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PBEM/Online Play Tools

By echack - Posted on 06 September 2007

I'm surprised that y'all didn't know about Cyberboard. There are 3 main tools for PBEM play of boardgames out there: - Cyberboard (CB) - Aide de Camp (ADC) - Vassal/VASL IIRC, ADC was first. It's a commercial product and most of the games sets for it are sold by the game companies themselves. The program hasn't been updated in quite a while and it has some issues with modern graphics cards. (On my laptop, it doesn't scroll properly - I end up with a small offset halfway down the screen and have to refresh the screen.) There are not as many games available for it as the others. Cyberboard is free and has a very active community of game set developers out there. It can handle counters/tiles and cards in the game. I find it easier to use than ADC. Probably has more games available than any other system. I know that a couple of the wargame manufacturers use it for playtesting new games. In both CB and ADC, you use the base game set to create the master files for the players and distribute them via email. The players take their turns and create small recording files which are distributed to all the players. Die rolls can be handled inside the game. Both have provisions for playback of the moves and saving the game state after the moves. Both are Windows programs, but can be played on Macs with emulators. Vassal is the newest, and evolved from VASL, Virtual Advanced Squad Leader. It's big advantages: it can be played live on the internet, you can have the game set enforce rules if you wish, and being Java-based it is independent of operating system. There are not as many game sets (modules) as CB, but that gap is narrowing. It can also be played via email like ADC and CB. In live play, quite a few players use Skype to allow the players to talk to each other. There are only a handful of Euros available in Vassal or CB. Vassal has Advanced Civ, Age of Steam, Battlelore, Carcassone, etc. There are two other tools that help in PBEM games. There are a number of web based die die rollers out there that will do die rolls and email the results to the players. I use Irony Games. (It is possible in a CB or ADC game for a player to repeatedly execute their move in order to get better die rolls or card draws.) Use of a die roller is pretty much standard in online tourneys. Another great tool is the Automatic Card Tracking System (ACTS). This has a die roller, an in-game messaging system, VP tracker and a card dealer. There are pre-done card decks for a number of games and tools to build your own. In some cases, special effects of the cards are handled by ACTS (i.e. play this card, get a free draw). This is great for many of the card driven games like Napoleonic Wars, Twilight Struggle, etc. A few notes on Copyright issues: - you should get permission to build game sets from the manufacturer if you use game art in the set. Some wargame companies will supply game set builders reduced resolution versions of the maps, counters, etc. to make the game look just like the paper versions. Implementations that don't use game art are in a fuzzy legal area. - some manufacturers will not allow game sets of their games to be made, *cough*Avalanche*cough*, or only allow ADC modules *cough*L2*cough* that they sell or bundle with their games. - you and your opponent should each have a copy of the game. - don't put everything needed to play in the game box (i.e. leave out the CRT or a key chart or two) - it encourages the purchase of the game. I've played in a number of on-line tourneys for wargames, using ADC, CB and ACTS and had a blast. Right now I'm in two Here I Stand Games (ACTS and Cyberboard) and one of The Russian Campaign (ADC and Irony for die rolls).
otscotty's picture
Thanks for the excellent overview of available online gaming tools. I still haven't had time to look into the new application mentioned on episode #35, Zun Tzu. I have played one game of Here I Stand with CB and ACTS. It took a bit to get used to the CB interface. Once I got the hang of it, however, things went quite smoothly. By the way, Here I Stand is an awesome game. I'd be interested in joining a group of "Meeps" in a big game of HIS. It could be a fun excuse to learn how to use CB & ACTS. It would also be an excellent excuse to try this wonderful card driven wargame by Ed Beach. Anyone interested?
echack's picture
I'll play, but I suggest we wait a few weeks for the ACTS module for HIS to come out. From what I have been able to gather it's nearly done.
sconway's picture

Woo, Edmund! Thanks for the great roundup and advice for newcomers to the online board game playing universe.

We're lucky enough to have so many friends locally to game with, we almost never want for players. I suppose that is the main reason we are not as familiar with Vassal, Cyberboard, etc.

Now that our circle of friends and players has increased by all you great people who don't live next door, we have plenty of incentive to get off our duffs and give each one a whirl. I know I owe Adrian in Perth Australia a game or two on BrettSpielWelt and now I have a match to schedule with Scotty on ZunTzu, too. I've been wanting to learn/buy Here I Stand for some time, so perhaps I need to make the time for it, too. Ack! I need 72 hours in each day...

And, Edumund, I think we definitely need to hear a response on the current Sommelier (ep 37) from you, considering your inside knowledge of space travel...


echack's picture
I think we definitely need to hear a response on the current Sommelier (ep 37) from you, considering your inside knowledge of space travel... I'll try to have some comments this week. I am trying to put together data on the games to show to a couple of, let us say, experts on dealing with zero-g. Can't promise anything ....
dlarson's picture
echack, A very nice history and overview of PBEM tools! It's dead on IMHO. Dale (CyberBoard guy)



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