The Inside Pitch Letter Column
The Long Hot Summer Edition

Amazingly enough, the last issue generated enough letters to keep this going which, in Inside Pitch history, is unprecedented. Normally Ellis and I write to each other until we get bored with the lack of response, but something in the woodpile is stirring and letters keep appearing. Being as I greatly enjoy receiving letters and doing this part of Inside Pitch, let's hope that this situation continues, not least because I have lashed out on a much needed new daisywheel to aid clarity. By the way, if anyone knows where to get hold of Diablo 630 compatible 10 or 12 pitch Italic daisywheels, please let me know. I know, I should have bought a laser.

I am starting off with part of an excellent letter that was in fact written to The General but I am cheekily reproducing here as it says, longwindedly but neatly, what I have been trying to put my finger on for ages:

Patrick Carroll of New Hope, Minnesota: "I disagree with Jon Freeman's categorization of wargamers (in the previous General). These types of gamers, in my experience, simply do not exist. The 'Historian' tends to read books more than play games; the 'Military Enthusiast' is usually another form of Historian who specialises more; etc. In my experience there are only three types of gamers: the Competitor, the Socializer and the Dreamer.

The Competitor, similar to Freeman's 'Assassin', plays to win. He may not be out for blood, he may be a good fellow with an admirable sense of sportsmanship, but it's his nature to cut through all the frills and boil a game down to its mathematical essence, then to do whatever he can to win.

The Socializer, akin to Freeman's 'Gamer' is in it for the social interaction. The socializer cares little about winning; he hasn't the patience or inclination to study a game that closely, he just like playing games with people.

The Dreamer, who does not exactly correspond to any of Freeman's types, is into gaming for all the vicarious adventure. He is the antithesis of the competitor in that he lives for the frills and prefers to remain blissfully ignorant of the winning strategy. For the dreamer, a game is a vivid experience in imagination. He constantly wonders, 'What would this situation look like in real life?'"

Ain't that the truth. I know you can't box people up but the latter is, broadly, my view of gaming in a nutshell. I am quite clearly a 'dreamer' who, in the main, plays the games for the images they create. This is probably why I find historical games attractive but abstract, strategic and air games so unappealing. It is also why, if there are flaws, I sometimes miss them. I suppose the underlying thread is that in most cases I have read around the subject of the games and for this reason enjoy them more. It is also usual that, having played a game, I am inspired to go away and read about the subject and that to me is no bad thing. I also like clever mechanisms (which I am sometimes happy enough 'to play') and am somewhat prone to rationalise all aspects of a game (applying my own internal logic), often to the annoyance of fellow players.

Linked to this, I am also rather interested in how players make choices during play - especially in games with lots of decision making. Recently, I played a game of Chariot Lords, Charles Vasey's excellent forthcoming ancient game, which has important decisions almost every turn. Because of my approach to play, I caused some amazement among the players (especially Charles). I think the reason for this was that 1) I am always conscious of the above 'dreamer' approach 2) I like to work to an overall reasoned plan which can have a long term impact 3) I do sometimes miss obvious moves and 4) I tend to play most games, where possible, in an non-aggressive, almost passive way (Brian Walker calls this Wimp Gaming). Overall, it meant that I made some pretty odd moves by other peoples' standards but I was having a good time even if winning THIS game was probably not on the cards. But, as Sumo Watchers already know, winning is not of paramount importance (I came third of four). I would suggest that, as we were conducting a playtest, it wasn't a bad thing that I should do some different things.

Anyway, enough of this theorising on why I appear a little weird, the above is pretty much the answer. Right, with that off my chest and with thanks to Mr.Carroll for his timely assistance, back to the genuine post pile.

Rob Morris of Liverpool: "In Sensation 39 you mentioned a cycling game called Homas Tour. In the past few months I have tried without success to get a copy of this game and I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction."

Er, yes, the elusive Homas Tour. Well, when I played and commented on the game, little did I know that it is one of the rarest games going. I haven't even got a copy of my own yet! For those that don't know, the story is something like this; the game was produced by a Dutch company, Homas Spelen, and the bulk of the stock was destroyed in a warehouse fire and was never replaced. The remaining games got out onto the European game circuit a couple of years ago and became an instant hit - it is a very good game as well as being eminently collectable.

