I had a pleasure to introduce recently another player to the great world of Imperial Struggle – Marek. A long time veteran of Twilight Struggle longing to familiarize himself with the newest creation of Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews. But the problem immediately arouse – due to pandemic there was no option for us to meet live. To be quite hones, since I got the game in July I had option to play it face to face only twice (game 1 & game 2). From that time on online option was the only way.

As I am a big fan of Vassal and Marek loves to use Tabletop Simulator we agreed that that our initial, introductory games we will play on both platforms and then choose one. When the actual intro is concerned, the plan was to play First Peace turn and first war (War of Spanish Succession) – that already gives a good overview to the new players.

So, let us discuss the options – I will also briefly report how our games went.

Option 1 – Vassal


The Vassal Engine is a game engine for building and playing online adaptations of board games, tabletop games and card games. It allows users to play in real time over a live Internet connection, and also by email (PbeM). It runs on all platforms, and is free, open-source software. It is written in Java and the source code is available from GitHub under the LGPL open source license.


Let me present the main features of the tool using picture-rich composition:

The main Vassal window has board, the cards decks, investment tiles as well as set of icons (top) for opening further, sub-windows. Please also note awards and global demand dials, showing current situation.
Each war has a separate window where you can deal the Basic War tiles, Draw Bonus ones and of course reshuffle them.
Further down in the module we have three windows – two visible only to one faction (hand of events and all ministry cards to choose from) and one with open information (player hand). There is easy way to send the elements between them and to the main board.
The miscellaneous windows give access to all the needed markers as well as “Out of Play” section. The latter is especially useful to see what is still in game which you need to be aware of.
Our introductory session

My and Marek’s first game was using Vassal and after some explanation of the tool mechanics – as well as game rules – we started our test game. I was playing British while Marek took French (I think much more straightforward for the training purposes). As per my opponent request this was a game “for real” but full of commentary from me regarding what and why I am doing:

There is simply no way for a new player to win with somebody who has couple of games under his belt. But the score was not important here – hooking my boardgame partner was and I think I did it splendidly 🙂

Option 2 – Tabletop Simulator


Tabletop Simulator is an independent video game that allows players to play and create tabletop games in a multiplayer physics sandbox. Developed by Berserk Games as their first title, after a successful crowdfunding campaign in February 2014 the game was released in June of the following year


Again, picture being worth a thousand words, let us have a quick look at the tabletop features:

Tabletop Simulator gives you overview of all the components at one glance. You can zoom in to any area you need as well as rotate in all dimensions.
The set-up can be done with few clicks as these process is pretty much automated.
Each war has separate sheet and you can click on buttons below it to change the VPs and TRPs. Nice feature.
Below main board we have TRP and Debt tracks (pretty much easy to click to operate) as well as investment / global demand. There is no counter of current status in regions / demands but you can click on commodities to see where they are located (see above).
At the top there is full set of books – rulebook, playbook, errata, player aid, etc.
Our introductory session #2

In our second game we switched sides so Marek has also exposure to British which he took in that test. I had pleasure to lead French – and as it was some time since last time I played them, it was not so easy:

That two introductory games were great fun but also good tests for both online options. The summary of what we discovered below, in next section.

Short comparison

And now a tabular comparison of both tools:

FeatureVASSALTabletop Simulator
PresentationCouple of separate windows – board, ministry cards, player mat, etc.One board with all components visible at glance. Some areas hidden from opponent.
Communication Text messages Text messages + built-in Steam voice chat.
 AutomationLimited: investment tiles dealing, exhausted markers and conflicts clean up.Extensive: game & turns set-up, adding / deducting debt / TRPs, etc.
Compute processing powerMinimal resources needed, will work on every computer.A medium processing power needed to render the graphics.
 MiscellaneousGreat regional and awards summary.Ability to point on the map to draw attention of other player.
 Cost Free of charge Cost of simulator on which you would be able to use tons of other games


So which one is better? It is truly question of personal preference and what is more important for you. If you need a full overview of all components without jumping through windows and ability to point exactly at the board – Tabletop Simulator seems a better solution. If the regional / commodity summary is one of top priorities for you plus low computer resources requirements – VASSAL will be the choice. Whatever you decide just play Imperial Struggle – that is great game worth time investment!