There can be no life without change, and to be afraid of what is different or unfamiliar is to be afraid of life.
Recently Mitch from No Dice No Glory (NDNG) contacted me to discuss a new program he had been dabbling with in order to play games online. Its called Table Top Simulator (TTS) and is available on Mac and PC via the gaming platform Steam. Mitch has been using it to look at various games but wanted to try it out our shared passion, Flames of War.
In a nutshell TTS uses 3D models of miniatures, terrain, dice and tokens to create a table top experience. All the way from selecting your miniatures for the game, laying out scenery, and actually playing. You can even pick up and roll the dice as well as measure distances.
Mitch spent about 20 mins with me explaining how make a list, manipulate the game, measure and move stuff. In fact NDNG have made a tutorial video on how to make an army here. Sure its for a different game system but the premise is the same. Once you have the game just search FOW in its steam workshop and you will find all the V4 books and a Flames of War Table which has scenery ready to deploy.
Thus far I have played 4 games and enjoyed every single one. It has allowed me to play people I have only met online on FB discussions but would never get to play in person. It has also allowed me to reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a while due to distance. In short its not only providing me a FOW game fix during COVID-19 restrictions but its also allowing me to broaden my horizon for games.
Matt Varnish who is based in Montreal and I recently played a game and have recorded a video for youtube, explaining how to do it. In this video our forces had been made as per the other tutorial and I had placed scenery down for a table. In essence it was as if we turned up at a virtual table ready to play. What was interesting for me is that it allowed me to field a Cromwell force. I don’t have these models in my collection but I fancied trying them out, however not enough to immediately buy 3 boxes. Now I have tried them and found them to work in a way that matches my play style, I think I may put in an order and fire my airbrush back up (Whats 15 more tanks!).
Systems like TTS raise an interesting question for the community and for Battlefront. Is this a good thing for the community or does it hurt the hobby? To answer this we have to accept that there will be different opinions, and certainly the ‘hobby’ is different for everyone. For instance I love to model, paint and play games. Therefore this scratches 1 of those 3 itches. For some, gaming is what they really want to do and find painting a necessity. They may love getting more games in on this but of course, some do wargaming for the direct human interaction/tactile element and wouldn’t go near TTS, therefore this will not be to their taste. Of course with COVID-19 around many peoples chance to play games is massively limited or even non-existent. This is perhaps the only way it can be achieved.
TTS has mixed reactions among gaming companies, just as NDNGs article here points out. Some companies have embraced it as a means to grow their community and even to test their games. Their theory is that people who want to paint models and push them around a table will do so and those who dont wont. However those in the former category may want to play online as well and those in the latter category will happily supply them an opponent. Either way people are playing and importantly talking about the game, and in an ever congested and competitive industry, positive talk and engagement around a game is key. Bottom line, some companies felt that if this gets more people interested in their models or provides an avenue to try before you buy, then all the better. That said others are more worried. It isn’t clear if this benefits or steals sales, TTS is still growing in the wargaming community, unsurprisingly COVID has greatly accelerated it, and there is a valid concern that people may turn to this and not go back to traditional play. Personally I just don’t see this happening. It would would be like arguing that with the lack of gaming recently people will just stick to painting and actually play! Physical gaming is the essence and heart of the hobby.
Some companies have truly embraced TTS as a opportunity and done the best of both worlds and actually produced official DLC packs with high quality scenery, rules, tokens and models for their games. I for one would love to see a FOW official pack, perhaps based around a campaign. Just imagine if you could have the old Bagration and Market Garden boxed firestorm games on a table and then had all the models and scenery to play the games. You could then have campaign run online with a hybrid or real and virtual games to play it out, thus bringing players across the world together in different formats. For me a true gaming nirvana. I could host games at my house for my regular opponents but also have other players on each team who we engage with over TTS. In fact myself and a couple of our BTA team are discussing this very thing as a joint venture with NDNG, so standby for further.
Finally TTS allows you to create experiences you just cant do at home. For instance last night I found a 300 x 80 inch Normandy map. Now unless you are a Premier League footballer or have the money of a Kardashion you arent going to have a room to fit that gaming table and the scenery to play on it. Not to mention the time in 1 day to fight it all out between 2 players. Yet Mitch and I are planning just that. A massive Normandy game starting with a airborne or glider assault followed up by land forces as dawn With the ability to save games and come back to them we can do that across time zones playing a turn per session if needed.
In sum TTS represents a powerful tool to play FOW (any almost any game) online, and will allow the community to game together like never before. TTS will not replace regular gaming, it is the hobby and I doubt any one reading this is suddenly going to stop buying models or playing in person. However would would suggest giving it a go, if only to play all those awesome members of the FOW community you would never get the opportunity to.