not bogging you down in the first place!

I have not been impressed with the few titles I have seen – but then again, it simply is not something that interests me – I do feel that the manual/tactile aspect of gaming is what made it appealing in the first place.

Unfortunately people go where the money is (most often) and the market for a set of computer (assisted?) rules is so small that there is simply little chance of a team of people developing a system that ticks the right boxes for me.

But, if this is your thing GREAT – I see no problem, we all make choices, don't we.

John D Salt Inactive Member03 Sep 2012 8:19 a.m. PST

The problem I have with game-assistance programs -- well, one of the problems, apart from technolatry, poor software design, and slope-shouldered game design in hiding complexity instead of simplifying it away -- is the disunity of representation caused by having part of the game on the table and part of the game in the machine. Inevitably, the players are going to be compelled to act at least to some extent as clerks, and, while admittedly some manual rules force a lot of clerical work on people, I want to pretend to be a company commander, not a company clerk. This problem might go away if RFID technology shrank and cheapened to the point that the relative position of each game element was known to the computer without and need to input it, but even at that I can't see a way of making the machine aware of the table in order to perform line-of-sight calculations.

All the best,


John Thomas803 Sep 2012 5:31 p.m. PST

I'd be a little leery of a computer system that provided results of combat, but I'll walk away from a game that has a player with a dice-rolling app on their tablet.

(Phil Dutre) Inactive Member04 Sep 2012 2:45 a.m. PST

My favorite anecdote about computer-assisted miniature wargaming happened at a con somewhere during the early nineties.
There was a club demoing a computer-assisted tabletop game. Remember this was the early 90s, so home computers were not yet as user-friendly as there are now. For some reason, the computer broke down or crashed and the game was unable to continue.
Don Featherstone was the guest of honor. He gave a talk, in which he told the audience the need for simple rules that would fit on the back of a postcard etc. And he chuckled when he told about the club down the hall with their sophisticated computer rules, that was now unable to complete the game …

Fast-forward 20 years. Very recently, one of our club members ran a home-made Battle of Britain game. The idea was that the players should get the feeling of planning around a big map with model airplanes, just as in the 60s movie. All combat, fuel expenditure, etc. was tracked with a computer. So, as a player, you had to give the umpire orders such as 'Squadron such and so just took off, or is landing, or engages Gescwhader such-and-so'. The umpire at the computer entered the orders, then would give you some feedback (low on fuel, so many planes lost, …).
Of course, inevitably, situations arose with squadrons being in the air for several turns (according to the players), but the fact that they took off was never logged into the computer, and so they were still at the airfield being sitting ducks. Since this could not be corrected, the umpire decided they never took off in the first place. Very frustrating for the player.

arthur181504 Sep 2012 5:56 a.m. PST

I have no problem with e-readers/tablets taking the place of hard copy rulebooks for reference during play – both should be kept off the table as far as possible.

The problem with computer umpired games is inputting data; rather than have some poor fellow seated at the computer all the time, I'd prefer an active human umpire and simple rules.

RudyNelson05 Sep 2012 7:13 a.m. PST

I do not use it. My choice.
I do not like any computer generation of combat results. i like face to face dice rolls.

However if a person is creative enough to be able to incorerate design mechancis that can be used in both such as a mini convention campaign or a fog of battle mechanic then I do not see why not.

Russ Lockwood05 Sep 2012 7:43 a.m. PST

The two biggest problems for computer assisted rules are electric power and input. As long as you have electricity, you're golden. As the above noted, no power, no play for CAR (although laptop battery life has come a long way).

Of more import is input. If a couple players per side, probably not a big deal. As you add more players, you add more input, and one guy entering unit IDs and selecting movement/firing options and then reading back the results can bog down the game. And then there is the problem of human input error, as noted above.

I was at the Borodino '02 game with 75? players, which was all CAR. Give the computer users credit for tapping away like madmen. It all worked, and the fog of war was great, but was it faster than rolling a die and keeping track of your own units on a roster?

However, I agree that using a computer for campaign record keeping is a natural. I ran a space "conquer the galaxy" game via e-mail for 8 players that lasted 98 turns over 4 years and 4 months using Excel to track units and tally up resources, points, etc. The biggest problem was my occasional typos that sent ships to the wrong system or didn't send them at all. These could be corrected "at leisure" for the most part because turns were due every 2 weeks without much of a problem, but every so often, I had to redo a battle because some units that should have been there didn't make it due to umpire error. Bummer all around, that.

All down to preference, I suppose. No doubt hologram gaming (sort of like the Star Wars scene with the chess pieces) is coming.


Wartopia Inactive Member10 Sep 2012 5:08 a.m. PST

Back in the 90s I played a very enjoyable computer moderated miniatures game. It was one on one with a third person running the computer. Not having to deal with huge charts and modifiers was great.

I also played a multi-player computer moderated game at an HMGS convention which was a terribly boring as everyone I agree that tweeners give me more power without a lack of control, except I find it easier to drop shot and hit volleys below the net with a lower powered frame. I always think its funny how there are college and tournament players using high powered tweeners and yet we have ppl on these boards saying tweeners have no control. "A Wilson 90 is the only way I can control the ball." Lol. waited for the computer guy to resolve stuff…one player at a time.

The best solution IMO: simply don't overly tax our organic computers (brains) with complex, intricate rules and use them to process game procedures in parallel during multi-player games. No need to worry about power cables or batteries that way too.

Thunderman Inactive Member10 Sep 2012 3:08 p.m. PST

I'm a fan of keeping them separate. Computer games are fun and have their place, but part of the reason I enjoy tabletop games is the tactile aspect of rolling dice, writing and erasing my Hitpoints until the character sheet wears through, etc. To me adding a computer/iPad/mobile device into that mix just creates disconnect between the players. I see people staring into glowing screens all day, I don't need to see it at the game table too :(

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