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Issue 10

Stefan Graf writes in!

Hey Grimfinger,

Firstly, I want to say thank you for wanting to preserve the topic of PBM. I used to play a lot and fondly look back at those times. However, I sometimes find your newsletters a bit confusing, as you seem to link to games that are no longer active. Maybe you could mark these links.

And to reference your statement about today's problem with PBMs:
I think the biggest issue, besides graphically intensive PC games, is the accessibility to the PBM games. The rule sets are usually very complex and if there's a beginner's guide, it's not particularly well-written. And if I then have to pay right away to try it out, that's quite off-putting.

As a content suggestions for one of the next newsletters, I'd appreciate a list of the still active PBMs, including turn-submission rhythm and costs.

Best regards,

Hello Stefan,

Thank you for joining us on our PBM journeys, confusing though it can sometimes be! Very glad to have you aboard - and unlike most, you actually wrote in, which means that others can now read what you had to say. That makes for much more interesting reading than any article that I can write.

PBM Chaos is written in an off-the-cuff manner. There is no refined process, per se. Much of each issue tends to get done in one sitting, and proofreading tends to sometimes receive much less attention in some issues than in others. Even when I proofread, I still tend to miss stuff. Not to make excuses, but my eyesight isn't quite what it used to be, and that aside, sometimes the words all run together, and stuff gets missed because of that, also. Of course, if you'd like to volunteer for proofreading duties, I suspect there's probably room for you.

Your thoughts about today's problem with PBMs is well-stated, and needs no elaborating on by me. You seem to have no problem hitting nails on the head, Stefan. Just as I seem to sometimes have trouble writing issues of PBM Chaos, likewise, PBM companies and GMs sometimes have problems with the writing of their rulebooks, beginner guides, and other assorted documentation that they put together for their games.

Various documentation for PBM games is frequently a parade of horribles. And that's true for more than just one reason. Some PBM companies invest more time and effort in crafting their PBM documentation than others do. Some GMs are better writers than others. But even within the field of writing, there are different kinds of writing. One GM could do a fabulous job of writing role playing results for players' turns, while simultaneously sucking big time at trying to craft explanatory text for rules and such of that ilk.

Some PBM companies and GMs don't like writing PBM documentation any more than you or I or others like reading such stuff. How do you make dry material interesting to read, much less captivating? It can certainly be quite the challenge.

And some simply have no interest, whatsoever, in revising and updating PBM documentation that may have, in some instances, been on the market for decades on end. Crafting PBM documentation from scratch can be a god-awful pursuit, at times. Plus, too, those that write PBM documentation often author it from the perspective of assumed knowledge. For the very reason that many times they are intimately familiar with the subject matter that they are elaborating upon in written documentation, their writing reflects that whomever is reading it knows certain things that they never actually bother to explain. And if you're someone who is reading it for the very first time, you can easily end up lost or confused.

Plus, too, choices in terminology or a penchant for resort to abbreviations to expedite the process can present newcomers with textual minefields to negotiate. Engineers and programmers tend to be less-than-ideal candidates for crafting documentation intended to be read by the common, average person. Sometimes, though, it perhaps boils down to simply who else is going to write such stuff, if they don't?

As for your suggestion of "a list of the still active PBMs, including turn-submission rhythm and costs," that's a fine suggestion. The closest thing to it currently in existence is likely one or more "lists" that Raven Zachary put together a while back. I sent out a PBM list not long before PBM Chaos reared its head, but it doesn't have the turn-submission rhythm and costs that you're also after.

Across the PBM spectrum, it is not an uncommon occurrence for e-mails to PBM companies or GMs to never get responded to. It's far from rare for me to encounter a lack of response, and I've heard from enough PBM players over time, and I've come across postings by PBM players, at time, which all attest to this enduring problem in PBM gaming. Certainly a better PBM list could be compiled. No doubt about that, whatsoever. But trying to actually acquire the information in the level of detail desired may well prove to be an elusive target. It shouldn't be, but if past experience is any sort of indicator at all, I wouldn't bet the proverbial farm on it.

Even still, I'll see what i can do, but in any event, what you seek isn't going to be a quick and easy project. I'll try to undertake such as a long-term PBM project. Some PBM companies and GMs do, in fact, display their games' costs on their respective websites, but even then, they aren't always just one click away. Sometimes, you have to go on a treasure hunt, just to find the costs associate with playing PBM games. Is this entirely by accident? I don't think so. Price tags sometimes deter people from trying a given product, but hiding the costs associated with playing PBM games only tends to delay the inevitable decision as to whether a potential new PBM gamer thinks that a given PBM game is worth the price of admission.

Thanks for writing in, Stefan! Perhaps others will be motivated by you doing so, and begin to write in to us, as well.

- Charles -

Alamaze image ad for Old Man Games, LLC.

