If you haven’t played a play-by-mail game before, you are in for a truly different and exciting experience.
The concept is simple: each player interacts with the game (and with the other players) by sending written instructions for each turn to the game company. The company processes the turns, reports the results back to the players, and generally acts as moderator, guide, and referee.
Your ‘position’ or role in the game will vary according to the game setting. Thus, depending on the kind of game, you might be a feudal baron, a starship captain, the chieftan of a nomadic tribe, a powerful wizard, or the wise and crafty leader of a great consipracy to take over the world.
All PBM games give you a rulebook and the materials you need to send in your first turn, with instructions for filling out your turn sheets, and usually the background of the game and your position in it.
At that point, games begin to differ in what they demand of you, the player. There are games where you have to memorize lots of codes to enter on your turnsheet, and games where you write out long essays detailing what you want your character to do, and almost everything in between.
After processing your turn, the game company will send you a number of pages of information about your turn. If the game is computer moderated, the information will come back as a computer printout that will tell you what happened, in code, in English, or something in between. Then you fill out another turnsheet based on these results, and send it back to the game company for another round.
Some PBM games are run entirely by hand, some are run entirely by a computer program, and some are a mixture of the two. Computer moderation is probably best for competitive games, where fairness, accuracy, and consistancy are important. Human moderation and combined human-computer moderation (often called ‘computer-assisted’) are probably best for solitaire narrative games, where the player and the moderator team up to tell an adventure story interactively. But there are good games of all three types in almost every category of PBM gaming.
Games also vary a great deal in terms of the amount of player interaction. Solo games have only one player per game, so there is no interaction. Players in no-diplomacy games compete, but are not allowed to communicate or make deals with each other outside the game. At the other extreme, the biggest full diplomacy games have elaborate alliances, player-run organizations and newsletters, and a great deal of interaction with other players.
The hardest thing to describe about PBM gaming is the intensity of the experience. You start out wondering why any sensible person would pay X dollars to play a game and within weeks you are haunting your mailbox, waiting for your next turn.
When you are under attack, or you have just sent off a tricky meaneuver, and you are waiting to see what happened, the suspense is tremendous. Will you survive? Will your plan work? Where’s that *&%$#@ postman?
Another surprise for many new players is how quickly other players become strong friends and favorite enemies. Many PBM alliances span continents and generations and last for years. ‘Power’ players become internationally famous.
Players cover the whole spectrum, male and female, young and old, representing every imaginable type of occupation. But one of the fascinating things about PBM is that backgrounds really don’t matter. Your allies may include a student, a county sheriff, a physicist, and a Shakespearean actor, but you often won’t know or care. The important thing is the way they interact with the game and the other players.
Well what are you waiting for? Expand your horizons today!