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computer assisted wargaming : a dead idea or time to resurrect ?

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This topic contains 76 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  limburger 2 days, 11 hours ago.

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  • #1414364

    limburger
    Participant
    7407xp

    One of the many games that were mentioned in the ‘Historicon 2019’ vlogs was one that used a computer to moderate the game.

    The game used was ‘carnage and glory’ …

    (link :  https://www.beastsofwar.com/liveblogentry/carnage-and-glory-american-civil-war )

    A quick google later and it’s like I’m back in the prehistoric times  of the internet.
    Even the ones posted by @phaidknott didn’t show signs of life.

    I can’t help but think that there is room for improvement.
    Why ? Because we’re seeing boardgames add support for this sort of thing.
    GW has an app for ‘Age of Sigmar’, but other than an army list builder requiring the purchase of codexes in order to make it semi functional it’s not exactly a useful tool.

    It made me wonder.

    1. Is the idea of using computers to help play wargames such an anathema to wargamers that no one bothers ?
      In a discussion about automating ASL it was suggested that doing the table lookups and calculating the odds was ‘part of the fun’ of the game …
      (link : https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/152409/computer-assisted-paper-based-complex-wargames )
    2. Did the streamlined / ‘dumbed down’ systems like Bolt-Action remove the need to automate the admin side of games ?
      Ergo : no need to automate anything because it is easy to remember
    3. Or did people who wanted this simply turn to computer games like Total War series and play the entire thing on computers ?
    4. something else ?

    Maybe I’m too much of a computer geek, but I sense a missed opportunity here especially given the fact that almost anyone has a mobile phone or tablet that could be used to help play the game that tiny bit faster (and error free).

     

     

    #1414395

    avernos
    Participant
    13147xp

    Yes using computers is terrible.

    #1414396

    phaidknott
    Participant
    2813xp

    It’s probably something that’s never going to be commercially successful, and more a labour of love if any new software were to appear today. I can only give a “feeling” of playing using rules (in this case Follow the Eagle for napolenonics with Battalions being the smallest unit) which are no longer available.

    1. The computer moderated rules give an aspect of “fog of war” you just can’t match with pen and paper sets. Because you don’t know “how” the mechanics of the rules work, the exact causalities, morale of the units you can only judge success or failure when units start running away (and by then it’s usually too late to do anything immediately to save the situation).

    2. They add an element of an RPG to the game, if you are in charge of a brigade you might send an aide to find out the status of a Battalion. But if you are commanding a Division such information is far below your interest (usually commanders have limited actions in issuing orders/requesting information. As a Division commander you order whole Brigades to attack etc (so the chain of command is modelled).

    3. Depth of mechanics is vastly improved, and the program can keep track of things that would just take too long with pen and paper rules. Ammo, Morale, Fatigue, and Officer quality and personality are modelled (these can even be an floating point variable throughout the battle).

    4. Players are removed from calculating results and knowing the rules, so the only tools they have available is the tactics of the day (so players REALLY start to focus on this aspect). The game just becomes a lot more enjoyable/unpredictable and “flow” more easily.

    5. The rules we were using took some getting used to. Ordering ANY attack took time to organise. You might order a Brigade to attack, but a couple of the units weren’t ready in time (or didn’t get the orders) and stood still. So attacks begin with a slow advance, with you trying to get everyone moving in line supporting each other (the Follow the Eagle rules gave individual movement rates for each unit with a min and max movement, so you could retard the movement of the faster units to keep pace with the slower ones…but you still had to move forwards). So a Division going from Hold to Advance could take anything up to 3 turns to organise and get moving. Note the Rules allowed you to have “set” orders at the start of the battle, so if you said XXX Division will attack at 3pm they had a higher rate of likelihood that all the units in the division would be ready for the order to move at 3pm (game time).

    6. Using the Follow the Eagle rules can best be summarised as “trying to herd cats”. As Generals are having to deal with the unexpected rather than having perfect command and control. Its a style of game that doesn’t appeal to every gamer.

