STONK ONLINE – OPERATION BINGO V
Some our older readers will remember many WW2 battles fought on a tabletop with miniature tanks and, possibly, the origins of the wargame rules ‘STONK’.
Over the years, these rules moved away from model terrain and toy tanks, and more towards a ‘real map’ and counter game, and from version 3 onwards was wholly designed to be played that way (though still perfectly possible to use models if necessary). The main reason for that transition was that, honestly, I couldn’t find a way to model the terrain in 3D that was as good as using a contour map. That said with the growing availability of 3D printing that might very well change back!
I also resisted computerising the game, because the manual map and counters game has been way more flexible and easy to set up quickly. And didn’t create a cognitive burden for the players to learn the tech required.
Of course COVID-19 has happened, and most of us have been forced – kicking and screaming – to become more familiar with a whole load of tech, and exposed us to on-line tools we maybe wouldn’t have looked at before and got us used to trying to wargame via the internet. Not something we would have bothered with so much otherwise.
Having been using Conceptboard, google and discord to run megagames recently, it seed like a good idea to run a simple old-school map wargame using those tools for the club.
The scenario was based on 1st Polish division’s advance on Falaise in 1944, but instead of using French maps using maps of the Buckinghamshire village of Brill (which has the dual features of being on a hill, like Falaise, and a place where I am familiar with the terrain having visited often).
The use of a UK ordnance survey map was originally due to the lack of availability of good quality maps of France at the same scale. Even though decent historical maps are now readily available, using a different map can help reduce the use of hindsight (espcially given players’ tendency to go an look the action up on wikipedia). Also, I wrote this scenario maybe 20 years ago, and really couldn;t be bothered to re-write the whole thing for a club game (sorry everyone!).
The main means of game communication was Discord and the discord setup is shown here. What was important, however, were the rules around how I wanted the players to used Discord. The most important point was that during the game player should only use the communication system on the discord server.
They were asked not to communicate with the other players outside the game system (for example by ringing them up or emailing them) for the duration of the game.
This limitation was important to make the game challenging and more realistic and seeing how they would manage with limited ability to communicate was a key part of the gameplay.
The game started with a short (30 mins) planning phase. This was the only time each side had all the players on the same side in the same (virtual) room – the Div HQ or Bde HQ.
Once the game started, in-game communication became more limited as I cut access to the higher HQ room (a handy ability in Discord) and subordinate teams could only talk within their team room.
Players on each side could then only communicate using the #div-radio-net or #bde-radio-net channels – via text. This is to simulate comms friction.
They were also using Google Sheets. They did not need a Google account to use them, and they were given a link to the shared sheets that related to their units in their team discord channels.
The ability to have links to all the key game documents in one place in Discord makes navigation of the details much easier. I have learnt that having as few different tools as possible is the aim here and to keep all the links together in an easy to find location if possible. Even tracking the three programs that were used (google / discord / conceptboard) can be pretty demanding – and downright impossible if you’re trying to connect via a phone or tablet.
I was able to introduce a system of game orders that consisted of constructing a timeline. Control (=me) was able then to scroll through the timeline at a glance and resolve things when something happened – effectively critical event time.
This was both quick and easier than turn-by-turn adjudiation. Having trialled this method in this game I will defintitely using it again with refinements, next time.
Finally, conceptboard provided a great visualisation tool. The free version does everything (the only limit being not more than 100 object in each board). A years subscription is only about $70.
I created team maps for each team and the HQ. The players use this as their ‘HQ map’ much as we would have done in a manual game. Control didn’t update the map the players did. Control then fed back the results to them in the usual way.
The players passed information with the text-based command net as described above.
I also created a master control map with the ‘ground truth’ with the intention of using it for adjudication. In the event I was the only control running 4 battlegroup teams, so I cheated and used free kreigspiel techniques and the players own maps (plus the timeline spreasheet to keep track) to do everything. Fairly frenetic, but it worked. It wouldn’t have worked that way with multiple controls though – and in that case I would have has more codified versions of the combat rules etc.
In summary, not only did all of this seem to work well – but it was actually fun to run! (albeit pretty busy). And that the players seemed to have funt oo was extremely gratifying. I might even respond to the broad hints that this might become a campaign game! (though not for a while yet).
FINALLY – If anyone in the group is interested in advice or support in setting up a STONK-like game in this way, get in touch and I’m happy to talk you though the setup.