What are Prototypes
Think of Prototypes are like Macros or Templates. A Prototypes is a fragment of a Game Piece containing traits that can be included into different units. They allow you to group together traits that are common to multiple units in one place. To modify all of the units that use the Prototypes, you only have to edit the Prototypes, not every individual unit.
IMPORTANT: If you change the Prototypes in a module, it will only affect new pieces created from that point on, it does not affect existing pieces on the board or in Saved games in any way. To update existing pieces, you need to use the Saved Game updated tools built into the VASSAL module editor.
The most important time saving thing you can do is to start using prototypes right from the start to classify your units into similiar groups.
Even if the prototypes have nothing in them at this stage, there is basically no overhead in having them there and they will be worth their weight in gold when down the track you suddenly find the need to add a specific command to a sub-group of counters.
GOLDEN RULE OF VASSAL # 1
If you have to add the same trait to more than one counter, add it to a
prototype instead and add the prototype to the counters.
If you have done your prototype analysis correctly, you will find yourself only ever adding commands to existing prototypes anyway!
Every game is different of course, but for a basic hex & counter wargarme, I find I generally need to set up three hierachical sets of prototypes for the active units in the game:
Some games, you find you need to combine these to a certain extent. Sometimes you need more (Movement, Combat etc.)
Type covers the unit type. This is pretty essential. Every Chit, marker and unit should have a Marker named Type that defines what type of unit it is. This is very important to be able to setup Global Key Commands properly. This is where the really basic level commands (Delete, Text Label, Movement Trail) are added.
Marker, Chit, Unit
Political covers who controls the counters, what nationalities, Divisions, Formations etc. Here is part of the Prototype hierachy from TDC:
Protoytpe 1-Para = [Marker Formation="1st Para", Prototype 1-AB]
Protoytpe 1-AB = [Marker Division="1st Airborne", Prototype Allies]
Protoytpe Allies = [Marker Army="Allies"]
Each unit in the 1st Parachute brigade gets only the prototype [B]1-Para[/B]. From this prototype and the 2 higher level prototypes, the units pick up 3 markers defining the Formation, Division and Army they belong to. That's basically it for the political side of things. Because I don't any capabilities to the political prototypes, I can add the same prototypes to any Chits and Markers belonging to 1st Para which allows Chits to affect their matching counters using Global Key Commands.
Capabilities is where you add specific commands to specific sub-groups of counters. A simple capability prototype hierachy might look like:
Combat -> Infantry, Vehicle, Gun
Infantry -> Engineer, Sniper
Vehicle -> Armed, Unarmed
Gun -> Mobile, Fixed
Sometimes you need to mix in some political depsending on the need to use differing counters or commands for different:
Engineer -> German-Engineer, Allied-Engineer
The secret is that if you do not know the game well, you need to Read The Rules and have a good idea of what capabilities each counter needs.