RayB’s Guide to Good Play-By-Email Games

I thought I’d set out some tips on what you can do to speed up your play-by-email games (“PBEM”). Every day I check my email in the morning and night, and everyday I am inevitably disappointed to see some of my very favorite PBEMs still haven’t returned. Still it isn’t hopeless. Sometimes I get two to three turns in an evening… How? Well, that’s what I hope to convey in this article.

Writer, Triumph Studios

1. Choose a reliable team. This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. Also match players, especially if you intend “team play,” such that not all the evil players end up more experienced and all the good end up novices save one who ends up the sole survivor after turn #8. Grrrrr… (yes, this happened to me..)

2. In general, teams which work in and around the same time zones tend to work better than those spread all over the world. If you do choose to go international, which can be fun, don’t arbitrarily mix the nations. I once played a PBEM that had people from Asia, Europe and the states and it was prohibitively difficult to manage, because there was never a time when everyone was together.

3. Optimize player ordering. If player 2 lives in time zone A. And Player 4 in time zone B and players 1 and 3 in Time zone C, reorder such that you don’t cross nearly as many zones in time. This may mean an arbitrary ordering of the players, and even some map editing but that’s okay, it can be worth it to make this more efficient. Player 1 and 3 in the above example should be moved to play one after the other. To learn how to change the order of play, check out Frogman’s Instructions.

4. Choose smaller maps. While it is tempting to use XL maps, it does take a significant among of time to upload such maps. One game I’ve enjoyed in PBEM is the “Cramped Quarters” map, mainly because it doesn’t take five turns to route your units all the way across the map. Hence your games tend to feel quicker. Also, that map has lots of exploration sites, which are great in PBEMs because they don’t resolve with “fast combat”. Download/upload time isn’t as big a deal if you know you can’t bang out more than one turn a day, but if you think there’s a chance you might all be online at once, this *IS* an issue.

5. Use the Editor! Don’t be afraid to make your maps more interesting for players, balanced, or whatever, by using the Map Editor to Customize PBEM maps to your particular game. This doesn’t necessarily speed up the game, but it makes older maps more interesting for play and leaves your players guessing. It is also a great way to get your group to start playing at a different level than perhaps the original author intended (for example, starting with higher level main heroes, more gold, better starting units, etc.)

6. Talk about your game in regular email; create a mail group for each of your PBEMs. Also, use the PBEM Forum. When the game is going slow, make sure that you let your group know the game is going slow. If you’re gonna go on a break for a while, make sure the rest of the group knows about it. It also helps to periodically let people know that you passed on your turn to another, as the internet has a tendency to do bad things to large emails. Some ISP’s might have fixed disk space and if your friends let that fill up, they might not get some of their messages. The feedback also helps give a feeling of progression to the other players, so that they aren’t nearly as anxious for the next turn. .

7. Keeping a “turn-log” for your game on the PBEM Forum is the best way to not only stay in contact with your gaming group, but allows other readers to share in the excitement of your game. Exercise those creative writing skills and try role-playing your characters in the turn log. Convey the action from your turn as if you were writing a fantasy novel. Related to the above, talk out long-term strategy, and things that’ve happened to your characters as if you were that character. It can be very diverting. Warn fellow players that if they don’t get off your farm, you’re fairly certain their lack of experience at your farm will cause a “farming accident”. That’s always fun… and provides something to do between turns such that you don’t totally forget what you were doing once you get the next turn.

8. Choose partners who can sub for one another. One of the good things we’ve been able to do with some of our players has been this. I dunno how many times one player would say, “I’m gonna be gone, but I’ve given my password to my buddy so-and-so who’s in town, and will be playing for me.” If that doesn’t work or you’re not willing to share such private information, use the manual mail feature and instruct the player ahead of you to manually send the next turn to another player, and he can play that turn for your team. Bottom line: provide for yourself while you’re away.

Best regards, Raymond

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