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Starweb logo cropped from the cover of the instruction manual
DesignersRick Loomis
PublishersFlying Buffalo Inc., Rick Loomis PBM Games
Years active1976–present
GenresScience fiction, play-by-mail
Playing timeMonths
Materials requiredInstructions, order sheets, turn results, paper, pencil
Media typePlay-by-mail or email

Starweb is a closed-end, space-based, play-by-mail (PBM) game. First published by Flying Buffalo Inc. in 1976, it was the company's second PBM game after Nuclear Destruction, the game that started the PBM industry in 1970. Players today can choose a postal mail or email format. Fifteen players per game assume one of six available roles and explore and conquer planets within a PBM universe comprising 225 worlds. The object of the game is to attain a predetermined number of points which are generated by various actions during gameplay. Multiple game variants are also available. Starweb is still available for play as of 2021 through the company Rick Loomis PBM Games.

Starweb has received numerous reviews from the 1970s to the 21st century with positive and negative comments. In 1990, reviewer and game designer Timothy B. Brown stated that "StarWeb is arguably the best-loved, most widely known play-by-mail game in history."[1] The game has won awards across multiple decades from the 1980s to the 21st century. These include the 1984 Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Play-by-Mail Game, the 1997 Origins Award for Best Ongoing Play-by-Mail Game, the 2000 and 2003 Origins Awards for Best Play-by-Mail Game, and the 2006 Origins Award for Play By Mail Game of the Year.

Play-by-mail history[edit]

Some games have long been played by mail between two players, such as chess and Go.[2] PBM play of Diplomacy—a multiplayer game—began in 1963.[3] The emergence of the professional PBM industry occurred less than a decade later. Rick Loomis, "generally recognized as the founder of the PBM industry",[4] accomplished this by launching Flying Buffalo Inc. and his first PBM game, Nuclear Destruction, in 1970.[2] Professional game moderation started in 1971 at Flying Buffalo.[5][a] For approximately five years, Flying Buffalo was the single dominant company in the US PBM industry until Schubel & Son entered the field in about 1976 with the human-moderated Tribes of Crane.[5] It was within this environment that Starweb entered the PBM field.

Publication history[edit]

In the mid-1970s, Flying Buffalo discovered significant demand for a space-based PBM game through survey.[6] Consequently, Rick Loomis invented Starweb which Flying Buffalo released as its second PBM game in 1976.[6][7][8] The original game instructions were in a "mimeographed" manual which eventually required a second edition to address player understanding challenges.[9] The instructions went through multiple additional revisions over the following decade.[10]

Starweb has been featured in various gaming magazines. The Nuts & Bolts of Starweb was the first PBM magazine not published by a PBM company.[11] Although it morphed over time, its publisher, Rick Buda, started it as a fanzine for Starweb in June 1980, especially to discuss how to play his favorite character, the Berserker.[12] Starweb has also been reviewed in gaming magazines such as Challenge, The Space Gamer, and White Dwarf as well as PBM magazines such as Flagship Magazine and Paper Mayhem. In 1980, the game enjoyed substantial growth from advertising in science fiction magazines.[9]

Starweb is still available for play. After the July 2021 sale of Flying Buffalo Inc. to Webbed Sphere,[13] the PBM games—which were not included in the sale—continued under a new company: Rick Loomis PBM Games.[14] The company, run by Loomis' sisters and their PBM computer expert gamemaster, continues to offer Starweb by postal mail and play-by-email (PBEM) as of August 2021 to include several variants.[14][15][b]


According to reviewer Jay Reese, Starweb "is a science fiction game of stars and star fleets".[9] Each game has fifteen players, each with one homeworld.[16] These players compete for the 225 available worlds.[16] Six different identities are available for play: Apostle, Artifact Collector, Berserker,[c] Empire Builder, Merchant, and Pirate.[9] Each character type obtains points for different actions. For example, Apostles earn five points per world controlled and one point per ten existing converts, among other methods, to gain points in a given turn.[10] Artifacts provide points as well—the game has ninety standard and various special artifacts available during gameplay.[9] Holding a standard artifact provides a player five points per turn while a special artifact can provide a larger number of points, such as the Treasure of Polaris at 20 points per turn.[10][d] Diplomacy and player interaction is a critical aspect of gameplay,[8] and Timothy B. Brown emphasizes that "Starweb is a game of diplomacy."[17]

The editors of Flagship Magazine provided the following as a summary of gameplay in 1983:

