Re-imagining Table Battles…part II

Image result for table battles hollandspiel description of the game

 

Table Battles

In the first part of Reimagining Table Battles we discussed some aspects of the game and how we might make the leap from a fairly abstract table game to something with a bit more meat on it for the miniatures player or boardgamer.

In this part we’ll discuss some elements of transforming the game into a less abstract medium and how we might do that with the maximum potential for play by the game being available in the digital medium.

What do you mean by available in the digital medium…the game is already available in Vassal form I hear you say. That’s true. The game is available as a vassal module for play and there’s nothing wrong with that. You do however get exactly what the original game is with cards and sticks. I believe the game is most readily adaptable and shines particularly well when played with Tabletop Simulator (TTS) which not only recreates the table top feel of the face-to-face game but does it easily, in an editable format and a much more elegant presentation than Vassal ever can.

I like vassal and have many game modules for it but TTS is streaks ahead when it comes to presenting games such as Table Battles. Tabletop Simulator is also easily customisable and requires no knowledge of programming in any way unlike vassal which is something of a ‘dark art’.

First thing is to get a hold of Tabletop Simulator. This is played on the Steam platform. It doesn’t come for free but for the low cost it will repay itself many, many times over. The absolute ease of use of the interface makes life much simpler to get into than Vassal. That said, vassal still is an excellent platform for hex and counter games. TTS also has games of interest on the platform I’m sure you’ll be keen to take a look at. Steam often do a 50% sale on TTS if you want to wait for that so keep an eye out for those discounts should the entry price be. A barrier. Usefully it cost $20 or so and Steam has a refund policy if you don’t like the game…so you can’t lose really.

 

Ok, so we have TTS loaded up, how are we going to do this? We need a map to play on. Yeah, the original game doesn’t come with a map (by design) but I want a map to represent the terrain these formations fought on so I can instantly recognise the engagement being played, the forces involved along with their positioning which will remove much of the abstraction of the cards and sticks approach.

To illustrate my idea we will use as an example the Battle of Granicus from the Age of Alexander expansion to develop my concept.

 

Battle line-up of the Battle of Granikos

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So, for those unfamiliar with the Battle of the Granicus River (334BC) it was the first contest between Alexander the Great and the Persian satraps of Asia Minor. Alexander, confronted the Persian army along the banks of the Granicus River, a location near the ancient city of Troy in modern day Turkey. Alexander launched an immediate attack against the left-centre of the Persian line with his companion cavalry after some initial left flank skirmishing took place. The Phalanx pike armed infantry held station in the centre of the army with the left flank commanded by Alexander’s lieutenant, Parmenio and the Thessalian cavalry.

The Persian line was held entirely by cavalry with a body of mercenary Greeks in the rear on high ground. Alexander’s lance armed cavalry supported by light infantry gained the upper hand, broke the left flank Persian forces and then wheeled toward the centre of the Persian line supported by a general advance of Macedonian foot. The Persian cavalry, after some resistance, broke and ran leaving the Greek mercenary foot to engage the Macedonian heavy infantry who overwhelmed them – with that the Greek leader Memnon cut a deal with Alexander ending the engagement.

Note- there are several versions of the history! Arrian is the preferred version and the one which the Table Battles scenario is based. One added feature of a TTS is that you could if so inclined , make your own cards up and create your own version of the battle!

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So laying out the battle with the cards and sticks on a table Granicus River looks like this pic. It shows the game underway but gives a sense of what the game looks like and how the cards equate to the picture above and below. Alexander on the right flank and Parmenio’s Thessalian’s on the left. The three centre ‘pink’ formations (cards) are the phalanx infantry. Opposite the Persian cavalry, with Greeks in rear. in reserve.

 

Battle of Granicus River, 334BC Macedonians vs Persian.

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Using the pic below we see a slightly more articulated layout of the forces. This is how I’d like to represent the battle – these groupings of forces with long lines of troops and the linear look I’m after when playing the game. Of course we are not limited to a 2d view. Tabletop Simulator is full 3D with easy zoom and pan functionality for maximum immersion and control.

 

 

So let’s get to that map. As Table Battles requires no measurement for movement or specific details of exact positioning of forces the map can be as precise or as imprecise as you like! A quick google search will bring up a layout for the map which you can import into an art program (I use Artstudio by Lucky Can) and then you can quickly knock up the map.

This can be done in as little as 5 mins. Alternatively, you can edit out forces on an existing map and just use that. This way you can rapidly produce a map to import and play on for TTS. Lastly, I prefer to stand on the shoulders of giants, and use the map as used in the GMT Great Battles of History series for guidance where possible as these often have extra detail to help enhance the look. The GBOH Alexander game has the maps on the BGG website that you can easily use as the basis for your map.