So, I have all the people I know looking out for copies for me but that seems a long shot now. The only other outside chance is that I find one at Essen or that someone will re-publish the thing but that would be a risky, if popular, move. I'd have thought with the current cycling frenzy it would at least be good timing. So, sorry to any readers who have been looking for it - as a rule I try to avoid puffing hard to find games but I unwittingly picked on a rarity here.

Meanwhile, if a copy appears I will offer anyone interested the chance to take a copy of the rules etc as it is quite easy to make your own setup, especially if you have the Vuelta game that I mentioned in IP 24. Alternatively, try John Harrington's excellent Breaking Away. That is as good as I can offer I'm afraid and I'm sorry for getting your hopes up.

Charles Vasey of East Sheen: "Your comment on the Civilisation lobby at cons struck a chord. I suspect that while most people like to try new games, or play multi-players at cons, some prefer to play the same thing over and over again. These are the sort of folks who never eat, drink or watch anything different. They provide a solid minority on the back of whom one can fund a con and they are usually pretty courteous while playing. They are not my cup of tea but, unlike your Pit players, are no trouble. Indeed, the Babbacon attendees seem to have had a few pricks."

"Reverting to the Challinger Syndrome, one should not forget that the sorts of games you like tend to have very attractive components and while one should perhaps feel cerebral enough not to care about this, one never does. It all helps with suspending disbelief as well as being aesthetically pleasing (let's face it, these are toys for adults). Having experienced the work of the German professional designers the old S&T style of design and production appears woeful, but the GDW eclectics (like Crimea) have come back into fashion which is not how things were. Like they said, I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

I have no doubt that the Civilisation bods are an innocuous bunch and even if they weren't, my easygoing nature would still give them living space. However, my famed tolerance was tested to the limit by the 2am Pit nerds who disturbed not so much me (I was awake anyway after playing games downstairs) but my father who had been soundo for a good three hours, not to mention the other families on the same floor. Oh well.

I also agree with the comments concerning the aesthetics of the European games. They are easily the nicest looking games I have in my not inconsiderable collection and I do enjoy playing them for both the classic systems and the umistakeable pieces. Take Die Macher for instance. It can't be easy to make a display look that interesting while remaining functional, but it works superbly on both counts and wooden pieces help no end. Add in simpler games like Henne Berta, Elefantenparade, Baubylon, Fliegende Teppich and the Perlhuhn and Fagus games that are just plain gorgeous and it becomes quite possible to enjoy these games almost for 'the nice bits' alone. This is just part of the Syndrome, but, as you say, an important one. Toys for Adults they may be, but I am not averse to Scalextrix or anything else that is fun and good quality. Battling Tops or Crossfire anyone? And now, from the man himself.

Geoff Challinger of West Bridgford: "Now then - this here Challinger Syndrome. In my case, it dates back quite some way and only surfaced at Midcon '85 where I enjoyed myself hugely by simply playing a lot of very simple, short and entertaining games. But I'd felt the same way for several years before that, it was just that I felt that no-one else did. The scene at Midcon comprised Diplomacy in bulk (yawn), serious games of 1829/Civilisation and that year's silly games (Mousie Mousie, Pit and Pass the Pigs). The entertaining shorts seemed to be Speed Circuit and Election X with nothing else really worth the effort."

"Thus I claim I was ahead of the curve and that it is everyone else who is catching up. The German wave has helped in a big way to achieve this by widening the scope of interesting games to incorporate more interest for ordinary human beings, be they enthusiastic games-players or otherwise."

"There are in truth two elements to the Syndrome. The first is virtuous and is all to do with appreciating the elegance of a good games design and wanting to play the design, rather than the rules or the subject matter. The second is however indolent and is brought upon by an overdose of remote control TV, Ceefax and children, which all conspire to reduce one's standard attention span to about 5 minutes and ruin your ability to ever appreciate a film lasting beyond 108 minutes."

"This side of things spills over into other parts of one's life and once you're sated with a game, you cannot concentrate on it for longer than the 30 minutes demanded by a game of Flying Carpet. I can remember playing Britannia for the first couple of times when we had only just learned it. The first game was haphazard, ill- planned out and great fun. The second was OK but as soon as it degenerated into players devoting a greater degree of thought to their moves it became a bit of a Sunday paper game; you know, your turn is over, time for the Review section while the other three have a turn."

