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The Postal Games Hobby
A Brief Introduction

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So, what is the postal games hobby? Here is some background information about the hobby in general.

Green Ball How it started
Green Ball How it grew
Green Ball How subscriptions work
Green Ball Finding out more

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How it started

In this electronic age the existence of a hobby devoted to playing games by post may seem somewhat archaic. The hobby began in the early seventies following the publication of the game of Diplomacy. This is a board game without dice, cards or money, in which seven players representing the great European powers of 1900 seek to gain control of Europe. What gives the game its flavour is not so much the rules for movement and combat but the fact that no-one can hope to gain superiority without first making and then ditching allies. Consequently the game is all about discussing and negotiating with the other six players, forming agreements and knowing when to break them - because none of these pacts are either legally or even morally enforceable. All orders for movement and combat are written down before anybody moves, which is when you find out whether your allies meant what they said.

One problem with the game was getting seven like minded people together at the same time. The solution was to play a game through a gamesmaster or referee, who collected orders by a set deadline, adjudicated the round and printed the results in his magazine. {A postal games magazine is more commonly known as a 'zine', pronounced 'zeen' as in 'maga-zeen'.} Postal play added to the game in some ways, because you didn't know who had been speaking to whom in the meantime.

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How it grew

The first publications were devoted exclusively to Diplomacy. As more zines were started it was natural for the editors to trade with each other, sending copies free of charge. This helped to keep people in touch with what others were doing and to create a community spirit. If people disagreed about things from time to time, well, have you ever come across a community that never had any differences of opinion?

As more and more people became involved, other games were played alongside Diplomacy. Some of these were experiments which haven't been repeated, while others have virtually become standards for the hobby. The games which are widely played include Diplomacy, Railway Rivals, 18xx, Bus Boss, Sopwith, Acquire, Breaking Away and Golden Strider.

These days it seems that Diplomacy games are in the minority, but that may just be the current trend.

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How subscriptions work

Each zine has its own pricing policy, but virtually all operate in the same way. If you want to subscribe to a zine, you send the editor a sum of money which will cover the cost of a few issues. When the next issue is published the cost is deducted from your subscription and you are sent the zine and usually advised what your remaining credit is.

Some editors charge a flat rate for the zine including postage, while others charge for the zine and then deduct the actual cost of postage. In some cases you will be asked to pay a fee to enter a game, while in many cases the games themselves are free.

With For Whom The Die Rolls, I charge a flat rate for the zine including postage and I also charge game fees. By charging for games I can subsidise the cover price so that those who play most also pay most.

Subscribers are expected to keep in credit, which is only fair. There's no real excuse for going into debt, but if it is going to happen, explain your position to the editor so that they know what is going on.

If you're subscribing to a UK-based zine from America or vice-versa, you can make use of the International Subscription Exchange.

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Finding out more

If you want to discover more about the postal games hobby, the best place to start is Mission from God. This is a publication which lists the majority of current postal games zines with a brief summary on each. They also provide general information on the hobby, including details of the International Subscription Exchange, so follow one of the MfG links to find out more.

If you are interested in a zine, contact the editor and ask to see a sample issue. Most editors will send out free issues, but courtesy suggests that a couple of first class stamps wouldn't go amiss.

Red Arrow Mission from God

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Mail me Keith Thomasson March 31st 2002