Hello blogaholics! Today I have decided to take a break from my Talion Charter madness, and write about something that I have been using frequently these last few weeks: (line)Vassal(/link). And yes the title of my post is cheesy. Deal with it. I have now played against Gdaybloke, AstrayPenguin, and Owen and have had a blast. So I got to thinking: Beyond Owen, no one has really talked about the benefits and drawbacks of Vassal as a platform, its possible uses, and things that could be improved upon.
What do I mean? Well, like anything else Vassal is a tool. It allows you, in the simplest terms, to play Warmachine/Hordes over the internet. But what else could it be used for? What is good about the software and what could be changed? Thats what I want to talk about. First, a general overview of what Vassal is.
Vassal is basically an online board game simulator. It is a system that uses Modules to load various board or tapletop games into memory and allows you to play them online. While I personally have only used it for Warmahordes, you can do things like play Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Heroquest, and a huge variety of other board games online using this program. Note that the issues with the system tend to be from the MODULE and not Vassal. Vassal is more like an overlay. It loads the programmed module into memory to allow you access. Its up to the modules creators how accurate the actual game and interface are.
Ok now that I am done with the general overview I am going to start talking about some of the beneficial uses I see for using Vassal. There are two main uses for it beyond just playing the game in my opinion, and that is growing the Community and Teaching/Learning.
Now I mention community as a benefit. What do I mean? While nothing can replace having an actual physical game community and being able to go and play face to face against others, there is something to be said about being able to play from anywhere in the world. For example, I played against Owen from FarFarAway, who lives in Ireland! I live in Orlando Florida and would normally probably never face this man. Thanks to Vassal I got to actually face off with this very nice gent, who ended up crushing me. When I think of the community (that is the Warmahordes community) I think of it in two ways: The local and Global communities. The local one is where you go to your LGS and play a game or two on an afternoon or evening, like I did Saturday. The global community is here, with the forums and bloggers and whatnot. With Vassal I can exploit that GLOBAL community and face people I would otherwise never have a chance to play against. Gday who lives in Canada, Penguin from the UK, and of course Owen.
Granted, its no replacement for playing live, but if you want to play against someone you have been chatting with online, then just fire up Vassal and go. Although adding in Skype for Voicechat is handy but I will get to that later.
Also getting to play people outside of your local meta provides you with more learning experiences. For example, my Meta seems to be mostly Khador, Menoth, Legion, Skorne. We have 1 circle player, and then me as the only regular Troll player. We have 1 or 2 Cryx and Cygnar players as well, and only know of 1 dedicated Merc player. So when I play, I tend to face Khador, Menoth, Legion, and Skorne. I know what they can do for the most part at this point, but you put me in front of Cygnar or Cryx and I will be at a loss. Same as if you put me in front of a full Circle or Merc army. I didn’t add Ret cause I have played against Retribution mostly when playing on Vassal (Hi Gday and Penguin!)
Teaching and Learning:
Another great use for Vassal is the ability to teach new players from anywhere, and to play with models you may not own but happen to have the cards for (thank you Field Test hehe). For example! I am doing Mercenaries, but before I purchase anything I am gonna spend this whole year playing them in Vassal and trying to decide which ones I like, what kind of list I want to start with, and whatnot. The only thing I have purchased for them is the faction deck and I will be getting the Forces book as well. With those two things I can play Mercenaries in Vassal and figure out which I like, which I don’t like, and what I want to play. This allows me to learn about the Faction without committing my precious monetary resource to them. Had I known about Vassal when I first started I might have done the same with Cygnar. Then I could have avoided spending nearly $200.
This goes hand in hand with teaching. A friend of mine named Dan bought himself a battle box of Circle, but does not want to commit to anything more until he is sure he likes Circle. We got him into a team game on Saturday where his partner, another Circle player, let him borrow models to get him to 35 points, but he was totally lost. No one really helped him or let him make his own decisions but rather just told him what he should do and why. Dan doesn’t really learn that way (at least from what I have seen). So I suggested after we left that he should do a few games in Vassal using completely different models (different caster, some units and solos) and that way he could LEARN the game and faction. I also told him that he could play against me, cause I would not rush
him and I would let him take his time, ask questions and make his own choices. He then pointed out that this could take a long time and I had to let him know that with Vassal you can actually SAVE THE GAME and come back to it at a different time (another AWESOME Feature by the way) and that way we could play one game over the course of a few days and he could slowly learn his capabilities. On Sunday we started, and we had gotten through 2 turns in 2 hours, but he was trying a completely new 25 point Mohsar list against my 24 point Shae (yea I miscounted and was short a point).
Without Vassal my friend Dan would have to sit down and spend the money first and possibly find out down the road that he doesn’t like this caster or that unit, and has basically wasted money. With the use of Vassal he is able to take his time, learn his faction and the game in general, and slowly but surely get the hang of what he is doing. He did point out that after those 2 turns he really enjoyed Mohsar and what he could do. Stupid salt pillars how I hate them, but I digress.
Another good example is a fellow blogger by the name of Loftybloke. This poor guy has not EVER had a live game of Warmahordes, but thanks to Vassal he has gotten to play and learn.
So, like any computer program there are some oddball bugs, but they don’t really bother ME personally. The first is the ruler. You
basically use this red or green measuring tape to check distance. What makes it annoying is that after you check the distance, the next time you click on the game board the ruler goes crazy and jumps to two random points it seems. While annoying, it does not hamper gameplay and is easy to deal with, at least to me.
The control area feature. Some people find it annoying that the game auto measures your CTRL area and shows it to you as an Aura. I like this, but at the time you cannot use the completely legal method of “measuring your CTRL area” at any time to check distance between models. What I have taken to doing is allowing people to measure FROM THEIR CASTER to any other model that is completely within their CTRL area. Its something we can basically do on the Tabletop and I see no reason why we cannot do it in Vassal. I am tempted to suggest to the maker of the Module to put 1 inch lines in the CTRL area much like he does with the Scatter template so that way we can easily see how far something is away from our Caster.
When you click on the model window it will expand to a HUGE Size, generally taking up the whole window. You can resize it, but it happens each time you open and close that window, so get used to it.
Oh, and right now Vassal is not updated to full Mk2 for everything, so you have to get creative with the Damage Grids you have access to, which are easy enough to work with. It is also missing Ret sprites, but apparently the maker of the Module is just waiting for Privateer to give the go ahead and he will get the update out for that.
Other then that, Vassal is a very stable program.
Voice chat helps tremendously. I played against Penguin without it at 15 points, and I think personally it slowed the game down a bit. It took us about two and a half hours to get through that 15 point game (I also think its cause Penguin overthinks things hehe!) but when I have played against both Gday and Owen, Voice chat allowed us to easily communicate our moves and discuss rules and things. You have two options for Voice chat as well and both are free: Skype and Meebo. Meebo I was unaware of until Owen and you would really want to ask him how it works, but Skype I have gotten used to. You of course need a MIC as well but most headsets have those now.
Your cards of course are needed, whether in PDF form or in real form. Honestly, real cards would be easier. I am working off the PDF for the Mercs, and its driving me bonkers sometimes having to flip pages to find what I am looking for. Also having the Mk2 Rules handy in PDF form (And yes, PDF form is GOOD for these) is a good thing to have around.
Beyond those 2 things, you don’t need anything else. Other then a PC with Net Access hehe.
Overall, I would say if you have NOT tried Vassal before, give it a shot. You might be surprised. I am generally up for a game, but I like to set them up ahead of time for the first time I play against ya.