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"Web based app for tablet, smartphone for miniatures games" Topic


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2,040 hits since 5 Oct 2013
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Perigord Inactive Member05 Oct 2013 5:20 p.m. PST

As I wrote in a post here TMP link I have returned to
the hobby of wargaming after a gap of over 20 years.

One of the things that surprises me a lot is how little development there
has been in the hobby vis a vis the technology revolution.

I know that there is something authentic about rolling dice and that for
many players they will never want to give that up, but even with relatively un-taxing rulesets I have still found myself struggling to keep up with applying all the relevant modifiers and characteristics and remembering which units can or must do what at any given moment.

As well as recently returning to wargaming, i have also been learning
programming, specifically Ruby on Rails, which is a programming language
oriented at web-based applications. As a 'project' to develop and test my
programming skills, I thought I would write a web application for Black
Powder rules.

For me, a key objective of an such application is that it should
significantly reduce the brain-labour required of players, removing for
example the clutter of inapplicable options and automatically including
options that are predetermined by already selected factors. And such an
application obviously should record all the unit stats and statuses,
obviating the need for any kinds of markers, and provide a reviewable log
of every event that takes place in the game.

Another important element of such an application is that it can be
unplugged as it were at any time, so if a mistake is made or a complex
situation arises, the game can be taken offline and resolved by dice or an
umpire's intervention. Hence all of the unit stats are editable at any
moment, so hits and disorders can be manually added or subtracted at any
time.

Also, the application should be extremely intuitive to use, requiring
virtually no instructions at all for any player well versed in the
underlying rules.

The app is still in development, though at an advanced stage, and currently is only configured for a single user for a battle at a time, but the vision I have for it is that it can be accessed from a tablet or smartphone by whoever is invited to log into the game, each of whose screen will display the latest actions and die rolls of the initiative player. It still needs thorough beta testing, especially with multiple users. (If an
error happens as you are using it, and the back button does not get you
out of it, just reload the home page of the original link).

I invite people to create user names and log in to the app at
the following link. rocky-bastion-5116.herokuapp.com
For each new user there will be preloaded a scenario from the Black Powder rule book, plus also you can generate your own battles and army lists.

While the app is currently configured with Black Powder rules, the real challenge I believe is to develop an app that can be loaded up with ruleset of a users own choosing or designing.

It would be interesting to start to generate some feedback as the best way to structure the application so that it can flexibly be loaded with club or user designed rules. Once loaded, these rules could be stored in a player's profile and made available by invitation to other users too for their own games.

While I have developed it with horse and musket era rules, it should in principle be capable of functioning for most eras of wargaming, apart perhaps from those involving ships and planes!

What I envisage as being able to be 'loaded up' would be unit types, factors, special attributes, modifiers and combat, morale charts etc. What would have to stay fixed would be the turn structure (though this can be designed with options), the categories of unit 'factors', and the combat mechanisms themselves (though again, options should be possible).

The structural issues to be considered are, principally:
1. Turn structure. Igo/Ugo or simultaneous (both could be incorporated I think, but each needs to be structured). The currently configured ruleset is Igo/Ugo but with 'opportunity' fire intervention, but not move intervention. A further option would be 'Tactical impulses' with different phasing dynamics from other parts of the turn structure
2. Turn phases. Movement, Shooting, Melee, Morale. Movement can consist of automatic
and/or command activated phases. Control/Morale phases can be e.g. both after charging and melee combat, and a phase to themselves. Command point mechanism (e.g. staff rating, or command pips… could present both as an option)
3. Unit stats structure. The basic stats would be unit type (infantry, cavalry etc), sub_type (light cavalry, heavy cavalry, horse artillery etc.), strength (e.g. men, figures or hit points), quality (e.g. veteran, conscript), fire factor, melee factor, morale factor. One can add 'impact', '้lan', 'control' or other factors to these. Specific attributes that do not fit into the factor categories would be another dimension which would affect the main factor or die rolls (e.g. cuirassiers, lancers, riflemen, uncontrolled chargers etc.).
4. Combat mechanism, e.g. die rolls to 'hit', with or without 'save rolls', or charts based on men/figures firing, range etc
5. Combat impact mechanism – unit status in terms of order/disorder, formed/unformed, shaken/broken, advancing/retiring/retreating/routing etc. Recovery/rally mechanisms.
6. Modifiers. This is the most complex area to programme for a genuinely flexible application, but I would envisage enabling the user to input modifiers based on complex interactive criteria that would, as in the demo version I have developed, be applied automatically where possible and only presented as 'options' when they genuinely might be applicable.

