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Cyberboard

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on May 10, 2010

One of the best Play-by-email tools is the “Cyberboard” program by Dale Larson.

Cyberboard – what’s that?

Totaler Krieg with Cyberboard

Cyberboard is a program which allows you to play even complex Consims such as Totaler Krieg by email (alas, it only works with Microsoft Windows). If offers a comfortable user interface with lots of functions for manipulating and moving the counters, the automatically recording of moves (which can be played back step by step), an integrated dice roller and much more.

It allows comfortable gaming with one or more opponents by email. All moves and actions of the players are included into a “Game History”, so that the initial game file grows over the time and eventually consists of an entire game which can be watched like a movie and stored in a gaming archive. Additionally, the program includes another tool (“Cyberboard Game Designer”) which allows to create more game modules for playing your own favorite games via Cyberboard. There are also tons of modules to be found on the internet which are used by a large player community all over the world.

Step by Step

he current Cyberboard version is 3.0 – a significant update of the previous versions that has many new features including 16 bit color support and a revamped user interface. Information on the current developments can be found at the Cyberboard-Website (you can also download the program here for free, because Cyberboard is freeware!).

The Cyberboard folder. The program even runs under Windows 7 64bit.

The first Cyberboard version was programmed for Windows 3.1 by Dale Larson in 1994. He wrote it out of a personal need, simply because he needed a useful tool for email playing – which was quite complicated then. He was annoyed by the errors occurring while playing with a real board and the following transcription of the moves into the computer. So he started searching for an alternative.

The initial thought was that playing a board game by email should become more comfortable by simply exchanging automatically recorded moves – instead of complicated descriptions of actions done on a real board, which the opponent must follow on his own real board. Theoretically any board game can be played by Cyberboard, but because of the integrated features it is especially useful for playing counter-based wargames. The program doesn’t include any artificial intelligence, it’s a GAP (Game Assistance Program) – a graphic tool for playing vs. a human opponent. It neither checks if your moves are rules conform nor does it allow solitaire play against the “system”. Larsons idea was to transfer the gaming experience of face-to-face-play to a computer program. And this works great because of the smooth control interface and the game speed by utilizing the recording and playback functions.

Cyberboard game files are called "Gameboxes" (*.gbx). They include force pools, maps, descriptions and more.

System requirements

A force pool

Cyberboard has very moderate system requirements. We even tested one of the previous versions on a 133 PI ThinkPad under Win98 and it worked fine. The current version requires Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 and we didn’t have the opportunity to check if older Windows OS  still can run it.

There are no information about its RAM requirements, but we never had any problems by using 64 MB RAM and we think it will work with even less RAM, depending on how large the map image is used by the game. It opens really fast and the automatically created log files are quite small (only some Kb). Nevertheless, the user interface looks very good and the program is powerful and offers many functions.

Features

Cyberboard tries to simulate board games with all of their components. Map, counters, markers and everything else (for example Option cards in Totaler Krieg) are stored in so-called “Game Box”-Files – the “modules” which run on the basic Cyberboard program. Start setup is included in scenario files; if there are no scenario files for a specific game, it’s quite easy to create them out of the existing gamebox. The Totaler Krieg module, for example, only contains the initial setup for the Standard Campaign game; if you want to play one of the shorter scenarios, you don’t need all Option Cards or counters. We started to create Cyberboard scenario files for the different TK scenarios; they are available for download on our TK-Scenario-page. In order to play them, you need the current Cyberboard version and the Totaler Krieg gamebox (available here). Information on playing TK with Cyberboard can be found at Consimworld in the Totaler-Krieg 1999 Edition-Folder). An extensive step-by-step instruction on how to load and play TK with Cyberboard from a scenario file can be found HERE.

You can record and playback replay files

When using CB you quickly realize that it was programmed by a player for other players. There are lots of important and smaller details which support play by email. For example, counters can be labeled with any text that appears when touched with the mouse. Units can be invisible (important for hidden units or other game based mechanics, such as a pending Option Card in Totaler Krieg, which mustn’t be seen by the opponents until the next season). Furthermore, manipulation of these invisible objects isn’t possible, because each activity will be recorded by the program – so you don’t have to worry about being betrayed by your opponent who secretly exchanges his option card when he realizes that his choice wasn’t that optimal. Counters can have “owners”, so that only their owners can manipulate or even see them when hidden.

Card based games (like Up Front) profit from the “Shuffle” Option, because Cyberboard can shuffle counters or objects. Additionally, CB remembers your individual, favourite window arrangement and layout, which is quite comfortable. A dice rolling program is integrated, too, which rolls a given number of dice with a given number of sides. The dice results are then immediately written into the log file.

