Gunboat Empires is a 28-player PbM ( play-by-mail ) game set in an early 20th century world. Each player rules one of the "Great Powers". A ruler manages the nation's economy, directs research to develop new technologies, governs and acquires colonies, conducts diplomacy with other rulers, commands the armed forces, and publishes propaganda. Games last 35 turns with turns generally processed with a weekly turn deadline (sometimes 2 weeks when holidays, vacations, and other distractions occur). This turnaround allows players to negotiate with each other, carefully plan their turns, and savor the flow of the game.
Every player is assigned a password to submit an Economics Turnsheet and a Military Turnsheet to describe their actions each turn. These turn-submission applications will help you validate your turns (not 100%, but enough to catch the most common errors, especially those committed by new players; once you've played a few turns, it's rare that you will see the validation catch anything beyond a math error). These turn-submission applications also allow you to save and retrieve your turn for modifications prior to the turn deadline so if inspiration hits you in time, it's easy to change things! And, they include links to the rules, price lists, technology descriptions, etc. to help you navigate through the options until they become second nature to you.
Many players enjoy a bit of role-playing to enliven the strategic game - press releases (propaganda) are one common method used to make a country 'come alive'! A third application permits you to easily submit your propaganda to the 'newsletter' for instant publication. (sample propaganda)
Once the turn deadline has passed, I will process the game-turn. The 28 turns are downloaded to an offline program which thoroughly validates each turn and processes the game. In a set order (described in the rules), the program resolves combat, trades, builds, technological research, economic and military improvements, explorations, etc. Unique HTML turn results files are generated for each player in addition to updating the general-information pages on the game's home page. These include map application, rankings, market prices, combat results, and more.
Your unique turn results will show you a budgetary summary of the turn just processed, the specific details of your actions (units build or salvaged, their cost and location, technologies researched, improvements made, etc.), describes the results of your battles (and the results of any attacks against you!). It gives you a region-by-region listing of all your regions showing the number and type of economic facilities in each and the number of unemployed population available to work in as-yet-unbuilt facilities. Your military deployment is also described region-by-region. A technology list shows you what you have developed and what lies ahead. Finally, your national rankings in various categories are listed along with the world totals so you can judge your relative progress towards whatever goals you may have established.
The moderator will write some news reports of world events for each turn (battles, economics, comments, and observations) to supplement whatever propaganda the players have written themselves. All this general information is accessible from the home page for each game.
At its heart, Gunboat Empires faintly resembles "Axis & Allies" but A&A on steroids. The differences:
- More detailed economics system
- More types of units
- Bigger Technology tree
- Bigger map
- More players
- Hidden movement
- More non-player/neutral countries
- Everyone has two colonies
- Many unclaimed colonial regions
- Ongoing game news and player propaganda
- Detailed statistics and rankings each turn
Victory is awarded to the player voted (by the moderator and fellow players) as "Best Player", however they may define it. That player will receive a nice plaque and a free game. In addition, "Best Diplomat" and "Best Propagandist" are determined by player vote. Some consider press writing to be the true measure of a player and many players publish some very creative writing.
Joining a game is very easy. send me an e-mail and indicate whether you would like to join a new game at the beginning or whether you would like to be added to the standby list, or, you may reserve your spot in a new game by mailing me a check for your game fees or send your payment via PayPal (now accepted in two dozen countries). Download the rules, the unit and facility build costs, and take a look at the country setup procedures. For a new game, the minimum committment is $25 which covers your country setup fee and the first 5 turns; succeeding turns may be purchased individually or in blocks of ten (a better deal), or, you may prepay the entire game for only $125 (a 75% savings from the old paper-based version!) I also extend a credit to you for each new player you recruit, so ask your friends to join you.
Gunboat Empires is a fairly easy game to play though it has strategic and tactical depth and provides you with many choices each turn. It generally attacts mature play-by-mail players and provides a good challenge for novice and experienced PbM'ers alike. I've designed some helpful tools for submitting your turns on-line so you can concentrate on the fun decisions and less on the details of the rules.
Standby positions range from basket cases (with only a few turns left to live) to some of the best countries in the game. Taking over one of these countries is a great benefit to the game; you will get to play at a greatly reduced price; and, you will get some great experience to apply to the next game when you start from scratch! Many of the best players began their Gunboat Empires careers as standby players; it is sometimes challenging but always fun. In game #2, two players took over mediocre countries in the middle of the game and yet they ended the game with the two largest economic powers. One of these players had never played a PbM game before!
The latest game was game #4, a tutorial mini-game which ended in July. Game #5 is currently open for enrollment - when 28 players have signed up, the game setup process begins: everyone chooses countries and spends setup points to improve their chances of getting a country high on their list. Countries are then assigned (new players win ties) and everyone may spend their remaining setup points to modify their country's initial setup. With your modifications, I'll adjust the initial database, release the 'results of turn 0' (i.e. your starting position) and the game begins!
Gunboat Empires is published by me, John Morris. Gunboat Empires was first published and copyrighted in 1990. Prior to GE, I published and moderated a similar game called Bullies & Battleships. Both games were partially inspired by the works of Jim Salles, Wayne Kimball, and Walt Neill. The "final" game design has been shaped by the feedback of scores of players to whom I am grateful.