The engine supports modules that someone has designed and uploaded to the Vassal web site. Creating these modules no doubt requires developer/coding skills I lack, but I am curious. Many thanks to the guys who create these modules for no remuneration. They are heroes in the hobby—although I suspect that if I had skills, I would create modules a) for bragging rights and b) so I could play my favorite board game on Vassal.
The number of modules available is pretty impressive. The quality varies and several modules have multiple versions that are either incremental improvements or creations by different designers.
The first module I downloaded was, of course, PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader. I'm pretty impressed at how well this module works. The graphics are great and all the charts and situation cards are available.
|Initial Russian attack: Lots of wrecks.|
|Russians get past the hill defense and prepare to push onto board 3|
|Save your sorry panzer division or feed me. Choose wisely.|
Another online game is the fairly recent Nations at War: White Star Rising, which is my new favorite board game. The graphics quality for this module is excellent:
|S.Pz.Abt. 501 heading into disaster.|
Vassal has modules for several GMT games, such as Men of Iron and Nothing Gained but Glory. There are modules for the World at War series from Lock N Load Publishing (an earlier released system similar to WSR for hypothetical tactical combat circa 1985 in western Europe). I have these games on order, so I look forward to playing them on Vassal.
The Vassal module provides all the graphical elements you need (map, counters, etc.) and provides the dice-rolling mechanisms. It does not provide the rules of play or, in most cases, the game scenarios. You need to buy the games to get those. In some cases, however, you can download game rules for very old games. I downloaded the 1965 and 1975 versions of the Avalon Hill Blitzkrieg game.
I'm not sure how much I'll play with online opponents. For a while, I'll just fiddle with the engine doing solo games and getting to know the ropes. The Vassal modules have no controls that limit your actions. They play just like a board game except that the board, pieces, and die roll results are online. I fear that I'll screw up so badly when playing a live opponent that they'll interpret my stupidty as deviousness.
One sad note about Vassal is that there is a very small number of copyright owners who won't allow Vassal modules for their games. One of these is SPI. That's a shame. I don't know who actually owns the SPI copyrights. Most of these games are 30-40+ years old. I see no intellectual property that they are protecting. None of the old SPI games are available for sale—nor have been for many, many years. Maybe I should start a campaign to get the SI copyright owners to unclench and let those of us who own decaying copies of their board games to play them online. Heck, I'd even pay to get a Vassal module of games like Armageddon or Musket & Pike.
The mystery of SPI's exclusion from Vassal is solved. Decision Games, who holds the copyright on SPI, has it's own online server called HexWar. SPI games will only be available there. HexWar is subscription based and currently offers only 41 games—none of which are the ones I want to play. However, HexWar, unlike Vassal, provides rules and has the game constraints built into the engine. Users don't need to have the game to play it online because everything is provided.
After fiddling with the PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader module, I've discovered that the module designer included a large number of counters for variants. Even though the Panzer Leader 1940 scenarios aren't included as preset games, you can easily play them using the scenarios from the variant that appeared in The General. You can also create new situations for either game using counters that extend PanzerBlitz back to 1941 with Panzer IIs, Panzer IIIs, Russian KVs, T-26s, T-28s, T-35s, etc. I'm very impressed with that module.