And there you have it. The definitive answer and sentiments with which I sympathise. Unless anyone else has relevant comments I should think that will do it for the Challinger Syndrome, look out for my forthcoming thesis from OUP.

Next, Alan Moon's Hall of Fame list prompted some interesting feedback..

Charles Vasey: Mr Moon's list of games clearly demonstrates he is not much akin to myself. I suppose I would give Dune, Nuclear Destruction and War at Sea house room and dump the rest. I cannot think what my top 50 is, and if I was not such a lazy genial old fart I would look through the ones I have kept - a pretty good test that. But where is Cosmic Encounter eh???? and Up Front? Enough of this before I start writing a list."

Geoff Challinger: "Young Mr Moon seems to have some rather odd tastes in games. Admittedly my limited knowledge of wargames is frozen in time, but D&D, Junta and Origins are not my idea of wargames. Nor does there seem to be any mention of SPI games other than the Blue & Gray quads which were coming in as I was leaving wargaming. He ain't exactly a tactical fan either is he? Panzerblitz is probably too behind the times now but I still harbour a great affection for the smaller scale stuff done by SPI; Sniper, Patrol, Red Star White Star and Tank! The global games I could do wthout, but it does seem an Avalon Hill biased list - no surprise really."

Mike Clifford of Upper Norwood: "I am compiling my favourite 100 games. I cannot resist lists."

No, me neither but this personal failing strangely prompts Stuart Dagger to humorously say that only collectors and bailiffs make lists for enjoyment. I also thought some of Alan's choices were a leetle odd but of course this a very personal choice and you have, elsewhere, my long-considered offering this time. My big beefs on Alan's lists were with Careers and Monopoly but I guess the latter should come as a standard freebie, along with a pack of cards and a chess set. But Careers? Mammy. The fact that Alan grouped his games should not be seen as particularly relevant, he simply sent me two separate lists with broad categories and I suspect RPGs were out on a limb.

Pete Birks of London SE27: "Moon's games listing was interesting. Of the ones I've played (most of them) I'd disagree with only Schoko, Totopoly, the dreadful Doolittle & Waite and Liar's Dice, and in the last case only because I consider it 'generic'. Oh, and 1829 too. But I accept that it was a step forward in game design. I notice the absence of Speed Circuit, Escalado, 1830 - a good game even though it's not my type, Black Monday & Shark."

"Indiscretion is really a group of games - a brilliant idea but hardly a 'game'. Karriere Poker I am undecided about. And why no Mogul? Surely Alan has seen it? I haven't played Statis Pro but it seems to be highly rated by the cognoscenti."

"My Hall of Fame would be shorter. Say: Acquire, Formel Eins, 6 Tage Rennen, Cluedo, Mogul, Speed Circuit, Diplomacy, Shark, Borsenspiel, 1830 (yes, mock ye, South London Mafia!), Railway Rivals, Escalado."

Well, an interesting and short list that would have been even shorter without the in-joke, but I'll let the hobby elder statesman off this time. Most of the games Pete mentions are either in my list or I haven't played, so I have no great disagreement apart from Diplomacy on which my negative views are well known. I see the point on Indiscretion but it is such a super game for the card player that it warrants special inclusion in both Alan's and my lists. Similarly, there is no doubt in my mind about the merits of Karriere Poker which, while basically a simple card game, has been responsible for some of the best moments I've had in this hobby.

I am not sure to which Statis Pro game Pete is referring but I suspect it is Football, in which case I would say that far from deserving a Hall of Fame place it now only narrowly escapes my All Turkey list. To me, despite my taking many games to realise the fact, it is overlong, vastly overrated (the Emperor's New Clothes are pads and helmets in this particular instance) and fails to achieve what it sets out to in terms of 'accuracy'. Detail, player names and apparent complexity hide its true nature - a mathematically dodgy mechanistic system. If it weren't for John Harrington's rules tweaks I would have given up on it years earlier, but I have to admit I haven't yet bothered to try the latest edition of the rules and cards. I gave up completely on the third edition when my 49ers (not noted for a weak passs rush) blitzed Richard Clyne's Chargers for a dozen consecutive plays and had no effect apart from improving Fout's chances of completion. Fouts knew it was coming and didn't even worry about it. That, to me, is a game with problems. I know there are lots of fans out there, but I wonder how many of them have looked closely at what is really going on (he said pompously) but then perhaps I am no longer a member of the cognoscenti (if I ever was!).

