To learn a thing or two about PBM from a game played by mail

Issue # 7 of Suspense & Decision magazine has flown off the digital presses, and is now in the hands of some of our readers, with others to download this latest issue of our PBM Magazine for the 21st Century at their leisure, in the coming days and weeks.

How well will readers like it? I'm not sure. Then again, I'm never sure. The more that it seems to progress, simultaneous, the less that it seems to progress. I feel as if I am stuck in a paradox, sometimes, trying to tame an unwieldy beast.

Some of the changes that I make to the magazine are obvious on their face. Others, probably not so much so. Nonetheless, Suspense & Decision continues to evolve, as a publication. Part of it is by intent, other of it is due as much to circumstance, as anything.

Issue # 7 features articles on PBM games, as usual, but I went ahead and increased the font size of the articles to 12 point font. The more that I browse old back issues of PBM magazines, the more that I grow to hate their penchant for using very small font sizes. Even though Suspense & Decision being a PDF publication provides a built-in zoom option, I decided to increase the font size for articles, just the same.

This issue also broke new ground for us, with it's inclusion of our first in what I hope will be an ongoing series, the Mini-View: Interview In Miniature. Instead of having an interview with one person responding to a lot of different questions, I decided to flip the interview concept on its head, and have a lot of different people responding to a single (or just a few) questions. It took a little prodding and some reminding, but all things considered, I think that Mini-View # 1 was a success. Again, that's just my perspective. Your mileage may vary.

Issue # 7 also features the inclusion of some articles pertaining to the game, Diplomacy. Diplomacy, for those who do not know, has enjoyed a long and rich history of being played by mail, although it's popularity is such that it seems to have carved out a niche of its own, above and beyond most PBM games historically were able to achieve. Not all Diplomacy is played by mail, these days, but that's neither here nor there, from our magazine's perspective. Trying to grow the overall PBM player base, without interacting with and interconnecting with the Diplomacy player base, would be an exercise in inefficiency, at best. I suspect that many PBM gamers who have never played Diplomacy would actually fall in love with the game, and likewise, I think that many Diplomacy players who have never played other PBM games before would swiftly begin to immerse themselves in the broader PBM hobby, if and when they dared to take the plunge.

One thing that the Diplomacy community can teach us is that the full measure of that particular game's entertainment value is derived, not just from the game, itself, but rather, that Diplomacy has long since grown and evolved to the point where there are multiple different facets that drive the core enthusiasm for the game, itself.

Diplomacy zines, for example, fill a core need for enhanced communication pertaining to the game. Their stock in trade is to inform, while entertaining, with broad swaths of humor elevating Diplomacy zines to an art form, in and of itself. Reading through back issues of various independently-produced Diplomacy zines is akin to watching Monty Python sketches. Humor flowers like rivers, although typically it comes in the form of brief quips. Lots of subtle humor, and ore than a few instances where someone volunteers someone else to become the butt of a temporary joke - many of which become ingrained within the collective psyche of the Diplomacy gaming community at large.

Independent zines are not unique to Diplomacy, to be certain. I've written game related newsletters, before, even many years hence. Other players tend to gravitate towards such communiques, no matter what the game in question. Over on the Galactic Prisoners Facebook page, examples of past company-produced newsletters are available for your reading pleasure. The real gold, I think, is struck whenever the players, themselves, take it upon themselves to pay tribute to their game of choice, by, going that extra mile and making the game larger than it otherwise would be, by investing bits and pieces of their personalities into such zines and newsletters.

Many PBM games over the years developed rule sets that were vastly more complex than Diplomacy's rules are, but at the same time, Diplomacy seems to have developed one of, if not THE, most complex of player bases. Diplomacy personalities run the gamut, to be certain, but whatever their individual differences and playing styles might be, one thing that the Diplomacy community doesn't suffer from is a robust selection of colorful personalities.

And that, my dear friend and PBM faithful, is something that makes Diplomacy more fun than it otherwise would be.

PBM gaming has a lot to learn from Diplomacy. I think that it's about high time that we started paying attention.

Who knows? We might just learn a thing or two.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Galactic Prisoners was a play by mail game run by Grandel, Inc., which was owned and operated by Ed Grandel.


  1. Some excellent comments and suggestions! Well done, Sir Grim. Diplomacy was an inspiration for me, and I believe was unique at the time with its diplomacy phase between every turn, and maybe the first board game that did simultaneous processing.

    Still, in Alamaze Resurgent, we find more and more PBM players enjoy a non-diplomacy format. This generally around the time commitment for the diplomacy and the frequent thing in multi-player games going back to Risk that there can be many 2v1 or 3v1 scenarios, and in a game like Alamaze where intelligence gathering is important and hard to come by, it matters even more.

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