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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
Is open for business...
 
******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 new home in the Heartland,

And so with the news from the last few weeks,
 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***
  • DEN assault FEL base and get wiped out
  • CIA Trade fleet caught and destroyed by the DEN
  • Krell denounce worship of the True One

  •  
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Huge fleet skirmish at the London/Crossley wormhole

    A large fleet of over 700 DEN warships responded to the EMP action in Crossley, where a 4000 hull DEN platform was destroyed. Reports show the DEN ships caught a group of CIA ships napping and inflicted significant losses on the humans. IMP and GTT fleets moved to assist the CIA, matching DEN fleet numbers, but the arrival of over 1200 Hexamon ships seems to have tipped the battle in favour of the DEN-HEX alliance.

    The combined DEN-HEX force pushed through the wormhole into the Heartland area of human space and retaliated, attacking several CIA platforms in response. The outnumbered Empire fleets abandoned the area and fled, they are currently waiting for the larger alien force to make their next move from their hiding places.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Admiral Lord Simms killed after a long and distinguished service to the Empire.

    The Imperial Services have intercepted and serious damaged several DEN ships on the way to the Empire’s home systems. Unfortunately during the action Admiral Lord Simms was injured and reports from the Viceroy indicate he has passed away, fighting the enemies of the Empire like any true Imperial Officer.

    The Viceroy has stated that the officers and crew of the DEN ships have been captured and are now awaiting trial at a secret IMP base.

    DEN continue to strike at the Empire

    Reports are coming in of multiple engagements between the Empire and the Dewiek Elder Nation over the last week. With several battles taking out Empire ships in the Heartland of the CIA.

    AFT turn to piracy

    The Association of Free Traders have, after a long history of neutrality, turned to piracy this week. AFT Drake boarded an IND ship in the Halo periphery, killing several of the crew in the process.
    Independent trader Jarlebanke Langhofdi immediately took to the public communication channel demanding an answer to why supposedly peaceful traders had killed his crew and taken his ship.

    The AFT remain silent over the attack.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Combat Special Edition

    Since the DEN started shooting at those lovable FEL fluffballs things have certainly been heating up. So we through it would be prudent to bring you, gentle beings of the peripheries, a special edition in order to keep you updated with all the latest action in regards to who the DEN are shooting and who is shooting them.

    Felini strike back at Dewiek

    Reports have come in of the FEL striking back at the DEN in the Kallisan system. A huge FEL force supported by the IMP and CIA assaulted DEN positions taking both the platform and base called Lucien. There was much rejoicing in the FEL camp as the Felini proved they were not such lovable fluffballs after all!

    GTT get sucked into the war

    A passing fleet of GTT warships got caught in the fighting and this saw the GTT enter the war. When asked about this CEO Fox pointed out they are not warships at all, they are trade defence ships. So how they came to be in the DEN system of Kallisan is a mystery to us. But the GTT CEO was clear that they only engaged using support and defend orders to protect allies. Needless to say, the CEO commented “We found ourselves on the Dewiek Nation’s enemy lists pretty soon after.”

    Dewiek Nation attacks GTT positions in Orion Spur, breaking DOM system rules

    A fleet of DEN warships has engaged and destroyed a significant number of GTT cargo ships and escorts in the DOM system Monument. The GTT immediately took to the public channels to ask why the DOM were not doing something. In reply the DOM issued a statement to stop, which the DEN ignored.

    The DEN newssheet "The HOWL" published a completely unbiased review of the attack shortly after.

    DOM make a choice

    After the above incident and then further raiding by the DEN, taking out a few GTT cargo ships in the DOM system of Coptuv, the DOM seemed to have been faced with a choice of stopping drinking their tea and doing something or just hoping it would go away. Instead they seem to have decided to abandon the whole idea of being an active affiliation and we have since folded. The lengths some people will go to not to have their elevenses disturbed is truly staggering. We asked the DOM for a statement on their new system rules to share with our readers but have received no replies.

    DOM positions share out

    Just as we were going to press news has come in of various DOM assets being given to other affiliations or sold. Hopefully we will have more on this story in the next issue of your favorite factual newsheet. Yes, that's us at the SSS.

