Well, this issue of PBM Chaos sure got pushed back, huh? More than once, actually. You can all thank Randy Ritnour for helping to ensure that this issue published no later than it did, by virtue of the fact that the article that he sent to me for this issue succeeded in getting the ball of progress rolling, again.
Now, that doesn't mean that it still didn't come together at a glacial pace, but when no progress, at all, is being made, even a glacial pace is a welcome change in the right direction. I'm behind on numerous different PBM-related things (the story of my PBM life), but if your name is Jonathan Spore and you're reading this, I'm well aware that I owe you responses to three different e-mails (at least). Hang in there, I'll get back to you, barring any unforeseen problems.
Stefan Graf has launched Sea of Nyx, a game about pirates. He's rolled it out in playtest form, and from what little bits and pieces that I have been able to gather, numerous different players have signed up for it, already, to give it a go and to see what it brings to the turn-based gaming table. Some of the pirates in play in Sea of Nyx include Murderous Jane Deadshot of the Black Pig (a sorry excuse for a ship, if ever there was one), Captain William "Bloodhound" Bates of the The Mongrel (they'll let anyone captain a ship these days, it seems), Captain Elwell Grintwistle (who should have stayed ashore), and the notorious Dreadbeard - along with at least six other less known seafarers. Arrrr!
PBMville: Wild West Shootout is drawing to a close. Why? Because it's time to shift to something new. The very nature of temporary PBM games is that they are of a temporary duration. Besides, PBMville was intended as an experiment. In fact, it was more of an experiment than an actual game. Hopefully, some managed to derive a little bit of fun from it while it lasted.
A couple of weeks ago, I took advantage of the special $5 offer for Galac-Tac from Talisman Games. Here's a screenshot of what my player account was credited with, after I paid the five bucks via PayPal.
This special offer is only available for your first year of play, so for $5, you'll be able to play in as many games of Galac-Tac as you want for what amounts to 14 months. That's not a bad deal, at all, as far as commercial PBM games go. This offer only applies to games of Galac-Tac that you play online, not to playing Galac-Tac the old fashioned way, via postal mail.
The Fire on the Sunswebsite was not loading for me, this morning (12/16/2023). I tried it a little earlier, also, and it wouldn't load then, either. Not sure what the problem was. Unable to connect, the site said.
As I sit here browsing through Issue #6 of Paper Mayhem, The PBM Gamer's Newsletter, I'm enjoying Paper Mayhem with its articles in single-column format. It actually has some really decent looking PBM advertisements in it, even for being this early of an issue in that magazine's history.
A full page PBM ad for World of Velgor, which was run by the PBM company known as Comstar Enterprises appears on Page #2 of this issue. Over on Page #5, there's a half-page PBM ad for Conquest of Insula, which was moderated by Clemens & Associates, Inc.Kings of the Boryian Empire has a slightly less than half-page ad on Page #7. That play by mail game was run by Paper Generals.
The PBM company, World Campaigns, ran a full page ad for Aegyptus on Page #8. They didn't really bother with any substantial artwork for that ad, though, just a really small globe of the Earth about the size of your thumbnail, or thereabouts. Page #11 features a Moscow '41 ad, and for those that might recall, it was Vigard Simulations who ran that game via the postal service.
Bud Link used to write PBM articles, back in the day, but over on page #12 of Paper Mayhem Issue #6, Bud advertised a PBM game of his own that he had designed. It was a full page PBM ad for a play by mail game called The Sea Kings of Dolchus. In this particular ad, it specifically says it's a "Play-test Of a Totally New Concept in PBM Games." At the very top of this ad, in huge letters, it says ATTENTION!
Page #15 features a full page ad for Pierce & Co. and its PBM game, Peacemaker-Peacebreaker. It's got some imaginative artwork accompanying it. Page #15 features another full page PBM ad. It, too, is from Pierce & Co., and it's quite an eye-grabbing advertisement with art of a dozen or more (I counted 13) characters. Galactic Confusion was the PBM game that its was touting.
Galactic Centurian Systems Corporation ran a half-page ad for System III: Star King on Page #20, while Phoenix Publications ran a 2/3rd page PBM ad for Warlord PBM on the facing page, Page #21. Page #22 revealed another 2/3rd page PBM ad, this time for Galac-Tac from Phoenix Publications, also.
A half-page all-text ad adorned the top of Page #23 for Peril II by K+C Enterprises, playable back then for $1.00 a turn with no hidden fees, and due dates of two or four weeks. It's not very eye-grabbing, though. Below it, the eye gravitates to the visual graphic of Integral Games' PBM game known as Battle of the Gods.
It was only through the generosity of PBMer Nazareth (Tony) that I was even able to hold a copy of Issue #6 of Paper Mayhem in my hand, at all. Super thanks, Tony!
Until next issue, happy PBMing to one and all!
In the vast expanse of the mystical sea realm known as Nyx, each player takes command of their own ship, embarking on an epic maritime journey. The heart of the adventure beats to the rhythm of exploration, as pirates chart uncharted waters and uncover the mysteries of Nyx’s myriad islands.
