20 November 2013

HOWTO: X-Wing over Google Hangouts

X-Wing Miniatures over Google Hangouts

So many of y'all have been reading TheMetalBikini.com long enough to have picked up on the fact that I play many of my games not in person, but instead over Google Hangouts. The main reasons for this are as follows: 

  • My wife is a charge nurse who works the weekend shift
  • I work a lot of Monday through Friday hours at my job
  • We have two boys ages 1 and 3
  • My only semi-reliable free time is from like 10:30pm until about midnight or 1 on Friday and Saturday nights

So long story short, it's tough for me to get out to the FLGS for games. Brief aside, I think that's partly why I got so into the rules of X-Wing (to the extent that I started TMB.com)- on the rare occasion I do get out to actually play some X-Wing with other people in the same room, I didn't want to let rules lookups get in the way of playing. Initially, I was also trying to overcome my own inexperience with the game.  

Funny story though- while it might appear that it was the other way around, Hangouts was the reason I actually got into X-Wing Miniatures. 

So my pal Ben doesn't live around here. We talk and text a lot and played a helluva lot of games online together (mainly PC), but we're rarely able to get together and hang out in person. Ben and I used to play a lot of Dawn of War, which was my gateway drug into miniatures gaming in the form of 40k. I don't remember if Ben was still in college or he just didn't have anyone or any stores around to play with/ at, but in any case, I got into tabletop 40k and he didn't. We'd talk about games I'd played and I'd show him pics of stuff I'd painted and he was way interested in playing, but just never really had the opportunity. 

We'd talked several times about trying to play some kind of miniatures game over Skype or whatever, but I could just never think of any way to actually do it without it just being a total pain in the ass. We'd talk about trying to find miniatures games to play online, we'd do some searching around, find nothing, then we'd give up again for another 3-6 months. 

Until I read about X-Wing and the template movements- that sounded like it just might work. 

It's funny because we're both huge Star Wars fans, but like a lot of Star Wars fans in their 30's, the new movies had almost completely turned us off to the franchise. Me probably more than Ben, but we went from nuts about it as kids and in high school on into college and beyond to like "meh" around the time we saw Attack of the Clones in the theater together. When I first read about X-Wing Miniatures, I was not at all interested because I was just so over Star Wars after those prequel movies- and bear in mind y'all, I have an Alliance tattoo. On the middle of my chest, right over my sternum. That I got in 1994. Word. 

Anyway, we talked about it some, we kind of outlined how it'd have to work, and one payday, I picked up the X-Wing starter box at my FLGS which must have only been a couple of weeks after it came out. I got it out, looked it over, and found that it would indeed work over the net like we'd thought. 

We'd finally found the miniatures game we could play without being in the same room. 

How It Works
So basically, it works exactly how you imagine it does- there's no fancy boardgame Hangouts plug-in we ran across that you've never heard of that does the work for you and it's very close to how you play X-Wing currently, just with more setup and stuff. 

If you've ever played a game-by-email or seen Blade Runner, you have the basics of what you need to play X-Wing over Hangouts.  Again- there's really no trick to this. What you have is a remote chessboard type setup. 

See, people play chess apart from each other because if you own a chess set, you have all the tools necessary to play the game apart from an opponent- i.e. all the pieces for both sides and the playing surface. X-Wing is sort of unlike most other miniatures games in that you probably have the same exact setup- I don't think I've ever heard of another miniatures game where damn near everybody has every model for both "sides." It's also one of the few minatures games with basically no scenery, so no worries there either- the scenery that is present, the obstacles, are the same ones your buddy has exactly- no wondering if you both made your Basillica Administratum with the same footprint. 

Of course, you don't have to actually own every model your buddy intends on fielding- as I've mentioned on here before, the actual miniatures themselves are, from a game mechanics perspective, actually the least important part of X-Wing Miniatures, but it's much more fun if you do have them. It's also way handier because you can use the cardboard base inserts to remind you who your buddy has on the other side, but you can get by just by using an empty base of the appropriate side if your opponent gets all exotic on you. 

In addition to the playing pieces (again- bases), you need to have the playing surface. We played our first 5 or 6 games on either plain tabletops or my black felt photo backdrop/ starfield play mat. Now, if you kinda don't really care about the game and are mainly doing your X-Wing over Hangouts game to hang out and talk and stuff, that's totally enough. If you're a little more serious, you might need a mat that will let you more easily convey position. More on that in a sec. 

Setting up, it's the same as a regular game of X-Wing- both players make their lists, you decide on your game type, get all your stuff out, and get ready to deploy. Generally speaking, I don't usually get out the cards for my opponent's ships and upgrades. I usually just use the cardboard inserts to remind me who's who and what's what. I think my buddy Sean does actually pull out my cards and stuff, but I'm not sure. We usually play 100 points or less, so I don't generally have a hard time keeping track of everything, but if you're kinda new to the game, you're playing high points, or your buddy is using a swarm or something, you might want to take the few extra minutes and track all of that stuff though. 

