Imagine playing a tabletop game against an opponent over 1000km away. That’s what I did last night!

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Okay, I’m a little behind the curve on this, but I had my first online game of Warmachine using Vassal. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a program that let’s you play a large variety of board game and tabletop wargames over the Internet. There is an excellent Warmachine and Hordes module available for it that offers loads of maps, terrain and sprites that represent every miniature released up to Metamorphosis. Installing it and getting it up and running is pretty straightforward and I’m not going to talk about it here as they have a getting started guide.

Vassal is not a computer game, though. It purely gives you all of the pieces and controls to simulate what happens on the tabletop. You still need to know the rules and have the cards for your individual miniatures. It has some pretty nice features including auras, ways of marking continuous effects, highlighting ‘caster control areas, showing melee range (including reach), showing deployment zones and mosh pits, beautifully rendered boards and loads of terrain. Oh, luckily you can roll dice and measure distances too! Here’s a screen shot from half way through my game against Phil, who is based in Hamburg, last night –

(Larger version on Flickr)

We played a 350pt MkI game to celebrate the release of MkII! Off the table you can see used focus counters and some AOE templates. On the table you can see the two armies bearing down on each other. I’ll go through the controls in the next section. Another lovely feature is the ability to track Damage Grids through Vassal. There are grids for all ‘jacks and ‘casters and default grids for multi-wound infantry and solos. As you can see it’s also easy to change the label for any miniature or grid.

Each miniature is an individual playing piece and can be moved separately. As mentioned above, things can be overlayed on the miniatures and playing surface. For example, you can see several auras on certain miniatures to represent upkeep spells above. Each miniature also has a ‘white shadow’ at the rear of their base to indicate that all miniatures have moved. This can be cleared at the top of each turn with the click of a single button.

You can ‘cycle’ through the artwork for each miniature. For example, a ‘jack has it’s basic art, a blank base that shows LoS and facing and a wreck marker. This is useful when attempting precise movement past terrain or near other miniatures. Here’s a quick run through of the keyboard controls that I found useful (though there is a right-click menu on every miniature that allows you to access every control) –


Move forward 1”
Move backward 1”
Turn left 10°
Turn right 10°
Move forward ½” ctrl + ↑
Move backward ½” ctrl + ↓
Turn left 5° ctrl + ←
Turn right 5° ctrl + →
Nudge in any direction shift + ↑, ↓, ←, →

These controls allow you to precisely move a miniature a certain number of inches and turn while doing so. you can select several miniatures at once and move them together. An alternative to moving like this is to lay down a tape measure and dray the miniatures into position using the mouse. The nudge movement is particularly useful when moving miniatures into B2B.

Combat Ranges, Control Area and Miscellaneous

Melee Range (½”)
Reach Range (2″) ctrl +
Turn on Control Area overlay (Warcaster/Warlock) ctrl + s
Cycle miniature art (Forward) ]
Cycle miniature art (Backward) [
Clone Miniature/Piece (note they clone exactly on top of the selected miniature/piece) ctrl + c
Delete Miniature ctrl + d

The melee and control area overlays are very useful as they save a lot of potential fiddling with the tape measure.

Vassal works well and is fast to use. Arrange a game with a friend, fire it up and setup a voice chat (e.g. using Skype) and you have a good substitute for playing a ‘real’ game. In my case playing a game I love against my good friend over 1000km away was possible when otherwise it wouldn’t have been. It won’t replace the face-to-face battle over beautifully modelled terrain with nicely painted miniatures. After all, it’s important to be able to look your opponent in the eye when you crush them. Maybe we’ll use a video chat next time!