Today’s free expensive idea

So I was reading around in some old posts, and I found this thing about those baby remote-control tanks that could shoot each other. Well, that obviously didn’t go anywhere, probably because infrared isn’t very precise or articulate. But what if you could set down a table full of minis – well, a skirmish scenario, anyway – along with a little computer that knew exactly where they all were and what their abilities were?

RFID tags are cheaper than dirt these days – like, ten cents apiece – and with two RFID readers that can talk to each other via some other channel, it stands to reason that you could get fairly accurate triangulation at short ranges. Just saying. Clix is not the last optimization we can do on the ease of use of miniatures gaming.


  1. i know at some cons they use to play battletech on two maps with the judges (or guys running the game) talking back and forth on a walkie talkie. They’d use the refrence #’s on the maps to determin line of site and such, so if you couldn’;t see your enemy…well they weren’t on the board and such.

    That sporta what you mean?

  2. No. I mean skirmish miniatures gaming where you never have to do the figuring yourself on whether something works. I mean tabletop gaming that is as easy to use as a video game. No dials to look at, no numbers to crunch, no rulers to pfutz with, no dice to roll (well, maybe we can have some for old times’ sake).

    You have RFID readers on the table that figure out where everything is, and each of those readers also has a small control panel where you can tell it which actions you’d like each of your figures to take. (Some RFID tags are “active,” meaning they draw a tiny bit of battery power and can transmit data, opening the possibility that you could push a button on the base if you want a given figure to attack that turn, or somesuch. That’d drive the cost up, of course.) Depending on how you design your game, you could have fairly deep minis gaming as easily as picking up and moving a chess piece.

    Although, to be fair, this interface could certainly allow for all sorts of hidden information, possibly including fog-of-war effects such as the one you describe.

  3. All the technology is current, RFID readers were available to industrial consumers for $20 apiece three years ago, and passive RFID tags can be had for pennies. Think before 2010.

  4. isn’t part of the fun of a minitures game looking up everything in the book and impressing the other players by memorizing stats and rules.

    don’t get me wrong, i think that sounds cool (sorta) but i also suspect some people (namely rule lawyers) would be against this. One things for sure, games workshop would have a field day with this.

  5. A nice idea, but do they actually give you any information on *position* (which you’d need for the miniatures idea). I thought that the RFID reader will tell you if a tag is present, and tell you information about it, but won’t tell you how far away it is or where it is…

  6. Maybe if the RFID readers could triangulate to understand location, but then what about line of sight?

    Wouldn’t it just be easier to make a cool computer or video game version of a miniatures game? Dawn of War is pretty cool, in my opinion. Maybe a turn-based version for grognards who want that kind of thing? Anyone here every play an earier Warhammer 40K computer game called Chaos Gate? I liked that a lot.

  7. timopod: for the love of God I hope your post is a joke.

    atomSBG: There are already online alternatives for minis fans, and I think their lack of popularity (notwithstanding turn-based hybrid games like Laser Squad Nemesis, which as you’ll note by the collective “huh?” you just heard is still fairly obscure) is a clear indicator that the tactile, real-world nature of actual minis is a big part of what draws minis gamers to the gameplay they enjoy.

    You might or might not be able to get facing info on a single tag, it’s true. Larger units and scenery could have two tags embedded in them for this purpose, and a sophisticated enough CPU on your little control unit could probably suss out line of sight from there.

  8. At what point does a game become a toy? I like the basic idea, but just what makes a game different from a toy?

    Is the simple win/lose all that’s needed?

  9. Come on, half the fun of these games is bending over and squinting to see line of sight!
    I do thing games workshop would make a special reader that only accepts GW batteries and shuts of a figures RFID once it’s killed (you’ll have to buy a new figure)
    bring back space hulk instead!!!!!!

  10. Don’t think triangulation would work… you don’t get any distance info with RFID, and trying to do it with time difference would be very expensive and wouldn’t work at the small scale of a miniatures game.

  11. I can’t imagine that sorting out the time difference is impossible at short range… computer chips are awfully fast, you know. But I could certainly be wrong. Then again, if RFID doesn’t work in this kind of situation, I can imagine other approaches that might. For instance, optical mice are cheaper than they’ve ever been, and can sort out their own position.

    As far as when something becomes a toy, my first impulse is to say it’s when you don’t have any decisions to make that matter. Trouble is that many existing board games, children’s and otherwise, fit this description… as do probably a third of all RPG sessions. (Note: this is not an invitation for anyone to start a definition-of-“game” thrash in our comments.)

  12. I did some more research and it looks like readers that can look out further than about a foot and get reliable info are still pretty scarce. Back to the drawing cave, I guess.

  13. One foot is about 3.322 x 10-6 light seconds …

    Which works out to about 3000 clock ticks on a 1 GHz chip …

    So 1/3000th of a foot (about 0.1 mm) is a single clock tick time difference …

    With a common-clocked RFID reader at each corner of the table, and one in the middle, it should be possible to get pretty precise locational information (with redundancy for error-checking) off a laptop.

  14. Awesome! Science, baby!

    Sadly, all this will still require RFID readers that can see further out than about 3 inches. That’s the gating factor right now.

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