    7. The big disadvantage however with the rules that were published is the need for someone to pretty much be a dedicated data inputter. It’s almost a full time job throughout the game removing them from being able to play (they are in effect acting as a GM). I think this was one of the major barriers in success as not many would want to be “that guy” 🙁 Although this was with BIG games (usually 2-3 Corps a side with a couple of thousand figures on the table played over a weekend)

    I think to an certain extent games like the Total War series have replaced things, but nothing still beats putting down a load of figures on the table. I think a lot of the Apps you see today aren’t actually Computer Assisted Wargame rules as such but are more of a player aid for pen and paper rules (like army list builders, or providing unit stats), and don’t actually introduce any fog of war (if anything they do the opposite). Certainly the shift in rules to “simpler” mechanics has also removed the need for Computer Assisted programs (I mean anything using D6s isn’t going to too hard to do in your head anyway), but these rules have also removed a lot of the period feel for lots of wargames (I mean playing a skirmish game in any period pretty much uses the same mechanics and doesn’t add too much in era specifics. For example WW2 and Modern Skirmish sets are pretty much the same beast).

    Using all the tables as part of the “fun” of the game is all down to the gamer. A lot of gamers prefer to be in total control of everything, they like to be able to calculate the exact chances of what’s going to happen before they do it to always make the optimal decision (in this way it’s a bit like playing a game of chess). Gamers aren’t used to having fog of war in tabletop games (although we see it in the PC games quite frequently).

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  phaidknott.
    • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  phaidknott.
    #1414404

    tarrox
    Participant
    234xp

    The main problem with computer assisted wargames is that, there are a lot of variables that a game contains that the computer needs to know but doesn’t have. Stuff like terrain layout, miniature positioning etc. So either you have someone that adds all this stuff into the computer (Don’t even think about doing some smartphone stuff with the camera here, the complexity is bonkers, unless you remove all the stuff that makes us make and paint miniatures in the first place and even then it is hard), or you ignore all that and the stuff the PC can do will be quite limited. So limited that you can do similar stuff using cards, tables etc without the need of a computer.

    Which is why PC powered boardgames work, as most of the variables are known beforehand or are quite limited for input and thus the PC can do more stuff in this cases.

    So currently only stuff like Warmahordes Warroom and maybe some randomizes for all the table rolling could be done. So basically quality of life stuff (although the quality is hard dependend on your hardware etc).

    Another problem is that program come and go but books are endless (As long as you treat them well). A solution could be to go open source solution, but even then depending on how it is written, it might need constant support form someone. Which makes a lot of users depended on someone doing that for them.

    Also the speed of the computer stuff can be infuriating long.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  tarrox.
    #1414409

    phaidknott
    Participant
    2813xp

    Well there’s not that many variables you need to actually input. The computer already knows the unit formations and orders etc. So for example if firing all it wants is….

    1, Firing unit

    2. Target unit

    3. Range

    4. If firing on flank/rear

    5. Cover

    5 quick numerical key inputs (vs looking up the attack of a unit, number of figs firing, defence of a unit, range, adding/subtracting modifiers like flank shot and cover), so it’s not that different from a pen and paper set of rules in that aspect.

    We found that the time aspect was roughly the same between players using all the tables and charts (and rolling dice) and the computer rules. The only “bottleneck” was one person typing in the detail (if multiple players could do that at the same time it would actually speed things up). Where the computer assisted rules come into their own is adding all the things you DON’T see in pen and paper rules (rather than the mechanics it’s replacing). It’s hard to see if you haven’t played using a set, because you can’t visualise very well all the things you haven’t experienced yet.

    These did appear in the same era however when thing like Napolenonic rules could be a bit “weighty”. I remember an American set called “Empire” that came in a ringbinder with dividers looking (and reading) like the user manuals you used to get with the old 386 computers. These days rules (if you take away all the nice pictures) are a fraction of what they used to be (and removed a lot of the mechanics as well that gamers were trying to model on the table).

