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    Avatar photoShandy


    Reading the second part of Jonathan Jones’ excellent article on fighting Oporto in the latest issue of Miniature Wargames, I was struck that he uses computerised rules for his games. Now I’ve heard enthusiastic arguments for such rules from several people but could never relate to them. Does anyone of you use rules moderated by the computer, or would you be interested in such rules?

    I don’t mean digital copies of rulebooks, I mean rules where the program keeps track of stats, tells you the outcome of melee, morale tests etc.

    I’ve always been surprised when this has been greeted with enthusiasm by people I normally associate with being ‘diy’ wargamers, that is gamer not playing closed systems. For me, computerised rules would make my way of gaming impossible. I always tinker with rules; not because I think I know better (well… somtimes perhaps ) but mainly because scenarios sometimes demand modifications. Also, I usually play in 15mm and scale down the distances. If all those values and parameter were set by the program without any chance of changing them, I couldn’t use those rules. What is more, I like to be able to ‘see’ into the mechanics, to understand how they are working – I wouldn’t like algorithms hidden behind lines of code I can’t read (or probably can’t access). And finally, I like to be able to communicate with my gaming partner about contested points and sometimes even to make judgements against the rules – heck, I’ve been allowed to re-roll activation dice because my partner couldn’t watch my guys not moving for several turns  A program that calculates the activations and presents me with the results would never allow that.

    Don’t get me wrong: Jonathan Jones makes some good points, e.g. keeping track of morale, fatigue and attrition in a nuanced way and factoring this in into combat is almost impossible if you use paper bookkeeping. However, I guess I’d rather use simpler, less ‘simulationist’ rules and have control over the mechanics than leave everything to the programmers…

    What do you think?

    Avatar photoirishserb

    I’ve only seen a couple of different games played with computerized rules, so my thoughts are based on those experiences, plus what I imagine could be added depending on the type of game being played.  Additionally, I primarily play games (mostly post WWI) that involve individually mounted figs with more of a skirmish type management (even when there are thousands of figures on the table).  Individual weapons are fired, not units.  Damage is resolved per individual figure, not per unit.  I maximize the aspects of the 3D representation with respect to line of site, cover, etc.    That means the troops in a single artillery blast can require different modifiers and consideration for resolution for each figure.  Or that one fig can see a target, while the next fig over in the same unit cannot, requiring completely different considerations in fire resolution.  Here are some of my thoughts regarding computerized rules and computer assisted games.

    First, the computer and/or interface would take up space around my game table, space is at a premium, and there is already too much stored in other rooms.

    Second, in my experience, entering data into the computer for it to render results, took  as much or more time than rolling dice.  Additionally, it seemed that less information was being used in those instances, than would have been used if just rolling dice.  Trying to allow for the considerations mentioned above about my own games would be very tedious and time consuming.

    Third, given my style of gaming (in most, though not all instances), the computer is a dispassionate mechanism that makes me feel more distant or removed from the game, somewhat more like a spectator at an event, rather than a participant in the event.

    Now with all of that negativity offered, I have seen computer aided naval games that played well, and probably benefitted from the computerized combat resolution in a convention environment.  The game probably moved along better than it might have otherwise.  Similarly, I can see computerized rules being useful in games that manage troops at higher levels, or in games with a great scope and/or with many units.

    Generally though, I see technology on the tabletop as being invasive or threatening to the “art of the game”.  I have no interest in sensors identifying figures and resolving combat without my involvement, holographic terrain, or even computer assisted management of the game otherwise.  I’ve been doing this for a long time, and have narrowed the scope of my hobby to just those things that I most enjoy.  For me, computer involvement in my hobby ends at the research and printing stage.  It has a place, but not at, or on, the game table.

    None of this is meant to suggest or imply that others should not use such rules, the comments above only relate to how I enjoy my version of the hobby.



    Avatar photoJohn D Salt

    Patient readers may perhaps already be familiar with my views on this subject, forcibly expressed on a number of occasions. Game assistance programs, or computer-assisted rules, are chimerical monsters, neither one thing nor the other. Either the representation of the world should be on the tabletop, or on the mapboard, or in the computer. Splitting it across more than one of these creates a whole bunch of unecessary translation tasks, explaining the state of the tabletop/mapboard world to the computer world, or the other way about. These are clearical tasks, not tactical decision-making tasks, and when I play with toy soldiers, I want to be a tactician, or in a big game a strategist, not a bloody clerk. If you have written rules that require operations so complex that they ca only conveniently be performaed with a computer, I strongly suspect that you have designed a wretchedly bad game, and, what’s more, all that “detail” you are so proud of is not based on any factual basis, but created using the POOMA method (“pulled out of mid air” is the polite gloss).

    There may, marginally, be some benefit in using a computerised opponent to hide information and make tactical decisions for a solitaire game; I have never seen such a thing attempted, I suspect because no wargamer’s programming skills are equal to dealing with the AI problems entailed. All the GAPs I have seen in real life — which have been few — were wretched failures.

    The real place the computer can help in rules-writing, IMHO, is for processing data for combat results tables. For example, my “Churchill Troop Commander” used attack values based on a hit probability algorithm and penetration formula that, while simple enough to be performed with a pocket calculator, would be tedious to do repeatedly. This is what computers were meant for — to relieve their human masters from clerical drudgery, not to create more of it.

