Module Design and Game Automation.

I just want to start a discussion here as I’m seeing a trend with module design that’s worrying me. Modules are more and more attempting to automate some game functions which leads to confusion as to what is automated and what isn’t.

I’m wondering, does anyone else see this as a barrier to entry for potential new VASSAL players? I have had a bunch of trouble with these sorts of modules so generally avoid them entirely, and I’m fairly familiar with VASSAL. The latest was Through the Ages, we spent more time trying to figure out the module than playing the game. Yes there was some documentation but no-one likes writing docs so it was frugal.

Your thoughts?


A very good point.

I for one like the idea of automating as much as I can (hence my excitement at the scripted controllers) - I think less book-thumbing and more gameplay would be good.

However, you’re concern is definitely valid, now that I’m thinking about it. I feel that the automation problem lies in a certain unwillingness of the module creator to bring down the complexity of the module. (now granted, i’m guilty of that, too).

I know that the idea of Vassal isn’t to make a make-your-own PC game, but I think there are some good points in making more automated procedures.

I think for the hardcore players, automation is great; For the guys who love these games and are willing to put the time and effort into learning the module, it’s great.

But my mate said to me when we started playing Through the Ages (just one example, many modules are similar), “See, this is why I don’t like VASSAL”. It broke my heart. :cry:

I can definitely empathize with that.

I think you have answered your own question. Unless module writers are willing to write sufficient documentation to explain their module, they should avoid advanced features.

The problem is the same as for the VASSAL develpers - It is extremely difficult to write documentation for newbs when you have run/developed VASSAL every day for the last 5 years. The same happens with module developers - they know their own module so well, they have no conception of how confusing it might be for a new user.

Every module should have a Help menu option that is a ‘Getting Started’ guide. This should clearly state what is, and is not automated and how players can get the best out of the module.

We have talked about module standardisation before - trying to get some sort of consistency between modules from different users. I would like to see some sort of ‘Best Practices’ or ‘Design guidelines’ document for module developers that includes high-level guidelines to what should (or could) be included in every module.

These guidelines should be quite high level, and more design principles rather than specific details.


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Yeah it’s a good idea. I think Joel’s new site may help too, if there is going to be some sort of way to add reviews of modules complete with ratings. I think criticism of VASSAL and modules is important to keep standards high.

Future pinball is a good example. Ratings and comments:

What was the problen exactly?

Too much automation?

Not enough automation?

What automation there was was badly documented so that it was not clear what was automated and what wasn’t?


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Yes, I like the idea of ratings, reviews and comments as long as a big deal is not made of the rating (What’s the top rated module etc.), it just leads to stupid behavior (e.g. BGG) where people start rating modules specifically to affect their place in ratings tables.


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The main thing was… we just wanted to play. It isn’t the level of automation that’s the problem, it’s that the boundary isn’t entirely known when you sit down to play. My personal wish would be that modules either enforce all the rules, or none at all; Otherwise you have to play around with it figuring out exactly what does what.

For example, if I play a card reducing the cost of an Urban Building, is the card going to automatically reduce the cost? Or do I need to somehow do that manually? This involves looking for documentation… then trying it out… etc.
Then we came to the end of the turn, so we did the science points and resources manually before finding out that there’s a way to automate it. Then we had to figure out if we MUST hit the end turn button? Would it break the game if we just continued? What about undoing moves? Will that break the module if we make a mistake somewhere? And on and on.

So we figure… why not just drag a resource token to the card? Nope, not that simple. We have to play to the restrictions of the module, whatever they are.

The point is… if I’m jumping through these hoops I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone unfamiliar with VASSAL. The end result is, we are not going to play Through the Ages on VASSAL; Nor will we play CC:E or Twilight Struggle. They’re just too much work for my non vassal geek opponent.

We want modules that behave just like other modules; You simply pick up a piece and drag it, it’s predictable and simple.

I’m a complete newbie and, as this board shows, had simple teething problems such as how to load a map into a module.

As a newb it is frustrating to know that many things can be automated - if you know how!

As an example of automation that works for the player rather than against him is the concept of removing from the playing board all extraneous markers etc. at the end of a turn rather than deleting them individually. I know that this can be done but don’t have a clue as to how you do it except that it involves a Global Command.

What would be useful for newbs like myself would be a Forum dedicated to traits. Such a forum would not only help people like me but also give module designers a way of designing to standards.

If you are going to introduce standards and good practice then show us some examples of how you better designers achieve the effects that you do. After all, I could probably muddle my way through the Global Command but I’m sure some of you could show me how to achieve the same result but with better/easier methods.

