An Introduction to Play-By-eMail Soccer (Doug Ingram)

[ This is an article from the Play-By-Electronic-Mail Fanzine, v94n7, which was published on October 31, 1994. ]

This article discusses a set of PBEM soccer leagues called "Electronic Football Leagues." The current running leagues, in order of oldest to youngest, are United EFL, Experimental EFL, Fast EFL, German UEFL, and Ladder EFL. We usually call these leagues by their four-letter abbreviations, such as UEFL or EEFL. All together, we refer to the leagues as *EFL.

There are two basic "styles" of football leagues. The oldest style comes from the original UEFL league (we call it UEFL-style). The other, more complex style is found in the EEFL (EEFL-style makes sense here). From the introduction to the UEFL rules:

_United_ is a game of postal football (pilka nozna) invented by Alan Parr. Rather than focusing on the actual game as it unfolds on the field, the rules abstract various aspects of play, making the game essentially one of skillful management. Players (henceforth referred to as managers) guide their clubs through the various sessions which comprise a season. Each session is composed of several matches, which are played together as one postal turn. The rules for the league as a whole permit clubs to develop and increase their chances of capturing the league title which each successive season by skillfully coaching players and administering the club.
The basic aspects of the game are two-fold: Short-term planning (which I'll call "tactics"), and long-term planning (which I'll call "strategy"). Every manager starts with a given amount of resources (cash, players, coaching and training resources) and a team. Team creation is fairly flexible, allowing distribution of a fixed number of skill levels over a fixed number of players. Each team plays out a 10-session long regular season that lasts anywhere from 6 weeks (Fast EFL, or FEFL) to 9 months (UEFL, LEFL). Each "session" consists of 3 matches for a total of about 30 regular season matches against other opponents. Playoffs are then tacked on to the end of the regular season for all leagues.

Tactics come into play in match planning. The rules allow a manager to distribute their players over the various matches on a per-session basis, with restrictions on how often each player can play. In addition, a team can employ a variety of special tactics to attempt to maximize its performance. A common element of tactical planning is an exchange of "scouting reports", in which one or more managers agree to share information on common opponents in order to predict what they will do in a future match.

Strategy comes into play in building a team. As the seasons progress, players gradually gain in skill (if their manager spends resources on them) and lose skill (due to "aging", which happens every half-season and is proportional to player age). It is up to the manager to decide which players to help out, given their limited resource budget. In addition, managers can make trades with other teams and participate in free agent auctions.

In the UEFL, that's all there is to it. In the EEFL-style leagues, there is also a draft that adds to the fun. The draft is a month-long period between seasons that amounts to a whirlwind chaotic market of trades and more trades, somewhat like the drafting periods in most professional sports. The drawback is that managers often have to spend a lot of time at working on the draft in order to ensure success in the league as a whole.

I'll include here a good article by one long-time manager Mike "Sarge" Sargent on good managing in order to help give the reader a feel for the game:

On the question on how to judge managerial skills, there are really quite a few aspects to look at.

a) Can the manager build a great team? This is the attribute which will get the team achieving at the top of a division. There are many, many managers who fit into this category, and T&T helps in this regard by allowing mangers with experience to offer advice. This is often the quality which earns people manager of the year. (the success=greatness)

[Ed Note: T&T is an on-again-off-again strategy periodical for EEFL-style leagues containing letters, rule change debates and articles.]

b) Can the manager understand the timing of the situation? This is the quality which gets teams promoted. If you are a great team now but will suffer greatly due to aging, it might have been better to be not so great, and still be good enough to be promoted, and be not so bad the following season. Often trading is the way to achieve this. GUN and SAR have shown this well, coming off a roll to be immediately competitive in the top division. DED scraped into original one season earlier (which was my goal) but had to struggle to hold my spot. VF is a good example as well, and will be very tough next season. He had really bad luck, but used it wisely, and came back with young people who can dominate.

[Ed Note: *EFL leagues are typically divided into various division levels, with the best teams in the top division and the rest of the teams always fighting for a chance at promotion to this level.]

c) Can the manager get LP's when he doesn't deserve them? There are some truly great LP thieves around. These sorts of managers will dominate the top divisions because they are almost impossible to relegate. CP came back from the dead last season to retain his top division spot.

