Friday, July 1, 2016

Adventures in Play-by-Mail Gaming

The summer drags on with heat and tedium and I look for new gaming pursuits.  I am joining a play-by-mail game.  For those who do not know, play-by-mail is just what it sounds like; opponents playing a game by submitting their turns through the mail.  One of the first play-by-mail games was chess, as it is easy to write down a chess move and send it to an opponent.  Soon, more complex games were played through the mail.  The board game Diplomacy was played with nations mailing their turns to a referee, who would then adjudicate the moves and mail the results back.  Later on, games were designed for the play-by-mail format.  A play-by-mail game could accommodate many players at once, and the game rules were taken care of by a moderator (often a computer).  Play-by-mail exists today, although many companies use email for turns and some are experimenting with browser based games.

What do you get from the play-by-mail experience?

I love all types of games.  I play rpgs, wargames, board games, and card games.  I enjoy them all.  I love to figure out strategies of conquest and then implement them on the battlefield.  I love to match wits against an opponent who is trying their best to beat me.  Play-by-mail offers the chance to engage in games with many opponents.  Play-by-mail games can offer huge simulation games where  opponents control various nations at war.  Because the game is moderated by someone else, I only have to focus on my strategy.  They also have a temporal quality to them.  Orders are submitted and then I have to wait to see the results of my planning.  The wait time brings about anticipation.

The game that I am trying is Duel II.  The concept of the game is that you own a stable of five gladiators and each turn you fight them in the arena.  You decide which warriors to fight, how to equip them, and what strategy they should adopt in the ring.  You fill out a turn sheet for each fighter, slip it into an envelope, and send it off to the company.

A turn sheet for Duel II.
One of the reasons that I chose Duel II is that the company that runs the game still uses actual letters and sends your turn results in the mail.  Many play-by-mail companies have moved to accepting turns by email and emailing you the results.  I wanted to have the tactile  experience of filling out a sheet, as well as the thrill of ripping open an envelope to see my results.  Electronics and computers have provided a lot of innovation for gaming, but there is something special about holding a sheet of paper and inking a plan of action.

Recommended Resources is the company that runs Duel II.  They run two other play-by-mail games which are wargames that take place in the Hyborian age and Forgotten Realms. is a website devoted to play-by-mail games of the past and present.  They have a list of active games and the publish a free pdf magazine, Suspense and Decision, that is dedicated to the play-by-mail hobby.

I will bring more resources to your attention in the future!