My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Playing Vassal Online

Started gaming with Vassal as a way to play some board games in the hotel at night I have when I travel (which I have been doing increasingly). The intent was to play the games solitaire. Instead, I discovered an experience reminiscent of the 80's singles scene: people meeting strangers for brief encounters.

Oh sure, some people make friends through these venues, just like some people got married after meeting someone in a bar, but the process is still the same: find the right bar (which game do you want to play?), look for prospects (who is signed on), approach them with your best come-on line ("Hey, want to play the Stalingrad Tractor Factory scenario?"), have your fun, then make your escape. I always wonder if you have to stay and chat for awhile after the game ends or whether you can simply go. If you do stay and chat, how long before you start to sound desperate for attention?

Mind you, this is all intended to be very tongue-in-cheek, but it is the sort of thing that got me out of gaming the very popular rules sets (Warhammer, Warhammer 40K, Warmachine, etc.). What I used to call the "tournament mentality" is very much the same way: meet someone, decide points, random terrain setup, fight it out, repeat. No connectivity between games. How well you were doing was a statistic only you kept. No one wanted to play pre-set scenarios and God forbid you suggest an uneven point game. A steady dose of this type of gaming, for me, got boring quickly. (Must be why I have collections of figures for those games sitting wrapped in storage.)

So, realizing playing Vassal Online would be the same sort of experience, I avoided it. Or, I did until recently. I started delving into games where I had more interest than others in my club (primarily AWI miniatures and Battlelore) and they started gaming more in another "tournament mentality" game - "Flames of War". So, despite being in a community with a small but healthy set of gamers, I was suddenly without opponents (for what I wanted to do). So, I decided to try Vassal Online and see how long I could go before being bored.

Mind you, Battlelore, Memoir 44, and other board games of that ilk, are very much about playing unconnected scenarios. So, I really wasn't getting a much different gaming experience. But, because the scenario forces are set for you, there is less of a tournament mentality and the gamers are more open to the concept of uneven forces, as presumably the designers have weighed in the value of the terrain the attacker will be crossing and the defending will be occupying. So, switching to online versions of it was not going to be materially different - or so I thought.

Overall, the gaming experience is very good. Makes you want a bigger monitor, of course, but most everything is easy to find and use and acceptably readable. There is a whole etiquette to gaming in Vassal, and a separate terse language ("BRB" is not "bathroom break" exactly, though it fits), but I think it adds clarity to what is happening and actually leads to sharper play, as your opponent's mind must stay engaged during your turn and theirs. One thing though: the gamers I have found on Vassal tend to be sharper and much more careful in their play.

I'll keep working with it and report back occasionally.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").