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A simple question, where have I been? No, that's not a question I choose to answer today.  Big Grin

If I were to purchase a board game, and I do frequently, I have a certain level of experience that helps me to have a level of expectation about what I'll find when I first open the box and go to play the thing.

If I were to purchase a computer game today I would have a fairly good idea of what I'm going to get and roughly how the game will play. However, I'm old enough to remember when computer games were new. I'm not going to speak to arcade type games (both those played in an actual arcade, but also that style of game for home play) But in the realm of computer strategy games, I remember a period of time when the computer game tried to duplicate the board game experience on a computer. These efforts were often less successful and it wasn't until designers were able to take full advantage of the computer and free themselves from trying to model something it wasn't that we started to see the medium of the computer game come into its own.

So my question would be, do play by mail games have any basic expectations about them that a player starting a new game would recognize as uniquely play by mail? And if so, what are they? Yes, I know what I think. But I'm curious if anyone will reply and what you are thinking if you do.

Maybe it's a silly question. But something motivated me to come to pay a visit here tonight after many years away, and this thought crossed my mind as I was reading some of the posts.

a.k.a. The "MAD" Scientist
I think there are a lot of variants on PBM game style, but I would expect the one constant with them is that players submit a set of orders and get back a set results.

I also believe that, in most cases, the other hallmark feature of PBM is that player's turns are reasonably infrequent - varying from 1 turn a day to 1 turn every 2 weeks.

The game I'm currently building is a kind of computer game, meets board game, meets PBM design. In it's current state, the game is single player and it completely hides it's PBM bones. Once the single player version is ironed out, I'll open up the multiplayer PBM aspects of the game.
"do play by mail games have any basic expectations about them that a player starting a new game would recognize as uniquely play by mail?"

Yes, the fact that you'll be called upon to 'roleplay' more than normal.  Even in a straight up wargame 'I move unit X here' will include the unspoken 'I hope to achieve Y' and then at the other end almost everything you'll do is done via roleplaying.

I guess to go along with that thought would be expect to interact with the other players ALOT more.

And finally you'll be on a time table, no playing only when it suits you.  For the game to work you have to agree to what ever turn around time there is.
I agree with all of the above, of course.  But I think one of the most salient points is the issue of time between turns.

First of all, you're not playing continuously like you typically would in a board game or arcade-style game or MMORPG.  This gives you a chance for plenty of rest and other activities between turns, rather than having to allocate large blocks (often hours long) of uninterrupted time to play.

Secondly, while there are deadlines, the time you spend playing is not "scheduled" and you can do it any time that's convenient for you.  For example, you don't have to have several people scattered across the world that you're playing with to all get on-line at the same absolute time (often the middle of the work day or the middle of the night for many of them) so that you can play together as a team or in real-time opposition.

Thirdly, the spacing between turns is worked out so that you have time to spend thinking about your results and planning your next turn in detail, usually including changing your mind when a better choice occurs to you.  This allows for much more strategy and you rely less on being immediately reactionary -- using your mind rather than your "trigger finger".  And given the time for your best choices leads to a well-played turn providing a great deal of emotional satisfaction and fun.

Fourthly, given the time to review and plan allows the games to be more richly detailed and complex, so there's more to enjoy than just racking up points.  Picking up a new game you can expect to have lots of rules to learn, at least over time, and lots of possible paths you can take in your play style.

Fifthly, the time delay gives you that opportunity to interact with other players, either cooperatively or not.  Most PBM games have ways to communicate with other players, either instantly or by sharing direct contact information via a slower link such as a mailed-out turn.  PBM history is rife with players working together between turns to defeat a common enemy.

Sixthly, since turns are far apart that usually means that games last much, much longer.  You may play a computer game for an entire weekend to get to the goal, or at least an interim goal, after which you often start looking for another new game to try.  But PBM games can last for years (and some forever), playing in the same game and building continuously to form a large game-empire.  Larger game positions, built over very long times, can provide an immense satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.

Seventhly, since games play for so long you end up with a great deal of personal investment in their positions.  These are not games to be casually discarded when they become tiring - you've "come too far to give up now". You want to play on and on, continuing to build enjoyment on what you've done before.  If you're killed out, you can't restart from a "save point" but instead must start over from scratch -- although that too enables you to make use of what you learned last time to do it better this time.

