Looking back over my board game records, it’s clear that I haven’t been playing a lot of games in the past few months. There are a lot of reasons for this: my wife working in the evenings, shouldering new new personal and professional responsibilities, other hobbies like roleplaying and homebrewing taking a front seat, etc. But with a bit more time at home this summer, I have been picking up a few play-by-email (PBEM) games; I mainly play these turns when the baby is taking a nap, or in the late evening once she’s in bed. These online games include the Blog v.s. Podcast Smackdown previously mentioned, as well as a few different games in the engrossing and delightful Combat Mission series of computer games. Still, if I had the choice, I’d stop PBEM gaming and stick with face-to-face experiences instead; online gaming is sort of like caffeine-free, diet soda–it’s a paltry substitute for the real thing! However, online games still have their place in the way I approach the hobby:
Learn a Game, Learn New Strategies: Since I really got into boardgames five years ago, this is what PBEM has been all about for me. I post a message on a forum looking for someone who knows the rules cold so I can learn from them. This is how I came to understand Wilderness War and Here I Stand, two games that have a pretty steep learning curve. Then I take the lessons and bring them back to my own local group. Incidentally, sometimes I have ended up paired with some really talented opponents who have shown me new strategies.
Engage in a Competition: When there just aren’t enough folks around to justify a local tournament of sorts, I head to PBEM gaming. I was able to participate in a Here I Stand tournament this way (and got past the first few rounds!), and also participate in several Combat Mission tournaments. Again, the level of competition is fierce and I end up learning a few new tricks to bring back home. This can lead to revitalizing our local group’s interest in a game too.
Keep a Gaming Connection Strong: Living where I do, some of my gaming buddies are pretty far away. (Russ, for instance, is a 45 minute drive away on a good day!) So a PBEM game allows us to keep playing something even when circumstances keep us apart physically. This is true with my dad too; we’ve played a lot of Combat Mission over the years because playing it in “hotseat” mode takes hours, but PBEM is five minutes a day.
In the end, I greatly prefer the social interaction of a face to face game. Play by email will always be a distant second to it, but it can be helpful. I think it makes me a better gamer, but even as I described my three reasons for online play above, I realized that it all comes back to my local group and my friends.