A Review of Paper Mayhem, Issue #60 (May/June 1993)
The stark reality is that more of the PBM hobby is behind us than in front us. Most of the articles in Suspense & Decision relate to the few PBM topics that are relevant today. It only makes sense that someone covers the irrelevant…err…nostalgic aspects of the hobby, as well, right?
One of the things I’ve been doing over the past couple of years is buying PBM relics from eBay and Noble Knight Games – the two best sources out there, other than a friend who has this stuff in their basement and needs to get rid of it for spousal diplomacy. Most of these relics are old PBM magazines, but occasionally I find a rulebook or a map and I add them to my collection. Looking through issues of Paper Mayhem, Flagship, Gaming Universal, or any of the other PBM magazines that were published during the peak of the hobby, offers an intriguing look back at a time of great PBM game diversity and activity. There were so many options back then!
My plan is to review a past issue of a PBM magazine in every future issue of Suspense & Decision. I thought the best place to start would be Paper Mayhem Issue #60, published in May/June 1993. This has some sentimental meaning for me, as it’s when I stopped playing PBM games until 2018. Back in the summer of 1993, I decided to follow my brother out west to Santa Fe, New Mexico, from Iowa City, Iowa, after kicking around college without a lot of motivation. He was starting work on his PhD dissertation in Philosophy, and he picked one of his favorite cities to live in during this time to do research and write. With the physical move, I decided to drop the one PBM I was playing at the time, Middle-earth, instead of updating my mailing address.
Let’s start with the cover…
Cover: A single-color illustration of three spaceships shooting energy weapons at a planet. The ships are oversized in comparison to the planet, but it still looks like this fleet won’t do any major damage, unless they are targeting a specific facility on the surface. What this fleet fails to notice is the large moon orbiting too close to the planet. They should save their energy and just wait for the gravitational forces to destroy the world without technological intervention. Three games I never played are mentioned on the cover – The Land of Karrus, Lords of Destiny, and Stand & Deliver. I know that Stand & Deliver was a highly praised Wild West game, but that’s about it. This issue cost $5.00 in 1993. I paid $3.50 for it last week from Noble Knight Games.
Inner Cover Ad: Fantastic Simulations. Two games – The Weapon and Fleet Maneuvers. I remember both games from when I was a kid, but never played them. Fantastic Simulations was a ubiquitous advertiser in various magazines. My sense is that they spent more money on advertising than they needed to. I guess that is obvious now that they no longer exist.
Back Cover Ad: Outrage! It’s an ad by GDW for Traveller, a sci-fi role-playing game. Paper Mayhem is selling space to the enemy. Ok, maybe not the enemy, but certainly not the focus of this magazine. I guess GDW had more money to spend than PBM companies did. That doesn’t surprise me considering the fate of almost all PBM companies.
Back Inner Cover Ad: Oh yeah, it’s Middle-earth, a favorite of mine, back when it was owned and operated by Game Systems Inc. (GSI for short). Turns in 1993 were $6.50 and they are $7.90 today. That price increase is lower than inflation. “Whether you are a veteran or have never tried play-by-mail before, this is the game for you!” I agree. “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Classic Confrontation” I disagree. That would be his ghost seeking revenge on Peter Jackson after the tragic and heretical movies of The Hobbit.
Promo for the upcoming 10th Anniversary Issue of Paper Mayhem: Sadly, they don’t know yet that the magazine has already passed its halfway point, and there won’t be another ten years after this. Savor the moment, my friends, savor the moment.
Where We’re Heading Column: Editor David Webber updates his readers on a few tidbits, including the fact that they are now accepting article submissions on disk. Formats supported: WordPerfect, PageMaker, and ASCII. He also reports that two PBM companies are no longer in business – Enchanted Horizons and Ethereal Edge Enterprises. A lot of PBM companies added ‘Enterprises’ to the end of their name. I could do an article just on the topic of PBM ‘Enterprises’. I guess this is how people made their gaming companies sound like serious businesses?
Letters: Someone complaining that there was no Letters column last issue. Someone complaining that the turn-around time for Legends is erratic. Someone complaining about inflexible turn sheets. Someone complaining that a person wasn’t at a booth at a gaming convention. Wait…those complaints are all from the same person! Well, something hasn’t changed in 27 years of PBM gaming – the complainer archetype. Someone who mentions the game Darkness of Silverfall and the primary NPC adversary in the game, “Dark Lord Sauran”. Come on, seriously?! A letter from John E. James, owner of Enchanted Horizons, letting everyone know that the company is shutting down and he will be issuing refunds to the players for any remaining account balances. That is nice. He is also offering the game, Portinium, for licensing.
