Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Fighting by Zoom?

Interesting session this evening, using the newly installed Zoom set-up for a 3-way chat  - Stryker, Goya and myself. Videoconferencing. We had some problems with my broadband playing up a bit, but it's obvious that this does offer the opportunity of some remote miniatures gaming. Quite exciting, really - Stryker showed us around the 6mm ACW game he is soloing in his hut at the moment - looks good.

I realise that a lot of people are already doing this, but it's unfamiliar to us, so a fairly trouble-free toe in the water would be a fine idea. We may change our minds at any time, of course, but at the moment the plan is that we should set up a 3-way game to try it out - and pretty soon.

Agreed Thoughts / Guidelines / Givens (any minute now we'll have a Terms of Reference):

(1) for a 3-player game, the host should be umpire and general runner-about, the remote attendees will be the two commanders.

(2) the first game shouldn't be too large, or we will put ourselves off.

(3) a gridded game would work well, since the table layout should be easily visible, and there is no scope for getting bogged down in (remote) measurement - it would also be useful for the commanders to have paper maps of the table/board, for their own reference.

(4) since I have a very clearly marked-out gridded table, and all the necessary figures, I could be the first host - and we might have a look at the CCN scenario 006 for The River Coa in the Peninsular War. We'll use my Ramekin dice-driven activation system, so we don't have problems with the Command Cards, and I'll do all the dice rolling at my end - on camera, of course [The Lovely Rita].

Lovely Rita in her previous job
My set-up ideas on this would be to have my (big, Windows 10) laptop in the games room, with (preferably) a dedicated webcam connected. If the webcam can just stream live video into the laptop through USB, then this full screen display of the battlefield can be offered via the Share Screen option in Zoom. Thus the default screen would be the normal Zoom Gallery view of the participants, with a Share Screen option of the tabletop action, as seen from the webcam (mounted on a fairly high tripod, angled down onto the table).

I assume that all this would work OK. Snag #1 is that I have to get my hands on a webcam. I realise it is possible to set up a smartphone or other device to work as the webcam, but I have an aversion to solutions involving gaffer-tape or wishful thinking, so an actual webcam which just works out of the box would be good, especially for a klutz like me - the scope for dropping an iPhone from a height of 2 metres is too obvious, and just think how that would spoil the game...

I see that the prices of conference-quality 1080p webcams are just about what you would expect - very high - but there are cheaper options, and the options are getting cheaper and better all the time. I had a look to see what is available second-hand on eBay, just to get some experience without busting the bank. When I checked these used items back against Amazon and elsewhere, I realised that, in general, new webcams are on sale cheaper than second-hand ones, and often the spec is better. This is obviously an area where technology is improving and prices are dropping fast. Hmmm.

I was looking at customer reviews on various pieces of kit - some of the Logitech units look good, but it's hard to tell with my current level of understanding without actually trying one out. That's as far as I've got - we have agreed that we would like to try something, and it would be nice if it worked without a huge amount of hassle. At this point I really would welcome some suggestions, if anyone has experience of this stuff, and would be kind enough to help out a little. Any camera recommendations? Any "don't ever do what I did" stories? All welcome.

One small downside of Zoom, of course, is that a "meeting" involving more than 2 people is limited to 40 minutes unless you have a paid account, in which case you are talking about $15 a month. As a loss leader, Zoom are currently waiving the 40-minute limit for new subscribers, and there are some supposedly "special" offers to help during the lockdown period. That's all fine, but I had a think about it. If multi-way Zoom is obviously a good thing to have access to - particularly if old chaps driving across Scotland with vans full of soldiers and scenery are likely to meet with the disapproval of The Polis for the foreseeable future, then $15 may be a snip. When I think about it, I currently pay a monthly amount for an Audible audiobook membership from which I haven't ordered anything for a while, and I also pay for a Spotify account which I never use.

I could get myself organised and save most of $15 a month with very little effort, so that's not such a disincentive. And, of course, I could then keep in contact with my long-lost relatives - two at a time, if need be. Hmmm.

If I can sort out what I need to do about a decent camera - and some reasonably decent ones are only about £30 these days - this looks rather like a goer.

Stryker does Zoom - scary


  1. I've participated in two, 3 participant Zoom Wars of the Roses games now, with another in a few days. The host has the table and troops, a view from one end via the laptop, and one from another end via either a webcam or a cell phone. Even without a grid it worked fine... amazingly satisfying, actually. Not as good as in person, but not bad. It was enough for me to duyst off my laptop, and look at webcams (I decided to pass for now as they seemed more technical and pricey than I thought I would really need). I am particularly thinking of playing To the Strongest via Zoom.

    1. Peter - thanks very much for this - useful. I've taken a note of the camera layout.

  2. We've been doing this over Skype. I just prop my tablet device up on a couple of boxes so it can see the table. Biggest game so far was six players, a umpire and a couple of observers.

    Yes, grids work well, but we've done ruler based too. My only tip is to make sure the players have their own maps and briefings, and mark up the grid in some way. The labels are unsightly but they really help the players.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Martin - interesting - I haven't tried Skype for a few years, so should give that a whirl. I had concerns that a single tablet would be too restrictive, but the possibilities are interesting.

  3. Looking forward to it!

    Where did you get that photo of me?

    1. The photo is from my WikiBlackmail server - I have a lot of stuff on there.

  4. Try Jitsi. Just as easy to use, free and no time limit.

    1. Nige - that's useful - thanks - I shall check this out!

  5. This all looks very interesting Tony...
    I have been using FaceTime on the iPad supported by photos of the table and starting positions to play a small ... and still on going... skirmish with my daughter.

    I have had a look at some anglepoise holders for the iPhone and pad...

    Maybe not as fashionable but they look a lot more stable than some I have seen.... I may give one a try...
    All the best. Aly

    1. Aly - the anglepoise type holders are interesting, thanks for this - we have a fairly heavy-duty floor tripod here, so I'll use that, and it means I can look for a heavy(ish) webcam. I've had a recommendation to look at one of the Logitech Brio UHD models. Slightly sad news is that normal price is around £200, but because of big demand in current situation the same model is around £430. I'm looking at Papalook models (who?) - a lot cheaper but decent spec.