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    Phil Dutré

    I wrote a small opinion piece on computer-assisted wargaming on my blog, reproduced below, or see https://snv-ttm.blogspot.com/2018/08/computer-assisted-miniature-wargaming.html



    The latest issue of Miniature Wargames (issue 425, September 2018) has an article on Computer-Assisted Wargaming, as an interview with Arofan Gregory (check out his website Wargaming Machines). Computer-Assisted Wargaming (or CAW) provides tools to help the miniature wargaming go more smoothly, by outsourcing a number of procedures (combat resolution, hidden troops, obfuscating information, campaign management, …) to the software.

    Although I fully understand the desires and motivation of some wargamers to do so, and although I also agree that smartphones and tablets are easy to use around the wargaming the table as opposed to a laptop or an old-fashioned desktop, I think that using digital technology *during* the game misses the point of what miniature wargaming is about. Of course, we all use computers for peripheral wargaming activities outside the actual games: writing blogs, purchasing wares, reading rules, keeping track of our collections, writing campaign diaries … all of these activities have been digitized. But using a computer during the game? I’m not so sure …

    One of the functions that is often digitized is combat resolution. Instead of rolling dice, looking up results in tables etc., the computer can do that work for us. That is a true statement. But why would we want the computer to do that for us? There is a joy in rolling the dice and reading the results. Why use a sterile digital mechanism instead? One of the reasons often mentioned is that combat resolution – or other mechanisms – are too complex. They involve rolling too many dice, looking up too many modifiers, looking up results in too many tables. That is certainly a problem in some rulesets. But the answer is not too digitize those procedures, but rather make them simpler and easier to use. In other words, make them more elegant and design them better. A badly designed procedure remains a badly procedure when digitized. The bad design is simply hidden from the user, but the design still sucks.

    For me, miniature wargaming is foremost an analogue and tactile experience. The quintessential element of the medium is handling and moving toy soldiers, and should be preserved at all times. Moreover, I also think that the “helper” devices such as dice, rulers, cards, … should be analogue as well. I am not saying a wargaming should always use dice or rulers – there are good designs that do without those – but whatever you use to play the game, should be in line with the tactile activity of handling the toy soldiers themselves. At least for me, all these elements should form a coherent whole. No hybrid game formats in *my* wargaming! But of course, you can do in your wargaming whatever you want 🙂

    In the past, I have compared using computers in miniature wargaming as using advanced technology in other analogue hobbies such as painting landscapes. Why not use a digital camera instead, or even 3-D print your painting as is possible these days? That will surely give you a much more accurate rendition of the landscape … ? Because the point is not to recreate the visual image of the landscape, but creating an image using paints and brushes …

    Now, I am not a luddite opposed to anything digital. I am a computer scientist, teach computer science, and do research in computer graphics. But perhaps that’s another reason I want to keep digital devices out of my wargaming. Having to work with computers and staring at screens all day, I want my hobby to be clear from bits and bytes.

    So, instead of putting my creativity into writing programs for wargaming, I will keep them focused on designing better analogue gaming mechanics. Because I believe that’s where the soul of miniature wargaming really is.

    Tiny Tin Men Blog: http://snv-ttm.blogspot.com/
    Wargaming Mechanics Blog: http://wargaming-mechanics.blogspot.com/


    My perception is that computer-assisted rules were quite the thing some decades ago but never really clicked. I know that the one time I used a set, the creaky nature of the rules made me feel as if I was Berthier, Napoleon’s down-trodden chief clerk & not Napoleon. I felt all I was doing was entering data when I wanted to emulate a De Salle, gallantly leading his cavalry brigade into a miniature (& sanitized!) miniature battle.

    Phil, your thoughts may well explain the failure of computer rules to set the wargame world on its ear…..so far.



    I should probably try it before making up my mind, so all I can say is that I’d welcome a chance to use computer assistance in wargaming, but ultimately I do enjoy the manual, intuitive aspects of game mechanics in all forms of “tabletop games” and don’t see any reason to give them up. I also think these aspects are what continue to draw young people to tabletop gaming. It provides variety, a sense of tradition and a broader picture of game design to those of us who’ve known video games all our lives.

    That said, there is one avenue in which I would like to see computer-assisted wargaming make more progress: “Remote” wargaming over the internet. With the proliferation of webcams, tabletop-gaming “LP’s” (“Let’s Play” videos) on Youtube, and game-streaming platforms like Twitch (where, I’ve noticed, pen-and-paper RPGs have already established a bit of a foothold), I would be glad to see miniatures gaming expand to become something in which players can participate – in real time – over distance. I envision this form of gaming having everything that’s happening on the physical table be “slaved” to a digital facsimile of it on the computer (a necessary evil to ensure remote players have a sufficient measure of agency and insight). This would still require for tableside players to be highly receptive to requests and instructions in regard to operating the camera (so remote players can have their close-up shots, different angles, etc.), but that should be feasible.

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