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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
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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  Star Date: 220.50.5

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Veil Lifted on Flagritz Home Space

As the Hellcadium ISR field continues to fluctuate, one of the newly exposed systems is Junista inside the previously hidden and inaccessible home periphery of the Flagritz Republic.

Over the past few weeks Flagritz Republic patrols and platforms have dealt with a number of scout ships from the Human Empire as the IMP wasted no time in exploiting this opportunity to poke around in their old enemy’s backyard. It is understood that at least one of these unarmed scouts was destroyed with no one willing to estimate how many more might be buzzing around.

Coincidentally, suspected IMP lackey, SSL TOAD, has also been overheard showing an obsessive interest in the Flagritz periphery. However, we have received no reports of this being anything other than his usual drug-fueled, barely decipherable mutterings at this stage.

Either way, this sudden, uninvited interest in the Flagritz Periphery has left the FLZ leadership muttering darkly about appropriate measures being taken. Defensive fleets and supporting structures are being deployed in the Junista system and beyond in expectation of further uninvited guests.

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When You stare into the Flagritz Periphery...

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Thete's Timey-Wimey Tease

Investigation into the Thete anomaly continued in the Dewiek Pocket Periphery. The anomaly was scanned from all angles by a number of the Dewiek Nation’s best sensor ships and officers. The data, collected over several weeks, was sent to one of the DEN’s most advanced scientific laboratories for analysis.

What they found will shock you!

 
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  Star Date: 220.45.1

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Perfidion Reached

Long speculated by theoretical Stellar Cartographers, Perfidion Reach finally opened in the last few weeks. Immediately, the Detinus Republic boldly staked a claim on the first accessible system, Hellcadium. Only time will tell the true value of this strategic move but their much-taunted bureaucracy may have finally proved its worth.

Early reports from scans of the system reveal a wildly fluctuating ISR field. Rumours suggest that at least one ship was destroyed as it was forced into an asteroid belt chasing a stable jump field attempting to exit the system. Casual travellers are warned away from the system at this time for their own safety. Leave it to skilled explorers and navigation officers.

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Mathematical model of Hellcadium ISR Field.

We spoke to Captain Zakiyah Ummahi via subspace link. Zakiyah led the first DEN expedition into the Perfidion Reach. "Spirits remain high but this is largely down to the extended R&R we were all forced to take immediately prior to jumping into this hole. Initial scouting reports show at least one planet with plenty of forests and grasslands which might help if we're going to be stuck here for Folkvar knows how long waiting for this damned ISR field to stabilise."

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Valhalla Stargate Reopens

Dewiek engineers and scientists have finally managed to re-enable Stargate Valgrind this week and the protective Exclusion Zone is to be lifted. If DEN investigators discovered who caused the gate to malfunction, or why, they were not willing to share it with us. Military sources, however, have announced a project to provide a significant boost to the already formidable defence platform in the stargate’s orbit.

 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Empire - DEN action grinds to a halt

After months of tension relations between the Empire and the Dewiek Nation, which rose to several large scale fleet actions ending in the DEN losing over 60 Direwolf warships in Solo, things appear to have moved from antagonistic to unfriendly. With the Solo system being a particular issue an agreement has been reached between the Wolf Mother of the DEN and Xavier Fox of the GTT. Since this things have become very quiet, not just because the shooting has stopped, but also because my reporters have been on their summer holidays.
 
News For Discerning Naplians!
---- Special Galactic Edition ----



(The Host sits at his desk as the studio lights dim, and a single spotlight bathes him in light. He looks straight into the camera and begins to speak: )

Host: Naambta!
Good Greetings, and welcome to the show.

This is News for Discerning Naplians, and i’m sure you are all showing much impatience to see this week’s Panel Discussion. We will be discussing religion with the Lady Ghadir of the Temple of Ya Zoon, renowned neo-naplian spiritualist Chairman TonTon, and a very special guest from our imperial neighbours, Bishop Samantha Porteus of the Brotherhood. But before we get to that...

(Looks demonstratively at his digital wrist watch. )

... it is time for a word from our sponsor.
 

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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