Play my games online, sort of…

One thing I have had to learn lately, in the process of playtesting my COIN system French-Algerian War game, is how to use VASSAL.

This word, not really an acronym, once stood for “Virtual ASL (Advanced Squad Leader)” because it had originally been programmed by people who wanted to play that game remotely, online, and in real time, as the next step forward from PBEM or PBF (Play By E-Mail, a method of playing a game by correspondence where you record your move in some fashion and then e-mail that to your opponent; and Play By Forum, where players submit their moves to an online forum, discussion board, etc..). But now it has grown into a strong application with which almost any board game can be converted into a version playable online, and it’s all free.

I knew how powerful this thing was, and how much potential it has, but just never found the time to do anything with it, either to play games (as I have hardly any time to play anything except my own stuff) or to write modules for my stuff (as I am the world’s worst programmer, even when programming is not involved!). I have never liked computer games, period; I am an old-school-cardboard, face-to-face experience man.

But now more and more playtesting is done through VASSAL, and it makes a lot of sense: no requirement to get people together physically; changes can be made to a single module in a central location as the game develops; and any number of games can be played at the same time, with results noted. It’s also great for making very old, long out-of-print games available again for people who can never own a copy. I’m grateful for all this, but I think I’m still a long way from designing my first module successfully.

Meanwhile, energetic folks have made VASSAL modules of my games, on their own time, and they are available for free on the central website at http://www.vassalengine.org. You can get the following titles:

Thanks to Michel Boucher, Martin Hogan, David Janik-Jones, and Joel Toppen for their work.

I mentioned PBEM – before VASSAL there was another program that allowed this, called Cyberboard (http://cyberboard.brainiac.com/index.html). It is only for Windows systems and stopped development about 5 years ago, but there are a lot of “gameboxes” available for it still. It’s also useful for creating new games: Dr. Phil Sabin of King’s College London swears by it for creating prototypes. Cyberboard gameboxes are available for these titles:

Many more PBEM resources available from Mr. Walter O’Hara’s comprehensive Emporium:  http://pbem.brainiac.com/

Thanks to Walter O’Hara, Mike Welsh, and Noel Wright for making these.

I also need to mention Limey Yank Games (http://www.limeyyankgames.co.uk/lyg/), which also makes hundreds of modules and gameboxes available to players, including some of mine: 

Thanks to Andy Loakes, and Daryl Anderson who contributed the gameboxes.

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About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

3 Responses to Play my games online, sort of…

  1. alsandor says:

    “But now it has grown into a strong application with which almost any board game can be converted into a version playable online, and it’s all free.”

    Strictly speaking that is not entirely true, Yes, the bulk of games available on Vassal are free, but there are companies that will not allow their games to be ported to any medium on the grounds that ir is theft and could lead to loss of revenue, GMT Games makes all its games available on Vassal and it is not suffering from what I understand. This can be circumvented by redoing the map and counters with different art. The company could not call it an infringement of copyright. They could still insist that sites not carry them. I have a few modules I have made of such games that I do not distribute freely. They were made for play between a friend and I.

    A less disturbing instance are companies that do not permit modules to be made of their solitaire games. Personally, I like modules of solitaire games because I don’t need to commandeer a table for days.

    The second case is companies that charge for Vassal modules of their games, At this time I only know of one but there may be others and it may be that Vassal will be split between commercially available and freely distributed.

    But for most of us, making a Vassal module is a labour of love or a learning experience or both 🙂

    • brtrain says:

      Sorry, I guess I meant that VASSAL the application is free, and you are free, once you own it, to make modules, for yourself if no one else.
      I think it’s rather silly of game companies to refuse to allow VASSAL versions of their games on the grounds that that is theft, or makes theft possible; chances are, if someone is miserly enough to want to nick a digital version of your company’s game and play that, they’re probably also too cheap to buy the real thing… so either way, you are out of a sale.
      At the same time, it seems more probable that someone would be introduced to at least the look of a game via a VASSAL module, if not its play, and be motivated to get the real thing… so there’s a sale you might not have had before.
      When digital PnP versions of some of my games began to be sold, I was assured that it would not ham sales of the paper product… because often people would buy the cheaper PnP, like what they had made, and buy the nicer version anyway. I am still not sure if this is true (since I have never seen a goddamn penny out of such sales, and indeed don’t even know how many copies of them have been sold in this format) but I am prepared to believe it.
      I disapprove of charging for VASSAL modules. The overwhelming majority of players who play games on VASSAL will already have paid for the real copy.
      Finally, thank you for making all those modules of my games – I’m glad it’s a labour of love for you; and I think I am going to put off my learning experience for a bit longer….

      • alsandor says:

        I should have been clearer. The company selling Vassal modules does so for its own games. The games are available as DTP kits and Vassal modules. The buyer can choose.

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