Wargaming with ‘present’ and ‘remote’ players by Brian Cameron
There are clearly good reasons to build on the ‘over-the-internet’ gaming that was around before the pandemic and which has grown enormously during the last 18 months. Equally clearly there are problems about running games with a mix of players who are ‘present’ (a term I’ll use for those actually present in person at a venue) or ‘remote’ (who are joining in over the internet). I’ve had a couple of good conversations about this type of game so I thought I’d write up my thoughts for further discussion.
I think it’s useful to look at the issues by reference to some of my previous games – apologies if you’ve not taken part but I’ll try and convey the format briefly for each.
Note: all that follows assumes that there’s a good wi-fi connection at the venue and sufficient laptops / tablets / suitably futuristic electronic devices available. I don’t see the latter as a problem these days, even I have a spare laptop, and I’m sure some mad (computer) scientist will come up with a solution to boosting the wi-fi signal.
Weird War Two: in comic book / Saturday morning serial style game in which the players are trying to gather the items they need in order to build an outlandish super weapon with which they can win the war. There are two teams, the Allies of UK, USA and USSR and three Axis teams: Germany, Italy and Japan. Usually there’s a player for each country but we have played with two per country and with 2 players running a team, each with a country and running the third between them. The means of gathering the items is by sending out agents who can be enhanced during the games. The format is of a map around which the player sit with various counters for agents, items etc. Some coordination on each side so that their team wins but really bragging rights go the country which first assembles their weapon.
So how would this work if some are remote players? Options would appear to be that present and remote players could team up and remote players would then conduct their orders/intentions via their team mates who are present. They could be paired up with six present and six remote but that’s far too neat for real life. An obvious alternative would be to operate via a present umpire instead though discussion between remote and players on a team could be rather open. Dave Boundy and I ran my Congress of Berlin game at The June meeting and although there were problems (more later) his ‘Boundy Gaming Environment’ coul quite easily provide multiple ‘rooms’ so that each side could have their own. Any information that unintentionally passes from one team to another is just an intelligence ‘function’ of the game.
A difficulty is in how a remote player can see the situation on the map. It can be described by a team-mate or umpire but for clarity and ease of a remote player seeing eg how long it will take to move a player from one location to another they’ll likely have to have a map and a means of map marking at their end. Again the ‘Boundy Gaming Environment’ could provide an option but would need some setting up prior to the game. Jim Wallman introduced me to ‘ConceptBoard’ as another option but it would also require some setup pre-game. I don’t see the extra work as being onerous but will return to this aspect later.
Peking Duck: the European legations in Peking are under attack by the rebellious Boxers (many may be familiar with the subject from the film ‘55 days in Peking’). This is, rather unusually, a cooperative game with the players as the Europeans and the Boxers controlled by the umpire. Players deploy their resources (mainly men) around a map of Peking and need to coordinate if they are to beat off the Boxer attacks. As manpower drops it’s probably necessary to make decisions about reducing the area being defended.
The issues and their resolution seem similar to those for Weird War II: remote players tracking what is happening and communicating their intentions and working with others. As all the players are on the same side communication could be much more open. I could see having a laptop for each remote player around the game so that hopefully they can see and hear what is happening but clearly they’ll need a dedicated feed, possibly the umpire updating a Jitsi / Conceptboard map. I think we’ve passed the days when those joining in meetings at work on the basis of ‘voice only’ could easily be forgotten and there should be no need for my suggested fix of a life size cut-out (which, oddly enough, was never adopted).
1813: This is a Napoleonic map game which uses materials from the Master of Europe megagame and originally served as a test bed for the revised combat system. The setting is prior to the armistice (the megagame is set post-armistice). It proved to be a very entertaining and Jim and I ran it several times. Each player has a map on which their positions and any known / suspected enemy (and allied) positions are marked. A central (hidden) map is maintained by the umpires. Communication could take place by giving a message to an umpire for onward transmission after a suitable delay (or when the umpire remembered…). With only two umpires updating the players took a while but it was still quite a fast moving game as there wasn’t a lot of detail.
This is a bit of an oddity as it could actually be easier to run using the systems available to update the player maps from the central map as long as the present players have a laptop. Effectively there’d be no difference whether a player was present or remote. It would be necessary for players to be able to communicate with those on their side as covered above but I don’t see a way to build in a realistic delay. Time might be a limiting factor to communication if the game moves sufficiently fast.
No married man: this is my game about trying to resolve the end of the British Civil Wars when King Charles’ forces have been defeated and he had surrendered to the Scots who had handed him over to Parliament. The players represented the various factions on the parliamentary – from those who were willing to do a deal with the king through to thorough radicals. As there was no movement of forces there isn’t a map and it was a typical negotiation game with the players trying to arrive at an outcome and achieve at least some of their objectives.
This is essentially a similar format to the Congress of Berlin game which Dave and I ran at the June meeting using the Boundy Game Environment. Although there were, inevitably teething troubles as with any piece of software, the game did run through to a conclusion. The environment provided a plenary area, team tables where teams could meet and discuss in privacy and ‘side rooms’ where players could arrange to meet for private discussions. After Dave has twiddled the valves and given it a kick in several crucial places negotiation games should be very viable. Again it’s a game where present players will need a laptop, etc.
In summary then there appears to be solutions to most of the problems of ‘mixed games’ at least in outline. There will doubtless be lots of devils in the details but with a confidence born of an almost total lack of understanding of the current technical possibilities I think they could be overcome. The next step is obviously to try a game which will involve thinking through the detail and preparing electronic versions of existing counters, etc. Given they are almost invariably designec on a computer that probably isn’t a big problem. The bigger issue may be in arranging what players can see if any aspect of the game is hidden. I do suspect that the days of turning up with some blank sheets of paper, a few generic counters and a dice or two and saying “I had an idea for a game this morning” may be more difficult to run for a mixed audience but time will tell.
Further thoughts or the benefits of experience would be most welcome.
The one thing that I have observed is that it is much harder to improvise with the online versions of things than it is when you are in the same physical space. That said, with the amount of practice we’ve all had over the last year and a half it’s getting easier as we go on.