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"Do Drones Make Wargames Boring?" Topic

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03 Sep 2021 4:18 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Crossposted to TMP Poll Suggestions board

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Comments or corrections?

emckinney03 Sep 2021 2:16 p.m. PST

Drones are increasingly dominating the modern battlefield (although we don't know how effective they would be in a war between great powers).

Do drones make for boring wargames? If the important fires are by precision-guided weapons from off-board, can you make a game that's fun? Do you have to go to a much larger ground scale and concentrate on anti-aircraft and anti-drone defense, along with firing locations and C3I assets attacking g each other? If concealment and detection are the primary elements of a fight, do figures on a beautiful terrain board make any sense?

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2021 2:42 p.m. PST

Steve Jackson foresaw this question in regards to Ogre/GEV and simply declared that anti-aircraft (and thus by extension anti-drone) would be so effective as to render air assault effectively impossible— a nice hand wave, and not entirely implausible.

But I would state that "boots on the ground" are always going to be essential, even with drone capability. A drone can't secure terrain anymore than any other aircraft can.

This is all with the caveat that, let's face it, most sci-fi and modern gaming cannot effectively reproduce the range capability already operating on modern battlefields. By the time you get as close as a tabletop and reasonable scales allow, you wind up with troops and armor being unrealistically close— the hits would have already happened.

stephen m03 Sep 2021 3:39 p.m. PST

I have been thinking on this for years. It is entirely dependent on game scale.

At the small pointy end (skirmish) game effects would be limited to small attacks, reconnaissance of opposing units, possibly defining "danger paths" which could limit movement options. Retaliation would be either larger than game scale and done off board using pregame assets or possibly based on a card pull. If done by on board troops then that is why you bring electronics specialists. Then you could have scramblers which could give clear zones, attack and destroy or render inoperable or various other countermeasures which can be either time sensitive, permanent (in game terms) or location specific.

Scale the game up and a lot of the above still applies but assets or effects make themselves appear. The effects of the drones also can be scaled up as larger drones are available, or smaller ones may make for more "off limits" areas or search and reveal forces.

There was a great short story I saw on some site where drones and electronics warfare came into play where the troops numbered about a squad. The drones were small but very numerous and were searching a ruined city looking for enemy forces. The troopers were hacking local surveillance networks comprising all the cameras installed by locals in the various buildings (those ones people are being told to buy now to keep an eye on their homes when they are at work). They were able to use that info to determine where the drones were and where they were going to on their searches. So a game of cat and mouse ensued. Neither side was omnipotent, lots of room for measures and countermeasures.

I like that idea and rules which would allow and force you to perform actions and counter actions as opposed to a set of rules I saw where you just assigned your electronics warfare "points" to either attack or defense. The net result was just applied to all attack or sensor roll for the current turn. Bid with you points at the start of the next game turn. Simple but in my mind unrewarding, uninteresting and not worthy of a well done game covering near past through future warfare.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2021 3:45 p.m. PST

I have a hunch they kill miniatures gaming, or can. Modern warfare tends that way. You can kill anything you can find, so first you go to analog invisibility--blocking terrain and camouflage. Then with drones, satellites and other suchlike improvements, what you need is digital invisibility--standing right there, but not showing up on the other guy's systems. It's the next step after "stealth" tech. But when everyone has enough firepower and the important thing is electronics and software--really I think you're looking at a collectible card game, not a miniatures game.

My plan is to ignore the whole thing and use my science fiction miniatures to steal the plans for the Death Star or spring jailed princesses. There may be edged weapons and swordfights. It was good enough for Edgar Rice Burroughs, and it's good enough for me.

Anyone got an idea where I could find a Northwest Smith and a Yarol in 28mm?

DyeHard03 Sep 2021 3:48 p.m. PST

I suspect if there were wargames at the time, they would have asked "Do Aircraft Make Wargames Boring?", "Do AFVs Make Wargames Boring?", or "Do Firearms Make Wargames Boring?".