To avoid the BGG stupid behavior, the rating of the module should not be
number or value. It should be more like the ratings used for Movies for
users to identify a combination of complexity of module, their difficulty of
use and knowledge of vassal. That way we don’t get the “this one is better
than that one stuff”, no tables and placement.

A simple scale such as;

E - Everyone
B - Beginner
M - Moderate
D - Difficult
A - Advanced

might be a suitable idea. The designer can initially place what they think
the rating should be and users can add their own ratings and comments to
give a common average somewhere on the scale that anyone can identify so
that they know if it’s right for them to try and use

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Thumbs up (in BGG terms) to Tim on the rating idea. A number can mean something entirely different to different people. What he describes might be much more helpful.

Maybe also some vital YES - NO rating selections regarding whether the module has certain common features. And perhaps this kind of thing should be ‘voted’ on by everyone with the ‘vote’ available for display.

Re automation… some confusion can be avoided in general by using the various reports features. So when you play the card that has a bunch of stuff automated it at least tells you what the heck it did for you. 'Cause yeah, I think otherwise that would be real bear to play if you were not (playing with) the module designer.

I kind of like automation, when used properly it can speed game play and allow the player to focus, but it is hardly necessary so if it causes confusion the negatives can quickly outweigh the positives.

I disagree. I think some modules are crap whether they’re for beginners or experts, and I think users should feel free to rate them as crap for everyone.

This is, of course, at the risk of seeing my own modules rated badly… but so be it. Ratings force a level of standard, otherwise everyone just goes around creating modules they themselves can use without thinking of the poor buggers who have to spend hours figuring them out. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be criticised.

See this sort of automation is good because it’s non-intrusive; You can still use the module without ever needing to push that button. My beef is with the modules that force you to use automation. For example “when your turn is over you must hit the end turn button or…”. This is disastrous.

And standards are all Eye Of Beholder ergo any rating you give automatically
becomes bogus. This is exactly what the BGG ratings are and what Brent is
talking about avoiding - it leads to favoritism, padding etc…

Bottom line here. Module standardization isn’t going to happen, they are all
going to be unique, they are continually evolving and generally getting more
and more complex and will continue to do so as more features are added in
Engine. This is evident just by forum threads alone in requests for how to
sequence things, perform certain complex tasks etc…If you want conformed
uniformity and standardization throughout all modules use ZT, its free also.

Your harping on the same argument as you did before disguised in a different
message (remember standard keys like CTRL D for Delete throughout all
modules, that got me fired up?), heck you even said it yourself a few posts
back in this thread:

“We want modules that behave just like other modules”

Do we constantly have to rehash this because you don’t like some things or
they are not done the way you want them?

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Limited automation is a good thing.

I just recently switched influence pieces to an on board counter (dynamic property with text layer). This enabled my B5CCG module to easily test the amount and the current level of influence, making the rotate card to build influence feature possible. So the function that my players were already doing, simply did more. Also the label is easier to read, and its clearer which resources is unused and which has been spent.

The same is true for the rotate card to draw a card function. It was already a required function, that replace a drag and drop between the playing table and a private hand. (turning on an auto unmask in the private hand helped too.) But I’ve delayed adding the automatic card draw near the turn end, because sometimes a player has to skip drawing a card.

I recently played with adding another subturn (in my own development module), but the requirement to configure the turn tracker is an extra step. Though it would aid keeping track of whose turn it is in a given round, I’m hesitate to aid it because it requires extra user input. In fact, until I learn how to set Turn variables to exit the round, you must use the set Game Turn. Another extra step.

In general, anything that adds to what a player(user) must input, I hesitate to add. Anything that reduces a further player input, but is triggered by action the player is already taking (and nothing more), I’m comfortable with adding.

If you want to start personal jabs Tim, we should take this private.

I’ll rehash what I want to rehash Tim, and I’ll do it as often as I like; This is an open forum for open discussion. No-one should feel threatened about voicing their opinions.

Thus spake “bsmith”:

We can get a steel cage for you guys if you want.

I wouldn’t give up if I thought I was right, either.


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You couldn’t help yourself Joel, again you had to butt-in with a joke to spoil the beginnings of a perfectly good flame war. :smiley:

Well if one module designer reads this thread and decides to make his module leaner, I feel it won’t be for naught!

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” - Winston Churchill

If anyone still has a doubt about semi-automated modules like Through The Ages hurting Vassal’s reputation; Here’s a quote from BGG.

People don’t complain, nor do they come into the forum asking for help. They just go… forever; It’s that frustrating.

Are we comfortable with Vassal being the Linux of online board-gaming, or do we want to get wider appeal?