The log files are very small and can be mailed even with the slowest modem. Information about the map and counters are drawn from the (larger) gamebox files. Besides this, there are many ways to manipulate counters – autostacking is supported and counters can be flipped. Rotations in all desired angles and degrees are possible to allow easy indicating of which counters already moved or in which phase they are – exactly as you’d do when playing a face-to-face board game.

A dice roller is integrated into the program

Counters are simply pushed by dragging and dropping them with your mouse. Movement is automatically recorded and the opponent can for- and rewind the playback. You can include text messages at any point, e.g. to announce a new phase or to comment upon your actions, to announce combat or designate casualties. The opponent sees exactly which way your counter took when moving over the game board – not only the start and end positions. The amount of information equals that of a face-to-face-game.

The game file, in which the single log files are integrated, contains a complete game history once the game is finished; additionally, you can write a short description of your turns, so that the history overview of the game can be read like a short game summary.

Overall Program Features:

  • Dockable trays and markers.
  • Window tabs that allow direct selection of open windows.
  • New Windows XP menu style with icons.
  • Customizable tool bars.

Game Designer Program Features:

  • 65536 color (aka 16 bit color 5-6-5 format) support.
  • Greatly improved color palette window.
  • GameBox files support internal compression of bitmap images. The GameBox file size can now be greatly reduced. Multiple levels of compression are supported.
  • GameBox files cab be password protected.
  • Graphical bitmap editor for manipulating tiles. A global transparent color can be defined to allow non-rectangular tiles.
  • Free form graphics editor for drawing lines, rectangles, ellipses, and polygons.
  • A playing board can be viewed in one of three sizes: full-scale, half scale and small-scale.
  • Board editing is done on three drawing layers: A grid layer is sandwiched between two free form drawing layers.
  • Create two-sided playing pieces.
  • Create graphical marker tiles for marking various things during game play.
  • Boards can use Hex grids (two varieties), brick grids, and rectangular grids. The grid lines can be hidden.
  • Snap grids.

Game Player Program Features:

  • Playing boards can be rotated by 180 degrees during play.
  • The message history window is now stand-alone and can be docked.
  • Message history text is now color coded.
  • Playback functionality has been greatly improved.
  • New game files by default render locked objects underneath other non-locked pieces and markers.
  • All three zoom levels are available in the player program.
  • Ability to associate text with pieces and markers.
  • Supports hidden units and player specific game files.
  • Playing piece and maker trays now support several visibility and behavior options.
  • Pieces and markers can now be locked so they can’t be selected.
  • Supports geomorphic construction of boards having hex style cells.
  • Supports shuffling (randomizing) pieces in trays and on the playing board. Useful for playing cards.
  • The game player program now remembers the layout of open windows within games and scenarios. The layout is restored when the file is reloaded.
  • Die roller.
  • A scenario designer allows you to layout the starting positions of a game, define which game boards, and which playing pieces are to be used. The pieces that are to be in play are placed in trays or on a board. Trays are defined in the scenario files. All game play starts with a Scenario file.
  • Moves are exchanged in small files that contain the recorded move so they can be EMailed to your opponents.
  • Auto stacking of pieces.
  • Flipping two-sided pieces.
  • Rotation of playing pieces and graphical markers to indicating facings.
  • Compound moves.
  • Two pop-up windows are available for manipulating playing piece trays.
  • A single marker pop-up window is available for accessing graphical board markers.
  • Allows plotted moves so your opponents can see the exact path taken when you moved your pieces.
  • Text messages can be sent any time while you’re recording your moves.
  • Maintains the entire history of a game.

Cyberboard cannot, in contrast to java-based VASSAL (which is another PbEM tool), be used on platforms other than Windows, while VASSAL can be used under Windows, Linux or Macintosh – but that is the only problem connected with Cyberboard. Lots of modules can be found on the internet and designing new modules with the Game Designer tool is done without greater effort or programing skills. Important websites who collect and link modules are Yankee Air Pirates and Warzone C.
More resources for modules can be found on the Cyberboard main page under Available Games.

Cyberboard gives vital support to the hobby wargaming because play-by-Email is a very important today. The player density is far too thin, so that comfortable – and free! – tools such as the CB program contribute to keeping this great hobby alive. Since Dale is not only putting a good deal of his time into this project but developing software like CyberBoard is not expense free (development software, computer, Internet access, and so on) there’s the possibility to make a donation to help him covering his costs. If you want to do that go here.

Source of information: Official Cyberboard-Website

One Response to “Cyberboard”

  1. Gerson Monteiro said

    Excellent!!! I´m trying to put some wargames on this!!!

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