Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

Remote Gaming

Last weekend, Dave, Kevin and I tried a couple of experiments with playing Pandemic with Dave in Florida. Neither was absolutely perfect, but both were successful enough to be better than not playing.

For our first experiment, we tried video chat with Google Hangouts, with one camera pointing at our faces and one pointing at the board. We had Dave’s hand visible to the webcam pointing at the board, and we did all his moving and card drawing for him.

This worked pretty well. The down side was that since Dave had no way to change his focus, it was hard for him to read the names on cities, and sometimes hard for him to read the cards in his hand. But it was good enough to participate in strategy discussions with us.

This would be a bigger challenge with Eldritch Horror, where the fine print on the cards would be too hard to read. To make this work with Eldritch Horror, the remote user would have to take good notes.

Our second experiment was using Vassal (http://www.vassalengine.org/index.php), a Java program for a shared gameboard.

It wasn’t everything one would want from a Pandemic experience. It turns out that Vassal is really just providing a shared gameboard and not much else. For example, setting up the player deck is an eleven-step process whose only advantage over the physical game is that you can shuffle a deck with a right-click. And it was rather finicky in play; we had a couple of problems with cards getting flipped over or decks shuffled wrong until we figured out that we had to place things just so. (Voice chat of some sort would be very helpful for teaching each other how to play.)

But the positive side of it being such a basic implementation was that we had little trouble incorporating our house rules. Using our revised Special Orders was easy, for example. The one rule that might have been a bit tricky was our starting with a choice of two roles, and I have ideas about how we could do that next time.

Vassal is a modular game engine, and there have been a lot of game modules written for it. For example, there’s a module for Small World, which Andy has wanted to play with us. There’s not one for Eldritch Horror currently. There is one for Arkham Horror (and all the expansions), and one for Elder Sign, a dice game on the same theme. (But the download page says "As per FFG policy, all common item card texts are blank to ensure players own a copy. “)
We could imagine writing a module for Eldritch Horror. In practice, it would take me quite a while to scan everything and do the implementation. (The expression language used for writing conditions is pretty half-assed. Two examples of half-assery: (1) it doesn’t support grouping subexpressions with parentheses, and (2) because there’s an implicit dereference on the left-hand side of a comparison, ‘foo = bar’ is not equivalent to ‘bar = foo’.)

If we want to play Advanced Civilization again, Vassal might be a good option. It allows easy saving and restoring of games, and that might be really useful for such a long game.

Kevin said that Vassal would make a lunchtime game of Pandemic more appealing to him, because it would cut out the commuting costs. This has a definite appeal. Doing a videoconference from my office would be a bit awkward, just because of the risk that my manager might stop in - but I could overcome that. Another alternative might be to play a slower game over the course of a day, with text chat instead of live voice chat.
Tags: pandemic
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