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Cycles in Gaming

Cycles in Gaming

As a regular down at the yearly Birmingham Games Expo, I have to say that there is a palpable growth in the enthusiasm for board games. A 40+ year old, I was raised on games such as Talisman though these often were pre-cursors to a solid RP session. Board games now however often limelight for a great night's entertainment especially at family occasions. Broad appeal games such as 'Ticket to Ride' and 'Ch'teau Roquefort' are clear favourites amongst those not overly keen on gathering gear and smiting things - usually other players and monsters.

This is most definitely at odds with the situation less than a decade ago when I was waxing nostalgic about the golden years of RPG's and board games and cursing the rise of vacuous online gaming.

Reading around this phenomenon I have come to the conclusion that for a time MMO's (and 'RP' computer games) stole many hard-core gamers and to some extent robbed board games and RPG's of a generation of young gamers. I certainly noticed during the first few years that the Birmingham Games Expo was dominated by early middle-aged men and their young/teenage children. There was a distinct deficiency in attendants in their 20's and 30's.


Despite this initial kick to the market, they have opened gaming to a much wider audience than has ever previously existed. I also suspect that there are a lot of people just like me, now with families that are teaching the social benefits of gathering round a table to game.

The distinct playing styles of a board game, its turn-based mechanics and ability to socialise while playing the game between turns is clearly not present in MMO's where the emphasis is log-in, do the mission/quest and log-out until next time. Being members of guilds/factions will create some sort of down-time camaraderie but this rarely extends beyond the guild/faction. Further, the commercial aspect of the game is generally based on having a vast player-base, leaving no room for individuality on the bigger playing board.

There is however one hobby that spans the gap between small social groups gathered round the table and the vast morass of strangers that are MMO's, I refer to PBM's and their legacy.

For those unfamiliar with this acronym, it stands for Play-by-Mail - essentially a group of players remotely playing a board game, giving instructions to the game master to move their positions on the master board.

The board could be a physical object though more likely a computer generated board. The orders could be simple such as in chess, through to complex such as organising a thousand starships to converge on multiple targets scattered across twenty star systems.

Always being a niche of the board gaming and RPG industry however meant that the downturn of these was the death knell for the vast majority of PBM companies. It was labour intensive, low profit margin and often required personal interaction between the game masters and the customers. Even with adaptation to changing technology such as PBeM (yup, you guessed it, Play-by-email), and online versions supported by full interfaces, they were still very much tied to the mechanics of a board game and by association a dwindling and aging player base.

The story however does not end there as we recall the opening paragraphs on the rise of the board game. It does seem that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the companies that have weathered the storm and for the few companies that have invested time and effort into their games. The reason for this is that their games are still at their heart board games. There is the turn-based structure, a computer generated landscape on which assets are placed but most importantly a modest sized community that spans the entire player base.


Just as PBM grew out of the need for gamers who were unable to get their board game fix because their mates went to university or their jobs took them away, it looks as though the growth in the board games market is having a knock-on beneficial effect for the legacy of the PBM industry.

People are becoming choosier about not only what they play but who they play it with. They want the GM's of old, the personal service that cannot be offered by the large faceless MMO's. They want a game where they are part of a community such as offered by board games and they want the professional service that they accept they can only get through paying.



While it is too early to say that the renaissance of PBM (well, its offspring at least) is on the table, the transition of board gaming to mainstream thanks in some part to MMO's can only be a good thing though the companies will definitely struggle on account of the demise of the wider communities dedicated to this hobby. The last copy of Flagship Magazine was some years ago now and the website shows little activity. Unless you went searching specifically for Play by Mail, you are unlikely to find much more than a few soccer PBM's, KJC Games and Harlequin, but then, if you were searching for Play by Mail, you would undoubtedly be aware of these two companies as both have been around for decades.

It therefore probably comes down to customer demand. Demand for a means to play when nobody was available created PBM's. Can the a rejection of being spoon-fed repeats of the levelling system offered by Warcraft clones and a desire to play good quality turn-based games with a smaller community lead to increased interest in the hobby? Can we expect a resurgence of programmers looking to create their homebrew systems as we had back in the mid 90's? The main hurdle though will be to create an online interface that looks professional such as Phoenixbse, though simpler approaches such as static pages with perlscript submissions are a reasonable first pass. The important thing though is that there is a solid game such as is not currently offered by the market at large.




 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****



 
***** Inter Galactic News THE MUSICAL *****

*** Norozov, No More ***

Kantner: No more do I see the starlight caress your cyclops eye
No more feel the tender kisses we used to share
I close my fists and clearly my heart remembers
A thousand goodbyes could never put out the embers

Chulainn: Oh the power is mine now!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before
Please, come back to my arms; we belong together
Come to me; let's be sweethearts again and then let us part no more

Chulainn: Oh all the Stellars mine now!

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Kantner: No more do I feel the touch of your hand on mine
No more see the love-light making your dark eyes shine
Oh, how I wish I never had caused you sorrow
But don't ever say for us there is no tomorrow

Chulainn: Oh all the ladies mine now!

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Chorus: The power is in the eye!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before
Please, come back to my arms; we belong together
Come to me; let's be sweethearts again and then let us part no more

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Chulainn: Oh the power is mine now!

Chorus: The power is in the eye!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before.

Lanner: So, old cyclops has finally met his comeuppance
Maybe its time for a comeback

Chorus: No, no one wants you back!

Lanner: I always did like that chair of his…

Chorus: The power is in the eye!
The power is in the eye!
The power is in the eye!

