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, December 01, 2013

Double-Blind Wargaming

Have you ever played a double-blind wargame? That is where each player has his own map, counters (or miniatures), and can only see his own forces and the enemy forces within line of sight (LOS). They are a lot of fun and tend to be much more intense than a standard face-to-face wargame, but because they generally require an umpire (to tell each player what their forces see) and are a lot of work. As noted on BoardGameGeek, double-blind has been used with naval wargames, but for land-based warfare only nine board games are listed in the category. That is because writing rules to replace the need for an umpire is very hard. But computer games do it all of the time as the computer acts as umpire for the two sides.

I have noticed a few computer applications out there that handle the rules of miniature wargames, such as Carnage and Glory. Some people love them and others hate them. Part of the issue (from what I have read; I have never used them) is that the program take a little time and effort to use. But in exchange, you get a set of rules that can easily handle a lot of complications with ease. Remember those rules from the 1980's, like Fire Fight and Challenger II, that had loads of modifiers and special cases? Computer-based rules seem good for that.

But in the end, those rules don't require an umpire (more like a bookkeeper), so they don't really solve the problems that double-blind wargames do, which is limiting the information that a player has about the opposing forces and where they are located. A good computer program for that would be a good idea.

That is what I have been working on all this time (and why I have not been gaming). The idea is for players to order their forces on a computer (I am initially targeting an iPad or Android tablet) and then the application reveals what both player's see. The idea is that the application acts as an aid to miniatures gaming. Only the miniatures that are visible are placed on the tabletop.

From this comes a slew of additional ideas on enhancing the wargaming experience:

  • The application "knows" the rules.
  • It can hide specific dice results and give general comments on the state of troops or damage (friendly or enemy).
  • It can hide the command and control mechanics so that a player does not know their command "limit" for the turn (say if you are using a command point, or PIP, system). When the last point is used the computer tells them "you are done giving orders".
  • Line of sight can not only be blocked, but it can be obscured, allowing for units to be seen, but not identified by type or grade. (At a 1000 yards those blue blobs are probably French soldiers, but are they the Old Guard? Or your Prussian allies?)
  • Timed moves can be enforced.
  • And, of course, you can track a number of additional factors (fatigue, smoke, ammunition, etc.) that would be too tedious to deal with without a computer.
Now I did not think up all of this myself. (I am working with a published game designer, but at this point I haven't asked for or been given permission to use his name.) My original idea was something along the lines of a cross between Vassal and Memoir '44 Online. I wanted a gaming platform that would allow me to play games remotely, but the application would know and enforce the rules. That would have meant an application used by each player, over the internet. The game designer convinced me of his vision, which was to create a pass-and-play application that would enhance the miniatures wargame experience by providing the ever-elusive double-blind wargames umpire.

I think I can morph the code from his vision to my original one, but network programming takes a lot more time so I see the pass-and-play version as a good stepping stone. After all there is a lot of coding just to deal with the interface, rules, line of sight calculations (you would not believe the math I put myself through), etc.

So, when will I be done? Who the hell knows. But the good thing is that I am plugging away at it.

Not that I will be discouraged if the feedback is less than positive, but I would like to hear your comments about computer-assisted miniatures gaming, pros and cons. Do you think that they (would) get in the way? Would you ever allow the computer to roll the dice for you? Is losing control – a lot of control – something that you think would add to the experience? Have you ever played a double-blind wargame with an umpire?

Sound off!

9 comments:

  1. Sounds very interesting. I would definitely try an iPad based version.

    I have played double blind based board games before but not one with an umpire.

    I like this type of gaming where intelligence is limited and there is a lot of friction. As you said a lot of players don't, as they like to posses all the information and have mechanics where the action is predictable and can be controlled by them.

    Would your project be a game in itself? Or is it a toolkit that can be adapted to existing commercial rules?

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  2. Initially, because of my requirement for the app to know the rules, the ruleset would have to be burned in or be a loadable module. That is essentially why I am working with a game designer. He is currently playtesting a set of rules and I approached him about digitizing the design. Turned out he had ideas for an app also.

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  3. I have played one of the 9 double-blind boardgames - 8th Army: Operation Crusader. And have another - Clash of Steel - that I have not played but have been hanging onto it for 15 years waiting for an opportunity sometime (like a lot of boardgames I have!). Operation Crusader was in the late 80's and all I remember is it did my head in - it is very different playing a double-blind than a normal FTF game! There is a lot more thought and concentration. I would play double blind games, even computer moderated ones. I am looking for a good set of computer moderated games for ww2 miniatures. I am not fond of computer games (single or multi player) but computer moderated would be fine.

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  4. I have played a couple. The most memorable was an umpired Squad Leader all on one board. An amazing gaming experience.

    I disagree slightly with Shaun. The community developed versions of Steel Panthers have very good AIs, and limited player intelligence. If the AI isn't enough of a challenge, there are thriving PBEM communities. WinSPWW2 is my particular favourite. However, it is effectively a computer moderate version of ASL so far more wargame like than a first person shooter.

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  5. My first double-blind game was also Squad Leader. Made for a very intense game. It was that experience that burned into my brain and makes me want to re-create it.

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  6. Pat,

    I did think about expanding on my "not fond of computer games" as it is a bit of a generic statement without some background.

    But before that I must say the only computer game I have ever really enjoyed is Steel Panthers. I got it when it first came out, and occasionally download the latest community version. I prefer WinSPWW2 too. I probably only play about 1 game a year and have not played for about 3 years. I have played hot seat SP. I do like it.

    I have tried playing computer games both against an AI and other people. Most of my friends play. I have tried and tried but I just find the experience OK and much prefer pushing around miniatures or cardboard counters. I think it is partly the black box (I love reading rules and here is where Steel Panthers wins as it is possible to know how it works under the covers), partly I have lots of miniatures and feel as though I should use them, and partly, especially for WW2, I really like the look and experience of playing on a visually attractive table.

    So that is why computer moderated rules would be OK and I would be pushing miniatures over a table rather than just using the screen as an interface.

    Lastly, the ambivalence of computer games is somewhat of a mystery to me - I love wargaming, I work in IT and I use computers to automate army lists etc. It did come as a surprise, and I finally accepted it after many years, that I just cannot get into computer games.

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  7. I have never played a double blind but been intrigued by the idea using vassal. I have never played a computer moderated game but it sounds interesting.

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  8. I've played one non-naval game (StarGrunt, a squad-level miniatures game) double blind with an umpire, by email. It was quite intense; in the discussion afterward, it turned out that both players felt they were losing badly! The game ended when the attacker's morale broke--not the force's moral, but the player's--and he offered a truce.

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  9. well, then it was a very realistic experience, Chris. That is what often actually happened (with both sides retreating to reorganize and waiting for enemy's blow)

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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").