Play by Mail

Before MMOs and MMORPGs and the rest, there was Play by Mail. I didn’t do much Play by Mail, but what I did, I loved.

Mainly it was Serim Ral.

Serim Ral was a fantasy Play by Mail game for 100 players. Not exactly MMO, but on its way to it…! You started out with 5 leaders, a castle and a small army and your mission was to expand and conquer. It was created by Incubus Designs and run by both them and another PBM company, Mindless Games. Neither operate anymore – in fact if you google ‘Incubus Designs’ you’ll only find a tattoo parlour.

Each turn, you could post orders that your leaders would carry out. You would write these on the order sheet and send it by actual mail (yes – remember that? – the thing that uses stamps and post boxes). The people who ran the game would then type the orders into their computer, run the turn and post you back a turn sheet with details of what had happened to your leaders.

A couple of memories stand out.

Firstly the anticipation was incredible. Unbearable sometimes. You were playing a game with a ten day turn around and depending on both the post and the efficiency with which the company who ran the game executed their turns. When a turn was expected but came a day or so late, it was terribly frustrating, but when it arrived – oh! what sweet satisfaction – especially if everything you had planned had worked out.

Secondly, the more you paid, the more power you gained. The pricing structure of the game was £3.50 per turn plus 4p per order beyond, I think, 70 orders. Every order earned your leaders more experience, so of course, if you paid for extra orders, your leaders would gain more experience and swiftly gain more power than their rivals. This again became frustrating – thinking that you were being beaten by rivals who had put more money into the game than you. It’s funny looking back at this, because the same thing happens today – some gamers still pay extra for ‘gems’ or ‘loot boxes’, or whatever internal currency their particular game uses, and gain more power as a consequence.

You can’t see much evidence of these games around anymore. The internet killed them. Although, I see that VGA planets, another game that I played a little of and enjoyed is still going. You can play this by email or a web interface though, so it’s a little less limited by snail mail.

#28daysofwriting Day 21

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