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Subject: BSG PBEM: An uneven experience rss

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Dirk Knemeyer
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I am in the process of finishing up my first Battlestar Galactica Play-by-Email game here at BGG. It has generally been a mixed experience and I want to write about my impressions, to include both the game I played in as well as my observations of other games in that context.

For background, like most of the early participants, I was intrigued into playing by watching Brian (ColtsFan76) run his original two games. The quality of those games was very high, with engaged participants and fascinating game narratives. I would log on multiple times a day excited to see what was coming next. It was like a good book. This was only heightened by the various excellent session reports being posted by brick-and-mortar BSG players that captured the excitement and intrigue of the game. I owned BSG and had played it twice and was hungry for more. After deciding I would be able to make the time commitment I got onto the waiting list.

My opportunity to play came in the fifth (Mark V) game in the series. As it turned out, this was a really unlucky thing. Our game was plagued with slow and unresponsive players (marked by two people leaving, one of whom just went off the grid for a week or more with no explanation while continuing to be a heavy Board Game Geek user/contributor). Additionally, we ran into a really adept cylon player who, as Bill Adama, used his once per game ability to swoop all of the cards and then put all three humans in the brig during the span of just a few turns. That was masterful, but what was unfortunate was what it did to the enjoyment of the game. The pace of play became even more herky-jerky. People were clearly less interested and engaged as our hands were tied. It became a tooth-pulling exercise to plod forward in the game. While I continued to try my best and play well, the reality is in my heart I just wanted it to end. For MONTHS before the end actually came!

There were some other factors that, for me, made playing BSG PBEM uncomfortable. First was the lack of any defined schedule. I also play Diplomacy PBEM and one of the joys of Diplomacy is your orders are due once a week. At the same time. Every. Single. Week. Until the game is over. That really makes the play experience far more "usable" in the context of living your life. However, in most of the BSG PBEM games I've seen it is very unstructured. It sort of careens forward as quickly as everyone is able. Some days a lot happens. Some weeks little happens. There is no routine or predictability to it. I hated this.

Then there is the lack of a shared vision from the players of a particular game as to how the game is being played or what we are trying to get out of it. For me, I want to be "in character" with witty banter with my shipmates and sort of acting out going on the adventure. Some of the other games have this, others do not. However this only works - at least for me - if I am surrounded by multiple shipmates who take the same approach. I get bored playing character in a vacuum. In my game I had the bad fortune to not be surrounded by enough like-minded folks. This is in part the product of the nature of how the PBEM is being organized and set up: it is "first come, first served". While egalitarian, it does not encourage people who want to play the same way to get into games together; it creates a hodge-podge of people with different styles and agendas. This may not be an issue for anyone else, but for me its a Big Deal. I really am only interested in playing if a rich, BSG-dripping narrative is happening alongside the gameplaying itself. In my game I tried for a while. One or more of my shipmates may have as well (I don't remember anymore) but quickly it turned instead into a "grind" of just trying to play the game without any narrative and little flavour. That is nothing against any of the other players, just that we were playing in different ways which for me sapped some of the creative fun from it.

I think it is great that these games are happening. A lot of people seem to be enjoying them. Brian deserves a lot of credit for getting it started, and other early leaders (in particular Gerry) have done an amazing job setting standards among GM's and just expanding and further formalizing the activity. But after playing my game (and participating in a short 10 player playtest that was, by its very nature, chaotic), I don't think BSG PBEM is for me. I guess the biggest negative out of everything I've mentioned is the lack of schedule and structure. It made the game control my personal schedule in a way that just wasn't comfortable.

I hope the games continue to be popular and a success! The fact that they are happening with so much good energy around them is one of the things that makes BGG such a great place.
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Craig Hebert
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When I saw the waiting list grow to 67 or so, I decided it wasn't for me, in that format. I could easily imagine player 57 who was very interested, losing some of that interest, and falling off the grid as you say.

The wait time to see if all the invites are accepted, also would seem to slow the game down. I'm sure for some of the sessions, its worked out fine so this experience you've had might just be an aberation. This isn't meant to be critical of the process, as I can clearly see why this method was considered the "fairest" way to go.