But it is not just the lure of the unknown that beckons; it is also the clash of steel against steel, for the high seas are teeming with rival ships, ready to engage in thrilling naval battles. Treasures lie hidden beneath the ocean’s depths, waiting to be discovered by daring adventurers and exotic commodities are ripe for trade.
Set sail in ‘The Sea of Nyx: a Pirates Tale,’ where the tides of destiny ebb and flow and where every voyage is a chance to carve your legend into the annals of this enchanting nautical world.
NOTE: Sea of Nyx is in Test Status. Game Master Stefan Graf is open to all feedback, in order to improve the game.
"The main reason I believe the hobby does not spread more rapidly, as I expressed in last issue's editorial, is that we are not visible. We hole up, filling out our turnsheets and writing our diplomatic letters in hermetic silence."
- Dr. R. Terry Cale
U.S. Editor - The Flagship of Postal Gaming
Issue #9 - Winter 1985 issue
What You Are Doing
What you are doing is sharing your passion with others, and I feel many who have remained subscribed welcome that. You have, for me, brought attention back to an industry that has been around a very long time and still survives, today. Today, though, it is much harder to compete, since people have home computers and other devices to play games upon, plus playing online with others.
My first exposure to PBM was back in the early 80's, when I was in high school (yup, I'm an oldtimer in many ways). I saw ads for Flying Buffalo and another company that I recall - Schubel and Son. When I finally got a decent job after school/college, I tried out a few of the games. But it took a lot of research, because being in Canada and practically every company located in the US, there were various obstacles.
At some point, someone in Western Canada was offering a version of one Schubel and Son game. Don't remember the name, but the game was basically where players were small countries that could buy a vast variety of modern weapons from the US and Russia. I don't recall how long it lasted or why I stopped playing, though I think the game runner became overwhelmed by the workload. As many have commented, early on, everything was processed by humans in most cases.
So, when you first started sending out the Chaos PDF magazine and then your irregular emails, you brought me back to thinking about the fun I had waiting for my turn to come back and plan for the next turn. Now, with email, turn frequency can be improved to as fast as players want (though I find weekly turns is a nice pace, so I can enjoy the game and not just be rushing to meet some short deadline). You have brought that joy back to me, and I have meant to reach out for a long time and say thank-you.
But as in the 80s with international mail issues and currency payment fun, the modern times have added complications like SPAM and trying to reach out to find your target audience. There aren't many paper magazines or ways to market your passion project through. But I do believe you do have a small - but strongly interested - audience, so far.
What is The Isles?
The Isles is a hand-moderated Play By Mail game run via either the postal system or via eMail. It is set in a fantasy world where trade and commerce are held in higher regard than Lords and Kings and where life can be brutal, terrifying and often short for those who do not belong.
Cracking website mate! Nice to see the superb presentation in the game has also carried over here.
Past, Present, and Potential Future of PBM
I've read with interest the letters and articles discussing the past, present, and potential future of PBM and its derivatives. Here's my two cents.
Rise of PBM
Rick Loomis and Fred Saberhagen are the reason Takamo exists. I dare say that this is true for several of the PBM titles of the 1980s. The Berserker series, which introduced many of us to the concept of multiplayer Play-By-Mail games, spread the PBM gospel across the world. One of my fellow university students introduced me to the PBM world by pulling out a copy of Saberhagen's sci-fi novel, Berserker, explaining the story plot and its relation to play-by-mail games, and pointing out that the semester-long D&D campaign that we were running at a table in the Student Union functioned the same way a PBM game operated. That encounter fired my imagination, and set me on a life-long journey of science fiction game design, content creation, and publishing.
The PBM market was never really big, but back in the 1980s, it was diverse, exciting, and growing. Our collective voices added some strength to the hobby, and the players were the disciples who spread the good news. Our advertising dollars were most effectively spent on free turns for players who recruited their friends to join the PBM world. This, of course, presupposed that our game was good enough to keep players interested and coming back for more. However, it was clear that we needed more than just a Recruit-a-Friend campaign to build the brand. Personalities, convention confabs, and magazines like Paper Mayhem, Flagship, Postal Warrior, and Gaming Universal helped spread the word. Back then, although none of the PBM companies had a big wad of cash to spend on ads, we placed paid ads wherever we could - convention brochures, the aforementioned PBM rags, posters at hobby stores, and even in comics.
Today, there's precious little advertisement, and I don't know the last time I heard of a PBM featured in a game convention. There are several reasons for this.
Decline of PBM
During the 1990s and continuing into the new millennium, PBM suffered various setbacks. Computer gaming matured with visuals and graphics that PBM just couldn't match. Text-based games became passe, and then archaic. Some PBM companies tried to compete with their own line of graphics, but no one had the scratch for the kind of art that would be needed to even try to compete with the immediacy and vibrance of an interactive game on a color computer screen. However, PBM was still viable, because even without the instant turnaround and great graphics, it was still the only choice that offered multiplayer games that you could play with other gamers and factions from all over the world. Then came the Internet and Massive Multi-Player Online Games. You could have all the cool graphics, the instant results, and a massive number of players.