Each introduction of a new technical and tactical factor throws the older paradigm into disarray. And as few have firsthand experience on how Drones will work in the field, it is difficult to envision or even critique how game rules will reflect their use.

I recall a time when anti-tank missiles seemed to make any attempt to use a tank in combat pointless. But do not give up! Cleaver people will come up with mechanics to take account of drones on the table top. It has to be easier that invisibility, precognition, or time travel in a game.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2021 3:51 p.m. PST

I see no problem with drones, since my primary project is recreating the siege of Yorktown.
Perry French artillery arrived yesterday from Triangle, but no drones.
I'll worry about drones when my gabions come in from Acheson Creations.

stephen m03 Sep 2021 3:59 p.m. PST

Every advance has inherent technical limits. You might not see them but rest assured those "wielding the big stick" most certainly do. A nuke placed on almost any game board would end a game very fast. Unless the other side has devices to counter them, know the limits to avoid or destabilize them, etc.. Plus I have played some games with nukes which take a few to "end the scenario". See Mishler's NORAD.


McWong7303 Sep 2021 4:21 p.m. PST

Comes down to what they do in a game.

thosmoss03 Sep 2021 5:27 p.m. PST

Oh, and here I thought you meant people who talk on and on and on … in spite of those who want to play a game.

… and on and on and on …

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2021 5:37 p.m. PST

Oh, you mean like Monty Python reenactors?

emckinney03 Sep 2021 5:54 p.m. PST

"I see no problem with drones, since my primary project is recreating the siege of Yorktown."

Which is why I put it on the boards I did. No need to gather the orcs, trolls, and hobgoblins for modern gaming.

rmaker03 Sep 2021 7:28 p.m. PST

Yes. They don't respond to jokes, they don't pass the snacks when asked …

Piyan Glupak03 Sep 2021 8:53 p.m. PST

Not sure that the use of drones would influence wargaming the Bronze and Early Iron Ages very much unless they were used against the opposing player.

emckinney03 Sep 2021 9:40 p.m. PST

Oh, geez, I see what happened. The Editor cross-posted this to TMP Poll Suggestions.

I was hoping for a serious discussion of how to fit them into modern/ultramodern/SF games.

So much for that …

Bill, could you just delete the topic now? I don't need people reading the subject line and posting snark instead of contributing to the discussion.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2021 10:35 p.m. PST

Oh, don't get your feelings hurt.

emckinney03 Sep 2021 11:44 p.m. PST

There's a difference between "my feelings are hurt" and "great, this topic is now useless." But you've done nothing but make fun of the topic and disrupt any serious analysis, so why would you care?

I don't know, maybe there's nothing you're serious about, but how would you feel if I followed you around, posting masses of irrelevant text in every topic you posted in?

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP03 Sep 2021 11:52 p.m. PST

Be my guest.
I don't remember reading anything in the FAQ requiring that all threads be treated seriously.

I would say that about half the replies here are "not useless".
If you want to go mess with one of my threads, here. Knock yourself out.
TMP link

TMP link

Thresher0104 Sep 2021 1:36 a.m. PST

It depends.

A lot of them are now currently like their early WWI aerial counterparts, with NO air-to-air offensive capability.

Once that changes, things WILL get very interesting indeed.

Also, enhanced surface to air defenses WILL be developed and deployed to try to deal with them too, e.g. more sophisticated, point-defense, anti-air weapons, as well as lasers.

Of course, the offense will use drone swarms too, to counter the air defenses, so……………the cycle continues.

LostPict Supporting Member of TMP04 Sep 2021 4:08 a.m. PST

Drones work really well against opponents with technical limitations such as insurgents. More sophisticated opponents are fielding cheap anti-drone systems that make drones far less effective. These include anti-drone Rifles, rockets, jammers, and lasers. It still takes ground-pounders to take and hold ground.

wakenney04 Sep 2021 6:01 a.m. PST

I'm always confused by this kind of topic. No, drones won't make the games boring. Nukes didn't make the games boring, why would drones?

