Britannia by E-Mail
How to Game all over the World
Jaakko Kankaanpaa (Finland)
At first sight, Britannia is not a game that lends itself easily to play by e-mail. With lots of interaction between multiple players, orders and situations so variable that they are impossible to standardize and games that require hundreds of messages to complete, e-mail Britannia is a far cry from the efficiency of play by mail chess and other similar games.
However, despite these limitations, a lively sub-culture of PBEM Britannia has sprung up over the years. While face to face is the most natural way to enjoy a Britannia game, the Internet has emerged as a wonderful tool that allows people from all over the world to game together, overcoming the limitations of time and space for an occasional friendly game or a more competitive tournament setting.
While PBEM games can be long, often dragging on for months, they have their own kind of fascination, as ephemeral orders come in from distant lands, strategies may be pondered with ample time and then, every once in a while, the daily office routine is shattered by barbarian hordes invading your shore.
Finding Britannia on the Web
At present, there are two web communities, partly overlapping, that have been most active promoting the Britannia PBEM hobby. The World E-Mail Britannia Event at
has been hosting the World E-Mail Britannia Championships for some years now, with the final game of the fourth tournament currently running at the time of this writing. A more general meeting point for Britannia fans has been the Eurobrit mailing list, also at Yahoo!Groups:
Despite its Eurocentric name, the list now caters for Britannia players from all over the world. Both are well worth a look for players interested in PBEM; there are no waiting lists for starting games as such, but any member announcing his willingness to play will usually be greeted by three like-minded punters, ready for a friendly match.
Organizing a Mailing List
It seems that the preferred method for organizing a PBEM Britannia game is to set up a Yahoo!Groups group (effectively a mailing list) for the game. The place to do this is
A group or mailing list, with the players signed up as members, is an easy way of distributing game e-mails to all concerned, and any maps, score sheets and other relevant material may be posted at the group Files area.
The Luck of Dice
There are a number of dice servers on the net, providing PBEM gamers of all kinds with virtual die rolls they need. However, for Britannia players, the most useful tool is the Kenware Britannia II Battle Resolver (B2BR) at
The page is specially designed to handle Britannia die rolls for PBEM games, and it is quite simple to use. You only need to fill in the relevant information, and with a click of the Submit button the results are sent to any e-mail recipients you want (typically the mailing list address, at least).
For those playing the first edition (Avalon Hill/Gibsons Games) of Britannia, there is a previous version of the Battle Resolver (BBR) available at
http://cgi.kenware.com/BBR.pl [As the main URL has changed (new one is above), this may also be out of date--Lew 11 Feb 2012]
In order to get a Yahoo!Groups mailing list to accept die roll messages from the B2BR, the B2BR dice address,
has to be included as a member of the group. However, you should note that while the B2BR is nominally a member, no game e-mails should be ever sent to the B2BR, since they will be bounced by the server, and Yahoo!Groups will ban the B2BR address as a result. Therefore it is imperative that once the B2BR is included as a member, its mail delivery option is set to "No Email" by the moderator of the group.
GM or not GM?
In a friendly game, where courtesy and sportsmanship may be assumed, most problems and conflicts can be solved by the players themselves and a game master (GM) is not required. However, in tournaments and other competitive situations it's useful to have a fifth person involved as an impartial GM, who will act as a referee, settle disputes, resolve problems caused by illegal moves and provide rules interpretations. Ideally, the GM might also facilitate the game by publishing maps and keeping a running tally of the scores, maybe using the group Files area or a separate home page.
A PBEM player has to somehow keep track of moves and board situations from turn to turn. If you do not want to have a Britannia game set open next to your computer for months at a time, a program called CyberBoard might prove useful. It's a tool designed to electronically simulate various game boards and pieces on a computer. Using the CyberBoard program, you can have on your screen a picture of the game board plus counters you can move around. You can plot and save game situations and, if you want it, save pictures of the game board as well.
CyberBoard is available as freeware (donations accepted) from Dale Larson at
Unfortunately the program only runs on Windows, so Mac users have to look for other means of keeping track of the game.
To play, in addition to the generic CyberBoard program you will need a CyberBoard Game Box file for Britannia, as well as a Scenario file for the type of game you want to play. Game Box files are CyberBoard add-ons, each Game Box providing a set of boards and pieces for a specific game. Scenario files are just what the name says, starting scenarios created from Game Boxes.
There are currently several Game Box files around for the original AH/GG Britannia, having been made by fans of the game over the years. For FFG's new version of Britannia, there should be at least one Game Box file (named BritII.gbx) plus a 4 player Scenario file (named BritII4.gsn) available at the Eurobrit group Files area. (For details of the Eurobrit group in Yahoo!Groups, please see above.)
To use CyberBoard, what you need to do is to download and install the CyberBoard program, then download the Britannia Game Box file and 4 player Scenario file and put both either in the CyberBoard directory or in a same subdirectory. After that, double clicking the CBPlay.exe file in the CyberBoard directory will open the CyberBoard Player program. Click File/New, select Game and click OK. In the "Select Initial Scenario for Game" window, locate the BritII4.gsn Scenario file and open it. After that, double clicking "Britannia II Board" under "Game Scenario" will bring up the Britannia board. Piece trays open by clicking "A" and/or "B" in the Toolbar. Now you can drag the pieces around, and when you're done, you can save the board situation by selecting File/Save. The game will be saved as a Game file (extension .gam). You should save your Game files in the same directory where you put the Game Box and Scenario files.
