It’s a Crime (Play By Email Game Review)

Update: A representative of KJC games found this post and contacted me about the issues listed here. I’m leaving this post as it is for now, but expect further updates to it.
Several months ago, I talked about experimenting with Play By Email games. I’ve since tried one more: It’s a Crime by KJC Games. Unfortunately, this is going to be a short review.

It’s a Crime, apparently like KJC’s other games, fills a space in between the strategic and role-playing extremes that I tried earlier. A basic description of moves makes it sound like it’s based strictly on a set of rules. This one, for example, features gangs trying to gain power in a 50×100 city grid. You recruit new members, scout or rob nearby areas, and attack new spaces by specifying the exact mix of members to send into battle. However, there’s a lot of chance to the results, and while the game provides guidelines, the exact “dice rolls” are secret. You can never be sure whether an order will succeed or fail, and the consequences (such as losing members or finding inexpensive drugs) are unpredictable. The results are given with lots of flavor text to explain how the situation went down.

There are things I like about pure strategy and about theme-heavy role-playing, but I’m not sure whether this mix works for me or not. I do like the online entry system, though, which lets you see graphical reports and guides you through creating orders. (It’s confusing at first, but makes sense quickly.)  I don’t think I’ll ever get to decide for sure what I think of the game, though. The first couple moves are free, and they were intriguing. Then I sent in a payment, and they never applied it to my account. I couldn’t keep playing. I emailed their support address, and never got a reply. I don’t believe that this was outright fraud, as I’ve found satisfied customers of KJC’s. But it’s definitely incompetence and poor customer service, to the point where I have to warn everyone not to trust this company with your money. This was an unplayable rip-off.

Grade: F

I’m disappointed by this, not necessarily because I was invested in this particular game. But KJC runs a lot of games, and I had been excited about trying more of them. Also, their games are run differently than the others that I’d tried, and I was curious about that from a design standpoint. That’s not relevant to the review, since this game fails regardless of its specifics. But because I’m always interested in how things are designed, I talk about this more, and how it relates to my Play By Email experiences in general, below the fold.

The other PBEM games I’ve tried have all had specific deadlines. Everyone must submit their orders by then, and everything is processed simultaneously. In contrast, KJC’s games are based on seven- or eight-day “weeks”, and you can submit orders once per time period. Your move is processed as soon as possible (which may be about half a business day), and the results may be a little unpredictable if other players have made their own moves since you got your last turn results. This leads to some interesting strategies, such as timing your orders so that they get in right away, or maybe delaying so that you can follow up with your next turn soon afterwards. It loses the aspect of simultaneous choice, which is a game mechanic that I enjoy a lot in my other PBEM experiences.

However, it is nice to get quick results on a schedule of your own choice. Part of the draw of PBEM is that I can fit an involved, long-term game into my busy schedule. And while I do have a lot of control over how quickly I answer other players’ emails, sometimes it’s just difficult to find time to put the orders together. Other times, I end up wishing I were playing another game to keep myself busy, or I lose the immediate involvement because my orders are already submitted but I won’t get the results for several more days. As much as I enjoy the turn-based gaming and discussions, I do wish that it were easier to predict the involvement. That’s where a system like KJC’s could come in handy. I could choose my times to play it to fill in the gaps between other games. And if I’m too busy, I could even skip a turn in a KJC game to earn a “make-up” turn to be used later. (There are restrictions so that you can’t play make-up turns too quickly, so that you can’t use them strategically to surprise other players.)

Of course, all of this is irrelevant when I can’t trust KJC to give me anything in return for my money. But it does identify an issue, and a possible solution, in my current PBEM games. I hope to find something similar from another company someday.

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  1. Hi, Mica from KJC Games – just discovered this review and your experience which seems highly unusual. If we have not already dealt with this, please contact me.

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