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TITE 1A Vassal Kit Preview

Good Looking and Great Playing


By Alan Emrich with Ken Keller

Welcome back, fellow wargamers interested in Frank Chadwick’s ETO series. For readers “of a certain age,” in the words of Rocket J. Squirrel (from the Rocky & Bullwinkle Show) before a commercial break, “And now here’s something we hope you’ll really like!”


We sincerely desire to bring you the most polished monster-size wargame series release in the combined volumes of Frank Chadwick’s ETO series. The development team has put in, and will continue to contribute, the “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” (as Winston Churchill famously said) into this project. Our combined years of wargame-making experience have built and refined this game series and developed its massive scope. It has been a Herculean labor, but it is not finished yet.


Fortunately, this is where you come in, and the fun begins!


We have the “5 Esses” in place: Subject, Scope, Scale, Series, and Systems. However, what makes a great game endure is playtesting polish. Buffing and shining that game to a high gloss that the publisher (GMT) can market and print confidently as a long-term flagship product. We hope you will enjoy playing this game as it finishes development; with your help, it will be a very polished, shining game series.


Never underestimate a guy with tweezers. Daniel Duldig (L) and Ken Keller (R).

The good news is that there is no out-of-pocket expense to join the ranks of ETO’s playtesters, just your desire to learn a great wargame and help improve it through your comments, corrections, and clarifications (i.e., polish). However, our playtest kits (due to the sheer scope and size of these games) will be digital versions of them using the Vassal game engine.


Now is the moment to introduce you to Ken Keller, the ETO project’s “Vassal guy.” He will speak geek, but in a way, we hope that all can understand.


Why Vassal?

Many tools render board games in a virtual format these days. For the ETO virtual playtest project, we have selected Vassal because:

  • It has been around since the 1990s. Therefore,

  • It is generally familiar to wargamers, and

  • It is still actively supported by its development team.

Beyond that, Vassal has proven a powerful tool for module developers (like Ken). When looking at a project, the size and scope of Frank Chadwick’s ETO, and that matters – a lot! Specifically, Vassal does not force any one type of implementation to build a new module for it. Instead, it gives module creators the liberty to design the user interface intuitively for players. With the untold hours of gaming ahead for ETO, you want the best possible user interface experience to spend more time playing and less time finding buttons. One of the problems with virtual board game environments is replacing the manipulation of physical components with mouse and keyboard actions. This adds latency to the gameplay process. As a longtime playtester of wargames and monster games, Ken finds that generally, it takes twice as long to play a board game in most virtual environments as it does to play the same game using a physical copy. That is what we mean by adding latency to the process. Vassal’s power, however, allows developers (like Ken) to produce intuitive and ergonomic interfaces for the players, thus recovering some of that latency.

Ken has been taking an ergonomic approach to ETO’s Vassal modules. He aims to deliver this efficiency and keep your ETO experience moving as quickly as you care to play. There has already been a robust development and playtesting history for Thunder in The East, The Middle Sea, and now Thunder in The East 2. We have garnered great user feedback about these modules and evolved a stable ETO Vassal interface engine embracing that ergonomic approach. These Vassal modules have benefitted from a cycle of playtesting feedback and polished new releases for some time now.


Today, Ken has his development process down to rendering the game components of the various modules into graphic form, setting up scenarios, and updating the Help files. Players need not learn a new interface when playing a different ETO Vassal module. Their “computer game” aspects are standardized, streamlined, efficient, and ready to play.


The Vassal engine's changes over the last few years make it easier to maintain multiple modules using the same game core systems simultaneously. (If you are a programmer, you know that is a big deal!) That, and the mature Vassal baseline code, is why we can maintain a measured schedule for releasing future playtest modules. We should be able to release new modules steadily (Ken will soon start work on Decision in The West) and then quickly keep up with changes wrought by playtesting feedback.


The day has arrived that the ETO series has long awaited. Vassal playtest kit module releases should be landing faithfully over this year and the next. We are already working on it and hope you are here to play(test).


What You will see in the ETO’s TITE 1A Vassal Playtest Kit


Armies to the north.
Battered Air Forces at Operation Typhoon
The Axis setup forces for Case Blue

Make the Digital Move to TITE

Download the playtest kit and get into ETO!

If you eschew Vassal from past experiences or hesitate to play “2-player solo” or play versus real opponents via your computer, allow yourself to try these free Vassal modules. Ken’s programming efforts to build you a great ETO gameplay experience inside the venerable Vassal engine will harken you back to the “big computer wargame publisher” releases of yore. You and your (new) ETO gaming buddies will be very happy with the experience.


New Business


Our next article will feature the complete Thunder in The East 1A Vassal kit download. It will have everything you need to join us in playing and playtesting this great series: Frank Chadwick’s ETO.



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