Getting 6 people together to sit down and play through a full game of Here I Stand is difficult. With most people working during the week, the weekends are the only option that would allow enough time to fit in a game. But these often fill up fast with family, religious and other obligations.
However, technology allows some new options. There is real-time online play of games through websites, on gaming consoles or other devices. There is also the option is to play a game long distance by sending each move by email. Previous generations may have played a game of chess with their pen-pal by sending each move in a letter through snail mail. Now moves can be sent through email to speed up that process. Having played a few games with a couple of these systems, each has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.
The most obvious advantage is that the games can be played from your own living room. No need to get everyone together in the same place. This will save on travel time and gets you right into gaming. For better or worse, the session is more focused on playing the game. I feel more comfortable playing with strangers over the internet than inviting random people to my house. But when I want to play my with my normal gaming group, the social enjoyment I get out of gaming suffers.
I’m sure we’ve all done this with our board games: set-up up the board on the table and play through the game in multi-night sessions. I recently played a game of Twilight Struggle with my wife. We just left the board on the dining room table for a couple of nights. However, with small children in the house we ran the risk of the board getting changed between plays. Usually these online systems allow a way to save the game progress so that you can start where you left off at a later time. A full play through of a long war game can be broken into a few shorter sessions over a longer time period. That huge time commitment is now broken into bite sized chunks that are easier to manage. It may allow you to brush up on rules or rethink strategies before your next play. However, the game can also drag out to weeks or even months before it is finished.
Russ has a good post on his experience with Settler of Catan on the XBox. I have played a dozen games using the website Wargameroom. One advantage of playing on a computer is that the rules are all programmed into the system. Only your available options are shown or are allowed to be carried out. This means no cheating, but more importantly it is a great way to help you learn the rules. Usually though you learn them the hard way. You think you are about to assault that fortress when the option to assault isn’t available because you haven’t met all of the requirements. A turn is wasted, but the next time you play you’ll remember that rule.
The real time aspect allows for a quick fix of a game. The board is set-up for you. Calculating dice requirements, card shuffling and rule checking is done instantly. There is very little down time that allows a longer game to be played much more quickly. It is a good option to get some gaming in on a tight time budget. Opponents can be found quickly through a chat room or even instantly with the use of AI opponents. The social aspect of gaming is mostly gone and a game that involves negotiations is greatly hindered. How do you convince or bluff a pre-programmed response?
Play By EMail has also been a mostly good experience. Each player has a copy of the board on their own computer and a move file is sent as each person plays. Probably the most common program used is Cyberboard to track the board and generate move files and the website ACTS to track the play of cards and handles the random stuff: card shuffling and dice rolls. Each player checks their email at least daily and takes their turn. In a game that involves a diplomacy aspect, this is also handled by exchanging emails.
The huge advantage of this system is the long time between turns. For someone learning a game, they can check the rules or even ask for help on forums between moves to better understand the strategies and intricacies of a game. I’ve found that my understanding of the 40+ page Here I Stand rulebook has vastly improved. Diplomacy can be fun because is can be done simultaneously and in secret. No one has to know you sent an email to one power where in a Face-to-Face (FtF) play everyone saw you leave the room together.
Of course, the major disadvantage of this system is the long time between turns. Once the diplomacy phase is over, carrying out those plans for just one turn could take months. Waiting for a person to take their move isn’t fun. In a FtF game a minute can seem like an eternity. Try waiting 10 days for your opponent to take his turn because he was on vacation and then got stuck in Europe because of a volcano (actually happened).
I think using technology to play your favorite board game is a great idea. There are certainly some great advantages for new players and people who can’t make big time commitments. However, nothing beats staring down your opponent in a good ol’ face-to-face play of any game.