Then email began to take a toll on the postal services. Near instant communication across the Internet meant less need for snail mail. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) began the inevitable cycles of price increases and downsizing, and the USPS began to sloow dooown. Mail became Snail Mail. In 1985, a letter mailed to an address in the same town got there the next morning. Ultimately, that same letter had to go to another city and then back, a trip of 2-3 days. A turn sent by USPS that once took 2 days to reach the coast increased to 4, 5, and sometimes 7 days. Turn delivery by regular mail, while possible, was no longer commercially viable. In the parlance of chess, that's "Checkmate."
Future of PBM
Does PBM have a future? It depends on who you ask. Do I want it to have a future? Yes. Absolutely, yes.
PBM has a lot to offer. Here are some things to consider:
1. With text-based games, you get to use the greatest graphics machine in the universe, your imagination, and that beats the hell out of a computer game that pumps out the same scenes and sounds, time after time.
2. For the most part, you're playing with adults. I love kids, I truly do, but the reason that I don't play the big online multiplayer games is that I don't want to deal with a bunch of junior high school types who have given rise to terms like "Griefer" (from Wikipedia - A griefer or bad-faith player is a player in a multiplayer video game who deliberately and intentionally irritates and harasses other players within the game (trolling), by using aspects of the game in unintended ways in order to destroy something another player made or built, or stealing something, such as items or loot, when that is not the primary objective. A griefer derives pleasure primarily, or exclusively, from the act of annoying other users, and as such, is a particular nuisance in online gaming communities).
3. "Retro" seems to be in style. What could be more retro than PBM?
4. PBM is so old that it is new to anyone born after 1990. Which means that we have lots of potential players out there.
5. Anticipation. Part of the fun of PBM is waiting for your turn results. That sounds counter-intuitive, but any PBM veteran will tell you that anticipating your turn is a real part of the joy of PBM.
6. PBM, while often addictive, does not steal all of your time. You can have your life and your game at the same time. You don't have to announce to anyone that you will be "AFK." You can go out for a burger, for heaven's sake.
7. PBM gives more bang for the buck. You'll spend more on coffee in a month than you do on your PBM habit.
8. The friendships gained in PBM often last a lifetime. You can't say that about most desktop games.
Not, "So what do we do now?"
Just, so what?
So, make up your mind. Either actively support PBM, or watch it spin into the ground like a yard dart.
I love designing and creating content for Takamo and its spin-off novels and products. But the reality is that I have to eat, pay the rent, and take care of myself and my family. That takes money. Cold hard cash.
It's not reasonable to expect that a PBM game designer, a PBM company, or a PBM magazine spend their own time and treasure in an altruistic effort to entertain the PBM audience. Certainly, the game publication or product has to be of a quality that is worth the purchase price. But if it is, we should not expect to be able to have it on the cheap, let alone free.
So, if you are a PBM fan and want more, start supporting your favorite games by playing them, recruiting other players, and, if the game is free, talk to the gamemaster about making it a paying game. I know that sounds a little nuts, but let's be honest, most of the PBM veteran players out there are at or near retirement age. Most of us can afford $10 or $20 a month to play or just support our favorite PBM game and or magazine. And don't give me this happy horseshit about being on a fixed income. If you don't have the scratch to pay for a game, tell the game master. I'll bet that he or she will let you play for free, but if you have the money, for God's sake, pay to play. That gives the industry at least a glimmer of a chance of staying alive - and maybe even expanding - so that you have more people to play with!
If you are a PBM company, I would encourage you to start charging a reasonable fee for your games. Even though it is scary, and some customers will troll you or just quit, you need to charge for your games. You can disagree with me, but I believe that free games harm the PBM industry. Sure, free games may draw more people to your game title, but other than bragging rights, you gain nothing but more work, and you undercut your competitors in an industry that is already limping along. PBM companies should be collaborating to make the PBM brand bigger, not working against one another. There's time enough for that when the industry is healthier.
The same thing goes for PBM magazines, newsletters, etc. They should charge for advertisements, and PBM companies and players should support them with paid ads and subscriptions. It's not rocket science folks. It's capitalism.
Takamo Status Report
12.12.2023 Terran Standard Calendar (TSC)
Takamo Discord Channel
We have a Takamo channel (#Takamo) on the PlayByMail.net Discord site. Players and lurkers are invited to join.
Nicean planetary sensors in the 'K' Plane report the arrival of a Framis fleet. Nicean Defense Control reports that the fleet in orbit is scanning the planet's surface.
DUCHY OF BRUNSWICK
Duchy of Brunswick Explorer Corps reports the recent discovery of a White Normal Giant Type F star system in a central plane of the galaxy. The star system has eight planets with a total mining potential of 52.
Local Stelltron news outlets report that Ralleb shipyards are producing fort ships at a phenomenal rate. At least twenty Ralleb fort ships were launched in the latest production cycle.
A marine unit search & destroy team activation on an Apshain Federation world resulted in the apprehension of a Lily Inc. spy. The insectoid Apshain Commander reports that no other spies or smuggling centers were located and the spy was promptly devoured after interrogation.
A Molnsa Guild news team reported that, during an extended jump, a Phantatwain Fleet suffered a hyperspace warping incident that caused fleet elements to drift into an asteroid field. While thirty-seven ships suffered rock strikes, the heavy shielding of the Phantatwain warships prevented serious damage to ship hulls.
