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:
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:
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.
And now a tabular comparison of both tools:
|Presentation||Couple 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.|
|Automation||Limited: investment tiles dealing, exhausted markers and conflicts clean up.||Extensive: game & turns set-up, adding / deducting debt / TRPs, etc.|
|Compute processing power||Minimal resources needed, will work on every computer.||A medium processing power needed to render the graphics.|
|Miscellaneous||Great 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!