Remember when multiplayer gaming needed envelopes and stamps?

Landes started making computer games in 1980, but when missed release dates killed the company, he launched his own brand PBM in 1984. Based in Oregon, his designs included Pelarn Swords, that Landes first moderated by hand, an “arduous” process that could take 20 to 30 minutes for each player’s turn. Even with the help of computers, data entry and mailing remained labor-intensive.

“We had a bank of dot-matrix printers running through the night to print the results and the next day we would pack the towers, do the accounting and mail them,” Landes said. “At our peak in 1991, we were spending over $ 25,000 per month on postage. The local post office joked that we should have our own zip code. Today, that would represent over $ 49,000 per month.

Landes sold his business in 1992, and today he teaches game design while working on his own projects, including the popular Mount & Blade fashion Prophecy of Pendor and the next one StariumXCV. Pelarn swords can still be played online via the company PBM Harlequin Games, and that its current guide is 117 pages long shows just how complicated these games can get. But what keeps players coming back after all these years?

Unparalleled complexity, if you can wait a few years

For Raven Zachery, the appeal of PBM is “the level of depth, complexity, sense of long-term commitment and the epic nature of the games.” Zachery is a member of, a community where fans trade their letter carrier stalking stories for updates, and it helps manage their Facebook group, maintain an index of active games and write to their blog, among other efforts. As a child, Zachery saw PBM ads in Dragon magazine, and played from the early ’80s until 1993. He returned in 2018, because although his busy work schedule had made it difficult for him to have long board game sessions with friends, PBM could to be played in free moments while engaging its love of long-term planning and diplomacy. He is now active in seven different matches.

While PBM cannot offer the intimate role play of D&D along with friends, Zachery explains that they “excel at diplomatic, strategic, and large-scale endeavors that are not achievable in board or computer games.” Long waits between turns can be spent strategizing and coordinating with allies, giving players more time to invest in the results. Calling it an “experience you just can’t get in another format,” Zachery says, “I find myself thinking about my plans for the next turns throughout my day. When it comes time to commit, I have really accepted what I’m going to do.

This corresponds to the design philosophy of Landes. “The strength of a game is not to play it,” he explains. “That’s how much the player thinks about it when he’s not playing. It’s about that “what if” scenario that happens like a light bulb going out and causing them to want to come back to the game to see the results of their knowledge. Conversely, he argued that a bad PBM game produces predictable results; if a player can sense how the game is going to end, why would they have to pay to keep playing? To keep players engaged, Landes “avoided closing the path to success until the end of the game” and tried to prevent “the perception of loss” by focusing on games where players compete against each other. to accumulate resources, rather than trying to reduce each other. nothing.

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