PBM Gaming: Sink or Swim
TribeNet is a complex game with a lot of rules. It requires a desire by the clan to learn, to read, and to ask for help. This game isn’t for everyone. If you don’t learn to swim and you go swimming, you’re likely going to drown. You don’t have to learn it all at once, but you need to be able to learn how to tread water fairly quickly, and then you can move on to learning various swimming strokes over the course of many years (continuing with the swimming analogy).
- Understanding the TribeNet Auto Turnsheet
I don't know how to make a game like this where everyone will "just get it" - there's too much for anyone to be able to "just get". I have to assume that people will ask or read to find out what they want.
- Davin Church
A discussion about Galac-Tac
This is not a game to pick up lightly or quickly. Whereas all games have a learning curve, Phoenix has been described as having a learning cliff and a game written by engineers for engineers (actually, it was a game written by physicists).
- Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire rulebook
The more that things change in PBM gaming, the more that they remain the same. On the one hand, how do you offer complexity in game design, without it requiring a degree of learning - perhaps even a substantial degree of learning? And on the other hand, how many different PBM documents and PBM game interfaces make learning how to play a given PBM game more difficult than it needs to be, or than it has to be? You know, it's more than a little humorous anytime PBM gaming is equated to treading water.
When my Daddy was a little boy, his oldest brother threw him in the water and told him, "Sink or swim!" My Daddy, God rest his soul, chose to swim. It was probably a pretty terrifying moment, if I had to guess. Is that how most people would want to learn to swim? By being subjected to a "sink or swim" (aka a "swim or drown") approach?
Honestly, it's a hell of a situation to find one's self in a position where drowning is arguably the more likely outcome of such a binary choice. I've been aware of TribeNet for quite a while, now, but not learning the game quickly doesn't mean that you will necessarily be in automatic danger of drowning. Certainly, taking a slow approach to learning a PBM game remains a feasible and manageable approach, even in this day and age, but accelerating your rate of learning can also bring benefits from a more rapid approach, thereby enabling a larger portion of what all that TribeNet has to offer the prospective player to get experienced sooner, rather than later (or perhaps even never). Namely, you get to do more, which means that you get to experience more.
Hey, try PBM gaming, where you have a chance to drown in rules and beginner guides and mandates and introductions and quick starts and all kinds of text-dense reading materials study materials, before you ever figure out what the hell to do. Talk about marketing!
Of course, you don't really just have two choices. That's rarely, if ever, the case. But then again, assumptions routinely undermine what PBM companies and PBM GMs strive to accomplish. Gamers want to game. They want to play. They want to have fun!
But first, make sure that you read a bunch of crap, because we designed our games in such a way that there's not a quick and easy way to describe it. We went to the trouble of writing all of these PBM documents, because of the complexity of the game's design. If they can't sell me on the "complexity necessitates over-reliance upon PBM documents," though, then what chance do they have of ever selling the gaming public at large on it?
As I have said before, sometimes, explanations are the worst ways of explaining something. Alamaze has a 293 page rulebook, but you don't have to actually read all of that crap - nor even the vast majority of it - to learn enough about the game to start having fun sooner, rather than later. Plus, even if you read it all, you're unlikely to remember it all, though you might remember some of it, while simultaneously not remembering or misremembering the rest. Why write a rulebook that's hundreds of pages long, and not bother to explain everything about the game? And if it doesn't even bother to explain the game interface sufficiently, then why fall short like that?
It is true that TribeNet is not a game for everyone. But that is little more than to state a truism about all games ever created. No game is for everyone, regardless of the genre, and regardless of the medium through which it is played.
There is no great and eternal Law of the PBM Cosmos which states and requires that PBM companies and GMs have to simply assume anything, anything at all. Why would a PBM GM assume that people will ask? How many new players of Alamaze that tried that game never bothered to ask questions? And if newcomers to PBM gaming come to our greatly beloved PBM to enjoy a new gaming experience, why is it that the very first thing that PBM companies and PBM GMs have a habit of doing is immediately diverting them to reading, instead of playing? Reading about a PBM game is not playing a PBM game. They are entirely different and distinct experiences.
Just assuming that new players will ask or read to find out what they want is a curious approach to heading off confusion, an approach that strikes me as utterly fraught with both possibility and likelihood of failure. Assuming that newcomers to PBM will communicate is not a proactive approach to confusion-reduction or confusion-elimination. The more sources of confusion that can be identified and remedied upfront, the better a PBM company's chances of increasing their player retention rate become. There are numerous old sayings about assumptions, including assumption is the mother of all mistakes.
Ideally, newcomers to PBM gaming would immediately dive right in and join a lot of different PBM games. How wonderful would that be, huh? But if swimming analogies are the order of the day, then no sooner do they dive in, they crash upon the Rocks of Reading that await them. What a joyous feeling it must be to be a newcomer to PBM gaming, and come to the stark realization that you have hundreds - or even thousands - of pages of reading awaiting you. To join a LOT of different PBM games can, in fact, hold the prospect of thousands of pages awaiting them. I can just see them, now. "Fuck that!"