Alamaze is a computer-moderated, fantasy, turn-based game. It was published in 1986 by Pegasus Productions as a play-by-mail game. Reality Simulations later took over game moderation. The game itself has been played with multiple versions. The initial design, released in 1986, was replaced by the "Second Cycle" in 1991, offering changes to the kingdoms and game's history. The 3rd Cycle—"The Choosing"—emerged in 2015, doubling the available kingdoms while providing modifications to them. The publisher made additional changes to the player–game interface by 2017. In February 2019, Alamaze.co published the 4th Cycle, the world of Maelstrom, after two years of development. The game is currently run by Alamaze.co as a closed-end, play-by-email (PBEM) game in a turn-based format.

- Wikipedia entry for Alamaze

Looks like the Wikipedia entry for Alamaze could stand to be brought up-to-date. Alamaze's new URL address is https://alamaze.net/.

That aside, I currently play in six different games of Alamaze. There are things about Alamaze that I have come to appreciate over the last few months. In fact, there are some things about Alamaze that I love. But there are also some things about Alamaze I really do not care for, and which I think inhibits having fun in this fantasy-based wargame. Today, let's talk about one of those things.

There are mechanics and rules of games which perhaps look good on paper, but in actual practice when you go to play the game, can prove to end up being a real turn off. And of course, all players are not the same. Mechanics and rules of a number of games likely have both advocates and critics. Also, when it comes to game design, some things just boil down to trade-offs. That's just part of the overall process of designing games. What you allow, what you disallow, even if you don't bother to explain the underlying reasoning behind why a certain thing is a given way. Assuming, of course, there is actual reasoning that lies behind every particular rule or game mechanic.

As of right now, I have accumulated more than a hundred turns of experience playing Alamaze. And as I type this, a notification just popped up on my computer monitor's screen to alert me to the fact that my turn results for Alamaze Game 5703 have arrived in my e-mail inbox. Specifically, the turn results for my Demon Princes kingdom for Turn #18.

Others, of course, are entitled to their own respective opinions on all topics, including Alamaze. Likewise, I'm entitled to mine. Opinions are something that can be kept close to one's vest, or they can be shared with others. And the beauty of it is, we don't all have to to agree. We possess the freedom to disagree.

I think that Alamaze is supposed to be a wargame. When I go to recruit troops in Alamaze, it doesn't feel like a wargame, though. It feels more like tedium writ large. I find it literally tiring, just to recruit troops. There are so many restrictions in recruiting certain troops that it literally makes me want to just drop some of the games of Alamaze that I am. Yes, from my perspective, it really is that bad.

Others of course, would likely disagree. Which is fine and dandy, and they are each free to write articles on the subject. In fact, I would welcome it. But this particular article is an exercise in the sharing of my opinion, not their opinions.

Unless I am mistaken (and I very well could be), in Alamaze, there are three ways to recruit troops.

  • Recruiting troops at a population center.
  • Recruiting companion troops in the wild.
  • Recruiting troops by summoning them.

I am going by a kingdom set-up for the Dwarves, as I write this. I have turn results for Turn #11 for my Dwarven kingdom in Game 5663 in hand. A piece of me, perhaps one of those voices that sit on your shoulder, keeps on telling me to just bring an end to the tedium, and just drop the game. Are PBM gamers even allowed to be merciful to themselves, though?

Let's take a look at part of the kingdom set-up report for the Dwarves in Alamaze:

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I apologize for the small size of it, but focus upon the part that says Companions. In the 2nd Dwarven military group, I have three military leaders (leaders are a type of character in Alamaze) assigned to that group - a marshal, a general, and a centurion. The group, itself, is patrol sized. Playing the Dwarves, a marshal, a general, and a centurion are insufficient for recruiting troops in the wild. Basically, you're just shit out of luck.

Now, if I had one elite brigade, or three other brigades, in that military group, I could recruit troops in the wild, even without having that many military commanders. Even though I've got a hundred turns of experience playing Alamaze under my belt, now, I still don't have everything about the game memorized. So, I have to refer back to kingdom set-up reports and rules, from time to time. And that's where the boring tedium comes in. To me, the tedium gets so bad, at times, that it makes me not even want to play the game.

Fortunately, I am in what I call Learning Games. The whole point of Learning Games isn't to win nor to do well nor to enjoy every last aspect of the games being played. Rather, it is to learn about the game - about how hard or how easy it is it to play, about various individual learning curves associated within all of the different stuff that collectively comprises the game, about sifting the wheat of the good from the chaff of the bad. Again, what's good or what's bad is based upon perception, and one man's junk is another man's treasure, just as one man's lyric is another man's vulgarity.

