posted Wednesday, May 23rd 2012 by
News, Reviews & Culture
I’ve talked about gaming with Google+ before. Now, a new app is revolutionizing how tabletop games are played on Google+.
Tabletop Forge is a virtual tabletop app that integrates with Google+ “Hangout” video chat system. In addition to seeing and hearing your fellow players live, Tabletop Forge lets you draw on a battle map, place miniatures, roll dice, and type in text if voice chat isn’t your thing.
This is much better than standard Google+, where we didn’t even have a way to roll dice.
Read on to see how this digital game table compares to the competition.
As a free web application with Google’s infrastructure behind it, Tabletop Forge will have a significant advantage over its competitors, which at this stage consist of outdated Java applications, Windows-only programs, or commercial shareware.
Tabletop Forge vs the old guard
How do these hold apps shape up against the new kid in town?
MapTool: One of the most popular tools, MapTool is a Java program with advanced features like macros and fog of war with dungeon lighting. However, these features come with increased setup time, which is why I decided to use a different tool. MapTool also doesn’t come with a proper installer, the UI looks ugly because it’s Java instead of native Windows widgets, and when I tried it out (admittedly a beta version) the box draw tool was a little buggy. It doesn’t have voice or video chat, leaving that to other software.
Gametable: In 2008, I recommended Gametable. Since then it’s been re-named to OSU-GT, and now VTable. The drawing tools are very robust, but like MapTool it’s a Java program, so it’s ugly and has no proper installer. We used it for our games for years, and occasionally experienced bugs like going out of sync, using too much memory, or networking issues when connecting to another user as the server. Personally, I got eyestrain from the chat window’s small font size and I actually modified the program’s source code to increase it. It has no voice or video chat, leaving that to other software.
OpenRPG: This was popular around 2006, but now appears to have fallen off the face of the Internet.
Glittercomm: I admit I’ve never used GlitterComm. However, it has what could be a major flaw for your group: it’s Windows-only. If one of your players uses an alternative operating system (and that’s quite common among Internet-connected RPG players), you’re out of luck. The forums have also been abandoned since 2010.
Fantasy Grounds: Although it looks really good and has a solid following, I’m discouraged from trying Fantasy Grounds because it’s commercial software, which limits your player base to people who buy it. However, unlike some of the free software it looks good, runs cross-platform, actually comes with a real installer and has strong support. Also, the limitations on the free demo version are mainly on the host’s side, so players can join without playing if they’re willing to forgo some character preparation tools.
Forging a new virtual tabletop
I’m excited for Tabletop Forge, because we’re finally seeing a web app that solves the problem of getting the gaming group together remotely, without the issues caused by user-run servers or ugly Java software.
With the addition of video chat—a cheap webcam now costs less than a single Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook—we could be looking at a whole new movement in tabletop gaming.
The big drawback to Tabletop is that it isn’t actually out yet. However, the developers are planning a Kickstarter to crowdsource for the app’s development, and you can follow their Google+ news feed to find out when that’s going live. In the meantime, you can try the open beta with your group.