    But this is me remembering from a set of computer rules you can no longer get (rules like Carnage and Glory or Iron Duke might be very different). But it’s not as laborious as you might first think. The data inputting only starts to be a problem when you have lots of players at the table (as they have to wait their turn to tell the GM what they are doing), in a normal two player game both the data inputter and his/her opponent shouldn’t have any “dead time” (although you might lose some of the fog of war aspect as one player can see the results of firing on screen).

    Follow the Eagle gave me the best games of Naps yet, but I’m not sure if even other sets of rules still available (and written at the same time) would give me the same game. But they also really only come into their own where the command and control IS a problem (and introduces the fog of war), in the black powder era it could take anything up to an hour for an aide to reach his destination with a set of written orders. But with a Modern era game with radios, satellite navigation tools, and drone surveillance updating in real time would their be a need to have game mechanics adding this to the game (thus nullifying the advantages a computer assisted set of rules can give us)?

     

     

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  phaidknott.
    • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  phaidknott.
    #1414418

    timmoth
    Participant
    427xp

    This maybe not quite what you’re talking about, but an App would be very useful to a game like Adeptus Titanicus. Not to moderate the game, but to represent all the cardboard control terminals for each Titan and Knight squad. They are a fun idea,a nd essential to the game, but take up so much space aside from the play area that bigger games are a problem. Having it all on a single app would free up space for a bigger play area and bigger armies…

    #1414451

    limburger
    Participant
    7407xp

    I see the opportunity for ‘computer assisted wargaming’ for everything from (smart) army lists to complete rule sets that automate everything except the actual tabletop.

    @tarrox wargames are abstractions of real world already and as @phaidknott says a lot of the info can be broken down into simple components (distance, cover, stance) which you’re already using in regular games.

    The few screenshots I’ve seen of ‘carnage and glory’ appear to suggest that terrain is broken down in hexes, which makes it look like an oversized hex-map. Initial data input may be a lot of work, but it isn’t impossible. Chances are that it can be simplified or done in reverse (why not create a map that a computer generated instead ?)

    oh … and computer vision is indeed complex, but the tools & hardware needed are no longer the stuff of super computers.
    It’s not quite as easy as adding a database, but the tools are freeware already (Google has tensorflow) and there has been significant progress.

    https://sourceforge.net/projects/panzercombat/

    Books may be ‘endless’ from a pure mechanical point of view, but they need to be produced for a system to remain viable.
    It’s not that different from software, but I’d be the first to admit that technology can move at an insane pace that can make it difficult to guarantee access (as proven by this very subject and the difficulty of finding any functional example).
    However as long as there is active support that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s not that different from trying to find a complete copy of ASL at retail …

    #1414458

    chaingun
    Participant
    1802xp

    For me personally I think computer assisted Wargames are great and I’ve been using them since the 90s.

    What systems do I use?

    Rebel Yell – this is an ACW system sadly out of production, it reflects all the weapon and unit types well and has a very good approach to leader traits.

    Broadside – this is an age of sail system where you command your ships of the line to do battle, weather, crew, fire, losing masts and guns all come in to play. Sadly out of production.

    Carnage and Glory ECW & ACW – after going to Historicon back in 2016 and meeting up with Nigel P Marsh, I had a great time time playing Edgehill. We captured Prince Rupert and killed the king 😂. The system is for me a more modern version of my very old Rebel Yell.

     

    So why do I use computer assisted Wargames?

    As an historical wargamer, I feel these systems give the players a better fog of war experience, also the fact that you input your units as actual units with real representation of men, you get a sense of losing your men becomes more personal. By this I mean as a commander you feel the historical reality of losing many men in firefight, rather than as a player rolling a dice and losing a odd figure or stand.

    I suppose this to me feels a closer representation of historical accuracy than modern tabletop rules systems (I.e. the pickup and play game type of games). This includes a better representation of fog of war, your units running low on ammunition, getting fatigued, weather and more importantly receiving dispatches from your commanders on the state of their brigades, divisions etc.