That said, I think an immediate first 6 that sign up or in approach, may well yield a better participated in game. Perhaps limiting players to 1 of these per player (which might be in effect for all I know), would also be a good idea. Either way, its a good point you bring up, and one worthy of some discussion.

By the way, I am interested in getting in one of those PBEM Diplomacy games. Do you have a preferred recommendation of a group or site?

Thanks
 
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Gerry Smit
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Nice Feedback, thank you!

When something like this just gets off the ground, lots of things need to be learned, and being chaotic, relearned.

What I greatly appreciate in this review are the items that are constructive criticism, not just labels of "bad" or "good".

I agree that we're going to need to set filters on the game start-ups. More than just "who's next", or "time zone". But perhaps also

- "in character" - lots or little
- "speed" - 24, 12, or 6 hour defaults.
- - and really, when is the first chat room game due to start? :-)

- any other categories we'll need?

As it is, I'd say it's Moderator's Choice. If I start a game, and want "in character", that's whats gonna happen. More exactly, that's what people will sign up for. But I noticed that I myself got "less wordy" later into the game, especially if involved in multiple games. Just no time.

Gerry
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Todd France
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JacquesDeMolay wrote:
When I saw the waiting list grow to 67 or so, I decided it wasn't for me, in that format. I could easily imagine player 57 who was very interested, losing some of that interest, and falling off the grid as you say.

The wait time to see if all the invites are accepted, also would seem to slow the game down. I'm sure for some of the sessions, its worked out fine so this experience you've had might just be an aberation. This isn't meant to be critical of the process, as I can clearly see why this method was considered the "fairest" way to go.


Well, you have to remember though, even a "quick" game (We finished 13 last weekend, compared with 5, which I gather just finished) will take about 2 months, so if you're worried about a couple days to "set the board", then you're going to be frustrated by a PBF game at any speed. At this point, I suspect the waiting list actually helps the process of weeding out the people who would sign up on a whim and quickly lose interest.

Thanks for the review; it does illustrate some of the possible pitfalls of PBF. Like any board game, some games are going to be hit or miss, based on the players in the group, or the outcome of events in the game. Unfortunately, the misses are highly exacerbated by this format. Though personally I had an awesome experience in my last game (even though I wasted WAY too much time on it) and can't wait to do it again.

P.S:
dknemeyer wrote:

Additionally, we ran into a really adept cylon player who, as Bill Adama, used his once per game ability to swoop all of the cards and then put all three humans in the brig during the span of just a few turns. That was masterful, but what was unfortunate was what it did to the enjoyment of the game.
Oh, and I had just about decided that reading more of these PBF games was too much of a time sink, but I think you've convinced me to read one more. They tend to read a little different than they play...
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Jeremy Hawkins
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I just recently checkout the PBF and thought that it would be an interesting experience, but I noticed that many of the games would take around two months. Although I do know the difficulty of getting players together for a game.

I wondered if anyone plays by using skype or another similar program. You would still need a modarator, but the game could be played in real time using e-mail and each players copy of the game.

Any thoughts?
 
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Carl Bussema
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I suppose you can state up front "this is an in-character game and I expect you to be in-character the whole time" but what are you going to do if they stop posting in-character after 3 posts?

I do think speed defaults would be a nice thing to add, as well as some more useful things like leaving COs, or even just requiring "post something every 24 hours to let us know you're alive and paying attention to the game, after 48 hours with no posts and no explanation to the moderator, we will look for a replacement."

The fact that every player must check in for every skill check is what really kills the pacing. I don't know how to fix that. Perhaps enforcing a 6-hour timeline with the understanding that you will leave COs if you are going to be asleep.

Of course replacements can jar the game... not everyone had the same playstyle. Someone may prefer to be a very covert, subtle Cylon, helping out while waiting for the perfect masterstroke (see: brig 3 players ). Some may prefer to reveal as soon as convenient and get going (although having played as Apollo Six, I can say that once I revealed I paid a lot less attention to the game because my opinion clearly didn't matter and I only had to interact by playing one card every skill check, and then decide what to do on my turn, which came up maybe once every two weeks).

Sometimes real life happens to your moderator, and then you're just screwed. You feel bad for the moderator, but at the same time, it's hard to keep the game going when the moderator isn't checking in very often.

