Beyond the Stellar Empire
Beyond the Stellar Empire (or BSE) is a play-by-email (PBM) game. Originally published by Adventures By Mail, BSE was an open-ended "space opera" with a single available game that began in playtesting in 1981. According to Stephen Marte, during the mid-1980s, like "Tribes of Crane and Midgard, BSE [was] the stomping ground of many of PBM's best power gamers". The game comprised two variants, one monitored by Game Masters who imposed artificial constraints, and another without constraints. Gameplay took place on a vast space stage where mega-corporations formed the dominant organizing framework, alongside various other groups that players could join to pursue tasks to advance, collaborate with other players, and progress to more senior positions such as space colony governors. Beyond the Stellar Empire placed #5 and #11 for Best PBM Game of the Year in 1987 and 1988, respectively, in Paper Mayhem, a magazine for play-by-mail games. In subsequent years, the game did not score well in Paper Mayhem reader ratings for playability, use, and product understanding. Beyond the Stellar Empire: The New System won the Origins Award for Best New Play-By-Mail Game of 1989. The 21st-century version, Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire, while still a PBM game, enables players to input orders via web browser while receiving email turn results.
Reviewer Stephen Marte stated in 1987 that he had contact information for 150 PBM players but speculated that as many as 450 actually played the game.
In the January/February 1990 issue of Paper Mayhem, a magazine for play-by-mail games, Mike Popolizio, Liz Leblanc, and Marti Popolizio described a redesign conducted on BSE. The overhaul included faster turnaround times for turns, additional options for diplomacy, increased ability to implement player suggestions, introduction of black-markets, and other changes.
In a 1992 issue of Paper Mayhem, Wayne Alexander identified two variants of Beyond the Stellar Empire: the Capellan Periphery and the Draconian Variant. Alexander noted that the Capellan Periphery was the initial variant and was open-ended in the sense that it had no victory conditions–players could continue to progress through work and expenditures, requesting and completing assignments, acquiring larger ships and colonies, etc. However, he lamented that the Capellan Periphery was not truly open-ended in that the Game Masters (GMs) eventually would impose an artificial constraint on play that he called "The Wall". This didn't prevent the players from having an enjoyable playing experience, but it limited "power players". In other words, according to Alexander, "The Capellan Periphery has a lot of sizzle, but the steak is just dog meat." The Draconian Variant, while nascent in 1992, and saddled with some minor gameplay challenges, put players on the "ground floor" of a truly open-ended game, causing Alexander to describe it as one "with very little sizzle at this point, but the steak is filet mignon in potential".
The game took place on a vast space stage. Stephen Marte stated the following about the field of play in 1987:
The playing field consists of 80 systems. Each system is 30X30 hexes and each hex is 46,000 square miles. Five hundred planets, moons, and gas giants have been found in the 52 systems of the Capellan Periphery and it is estimated there are another 500 worlds in the 38 systems of the less explored Transhole Region. Planets and moons may be mapped, scanned, and geologically proved down to a 10 square mile sector. For all intents and purposes the scope of the playing field is as large as your imagination.
The central element of the game was its thirteen mega-corporations. Most of these were directed by a Game Master employed by Adventures by Mail, but run by a board of coordinators made up of players which managed a large hierarchy of players. These corporations provided frameworks that enabled players to choose, pursue, and accomplish tasks, but also generated interesting competition dynamics between corporations as well as internal competition struggles that sometimes caused cleavages serious enough to cause banishments or voluntary departures. Players did not have to join a mega-corporation: other possible groups included "seven alien races, a religious sect, and a small piratical band know[n] as the Raiders of the Imperial Periphery (RIP)".
Players were limited to two starcaptains at the outset, but had significant variety among the 16 ship types and great room for game progression. For example, by 1987, there were 250 players acting as space colony governors of varying sizes. Powerful players in mature roles could shift to a research focus to keep gameplay from getting stale.
Reception and LegacyEdit
Reviewer Stephen Marte observed in 1987 that Beyond the Stellar Empire was in some ways "the "ultimate PBM game". In the November/December 1987 issue of Paper Mayhem, Beyond the Stellar Empire tied for the #5 spot on the list of Best PBM Games of 1987 with Beyond the Quadra Zone. In 1988, the game tied for 11th place in the list of Best PBM Games of 1988 along with Rimworlds. However, the game did not perform well in reader ratings in Paper Mayhem during the following years. In the May/June 1989 issue, the game scored 43 of 44 rated games. In the July/August 1990 issue, it placed #63 of #68. In July/August 1993 it was #81 of #81. And in Nov/Dec 1994 it again placed last at #72 of #72.
- Marte 1987. p. 6.
- Marte 1987. p. 6., Marte bolded Tribes of Crane, Midgard, and BSE in the original text.
- Razavi 2017. p. 27.
- Muir 2013. p. 14.
- Popolizio, Leblanc, and Popolizio1990. p. 8–10.
- Alexander 1992. p. 31.
- Paper Mayhem 1987. p. 2.
- Paper Mayhem 1988. p. 2.
- Paper Mayhem 1989. p. 2.
- Paper Mayhem 1990. p. 64.
- Paper Mayhem 1993. p. 44–45.
- Paper Mayhem 1994. p. 44–45.
- Game Manufacturer's Association 1989.
- Alexander, Wayne J. (September–October 1992). "Beyond the Stellar Empire: Capellan Periphery versus Draconian Variant; The Poison and the Antidote?". Paper Mayhem. No. 56. p. 31.
- "The 1989 Origins Awards". The Game Manufacturers Association. Archived from the original on 2012-12-16.
- Lloyd, Vickie (September–October 1992). "BSE: The Good Times are Over". Paper Mayhem. No. 56. pp. 28–31.
- Marte, Stephen (March–April 1987). "Beyond the Stellar Empire". Paper Mayhem. No. 23. pp. 6–8.
- Marte, Stephen (November–December 1988). "Stellar Politics: Part II". Paper Mayhem. No. 33. pp. 18–20.
- Paper Mayhem (November–December 1987). "Best PBM Game of 1987". Paper Mayhem. No. 27. p. 2.
- Paper Mayhem (November–December 1988). "Best PBM Game of 1988". Paper Mayhem. No. 33. p. 2.
- Paper Mayhem (May–June 1989). "PBM Game Ratings: As of 3/30/89". Paper Mayhem. No. 36. p. 3.
- Paper Mayhem (July–August 1990). "PBM Game Ratings: As of 5-26-90". Paper Mayhem. No. 43. p. 64.
- Paper Mayhem (July–August 1993). "PBM Game Ratings: As of 06/06/93". Paper Mayhem. No. 61. pp. 44–45.
- Paper Mayhem (November–December 1994). "PBM Game Ratings: As of 9/12/94". Paper Mayhem. No. 69. pp. 44–45.
- Popolizio, Mike; LeBlanc, Liz; Popolizio, Marti (1990). "Revamping a Classic! The Redesign of BSE". Paper Mayhem. pp. 8–10.
- Razavi, Sid (March 2016). "Deep Dive into Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire Part I - Getting Started" (PDF). Suspense and Decision. No. 16. PlayByMail.net. pp. 26–33. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
- Razavi, Sid (September 2017). "Deep Dive into Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire Part II: An Explorer's Guide" (PDF). Suspense and Decision. No. 17. PlayByMail.net. pp. 11–25. Retrieved April 15, 2020.