    All the best,


    Avatar photogrizzlymc

    John, putting that sort of challenge out on the web is likely to alert your cel, PC and microwave that you are a competing lifeform, not merely a symbiotic lower life form. They will be working out how to unplug you as we speak!

    Avatar photoMcLaddie

    I agree with John that computer assisted games can relieve the players from a number of administrative/clerk activities that slow play or make it tedious, but from what I have seen you basically need an ‘umpire’ running the program to make current program work at all smoothly [At least that is what I have seen] I have Carnage and Glory but can’t bring myself to spend the time to master the program–filling in all the data to actually try it out, though I am on that group list and folks there seem to enjoy it.  One thing the program does that I don’t like is ‘black box’ a lot of things that you would expect or want to see [fatigue, skirmishing activities, officer losses among others] where a lot of details are thrown in the mix and influence results, but you just have to go on faith that whatever is happening among the megabits relates somehow to historical…  If detail is what supports pretending, and particularly ‘guided pretending’, that assumption of game detail detracts from the experience.  Questions about what the program calculations represent and include is a major part of list discussions with the designer.

    One thing I haven’t see and am contemplating is an app that represents the major subordinate leaders and based on their “personalities” provide their decisions when needed.  Not random, but within a decision matrix, though not the players’ decisions either.

    Half the challenge of new technology isn’t inventing it, but finding all the ways it can or should be applied.


    Avatar photoEtranger

    Our group contains a very experienced rules writer and historian & we’ve play tested many sets over the years. We use Carnage and Glory quite extensively for 18th century games & find them excellent for that.  It does take some time to learn and set up the data in the computer but once it’s done, the game flows nicely. Also, once it’s in the computer it stays there, so subsequent battles in a campaign setting are easy to set up.

     We don’t have a problem with letting the black box do the staffwork whilst we do the generalling! We haven’t seen anything too ridiculous or unhistorical come out of the machine yet. As to whether the assumptions made by the computer algorithm are any more or less realistic than those used in other rules models, that’s probably a matter of opinion rather than aanything else. 

    With C & G, fatigue, morale etc is simply a matter of common sense TBH. If you order the same unit to keep on moving, fighting etc then it will tire. Eventually it will break, (although for good quality troops that does takes some doing). It’s when it will break that is unknown & part of the enjoyment!

    Avatar photoMcLaddie

    With C & G, fatigue, morale etc is simply a matter of common sense TBH. If you order the same unit to keep on moving, fighting etc then it will tire. Eventually it will break, (although for good quality troops that does takes some doing). It’s when it will break that is unknown & part of the enjoyment!



    I am sure it is common sense, and having the computer do the staff work is a benefit, but the unknown aspect of that ‘staff work’ is what I am talking about.  Assuming you don’t see the numbers [there is someone else running the program as you play], unlike the actual commanders you have no way of telling where the unit is between Fresh and breaking.  Checking the ‘health’ of a unit through observation was something commanders did on a regular basis as subjective as that might be.  That doesn’t mean you know when a unit will break, but players do have some idea of where on that continuum the unit sits at a particular moment…  and I don’t mean some exact number, but some ability to assess a unit condition.  From the sounds of it, you have to remember what combat, movement and such a unit has participated in over the game to even guess at where the unit stands on that continuum.  That is as much a part of that ‘black box’ issue as knowing what factors are used to calculate results and subsequent unit conditions.

    I’m looking at something between knowing nothing–which is what C&G  unit conditions seems to be providing– and knowing everything. Neither extreme striking me as particularly realistic or what commanders experienced.  As I haven’t played the program, only watched and fussed through the rule book, I realize this is outside looking in after a fashion.  [Kinda like playing the rules black-boxed] 

    Avatar photoExtraCrispy

    I played with a group very regularly for several years that used a set of computerised rules. I became quite a fan. While limiting in some ways, it was truly marvelous in others. Main benefits to me were:

    1) No need to know the rules in detail. The computer did the heavy lifting. You just needed to know how to write your orders and the (very) few modifiers such as flank fire, etc. We basically had one set of rules for every period from 1600-1900. All the differences were in the computer. All you needed to do was ask for weapons ranges.

    2) Fog of War: What kind of shape is the 22nd in? With a computer you’d better have a feel for how long they’ve been in combat, casualties etc. Otherwise they’ll break becasue you didn’t pull them out of the line in time. No roster to check, no morale state to allow you to finely calculate the chances they’ll stand/run.

    3) A more beautiful table top. With a computer you get rid of charts, chits, markers, dice etc. etc.

    4) No “range cliffs.” The computer rules did not have range bands. Range was a variable. So closer was always better, but moving from 12.01 inches to 11.99 did not increase your shooting by 16% just because you crossed that 12″ line.

    5) Fast. Once players knew how to “call” the orders we could play large battles (5 players per side, each handling a division). We could play 10 turns in 4-5 hours.

    They are clearly not for everybody. And the game designer did modify them after discussions with the club etc. But I quite liked them.

    Avatar photoRobey Jenkins

    There was, famously, the Ex Illis game, which was computer-based and which died horribly after, I think, three separate attempts to get it off the ground.

    I think that, for the vast majority of those interested in miniatures war games, part of the appeal is participating in a progress that is physically and mentally intimate (internally, not with your opponent – urgh!)


    so however logical it might be, computers will always be a part resort.


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