Tye: birth of a PBM and lessons learnt

Tye is our series of computer-assisted play-by-mail games. These are strategy games that oppose a dozen players on a map divided into territories, with weekly turns. By collecting resources, expanding their territory and purchasing buildings, players raise large armies to conquer the surrounding lands. The goal is to conquer a location at the center of the map or to control of a defined number of cities. To date, 3 games in the Tye series (all completed) and a spin-off called Frontal Assault have been released.

Their evolution over time is interesting: Tye I had a classic fantasy background. Orcs, Humans and Elves clashed, each race represented by 3 players.
We learnt a few lessons from the game. The first being that background may be a strong enough motivator to condition alliances in a game: the 3 races quickly created alliances that persisted during the game, although there was no specific advantage or mandate in the rules to do so. A second lesson was that it’s helpful to clarify what is allowed in terms of interactions outside of the game itself: a player created an unofficial NPC and used him to contact other players (we use gmail for characters emails, therefore it was easy to create a new one). Finally third lesson: communication is key in a play-by-email game: it was the race with the strongest and most active alliance in terms of communication that won the game.
This first PBM we did was managed in a very simple way, with players sending their orders in an email, which were not formatted in a special way. The resolution of the game was very manual, to the point I was physically rolling the dice to resolve each fight.
Tye II “Amashur” brought an impressive series of technical innovations and design additions to Tye. Reto took on the monumental task of programming the game in php, supported by Fabien, and the game could now be played in a browser. We finally had an orders form for our players! The design additions were to set the game in a medieval India inspired setting, to use drawings created by excellent artists Thibault and Valerie. We also included the option for players to establish trade routes and introduced mercenaries you could instantly purchase. But the biggest addition of all was the inclusion of heroes, who could move around the map, battle monsters or lead troops into battle. This new role was imagined for players who do not have the time to manage an entire kingdom.
The lessons of the second game: we had been too ambitious in terms of number of players. Players quitting the game forced us as gamemasters to pick up the roles, which was time demanding, required a certain capacity for abstraction and took away part of the fun for the winners (ha, so instead of a player I fought a GM …). We also created two parallel victory conditions, one for the rulers and another for the heroes. This frustrated players playing as sovereigns, who saw a simple hero steal the final victory from them.
Tye III “Callainn” (2009), inspired by medieval England, was the most successful episode to date. The game built upon the principles of Tye II, we changes the world map to an hexagonal format. Once again, the most enterprising alliance which communicated the most triumphed. Amusingly, the players in this alliance were the same as those of the winning alliance in Tye I! Especially funny since the game was anonymous (players interacted by email and were encouraged not to share their true identities).
Lessons from the third installment: care must be taken in a PBM in managing player participation: the most active players found the others’ lack of response frustrating. The committed players are gameplay drivers, so it is really important to help them and listen to their grievances.
You can find our archives for Tye II HERE and Tye III HERE
And if you desire to test your mettle in battle whilst waiting for Tye IV, Frontal Assault is played HERE

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