Monday, 24 September 2012

How Popular are PBEM Campaigns

I have always thought that there were quite a few solo wargamers around.   I have no statistics to prove it, but over the years I seem to have read a lot about solo Wargaming and how difficult it is to find an opponent.

If this is true, then you would think that PBEM campaigning would be an ideal solution.  Particularly in recent years when almost everyone I know has a computer and communicates by email or Skype.

For many years I have followed various Napoleonic Wargaming forum, in particular TMP.   Last week I was interested to read a post about PBEM.  The poster wanted to know who was interested, who has played, what did they like or not and what would improve their enjoyment of such a campaign.  

I am currently working hard on the next phase of my own PBEM, so I was very interested to see what response he would get.   I was very disappointed, as he must have been, to see only two replies before it went down the list to oblivion.

And this on a Napoleonic Discussion group where there were 12 replies to a post about “......a game based around an invasion of Mars by Napoleon's Grande Armée in 1812” !

Either I am wrong about general interest in PBEM campaigns, or those interested do not read or post on TMP.

I run a Yahoo forum for my own PBEM campaign, and in the past I have often asked for feedback on the previous campaign when I have started work on the next one.   Usually I get one or two comments.

Having read the post on TMP I thought it would be a good idea to do something similar on my forum.   But given the previous lack of response I thought it might be a better idea to send out a questionnaire to each member.   There are currently 93 members.   All have asked to join, so presumably all have an interest in PBEM in general and my campaign in particular. 

Anyway I spent most of yesterday afternoon sending each one an email with the questionnaire attached. 

Some years ago I started another Yahoo Forum, this one called Campaigns of Napoleon.  I had hoped to create an exchange of views.   But after a good start it quickly dried up.  I still get the occasional question, and even more surprising the occasional request to join.   There are currently 206 members on that forum.   I did not send each a questionnaire, but I did put one in the Files Section and posted to ask anyone interested to complete and send to me.

It is only 24 hours since I did all of this.   So far I have had a very disappointing 6 replies.   I suspect that anyone who is going to reply will do so within a couple of days.   So it does not look like my questionnaire will be a runaway success.

So it would seem that there is not the interest in PBEM campaigns that I had thought there would be.   Or perhaps there are lots of wargamers out there running their own PBEM who just don’t want to get involved in a discussion about it.

Some time ago I ran a wargame group in Salisbury over a period of 20 years.  It was quite successful, but I had to trawl for new member’s very year or so.   Just before I moved to Spain I happened to meet a solo wargamer who also lived in Salisbury.  H e told me that he had heard about my group, and had often thought of joining, but just never got around to it. 

 “Nowt as strange as folk” as my son’s northern neighbours would say


  1. What was strange about his response??

    As a busy, working, father of two, with family and other commitments I find his response entirely understandable... :o)

    Your view of solo wargamers as being constantly on the lookout for an opponent may be slightly off as well - many solo gamers play solo because they don't want a live opponent..

    I've wargamed all my life (40 years), have universally disliked all wargame clubs I've been to, am happier doing my own thing, and when I chose to play a live opponent I'm VERY choosy... :o)

  2. With the plethora of strategic wargames you can play online against 'live' opponents, I'd have thought PBEN would become increasingly rare over time.

  3. Phil

    It looks like you are quite correct.

  4. I have run dozens of different play by mail and play by email games.

    From Star Fleet Battles to Waterloo to a Grand Strategic 'coalition war' game.

    One thing that most of them had in common was at least two of the players or GM/referee (me) had met and or game played in person before.

    For one of the Waterloo games everyone had played in face-to-face games with each other before, for one of them I had played with each of the players and the players had never met each other before.

    Each case had the love of the game or a spirit of fun or competition to glue them together.

    Love of the game kept the first run of Waterloo going as there were a number of 'bugs' to be worked out.

    A spirit of fun is how the Grand Strategic Coalition war game ended as the "France" player (taking on Bonaparte in 1805) simply stopped communicating. It turned out that he had a new job that caused him to be away from his computer and email for weeks at a time and after 4 weeks of non-contact we decided to 'rule' that a coup had happened and a new 'pair' of players took on the roles of Murat and Davout and a second French Revolution took place with a massive battle of French on French at Milan happened. The battle was memorable for years afterward for all those who took part as it took three nights to play it all out with the final throw of a couple of cavalry units morale deciding the battle in favor of Davout.

    So far, I have not seen that many 'solo' war-gamers even want to use their collections in 'proxy' battle actions with others setting up the situations. Most certainly a great tale could be told with such co-operation.

    I suspect that at least playing in-person, once with some of the players in a multilayer PBEM is needed to understand the passion or playfulness or competitive nature of the players and how much dedication they could have for such a long-term commitment.

