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"Point of View Wargaming Experiment" Topic

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Russ Lockwood15 Aug 2015 3:29 p.m. PST

I'm just going to warn you that 'Experiment' is the operative word… :)

My idea was to game with a bunch of friends, some local, some far away, via the internet using miniatures, a digital camera, and Word, and have the point of view as if the player was down on the tabletop. Sort of like a first-person shoot-'em-up video game or a MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) game, but without the fancy graphics and fancy per month fees.

So, I built higher terrain (woods and gentle hills are about 3" high, with removable tops and "steep hills" are about a foot or so high), laid them out on my 7x12' table, dug out my Romans and early Visigoth barbarians, and came up with a scenario that saw the typical barbarian raid for goods and slaves among the latifunda (agricultural estates) while the Romans crossed the river and tried to stop them.

My concept was to shoot one photo, insert it in a Word .doc, offer a description of anything else worth noting, and send it off. The player would look at the photo, decide what to do, and tell me. I'd interpret the instructions as best I could.

This would also double as a playtest for my Snappy Antiquity rules (I wrote Snappy Nappy napoleonics rules). Each player got a draft copy of SA, supporting QRS, and a setup. Far simpler than any of the other campaign games I've run over the decades.

The short version: Concept good, Photography Bad.

I am the first to admit I am not a photographer. The point and shoot digital camera takes fine distance photos, but not the close up ones -- something is *always* blurry.

Worse, the complaints, justifiable, came in about players wanting to "turn their head" left and right to see more. When players are used to 3D environments that have been around since the popularity of Doom back in the late 80s, photos just don't do it. And these guys are my age, not millennials! :)

So, I took photos L and R and stitched them together in Photoshop as best I could. Some results were OK (well, am I being kind to myself), others were so horrible I reshot the photos and restitched to make them barely palatable. The Venetian Blinds Woods, Blurry Hill, and other nicknames soon dotted the landscape -- better it turns out for getting one's bearings, but still awful photography.

In the process, I tried to find something else that could substitute for my photographic ineptitude, but while I found a few, um, programs or web services, none seemed to be able to do exactly or even close to what I wanted to do as easily and cheaply as my experiment -- use my minis on a terrain-populated table with Point-of-View limited views. The Total War series of computer games had something of what I wanted, minus the aerial flyovers that a player can do, but running a dozen people with 8 or 9 units each? Sadly, no.

I found a new Kodak (?! they still exist) 360-degree camera product that you can set on a table and take 360-degree movies/stills, with the option of taking a single 360-degree still photo or break that into two 180-degree photos, that *might* work, but at $450 USD list ($350 discounted), I wasn't about to spring for that on a whim.

One cool thing is that my version of Word (2010) has a zoom function that allows you to enlarge a photo up to 500% -- helps to identify some blur a little better at times.

The biggest complaint is judging distance on a table. When we look at troops from overhead, and we're used to measurements from previous turns of moving and table size, you can get an idea of how many turns it will take to get somewhere. Not with POV photography.

The players have suggested overhead shots with anything not visible blacked out (that is an alternative fog of war, but defeats the you are there POV), or a higher angle of photography (ditto), or maps (ditto). It may be a fool's errand, but it was something that I've wanted to try for a while.

So, that's where my experiment is at…nine turns in, the actual melees are starting after some Visigoth pillaging that saw smoke clouds drifting above the terrain. The playtest portion for the Snappy Antiquity rules has been helpful, and my experiment is providing some local- and long-distance amusement, but the photography portion of the POV experiment needs some reworking.

sillypoint15 Aug 2015 3:47 p.m. PST

Kudos for you for putting on the game. Always a lot of work for a "gamemaster".
I've done a urban environment, where each player only had Los to the next block because of hostiles. Each player only had glimpses of their objective, and had no idea of their relative position to each other s the moved off.
I've been thinking of using google maps to have players explore a small town. Moves by foot or car is determined by Google – 10 min. Move will get you to x location-

M C MonkeyDew15 Aug 2015 4:10 p.m. PST

I did that for a poem little big horn game, many years ago now. Everyone had a good time but it is a lot of work.

Have fun with it!


jeffreyw315 Aug 2015 4:14 p.m. PST

Out of focus == fog of war. I think you're doing just fine.

batesmotel3415 Aug 2015 4:18 p.m. PST


If you're using an Android device or iPhone/iPad, the camera should have a panorama mode that will let you pan to get a single wide photo. If it isn't built in on the phone then you can look for an app to do it. I'm not sure what the equivalent is for a normal digital camera but I suspect there should be something to do it. Much easier than trying to photo shop.