Or said another way, for the verbally-sensitive among you, "Have you lost your mind?!"
Tell me this, if you're the perceptive type. How is it that PBM GMs don't have time to do this or do that to improve their game products, but simultaneously, they expect that newcomers to PBM will have time to read a whole bunch of dry, boring, and tedious documents, before they can just start playing a PBM game that has somehow-against-all-odds caught their eye and gotten their attention? If a concern about time is good for the GM goose, then it's also good for the player gander. A newcomer's time is as valuable to them as a PBM GM's time is to them.
Generally speaking, human beings have an innate aversion to bureaucracy, and in the real world, paperwork often equates to bureaucracy. The reason why you are expected to read through a bunch of rules and other textual accessories is because it's not obvious what you need to do. Intuitiveness in game design and in document design and in interface layout and design is severely lacking across PBMdom.
I complain about PBM rulebooks and other PBM documentation a lot, because I encounter a lot of stuff in them to complain about. I also encounter confusion on the part of the PBM-interested in a wide variety of different places. Ironically enough, a vast amount of it is from the PBM-experienced, rather than just newcomers to PBM.
Don't just take my word for it, though. Go to a PBM game's Discord, and do a search for confusion, confused, or confusing. Not all of the highlighted Discord postings returned in the search will necessarily be relevant, but an awful lot of them likely will be.
If you had to venture a guess, what do you think that the total page count would be for all PBM documentation associated with all PBM games still in existence? For that matter, how many pages of PBM documentation exist for just whatever PBM game(s) that you currently play? If a newcomer to PBM gaming decided that they wanted to play in five different PBM games, which five PBM games would yield the smallest homework assignment for them, as far as how many pages that they would be expected to read, in order to be able to learn how to tread water fairly quickly?
You expect Millenial gamers or Generation Z gamers to have the patience for that? Have you mistaken them for Baby Boomers or Generation X gamers? Your path to achieve rapid integration of newcomers to PBM gaming depends upon their willingness to subject themselves to the slow torture of reading a slew of over-sized, under-performing PBM documents. Any chance that PBM gaming has a Plan B?
Plan B - where the B stands for Better. If PBM is to have a better future, then it stands to reason that things have to improve. Tell me, though - is the PBM documentation going to get better? If past is prologue, in many cases, the answer would seem to be a big, fat, "No!"
Raven Zachary created a couple of PBM documents (among other things) titled Your First Turn in TribeNet and Understanding the TribeNet Auto Turnsheet. These are, in essence, an attempt at crafting PBM documentation of a more recent vintage. He writes them in the hope that more newcomers to TribeNet will read them, grasp them, and then end up as being far less likely to "drown" and become statistical casualties in the TribeNet player community. Or said another way, it's an attempt to "stem the bleeding."
Me? I would very much like to try my hand at TribeNet. But what I want and what is realistic can many times be two very different things. The prospect of exploring and mapmaking are tempting jewels that glint in the sun of my interest as a gamer. But at my age, do I really feel up to the task of climbing the mountain of paperwork that exists for the game? Faint of heart is the term that comes to mind, as I sit here with visions of playing TribeNet running through my mind.
With Alamaze, I tired of having a multitude of individuals annoyingly insist try to convince me that the only way to learn to play it was by climbing a 293 page rulebook. Ultimately, I decided to just sidestep that mountainous rulebook, and surprise of surprises, I discovered that climbing that mountain really wasn't necessary, after all. Apparently, there can be more than one way to get newcomers to PBM games from here to there. But that really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, whether they're new to PBM gaming, or whether they're old hands at playing PBM games.
One of the great ironies of PBM gaming is that PBM companies and PBM GMs who don't have time to do a lot of things that would help to facilitate a more rapid integration of newcomers into PBM gaming contemplate PBM gaming having a future, at all. To have a future - particularly a viable future - PBM gaming requires an investment of time. The arrival of the Internet never meant that an investment of time would somehow become no longer necessary, in order for PBM gaming to prosper on a big scale.
If anything, it meant that a greater investment of time would be imperative, in order to maintain player bases of their existing sizes, much less if one wanted to actually grow the player bases for different PBM games. Indeed, just using the Internet requires, surprise of surprises - time! And the time required for people to use the Internet, and to do things via the Internet, has to come from somewhere. If learning and getting up to speed on PBM games fails to become more time-efficient, then expectations or hopes that player bases for PBM games will grow noticeably may not be particularly well-founded.
When PBM gaming was confined to the postal medium, the interface for all PBM games took the form of a paper format. The arrival of the Internet didn't reduce the burden of facilitating an effective interface between newcomers and PBM games. If anything, it increased these burdens. Fortunately, the PBM industry does not suffer from a shortage of excuses. Rather than fix the problems, the PBM industry seems content to either mask them such problems or outright ignore them. Of course, that's just my opinion, but you're certainly entitled to your own. You're also entitled to share your opinion, just as I'm entitled to share mine.
