I’ve been thinking about doing a new 18xx map and tile generator to assist in playing PBEM games. There are currently two good solutions I know of, but both have flaws.
Rails is a popular and easy to use program, that handles everything: map, tiles, shares, money. Rails also knows the rules and can calculate routes. All very useful. Playing with DropBox is easy. I like it.
The biggest negative for rails is the very limited game selection. I’m a bit bored of it already. None of my biggest favourites in 18xx are supported by Rails and new games aren’t going to happen any time soon. I’d like to play cutting edge titles like 1873 Harzbahn or 1865 Sardinia — not going to happen with Rails.
The hard-core option is ps18xx, which only handles maps and tiles. However, doing everything else is fairly straightforward using a spreadsheet in Google Docs. Ps18xx uses postscript files, which are a bit of a complication, particularly as OS X Preview cannot convert them to PDF for some reason. Well, PS to PDF converters are easily available, so that’s not a problem.
The moves are made by editing the postscript file manually. Not as hard as it may sound like, but not very elegant either. I can live with it, though, especially considering the availability of titles for the system. It’s very good, including new (and even unpublished) titles.
Adding new stuff is fairly difficult, though, if you’re not a pro. The documentation is very scarce, so becoming a pro isn’t easy. However, I suppose you can expect most of the new games to appear for ps18xx fairly quickly by someone skilled.
I’d like to do something similar to ps18xx, but make it web-based and easier to use. I’m thinking about tile and map creation by human-readable files with easier, better-documented syntax. PNG files instead of postscript. Adding new games should be fairly straightforward (unless the new game requires totally new and complicated elements for track tiles or map).
Also, I’d like to expand the system to non-18xx titles. I’m mostly thinking about Age of Steam, I’d like a map generator that can also produce Age of Steam maps to make PBEM Age of Steam easier. Winsome cube railroad games would be another obvious candidate for the system.
My strangest idea about this would be package everything as a WordPress plugin! That would give a framework that would handle users, and it would be easy to create pleasant user interfaces for keeping track of games and making moves. Initially I’d probably forget about regulating rules (with the possible exception of controlling tile availability) and handling the finances, making spreadsheets necessary, but eventually covering that could be possible. The initial release would be a simple web app, however, with a text box interface — paste in a game log made of simple human-readable tile laying commands and the app spits out the map with the tiles in place.
I’m not very deep in this, all I have so far is a small script that prints out empty hexagons, but possibly one day in the future — let’s say one or two years — we’ll have something that helps running 18xx PBEM games.