You are the ruler of a single planet of beings just beginning to explore a web of 225 planets linked by complex and unmapped paths. You can build ships to explore and conquer; each of your ships and planets will get a report on enemy forces at or moving past the planet, as well as a list of the neighboring worlds, thereby enabling you gradually to build up a map of the Web.[18]

As of 1980, player's moves were written in a precise, but complex coded format.[9] However, according to reviewer Paul S. Person, game mechanics were simple—even simplistic for some—with a universe limited in size and "easily written" orders.[8]

The game ends when a player reaches an unrevealed point total determined at the beginning of the game.[9] Although this total is normally between 1,000 and 10,000 points, "[s]trategy changes radically in longer games".[18] Graham Bucknell described a version of Starweb called "25,000 Starweb" in the Winter 1983 issue of Flagship Magazine where the game ended when a player achieved 25,000 points.[19] In late 2008, the publisher stated that approximately 10,000 points was the game's goal.[16] In 1980, turns took three to four weeks, allowing fifteen to twenty turns annually, causing some games to take longer than a year,[20] as full games take about eighteen turns.[1]


Rick Loomis stated that a "Multi" game of Starweb allows each of its five players to roleplay three different identities as one position.[21] According to the game publisher, this is more costly, more challenging, and for advanced players.[16] Another variation is anonymous play, which prevents player interaction.[16] "Bitter End Starweb" is played without points, ending when "one player owns more than half of the worlds on the map".[16] Other variations include combinations of variables, such as "Slow Multi Anonymous Starweb".[16]


Starweb received various reviews in the 1970s and 1980s after publication. Jay Reese reviewed the game in an April 1977 issue of The Space Gamer and concluded that, "If you can get past the early errors and discouragement, you will find that Starweb can be a fascinating game."[22] Chris Harvey reviewed the game for White Dwarf in its June–July 1980 issue, stating that, "if you like what you've read, then save up your pennies, cross those empty evenings off your diary and jump into the new hobby of CM PBM."[23] Also in July 1980, Paul S. Person provided a review in The Space Gamer, commenting that "Starweb is a smoothly-run game ... which emphasizes diplomacy at the expense of detail. It is recommended for those who like galactic empire themes and who would like a game with lots of hidden intelligence."[8] Later, in the April 1983 edition of Dragon, Michael Gray stated, "This is Flying Buffalo’s science fiction play-by-mail game of conquest, trade, exploration and diplomacy. And it's nothing short of a masterpiece!"[24]

Reviewers continued commenting on Starweb in the 1990s. In a 1990 issue of Challenge magazine, Timothy B. Brown stated that, with over 1,000 games run, "StarWeb is arguably the best-loved, most widely known play-by-mail game in history", and—while noting that aspects of the point system could be a drawback—recommended it as an enjoyable game.[25][e] In 1999, Pyramid magazine named Starweb as one of the Millennium's Best Games. Editor Scott Haring said "Starweb is the king of [PBM games] – the industry's most popular and longest running. ... Beautifully balanced, with a design so well-polished it gleams."[26]

Starweb has won various awards over multiple decades. These include the 1984 Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Play-by-Mail Game,[27] the 1997 Origins Award for Best Ongoing Play-by-Mail Game,[28] the 2000 and 2003 Origins Awards for Best Play-by-Mail Game,[29] and the 2007 Origins Award for Play By Mail Game of the Year.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Flying Buffalo later added games such as Battleplan and Heroic Fantasy along with Starweb and others. By the late 1980s these games were all computer moderated.[5]
  2. ^ As of the company's August 2021 newsletter, variants offered are "Multi game", "Anonymous multi game", and "Bitter end anonymous multi game".[15]
  3. ^ Starweb uses the term "Berserker" with permission of Fred Saberhagen; Saberhagen returned the favor by using a fictionalized Starweb game as a backdrop for his novel Octagon (1981).[7]
  4. ^ Artifacts can also cause a player to lose points such as the Radioactive Isotope, which causes a player to lose 30 points per turn.[10]
  5. ^ Brown also pointed to the game's longevity itself as evidence of its quality.



  • Appelcline, Shannon (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7.
  • Babcock, Chris (December 2013). "Diplomacy" (PDF). Suspense and Decision. No. 2. p. 16. Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  • Brown, Timothy B. (February–March 1990). "StarWeb". Challenge. No. 42. p. 76.
  • Buckell, Graham (Winter 1983). "Superweb". Flagship Magazine. No. 1. p. 11.
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  • Dreslough, Dee. "Star Web". Games of Fame. Word Press. Retrieved August 21, 2021. Article stated as reviewed by Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo prior to posting.
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