Articles: A review of Lords of Destiny by Phil “Death Ray” Chenevert (I’m not joking), mentioned here in this article by Raven “Life Shield” Zachary. Summary: “Death Ray” says, “If you are looking for a light hearted game with moderate diplomacy and minimal time demands this is the one for you.” The only two words in there that I like are game and diplomacy. A review of The Land of Karrus by George Cameron, no nickname, no middle initial. Speaking of which, have you noticed how many people back in the 1980s and 1990s used middle initials? They are pervasive in this issue. Not as pervasive as “Enterprises” in PBM company names, though. George says, “I would recommend The Land of Karrus for any new PBM gamer and gamers who like fantasy PBM with a lot of player interaction.” A review of Armageddon’s Aftermath by Mark Marangoni. Mark gave this game five stars in the areas of playability, complexity, turn sheets, results, price vs. fun, and price, but only four stars for the rulebook because it lacks an index. Fair point. A strategy article by Alan Heise covering drafting day and post-season play for Gameplan, an American Pro Football PBM game, but the author fails to mention the name of the game until the final sentence of his article. A Beginner’s Guide to Stand & Deliver by Patrick M. Rodgers. Patrick says, “One of the best aspects of S&D is the fact that it is constantly expanding and improving. So far, every newsletter has featured a new order and/or item of equipment.” I like the idea of an ever-improving, ever-growing game. Nowadays, S&D stands for Suspense & Decision.
Gameline: I initially couldn’t tell if this section was a list of text ads for PBM companies or if the staff of Paper Mayhem were doing the research work here. On further review, it looks like text ads to me – company name, several paragraphs of text about the games, and contact info. I will only mention the companies and games here. Aggressive Addiction Games: Krahlizek: The Last Battle. Anarchy by Mail: Galactic Anarchy. Ark Royal Games: Adventurer Kings. Creative Management Services: Bounty Hunter. Entertainment Plus: Adventurers Guild. Fantastic & Futuristic Simulations: Gladiators of Death. I can’t believe they are using this company name when another PBM company is named Fantastic Simulations. Also, what other types of gladiators exist other than death? Gladiators of Escape, perhaps? That would be a better game. High Point Games: World War IV. Horizon Games: Firebreather. JFH Games: World War IV. Excuse me, but I think High Point Games and JFF Games need to talk. Also, we haven’t even had World War III yet, hold your horses. Maelstrom Games: Into the Maelstrom and Lords of Destiny. We finally reach a company in the Gameline section that is promoting more than a single game. Midnight Games: Legends II and Legends. Mindgate: No game is listed, only new contact info. A lost opportunity. Rolling Thunder Games: Victory! and Warriors & Wizards. No mention of SuperNova – I wonder if it hasn’t launched yet. Man, I love that game. Warlord Strategic Gaming: WSG Sovereignty, Rules of Engagement, and Fallen Empires. WSG Sovereignty sounds like a fantastic game based on its description. Zephyr Enterprises: Continuum.
PBM Activity Corner: Ok this looks like the editorial version of Gameline. I wonder if the PBM companies paid for these submissions or not. This section includes game news, details about specific games, and related topics. The write-ups are too long to summarize per game, so I will just share with you the names of each game covered by company. Advanced Gaming Enterprises: CTF 2817 and Crack of Doom. I heard from some of the inmate players that Crack of Doom II ceased operation a few years ago and AGE didn’t give notice or issue any account refunds. I can’t confirm this as no one from AGE responded to my emails. Aggressive Addiction: Krahlizek: The Last Battle. Anarchy by Mail: Galactic Anarchy andArmed Forces Commander. Ark Royal Games: Adventurer Kings. Creative Management Services: Bounty Hunter. Damien Games: Armageddon’s Aftermath. Earnshaw Enterprises: Conquest. Entertainment Plus: Adventurer’s Guild. Game Systems Inc.: Middle-earth. Graaf Simulations: El Mythico, Realms of Fantasy, Continental Rails, Feudal Lords, Gameplan, Supremacy, and Spiral Arm. JFH Games: World War IV. Midnight Games: Legends. Mindgate: Stars of the Dark Well. Sinbad’s Games: Coupdetat. Warlord’s Strategic Gaming. WSG Sovereignty.
PBM Company Ratings: 46 PBM companies are ranked here by the readers, but only three companies on this list remain in business today – Flying Buffalo (ranked 9 of 46), Rolling Thunder Games (ranked 21 of 46), and Reality Simulations (ranked 46 of 46). Reality Simulations is ranked last on this list, but they can have the last laugh as they are still in operation today and have a dedicated player base across multiple games.