Then there's the card counting, which I've complained about before, but I'm hoping that Pegasus' new IC will help with that.

Play-by-chat / Real-Time would be interesting, although you'd have to have people who could read textual board states since you're not going to get graphics updated in real time.
 
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dknemeyer wrote:
I am in the process of finishing up my first Battlestar Galactica Play-by-Email game here at BGG. It has generally been a mixed experience and I want to write about my impressions, to include both the game I played in as well as my observations of other games in that context.

For background, like most of the early participants, I was intrigued into playing by watching Brian (ColtsFan76) run his original two games. The quality of those games was very high, with engaged participants and fascinating game narratives. I would log on multiple times a day excited to see what was coming next. It was like a good book. This was only heightened by the various excellent session reports being posted by brick-and-mortar BSG players that captured the excitement and intrigue of the game. I owned BSG and had played it twice and was hungry for more. After deciding I would be able to make the time commitment I got onto the waiting list.


I was in game #2 moderated by ColstsFan76. It was very nice and enjoyable. Towards the end, it was nerve racking to have to wait till the next morning to find out what the next crisis card was or what part of Galactica would get damaged, and ultimately leading up to if the humans would make it or not, but that's the nature of the beast. Sometimes, the mod has stuff to tend to that means the game needs to be put on hold for a while, or other players have already gone off to bed.

ColstsFan76 really did insist that we make at least one game move (e.g., to play an interrupt or not) every 12 hours. I was just under the wire to make my move (I counted 11 hours 57 minutes) for one high strung moment. Some moves are major enough that one shouldn't do it lightly. That, and things really picked up at work for me for that time period.

He also insisted skill check contributions be played in order and encouraged COs

Do like how he thumbed posts to indicate they were read and acknowledged by him

Last but not least, a separate geeklist for the visuals was a nice touch. Currently, such images are embedded in the thread for game #12, which still works, but isn't as conveinent as in GL form.



As for other things, some people said they were gonna be out for the whole weekend, which slowed down the game, but was definitely excusable and appreciated by giving us the heads up.

Some people insisted that we play in character. I made it clear up front I'll try to do so some times, but won't always bother with that

most people had in post avatars, but all did change their avatars for when we were playing.



I've noticed that in some of the games some people forget or simply do NOT bold their official moves, which has created some confusion

.

Compare and contrast that to my 2nd game in game #12...
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/3759993#3759993

Before viewing this thread, I forgot that i was in a 2nd game! wow It's been one week since I made my move. Our mod bubbi did mention he was busy, so I'm fine with that. In fact, for the time being, I prefer it this way, as I am in no hurry to finish the game within even 4 months, but we'll have to gauge this after others have chimed in.
 
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Todd France
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ackmondual wrote:
Before viewing this thread, I forgot that i was in a 2nd game! :wow: It's been one week since I made my move. Our mod bubbi did mention he was busy, so I'm fine with that. In fact, for the time being, I prefer it this way, as I am in no hurry to finish the game within even 4 months, but we'll have to gauge this after others have chimed in.

Is that right? Game 13 made Earth and Game 12 hasn't made the first jump? Hit or miss...
 
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pseudotheist wrote:
ackmondual wrote:
Before viewing this thread, I forgot that i was in a 2nd game! wow It's been one week since I made my move. Our mod bubbi did mention he was busy, so I'm fine with that. In fact, for the time being, I prefer it this way, as I am in no hurry to finish the game within even 4 months, but we'll have to gauge this after others have chimed in.

Is that right? Game 13 made Earth and Game 12 hasn't made the first jump? Hit or miss...
That is correct
 
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Marc Mistiaen
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So, if it was a mixed experience, what were the positive aspects of it? I only read negative things in your review.
 
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Dirk Knemeyer
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Corwin1980 wrote:
So, if it was a mixed experience, what were the positive aspects of it? I only read negative things in your review.


The other players were nice guys, that was positive.

In the early going when there was a lot of energy and more character play, that was positive.

When we were deeply engaged in trying to figure out who the cylons were, that was positive.

Otherwise I found it required a lot of care and feeding for very little joy.
 
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Todd France
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I have to say, thanks for pointing this game out to me. I can see from some of the comments that the down time must've been frustrating, but reading it all it once, it was one of the more exciting games I've seen.
 
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