"But if the USA can win every conflict by dropping nukes, then there is no reason to move my little painted dolls around a board. We just launch ICBMs turn one and retire to our drinks."

But that's not how it went. For anyone doing semi-modern gaming, we all just avoided any phase of combat where dropping the bomb was a factor. Either ignore it completely or account for it in campaign play but not on the table during the game.

Same with drones. Will a drone make the scenario boring? Then magically all of the drone assets are tasked to other missions. No drone coverage available. Same for CAS; no AC-130 overhead or A-10 en route.

Why would anyone play the boring scenarios?

Drones don't ruin wargaming. They are not ubiquitous, not ever present, and do not have an infinite magazine.

And, to many points, outside of ultra modern they affect nothing.

Wolfhag04 Sep 2021 7:55 a.m. PST

Who needs drones if you can already can see and identify your enemies units down to the type of weapon they are carrying?

If you had hidden deployment or limited intelligence or ROE there would be a reason to use them in a game.

It could make it interesting by penalizing the drone player when he hits a neutral unit that was not fully identified.


Personal logo PaulCollins Supporting Member of TMP04 Sep 2021 9:16 a.m. PST

I know that in a number of cyberpunk rules drones can be crashed or taken over by a tech specialist, making them dangerous but strategic to both sides.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP04 Sep 2021 10:20 a.m. PST

I was hoping for a serious discussion of how to fit them into modern/ultramodern/SF games.

I got a paper on this topic accepted to the NATO CA2V2 wargaming forum this fall. Without the details on implementing them … no. They are simply different types of units with different strengths and weaknesses.

Martin Rapier04 Sep 2021 11:46 a.m. PST

I've played a few games using drones, they aren't really any different to other air assets and/or PGMs. Whether they are game breakers or not depends on the scenario and scale of game, just like any other indirect fire assets.

Sci Fi gamers don't seem to have any huge problem with robots, missile swarms, fighter swarms, EW etc so I don't see why it should be any different for ultra moderns.

Yes, if one side just has a company of grunts and the other has a hundred offensive drones, it is going to be a dull game, but why would you game that in the first place?

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP04 Sep 2021 2:46 p.m. PST

Dyehard, there's a problem in miniatures games when position ceases to matter. So long as both the drone and the ADA cover only portions of the table, you still potentially have a game. When, realistically, your drone defense is an off-table asset and the drone can see and/or strike anywhere on the table--well, as I said, you can imagine a card game as one employs various systems and countermeasures, but the castings on the table have become irrelevant: either the software wizards have kept them safe, or they're dead, because nothing else will.

Rapier's right to insist on the importance of scale. At certain tech levels, you only get interesting games at different points on the spectrum.

Thresher0106 Sep 2021 4:59 a.m. PST

Aerial combat drones should make life VERY exciting for enemy pilots, once they are fielded successfully, which may or may not do so on the tabletop too, depending upon your point of view, and their actual performance in combat.

Zephyr106 Sep 2021 2:34 p.m. PST

Probably the best way to handle drones is to have a "pre-battle" with them before the start of the regular game, with the winner getting a bonus that can be used during said regular game. Or not, if you like more complicated games… ;-)

Heedless Horseman06 Sep 2021 11:34 p.m. PST

'Horses For Courses'. Have fun with Drones, Guys… but MY interest in 'Modern' wargaming went out with Reactive Armour! lol.
Big 'Killer' Drones could be seen as 'air power' and fair enough. BUT… mini Drones… well, unless on a skirmish level, just not 'my bag' at all.
No hiding place / dead ground. No Recce forces.
Doesn't seem much point.. unless 'Drone Battles'…

Given the advancing tech for 'Ultra Mini' drones… and WHAT they could be capable of, to troops… just don't want to go there.

alexpainter07 Sep 2021 7:22 a.m. PST

It depends from the tech level of the enemy,f.e. in Avatar's background the reason there weren't any drones was that ecm and hackers had rendered useless any remote piloted drone/missile/robot. In SW universe jamming is so powerful that remote controlled weapons are (almost) useless, hence the droid armies with a (limited) intelligence & autonomy.

