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PBEM Forever: Frozen Synapse

This is my brain on drugs. Soma future dystopian drugs.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed anything different, but many of us are getting our pandemic on. With everybody stuck inside, it seems like a good time to talk about something a little different — that particular strain of video games that are like board games, including how they can be played asynchronously with friends and loved ones. In fact, these games were built from the ground up with that very feature in mind. PBEM Forever is about these titles, the finest play-by-email games that aren’t merely video board games.

In action, Frozen Synapse looks like a real-time tactics game. Little men in green and red — yellow, too, if you’re playing the solo campaign — gliding across the neonscape with all the fluidity of bits of data sliding into their proper places. When they stop, it’s to aim and squeeze the trigger, sending lashes of gunfire or ping-ponging grenades across the field. When struck, they spiral and spill, native color leaching to gray. If anything, it looks like a pain in the ass to control, even when you’re only commanding a small handful of units.

But what you’re witnessing isn’t actually Frozen Synapse. Oh, it’s part of it. But this is the resolution, no more “the game” than the numerical outcomes on a combat resolution table are “the game” compared to the units pushed across a board. Rather, all your decisions come before, orders delivered in five-second increments. An entire battle in less than half a minute. In resolution-time, that is. How long you actually spend deliberating over your turns is entirely up to you.

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