Could I speak to the Doge of Venice please?

By Colin Leversuch-Roberts©
 

POSTAL GAMES are nothing new, as I am sure you are aware and Postal Wargames are not new, but now, with the aid of a computer, the person running the campaign has the ability to produce of a reasonable complexity. Play By Mail, as a collective term, has a language of its own, so I thought a quick run down of some of the "Buzz" words might be informative:

PBM...Play By Mail, originally a marketing ploy of the Post Office.

GM...Not an American car, short for Games Master, the person who runs the game.

TURN...This is the printed matter sent to each player detailing their current situation in the game. Also how the postman may consider your state of mind when letters arrive addressed to: The King of France, The Dark Empire, You Dirty #$%!** Backstabbing !~#@!*&%^!! (See also Diplomacy)

ORDERS...What you send back to the GM hoping that he or she will correct any mistakes you've made; really understand that despite putting move south you did in fact mean north; be able to read your awful writing!

DIPLOMACY...Signifies that there is a need to communicate with other players, usually to arrange a joint attack on someone else before they do the same to you. The ability to double cross your friends and allies! Also covers dealing with an irate wife, (in my case), who's just had her favorite TV program interrupted by a phone call for the Doge of Venice.

INTERNAL POSTAL SYSTEM...not having to eat your letters but the provision for you to send notes/diplomatic messages/threats to other players via the GM thus saving you the cost of further postage stamps.

TURNAROUND...The hoped for interval between turns.

FIXED DEADLINE...Your turn has to arrive by a certain date, and not three days later. It is a fact of life that players seem to live by a different time scale to the GM.

COMPUTER MODERATED...The person running the game uses a computer to work out what's happened to you each turn. Also gives rise to player questions starting "I'm sure there's a bug in your program, I lost..."
 

Well that's a definition of terms, how about how it all works? Well, when you send for a startup package in a PBM wargame you will receive rule books, an initial starting position detailing your dispositions, usually background information upon the campaign and some hints and tips on what to do! Depending upon the game you may either receive maps separately or they may be generated by the game. Game generated maps either show you part of the world, for example within so many locations of a General, or may become permanent as you explore the world. Enclosed with your package will be a sheet or card to fill in with your orders for the next turn, these can take varying formats, but basically from the rule book you will be able to ascertain what to do next. You send your "turn" back to the GM, he or she will enter all the orders for all the players, the computer will process these orders and print out result sheet which is then sent back to you. You fill out your next set of orders, send them in and so on.

Most games have internal postal systems so that you can send messages to other players, usually it is not necessary to identify yourself so you can play anonymously and of course you can always send a note purporting to have come from someone else! As the game progresses players tend to exchange phone numbers so that strategies can be worked out better. It is at this point that you usually discover your most trusted ally lives at the opposite end of the country! It is a fact of life in PBM that your phone bill can become quite large! It is also a fact of life that your immediate family soon become fed up with the phone calls and military planning! It's the pained expression on the face when you're told "Someone who says he's from the Bierswiller Corporation rang when you were out. He wants to know if you're attacking Mugwump or something!" that tells it all. My children think I'm mad, by the way!
 

That said, most wargames by mail are highly tactical and require a vast amount of diplomacy to stay alive. The ability to take on the guise as leader of a country appeals, especially as often you don't need to identify yourself. I played two years in one game as "Wowbigger the Prolonged" before anyone knew my real name.
 

This brings me neatly to the time scale and commitment for PBM, my own wargames have a playing time of around three years, give or take a year; I know of some that last nearly seven. This of course assumes you win, it's quite possible to be "killed" off within six months or less if you make some mistakes or rash choices/. On the other hand how will you feel if after three years in a game someone wipes you out? In my case it means a player I removed in a matter of two turns from a game we'd been playing for nearly three years refuses to talk to me or acknowledge my letters. I can only assume it was something I said!
 

So what about the drawbacks? I've mentioned the phone bills and doubts over your sanity! Time is probably the biggest problem; when you send to start in a game it can be some time before the game is full and ready to start; finding the time to work out your orders... it can sometimes take eight hours, so I'm told, to write the orders, plan the moves write the diplomatic notes; making the return date can be a problem, a fourteen day turn-around sounds fine but this is the turn interval and if the turn is processed late you may find yourself with only seven days to do your turn and get your orders to the GM. Many games suffer from drop outs especially those that offer gree startups, a dropout by you can be advantageous of course but too many drop outs can spoil a game.
 

Colin Leversuch-Roberts of KELEM GAMES currently runs two postal Medieval War Games, called FIRST CRUSADE and AGAMEMNON, where you will need a combination of Military Skill and Diplomacy, (and probably cunning), to succeed. FIRST CRUSADE is for twenty players and AGAMEMNON for sixteen players, all games have a fourteen day turnaround with a fixed deadline for orders. (Games with overseas players may sometimes have a longer tunraround period).
 

When you start in a game you will receive RuleBooks, Maps and everything you need to get going. Both Games feature an easy to use order system, everything in plain English, no complex numeric codes to get wrong, internal postal system, in-game newspapers, and a high level of GM support!
 

KELEM GAMES was started in 1989 and is run as a hobby. Currently over 100 players take part in the games, many of whom were new to PBM when starting to play. Games would appear to last around three years, with on average 60% of the players remaining after the first year of real time play.
 

Interested parties are invited to write to KELEM GAMES at:

4 Avon Road

WORCESTER

WR4 9AF

United Kingdom