PBM Game Ratings: 76 PBM games are ranked here by the readers, but only 20 games on this list remain today. A whole of bunch of games from this era aren’t even listed here, so I wonder what the criteria was to determine whether a game would be listed. The lowest response number on the list was 11 people, so perhaps it was based solely upon reader response levels? Of the 20 remaining games from this list, a few of them have since become free online games, and the rest are still offered in commercial form. Reality Simulations’ Hyborian War is ranked 68 of 76, but it has one of the most dedicated player communities I know of, and it’s an excellent game, so who knows why this is ranked so poorly. Middle-earth is ranked 2 of 76, no surprise here, I say as a dedicated player of this game. I think it’s the best team-based PBM out there.
PBM Bulletin Board: This is basically the classified ads section and looks to be limited to players-only. Someone is stationed in the Far East and is looking to connect with similar players. Someone wants to connect with other players of Galactic Prisoners. Someone wants to sell his collection of board games. Hopefully this is because he is fully invested in PBM games now and he has realized that boardgames are unfulfilling. A player wants to play Axis & Allies by mail. That sounds painful. Just play a real PBM game.
Conventions: A list of upcoming game conventions are included here, with some details. Sadly, none of the details include mention of PBM games. Nothing of note to cover here.
The rest of the ads in the magazine (in order of appearance): Out Time Days by Twin Engine Gaming in glorious full-page format….how I miss this game. I won’t give up hope that Werner Freitas will someday come out of retirement to resurrect Out Time Days. World War IV by High Point Games. An upside-down ad for World Conquest by Prime Time Simulations with the gut-wrencher, “We’re turning the PBM industry upside-down!”. Yes, in fact, the PBM industry was turned upside-down and almost all the sand fell out of the hourglass. Thanks for that, Prime Time Simulations. Epic: The King’s Game by Midnight Games. Victory! By Rolling Thunder Games – a game that is still being offered today by the makers of SuperNova, one of my favorites. Lords of Destiny & Into the Maelstrom by Maelstrom Games. Takamo by Advent Games. You can play Takamo online today for free. Star-Saga by Infinite Odysseys. Bounty Hunter by Creative Management Services. Adventurer Kings & Darkness of Silverfall by Arc Royal Games. You can play Adventurer Kings online today for free. The Land of Karrus by Paper Tigers. Hyborian War by Reality Simulations – still offered today and turn results are still only available by postal mail, although you can now email your orders in. Warlord of Thunder Crag & Nexus of Mystery by Irondragon Enterprises. EverMoor II by Bronze Star Games…now with laser graphics! WSG Sovereignty by Warlord Strategic Gaming. Galactic Anarchy by Anarchy by Mail. Dark Magus by Dark Magus Productions. Illuminati by Flying Buffalo – a game that is still being offered today. Perseus Arm by Perseus Arm Enterprises. Glory II by HCS Games. Galactic Prisoners by Grandel. People talk about this game a lot, but I never played it. Sirius Command by Inner Dimension Games. A tiny ad for Origins 1993 game convention. Stars of the Dark Well by Mindgate. Legends by Midnight Games – still offered today by Harlequin Games. A Graaf Simulations ad covering nine different games – Feudal Lords II, Continental Rails, Spiral Arm II, Kingdom, Realms of Fantasy, El Mythico, Kings & Things, Supremacy, and Gameplan. Last I checked a few months ago, you could still play Continental Rails online. NFL Pro League Football by Gamers’ Guild. I wonder how big the royalty payment was for this game. Cosmic Crusaders by Genesis Games Design. Wild Frontiers by Red Talon Gaming. Stand and Deliver by Stand and Deliver. You’re An Amoeba, Go! by Monastic Software. Go, Monastic Software, go, but ultimately you fade away. Firebreather by Horizon Games. Quest of the Great Jewels by Flying Dutchman Games – still offered today. An ad for Flagship magazine, another PBM gaming magazine, that’s cool. An ad for ANDCON ’93, the National Play-By-Mail Convention. I wish I had attended this one. A full-page ad for Origins 1993 game convention.
Raven’s Rating: 9/10. A classic issue of the preeminent American PBM magazine during the heyday of PBM gaming. A full-color cover with a smaller moon and spaceships would have made it a perfect 10.
Raven Zachary (firstname.lastname@example.org) returned to play-by-mail gaming in 2018. He lives in Portland, Oregon, USA, and is user Rinzai on the PlayByMail.Net Forums. Raven currently plays Middle-earth, SuperNova, TribeNet, Takamo, Hyborian War, and Midgard.