The beauty of a computer based application is that features that might otherwise be too much detail, like changing weather, leader casualties, loss of colours, random or triggered events can be added with little extra taxation of players attention.

While a table top app like this is in some senses not 'necessary' (i.e. players have happily lived without it!), I do believe it can substantially enhance the tale top experience.

Nonetheless, I understand that the real holy grail is an online app for war-gaming campaigns, and this is something I want to turn my attention to soon!

account cancelled Inactive Member05 Oct 2013 7:42 p.m. PST

I think you've nailed it perigord – we've spoken over at Warlord (I'm grant).

A campaign system that would be useable across multiple gaming systems. much like Army Builder works for many games, would be a brilliant idea.

Keep working on it!

Spreewaldgurken Inactive Member05 Oct 2013 8:00 p.m. PST

I've been interested in talking with somebody about this, for at least the past year, but have been unable to find anybody who has the requisite skills and background. I've been debating various sorts of apps for my games, past and future.

It's not really for campaigns, but for simpler purposes in the actual gameplay.

I'd be interested in discussing further, if you'd like. You can contact me via my website:

sammustafa.com

fred12df06 Oct 2013 2:27 a.m. PST

Cool – I've had a quick play with it.

I've not played BP, but have played lots of Hail Caesar, so have a fair idea of how the rules play.

It does seem rather slow – is each button click sent back to the server? I think you need to look at running more stuff in the browser, to speed up response times, rather then sending every click back to the server and then returning the answer to the browser.

Being able to add unit pictures would help with ID of units between the app and the table top. Being able to arrange the units in an approximation of the table top, would also help with selecting the right one.

I would also suggest making the phase label much bigger – it is rather lost among some text (that may be buttons) at the top of the screen.

Great starting point, hope these comments are helpful.

Perigord Inactive Member06 Oct 2013 4:59 a.m. PST

Thanks grant…a campaign system will take some time to develop, but I already have ideas on how it might work… will start playing with it soon.

Sam I have contacted you via your website.

fred12df – thanks for your comments – this kind of feedback is very helpful!

The button sizes point noted, I will look at this.

Speed optimisation is not something I have focused on yet, so definitely I will be looking at running more stuff in the browser and minimising queries to the server.

Regarding unit identification, that is a difficult issue and it will be interesting to see how best to develop this. My feeling was that an image would not be that helpful as many units will look very similar, and also information on unit hits, formation, order etc is very useful to see at a glance rather than look up in a table, and adding an image as well would start to get cluttered.

Also somehow mapping the location of the units would end up involving players in reordering this layout as the battle progressed, and to me manually synching the screen layout with the tabletop layout just seems the kind of labour the app should be trying to avoid.

The solution I have at the moment is that each unit has an identifier based on its Brigade number and its creation order in the Brigade, with an arabic numeral for the Brigade and a small roman for the unit, i.e. 1.i, 1.ii etc. This way small re-usable labels can be attached to or under unit bases and they can easily be found on the screen. As I say, with more feedback it will be interesting to see how this develops, as it is a key issue for any app that needs to easily reference a table top environment.

MajorB06 Oct 2013 5:16 a.m. PST

Interesting idea but … I work in IT and the LAST thing I want to do is use a computer to help me play a game!!! It's why I play miniatures games rather than computer games.

