Computer assisted support for historical wargames will happen if...

My favorite wargames podcast is Meaples & miniatures. The hosts are all wargaming butterflies, and I mean this kindly, and so there is a good amount of new and old discussed and compared. Their 250th episode is their last of the Summer as they take a break to, well, rest and renew like the rest of the northern hemisphere. For this episode they are answering questions from their audience. I've not finished listening yet, but felt the need to bring a different perspective to one of their answers.

The question was whether or not an assistant computer application would be used in historical wargaming? Apps are appearing more regularly now for boardgames. Some of these boardgames have game mechanics and parts that are very close to those of miniature wargames. Even the forthcoming X Wing 2 is supposed to be app assisted. So, there is a trend in apps and there is a trend in wargames to be more like boardgames (in their initial costs and time commitments). An overlap is inevitable.

The hosts' common answer was one having to do with implementation rather than game play. They discussed how an app is dependent upon a general device, and a large networking and computing infrastructure. The general device being your phone which, for all practical purposes, you own but have little control over its OS or applications suite. The infrastructure being mostly the publisher's backend servers in data centers that run the core of the game programming; which, again, you have no practical control over. The hosts see these dependencies as the achilles heal of apps. They suggest that only large publishers have the money to continue to support a game that has passed its peek sales and so must sustain the game's implementation on smaller, incremental sales. While not said, and I expect that the hosts would agree, that it is optimistic to expect that any publisher would continue to support a game beyond its suitable profitability; ie, if profitability is too small then the company is better of discontinuing the game and use the freed-up resources on higher profit games. So apps are doomed!

Not so. There are implementations that do not require the publisher's continued support. First, some assumptions.

1. A phone or tablet is cheap enough to have a single, specialized use. The device is the game and it is the "rule book." Rule books are around US $15 to $50 these days. The device would be the same. The device will never be upgraded so the apps on it will continue working baring mechanical failure.

2. The device needs access to a messaging network. The messaging network is one where every device has a unique address and that a message can be sent to that address. If players are not colocated then a wide area network would be needed. The Simple Message System (SMS, ie texting) is one such network. There are others, but SMS is by far the most common, well supported, and almost future-proof given the world's telecoms commitment to it.

In many ways, the Kindle with 3G is an archetypal example of this device and network.

With such a device and network you can implement a multiplayer game very successfully. All the algorithms needed, eg peer to peer and modular co-operating services, are battle tested and open. The device's computational and storage requirements are minimal. The networking bandwidth needed is small, eg a few kilobytes, irregularly sent around to all player devices [1]. Embedded systems manufacturers have been designing and massively deploying just this kind of environment for years.

So, if you consider this different implementation of computer assisted support for historical wargames then the answer is yes, just as soon as gaming companies have lead engineers and architects that have a broader view of the devices and their communication. Now the real and important question can be asked, is historical wargames game play enhanced by having this assistant?

See my earlier posting $0.43 for Psychotherapist Barbie services about funding backend servers for toys.

[1] MMOs, massive multiplayer, online games, is a different beast. These systems do need a central or federated infrastructure.