Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Reflection on e-Books and Wargaming

I must admit that I am a little frustrated every time I play with my Dark Angels. Inevitably there is a rule that will need checking, or a statline, "how exactly does Grim Resolve work again", etc. I have a physical Warhammer 40,000 rulebook, and I have developed the muscle memory from only about three uses that allow me to jump between the sections I need at will. It also sports an index which makes finding anything really quick and easy.

The triumph of form over function.

Earlier in the year I made the decision to go digital and buy my Codices on my iPad. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I would save space, and the pictures and such look really grand on an iPad display, and additionally the iBook updates as Games Workshop push out the FAQs. However, from a practical standpoint it is simply too clunky. I can't jump between parts of the book quickly, and many is the time I have stood there tapping at the screen, swiping left to try and get to the correct page, while my opponent has to stand there, waiting on me. It simply isn't good enough. I want to move quickly between parts of the book and I feel that even with the ability to pull up rules definitions with a tap it simply isn't very ergonomic. I think that in future I might just stick with a physical copy.

In a similar vein, I have had an even worse experience with Privateer Press's digital content on my iPad. I have the Warmachine Rulebook on there, and as far as I can tell the app never remembers where I last was, nor does it allow me to bookmark anything. Worse, if I let the iPad fall asleep and then unlock it, without leaving the app it doesn't save the state I was last in. Time to open the PDF again. Privateer Press's app suffers from being poorly designed as a functional piece of software that the user will refer to, rather than read continuously.

However, this said, there are instances where wargaming does benefit from the digital revolution. TooFatLardies have for some time published everything they do in PDF format. This has multiple benefits, firstly it is platform independent. I dropped the files onto my Google Drive and can now access them wherever I am, and on any device that can display a PDF. Secondly, the fact that the documents I get from them are only PDFs, means that I can print them if I want. In other words, I can have my rules as soon as I pay for them, and once I do, I can print out those sections of the rulebook which I feel are necessary for reference. Additionally, TooFatLardies also publish quick reference sheets and other useful bits to enable gamers to play. Ultimately, a gamer seldom needs everything in physical media, campaign rules for example, or the army lists at the back of the book, and having a stripped down version of the rules helps in this respect. That said, even the iBook experience isn't all negative. I have several of the painting guides and a have the Kill Team iBook, both of these publications are of such a nature that I don't need them to be overly slick in terms of navigation, and the painting guides are especially nice in the digital format with the increased interactivity.

Campaign systems are perfect for digital platforms

Of course, I can understand why Privateer and Games Workshop have "siloed" their electronic publications, piracy. What they don't want is rules proliferating around the internet for free, and I suppose TooFatLardies have a very loyal following who are likely to pay for something. As an aside, TooFatLardies rules are usually cheaper than GW's or PP's offerings, but that is another conversation. My point is that I have no inherent opposition to either of the methods of access, I just wish the experience was better on the digital front. The fact remains that rulebooks and Codices are reference materials, and therefore they need to be easy to handle, or at least offer the user the opportunity to print out a sort of crib sheet.

I realise that absolutely nothing will change because of this post, however, I do think that I shan't be buying any more Codices in the iBook format. For the money I am paying I would rather get a nice solid book that functions adequately as a reference. Perhaps if the electronic editions were notably cheaper that would be an incentive, but since the prices are more or less equal, they do not even represent a saving. That said, I won't be buying physical copies of the Dark Angels or Imperial Guard codices in addition to my iBook editions, I shall just have to plough on through.

And just to prove that I have done some painting, here is another almost finished member of my Command Squad for my Dark Angels: