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214
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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.




 
News
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Tension in the Corewards Arm

With the DNA obtaining several ex-GCE bases in the Coreward Arm it has found itself in the middle of an asset grab of serious proportions and aggression. Our reporters witnessed several GTT troop carriers heading for the Corewards system as the DNA published information suggesting they were accidental owners of the system and that the assets were to be moved on. As the GTT ships started to arrive the bases were quickly passed to the CIA, thus thwarting the GTT intentions as they were hardly likely to start dropping troops on their allies bases. This shrew move by the DNA seems to have calmed matters in the Coreward arm temporarily, although the shift in relations between the GTT and DNA has taken a negative turn. When asked what their next move might be the GTT refused to comment.

GCE collapse

The GCE are no more, save for some scattered light freighters. The affiliation which enjoyed a sharp rise and profiltable relations with many has ceased trading. Rumors point to the GTT buying up GCE assets before stripping the rival corporation of anything of value. Although our reporters at the SSS have been quick to point out that any GCE assets not in GTT systems have been taken over by both the DNA and FET. So it seems many different affiliations were able to profit from this development including a new group called the HSH who appear to have taken over the GCE war fleet. No doubt many in the peripheries will be watching with interest where these ships are used, who the HSH are and how they were able to get thier hands on so many warships so quickly.


Secudus trials

In the Cluster Secudus has continued his trials, claiming to root out terrorists working against the Empire. With tends of thousands of beings being sent to the camps or worse. There is no sign of these actions stopping as the NHS clamp down on the locals and bring them under the harsh control of the Empire.


*** Affiliations ***

AFT Association of Free Traders (54) - Marion Tweedy
BLG Bolg Organisation (22) - Akhenaten
BHD Brotherhood (63) - de Molay
CIA Combined Intelligence Agency (64) - Laton CIA
DNA Displaced Natives Asylum (66) - DNA people
DTR Detinus Republic (58) - Morley Decker
DWK Dewiek Packs (19) - <Unknown>
FCN Falconian Republic (70) – <Unknown>
FEL Felini Tyranny (49) - Juris
FLZ Flagritz Republic (47) - Kayxaer
FET Frontier Exploration & Trade (56) - Cu Chulainn
GTT Galactic Trade & Transport (52) - Xavier Fox
HEX Hexamon (23) - Tranquility
KRL Krell (30) - Namica
KRT Krell of the Reverence Temple (37) - Cyn
KST Kastor Kastorians (12) - Kastor
MOH Mohache (73) – Listens
NHS Noble Houses (41) – Roy Roberts
NLF Naplian Liberation Front (38) - NLFHQ
SMS Stellar Mining and Smelting (53) - MikhailM
WMB Wimble Nations (25) - zz

* Leader MAY be inactive, affiliation may be active
** Only known contact, please update us if this is incorrect.

NPC / FoC: ARC, CIV, CGT, FRE, HBO, HEF, IND, ISP, JCN, MEK, MRC, PIR, PRV, TCA, TRN, KAS
Inactive: ANT, COD, DEN, DOM, GCE, HVE, IDC, IMP, RIP, RCF, SKW, TAG,

*** Submissions ***

By private message to The Editor or via Mica if you prefer to remain anonymous.
 
******Empire Syndicated News Network (ESNN) ******

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Welcome to the latest version of ESNN, giving the news and views from the ESNN's reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, making this the peripheries' most favourite and most reliable unbiased publication in the known universe from our home in the Heartland,

And so with the news from the last couple of weeks,


Cluster War! DNA Gather Fruit
 
******Empire Syndicated News Network (ESNN) ******

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Welcome to the latest version of ESNN, giving the news and views from the ESNN's reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, making this the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe from our home in the Heartland,

And so with the news from the last few weeks,


Cluster War! MZC attacks DNA
 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

The Dewiek rise again!

After the death and destruction wrought upon the Dewiek Nation by the Architects, there was a period of calm if you were a werewolf fancier. But now the Dewiek have risen to once more in the name of the Dewiek Packs, led by Skarn. Their new message being one of peace, a most unusual change for the large humanoid wolves. While they rise from the ashes of the Mizuchi Combine the Galaxy waits to see how this new affiliation acts, baring in mind the Dewiek have something of reputation.

Empire invade the Cluster!

A significant force of GTT warships recently entered the Cluster, somewhere they have not seen the need to go for a very long time. At the same time the CIA banned the Dewiek Packs from it’s space and also sent a large number of warships into the Cluster to bolster the GTT’s presence. After this show of force the Crossley system, known for it’s wormhole connecting from the Cluster to CIA space shifted to be claimed by the GTT. Currently the Empire has over 200,000 troops and 2000 warships roaming the nearby systems. Inhabitants of the Cluster are waiting to see if there are any further developments. GTT CEO Xavier Fox when asked by our office dismissed it as a “Training exercise”.

Krell sale!

The Krell Clan Dark Angels has been selling off bases, outposts and even systems lately. It is unknown why they have decided to cash in their assets and territories, but it points to the accumulation of significant wealth by the Krell clan. If you have any spare cash and want to expand your assets then it seems to our office that the best place to go is the Dark Angel Clan and ask what will be going up for sale next, assuming they actually have anything left.

*** Affiliations ***

AFT Association of Free Traders (54) - Marion Tweedy
BLG Bolg Organisation (22) - Akhenaten
BHD Brotherhood (63) - de Molay
CIA Combined Intelligence Agency (64) - Laton CIA
DNA Displaced Natives Asylum (66) - DNA people
DTR Detinus Republic (58) - Morley Decker
DEN Dewiek Elder Nation (67) - <unknown>
DWK Dewiek Packs (19) - Skarn
FCN Falconian Republic (70) – Bacran *
FEL Felini Tyranny (49) - Juris
FLZ Flagritz Republic (47) - Kayxaer
FET Frontier Exploration & Trade (56) - Cu Chulainn
GTT Galactic Trade & Transport (52) - Xavier Fox
GCE Garcia Enterprises (4) - Neil
HEX Hexamon (23) - <unknown>
KRL Krell (30) - Namica
KRT Krell of the Reverence Temple (37) - Kal Torak
KST Kastor Kastorians (12) - Kastor
MZC Mizuchi Combine (86) - Mizuchi
MOH Mohache (73) – Listens
NHS Noble Houses (41) – Roy Roberts
NLF Naplian Liberation Front (38) - NLFHQ
SMS Stellar Mining and Smelting (53) - MikhailM
WMB Wimble Nations (25) - zz

* Leader MAY be inactive, affiliation may be active
** Only known contact, please update us if this is incorrect.

NPC / FoC: ARC, CIV, CGT, FRE, HBO, HEF, IND, ISP, JCN, MEK, MRC, PIR, PRV, TCA, TRN, KAS
Inactive: ANT, COD, DOM, HVE, IDC, IMP, RIP, RCF, SKW, TAG

*** Submissions ***

By private message to The Editor or via Mica if you prefer to remain anonymous.
 
GTT step forward to control protection and peace in the Stellar Empire.

With the retirement of Jack Johns and various lower-level IMP officers from public life, the Imperial Services were left on the verge of being unable to fill their role as protectors of the Stellar Empire. Due to the serious nature the Imperial Services found itself in, the Emperor recently travelled to GTT HQ to attend a board meeting with the directors of the GTT.

With Galactic Trade and Transport being one of the few remaining loyal Imperial Chartered affiliations, who also supply well over half of the war material to the Imperial Services, the Emperor sought the position of the GTT with regard to the Imperial Services becoming overburdened with bureaucracy and lacking effective leadership. Effectively the Imperial Services were at the point of collapse. A position highlighted when an opportunistic supposed ally subverted four Imperial Outposts in the Inner Empire, thinking their asset grabbing would go unnoticed.
 
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  Star Date: 221.30.5

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RAGNAROK COMES

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A Forlorn Hope

The seat of Dewiek Government has fallen. What began as a small group of Architect ships picking up retreating DEN forces, amalgamated into a much larger force. The bombardment fleet comprised dozens of Adult ARC ships plus several Planet Killers. The force made short work of the impressive fortifications of the planetary orbit of Newstart. Multiple heavily armoured and maximised deflector shield platforms crumbled. They did so only after releasing their volleys of antimatter and nova weapon batteries. Any DEN warships that remained from earlier encounters also stood the line. But within the week, the last defence was gone.

Bombardment of Wolf Lair starbase proceeded without further resistance from the Dewiek. ARC Plasmas ripped through starbase shields. They demolished tens of thousands of factories and research facilities. The ARC demolished the huge military recruitment and training facilities on the planet. Over half a million trained troops evacuated from deep bunkers, leaving a token ground defence.

The ARC were not satisfied to burn the facilities and murder the workers. They deployed repeated salvos of their Virus Bombs on the wider population. Reports began to arrive of civilians of the world regressing. Leaving settlements and returning to nature. Much as the Dewiek found themselves some decades ago when they started to recover from the First Great ARC-DEN War. This time there was no High Lord Magnus willing to obliterate the world to save a remnant of the people. Newstart was already lost.

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Newstart is lost

 
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  Star Date: 221.27.2

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RAGNAROK APPROACHES

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End Game Lost

A short-lived period of peace followed the Dewiek Elder Nation’s historic and Saga-worthy defence against the Architect Planet Killers. A handful of the more typically encountered ARC ships were spotted picking off DEN support ships in Forlorn Hope before more than forty of them appeared back in End Game.

While the ARC “Adult” class ships, as the DEN had previously classified them, were eight times smaller than the “Planet Killers”, they were still as big as the largest ships any other species has managed to produce. Including the otherwise technologically advanced Dewiek.

Forty-four of these Plasma armed organic vessels smashed through the DEN forces left circling the orbit of Beacon, End Game. The mass of ARC weapons bombarded the DEN Shipyards at Ragnorak with their superheated ionized gas, razing the entire outpost to the ground.

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ARC Plasma weapons devastate End Game

 
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  Star Date: 221.22.5

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RAGNAROK BECKONS

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Assault on End Game

The ancient Architects have declared war on the Dewiek Elder Nation. The first sign of the conflict was subspace transmissions in a remote system in the Pocket Periphery. This followed reports that the ancient Ragnarok shipyards on Beacon were malfunctioning. In response, the Wolf Mother sent urgent orders to several Dewiek scout ships to patrol the End Game system.

The Konungr Smidamadr was the first to encounter the gigantic, “Planet Killer” class ARC ships. Measuring in at thirty-two hundred heavy hulls and armed with a hundred ARC plasma weapons, the ship was more like a mobile armed platform. It is certainly the largest vessel ever recorded. The scout ship was vaporised instantly.

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ARC Planet Killer dwarves largest DEN warships

 
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  Star Date: 221.11.4

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Caste Apart

The Flagritz Republic is (very nearly) no more. In its place, a single Hexamon and Flagritz power has arisen. The new Collective has absorbed much of the Flagritz holdings with only a handful of Clique-caste Flagritz systems choosing instead to align with the other Elder species, the Dewiek.

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Flagritz and Hexamon Hybrids - A hope for the Future?

 
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  Star Date: 221.3.3

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Meklanmania

Meklan scout ships continue to be seen around the Orion Spur periphery. These cyborg creatures in service of hidden ancient masters appear to be terrorising the Wimble Nation in particular. Despite public lamentations against the hardship of defending themselves, the Wimble leadership have not yet responded to our request for comment.

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Artist's impression of a Meklanised Wimble

However, Xavier Fox, CEO of Galactic Transport and Trade, did give us the following statement:

“We have engaged several Meklan ships, although currently the source has not been identified. GTT Directors have been running patrols and have engaged and destroyed numerous ships that have attacked outlying outposts belonging to different affiliations. The pattern of ships encountered leads us to believe there is a central source, but until that is found we would suggest any affiliation with assets in the area provide adequate defences.”

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Doomsday On Pause

At the site of the Thete anomaly, the Dewiek Nation has sent media sensation Sharon Aleman to the scene. Aleman, whose cybernetic enhancements allow her to directly interface with her ship’s sensor array, led her hardened crew into a dive of the outermost “edge” of the anomaly. After spending several days collecting and analysing data (mere minutes to the rest of us outside the anomaly), Aleman reported her shocking discoveries.

 

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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