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A game engine for building online adaptations of board and card games (dice.com)
112 points by SunTzu55 on Aug 7, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

The problem with Vassal and other engines like this is that they focus all of their flexibility of solving the problem of playing a game, and virtually none on helping someone streamline the interface for people who are actually trying to play the game. The learning curve to use someone else's game is too high. They are two separate problems and they each deserve adequate resources to solve them.

I don't really get what you mean. Can you give an example? Do you want the game engine to unify the interface over many different games so that you can switch from one game to another with less work?

I'd like users to be able to customize the controls and hide options that make no sense for the function of the game they're playing. Perhaps a scriptable user control interface that allows plugins for different game types would be a more optimal solution. Granted, I haven't messed with Vassal in a while, but the last time I used it, it was just a mess that would take longer to explain how to use than it would to explain the rules of a brand new game.

Our experience has been that the two things you're asking for---a shallow learning curve for learning to use a game's UI and a UI customized for each game---aren't compatible in practice. We arguably have the latter, a UI customized for each game, right now and it generates no end of confusion because users expect the UI not to change completely between game X and game Y. If you give the module designer broad freedom to alter the UI, then what you get are differences in game UI between games which are down to the designers being different people more than differences between the games themselves.

Initially I thought this was just a framework that provided graphics + networking for building board games, but you still had to code all the board game logic yourself. Then I read "you don't have to be a programmer to write a module". How does this work, then? Is it aimed at providing a framework for a common set of games, like euro-style board games?

I had written a dominion simulator[1] a few months back. It took some thinking on how to handle some action cards (like playing a throne room on a throne room). I'm curious how Vassal would handle something like that.

[1] https://github.com/egonschiele/dominion

VASSAL is basically a virtual board - it wasn't really designed to do any form of rules enforcement, but rather handle the physical aspects of a board game. Given that translating game rules into software is often a daunting task, that's probably for the best!

In my experience, most of the modules simply rely on players knowing and following the rules, just as they would if they had set up the board themselves on a kitchen table. Some of the more fleshed-out modules do have these sorts of internal state checking and logic pathways but they're not required.

I'll start watching this too. I have also been watching the http://roll20.net/ guys for a while now too. It's good to see more and more things like this coming about.

There's a game on Steam called Tabletop Simulator with similar goals, but with the added bonus of a 3D playing space (including physics): http://store.steampowered.com/app/286160/

Obviously a different sort of project (commercial & proprietary), but still an interesting one.

Tabletop simulator doesn't implement any rules. It is a physics sandbox with the focus on game related physics. It's a ton of fun to play with, and infinitely flexible, since there's no coding of rules. It does have specific coding for cards, dice, and a few other things, but no game rules.

Most VASSAL modules don't, either.

This is excellent. This may finally get my friend and I to finish prototyping that board game idea we've had for ages.

It's perfect for that! The BattleCON guys do it...

What do board game designers (and publishers) feel about this... I assume that it is relatively easy for IP to be ripped off, does the Vassal community self-police this? Or is it more a case of there are no sales lost due to the existence of copycat modules in Vassal since if you actually want to play the board game with friends in close proximity, you'll actually just buy the damn board game :-)

But I could potentially see lost sales of tablet implementations of board games; although those almost always codify the specific rules and logic of the game so again quite different to Vassal.

Like for example, Carcassonne: http://www.vassalengine.org/wiki/Module:Carcassonne

Board game designers will very often give permission for things like this so long as there's not an official money-generating version in existence, or at least ignore their existence.

I think the most visible case of this happening is the deck-building game Dominion, where the policy was that it was fine to have free versions so long as they didn't use the artwork and so long as they're taken down when there's an official app. (Which has now happened on some platforms and I think is expected to happen on others soon.)

I also suspect that Vassal is so niche that most designers/publishers don't really see it as taking away very much from paid apps, even if those do exist. The people playing on Vassal are generally the kind of people who buy a lot of board games.

Many, many games published these days have a VASSAL module available before they go to press because game designers are using VASSAL for playtesting. In the wargaming world, there are publishers which actively promote the existence of VASSAL modules for their games (GMT and MMP are the two big ones which come to mind, though there are others as well), some which are indifferent, and a few which are opposed. The impression I get is that the availability of VASSAL modules increases sales for publishers which aren't in opposition to it.


Looks like they discourage the use of artwork and text, but dont actively self police.

"The vassalengine.org web site owners do not verify whether or not uploaded modules contain copyrighted materials. However if the owner of copyrighted material makes a request, we will remove a module from the web site."

I think the folks who make the game modules usually ask for permission from the game designer first. I know that's what happened with the Dominant Species module. http://www.vassalengine.org/wiki/Module:Dominant_Species

Some game companies, like GMT, end up publishing their own games on Vassal and set them loose for use.

VASSAL rules. Board game designers like myself even use it for playtesting. I can't wait for v4.

Joel Uckelman's a colleague of mine (we write computer forensics software for our dayjob). He's on vacation in Wales for the next few days, but I'll direct him towards this thread when he's back online.

My experience is that for wargames it works nicely. For other games, there are some really awful modules out there. I once tried a game – can't remember the name now – that in physical form it is usually played in about 45 minutes. With Vassal, it took almost four hours, despite the fact that we were all in voice conference with skype. It was extremely clumsy, a quite horrible user experience.

Ed.: I think it was Citadels, aka Ohne Furcht Und Adel

I wonder if I could put together a hacked version of Supremacy (Risk-like with a nuclear and economical twist) using it. That would totally make the child inside of me REALLY happy. Checking it out now!

EDIT: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supremacy_(board_game)

There are an astounding number of modules for VASSAL. The article calls it "a new engine" or whatever but it's been around forever.


Holy bananas! Thank you!

Awesome! One of my many unfinished projects was a networked version of The Russian Campaign so that my dad and I could play together.

Looks like there's a Vassal module and we can finally get those games going.

This kind of reminded me of WolFire's Desparate Gods which I think they made for a quick game jam. It's a different take and a bit silly because it's actually a complete simulation of a board game. It's really more up to the players to enforce the rules.


Related, and quite old:


Also, this is a great example of an open source project that is adaptable to many different uses.

Are there uses for the engine other than just board games?

Given the breadth and variety of board and card games there are, I'd say this is pretty versatile already.

Though, having given it a quick try, it seems like it's a pretty powerful engine. I'm sure someone has used it for purposes other than the intended one.

While it seems somewhat appropriate that an article about a boardgame engine should appear on a website called 'dice.com', I'm not entirely sure why it's there. It seems to be basically a reblog of SourceForge's August product of the month interview[1], being spun as something to interest people in game dev jobs on Dice.

[1] http://sourceforge.net/blog/august-2014-project-of-the-month...

You'd also think that for being project of the month and all, there would actually be a link to the SourceForge project. I looked hard and ended up having to use the search box to get to it.

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