Vassal is a game engine for building and playing online adaptations of board games and card games. Play live on the Internet or by email. Vassal runs on all platforms, and is free, open-source software.To boil this down, Vassal is a way for game players to play thier games across the internet. The engine itself is neutral, but Wyrd has contributed back-end creative support to help deliver the Malifaux Module for Vassal, allowing the specific Malifaux mechanics to be used. Wyrd employees and a volunteer figured out how to implement a module for Vassal to run that includes the Fate Deck, markers for models, tape measures, LOS markers, and terrain.
Blah Blah Blah, I know lots of technical and rambling talk there. The basics come down to, by using Skype and Vassal I was able to get in a Malifaux game across the internet last weekend! Playing the game still requires that you have the model cards and/or book's with the model rules available. There is no "logic" in the game itself, Vassal just provides a platform. This means both you and your opponent need to understand the rules of Malifaux, as Vassal will not enforce any game rules.What Vassal provides is the game board, tape measures, LOS checking, and the Deck's for card flipping.
I very cautiously approached playing Malifaux on Vassal for a number of reasons. I had initially looked at Vassal-Malifaux and felt that it was a bit "clunky" on first look. I was concerned that the card decks were in separate windows and that the game seemed to be written for a dual-monitor computer. I spent some additional time actually watching games and had a chance last week to jump online and actually have a couple players walk me through the interface. This alleviated some of my concerns and got me to the point I was comfortable enough playing a game. Let me dive into a little bit of a review to start with.
Interface Look: Good
I have to admit that the module provides a fantastic graphic interface. The graphics for the terrain on the board look very nice, and all the "models" you use have some basic puppet art on them. The card deck is also nice, with a different set of art for all the cards. You can see a little of that interface in the opening graphic to this article.
Fate Deck: Good
Overall the way Vassal handles the Fate Deck is pretty damn good. While I strongly believe the game would be smoother with dual monitors, there are ways to make it work with a single monitor or screen. The fate decks "work" really well, and I only had a little bit of issues with lag and flipping too many cards. You can keep your hand private, cheat cards from your hand, and even track SS flips against soul stones you have remaining.
Movement and Measuring: Good
This was the part of the game that most impressed me. Those who are scanning ahead will notice I have a "Not so Good" on distances later on, but we will get to that. The tape measure in the game is not bad, and is possibly the toughest part of Measuring and Movement. On the overall board there are a number of simple tools to facilitate measuring, including the "deployment zone" buttons which pop up shaded areas of the board for your different deployment zones. Height is pretty clearly marked for terrain, and measuring auras, melee range, and other such mechanics is very simple when dealing with them. When it comes to moving models, things get very simple indeed. You can use the arrow keys (forward and backwards) to move models 1 inch at a button-press. Using the control key with the arrow will move the model a half inch. The shift key lets you nudge a model, moving it just a little on the board. The right and left Arrow keys turn the facing of your model to pick a direction to go.
The Not so Good
Judging Distance: Not so Good
Judging distances on the computer screen is not the easiest thing in the world to do. In my game there were a couple situations where I was certain my opponent or I had a certain range and things came up short, usually by several inches. I think this is probably a learned skill, just like on the table top, but can see those people who are already good at guessing distance being put out by this. For me, I suck as judging distance on the table so it just transfers my existing shortcoming to the online game.
Layout and Zooming: Not so Good
The layout of the game can still be a bit "clunky" overall, and if the game crashes and you need to reload it can be a bit of a headache. Things will certainly be easier with two monitors, being able to move the card hands to the second monitor to leave them sized to be easily read. Lacking that, you need a healthy resolution to play the game comfortably. I have played with the zoom-view buttons a fair bit, finding that I needed to zoom in on a number of models while playing them zoom back out to watch the whole board. This can make things tricky if your dealing with long distance (12 - 18 inch) movement or spells.
Overall I am very excited about the Vassal Malifaux module being available. I think its incredible that Wyrd is willing to sponsor the back end of the module, and provide their own employee effort to getting it working. This is just another factor in showing Wyrd's attitude toward supporting the community that plays their game.
I was able to get in my first Vassal game this weekend vs Ramses from the Wyrd boards. He is located in Wisconson, so someone I would not have been able to play normally without being at the same big con together. He and I were able to jump online and wrap up a solid game with no issues over ~2 hours. This was pretty cool, as we spent a fairly casual time chatting as well, so it came across like a game at the club. Despite my win (Misaki v Colette, Misaki winning 6/2), I have a very positive view on Vassal. I especially think it will bring some nice opportunity for different Meta-game's to interact and balance out the overall Malifaux group-think a bit.