PBM Mailbox

BRENDON KAVANAGH brings the good news on playing by mail — new games, your letters answered and the next national convention. Look out for readers’ reviews next month!


It’s that time of year again. You guessed — The Third British PBM Convention. The date is February 20 1988 and the venue, once more, is the Porchester Centre, Queensway, London (near Royal Oak Station; just turn left and the centre is 300 yards up the road on the right).

It’ll cost two pounds to get in, but if you’re wise and hold your startups till the convention you’ll soon more than save that sum. By all accounts there should be at least 40 companies present to flog their wares. Other attractions include a bar and a café, not to mention live demonstrations.

Doors open at 10.30am. Bar opens 11.30. Doors close about 5pm. Have a nice day!


One or two interesting letters here — have you anything to say about the PBM world? Any exploits to brag about? Snippets of information to give? Moans to moan about? Or simply questions to ask? Write and speak your mind to; Brendon Kavanagh, CRASH.


Dear Brendon
Is there a PBM version of the board game Risk? ’Tis great fun as FTF and seems to be a simplified version of Diplomacy.
Chris McCarthy

Besides playing Diplomacy itself, perhaps you could have a look at Crisis (reader’s reviews in the Christmas CRASH at your newsagent’s soon, but not soon enough I’m sure) by M.A.G. — it’s a similar game design. Anybody out there with anything to add?


Dear Brendon
I’ve read your past few mailboxes with interest, and PBMing, to me, seems to be an ideal hobby. Would you recommend Troll’s Bottom as a first game?
Francis Banks

All I can say about Troll’s Bottom is that just about everybody I know who has tried the game has enjoyed it.

Anyway, Francis, to answer your question: yes, Troll’s Bottom is a wise choice if you are looking for a simple game to play which isn’t overpriced.

But there’s no need to start with a simple game! You’ll soon get used to the system no matter how difficult the game is. If you can afford it, it could be worth trying one of the more established and involved games to start in the hobby.


Dear Brendon,
I am one of those many people living overseas who read about play-by-mail games but do not have any information about joining one.

I know that international games exist — but that’s all! Could you give me the name of a good game and the address of the company that produces or moderates it? Oh yes, and how much does it cost to play?

I hope you can help me as soon as possible: I don’t receive CRASH till three months after it’s issued.
Frankie Kerston, New Zealand

Now then, Frankie, you have a number of options available to you. As you live in a country which sadly does not spawn many PBM companies (in fact, I don’t know of any) all markets are equally convenient to you. You could play any British or American game without any problem other than the time delay with the post.

But this needn’t be a problem — most British companies run international variants of their games which use long deadlines of perhaps up to three weeks (your air-mail letter took seven days to reach Ludlow from New Zealand).

I suggest you buy a copy of Flagship from Chameleon Games, Australia, which should help you. You could always play an Australian game — Flagship has details of several companies.


Dear Brendon
A friend and I have been caught up in the play-by-mail mania and are involved in about five games each. We would like to set up our own PBM game. This would run in our school and on the open gaming market. Obviously, we would like this game to be fairly successful, therefore we need quite a lot of information on postal gaming:

How do we start it up? Keep it going? To what use should we put the computer (a BBC model B in our case)? Do we need any special equipment to start it up? How do we get our own PO Box?

I hope that you can help us!
Paul Dobek

Thank you, Paul. As far as running a PBM game is concerned, I only know what I have found out through chatting with gamers who have (or do) run games. Basically, if a good system is devised, things can hardly go wrong. Even KJC Games was in a similar situation to your own once!

Things to bear in mind are:

There’s a lot of responsibility in running a PBM game; it could go on for years. That’s one turn every two weeks, say, for each player. Are you certain you can cope with this? As you are still at school, you must consider (though I hate to sound like an old teacher) your exams. Maybe you should start small, with something easier to cope with while you learn about running a game, by running a game just for people at your school.

Ask around; see how many people would be interested in playing. All you need charge is perhaps £1 or £2 for the whole game (as long as it isn’t too long) — that shouldn’t put people off, and remember that if the game is just run in the school there’s no need for a PO Box or postage costs!

