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I discovered the existence of Play by E/Mail games

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

While investigating the possibility of using a mail server as a gaming server for turn based strategy video games, I stumbled on a series of games that where originally played by mail, and later played by email.

I knew Twilight Imperium 3 was played by Forum or Email, but I did not know there were games specifically designed to be played by mail. Apparently, their main differences was that it could accommodate a large number of players, and could be more complex since you have more time to do your turn.

So a similar system could probably be used for video games, but there is still some design considerations to make sure the game is playable. I was wondering what could be those considerations.

For example, you want to keep the number of times you submit a move low. So having tactical battles within a more complex game is not an option. Else, if a player is in battle, it will stall the rest of the game. If you have battles like in Axis and Allies, the combat resolution must be resolved without player making any decisions during the resolution.

Diplomacy board game was a good example of everybody submitting their move and then everything being resolved at once.

Do you know any other factors to consider for such games?

Wikipedia has a relatively large list of games, I wonder if the rule books are available to the public.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
One game that I knew of

In the past we had a game where we all had the same "cards".
Here are the rules:

Goal: Get the most points. Or get to the points goal.

Points: Decided by the gamemaster. Each battle is 1 to X points. And the final battle is more than X points. Or the victims are the points. Or a combination of the above. Also, a tie was common and would still award points. If a player was holding the match by being the last one to post. Each passing day would also award points. The gamemaster could easily figure out who could respond. But some might not respond in order to get the final match. The points could even be cumulative for the waiting. And eventually, if this player would have reached the point goal, it would win. So stalling your move is not always an option.

Start: The gamemaster describes the cards and how many there are of each of them. The gamemaster also starts by placing down the first batch. (I was most often the gamemaster)
A card would be an unit with a value, armor and damage. No other statistics where used.

Playing a batch of cards. Can be 1 to the number of cards that a player has remaining.

A respond. Is simply play a batch of cards that cause a victory or a tie. In case of a victory, some cards would remain. This is the batch to respond too. In case of a tie. The player should place another batch for others to respond too.

Sometimes ending up in a tie will allow a player to place a massive army.
If 2 armies can't destroy each other with 1 resolution. The remaining cards will fight again. It is a deathmatch till 1 group is gone.
It was common for tanks to end up with almost none to no units left, when fighting a group of infantry.

After each battle. Others could check the result. But a list of everyones cards and points would be updated as well.
Also a fact is that a player HAS to join in at some point, in order to gather points.

The game was very deterministic. Except for the fact that you didn't know the chessmoves of others until they responded.

A variation would be that cards would be restocked at a certain point. Let's say, at day 20.

Cheers, X3M

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Hmm... Maybe you can make a APP???

Are there any Android APPs that allow for some kind of "message-based" communication as a method to play "online" with other players. Not saying something continuous like most games... Like the e-mail games, you SEND what it is you are doing next...

Maybe it could use Text Messaging... Like Player's take TURN being the LEADER and ONLY the "Leader of that ROUND" can submit the NEXT action taken by the PARTY!

Text Messaging tied with an APP that creates and manages PARTIES ... Allowing for some kind immersive WORLD...

I'd lean towards an ADVENTURE game and NOT A COMBAT game. Mostly about sort of CAMPAIGN-Style game with people playing with a party of strangers that SMS each other to figure out as a GROUP what to do next.

Could be interesting. I might be willing to share my CELL NUMBER for a SMS-based discussion with some kind of Game APP to run the whole thing.

Definitely has some possibilities... I think this sounds MODERN and COOL TOO!

Note #1: Why you would NEED the APP would be to CHAT with the other players of YOUR party. Maybe do it a bit "Choose your own Adventure"-like and send CHOICES about what to DO: A, B, C, D, etc. The Leader for the ROUND gets an SMS telling him what other members think and then HE/SHE makes a choice for him/herself.

There could be some collusion ... In that people can be deceptive and make choices for THEMSELVES instead of for the party ... There can be HIDDEN goals and choices that fortune one player over the others...