    Even the shortest Waterlooo campaign game took 8 weeks to play out.

    With so many faster computer simulations that include the 'live' opponent option I can understand the slow pace of PBEM having lost its charm.

    Those of us who recall Play by Mail (snail mail post) can remember the excited energy of plotting out the new data and discovering what our 'best laid plans' had come to ...

    Then having only 24 hours to turn it all around and come up with an effective response.

    The casual players may not wish to engage this way.

  5. Murdock

    I agree with your comments regarding personal contact with the other players, and I am sure that it would have more influence on the campaign than anything else.

    I also see your point about computer games.

    But I still find it strange that more solo wargamers, without the option of meeting other players beforehand, do not turn to PBEM to share their passion online.

    I have enjoyed playing computer games solo, but never tried it online. For me it will never replace the enjoyment of moving figures about on the table.

  6. Hi Paul,

    I thought I might make a few comments on the issues you highlight.

    Firstly, I don’t know how many solo wargamers there are in the world, but there’s an organization for them with a periodical, LONE WARRIOR (as I’m sure you know), and a Yahoo group with 1,353 members. That said, the group’s posting activity is fairly low key.

    The reasons people engage in solo wargaming are many, I suspect. Working dad’s whose ‘playtime’ is limited to when everyone’s gone to bed; people who are turned off by what I can only describe as “hardcore power gamers”, and we’ve all met them, super egos who play to win regardless; people who prefer their own company (less arguments), and are more interested in the historical aspects of a situation, playing and replaying a military deployment to better understand the historical original, than in the game itself. Then again, people who only play occasionally. More than one solo wargamer has said to me, “I love solo gaming. It satisfies me in a way few group games ever did.”

    I’m sure, too, that any number of people play solo because of a lack of opponents within an easy travelling distance. But it has also to be said, playing a one off game is very different from engaging in a campaign; it involves a far greater commitment in time and attention, for starters. As with individual games, there are often arguments, people drop out, things go wrong…

    A friend mentioned that he’d got totally fed-up with constantly having to recruit new players to replace those who’d dropped out for whatever reason; so he turned to solo gaming…After awhile solo seemed so much easier to him then the face-to-face hiatus or the hassle of seeking new opponents. He, like Lionel Tarr, many years ago, now fights solo campaigns only…

    Lastly, there are a wide range of games that can be played on-line or on computer. These, I feel certain, have impacted on all areas in the hobby. Memoir '44 Online, Battlefield Academy, and Lord knows just how many more there are out there – and that’s without mentioning things like Ninja Zombie killers or what-have-you.

    So, don’t despair, Paul. I think we all accept a lot of these yahoo groups have a huge section of “lurkers” locked in the membership; people like me who read, learn, but very really make comment because there’s nothing much to say.

    Lastly, if your own campaigns are running successfully, and you’re enjoying them – what else matters? The key is always to enjoy your hobby in whatever form it may take.

    All the best.


    PS. The Invasion of Mars by Napoleon's Grande Armée in 1812? Now that has me intrigued…

  7. Hi Peter

    Thanks for your comments

    I have heard of Lone Warrior, though never read it. And I am surprised that there are as many as 1,353 members of the Yahoo Group. Though as I indicated in my blog numbers alone do not indicate any great degree of interest in the forum subject.

    I agree with your reasons for people engaging in solo Wargaming, and indeed Wargaming in general. I think the hobby tends to attract people, usually male, who like their own company. Who are content to spend countless hours painting their figures and researching their subject. That description would certainly apply to me.

    Taking part in a PBEM campaign does require a greater commitment in time than solo Wargaming. But it avoids the arguments and friction of a wargames group, whilst allowing a solo gamer to interact with others in a shared wargame project. I would have thought that this would appeal to many solo gamers?

    I appreciate the appeal of computer games for solo wargamers. But I personally find them disappointing. I always seem to have a steep learning curve to understand the game, quickly followed by disappointment as I come to terms with the restrictions of the game. And, for me, they will never replace the pleasure of moving my model soldiers around the table.

    There is nothing at all wrong with being a “lurker”. Indeed I do just that on most of the forum I visit. I read TMP at least once a day, but hardly ever post a comment.

    And of course you are quite right in your final comment t hat as long as I am enjoying the campaign nothing else matters. My blog comment was not meant to indicate any great dissatisfaction with the campaign or the members. I often start the blog with only a vague idea of what I will write about, and the rest follows without any real consideration or review. So if one player has dropped out of the campaign on a Saturday or Sunday I am quite likely be have a moan about it on the Monday blog. But within days I will have found a replacement and the whole thing will be forgotten!

    Thanks again for your comments. I enjoyed reading them




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