 

 

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So with a bit of Artstudio magic we produce our map for Tabletop Simulator.

TTS map for the Battle of Granicus River

 

We fire up TTS and then create a new game and import the map. It looks like this, viewed from the Macedonian side – the pic is shown in 3D perspective. When you play you can position yourself at any place around the table as you choose.

 

TTS Granicus map.

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The map above is shown in 3D view but can also be shown in 2D overhead view if you prefer. This reflects the view in Vassal modules for all their games. Naturally you can chop and change (2D to 3D to 1st person) as you like throughout play.

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Deployment

So having put the map together we now need the pieces. This is where there are a number of options. I prefer the look of the sticks in the original game. Using similarly colored sticks, proportionally adjusted in size (very easy to do in TTS) I can lay out the formation cards, with their accompanying sticks to represent the force strength and army morale markers (I use victory medals) with scenario card details off to the side. The game all setup looks like this. These are only some of the easy features I use to create this module. If you were so inclined you could use 3D models in the game…options are only limited by your imagination that way.

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Table Battles Granicus River – ready to play

 

The forces above are arranged to reflect their dispositions as we might set them up on a real tabletop with a game map. They have a nice 3D effect when viewed close up and are all easily manipulated throughout play – just like a real table set up using the original game. I use white dots on the cavalry counter to show light cavalry – the other cavalry is medium/heavy cavalry…this has no effect on play but tells the story somewhat by knowing what the unit sticks represent.

You may note that on some of the maps I have used a ‘decal’ feature of TTS. it allows you to place decls (stickers) anywhere on the game pieces. I’ve made up some light infantry decals by using the Junior General ‘top down’ clipart and stuck them to the map. This rounds out the look of the battle showing the inclusion of light troops even though the core system generally doesn’t account for them.

Movement is not required in Table Battles games but I think it enhances play a bit by actually moving the respective formation cards around to show relative positioning and the way the battle develops and who is currently fighting whom. You can do this with the original game which I’ve seen a few people do. We can do this with our wooden pieces in TTS and bring some added life to the display.

The battle itself developed along the lines of the following maps as shown (from Osprey’s Alexander book – well worth a read).

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Phase 2

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We show this same ‘movement’ through play by moving our pieces as the game progresses (according to the above map).

 

Overhead view – Macedonians turn the Persian left flank.

 

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Seen from behind the Macedonian right flank position.

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Left flank view.

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The Persian Player’s view.

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Phase 3

…then onto the final battle stages.

 

 

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The Persian cavalry have fled, Memnon Greeks take the full force of the Macedonian army.

 

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…and again.

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at the game in action with this short video.

(note – the slight jerky and low res playback is the recording – not how TTS plays which is smooth – it’s my Mac that can’t keep up!)

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Lastly, Kev at the BigBoard did a playthrough of Table Battles Granicus as well…worth checking out.

I’ve made up a number of maps for play with TTS-TB. Here are some sample pics of the games to show what’s possible.

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Chaeronea – behind the Athenian alliance position.

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Granicus -you saw this one above

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Issus – Macedonians before the Pinarus River.

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Gaugamela – the big one! A very long Persian line.

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Hydaspes – Alexander’s clash against King Porus.

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Gabiene – Successor battle with lots of elephants!

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Ipsus – yet more elephants in this very big Diadochi clash.

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From the English Civil War module – Edgehill, behind Rupert’ flank.

 

 

 

 

I heartily recommend this way to play Table Battles. It’s a little bit of effort but provides immense enjoyment for this excellent game. It’s actually easier to setup, can be played on your PC whenever you like and easily with another opponent anywhere in the world – my regular opponent lives in the UK. IMHO it totally transforms the game and makes it appear like a real battle game.

In addition, it’s  easy to create your own battles in TTS with an ability to quickly adjust card information and upload into TTS, mid game or otherwise, making game development very suited to this medium. You can replicate all the games in the Table Battles series, particularly by buying the print and play game to generate the card art. I know this is the least profitable way to sell the game for Hollandspeile, so do buy the original as well if you like some face to face Table Battles action. 

The game is great as it comes but I think it really shines when the pieces and map provide the stage upon which so elegant a game can be played.

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You can pick up a print and play copy from the Vault. Better yet, support the designer by purchasing a hard copy of the game and play both as nothing beats face to face play. Either way, it’s well worth the coin…

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