UshCha08 Sep 2021 6:48 a.m. PST

To be honest at the moment Drones are doing well, like HEAT round just after WW2, but then Tanks came back. Current warfare is asymetric so anti-drone sytems are not present in large numbers. If two equal economic powers came into conflict then drones would not be the see all they are now. Large drones like the Reaper are hellish expensive and may not be as attactive if its loses became significant.

andresf09 Sep 2021 8:11 a.m. PST

Aren't drones in modern/scifi gaming qualitatively similar to air power or long range artillery? Those already feature in rulesets.

I think you just need a way to counter them and you're all set. If gaming scifi: there's hacking, counterdrones, and various scifi weapons at your disposal.

Wolfhag09 Sep 2021 11:51 a.m. PST

These are the ones that would make a real change:

More About Slaugherbots:
The 7 minute film opens with a Silicon Valley CEO-type delivering a product presentation to a live audience a la Steve Jobs. The presentation seems innocuous enough at first—the presenter seems to be unveiling some new drone technology—but takes a dark turn when he demonstrates how these autonomous drones can slaughter humans like cattle by delivering "a shaped explosive" to the skull.The audience eats it up, clapping and laughing along with the CEO as if they hadn't witnessed anything more dangerous than the unveiling of the iPhone X. The CEO goes further, showing videos of the tiny killer drone in action. "Let's watch what happens when the weapons make the decisions," the CEO says, as the bot executes a number of people on the massive screen behind him. "Now trust me, these are all bad guys." What follows is a deeply unsettling portrait of a dystopian world where these small weaponised drones use their onboard technologies—"cameras like you use for your social media apps, facial recognition like you have on your phones!"—to make autonomous decisions about who lives and who dies.

YouTube link


Tgunner20 Sep 2021 4:33 a.m. PST

Honestly, drones are an excuse to cover a game's lack of "realism". With drones in use by both sides you have players who can pretty much see each other's forces, so you don't have to come up with a limited intelligence or fog of war rules set. In fact, you can pretty much put your toys on the table and battle it out without feeling guilty!

"I know that tank is there because my drones spotted it!"

Toss in a few random "off-board" missile strikes and you're actually simulating ultra-modern warfare! Also, you can have a couple of hidden units using say Flames of War's ambush mechanics too to cover the occasional unit that the other side's drones miss.

So I look at drones as a bonus really, and not something that makes the game boring.

Covert Walrus17 Oct 2021 4:34 p.m. PST

Wakenney said -

"But if the USA can win every conflict by dropping nukes, then there is no reason to move my little painted dolls around a board. We just launch ICBMs turn one and retire to our drinks."

But that's not how it went. For anyone doing semi-modern gaming, we all just avoided any phase of combat where dropping the bomb was a factor. Either ignore it completely or account for it in campaign play but not on the table during the game.

Exactly the situation is several notable Cold War era SF stories – "The Quaker Cannon" by Kornbluth and Pohl, most notably. In that, the bases are prepared for atomic attack ("Most of the active Fort, its offices, medical sections, armor battalions and technical facilities were deep underground, while only the boot camp's facilities were on the surface. Recruits were routinely kidded that if the Yuties ever hit the place with a hydrogen bomb, all they would be a thin layer of charcoal while the Camp's actual operations would not be affected one iota" ) but to the puzzlement of new recruits, only a few nuclear strikes had ever occurred in hostilities, mostly to halt large troop operations as an adjunct to building up conventional forces in an area.
But even so, there were interesting items in that sort of a future war – This same camp had ". . . among the basic walls and perimeter fences, also hid pop-up bunkers with everything from heavy machine-guns to 155mm AT cannons all self-directed. and helicopter sentries (sic) patrolling the perimeter." Replace the latter with armed Drones it solidly depicts what we are currently moving towards.

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