[Ed Note: LP are League earn them with Wins and Draws.]

d) Is the manager too predictable? (enough said; if you are too predictable, people will counter you.) DED beat AA (as prune said) because Doug was a great manager. However, he underestimated my skill in sneakiness. I knew Doug would be one of the few people to catch all of my signals, and hence anticipate what I was going to do (or what it appeared like I was going to do). He chose to react accordingly, but unfortunately for him, it went wrong as the predictable pattern I had been following was changed suddenly. Pretending to be predictable is a managerial weapon! Hiding your strengths for key matches is quite valuable.

e) Personal relations. Calling other managers a pack of drongos who couldn't manage themselves out of a corner if they had $1000K is not going to win you many friends. If you don't intimidate/offend people, then you won't have many grudges against you. There are a lot of managers in the lower divisions who impress me by what they do. By offending them, all that would happen is that they wouldn't talk to me, but that is one less team to trade with (both players and information) and generally you will be worse off. On the other hand, being an obnoxious sh*t can work for you as well, but you should do it selectively, and not generally, or else everyone will be after you.

f) Does the manager trade well? Trading should benefit both teams. Several people have offered me trades which benefit them, but hurt me, and they were surprised when I did't accept. This is a major problem for people not in the U.S time zones, as to organize a trade for me takes a long long, long time with one or maybe 2 messages a day. Try to adopt a team strategy, and trade to that strategy. Should a trade come your way which seems to go against your strategy , think carefully about it, see if you want to work that player into your side, and then try to design a strategy you are happy with which includes that player. For instance, if you wanted to develop your defence but someone offered you a I/20 FW(F) for your 1/14 DF, you would have to seriously reconsider your general strategy.

g) Does the manager achieve his goals? I guess this is probably the most important one on a personal perspective. If AA's goal this season was to do the double (league,cup) and fails, then Doug didn't plan so well, or luck was against him. Achieving goals is what makes games enjoyable. The goals you set yourself must be realistic, but if you achieve everything you set out to do, then give yourself a pat on the back, you are a good manager. DED has achieved all of its goals so far in its 3 1/2 season life. It doesn't necessarily make me a great manager, but it makes me a satisfied manager.

h) Others. I make no claim at being an expert on what makes a good manager. There are probably heaps of other fields which I don't consider, but the above should give people an idea. Feel free to add to this list; then I will learn something.

----- [ End of included article ] -----

Now, some more specific information on each league:

UEFL: The Commissioner is Jeremy Billones. This league is currently in its 6th season with three division levels and 30 teams (10 teams at each level). Seasons run from October through May with time off during the summer for good behavior. Turns are due about once every two weeks. A typical roster looks like this:

Team:  Beirut Blast 
Manager:  Doug Ingram
Cash: 108
CP:  5.0   [Coaching points, used to increase skill of older players.]
TP:  3     [Training points, used to increase skill of young players.]
OTF:  1    [One-Touch Football...a team skill that can be increased]

Player			Position	Age	SL
Warren Christopher	   GK		I	7
Yasir Arafat 		   GK		VI	3
Viktor Ostrovsky    	   GK		III	15
Boris Yeltsin		   SW		II	20
Terry Anderson		   DF		0	8
A typical order set look like this:
Beirut Blast			Doug Ingram
Central Division		Session A


Sign 0/3 MF Philippe Biamby from the minor leagues for $100K.

Match lineups:

   vs Tuxedo Park		vs Lemmings		vs SFWA Hacks
   away				away			home
   Longball			Wingplay		Midfield Dominance

GK Ostrovsky			Ostrovsky		Christopher

SW				Yeltsin			Yeltsin

DF Clancy			Anderson		Dubcek
   Anderson			Dubcek			Quayle


TP Clancy			Powell			Christopher
CP Ostrovsky			Anderson		Yeltsin
MVP Ostrovsky


[In the best cases, this is much too long to include a sample.]

Comments to Commissioner:

I think I'm toast in match 1, but maybe I'll luck out.

UEFL takes around 2-3 hours to really learn well (this includes reading the various strategy articles in addition to the rules). Each session, depending upon how much scouting and manager interaction a manager does, can take from 30 minutes to 3 hours.

There are two other UEFL-style leagues in existence right now: the German UEFL, which is virtually identical to UEFL except everything is done in German, and the Ladder EFL (LEFL), which is similar to UEFL, but has some significant differences:

The major EEFL-style league is, of course, EEFL. EEFL is a 120-team league (at least a factor of three larger than any other league), with teams split up into four tiers of divisions. The EEFL is now in its 11th season and is going strong. Seasons last about 6 months, and orders are due about every 10 days. The commissioner is Bill 'Prune' Wickart.