    I think the reason people are against computer assisted Wargames is the fact they can’t see everything, but that is how real battles are fought. In my experience of using these, I have found that once people get over the fact your not rolling dice and you are acting as a commander in the field, then they start to relax and enjoy the games. For anyone who hasn’t tried them, I would not instantly poo poo it, but give them a try with someone who is a good gamesmaster and then see how you feel about them after that.

    #1414459

    torros
    Participant
    11697xp

    I think with technology becoming more powerful and machines smaller it might start to become more popular.

     

    Do you use an umpire for your games @chaingun as I think this is one of the perceived problems that you and a friend can’t just organise a quick game with them

    #1414460

    chaingun
    Participant
    1802xp

    Yes @torros I do, in fact I mainly umpire all my games as I feel I can give players a better experience playing the game. Perhaps that’s the old fashioned gamer in me 😁😂

    #1414464

    phaidknott
    Participant
    2813xp

    @limburger Ah I think the screens you are looking at for Carnage and Glory are for the campaign module. The rules for the tactical battles (ie the stuff on the table) are basically “mapless” as far as the computer is concerned.

    It’s largely keeping track of each unit in the database doing a running count of things like casualties, but also things like ammo used, how many charges declared (to work out if a unit is “blown”) etc.

    From memory we used Follow the Eagle as it probably had the most advanced aspect for the tactical battles but it didn’t have the campaign aspects as well developed as Carnage and Glory (although my info is 20 years out of date).

    I think trying to do a computer assisted rules program for any modern set of rules would be almost pointless. They are just too simplistic or abstract. You’d actually have to go back to looking at the rules in the late 80s and early 90s when they came in at 100s of pages as the rules authors were trying to model EVERYTHING and then you use them as a starting point for your fledgling game system (not sure there’s a popular demand for these kind of rules these days).

    To also get the advantages that these programs can bring to the table (mainly fog of war) you’d also have some further restrictions. With the advent of battlefield radios eliminating many of the problems modelled you’d have to do periods pre WW2. To get the aspects of the chain of command the smallest unit would probably have to be the battalion (so that you have multiple levels of commanders up to Corp level), so skirmish games would be out (plus you’re usually within visual distance of the commander anyway).

    The do give a fascinating alternative to our usual wargaming rules however. They’re not for everyone I’d admit, but everyone I know that’s actually played games using these programs have enjoyed them greatly (it’s just a lot more work as someone has to populate the database with an ORBAT before the game can be played, so they’re not really an “pick up and play” style of game.

    I’d LOVE to see what could be done in this day and age with a new set that not only copied how these rules worked but also evolved things beyond what they were (they are still stuck in the 90s). But again it would be a serious amount of work and purely a labour of love for someone who’s not only a wargamer, but a historian, a programmer, and a game designer. Alas there’s probably just no market about these days for such, but it would be nice if there was 🙂

    #1414492

    chaingun
    Participant
    1802xp

    @phaidknott see my notes above mate

    Computer assisted Wargames are more of a battle management type of systems, the computer handles all the calculations, record keeping depending on the variables you enter to it.

    There has been over the years WW2 versions, but I agree it would be awkward to truly represent modern weapons in some respects, but then again it would all depend on the level of the game.

    #1414493

    torros
    Participant
    11697xp

    @phaidknott computer strategies do a modern set of rules

     

    http://computerstrategies.bigpondhosting.com/

    #1414494

    chaingun
    Participant
    1802xp

    Your right @torros, I’ve been sat here trying to remember who did

    #1414495

    berkut666
    Participant
    127xp

    I played a game at a show once called Golem Arcana (may have the spelling wrong) and it relied on an app plus a smart pencil type thing.  It worked out where your units could move, any bonuses the terrain gave you, stats, shooting etc.  Basically everything.  The only bit it didn’t do was define your tactics.  Initially I was very very impressed with it from a hardware and tech stand point.  However it largely took a lot of the effort out and therefore diluted the experience.  As a gateway game it worked I guess but with 30 years of war gaming behind me it felt like I was playing a board game like monopoly or something rather than a war game.

    The models etc were lovely though.  I think it’s been discontinued now, wasn’t around long.

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