Anyway, find out how many people would be interested in playing your game. Once you know this figure you can sit down and figure out a game scenario to fit all the players. Create a simple but effective game using simply the BBC B and a printer (if you have access to disk drives and know how to use them to store retrievable data for the computer there’s no harm in using it...), something easy to write and fun to play. Your computer’s memory is limited, so don’t go overboard with details!

Graphics are not really very important in many games, but then again if you can create something simple, effective and useful on a turnsheet then by all means do so. Since you already play a few games, you’ll know how to produce the turnsheet. Work out how long your game is to run. If it’s just for your fellow students, there should be no difficulty in getting turns in — perhaps weekly deadlines could be set to speed the game along. Maybe run the game from the start of the autumn term through to the end of the spring term — that gives at least 25 turns, which should be ample for a fast moving game.

One more practical point to think about; the order forms. Once more, I’d go for the easy option. Take the order cards for It’s A Crime! as an example: they’re easy to read and fill out. All you enter is the player number and the codes for the player’s turn, and the computer does the rest. You could also set up a posting point in the school’s computer room, and let everyone know where it is.

Anyway Paul, that’s my suggestion. It’s not quite play-by-mail, but then there’s no bother with handling cheques and postal orders, posting disks or making expensive phone calls. And just think of the possible pleasures! There’s plenty of time to start a war during the lunch hour...


Karl Laithwaite writes with news of PBM File, a fanzine he and his friends have launched. They produce it on a duplicating machine; some of it is typed and some of it is handwritten.

The first issue features It’s A Crime!, and the editors plan to cover a different game each issue: it’s all very factual and to the point, though it might look a bit neater reduced on a photocopier to A5 size.

Each issue costs 70p and PBM File can be contacted through Philip Rankin, c/o Karl Laithwaite.



J Simmons writes about his nicely-produced new PBM battle simulation, Drop Zone, where the player leads a mobile infantry squad attacking a hostile planet. Missions are assigned and after each successful mission, your private army grows in strength.

It all seems nicely figured out, and the rulebook is impressive. For more information write to J Simmons.


JUST a brief mention for this game: not because of any major fault, because of the price it could end up costing as much as £5 a week. Epic (now in its third edition) is a role-playing game in which you play any one of six characters (warlords, princes and chiefs).

There are different races of people and different kinds of terrain, and your workload includes logistics, population management, offence/defence, diplomacy, and land and sea navigation.

You also have 22 types of weapons available, and some magic as an added bonus. But the troops can be handicapped on difficult terrain.

It sounds enthralling. Write to the British moderators, Rhann Postal Games. Don’t forget the SAE for a reply.

Epic: enthralling but expensive


Eclipse: strategy in space

LIKE Epic, this is from Rhann — but the science-fiction game is as different from Epic as could be. Eclipse is intended to be an introductory PBM game for 12 to 20 players. It’s set in a cluster of roughly 200 stars, and to win you must conquer two thirds of the stars (each star possesses a planetary system). You can do it alone or with the help of others as a faction (nice scope for diplomacy there...)

Eclipse is basically a strategy game, with battles involving star fleets and planetary armies. Orders are made using those unfriendly computer codes mixed with a bit of English. This can be confusing at first, but things soon fit together, and the rulebook is clear and informative.

It’s a simple game, but like Epic it’s not cheap, with turn fees ranging from £1.50 to £2.50 depending upon how active you are in the game.

Get further details from Rhann Postal Games.


HERE’S a real treat for anyone interested in 14th-century Britain. You take the role of a nobleman or noble lady (English, Welsh or Scottish), and you can buy a castle and run your own private army. You can also thrust yourself forward into public life and enter the government, the king’s army, or the church.

If the lord next door becomes a thorn in your side, your army is there to deal with him, and if skirmishes with the neighbours don’t provide enough excitement, you can attack France as well. A nice touch is the newsletter (named The Herald) which lets you know what’s going on in an olde style of Englishe... very enjoyable if you like that sort of thing.

As for costs, it’s £5 for setup, rulebook, character profile sheet and the first three turns. Plantagenet is run in real time — turns are processed every day, and every day the game calendar moves on a day. The producers are Destrier Games.

If you’re launching a new professional PBM game, or you’re running one that hasn’t been covered yet, send details and a phone number to Brendon Kavanagh.