Deploying and obstacle placement can be the toughest thing to convey to a remote player. I say "can" be, because it really just depends on the player. If you plunk down all your ships Range 2 away from your board edge and Range 2 from each other, it's really not going to be that tough, but if you're turning your Falcon's big base about 30 degrees towards the center of the table, measuring that distance in such a way that you can explain it so your opponent can replicate the orientation and everything can be difficult. Obstacles are especially problematic for the same reasons, but again, if you're just playing to have fun and don't really mind, you can always just measure to the bulk of the obstacle and say that over your mic. 

If none of that sounds that appealing, you need something besides range rules and yeah, probably even a tape measure, to try and convey your bearing and location information. We decided to get some starfield maps printed up with a grid on them. This helped tremendously. Now you could say stuff like, "Ok, I'm kinda between J and K, and 12 and 13. Oh, you know what? Actually, my shield valve on the cardboard base is like right on the intersection of K and 12 and I'm kinda hanging over into J and 13." You wouldn't believe what a difference having a grid makes. Obviously, as is the case with any grid, the smaller the squares, the better the resolution, which will give you more accuracy. 

So that's how we do deployment and obstacle placement. Well, that's how we did obstacle placement for awhile. Truth is, it was still a friggin' nightmare even with the coordinate system because the asteroids aren't like, inherently easy to describe. We got around that by me taking some pictures of the asteroids on my table and uploading them to my G+ account, which I then shared. Before the game, we'd say which of the four pictures we'd use for the asteroid layout and we'd all set up to that pic. Sure, asteroid placement can be an important strategic part of X-Wing, but we decided to make a concession in the interest of the game setup not taking forever. An alternative would be to place the asteroids then show it with your webcam so your buddy can get it right. 

Once you've got everything set up, the whole thing is pretty well downhill from there. 

You play your turns just like you would regular X-Wing Miniatures although you don't have to turn your dials face down of course (although I still do out of habit, which is kinda hilarious when you think about it especially when you take into account I did that for MONTHS before I realized it). When you move your ship, you say what maneuver you pulled and while you grab your template and move your ship, your opponent picks up his template and moves his proxy of your ship on his table, just like in a remote Chess game. 

Barrel Rolls are about the only kind of movement that can be kind of tricky because even though you use the 1 Straight, you can place it anywhere along the side of your base. If you're lining up the template with your leading or trailing edge, that's easy enough to describe. If not, we often just make the move then instead of trying to describe where the template aligned, we just describe the final location of the base using the grid coordinates. 

I'd say the things that trip us up the most are maneuvers in the wrong direction/ speed and collisions. Moving back along the template for a collision can be hard to do just like Barrel Rolls. Also like Barrel Rolls, we usually forget about trying to actually replicate the move remotely and instead just try to communicate where the ship ends up. Calling stuff out wrong is probably a by-product of us playing so late at night and being tired or just flat out getting it backwards because your ship is facing you instead of away from you like usual. Either way, it usually crops up when you're left wondering how in the heck that ship could possibly be outside your firing arc and after discussion you realize on your opponent's table, the ship is like Range 3 away and going in the opposite direction. Generally, the owning player has the final say on where his ships are when we play. Sometimes that happens because I said, "Left bank three" when I meant right bank three or maybe even left turn three, sometimes the other guy picks up the wrong template. In any case, we've found it's a good idea to stop every three turns or so and just call out where all the ships are on your table. 

Combat and stuff works exactly the same as in-person X-Wing. You call out your target, measure to see if it's in range, and if so, you roll your dice. Obviously there's a huge opportunity for cheating here. If you don't trust the guys you play with, you can always roll on your phone with the Dice App or you can point the camera at the table while you roll. Thankfully, that's unnecessary for playing with Ben and Sean. Or at least I think it is. Heeeey, what a minute...

Keeping track of critical damage can be hard to remember, and laying down cards from your own damage deck on your opponent's ships can affect outcome, so I usually just mark the ship on the map with the crit token and periodically ask what damage the ship has if I can't remember. Of course, you probably own more than one copy of the starter set, so you could always put that extra damage deck to good use as an alternative. I do the same thing with Actions too- I go ahead and place the token by my opponent's ship, and because I'm sometimes terrible at remembering my own, I place them by my own ships still as well too. 

Teh Ends.
This is probably the part where many of you are halfway into your email or comment about VASSAL. Let me just say, VASSAL is a perfectly fine product and I have no problem with it whatsoever, it just isn't for me. I'm not mad at you if you love VASSAL, I don't hate VASSAL, I just like to play my miniatures games with actual miniatures. That's all. Don't read into it more than what it is. It's just not my cup of tea. So save it. I'm not saying I'll never play via VASSAL, I very well may at some point as I'd like to check out one of those Team Covenant tournaments sometime. 

That's pretty much it, y'all. Like I said, there's no fancy way to do it, and yeah, unquestionably it's more work than a normal game. There are ways to make it easier, but you still kinda have to want to do it for it to be worthwhile. A grid map, some preset asteroid pics, and the ability to describe where stuff is on the table make the whole experience much faster and easier. Oh, and a large collection of ships doesn't hurt either. And an opponent you know and at least halfway trust. 

Good luck, and if you play this way sometime, let me know how it goes for you. Hell, who knows- maybe when things slow down a bit at work for me we'll try to start up some kind of Hangouts league or something. That might be fun, huh? To get to play with some of y'all? Might be cool! 

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