Some of the oft-repeated statements about PBeM gaming are:
It's not real-time enough
I keep losing turns in the email system
ISN'T THIS EMAIL STUFF ARCHAIC BY TODAY'S STANDARDS??!
The concern being that the Electronic Mail transport method doesn't replicate the board gaming experience sufficiently to evoke the same kind of experience... players naturally have more time to reflect on their moves, and may be able to cheat somehow (this has not been my experience).
Some PBeM Aide Designers (Todd Zircher, Dale Larson) have expressed a desire to incorporate "real time capability" into their products some day, when they have time.
In the meantime, there are a few hardy souls that have been gradually implementing networking/chat tools available on the web (usually for free) as a means of turns transfer and interaction. The benefits of this approach are a nearly instantaneous transfer of turn information between players. Here are a few approaches:
This freebie instant Paging software has grown in popularity in leaps and bounds in the last few years. ICQ is free, provides capability to create private chat sessions between two or multiple participants, file transfer, and many other features.
Gaming Application: Players can use any one of the many PC based applications to transfer files to one another, nearly instantaneously. Alternatively, they don't even have to do that... just have the physical game set up on either end. Here's an example of a recent game of RISE OF THE LUFTWAFFE using ICQ between Mike Montesa and Martin Moser where they played the Invasion of Poland scenario just using the card decks, ICQ, and the rulebooks. Martin comments in the text, which is RTF Format.
IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is more of an Internet standard than a specific application, and several IRC clients exist. Of the ones available on the market today, mIRC seems to be the most popular. Check out the New IRC users' page for details on how to download the right client for you, how to set up your account and use IRC.
Gaming Application: Almost identical to ICQ. Slightly more mature application of chat technology. Many very cool IRC "bot" programs (scripts that will perform certain functions within an IRC Chat session) exist, including dice rollers.
Microsoft's NetMeeting may have the most potential of the list. Netmeeting creates a desktop virtual meeting session between two participants, who are allowed to view each other's desktops. The goal of this feature was a sort of "whiteboarding" style collaboration, but it has the added benefit of being able to view an application running in both virtual locales.
Gaming Application: Near real-time boardgaming viewable on your desktop.