Wargaming is Dead, Long Live Wargaming

By Joe Robinson 12 Jul 2016 0

Wargaming is in an interesting place right now and arguably the genre at large is more accessible than it's ever been: more choice, growing communities, mainstream acceptance of games in general... The rise of videogames also presents interesting avenues in terms of computer assisted wargaming AND alternate platforms. And yet it could also be in very real danger of dying out all-together, according to one man.

We were very lucky to have a quick chat with Richard Bodley-Scott, one of the three original creators of the Field of Glory tabletop wargaming system, and designer of digital spin-offs Pike & Shot and Sengoku Jidai. Read his thoughts on digital wargames, design adaptations, and why he thinks digital wargames are the future.

Question: What are your initial thoughts on adapting a table-top wargame to digital?

RBS: To some extent one doesn't want to adapt it too much. One thing that's quite nice is to get a table-top experience onto a computer game – one of the main problems with a table-top wargame (other than the space requirement) is that you have to get a load of figures and paint them. When you want to try out a new army, you need to think “well do I want to mock it up?” Or do you go out and get those figures, paint them, and then realise you don't like it after all. Or it doesn't work, it loses all the time etc...

[With a videogame] You can try out any army you like without that overhead, and still get the full table-top experience in the game. One is not trying to 'de' table-top it, one is trying to use as much of the table-top experience, taking into account issues that might make it less enjoyable as a computer game. We only changed the things that we needed to change to make it more palatable as a computer game.

FOG Table Top Scene

For example, in the [Field of Glory] table-top game you move all of your units first: You do all of the charges, then you adjudicate all of the charges, then move anything that isn't charging. Then you have a shooting phase where everyone shoots, and you have to morale test based on all of those, then you do the meele combat for anyone in meele combat, and that doesn't work well for a computer game. You want to move a unit and immediately see what happens, not wait until you've moved everything else to see what happens. You want to keep the flow of the game going.

Other things that can be problematic in table-top games, especially the Field of Glory system, is that the points of advantage is a bit granular. You either have advantage or you don't. Things like having more armour than the enemy, there wasn't any way for it to be anything other than having a POA or not – but it's too much really, armour doesn't have THAT much of an effect.

In the game though we've translated it all over to a 100-point system so we can have fractional POA's. So you get .50 for armour, .25 for being up a hill, and so on. Also the way loses work in the table-top game is a bit problematic in the sense that you have to roll to see if you lose any bases regardless of damage received and if you roll well enough you will never lose any bases. In the game you just record the loses more accurately.

Question: Do you think the system is fundamentally better in digital form than it could ever be as an analogue rule-set?

RBS: Yes, although only in the sense that it makes things more realistic with concepts like armour advantage etc... It's a different game experience in some ways, much quicker to play. You don't have to do any of the adjudication yourself, which is the penalty of playing a table-top wargame system - you have to actually work out the results from charts etc...

I play multiplayer games in Pike & Shot or Sengoku Jidai quite often, I don't really play the table-top game that often. It's just a question of finding the time and an opponent and getting together an all that. Getting the figures out, putting them away... If you can get the same experience on a computer, why bother with all that table-top business? Especially when you have graphics that are nicer than your painted figures. All that effort and all you need to do is turn a computer on and get a better effect.

Question: What about the collection side of wargaming though? Do you not think something is lost by not being able to personalise and customise your units?

RBS: Inevitably yes. There are some who really like the painting and their figures, although I would suggest they are a minority of table-top wargamers, most of whom are more interested in the game. I hate painting! But I prefer to have figures that I've painted, as oppose to getting someone else to do it for me. I haven't done any since I started programming Pike & Shot. I think the table-top wargame is more or less going to die out with my generation, apart from a few die-hards. You go to a tournament and its hard to find people under 40 playing, apart from Warhammer perhaps.