Marcus Maximus06 Oct 2013 12:36 p.m. PST

There are a number of PC campaign programs already out there…….and they are very good too. Will these transition to tablet? I think the answer is yes…….however, another one that would be available would be a brilliant proposition, p.s. I have been in IT a long time and can put you in touch with people if you need any help and support – same applies to Sam too…

Perigord Inactive Member06 Oct 2013 2:14 p.m. PST

What are these very good PC campaign programs which you are referring to Marcus Maximus? I have looked around quite a bit and not come across them I don't think.

oldnorthstate06 Oct 2013 5:33 p.m. PST

At this time the dominant computer moderated miniatures rules system is Carnage and Glory. While it now operates in the Windows environment it originally was developed for DOS. At that time there was a campaign system companion that was integrated with the tabletop system. Unfortunately the campaign system did not get redone when the tactical systems migrated to Windows. The author is currently working on the campaign system and expects to have it available in early 2014.

db

Personal logo Lost Wolf Supporting Member of TMP06 Oct 2013 7:29 p.m. PST

An app I would like to see is for skirmish game tracking. It would track wounds, how long my figure is on fire, etc. I'd use it for Dark Age, Rezolution, etc. Don't have any idea on how to make it though.

Another app I like is the star wars dice roller from fantasy flight. Maybe an app that would take all of the chits off of the table and automate it. FWIW

chriskrum Inactive Member07 Oct 2013 12:39 p.m. PST

I've just never seen the need for an in game app. The time consuming element in a miniatures game is actually moving the figures, measuring, checking line of sight, thinking about what move to make, drinking coffee (and other things), eating chips, etc. Rolling dice and resolving combat, etc. just isn't that hard and involving a computer or a tablet seems to be an additional fiddly bit. If I'm going to input stuff on a computer I'll just play one of the many, many computer games I have.

Apps are useful for army building, printing rosters and reference sheets. An app to track between game campaign movement and resolve combats that one doesn't want to game might also be useful. But I just can't see using one during a game.

surdu2005 Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Oct 2013 3:55 p.m. PST

Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean it's a good idea. I work in technology development all day and frankly enjoy the non-tech of my wargaming.

Having said that, I think there may be areas in which computers may enhance that experience. There's an interesting Kickstarter idea right now that uses a bluetooth pen to select units and actions. The geek in me is intrigued, but it's unclear whether this will actually speed or enhance play.

I've not enjoyed computer-moderated games because of the bottleneck of one computer for input and output. I experimented a few years ago with using hand-held devices to help regulate a WWI airplane game as a student project. The idea was that each player had a hand-held device in which to place his orders for movement. Then the computer would tell everyone to execute the order they wrote on the map. The players would then be queried for whether they wanted to fire, long or short bursts, etc. Here was the cool part. The shooting player would only get limited input on the effect of his fire unless something obvious (like a wing falling off or fire) could be seen. The target pilot would know the full extent of the damage. Similarly, the firing player would know if his weapon had jammed or he had run out of ammo, but the target player would have no idea. The idea was a seamless mechanism for limited intelligence without adding overhead.

Another possible use of technology would be to apply detailed combat resolution while hiding the details from the players. I've always WANTED to like naval gaming, but for modern warfare you often get bogged down in tons of charts. Imagine answering a few simple questions and then letting the hand-held device use the computing power of the Department of Energy to manage thousands of modifiers (which provide the illusion or accuracy!!!) and just report the results to the players. The same could apply to detailed space gaming. It would be interesting to just give commands like "left full rudder," and then have the computer tell you in which hex to place your boat.

In general, however, I prefer to keep my miniatures games technology free.

Buck Surdu

oldnorthstate07 Oct 2013 6:56 p.m. PST

"Here was the cool part. The shooting player would only get limited input on the effect of his fire unless something obvious (like a wing falling off or fire) could be seen. The target pilot would know the full extent of the damage. Similarly, the firing player would know if his weapon had jammed or he had run out of ammo, but the target player would have no idea."

