Tabletop Simulator – Early Access Preview
“When there are no chocolate sprinkles for your ice-cream, that’s an irritation.
When there is no milk for your coffee in the morning, that’s a problem.
When there’s no game in your video game, that’s a disaster.” A. Wise. – Gaming Journalist 1850
Leaving aside the whole host of problems associated in commenting on games as fundamentally unfinished as this one is, we’re here to talk about Tabletop Simulator and what it offers you for £10.99 of your misbegotten gains.
Tabletop Simulator is a physics sandbox title that aims to enable you to simulate many tabletop game types and customise them to your hearts’ desire. Tired of the limitations of traditional chess? Play without restriction of movement. Bored of the same old backgammon pieces? Swap them out for brightly coloured building blocks.
Play a game of marbles across Nicolas Cage’s face.
And herein lies the first and fundamental problem with the Tabletop Simulator; by placing the game in an online, consequence-free environment and stripping away all rules, most peoples’ response is to dick about with the freedom afforded them. Why play a legitimate game of chess with a buddy when you can spawn a ‘Beholder’ model onto the board to replace your king? How long are you going to resist the temptation to spawn a tower of Ogres directly into the centre of your poker game?
There’s a delightful rage-quit option that allows you to flip the virtual table you’ve created, sending your pieces flying through virtual space and gradually disappearing against one of the appallingly low-res backgrounds the game provides at the moment.
Sounds fun, yeah? But how long before that just gets tiresome for anyone trying to play an actual game? Well, the answer is, it gets pretty old, pretty quickly. All of the traditional game modes on offer are better played in a hundred other titles, most of which are considerably cheaper than this is, even at a relatively modest £11.
In its plus column, Tabletop Simulator has one big word – potential. The idea of being able to make your own games and boards to play them on, save board states and connect with other players on stable servers is brilliant. When I first saw the trailer for TS and read the Steam page blurb, my first thought was getting a truly 3D and interactive environment set up for an online Dungeons and Dragons game (yeah, because I’m a fucking nerd, alright?). Potentially, that would be amazing. Some of the other guys at Frugalgaming and I discussed what Warhammer 40K armies we’d like to try and recreate – our heads buzzed with ideas. Sadly, not one of those ideas were remotely feasible once we saw the software up and running in its current state.
Berserk Games have provided some fairly standard fantasy-trope models that you can use to play your own games with. Great, quite a range of creature models give a sense of a real encounter – you can picture the scene, describing the environment to your players over Skype and showing monster and player movement using the 3D (and very attractive) models. But wait – there are no PC models! You’ve given us a skeleton, a werewolf and a dragon but no Warrior, Mage and Cleric models? To be honest, that’s just ridiculous. Sure, you could use a chess piece, red block or even a playing card to represent the PCs, but that sort of defeats the entire point of the exercise doesn’t it? The ’tile sets’ provided for you to build environments with are also laughably basic – at least in the version I played. One guy on Steam who was extremely positive about game wanted to show off a room he had made for role-playing. Trouble was, it featured a door, which wasn’t actually included in the models provided in the game so far. Draw whatever conclusion you like from that.
To put it simply, Tabletop Simulator is all mouth and no trousers in its current form. Promising great freedom, it is currently impossibly limiting and seeks to get around this by putting the onus on the community to run with the system and develop things for the platform.
If you believe the development team, there are all kinds of exciting additions and features that are coming to the game – but they’re not currently included and there is no guarantee they ever will be. This is the danger of early access and why I simply can’t recommend you part with your money now, unless you have an interest in putting your free time and effort into creating things for the game you paid for. For all the potential, there is simply no reason to give any money to this studio – yet. All they have is a concept, a germ of an idea, which could be great but is currently more Virtual Boy than Oculus Rift.
A group of Frugal Gaming’s writers got together one night and tried to play some multi. Here’s their thoughts.
At the minute I’d struggle to call Tabletop Simulator a game, that would be like calling Nigel Farage a politician or Call of Duty exciting. For me at least, it’s just not true. The fact that the developers originally sought funding for just £3000 speaks of their ambition, or more importantly their lack of it. The most generous description I can give this title at the moment tech demo, it almost feels like a school project. 3D models look nice and the physics, whilst still a work in progress, are getting there.
However there is no fun to be had here and what little you can do can be done more easily in real life, or if you’ve really got to play some of these things on a digital device then use your Google fu, free alternatives are available.
Tabletop Simulator is possibly the most accurately titled game I’ve ever played. It is precisely that – a simulated tabletop. There are game pieces from various popular games available for use (Chess, Draughts, some fantasy type miniatures) and, well, that’s it. It’s pretty, runs smoothly and I didn’t come across any crashes or problems, other than other players.
My small experience of multiplayer left me hurt and confused, as my attempt to play a civilised game of chess with another player was met with him/her throwing all of his/her chess pieces at me, typing ‘YOLO, lolz’ and quitting. Oh. Okay then. I suppose that the real application of Tabletop Simulator would be playing tabletop games with friends who live too far away to simply play with on an actual tabletop – and that’s great as long as everybody plays ball. I would have liked to see just a few more options to constrain gameplay – introduce simpler player turns, forcing only legal moves in chess… Just some control that could be introduced so as to make the network multiplayer viable. The game has a huge amount of potential in this respect – with a plethora of game types and pieces available – but no way to properly make use of them without like-minded, constrained individuals with whom to play.
A special mention goes to the ‘Fantasy Miniature’ models, which could comfortably sit among my collection of Citadel / GW miniatures without looking out of place. Big fan of those death animations too, those are cool.
I’ve played board games, and role playing games, since I was a teenager. But then I was lured away by computer games. Years later, I’ve rediscovered the new generation of board games, thanks in part to some of the wonderful iPad conversions of old and new board games.
What Tabletop Simulator sets out to do is literally simulate the instrumentality of games, to create a virtual, 3D environment with a tabletop.
There are other “play board games with your friends over the internet”systems out there, some are very well established, and they’re free. But they don’t implement the full 3D environments that TS does.
So, TS is an interesting idea, fairly well implemented at the moment, but really, it’s only a start. Yes some may latch onto it, and invest the time to populate it with content, or use it as it is. But it’s really a time will tell situation.
Where TS starts to step beyond the basic virtual board and playing piece approach is with cards based games. With cards, TS implements shuffling a deck by picking it up and shaking it, having a hand that only you can see, flipping cards face down and face up. But you still have to supply your own rules. It doesn’t implement the rules of poker, bridge or whatever. But this is also where it starts to show it’s intended purpose, and perhaps the depth that will lead it on to bigger and better things. Because you can import your own cards into the game. If you took the time, you could scan all your favourite collectible card game desks into TS. So you could play Magic the Gathering in TS, though of course the proper MtG apps exist, complete with the rules implemented.