The Case Against Vassal/TTS

There are a lot of reasons to play Malifaux and other tabletop miniature games. Maybe you love the models and painting those models to look amazing on the table. Malifaux terrain is also very alluring and beautiful on the tabletop. I love seeing a wild western town with Malifaux models running around them. Especially when you get crews like Parker and the Kin running around like an Old West Shoot out! You may also like tabletop gaming because of the game that you get to play with your friends and the cool moments within that game. I know a lot of people play tabletop games for the social aspect. There is nothing like going to your LGS, your gaming club, or a tournament. I can tell you that sitting on my computer for 2 to 4 hours playing a 2d version of Malifaux, is not the reason I started playing Malifaux.

What is Vassal and TTS?

A real quick summary for those of you that are not familiar with the terms. Vassal and TTS (Tabletop Simulator) are computer modules that simulate the tabletop experience. These computer modules take 2d or sometimes 3d images and simulate a tabletop game like Malifaux. I do want to give a shoutout to the people that programmed these modules. There is a need for Vassal and TTS. There are some people that cannot travel or make it out to events. There are also people that are working or can’t afford to buy models. There are also people that want a large number of reps. In those cases, these modules are perfect. I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a need or want for these mods…. I just don’t want to… Malifaux currently is available on Vassal. I am playing Malifaux, so it will look like I am picking on Vassal a bit here, but I hold most of the same thoughts about TTS.

Vassal & TTS Pros and Cons

1. Play from the comfort of your home
2. You don’t have to buy any models
3. Movement and interaction with terrain is clean
4. Can play literally any time of day
5. Can play players from all around the world
6. Exposes you to different Metas and playstyles
7. Forces you to explore different models and tech pieces
8. Really stretches your ability and skills as a player
1. No models!
2. No Terrain or board
3. No Socialization/”Real People”
4. You are not promoting the game and getting new players
5. Not buying Models/Not supporting Wyrd or LGS
6. Not getting out of your house. Go meet real people.
7. Not training your depth perception or spatial awareness
8. Not making new in-person friends

Hobby Life

I don’t know about all players, I got into Malifaux and other tabletop games because of the hobby and experience. The physical models on the table, the customizing of models, and painting those models are the main reason I play tabletop wargames. I have not really played a 2d computer game since Diablo 2 back in 2000. I don’t want to play a 2d Chitt Game. I want to play an interactive and beautifully painted tabletop game with a real live person. When you have 2 fully painted crews playing on a fully painted table, it is a sight to see. Even people that don’t play tabletop games will come up to the table and watch and interact with those people involved. This actively gets more people to watch the game and buy into the game. This makes Wyrd and your LGS money. I have demoed a lot of games…. I have never gotten a new player interested by playing vassal… Every time I have taught a new player a game in person… they have bought into the game. The experience with the models, interactions, terrain, and social engagement is more important than how clean or technical a game is.

Prep for IRL Games

Vassal and TTS are super good for getting a large number of reps for a game. I know a lot of Vassal players that can get dozens of games a month playing Vassal. This is valuable and very useful in developing your knowledge of the game. However, there are a few things that you are not honing or training while playing online. Your spatial awareness of the board in a real-life game can really take a hit after playing Vassal. Knowing what 6 inches or 12 inches or even 2 inches looks like on the tabletop can win and lose you the game. Too many times I have heard players say things like “Oh I needed one more inch to get there.” Now you can pre-measure, but having an eye for distances helps you win games. If you are pre-measuring, you are letting your opponent know your thought processes. This can tip your hand to your opponent. This is a separate article that I will discuss in a future article.

In Vassal, you are also not developing the skills to read your opponent in a real-life game. When you are physically sitting across the table from an opponent (or friend), you need skills to read what they are likely to do or react to. If you see an opponent getting flustered, you may know to push the advantage. If you see your opponent get excited about their new control hand, you may want to be cautious about engaging them early that turn. You can bait players to make suboptimal plays in real-life games. I compare Malifaux to Poker in this case. Poker is a lot different online than it is in real life. Like Poker, there is a lot of bluffing, manipulating, and gambling in games like Malifaux. You lose a lot of that fun and excitement in online play.

It’s Good to Have Friends!

Vassal has been huge during the Pandemic. Vassal and TTS have kept people gaming, kept people interested, and brought gamers together on a global level. However, I realized during the Pandemic that the social in-person games are what drives the joy and pleasure I get from tabletop games. It is no surprise to anyone that I personally do not like Vassal or TTS. I spend all day on a CPU for work. I don’t want to spend another 2-4 hours playing a 2d version of a game I can play in real life. I found that without the potential to play a weekly game at the LGS, I stopped painting, stopped buying models, stopped engaging on social media and even slowed down the release of content for the podcast. My motivation for the game was at an all-time low in November and December. To the point that I even questioned whether I want to continue with the Podcast! That’s right the Pandemic could have killed the RQW!

So, why is playing in person at a store good for the game and you? As I said before, most people will buy models to play in real life. They are not going to buy models if they are playing only on Vassal. Buying models keep your favorite game alive…. you can only play the game if the game is alive… Sorry gamers clinging to Guild Ball…. That game is dead to me. Like Warhammer Fantasy, it is in Pete’s book of grudges. Playing at a store is also important because you socialize with people. This is even more important for people that are introverts or shy or awkward. Developing connections and relationships are important for humans in general. This is something you do not get on a CPU. Yeah, you can talk with a person, but physical interactions such as shaking hands, hugs, and learning social norms are a huge part of socialization. Most of my close friends have come from tabletop gaming. Most of those friends I spend more time talking and hanging out with outside of gaming. That is what a lot of people are missing out on.

My last point about socializing is that you teach gaming and social norms in person. This is where you teach other players that just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you always should do it. We have had some trollish, cancerous, and ill-mannered gamers before. In-person gaming and setting up some social norms really keeps that nonsense in check. There are players that need to be taught how to be polite and respectful. There are also players that need to be taught sportsmanship. Now I may cuss and fuss over dumb shit. However, I always make sure that it’s not at the expense of my opponent. It’s always used to create a laugh or joke about how stupid a model is. Chris and I recently had a discussion like this post-game. Chris really complained and laughed about how good test subjects are in Malifaux. He did NOT complain and attack me for bringing them. Teaching soft skills like that are important in gaming and life. Let’s face it…. there are a lot of nerds out there that need to be socialized!

One Last Thought

Once again, this is not an article about how Vassal and TTS suck… Even though I don’t like them. This is an article that is promoting in-person play. I know a lot of people have gotten comfortable or used to Vassal. I want to point out why playing at a store is better. There are a lot of players that get value and enjoyment while testing theories online. I’m not one of those people. I don’t even think my brain converts information learned in Vassal to valuable lessons learned for real-life games. If you are one of those nerds that only play on Vassal, I encourage you to go out and play in real life. Go find a group or start a playgroup. Challenge yourself to go out and socialize with people. It may be awkward at first, but some of the best people you will meet are other gamers.

One thought on “The Case Against Vassal/TTS

  1. Dixon will write an article in support of Vassal, but what are your thoughts? You like vassal better than real games in person? Or are you just using it until you can game at the LGS again?


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