Could be very political and interesting IMHO. Intrigue and Backstabbing allowing for Neutral and Chaotic personalities... Not just Lawful...

Note #2: And instead of telling WHO chose WHAT, you get A> 3 people, B> 2 people and C> 1 person. But you don't know who chose what...

It could be a politically charged game like the LOTR series and more political environments larger than "Choose your own Adventure" because you could add intrigue, special interests, alternative choices, extra options based on your own motivations...

Could be something cool... It could even be WAR-related like Fantasy Realms and areas in the MAP and some kind of Conquest (but not a WAR-GAME). Instead it could be a campaign-style game with decisions about where to fortify armies, where the leader should take charge and lead an army, etc. Things like that socio-political choices.

I'd probably PLAY that for a while and TRY it... Sounds COOL to me.

It can be more TEEN-ADULT content like "Les Livres dont vous etes l'hero..." Like "La Quete du Graal" something more ADULT than "Choose your own Adventure" which was for younger kids (12 - 16 years) Where are "La Quete du Graal" was like 16 - 25 years). More potential to attract older players too...

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
The list on wikipedia is

The list on wikipedia is huge, it's a gold mine.

Some of the still working games seems to have evolved as a play on web game (similar to Archmage). Some have their rules on the net. Compared to TI3 example, it does not seem mandatory to have board game components to play.

Considering I wanted to make database based strategy games, it could be very convenient for players to send their SQL queries via email to the game master. The game master collects all the queries and run them on his database, validate the result, then email back the resulting database to the players. That process would be semi automated.

It could be done on a real database server, but that would require an active database server, which I want to avoid. It's more complicated via email, but it's decentralized and players are autonomous.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Ironically, I tried an Open

Ironically, I tried an Open source game called "Crimson Fields", and they offer play by e-mail capabilities. Not sure how they exchange data. Is it in the email content, as an attached file, etc. But it has been done before.

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Just as a minor note...

Because you seemed disappointed that "it has been done before"... A LOT of things have been DONE BEFORE. That doesn't mean you can't put your TAKE or SPIN on it... Look at TradeWorlds (TW).

1. Eminent Domain is a Sci-Fi Deckbuilder.

2. Dominion is the grand-daddy of all Deckbuilders.

3. There are a bunch of Deckbuilding games already OUT-THERE.

Did that stop me from DESIGNING TW??? No. It just meant I needed to make it DIFFERENT from the games like Eminent Domain or Race for the Galaxy... And in the end the game needs to WORK and BE FUN.

I'm sure that even if it HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE doesn't mean YOU can't make something BETTER in some way. Granted I really didn't like your SQL Query idea ... sounded horribly bad for even DBAs. And I've worked with a few DBAs that would take my good queries and make them even FASTER or BETTER.

Here's an IDEA for you (of course you can ignore it...):

questccg wrote:
I loved the old Sierra Games where you would wander around from one screen to the next and TYPE out COMMANDS like "Look at Tree" or "Search Tree", etc.

Maybe bring back some kind of QUESTING game with COMMANDS. That's EASY to PROGRAM by e-mail (maybe it could even be done by mail... IDK)... But E-MAIL for SURE!

Anyways I'm just trying to make you a bit happier in knowing that: "Who CARES if it has been DONE ALREADY! Just make something BETTER and FUN..." Think positive... If e-mail games is of interest ... Maybe the SUBJECT is the COMMAND and the e-mail content is the RESPONSE. IDK... But you get the idea I am sure.

Note #1: The first COMMAND in any area would be "LOOK AROUND" and then you would get a description of the area via e-mail. I can't possibly think how FUN that could be.

But please no SQL Queries... COMMANDS and simple syntax could be FUN... Of course it depends if you LIKE the "Questing" nature of such games. You could even make it Bi-Lingual (English and French)!!! See that's already ONE (1) improvement.

Note #2: And it can be even a OPEN-WORLD concept. Like when you enter an AREA (things need to work by areas IMHO) and do the "LOOK AROUND" command, it will tell you the OTHER PLAYERS in that AREA. Like @X3M @let-off studios... And then you can INTERACT with the OTHER PLAYERS by issuing a COMMAND like "TALK TO @X3M" and then type whatever you WANT to say.