With CyberBoard, you can also save snapshots of board situations by clicking Edit/Save Board Image in File. This will make a bitmap picture of the current board and pieces. CyberBoard will only save bitmaps, and to keep file size down it might be necessary to convert them to JPG's or GIF's by some other application.
CyberBoard also has advanced features such as dice rolling and sending move files by e-mail, but we will not go into that here. In a four player game, where mistakes and backtracking are almost inevitable, it is best to keep things as simple as possible.
Keeping track of scores
In a PBEM game, scores are best kept with a paper score form or a spreadsheet application. There are forms and spreadsheets designed for this purpose, available at the Yahoo!Groups Eurobrit Files area.
Best E-Mail Practices
I'll close the article with a set of player instructions I have used while GM'ing in the World E-Mail Britannia Championships. The list might seem prohibitive, but to run smoothly, a PBEM game does require some degree of organization from the players.
Use all of this as you wish, and have fun.
Move orders should be written clearly, and they should contain at least the following information: nation name and round number (in the subject field); population points at start of the move; population points after population increase; army and leader positions before the move; placement of increased population; army and leader move orders; army and leader positions after the move; location and strength of both attacking and defending forces in any ensuing battle; any points earned; invitation for the next nation to play, if the turn is complete. For example:
Subject R10 Picts
IP 4 + 3 -> new army at Mor, save 1
3 Mor Cai
1 Alb Mor
Cai 3 v. 1 Scot
When battles have been fought and your move is complete, please post a summary like this:
Subject: R10 Picts end
The Irish next, please.
Please note that abbreviations can be used for area names, but they should be unambiguous. Especially note that March should not be called Mar but rather Mac or Mah, and I also recommend using NoM for North Mercia and NoS for the North Sea, so that they will not be confused with Norfolk.
If your nation in its turn does nothing more than breed, please indicate at least the movement of the population marker; for example, "Caledos just sit, pop from 3 to 4" This will make backtracking population increase so much easier.
Corrections to move orders will only be accepted if they are sent immediately after the original message and if it is evident that they are indeed just that, namely corrections to typos, poor copy/paste or other outs absent-mindedness, in other words expressions of the moving player's true intent. Otherwise, all submitted legal move orders stand and are binding. Also, if dice have been already rolled or subsequent moves have been sent in, no corrections can be made. So please consider your orders carefully.
To speed up play, feel free to move your nations out of game order, if you think there can be no interference with the earlier nations yet to move. For example, the Irish can usually move before the Caledonians and the Picts, since the nations' moves will not affect each other.
If you know you will be unable to play for more than two working days, please inform the other players. If you will be absent for more than a week, please try to get someone to cover for you. Of course, you can always leave conditional move orders with the GM; the GM will execute them at the right time.
For die rolls, please use the Britannia II Battle resolver at
This is a wonderful service provided to the on-line Britannia community by Ken Guerin, and the use of the web page is fairly self-explanatory. In the E-mail Recipients field you type or paste the address of the mailing list.
For multiple battles, it is usually permissible to roll for the first round of each battle across the board; this will speed up play. Of course, the attacker can also choose to resolve battles one by one. In this and all other cases, please give the defender the opportunity to retreat after the first round, should a retreat be possible; if the defender does not retreat, he must likewise give the attacker a chance to do a full or partial retreat, before dice are rolled again.
Please note that any die rolls that are sent to an incorrect address, and therefore do not reach the players, will be considered invalid, even if the results can be dug up from the Battle Resolver logs. Without this rule, it would be possible to "milk" the Battle Resolver by first calling for a roll with an incorrect address, and should the result prove unsatisfactory, to roll again, with the correct address. Nobody would suspect there were two rolls made. Please note that I am not accusing anyone of dishonesty, I only feel that there should be attempt to plug any loopholes as tightly as possible.
Mistakes will most probably be made during the course of the game; that is the nature of the beast. Usually no-one is to blame, and the most important thing is to find a working solution to the problem. This will require some GM discretion.
Illegal or otherwise impossible moves will be patched together, if the intent of the moving player is evident beyond reasonable doubt. For example, if the Red player orders his Saxons to attack Arthur and 1 cavalry using the move Downlands to March, but Arthur and the cavalry are residing in Hwicce instead, it is clear that the Red really meant Hwicce, not March (which is not adjacent to Downlands anyway). Therefore the move can be corrected and the game may proceed as usual.
Likewise, incorrect area names keyed into the Battle Resolver or the Battle Resolver message subject field can in most cases be ignored. However, if there is any doubt about battle location, the battle roll must be redone.
If a move results in a battle and the number and/or type of defending units is quoted incorrectly in the attacker's post, the move may be redone, since the attacker was obviously unaware of the board situation. In this case, any incorrect dice must be rerolled. However, if there is no mention of defender strength in the attacker's message, such unawareness can not be inferred, and therefore orders stand as they are written. So please include defender strength in your battle orders.
However, incorrect battle dice must always be rerolled. No leader bonuses or extra armies can be added later, for practical reasons.