When I also factor in my 1st Dwarven military group, which is located elsewhere on the map from the 2nd Dwarven group, I see that I have three military commanders in that military group, as well. If I remember correctly, the most military commanders that you can have assigned to any sized military group in Alamaze is three. Why? Well, you tell me, and then we'll both know. I guess that it's just a magical number or something.

The 1st Dwarven group has, thus far, fought three battles, and it has won all three. How many elite troop brigades does it now contain? Zero. These recruitable troop charts located in kingdom set-up reports do vary from kingdom to kingdom.

You've got to have this kind of military leader, or you've got to have this many troop brigades, or you have to have a certain level of troop experience all work together to hinder and to impede An Alamaze player from just recruiting troops and marching them off to war with the enemy. Color me odd, but I fancy a wargame that facilitates the waging of war, not one which gets in the way of it with a variety of different restrictions that substitute the plain old boring tedium for the vigor of war.

To each their own, of course.

I am hopeful that Alamaze will eventually get rid of some of these unnecessary obstacles to waging war, in forthcoming weeks and months, as its new ownership more fully assesses and weighs what changes or improvements that it considers and determines to be desirable to make.

Me? I'll keep trudging along in these Learning Games of Alamaze that I've shackled myself to. Truly, each game of Alamaze that I'm in is different. Each one is its own creature, so to speak. I can be bored in one game of Alamaze, while simultaneously be having a blast in a different game of Alamaze. In fact, right now, I'm anxious to open my turn results for the Demon Princes kingdom that I mentioned, above.

Can Alamaze be improved? Absolutely. In fact, I'm not aware of any PBM game on the market, right now - be it of the postal variety or of the digital lineal descendant variety - that couldn't be improved. At least with Alamaze, it's free to play, both now and for the foreseeable future. However, playing PBM games does require an investment of one's time, whether it's free or not, and given a choice, I would pick having fun over languishing in tedium each and every time.

By comparison, though you may not always be able to raise as many troops as you might want to in Hyborian War, the mere act of raising them isn't nearly so tedious as it is in Alamaze. More importantly, though, how does this tedious approach to recruiting troops in Alamaze add to the fun of playing the game? From my perspective, it doesn't.

And that, more than anything, is why I think that this particular part of Alamaze needs to be changed for the better.

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BoldHome Heroes News:

Summary of Announcements 1630 - 10 (Late Dark)

Quatlu Carasilson applies for the post of Aide to an Eorl.
Quatlu Carasilson applies for the position of God Talker of Orlanth.
Broar Hofarson applies for the post of Aide to a Colymar Chieftain.
Broar Hofarson applies for the post of Regimental Healer to the Colymar Cavalry.
Broar Hofarson applies for the post of Aide to the City Administrator.
Broar Hofarson applies for the post of Aide to the City Warmaster.
Broar Hofarson applies for the position of God-Talker of Ernalda.
Erik Stargazer applies for the position of Regimental Adjutant for the Colymar Cavalry.
Erik Stargazer applies for the position of Colymar Chieftain.
Erik Stargazer applies for the position of God Talker of Orlanth.
Rhosyn applies for the position of Aide to a Dinacoli Drighten.
Ondureen Eoarlsdaughter applies for the position of Aide to an Eorl.
Ondureen Eoarlsdaughter applies for the position of Assistant Runelord of Babeester Gor.
Johannes Arasikson seeks an appointment as Aide to a Chief.
Rufus Bronzer applies for the position of aide to a Lord or Lady of his tribe.
Rufus Bronzer will try to persuade the warlord of Mularik's Company to volunteer for the front.

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PBM Pub Meets 2023

What is the true measure of PBM pub meets?

Personalities, interactions, and fun! - Not the number of participants attending.

NOTE: This pub meet photo was made possible by the esteemed Richard Lockwood.

Image for new PBM list

ATTENTION: There's a new PBM list in the works, one that I just started on. It likely will take a while for me to complete it, as I aim to work on it in increments - with no estimated time frame for completion, as of yet. Just click on that image with the big red arrow, above, to be taken to it.


If you are e-mailing your turn orders in to Reality Simulations, Inc. (RSI) for any of the PBM games that they run, always be sure to send your turn orders in using plain text format.

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Andrew Laidlaw was seen asking about a Goblin-Ork hybrid.

Sir Larry Lightblade can see the dead.

Thomas Crane was seen musing about an Elven Citadel and dead end corridors.

David Pennewell wants to know why Glaze is in the wall.

Steve Tierney was witnessed hawking Madhouse special offers for Halloween 2023.

Neil Bradley is wondering about the Pumpkinlord.

The warder, Marcu La'strange, has died.

Ron Honest is going on about a demon, torture, and dark rites.

Dalene Abner is curious about the Malakin Robe.

Steve Tierney had a birthday, recently. Happy belated birthday to you, Steve!

Samantha Hoy was mumbling something about a pumpkin diced latte.

Ian Edwards has a gripe about voodoo dolls.

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