But X3M's e-mail is kept confidential, the game just dispatches your e-mail to X3M ... And you can have meaningful interactions with REAL PEOPLE not only the UNIVERSE you create (or WORLD BUILDING)...

Now that to me SOUNDS AWESOME!!!

Note #3: Also when you START the game for the first time, you WAKE UP from SLEEP in a random AREA. When you do the "LOOK AROUND" command, it tells you what AREA. When you want to STOP PLAYING, you issue "GOTO SLEEP" command and that means your character makes camp... Think of something like Ultima 4 or 5 where your PARTY camps OUTDOORS. In towns you can only sleep in a BED ("GOTO SLEEP" = Response: there is no empty bed nearby.)

So a COMBINATION of SIERRA QUEST GAMES and ULTIMA 4/5 For World Building and movement... (Like the MAP but divided into AREAS)

Could be REAL COOL this kind of concept!

Note #4: I don't know HOW you would handle COMBAT or if there could be any AI for enemies and NPCs. Of course I'll leave that to your own imagination and thought-process. I just wanted to SHARE the "COMMAND" concept and allow you to take it from there if it interests you!

Note #5: The other challenge is DAY/NIGHT simulation and how to handle that. Because people playing at 7:00 to 9:00 PM want to be able to interact with people around 1:00 to 3:00 AM for example... Maybe if you "GOTO SLEEP FOR 2 HOURS" means that the clock moves forwards 2 HOURS ... But then there is the whole SYNCHRONICITY with everyone else. IDK... Maybe FUN things for you to ponder about! Hehehe.

Like you don't want people to be RESTRICTED to NIGHT ONLY activities from 7:00 to 9:00 PM... You may want to speak to shopkeepers at 1:00 to 5:00 PM for example...

IDK it's an interesting and very OPEN concept. Just the IDEA of it brings some interesting challenges in simulation and figuring out how to work with a WORLD CLOCK that allows you to take actions OUTSIDE your TIMEZONE.

Cheers @Eric!

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
Some early thoughts...

What if the game is ONLY 2 HOURS per DAY. So you PLAY ANYTIME IN REAL LIFE. But those two (2) hours SIMULATE time between DAY or NIGHT (AM or PM). So either between 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM or 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM.

Fnck that is such an interesting thing to ponder... So "SLEEP UNTIL NIGHT" or "SLEEP UNTIL MORNING".

Blows my mind... Hehehe.

Some people prefer to play AT NIGHT (in-game) like thieves and assassins, etc.

Just some extra thoughts...

And you could have people who behave like merchants and TRADE items or for GOLD, etc. Anyone can trade with anyone else. But merchants can have like a Wagon, etc. To carry more stuff. Yeah maybe this is too complicated.

Anyhow. Just sharing some of my thoughts after following your posts!

Note #1: The 2 HOURS of PLAY per DAY is INTERESTING.

120 Minutes per day Simulate 12 hours per day (either Day or Night). That means every 10 minutes = 1 hour.

That to me sounds SMART! So a 10 minute back-and-forth of e-mails between people is a 1 hour interaction IN-GAME. 10 minutes is pretty decent to simulate an HOUR. And like I said, you can EITHER play during the DAY or NIGHT (in-game).

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
It's more that there will

It's more that there will need to be a lot of research and development to be made in that field, because the concepts has already been explored, there are some developments and optimization that has been done before.

So in order to not reinvent the wheel, I would need to read the rules of a few of those games before starting anything.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Some textbased games originated from email

The result was that a FOW was added.
Maybe you can backtrack to the email game version.

Not sure, but if combat was deterministic in a 1v1 game.
I guess there is some sort of chesslike document being passed.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Some guess I have about the

Some guess I have about the mechanics used:

  • FOW, optional but easy to do.

  • Automated conflict, that does not require player decision

  • Simultaneous decision making.

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