27 July 2011

GameTalk - Computers vs Tabletop

We all have our preferences. We all have our dis/likes.
But we can also all agree that some things work better on the computer and others work better on the tabletop.
So what are your thoughts?
Tabletop gaming has what advantages over playing on a computer? How is an analog experience superior to a digital one?
Computer games shine in what ways over tabletop ones? What are their strengths compared to paper and tabletop?

By: Brant


Matt Purvis said...

I need a game room or a wife that will let me leave a game out on the dinner table for several weeks. Computer gaming solves this problem. I can just fold it up and everything is saved in place.

Guardian said...

As the staff resident computer gaming aficionado, I suppose I should chime in.

I think the greatest strength of computer games is that they allow for richer, more complex game mechanics because they don't even break a sweat doing a level of record-keeping and rules resolution that would be overwhelming for a human player or referee. This, in turn, should allow the players to focus on the tactics and strategy.

I qualified that statement with should because there are many players, in both computer and tabletop games, who "play the game" rather than "play the world." They optimize for the quirks of the rules, scenarios, map layout, etc. rather than truly immersing themselves into the world that the game is trying to portray.

The greatest weakness of computer games is the artificial intelligence, especially on the friendly side. Whether its a strategic-level wargame or a tactical first-person shooter, friendly AI always seems to need far more baby-sitting than a real subordinate unit and doesn't get "commander's intent." For example, in a wargame: "You have ADA assets. Use them! Don't just sit there and get pounded by enemy attack aviation." Or, in a tactical action game, "Guys, I want you to flank left. I'm not going to tell you which pieces of cover to use."

As for tabletop games, I would say their greatest strength is the social interaction. You and others who game with me know that I focus as much on catching up with friends and chit-chatting than actually playing the game. In my opinion, the greatest weakness of tabletop games is the paperwork: record-keeping, rules resolution, etc. These are the very things in which computers excel.

It's too bad the Microsoft Surface and other tabletop displays are so expensive. I could imagine a very nice wargaming (or even role-playing) set-up where the tabletop was a Microsoft Surface and each player used an iPad or similar table to control their units/character.

Hey, there's an idea for a project to do for DARPA, PEO-STRI, etc. You have buddies there. Hit 'em up!

-- Guardian

Brian said...

It seems to me the best solution is some kind of middle course: a tabletop exercise assisted by a computer to take care of the recordkeeping and complex combat ajudications. The CPXlike games that Brant was running at Origins looked like that sort of thing.

I don't know how to prevent people from "playing the game" to the exclusion of what is trying to be simulated. All I can say is that every time you construct a system, for whatever purpose, some people will try to game that system. Best just to exclude them from the entire exercise if possible, since you didn't design for them in the first place.

Brian (I think Livejournal is dead now)

TheGascon said...

This issue tears at my passionate gamer soul.

Guardian couldn't be more right about the power of the PC to manage things that would make the average gamer weep -- just imagine playing a campaign at the scale of HPS' Waterloo on the tabletop and you'll understand what I mean.

That said, there is an aesthetic and social piece of TTG's that I have become convinced PC's cannot replace.

I had a special Saturday playing epic Cannae in C&C:A with my two best friends over the weekend. Seeing the board spread out, watching the battle unfold, and hearing the two sides taunt, jeer, and cajole, seemingly with every diceroll, is a special thing...

I guess I'm stuck with both.



Brant said...

"strength of computer games is that they allow for richer, more complex game mechanics"

ah... but it could also be argued that the simplification of the mechanics that board games employ is a more elegant way to solve complex problems in creative ways.
For a great example, check out the difference in the way NATO/WarPac units are modeled in the initiative system for Dawn's Early Light. The Russians can move masses of units, but only very slowly to keep everyone together. The NATO guys can fly around the map in small groups, but have smaller units overall.
And where computer games shine at solitaire play, multiplayer computer play usually requires multiple copies of software, network connectivity, and other overhead beyond "open the box and throw on table."