The human mindset is an amazing thing. Truly, it is. But PBM gaming, these days, suffers from a watered-down mindset. A "can't do" mindset or a "won't do" mentality will never serve PBM gaming well. Galac-Tac is a good example of an old school PBM game that could benefit from a new mindset. Galac-Tac doesn't suffer from the biggest or worst obstacles that PBM gaming has to offer, but my recent fiddling around with a game of Galac-Tac for at least twenty turns or so has persuaded me that it could be rendered a noticeably less confusing experience for newcomers, with some relatively minor cosmetic changes.
The Galac-Tac rulebook is far from a sterling example of clarity. The Galac-Tac Quick Start Guide even sets the stage for what to expect from the Galac-Tac rulebook by asserting in its very first sentence, "The Galac-Tac game rules can be a bit daunting at first glance. If you’d like to start playing right away and spend some time later learning about all the details, here’s how to get a running start on playing the first few turns."
Daunting - that's Davin Church's descriptive term, not mine. He is the author listed on the Galac-Tac Quick Start Guide, after all. Personally, my recent experience with trying my hand at playing a solo game of Galac-Tac didn't leave me with a feeling that it was a daunting game to learn to play. Even the rulebook for Galac-Tac isn't daunting, but both the rulebook and the game, itself, are unnecessarily confusing. But then again, what is it that the Galac-Tac rulebook states on Page #21? "Yes, this is extremely confusing. A chart showing the interaction of these different orders may help to make it clearer."
What grand purpose it serves to describe the Galac-Tac rules as daunting, when you're writing a two-page Quick Start Guide for the game, is beyond me. That said, the Galac-Tac Quick Start Guide is better written than the Galac-Tac rulebook. In fairness, a high quality rulebook for a PBM game isn't the easiest thing in the world to undertake to write. But that doesn't mean that it's the hardest thing in the world to do, either. And how helpful is it for a game's rulebook to describe a portion of the rules contained therein as not just confusing, but extremely confusing?
Furthermore, the Galac-Tac rulebook is available in PDF format, but does it contain clickable links in its index? Nope, it sure doesn't. Yet, I could point to the Middle-earth PBM rulebook or to the Alamaze rulebook or to the Phoenix: BSE rulebook, all of which are available to Internet gamers in PDF format and with clickable links in their menu systems. Clickable links helps to make lengthy rulebooks quicker to navigate.
Galac-Tac's documentation is behind the curve and behind an 8-Ball of its own creation. What's the excuse? No time? How long has that game been in existence, again? As game documentation exists to support both the game and the player, having no time to improve your game's documentation sends what message to potential newcomers and current PBM gamers, alike? From what I could tell from twenty or so turns of experimenting with Galac-Tac, what Galac-Tac needs isn't so much a grand overhaul, but a good polishing.
How many different pieces of new PBM documentation has Raven Zachary gifted the PBM world over the last several years? More than just a couple, I can tell you that. Documentation, forums, wikis, articles - I couldn't even venture a guess, and hope to land in the right ballpark. He has been one prolific soul, in his various bids to explain PBM-related things to others - and by extension, make PBM gaming more accessible to more people.
That some PBM games are complex does not mean that the rules and other documentation for those very same games necessarily have to be poorly written or rendered unduly over-complicated. Of course, when the design ball gets dropped on the creation of PBM game interfaces, even the best-designed PBM rulebooks can end up being in vain.
In their rush to abandon the postal medium in a wholesale manner, that they might gain various benefits that shifts in technology can (but not necessarily does) afford, PBM companies and PBM GMs also inherited, perhaps unknowingly, the critical responsibility of crafting new interfaces from scratch that would enable the playing of their PBM games via the Internet.
Historically and traditionally, PBM rulebooks tended to be primary instructional materials aimed at inculcating newcomers with vital information necessary to ensuring that PBM gamers could play and compete effectively in PBM games. But learning and knowing the rules of a given PBM game does not automatically mean, therefore, that any accompanying game interface(s) for PBM games that can be played via the Web, or via a client software program, or via e-mail do not come with learning curves all their own. In essence, adding to the learning burden for newcomers by adding new layers of complexity should have been recognized upfront as one of the surest ways to shrink the potential pool of future PBM gamers.
Separate from all of this, I can't help but to wonder how it is that so many who have time to read about PBM never have time to write about PBM? The more that I ponder it, the less I am persuaded that it's a time issue, at all. A lack of will, a lack of resolve, a lack of effort all strike me as being the far more likely culprit.
Jef Tonelli - The game ending turn. Mailed out WAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY early but did not make it in time for the turn deadline. Ughhhhhh...... I really wish i could've seen that turn play out as I was actually in the run for the win. The winner most likely would've been the same....but I really would've liked to see it all played out as per my turn orders rather than all my units sitting still. The game was WORLD CONQUEST. I wish that game was still running. Prime Time Simulations was the moderator I believe.
Kelvin L. Soice - Best: Making deals with the other players. Worst: The cost. Way too much for a starving student.
Craig Ramsey - Not receiving my second turn. Four months and counting. Plus, RSI doesn’t answer the email.
Mo Holkar - The grand finale wrap-up of the story was (inevitably) unable to satisfy everyone's hopes and expectations.