Continued in this special edition of the SSS...

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** ALIEN CRIMINALS BROUGHT TO JUSTICE ***

FILTHY AND DISHONOURABLE Dewiek mercenaries have dared to attack HONEST AND HARDWORKING GTT warships in the Coptuv system.

THEY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT TO JUSTICE. LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!

The Dewiek commander’s lengthy response was appreciated by xenophile and philanthropist HQ Manager Tom Krieger but this does not change the facts.

FURTHER JUSTICE IS EXPECTED AT THE EMPEROR’S PLEASURE. LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!

Inside this issue of the SSS: * SEDITIOUS FET CHARGED * LIES OF THE FAILED REBELLION * TERRORIST PLOTS FOILED * ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE CRITICISED * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Voice of the Naplian Liberation Front ***

We are the Naplian Liberation Front. We have commandeered this station to bring you important and vital deprogramming. You are a slave of the Galactic Trouser and Tussles Imperium of Unspecified Services! We have witnessed the press ganged upon by Imperial thugs. Rounding up reporters by the thousands and throwing them in weasel dens. Mocking the Great Uncle of the Flagritz. Manufacturing consent out of a lust for imports of wheat cereals! We poor Naplians(*) are given no training and substandard equipment when preparing your nutritious breakfasts. We are sent forward by the Imperial snack commissioners with threats of triple-filing tax returns on unreasonable deadlines! Death would be preferable. We are allegedly paid a wage but have you ever tried to buy anything with just $1? Strangely none of those politicals earning $10,000 or more a week seem to care about our plight. Not to mention that the Imperials throw perfectly good meat into the grinder instead of slow cooking it in black bean sauce. They have no respect for a classic burrito! We are left grieving for young families who have never tasted quality ranch sauce. You don’t need to be a dead Naplian to know the value of a good guacamole.

* No actual Naplians included.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * GTT vs USN * GTT vs NLF * GTT vs IND * GTT vs KAS * GTT vs FET * GTT vs SSS * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Stellar Empire On Warpath ***

The newly re-united Stellar Empire continued to wage war against the Flagritz Empire to bring about galactic peace and freedom for all. The latest system to fall to the inevitable tide of history was Morroglyph in the Coreward Arm. Dewiek intransigence reached fever pitch as the FLZ facilities changed to DEN paws and subsequently became targets of Imperial truth and justice. Despite putting themselves between the past and the future, the DEN seemed to lack much will for an actual fight with Dewiek military commanders adopting “meh” as their watchword.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * GTT smacks NLF * DEN whack MRC * Slaves Liberated * FLZ Retreat * ARC in Orion Spur * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Stellar Empire Re-United ***

Celebrations were held across the vast territories of the Stellar Empire as the two-halves represented by the governments of the Imperials and Caliphate determined to unite. This followed almost inevitably from the assassination of the Caliph, a crime that has gone mysteriously unresolved. The old Caliphate ministers were ‘retired’ and at first it seemed the Imperials had managed what had alluded them for decades.

However, just as orders to claim systems for the IMP went in some places, conflicting orders to claim for the CIA came from Laton. In other systems, it seems overwhelming civilian support lies with the defunct CAL government and there are a number of CIV and CAL bases that seem to have not heeded the CIA nor IMP orders. With all the Caliphate's armaments now in the CIA’s hand and no political leadership in the old government, it seems inevitable that the civilians will be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.

A muted and cautious response from the rest of the galaxy was only to be expected given the formation of a new unrivalled superpower. The chilling effect on public discourse as the Imperial war machine taps into the substantial, if stunted, economies of the former Caliphate will surely be felt for years to come. Does this mark the 'end of history' as we know it?

More on this story inside this issue of the SSS along with: * KAS v IMP/GTT v FLZ * DEN v MRC * FOCed by IMP * BHD v DEN * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Imperials Declare War Against Flagritz ***

A declaration of war came last week after an unsatisfactory reply to Imperial ultimatums that the FLZ accept resolution of the previous war. J. Jones issued the following proclamation, "We hope this reminder will prompt them to rethink the status they removed them selves from and come back to more peaceful co-existence.” Doublegood, Viceroy, doublegood!

More on this story inside this issue of the SSS along with: * Species Guide * FEL Barter With GIants * High Times &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Orion Spur Special Edition ***

Explorers of the galaxy rejoiced as knowledge of a new periphery became common knowledge, revealing charts to forty star systems. The Orion Spur is connected to the massive Coreward Arm with rumours that the locals of the Monument system at the heart of this new periphery may have been responsible for the collapse of the HarCorp civilisation.

We have in-depth analysis and information about the new periphery inside this special issue of the SSS.

Also inside this issue of the SSS: * Naplian Liberation Front Reality Show * FLZ v FEL * Mercs in Graydown * DOM Scare Stories * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Hoedown in Graydown ***

Wimbles in the Graydown system have come under repeated attacks by mercenaries. The Wimbles having already lost two outposts have had their ships come under attack by boarders. The Wimbles are pointing a hairy finger at the GTT whilst the DEN are itching to get their paws in.

Pleasantly rotund Wolf Lord Lyceum reported the destruction of one mercenary ship, a Corsair class explorer called "Eye of the Chosen" which had earlier dropped off ground forces flying the banner of "God Hates Wimbles.” Which God and why he or she hates Wimbles has yet to be revealed. We suspect its corporation-loving Mammon.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Sargasso Update * Wakerians * Naplian Liberation Front * &etc

 

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Over 20 years of content development
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I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic