The most pleasing arrival in the Christmas post was 'The Letter', marking the return of Ellis Simpson to something approaching public print. Sadly, those of you leaping around at the thought of a Sensation-sized publication can forget it. The Letter is just four pages long and, I suspect, at that size is a more accurate reflection of Ellis' free time than Sensation was at its demise. This is not to say you aren't getting quality to make up for the reduced content which, I guess, will remain sports, games and miniatures oriented. There will definitely be no postal games - a wise man indeed. Ellis gives us a bit of chat, some legal in-jokes, some views on what he's been playing and doing and a pointed review of Men at Arms. This is good, positive stuff and it's great to see Ellis back at the WP screen. I enjoyed the read. The Letter has no fixed schedule of publication but I am sure someone who enjoys publishing as much as Ellis won't be able to resist issue two for long. Available for a small supply of SAEs from Ellis Simpson, 4 Langtree Avenue, Whitecraigs, Glasgow G46 3LW.

I finally managed to pick up a copy of The National in Florida and it is rather good. Not dissimilar to the Sporting News, the presentation is slightly more modern (with good graphics and 'fuzzy' colour pictures) and is well written, covering the whole range of American and major world sports. It is impossible to say how consistent the journalism is based on just one issue, but it certainly looked promising. The thought of having a daily sports newspaper of this quality (or even a weekly one!) is very appealing but I doubt we will see one here for a while, if ever. The National costs just 50 cents but I can find no details of whether they send issues abroad (hopefully this won't be another SI situation) and the phone listed is an 800 number. So, I suggest you write if interested to The National, 15 W.52nd St, New York, NY 10019, USA.

I had written-off the irregular Baseball Times as a quick and messy fold when suddenly another issue appeared on Sportspages' shelves along with a re-born Transatlantic Baseball Review. Reading between the lines, it seems that Mike Ross fell out with someone at Baseball Times, became the victim of some sort of putsch and returned to publishing TBB with a new title. Baseball Times is under new management and the new broom clearly isn't one that is going to be around for very long. The last issue I've seen (No 5) was pathetic and it really can't be long for this world. TBB is pretty much the same as before and at £1.50 is an expensive but well informed and written amateur magazine. My advice is to scrap the lot and buy a surface mail Sporting News or National subscription instead.

Alan Parr recently put out an impressive 10th Anniversary issue of Hopscotch (issue 100 is imminent but won't be a special) which is full of interesting articles on United, Hopscotch and all the other games that Alan has either pioneered or run in the magazine. There are also articles on how to play United well (these would have been very useful for when I have tried, and failed, to play) and some well-meant tributes. Hopscotch has always been one of my favourites and very few people have put as much into the postal games hobby as Alan, surely one of the nicest blokes around. I'll just add my congratulations on his ten years at the top.

Punt & Pass continues to appear frequently and, to give credit where it's due, Malcolm has filled it out with a good range of articles and reviews, including a regular section on the Metric Mile. It is now well worth the asking price of £1 to the sportsgame fan. I mention P&P not just because I want to put my minor gripes to rights, but also because it recently contained a fascinating article by one Peter Calcraft, late of the postal Diplomacy hobby and now running a full-time PBM operation based on his postal American Football game design; Gameplan.

This reputedly attracts some 2,000 players paying £2.50 every fortnight. He claims a dropout rate of 10-20% pa but 20-100 new players join every month. Apparently the company employs several people, has turnover in the 'six figure' range (and comparable expenses) and makes Calcraft a salary 'half what I would get if I was working'. As a computer bod, this might be quite acceptable if you are your own boss. He also claims to be expanding into the US, Australia and maybe France. Assuming all this is true, I am not sure whether to be surprised or not and for all sorts of reasons.

I know PBM in the shape of Fantasy Leagues is doing good business in the States but to be honest I have always thought them to be poor games, poorer simulations and bloody expensive for a sheet or two of printout. I have all but given up postal games these days but the thought of paying out two or three quid per turn would have stopped me a damn sight quicker. Am I misreading the standard and value of these games or have they come on a lot since I last looked? What are these sports and historical simulations like? My gut feeling is that they aren't much cop, and that the type of gamer playing them is both relatively well off and not too critical (though Calcraft claims, perhaps predictably, that they are not idiots). I also suspect the games run on the escapist appeal of controlling an empire or whatever with very few realistic restrictions. That said, there are a lot of people playing them and, as far as I know, the hobby supports two or three conventions and if Flagship is still going, at least one magazine.

Where I am also surprised is the respectable number of customers and level of turnover achieved and, in deference to future comment from our accountancy experts, what must be horrendous costs to make such a poor return. I figure the staff are perhaps a 'manager' and several data-input clerks with, I hope, someone working on enhancements and new products. The product though, once developed and running, must make money if we are to believe the figures. I therefore wonder if Professional PBM is a long term business proposition that is likely to grow with increased leisure time (by the way, anyone know when this much touted development is going to happen?) or will it die as a fad? I'd be interested in your comments.

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Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information