Bob Fry - One I really liked was called 'Nexus of Mystery.' It was around 1990, but as far as I can tell, completely hand-moderated. Unfortunately, that meant that turns came slowly -- and as it got harder for the GMs, that slowed even more. I think my last turn was something like 3 months after the previous. I *think* I even had an account balance, but they stopped responding. It's a real shame, because that particular superhero game really intrigued me. Even though I had a small number of turns, I still think about the possibilities of that setting.
"I went because a mountain whispered to me about chances. A chance at riches, yes, but also a chance to prove myself. A chance for adventure. I heard it over the din of a thousand factories and voices and dirty streets. It didn't matter that nobody else seemed to hear it. It was alluring and thrilling, so I packed my bags and went to the desert.
I wasn't ready–nobody could be. They say there's something in those mountains that follows a man around and twists his mind, like a devil on your shoulder. But I think the demons are already inside you. You go over one bluff or down one canyon and the line between right and wrong starts slipping away. If you pull your pistol, you better know how to use it. If someone pulls on you, you better shoot first.
There's gold to be had for sure, but it's not just buried in the sand. It's under bones and blood and smoking metal. You dig through that and you'll find your fortune."
"Game # 1 of Hyborian War is a playtest game, by invitation only, which will include such luminaries as Paul Brown, Bob McLain, Steve Jackson, Mark Kaiser, Terry Cale and yours truly, among others."
- Mike Scheid
The Flagship of Postal Gaming
Issue #9 - Winter 1985 issue
The Shores of Tripoli
From the end of the American Revolution, commercial vessels of the young United States republic were easy prey for the pirates of the Barbary coast. In 1801, newly inaugurated President Thomas Jefferson was eager to put an end to this threat and sent a “squadron of observation” to the Mediterranean. As the squadron arrived in Gibraltar, they learned that the bashaw of Tripoli had already declared WAR!
The Shores of Tripoliplays out this exciting episode of Early American military history. As the United States, one player will pressure Tripolitania to allow the free movement of American merchant vessels – or face the consequences. As the bashaw of Tripoli, the other player will continue the lucrative piracy of the fearsome corsairs while countering the American threat on land and sea.
Beautiful and informative cards represent historical events and leaders from the First Barbary War. Players can move ships, start battles, go on pirate raids, engage in diplomacy and receive reinforcements. Includes over 80 wooden playing pieces, 24 dice and a premium mounted map.
What am I thinking?
Oh, my lord, you don't even want to know!
Doing what I do, where all of this PBM stuff is concerned, invariably ends up leaving me feeling like a modern day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Not the murderous, violent type, but rather, the confused and exasperated type. Ever do I find myself torn between my undying and often-professed love for PBM gaming, on the one hand, and the utter insanity and seeming hopelessness of continuing my climb out of this bottomless pitch-black abyss of trying to advance the cause.
And so I invariably end up careening like a human ping-pong ball in a continuous loop between battering my mind and refusing to wave the white flag of surrender. Not so much a death wish (so save your calls to Charles Bronson) as a self-inflicted punishment, I suppose. Surely, I have committed some nameless PBM sin, even as I frequently feel blessed to be a part of it all.
No doubt, it would be a true godsend, were Richard Weatherhead to swoop in like a PBM paladin sitting in a saddle atop a one-eyed pterodactyl and save me from it all, but he's probably way too busying working on that article that he committed to writing many PBM moons ago. Right, Richard? How much do you want to bet, though, that old Richard is probably living it up in French Polynesia, somewhere? Forget Waldo, what I want to know is, where's Richard?
In this year, alone, I've gotten a little bit of an handle on not just one additional PBM game, but two - Alamaze and Galac-Tac. Yeah, sure, I still suck at both to a significant degree, but my grasp of both has also substantially grown well beyond what it was at the beginning of this year. But to what end, I wonder?
Is this an episode of The Twilight Zone? Am I Lost in Space?
I'm not positive, but I think that the artist who created the front cover art for Issue #6 of Paper Mayhem, Paul Koroshetz, may have passed away back in 2006. Even though his last name was a kind of unusual name (I've never encountered another Koroshetz, before), both seem to have hailed from Colorado. Yet another reminder of our mortality.
The desire to continue doing things "the same old way" continues to infest PBM gaming. And yes, "infest" is definitely the right word. Stuck in its habits acquired over a significant span of time, the PBM industry is a leopard that definitely doesn't want to change its spots. It is content, it seems, to be a toothless leopard. It is largely a silent industry, even if it isn't very swift. It certainly isn't swift to address its numerous shortcomings or to up its game (pardon the pun), and in the hyper-competitive world of modern day entertainment, it's simply getting its lunch eaten.
When a leopard loses both its speed (its swiftness) and its fangs, what shall its fate be? In a nutshell, it becomes prey. The hunter becomes the hunted.
The stark, harsh reality is that designing a PBM game is hard. Running a PBM company is hard. Marketing a PBM game is hard. It's a fight. Always has been, always will be. But publishing a PBM publication of any kind, be it in paper format or digital, is fortunately the easiest thing in the world.
It requires no talent, no skill, no commitment - and the PBM world relentlessly and unceasingly sends all kinds of PBM-related stuff in, without even being asked or prompted or prodded. Everything just magically falls together. Trust me, it's nice!
Fortunately, my sense of humor remains firmly intact, even if my body parts seem to be falling apart, at times.