All in all, we're talking about long-term enjoyment and satisfaction with PBM games.
There's also a quote about PBM that I like to refer to:

Quote:  Where else can you compete against a dozen or more mature, intelligent adults in a sophisticated, thinking man’s game set in a genre of mutual interest? In a format that lets you play whenever you wish within a cycle of several days, and affords that same convenience to all allies and enemies in the campaign? Where else do games build to a crescendo over several months of thoughtful planning and execution, where lifelong friendships may be made, some of whom may also frequently play the role of arch nemesis? Where reflexes matter for naught, strategy is everything, both in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your position and style of play, as well as those of your fellow competitors?

— Rick McDowell
Good comments by everyone including some points I had not thought of myself. I think I'm going to copy that quote to use in the future. Full attribution will be given. 

I was going to make some further comment, but I realized I was picking nits and let it go for me. Keep the comments coming, I just need to think about my reply a bit longer. Big Grin
a.k.a. The "MAD" Scientist
(08-02-2019, 05:28 AM)PNMarkW2 Wrote: So my question would be, do play by mail games have any basic expectations about them that a player starting a new game would recognize as uniquely play by mail? And if so, what are they? Yes, I know what I think. But I'm curious if anyone will reply and what you are thinking if you do.

For myself, the very first thing that came to mind for basic expectations for a player starting a new game that rises to the level of being uniquely play by mail (or perhaps I should say distinctly play by mail, for it really stands out about game splayed via the postal medium), is something called anticipation.

First and foremost, playing games via the postal service tend to yield a lot of anticipation, building up like magma in a volcano. Positive tension is generated by this anticipation in a recurring manner, turn by turn by turn. The wait, itself, between turns, combined with the stimulating effect that it tends to have on the human imagination, is what causes explosions of fun for PBM gamers. The inherent nature of the medium that is gaming via the postal service, which requires days or even weeks between turn results, effectively guarantees that anticipation will form in the PBM players' minds.
Agreed, Grim.  I should have thought to mention that myself, as it's also a major factor deriving from the time between turns.  In this age of instant gratification in most game play, PBM-style games (even without true postal delivery) stand out for generating that escalating level of tension every turn that you really don't get anywhere else.  (Of course, that's what inspired your magazine title of "Suspense & Decision".)
When I think back to the first time I came across some PBM ads while reading The Dragon, I remember the quick rush I felt at the possibilities. I could play a well-moderated game, with hundreds of other people, at a workable pace, allowing me to invest in strategy and diplomacy, on a scale that could never be done face to face while sitting around a table.

I had been familiar with the idea of postal gaming because I had seen a number of ads in my friend's copy of The General, and I was vaguely aware of a game called Diplomacy that was fun to play through the mail.

But Flying Buffalo -- and the PBM publishers that followed -- offered something new. They didn't just port a game over to the mail -- they designed games to take advantage of the mail. Even a game with a smaller set of players, Starweb for example, couldn't realistically and reliably be played at home, in person. It was generally hard to get a half-dozen of your friends to agree on a game and commit to playing it all the way through -- getting a dozen or more was practically impossible, outside a college setting. And here, you'd be playing MOTIVATED players. (As I've often said with regard to the ancient MMO "Ultima Online", the most dangerous monsters you'll face are other people.)

So PBM needs to embrace the web and leverage it.

I will also add that people are looking for new ways to gather and play. I read an article the other day on Fortnite, the shooter game that has every kid in the country enthralled. They continually update the game with new content and features, to keep players happy. One of these updates had a surprising result -- they added guided missiles, to make it easier to kill people, but players didn't like them much. They wanted to win, to be sure, but what they REALLY wanted was to PLAY. They wanted more ways to interact, tease, surprise, and tickle each other. So the company keeps doing THAT now, adding dances, player skins, funny ways to move around -- basically anything that looks entertaining and fun on a youtube capture.

The focus on PBM design should be to maximize points of interaction. Turn away from parallel solitaire. Enable team-building, colorful role-playing, opportunities to shift narratives, etc. And make it something that will look good or enticing when posted to social media.

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