In this league, rosters look like this:

OTF: 7
OST: 0
CK:  0
WDL:  5 2 1 0.0
Rating: 0.74
Bonus: 0.00  2
Draft:  AA1 AA2 AA3
Goals:  8 1
CP:  4.0  4.0
TP:  6.0  3.0
Cash:  1128
Team: Adirondack Automata
Manager: Doug Ingram
Stadium: WorleyWorld
Age SL  EL Pos Su SD DP  Gl Sh As Sa Ga Co  Id
 1  17   8  GK  0  0  0  -5  0  0  9 19 -1 3004 Tom Servo (E 690) 
 3  31   8  GK  0  0  4 -15  0  0 52 21 -1    1 Andrew Grove (E 1650) 
 2  13   6  SW  0  0  0   0  0  0  6 20  0    3 TRS 80 (Q)
 5   3   7  DF  0  0  0   0  2  0  0 20  0 1499 Andy Gray (I)
 3  11   8  DF  0  0 16   0  3  1  4 19  0 1662 Pekka Pakki 
 3  14   6  DF  0  0  0   0  0  0  7 24  0    5 Zoltan Kodaly 
It would probably take too long to explain everything in this file, but it's all in the rules. Most of the numbers are just bookkeeping that the manager need not follow. Only Age, SL and EL (Skill level and Endurance Level, respectively) are really important.

A typical order set look like this:


Adirondack Automata	: AA	session A		Doug Ingram

   vs OML		   vs SAR		vs OUL
     (S)		    (S)			 (P)
case: T>=30 G<0 N	case: T>=30 G<0 N	case: F<0 N
case: G>0 S		case: G>0 S		case: T>=45 G<0 P
case: G<-2 S		case: G<-2 S		case: T>=18 G>0 S
none			none			case: G<-2 S

GK T. Servo		A. Grove		A. Grove
   case: T>=30 @@ S1	none			none

SW T. 80		T. Servo		T. 80

DF Z. Kodaly		Z. Kodaly : C. Crawford	Z. Kodaly >
   none			case: T>=30 ^		case: F<0 : P. Merson
   none			none			case: T>=18 G>=0 : P. Merson
   none			none			case: T>=18 G<0 ^
   none			none			case: T>=18 G<-2 ^
   none			none			case: T>=18 G>1 ^

DF A. Guider		A. Guider : C. Crawford	A. Guider
   none			case: T>=30 G<0 ^	case: F<0 : P. Merson
   none			case: T>=30 G>=0 : C. Crawford  case: T>=30 @@ S1
   none			case: T>=30 G>1 ^	none
   none			case: T>=30 G<-2 ^	none

DF B. Serker -		G. Ypsy ^		none
   case: T>=30 G<=0 C MF >   case: T>=30 @@ S1	none
   case: T>=30 G>0 C DF |    none		none
   case: T>=72 G>0 ##	     none		none
   case: T>=72 G<-2 ##	     none		none


S1 A. Grove		H. 9000 *		L. Writer
   case: T>0 X GK	case: T>=30 G<0 C FW |	case: T>0 C MF |
   none			case: T>=30 G=0 C FW <	case: G<0 |
   none			case: T>=48 G>0 C MF ^	case: G>=0 <
   none			case: T>=48 G>1 C MF < 0  none
   none			case: G<-2 C MF < 0	  none

TP T. Servo		G. Ypsy			C. Ambot
CP A. Grove		H. 9000			T. 80


Again, you get the idea. One of the distinctive features of EEFL-style leagues is the ability to use the "conditional order". This allows a manger to alter the lineups on the field based on game parameters such as current score, number of shots, match time, etc. The conditional language may seem a little daunting, but it is not. The example I've shown here is rather complex to give you a feel for what you CAN do. Most managers only use a few conditionals.

EEFL takes anywhere from 1 hour to 6 hours per session, I would guess, though it tends toward the low side of that range. Again, a lot depends upon how much time a manager spends interacting with the other managers, scouting, how complex the conditions are, etc. Then there is the draft, trading, the playoffs, etc. All in all, the time investment is 50% greater than with UEFL-style leagues, but this is only an average.

Another EEFL-style league is FEFL, which is the Fast EFL. It is fairly close to EEFL in all aspects, but deadlines are run on the order of 2-3 days at most. This league is really for EEFL veterans only because of the necessity to really know the rules well in order to meet the turnaround times.

Entry into the EEFL-style leagues also gets you a ticket to a talk server (similar to a MUD or chat-domain) that managers often log into in order to chat, trade, watch match reports presented live by some special software, etc. This can turn the league into an infinite time sink for anyone... and this from one who knows.

Information on all the leagues can be found in Greg's excellent PBEM List or PBM Homepage on the Web, described elsewhere in this magazine. These documents explain how potential players can contact various commissioners and/or learn more about the leagues and how to join.

One thing all the current leagues have in common right now (unfortunately) are long waiting lists. You can expect around a six-month wait to get into any league at this point, and even then, there's no guarantee. The reason for this sad situation is that there are too many players and not enough commissioners. We commissioners (I run LEFL so I can speak as "we") basically do this for the fun of it... there is no money involved and I'm certain that none of us would ever be involved in a *EFL if there were a cost.

(Edited by Greg Lindahl) (