My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Using Map Tool for Gaming

Some of you may have read my previous blog entry on using Battle Chronicler for writing up battle reports. I used it for DBA and TWTUD, and John Mumby did a guest blog entry using it to show the setup for his Battle of Trautenau. The advantage to Battle Chronicler is that it makes it easy to show the progression of the battle from turn to turn, playing it back for others. Where I think it has problems, at least for the types of games I play, is with unit management. (Making it hard to drag units around the map doesn't help either.)

What I mean by unit management is that some rules are figure-based and others element-based. Battle Chronicler does better with figure-based rules. When trying to use it with element-based rules that use concepts like hits, disruption, varying levels of morale status, etc. it falls short (or I need to learn it better to account for these factors). It was while reading a thread on the Yahoo forum for Song of Blades and Heroes (I read it for the Song of Drums and Shakos, Sixty-One Sixty-Five, and Flying Lead messages mostly) that I ran across a reference to MapTool by RPTools where someone was using it to play miniatures games.

So, what is MapTool? It is basically a tool for an RPG GM to run a game over the internet. But, in order to be successful at that it has a number of features that miniatures gamers could use. Rather than repeat everything on the RPTools web site, follow the link above and read about it. Suffice it to say that here are a few aspects of the tool that caught my interest:
  • Easy to lay down a square or hex grid of any size.
  • Easy to lay down and size terrain images.
  • Easy to create 'tokens' - images representing figures, bases, or units - and move them around the map.
  • Practically everything can have attributes or properties, all of which you can easily customize.
  • Easy to game over the internet.
  • Easy to introduce a Fog of War (hidden troops and movement).
To give an idea of how easy it is to create attributes for a unit you do the follow.
  1. Open the Campaign properties.
  2. Create a new token type (click of a button).
  3. Type in a list of attributes for the token type, one attribute per line.
  4. Drag an image onto the board.
  5. Apply the token type to the image.
  6. Enter the values for each attribute. (The program automatically converted to list of attributes in step 3 to a property sheet.)
You might be thinking, "So what? What does all of this have to do with playing miniature gaming rules on the computer over the internet?" Let's take an example, Neil Thomas' Napoleonic Wargaming, for example. I have used these rules in the past for my American Revolution gaming. The basics of the rules are that you have a certain number of units, each unit has four bases (save for artillery) and each base has four hits. So, there are some attributes: unit, base number, and hits. Also, some troop types have attributes that apply only to them, for example, does your Close Order Infantry in 2-rank or 3-rank line? There are two more attributes: unit type and ranks (which only applies to the Close Order Infantry type).

The effect of all this is that you can apply these attributes to each token on the board - in this case each base - and the system can track it for you just like a tool designed for an RPG GM would track hit points for all those separate goblins that your characters are bashing.

Finally, and this appeals more to the programmer in me, there is a macro language that you can embed into your creations. This is what takes it way beyond Battle Chronicler or VASSAL. Both of these systems are notorious in one aspect: they don't know or enforce the rules. With MapTool and macros, you actually can program in the rules. Know that the Elite troops fire at a +1? Program a macro that looks at the selected unit when you click the "Fire" button and it automatically applies the +1 for you.

One of the arguments you see a bit on forums like The Miniatures Page (TMP) is "playability versus realism" or "playability versus complexity". What it should really be is "playability versus detail". It is very easy to add detail to a set of rules and end up with more complexity, less playability, and less fun. However, some added detail can actually add to "realism", and if it just had a helper - like a computer program - the complexity and tedium would be offset.

An example is a set of rules that tracks several morale states (for example: Impetuous, Normal, Shaken, Broken, and Routed) for each unit, along with the number of disruptions (reflecting disorder and disorganization), and casualties, each of which has different effects in the rules and creates different modifiers when moving and shooting, by having an easily accessible roster for each of units you can track all of them with a minimum of effort (relatively speaking).

There are numerous other features that I have not even touched upon, such as light, line of sight, fog of war, and an infinite table size (no "edge of the table" syndrome here). This looks like the tool of choice, certainly for prototyping out new rules, trying new rules without committing to their basing schemes (yet), and playing over the internet some games where tracking several factors don't work as nicely with the other tools. This tool probably does not excel at free movement, but it is certainly capable of it.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I have been trying to play out a battle with BC, but have been stuck in the army roster portion. I had downloaded Maptool once before, but don't seem to have it on the computer at the moment. I'll have to give it another look. My solution for BC was to have each stand be a single figure with the appropriate element base size. It has been tedious to set up. Thus I have yet to play out the battle.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").