Randy Ritnour's article in this issue titled Past, Present, and Potential Future of PBM has meat on its bones. It's something that all of you can sink your teeth into it, if you make the effort to read it.
His comment of, "Either actively support PBM, or watch it spin into the ground like a yard dart," took my mind back to a time in my youth, when we used to take those big yard darts with their metal tips and toss one way up into the air, as high as we could, and then all of us would try to run and get out of the way, without getting impaled by one on its way back down. The PBM industry reminds me of that - except for the most part, it doesn't seem to make any real effort to get out of the way of those yard darts of reality that keep on crashing into its head. I can't help but to laugh, as that imagery rolls through my imagination, right now.
Welcome to PBM gaming, people!
I would take this opportunity to invite one and all to write in and share your own thoughts about Randy Ritnour's article in this issue of PBM Chaos. His article prompted numerous thoughts of my own with various different things that he said, and I will try to elaborate on them in the next issue with some feedback of my own. Won't you join me, by sharing thoughts of your own?
Whether you'll make an effort to do so or not, I would like to wish a very merry Christmas to one and all, no matter how you celebrate this upcoming holiday season, or whether you choose to celebrate it, at all.
Hondo ‘Lefty’ Rogers
Player: Ian Holden
DEAD OR ALIVE
People Killed: 1
Previous Location: 12
Current Location: 39
Bullet #1 - Shoots at Mississippi Dave Bastard in location 27. (Misses!) Bullet #2 - Shoots at Mississippi Dave Bastard in location 27. (Misses!) Bullet #3 - Shoots at Mississippi Dave Bastard in location 27. (Misses!) Bullet #4 - Shoots at Rowdy Slim McGraw in location 38. (Misses!) Bullet #5 - Shoots at Rowdy Slim McGraw in location 38. (Misses!) Bullet #6 - Shoots at Rowdy Slim McGraw in location 38. (Hits!) (Kills!)
Mississippi Dave Bastard
Player: Richard Lockwood
DEAD OR ALIVE
People Killed: 1
Previous Location: 36
Current Location: 27
Bullet #1 - Shoot at Corbin "Crooked" Calloway in location 22. (Misses!)
Bullet #2 - Shoot at Corbin "Crooked" Calloway in location 22. (Misses!)
Bullet #3 - Shoot at Corbin "Crooked" Calloway in location 22. (Misses!)
Bullet #4 - Shoot at Corbin "Crooked" Calloway in location 22. (Misses!)
Bullet #5 - Shoot at Corbin "Crooked" Calloway in location 22. (Misses!)
Bullet #6 - Shoot at Corbin "Crooked" Calloway in location 22. (Misses!)
Corbin "Crooked" Calloway
Player: Stefan Graf
DEAD OR ALIVE
People Killed: 1
Previous Location: 38
Current Location: 22
Bullet #1 - Shoot at Rowdy Slim McGraw in location 38. (Hits) (Kills!) Bullet #2 - Shoot at Rowdy Slim McGraw in location 38. (Misses!) Bullet #3 - Shoot at Rowdy Slim McGraw in location 38. (Misses!) Bullet #4 - Shoot at Rowdy Slim McGraw in location 38. (Hits!) (Wounds!) Bullet #5 - Shoot at Rowdy Slim McGraw in location 38. (Misses!) Bullet #6 - Shoot at Rowdy Slim McGraw in location 38. (Misses!)
Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell
Player: Darrell Lias
People Killed: None
Previous Location: 15
Current Location: 44
Passed out due to dehydration caused by the hot sun bearing down on him. (Missed turn!)
Rowdy Slim McGraw
Player: Casey Link
DEAD OR ALIVE
People Killed: 4
Previous Location: 3
Current Location: 38
Bullet #1 - Shoots at Hondo "Lefty" Rogers in location 39. (Misses!)
Bullet #2 - Shoot at Corbin "Crooked" Calloway in location 22. (Hits!) (Kills!)
Bullet #3 - Shoot at Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell in location 44. (Misses!)
Bullet #4 - Shoot at Sharpshooter Archibald Tyrrell in location 44. (Misses!)
Bullet #5 - Shoot at Corbin "Crooked" Calloway in location 22. (Misses!)
Bullet #6 - Shoots at Hondo "Lefty" Rogers in location 39. (Hits!) (Kills!)
PBMville now draws to an end!
The Narrator Speaks
To all who participated in PBMville: Wild West Shootout, I thank you. There won't be any more turn orders to send in for it. It appears that we ended the game with two player-controlled characters still alive, though both of them ended the game being wounded.
The big lesson for one and all, I think, is that gunfights tend to be a dangerous way of life.
Stefan Graf recently started running Sea of Nyx: A Pirate's Tale. I would encourage one and all to join it, and give it a try. It's free, and costs nothing but a little time and thought to play. Plus, its a pirate-themed game, and it certainly has more meat on its bones than PBMville did. Arrrr!
Hopefully, PBMville wasn't a complete waste of everyone's time. I trust that it brought at least a little enjoyment to those who participated in it, and to those of PBM Chaos' readers that were just an audience to it.
Feel free to write in and provide any feedback that you are inclined to provide.