And that Buck is exactly the benefit of computer moderated "technology"…the system allows casualties to be inflicted, morale to be affected and fatigue increased, all without the knowledge of an opposing player. The "bottleneck" issue has taken on the status of an urban myth. With experienced players I can play a computer moderated game about as quickly as any traditional dice game…and with players who know nothing about either the computer moderated system or a new dice rules system I guarentee you I can play the game quicker.

db

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP07 Oct 2013 8:03 p.m. PST

I think the greatest benefit is in post 1900 Naval Gaming which to me is the most complicated of all historical miniature periods. If you could just give a simple command and presto your told where to move your ship that would be great or fire a broadside at so many inches and see if you hit and the defender sees his damage calculated.

But you are essentially playing a computer game with miniatures. However even computer naval games can be complicated themselves and using real time mode is incredibly slow.

For land games if you could use a tablet as you do charts and tables. This would work wonders in complex tables/charts as in calculating charges and impacts in Johnny Reb.

Several units charging at one time brings the entire game to a stand still until all the numbers are run through various tables. A computer might greatly speed this up.

Then as others have noted I stare at a computer screen all day and the last thing I want is to stare at one when gaming. Too much like work.

Could every tablet be linked to a wireless network. Each player would input numbers and the app would spit out the results? Scenario apps with all the special scenario rules?

What I want is to be able to concentrate on strategy, tactics and moving the figures. I want the hand held app to have the charts tables pre-loaded, all players input the data and the app quickly provide the results. I don't know if the technology is there yet.

Sending messages you your team mates my be neat. It might save some time from having to visit with everyone on your side. "Turn and hit that gun in the flank" that could be fun.

dutchy1241 Inactive Member07 Oct 2013 8:04 p.m. PST

Oh this is great news. I have been asking on forums for quite a while if there were any apps available for exactly what you are describing. Unfortunately I don't have the Black Powder rules, but do have Pike and Shote so maybe that will work.

Bolt Action was the game I most wanted an app. I use data cards to keep track of firing distances, number left in unit, number of dice to roll, that type of thing. Ann app for this book keeping would in my opinion help enormously.

Perhaps a dice roller app integrated into your app?

eldorado07 Oct 2013 10:30 p.m. PST

Interesting discussion. I have been using my tablet based Napoleonic wargaming app this summer

TMP link

and have found many of the comments made here to be valid, from my experience anyway. It does clean up the table quite a bit, adds clarity/structure and it does introduce the element of surprise into the game. I do enjoy when a unit shows up unexpectedly or arrives late or when the weather starts to change. What I like most so far is that it determines all the morale, fatigue, casualties, etc. immediately and to a far more exacting level of detail than I had using a manual approach to gaming. Half the fun in writing software for this era is going back into all those books and rules you have accumulated over the years to help you create algorithms.

At first I thought it was speeding up the game quite a bit but as I have played more I find the comment "chriskum" made to be reasonably true. Much of the time you spend gaming is in the thinking, moving and related areas so it does speed up aspects of the game but certainly not all of it.

My focus as always been to "keep the game on the table" and have my app assist me and I think that is what Perigord is going for also. I love creating software and playing computer games but I painted all those Napoleonics and created all that terrain for a reason – so I could enjoy the thrill that is miniatures gaming on a table. I can certainly understand the comments that have been made by those who do not want to mix technology and their miniatures gaming. Just as we all like different scales, eras, rules, painting styles, etc. I think we all like re-creating history in way that feels "right" to us. However I do think software has a place. To me one of the key elements software can bring is the fog of war. What has always interested me the most, especially in the black powder era, is the pace and uncertain nature of communication, the unclear status and positions of elements of the armies, the independent nature of supporting generals and the need to make decisions with what you think are the facts. Much of the software I am writing now focuses on these elements.

I think using intelligent generators and editors can help a little with the computer input bottleneck that was mentioned but having valid data is always a concern.

