Monday, April 27, 2015

Double Blind Gaming.

Over a year ago our game club, Army Group York, began discussing the elusive holy grail of realism in wargaming: double blind games. We wanted a true fog of war experience. We discussed a variety of options and methods to achieve the solution for the eternal problem of the "100 foot general". Players being able to see all the units on both sides on the table at all times might be impressive visually, but it is hardly realistic in representing the actual battlefield as experienced by commanders and soldiers doing the fighting. Fog of war sounds simple enough...but how do you do it? More importantly, how do you do it and still continue to play a game involving miniatures?

After long discussions, we settled on several requirements for a double blind system: It had to be easy to use, cheap enough to make, and we wanted to avoid having to use a GM. We settled on an old solution of drawers, or boxes, to represent grid spaces on a map that corresponded to grid spaces on the game table. Each box was assigned a letter and number, much like the game Battleship from our childhood. We also settled on 6" squares for our grid. This worked well in that the squares were small enough to allow for detailed tracking of troops on the table space, yet not so small as to require too many boxes to keep track of. The end result was a game table divided into 6" squares, each corresponding to the double blind rig of 8 boxes tall by 12 boxes wide. This made for 96 boxes. That's a lot of boxes, but not unmanageable.

We originally used a system of matchboxes glued together to form a series of drawers wherein players placed tokens to represent soldiers or units in their force. These drawers allowed players to keep track of the location, movement, and actions of their forces. It also opened up opportunities for using pre-game artillery barrages, hidden minefields, beaten zones of machine gun fire, ambushes, and all kinds of other fun battlefield trickery. This worked reasonably well and did allow for GM free double blind games. In fact, we loved it so much we talked about never wanting game without double blind again. The tension created in not knowing where the enemy is located forced us as players to actually use reconnaissance, hold reserves, and allowed us to flank the enemy. We remarked about how much better and different the game became when forced into a tactical situation without the perfect knowledge we had been used to as wargamers.

Despite the enthusiasm, the rig we built didn't get used that much. I think it was partially because a bunch of matchboxes glued together isn't very much fun to use. I felt there had to be some other way. I scoured the internet for custom wooden boxes, storage boxes, plastic bins, tiny drawers, I thought about making my own tiny boxes with their own lids or hinges...all kinds of ideas poured out. In my brainstorming I decided I wanted this double blind rig to lay flat like the table. Our matchbox system was vertical and I felt a flat system would translate more intuitive visually from table to map.

Then I discovered a company that makes tiny plastic boxes with hinged, snap shut lids. LA Container makes a range of plastic boxes called "Flex-a-Top". These were perfect for my use. I chose the 1.25" square box, .75" deep. They make them in black and clear, but for some reason the black boxes are a lot more expensive. I ordered mine for $.45 a piece from US Plastic Corporation.

Now that I had my boxes, I needed to make a rig to hold them. For this, there wasn't really any good option than sucking it up and building it myself. It was kind of a pain in the ass, but it was kind of fun as well. It was also very satisfying to finish. The rig itself holds each individual box place, allowing for each box lid to be opened easily. Each box was then labeled with a Letter and Number according to the grid to match our 4'x6' table. I did not glue the boxes into the rig because I wanted to be able to remove or replace them. They fit snguly enough to hold them in place anyway. The only minor problem seemed to be that the boxes are a little tricky to open if you don't have fingernails!

Here are some pics to show off the rig. Pics of the first game using this system will follow!

The boxes arranged as they correspond to the table grid.

Putting together the walls of the rig. Outside walls first, then vertical.

Each box had to fit snugly, so I used the boxes themselves as spacers.

Putting in the cross walls.

Getting there...labeling each box was tedious.


And it works!

Sample map.

Player marking movement from one grid to another.

Player moving unit marker to another grid.

Player using reconnaissance to peek into a grid.

Their hunch was correct!Enemy unit spotted.

Pregame artillery barrage!
The barrage marked for the enemy player to discover when he deploys. 

 I hope you enjoyed this project. If you haven't tried it before, I really recommend double blind gaming. There's no wargame experience like it!

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