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Special: Vassal

Decision: Should You Play Shadespire on Vassal?


TL; DR:

Yeah, it's pretty good - especially if you're in North America.

Prologue

Prior to picking up Shadespire, I played Legend of the Five Rings (the AEG version) for 20 years.  When FFG bought the game and rebooted it, I gave it a fair shake, and then decided to part ways with my oldest hobby.  A month before Gencon 2018, I decided to play Shadespire instead of L5R, and haven't put it down since.

When I was playing L5R regularly, my playgroup traveled several times a year to play in large regional tournaments.  I had assumed this would be the case with Shadespire as well, but as most North American players can attest to - tournaments are pretty scarce in these parts.  (Whereas in England, you can't swing a soggy umbrella without hitting a Shadespire tournament).

So, to keep up skill for the few tournaments I can attend (SCO is next!), I started looking for ways to play online.  Luckily, a few weeks ago, the organizer for the Underworld Explorer's League contacted me and put me on the path to finding Vassal. 

Factor: The Good

Vassal is essentially a simulated tabletop - meaning that unlike some online game variants (Sun & Moon from L5R) it doesn't do anything to keep track of rules or interactions; it just provides a place for you to play.  To play, you'll need to download the basic software, and a community-curated mod that specifically launches into Shadespire.  If you need help getting set up, there's an excellent guide here.

We aren't going to go too indepth about every feature of the software, but it's worth taking a brief look at.  It does an admirable job of sorting the myriad of tokens and fiddly-bits required to play Shadespire.  The cards and tokens are high-quality scans, so they are easily readable.  The play area can be a bit hard to see if you zoom out far enough to see everything, but that seems inevitable given the amount of room a game of Shadespire requires in real life. 

As for the Explorer's League, it's been a delight to play in.  Our opponents have been fun to play against and willing to put up with the occasional fumbled card or wrong-button push.  Get more info about playing in the Explorer's League here.

Factor: The Bad

The most noticeable feature missing from Vassal is an online voice-chat function.  This means you'll likely be using Discord or a similar app to chat with your opponent.  The in-game text chat is hidden away in a different window from your play area, so it's not much help either.

There's also no easy way to reset the play area for a 2-of-3 game.  Some shortcuts for clearing tokens do exist, but playing best of three is almost certainly going to require you to do quite a bit of manual clicking and clearing.

The Ugly


One great selling point of Vassal is that a single command does almost everything you need to do in order to play a game.  The same key-press reveals cards in hand, inspires fighters, spends glory, and flips over tracking tokens.  So what's the problem?

The key.  The key you have to press.  Ctrl-F.

Why?  Why you do me like this?  Ctrl-F?!  Who's idea was this?

Oh, and just in case you are trying to some delicate in-game manipulation at a key point in your game, Ctrl-F is right next to Ctrl-D, which permanently deletes things from the play area.  Cool.

Summary: 

Vassal is a great way to get in some Shadespire games outside of your local group.  This is especially good for North American players, as tournaments here are few and far between.  It certainly has it's blemishes, but overall Vassal provides a great service to the Shadespire community.

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