M C MonkeyDew15 Aug 2015 6:53 p.m. PST

I used 3 to 6 views with a clock reference based on the player'so figure facing.

BuckeyeBob15 Aug 2015 7:03 p.m. PST

Back between 2009-2011, there was a group I was part of that did just what you are trying to do. We did it for WW2. (I was both a player in some games and GM in others). Instead of separate emails, the GM sent all the pictures to one of our group that set up a server. Each person logged in with their password and was able to view only the pictures meant for them to see along with descriptions, commentary, etc. Unfortunately, that web site no longer exists.
The GM, at game start took overhead pics of the table which was marked out along 2 edges to form a grid and a compass rose was superimposed on the pic as well. This made it easier for the players to visualize distances prior to game start as well as give orders to the GM. Each turn the players sent the GM their instructions, he moved the units, conducted combat and took pics from the viewpoint of the miniature that represented the player. I used the camera's zoom ability when players used their binoculars. As you are finding out, it was important to label each picture showing the direction being viewed, and provide descriptions of what they can see and hear from the various directions. It was a lot of work for the GM, but the players really liked it. The FOW really made most players cautious, esp. since one of the minis represented them and if it was KIA or knocked out by concussion, they didnt get anymore pictures until they were replaced by another figure or awoke again (which happened to my figure when speeding down a street in a French town in 1940 in his PSW222 and was broadsided by the Brit player's dingo who was speeding up another side street.)
I used some of the various effects of the photoshop type program to give the effect of smoke, fog or snow and rain if the scenario featured it. Also I once cut a rectangular slot in a spraypaint can lid and fit it over the camera lens to take pics from the view of a buttoned-up tank CO. So you can do some very interesting things to give the players a first person viewpoint of the battlefield. But like I said, its a lot of effort, esp if there are 4 players per side.

Personal logo Saber6 Supporting Member of TMP Fezian15 Aug 2015 8:05 p.m. PST

I've run a WebCam game (Dirtside) where I panned a camera around for players on their turn.

Might do it again for Napoleonics (more open views). Could make those reverse slope positions better, but the enemy can see your command stands, maybe.

Hmmm, I think I have a good scenario for this…

normsmith16 Aug 2015 1:38 a.m. PST

Can I ask – is it just the photo quality that is causing you the biggest problem. i,e, if you had sharp bright pictures would that make this thing a go-er?

Russ Lockwood16 Aug 2015 2:26 p.m. PST

Android device or iPhone/iPad, the camera should have a panorama mode

Hmm. That panoramic function on a smartphone is worth investigating. I've been using an old compact Nikon that doesn't have a panoramic function (hence the Photoshop).

is it just the photo quality that is causing you the biggest problem

Two problems. One is the depth of field, so things up close are blurry (like your own troops in front of you, which is somewhat OK because I list the troops in order in the turn) and the other is what happens as I stitch the photos together -- where the overlap causes hiccups in the image that I do my best to mitigate. When I take three or four photos to mimic 180-degree view, it gets from a little ugly to a lot ugly when the camera is rotated or slid and rotated on the table. I've gotten a bit better after 300+ photos, but…

it's a lot of effort, esp if there are 4 players per side.

There are 12 players in total, at 3 to 4 photos per player…

Out of focus == fog of war.

Yeah, I tried that line… :)

My thought is that the 12-15 turn limit was about right, but when the game is done, I'll invite them all over so they can replay the game with perfect intelligence just to see the difference between POV and helicopter view.

sumerandakkad17 Aug 2015 3:24 a.m. PST

Why not video POV instead of pictures?
I like the idea as a whole. As for distances, what is to stop players setting models up at different distances and seeing how they look to determine distances? Did none think of that?

BuckeyeBob17 Aug 2015 9:08 a.m. PST

The "distance" issue that I experienced was with players giving a move order that was far beyond the actual allowed for that unit (usually infantry). Even tho they had the initial top down entire table, with grid indicators picture as the 1st pic of the series for each turn, and were told the distance of each grid pre-game. Then they'd complain that they ordered a unit to move to X (3 grids away) when the most it could move a turn was Y (1 grid).
Shooting was usually not a problem because there would be plenty of terrain to block LOS (usually) beyond most firing distances for infantry.
I used an inexpensive Cannon A550 camera and turned off the depth of field so didnt have the issue with blurred images.
(This was in the days before good cell phone cameras, so can't comment on their usage, but can see how they could be easier to fit behind a figure in terrain than the bulky camera.)

Russ Lockwood17 Aug 2015 11:06 a.m. PST

Why not video POV instead of pictures?