Why bother to try to play on a table-top when you can get something like Total War or something similar. People do like the 'spectacle' on the table, but if you can reproduce that on the computer screen it'll be better. What I want to develop is a kind of virtual tabletop so that people who have never played a wargame before can try it out. You never know they may then decide to go play table-top as well! Although I wont hold my breath.

pike shot 020914 screenshot 04

Question: You seem to put a lot of stock in the digital future of wargaming – does something like VR interest you in then in terms of its potential?

RBS: We were talking last year about having a hologram-based thing, where you would have your table, and you'd have your glasses, and then the figures are placed by the glasses in the positions they'd be in. They look as if they're on the table and are animated, but then I was wondering whether that was actually any better than doing it on a computer screen. Not entirely sure it is. Unless you're going to go down to the sword fighting and so on... I did ages ago write a program, although I only got as far doing the map generation for it, but it was about playing a game from the point of view of the guy on the horse. It would give you a completely different viewpoint. Whether it would have made a good game or not is hard to say.

Question: Well there has been a trend in videogames recently regarding 'Sim' games, mainly survival, but basically presenting an experience that gets right in to the detail and reality of the situation. Could this not be applied to wargaming?

RBS: Oh yes it could definitely be applied to wargames, you just got to bloody well make sure you're on a hill! That's why they did it of course. It's different now with modern communication, but back then it was all down to what you can see and what the messengers could tell you. There's scope for that sort of game, although it doesn't do much for me personally. First person army command, why not?

I've played games where you have to send orders to your units and the messengers can get lost, and things like that. It might be a novelty, but whether or not it would be an enjoyable game I don't know. People tend to want more control than less control.

Question: Would you go back and change your original FOG design knowing what you know now?

RBS: If one could have found a way of applying these partial POA's without making it too hard for the players to adjudicate the combat... I mean there are other issues with table-top combat. Say you have a line of units facing a line of units but they're all off-set by one base, then you have to adjudicate them awkwardly, and it gets very complicated. Ideally, you want to fight a table-top wargame on squares, so you don't have to deal with any of that, but part of the table top experience is that its analogue. Although there are some systems that use hexes and things, they haven't really caught on all that much. It detracts from the spectacle.

The way the units are going to be designed in the Field of Glory 2 game (ED: Oh yeah, he's working on Field of Glory 2, by the way) is that there aren't going to be any gaps between the units. So when you have a battleline of troops, it looks like a solid line – it's made up of individual units of course that can all move, but it looks like a huge solid line of men so it looks very call.

So I guess my answer is 'yes' and 'no'. Yes, but it probably wouldn't be a good idea.

Sengoku Jidai Shadow of the Shogun Review Screenshot 3

Question: So no 'Field of Glory 3.0' rule-set?

RBS: Terry's doing that. I wouldn't really want to, no. Terry probably will though. Simon's gone off an developed his own set of rules.

Question: Finally, given your fears regarding table-top wargaming, would you not want to try and save it in some way? A lot of companion apps and board-games with apps that take care of much of the calculation coming out now. Can Wargaming not benefit from this?

RBS: Yeah but that was tried years ago... I mean its better now that you can do it on a tablet rather than having a laptop or a desktop. People were doing computer assisted war-gaming twenty years ago... you've still got to feed the information from the table into the program for it to do the calculations. Unless you move replicate a digital version of the game and replicate it there as well... it comes down again to 'why bother'? Cut out the middle man and cut out the table completely.

I just think that the demise of table-top wargaming is so inevitable that my wishes are of little consequence. Yes I'd like to see it carry on, I just don't think it will. It's too much investment in terms of time and money, when they can get their fix on computer. Obviously the problem with the computer games is that it doesn't have that social aspect... but I'm trying to develop a game that has all of the depth of the table-top game, but without any of the hassle.

Richard may be a bit pessimistic, but then his future lies squarely in the realm of digital wargames. Videogames that act as 'platforms' for rule systems certainly represent the future of opening the hobby up to new audiences, but there is something immediate about being there, about leading the army YOU created into battle. Personally, I have high hopes for a new wave of computer-assisted technologies that make the adjudicating part less stressful, which will allow players to focus on the 'spectacle', as Richard highlights.

What are your thoughts on the future of Wargaming? Let us know in the comments below.

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