Good luck with your project Perigord. I can't think of anything more enjoyable than writing software for something you love doing. I have also now turned my attentions to campaigns and spent a portion of today writing the math routines that move the units around the map. I do know there are other folks doing campaigns and I am glad they are doing it. However this way I can have it do what I want.., after all, I have the source code :>)

Marc the plastics fan Inactive Member08 Oct 2013 6:46 a.m. PST

If it can be handled by way of bar code/blue tooth then I look forward to these developments.

surdu2005 Sponsoring Member of TMP09 Oct 2013 2:29 a.m. PST

I've played and watched a number of computer-moderated games. It sure seems like a lot of time is spent watching someone else do something. Handheld devices and either blue tooth RF tags or bar codes offer something better perhaps. Certainly you could offer the same criticism of some non-computer games. If it's your cup of tea, great. So far it hasn't been mine.

KaweWeissiZadeh09 Oct 2013 6:43 a.m. PST

I was looking at exactly the same thing for quite a while.

I think the real challenge is to connect such a system with a set of scalable interfaces and to eventually include gfx to visualize the processes.

Also: One thing that you mentioned and that can't be overcome without huge budgets is the 'special-rules'. Coding all the exceptions that really add some story-telling to a game is next to impossible unless there's a solid R&D dept.

I mean: there's a reason that even recent AAA titles still use a grid for their unit-movements etc…

I am very keen to learn more about that project at any rate, so please feel free to contact me if you seek advice from a front-end perspective.

Perigord Inactive Member10 Oct 2013 5:56 a.m. PST

It's interesting to read all the comments, and there are evidently mixed views about the value-added of an app like this.

My feeling is that the record keeping – casualties, disorders, retire/retreat, who has already moved, fired, counter-fired etc and also looking up lots of modifier tables – is quite a lot like 'work', particularly for large games, and if a bit of IT can tidy this up significantly, then that is a good thing, but I accept that this is not everyone`s viewpoint.

And I think even amongst people who might find an app useful, there are different degrees to which they would want to engage with it.

The way forward is probably to develop several levels of application that can be knitted together.

A straightforward record-keeping app where hits, disorders etc can easily be input would be quite simple to put together, and is all that some people are looking for.

A refinement of this would be a version of it that concealed this data from the opposing player. A nice touch here might be to have 'rally' dice rolls as an option on the app, so that while both players might roll attack dice on the table and see the hits they inflict, the rallying might be rolled via the app only and not seen by the opposing player.

I am also interested in developing further the idea of an app that can calculate the modifiers to be applied from as 'open' a menu as possible so modifiers can be added at will for most rule refinements that a user would like. This may be ambitious but it interests me to see how far it can be done.

A 'full' version of the app that applies the modifiers, rolls the dice, calculates the casualties then applies automatically the morale tests for the multiple units involved may be beyond the taste of most players, but is something that I think is also worth continuing to develop, as for large games there is no question that it can speed up the game a lot.

Tacking on fog-of-war and campaign related elements is also something that I think is evidently worth pursuing.

ferg98114 Oct 2013 11:30 a.m. PST

All

I enjoyed this in its current format once I figured out how it worked, I haven't used it in a game yet but I'm sure it will prove very useful

don't add on many more features though otherwise it will defeat the point

very good effort

f

BattleGuys Inactive Member13 Jan 2014 8:17 p.m. PST

It isi indeed the future. We are developing an IOS and Android moderated campaign system that you can use much the same way you discribe the game you played. The exception being it generates OBs to take to the table when contact between forces is made. It is completely independent of any rules system.

We should have it out for purchase by summer for $10 USD or less. We were initially just doing it for our group as a way to get rid of the double blind paper maps we had been using but the further we got in spec'ing it out the more we realized its potential for use in any game system. Does not matter if it's 40k/Warmachine or Napoleonics/ACW you can use it to run your campaign live over the internet between devices until you have a contact you would want to pull the minis out to resolve.

You r absolutely correct that this kind of gaming aid is the future. We should have the free OB Builder available in a couple of months. The OB Builder plugs into the map system and all placement and movement is drag and drop on your iPad or Android device. It will be iPad first but the plan is to have the interface on Android as well. It will not matter which device you use so long as you all load the same map.

Fingers crossed

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