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The comparison was not between methods of showing altitude in air gaming (eg: dice v telescoping rods) but between using dice to represent altitude in air gaming and dice to represent depth in ground gaming (ie: playing on a 1′ x 6′ board with the minis only moving laterally along one’s edge and using dice (or other markers) to indicate how far into the battlefield the units are).  The latter appears crazy, but is the equivalent to some extent.  The impracticality of such a system is -as pointed out- only due to the unfamiliarity of players with it.

I think we’re approaching a meeting of the minds, here.

The difference I see between dice representing altitude and dice representing ground movement, and one reason I like to physically point models at one another, is that analog horizontal movement in two dimensions is easy to engineer, while vertical movement in three dimensions is much more difficult, maybe because you have to overcome gravity.

I can play a two-dimensional game on a flat surface, a table. It can be as big as my floor space and my arm’s reach allow, say 5 feet by 12 feet. I can model elaborate terrain on the surface, if I want to. It’s trivial to move my models across the flat surface. I can easily construct a visually convincing moving diorama, suspend disbelief and enter emotionally into the drama of playing with my toys. “Charge!”

To move my toys in three dimensions, I must construct a mechanically complex flight stand, with multiple parts that fit with some precision, to allow me to move my models up and down. The stands are bulky and top-heavy, they easily fall over, and knock down other stands when they fall. Two stands can’t physically occupy the same space, so one airplane model can’t physically be directly above another at different altitudes, which is fairly common in dog-fighting. Because my reach is only to about 3 feet above the table surface, I have less space to work in vertically than horizontally. Reduced working space tends to magnify scale compression issues, which are always a problem when playing table top wargames with scale models. This leads to the visually displeasing result of a group of large objects embedded in a forest of sticks. Some players feel than the forest of sticks is a convincing illusion, but many do not.

All of these problems can be overcome at some cost, but they’re non-trivial. I’m satisfied to symbolically represent altitude on a dice or a dial, while I physically move my models around on a flat table and point them at one another. The illusion convinces me, I can fluently *see* the altitude differences in my mind’s eye. I appreciate that it takes more effort, and more practice, to *see* the part of the illusion that isn’t physically there. Why go to that extra effort when physical representation is easy, in two dimensions?

I look forward to the development of holographic miniature wargaming. Then we will be able to project highly detailed miniature images and move them as we please, without any physical constraints. Our toy airplanes will be able to fly in three dimensions, in real time or scaled down, just as we like. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime, but I can dream about it.

You'll shoot your eye out, kid!