Video would pick up all the background in my basement -- the furnace, the stairs, the cinderblock walls, etc. While I am sure there is software to replace that with blue sky, I just don't have the capability or inclination to do video editing. In Photoshop, it's relatively quick and adds to the POV 'reality' -- well, such as it turned out anyway.

I like the idea as a whole.

So do I! :)
Alas, the quick version photos leave much to be desired. :(

As for distances, what is to stop players setting models up at different distances and seeing how they look to determine distances? Did none think of that?

No. It is tough to determine it, but that would have helped, even if they just eyeballed it. Although for the biggest 'complainer' (er, 'justified complainer'), I'm tempted to take an unpainted figure and wrap a triangular flag with '18' around the spearpoint and put it 18 inches from his general with the caption, "FORE!" :)

giving a move order that was far beyond the actual allowed

Yes, that happens often: "Go to the top of the hill and look around" being particularly prevalent. :)

I used 3 to 6 views with a clock reference based on the player's figure facing.

Missed this earlier. Hmmm. I'm guessing these views are not connected, just separate photos. That would save some time…Hmmm.

The lack of info is indeed a great concept, but putting that into action on the tabletop is proving too ugly for many players. It's a little like a bell curve on a line between ugly and beautiful, with the curve shifted towards the ugly side.

Wolfhag09 Dec 2015 11:55 a.m. PST

Try Periscope: This is not the viewing devices on tanks. Periscope is an Android app that allows real time video streaming over Twitter. It can be used to broadcast games in real time or to umpire them from a distance and be interactive with the players.

Link: link


NedZed09 Jan 2018 6:59 p.m. PST

Russ Lockwood,

If you (or anyone) are still interested in this subject, I can send you documents from a Napoleonic game I participated in (from California) over a decade ago. The umpire (in Michigan) had the game set up in his basement. He would place a tiny camera just above the miniature command figure of each player (players from three continents) and snap photos of what the commander could see from that point of view. He would email those photos to the commander along with a summary of what that player could see and hear in that position. Player responses, directions for their own movement, and orders to subordinates were emailed to the umpire. He would send those orders to the subordinate with appropriate time lag, so different players might have different decisions at different times. It was a massive game, took years to play. Some players had a lot more to do than others in the game. I happened to be very busy, so I wrote a fictional memoir based on my correspondence with the umpire as a battle report.
Email me if interested. I considered it to be one of the best game experiences I ever played in (though it took a long time). You can email me at:
nedz AT mindspring DOT com

Russ Lockwood25 Jan 2018 5:43 p.m. PST

Yes. I'd be interested in taking a quick look. E-mail in a moment. Thanks.

NedZed02 Feb 2018 12:42 a.m. PST

I haven't received an email – send me one and I'll be happy to send you the material.
– Ned

Russ Lockwood01 Mar 2018 8:49 p.m. PST

Sorry, just back here. I mistyped your e-mail address. Sending another.

FYI: This month's Miniature Wargames has an article by a fellow who ran e-mail games. He didn't mention players complaining about blurry photos! :)

Or that they couldn't see 360 degrees! :)

Some interesting points, though.

NedZed01 Mar 2018 9:07 p.m. PST


The "memoir" and AARs are being sent now in the form of about 20 emails with attachments.

– Ned

Russ Lockwood15 Mar 2018 5:03 p.m. PST

To update those who had been reading this, Ned sent me a cornucopia of AAR files regarding the Napoleonic PBeM game he played in. His write-ups were far more creative, interesting, and extensive than I ever received. Then again, the umpire did a far better job than I ever did with the photography (even if some of the shots included some blurriness). Ned noted that when the umpire ran out of room, he built more terrain and extended the tabletop!

It sure makes a nice 'memoir' of the battle over the valley.

jeffreyshenn30 Apr 2018 10:32 p.m. PST

So here is how our group worked this out …

We started the battle on a hex grid map, moving units double-blind until two units occupied the same map hex – then a battle occurred, but on a much more local scale. Other player units might still be maneuvering on the hex grid while some were battling.

Worked out really well for us. Everyone bought into the fact that they weren't going to see the full battlefield.

I loved it since one of my pet peeves is players immediately pivoting towards an enemy when they likely wouldn't have even seen them.

If you are interested, I have 200+ photos of our last game posted to our FB page – @BattlefieldHobbiesWI – scroll down just after Little Wars 2016 games to PBEM – Operation Barbarossa.

Happy to send anyone our campaign rules, OOB and AAR if you are interested jeffreyshenn AT gmail DOT com

I included all of the snaps I took so you can see my experimentation with framing/angles/ect.

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