    *** Affiliations ***


    AFT Association of Free Traders (54) - Marion Tweedy
    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) - Urd
    DOM Dominion (57) – we believe the DOM are now inactive
    FCN Falconian Republic (70) - Bacran
    FEL Felini Tyranny (49) - Juris
    FLZ Flagritz Republic (47) - Kayxaer
    FET Frontier Exploration & Trade (56) - Cu Chulainn
    GRC Gracians (13) - HG1
    GTT Galactic Trade & Transport (52) - Xavier Fox
    GCE Garcia Enterprises (4) - Neil
    HEX Hexamon (23) - Ando
    IMP Imperial Services (51) - Jack Jones
    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
    MIC Mohache Independent Commune (76) - Sleeps with Dragons
    NLF Naplian Liberation Front (38) - NLFHQ
    RIP Regularly Involved in Piracy - Githyanki
    RRH Roy Robert Holdings (39) - Roy Roberts
    SMS Stellar Mining and Smelting (53) - MikhailM
    USN Ulian Stellar Nation (34) - Oeipus Prime
    WMB Wimble Nations (25) - zz

    * Leader MAY be inactive, affiliation may be active
    ** Affiliation has no leader but this is the only known contact

    NPC / FoC: ARC, CIV, CGT, FRE, HBO, HEF, IND, ISP, JCN, MEK, MRC, PIR, PRV, TCA, TRN, KAS

    Inactive: ANT, BHD, COD, HVE, IDC, RIP, RCF, SKW, TAG

    Deceased: CAL

    *** Submission ***

    By private message to The Editor or via Mica if you prefer to remain anonymous.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    New pirate threat rocks Corward Arm.

    Several large pirate ships have been spotted in outer rings of Corward systems. Reports forwarded to us at the SSS allow us to exclusively tell readers that traders should keep their wits about them when moving through these areas.

    No existing pirate menace has yet claimed ownership.

    In a possibly unrelated event one of the FET cartel members claimed nothing was happening in the outer ring of Coptov shortly afterwards. But it could be that they are still trying to catch Empire backed pirates and have nothing to do with the new sightings.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****


    DEN continue to shoot innocents

    The Dewiek have made themselves busy shooting at the peaceful and innocent traders of the SSL. Leader of Solar Spices and Liquors Mr TOAD has been vocal pointing out that the Beast-DEN are being totally unfair. News of a go-fund-me appeal are yet to surface though.

    This office is sure that it must have provided the DEN light relief after picking on the equally defenceless Felini. Word is that the DEN faced such an uphill struggle in these recent actions they had to take up Felini inter-breeding to provide some entertainment as the battle reports were rather boring.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Return of the LiQuans

    A close associate of the Baron LiQuan has been haunting the Corewards periphery and like the old Baron it is said he has a meklan connection. It's unclear whether he obtained his meklan nanites via the CIA but there are rumours that the DEN may be helping the Liquan relative in a bid to sow discontent in the Stellar Empire. Exactly why they would start in Corewards is unclear although with DEN allies, the DOM, having strong positions both in the Sol system and the old Harcorp systems of Harlong and Coptuv they may be the linking factor.


     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Meklan Unleashed on Mobile Bay

    Mad Dewiek scientist Dr Kala released a number of Meklan on the busy world of Mobile Bay in the Yank system. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what is treated by DEN warlords as an amusing practical joke. Rather than take any responsibility for their affiliation’s reckless behaviour, a DEN lord rumoured to be half-meklan himself quipped he would nuke the planet whilst another merely saw it as an opportunity to test some of his greener troops in combat. Surprisingly, the KAS planetary defence force was up to the job of repelling the insidious incursion. Questions remain whether further meklan are stored elsewhere on the planet and whether anybody will challenge the Dewiek’s lack of care for the lives of innocents. Probably not, given how even the mighty IMP are now cowering from a fight with the DEN (see inside this edition).


     

    Free Ship when you sign-up
    Complete missions for in game rewards
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    Over 20 years of content development
    Persistent Browser-Based Game (PBBG)

    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