Sky Hernstrom and I were discussing the feasibility of various Play By e-Mail (PBEM) concepts for miniature wargaming and while I was mulling over issues using a “standard” rule set (two armies of at least 30 figures each, representing at least four units) Sky recommended Void Pirates.
Now, Void Pirates is 180 degrees from what I was thinking but Sky enlisted me in an ongoing effort to adapt the ruleset to a fantasy setting. Instead of two small armies we would have two groups in tactical combat. It turned out to be a good set of rules to experiment with remote gaming.
Void Pirates, from Four Color Studios, is available as a paperback on Lulu plus they have a few other rule sets on offer, to include individual figure tactical rule sets for Superheros and Victorian Era monsters.
My criticism of Void Pirates is it needs a good reference page or two. The rules are easy and based on our game, well thought out, but I had to spend time making my own reference sheet as I wasn’t going to print all 112 pages of the .pdf file. While playing I noticed Sky referencing the rules but his printed out copy was divided into two binders!
The positives are many. Our playtest revealed well balanced rules as it pertains to the various character types, attributes and abilities. One can identify that RPG’s influenced the rule designers as tactical combat is only half of the game as at the other half concerns campaign style gaming in which a crew of “Void Pirates” gains experience, weapons and skills.
We decided to keep things simple. Even though Void Pirates is a regular miniatures game with movement measured in inches (or centimeters for those that prefer metric) Sky’s idea was to use a hexagon grid with numbered hexes. He sent me an extra BattleTech map which provided us an easy reference for figure positions and moves. It was easy enough to convert movement rates of 1 inch to one hex, in fact, on the BT map each hex is 1 ½ inches so we had a close match. As a nice aesthetic touch, Sky asked me to take pictures of the miniatures I would use for my characters. He used the pictures to make some great pop up counters map and was kind enough to send me a file to print out his crazed bats.
To play in real time we communicated via video Skype. The plus was being able to see my opponent and chat, i.e. the social aspect, which I find superior to the standard comment (or many times no comment at all, just the attached turn file) accompanying a PBEM message. The biggest draw backs were rolling dice and “screen clutter”. Even though our laptop cameras provided a good view it was very difficult to track die rolls. Void Pirates, like most minature games requires a lot of dice rolling and after a roll most dice will move out of range of the camera. Sky and I have a high level of trust but I could imagine in a competitive game a better solution is needed. Might be overkill to have a dedicated “Dice Cam”…..
For now the Rolz site is the way to go. It is free and players can set up a private chat room. Dice are “rolled” via easy scripts in which one can dictate the type and amount of die being rolled. For example typing this dice code “repeat 6, 1d6” will return six different values the same as if I rolled six dice. In a dice room both players will be able to see the results simultaneously.
As for screen clutter, when it came time to run a search on the .pdf file I would either have to minimize the Skype screen or adjust the picture to allow simultaneous viewing of both the Skype screen and the document. Add in a dedicated “Dice Cam” mentioned earlier and the average laptop screen becomes crowded. Of course, running dual monitors works if you have a CPU or a laptop set up to a docking station but the goal is to find an enjoyable means of playing remote miniature games without major expenses.
The Vassal engine provides an answer for remote board and miniature game needs but, so far, I haven’t devoted much time to researching it. My thought is while Vassal may easily solve most remote game problems (there are a few models available for miniature rules sets) the enjoyment of socializing with a fellow gamer is minimal the game’s social aspect moves from table top to computer game. Not what we are trying to do here.
Overall, we had a good time and are making plans for another game plus we are working on an after action report that will make for good reading.