It seems that Alan's list is a little controversial, but then that is what I'm told gets letter columns going. It will be interesting to see the response to my list, but it isn't that different to Alan's really. Alan had a sneak preview of my list and has this to say about my choices.

Alan Moon: "I was very surprised to see Squad Leader, Ironclads, Lee vs Grant, Godsfire, Submarine and Korean War in your list. I had no idea you were that hardcore. I was also surprised to see Source of the Nile and Das Borsenspiel. I only played Source of the Nile once and didn't enjoy it at all, mostly because the game progressed very slowly. Das Borsenspiel seems very average. Shark???!! I think you have listened to Brian (Walker) too much regarding this and Borsenspiel. Thunder at Cassino was a major disappointment. The system is unique, but it needs a simpler situation to make it shine. Turning Point at Stalingrad will complicate things even more, taking the system in exactly the wrong direction."

Yet more evidence of how tastes can differ. I regard Shark as an excellent, tough game and Das Borsenspiel has hidden depths, being playable on at least two levels of strategy. And Brian Walker wasn't instrumental in either choice! I played both before I met Brian and I have had Borsenspiel for some years.

My liking of Source of the Nile is probably explained by the first letter on the subject of imagining game situations. Although I also like Storm over Arnhem, I chose Thunder at Cassino as representaive of the system because it is one of the simplest, most exciting and well balanced games I've played. As for being hardcore, I deny that in terms of being an old fashioned Zone of Control & Soakoffs type gamer. I have never been one and, thanks to the advances in games and the European flood, never will. However, certain games of this sort are enjoyable for different reasons, eg Russian Campaign. Either way, I suspect Moon is wagging me.

Nevertheless, for some reason I seem to have this problem with being pigeonholed as a wargamer in the hobby. Before I 'transferred' over to computer games at Games International, Brian seemed to give me nothing but wargames to review. John Harrington often sticks me in the same hole and here we have Alan calling me hardcore. The truth, as I see it (and I should know!), is that I have quite eclectic tastes despite coming to the hobby originally (via Simon Billenness' 20 Years On) through the figure gaming/boardgaming route. I primarily like sports, 'European', card, railway and business/economic games, followed by wargames and, at a pinch (but currently dormant) figures. I also like to dabble with RPGs and computer games, as opposed to playing them for any length of time. Abstract or chess-type games, with the exception of the excellent Abalone, don't even make the cut. I don't know where people have got the idea from really, perhaps it is because I have written rather more words on wargames, as they seem to get less coverage in the general hobby, and the whole thing has become self-fulfilling. So, now you know.

Alan again: "1853 was very disappointing. No player interaction. The geographical restrictions take away the station wars, the start-up procedure which is otherwise clever takes away most of the stock battles, and the last two companies are worthless if they don't get started at the beginning. Bummer. And the narrow gauge track, which seems like a great idea, also doesn't seem to work that well. Will play it again, but I still rate 1829 as the only classic. Cute elephant though."

I have heard mixed reviews on the new Hartland epic. The chaps in the colonies gave it a general thumbs down but there seems to be at least some support in England and Germany. Dane Maslen and Richard Clyne were heard to proclaim it a goody and they should know, being virtually full time players of the 18xx series. Drawing on all the views I've heard, it seems to be that the game improves with several playings. I am interested to know whether 1853 really is for railway builders rather than financiers, as is proudly proclaimed on the cover, which is my real interest in it over 1829/30. Either way. unless it is a corker, I really can't be bothered and I doubt very much if I will buy it. Even though the subject is the most interesting I've seen for ages (cripes, railways and India), the very high cost (despite that crappy board) and the fact that I won't get to play it very frequently are overidding factors.

Ulrich Blenneman of Hattingen, WG: "Ty Bomba is a very decent fellow, nice with good humour and well read. To my mind S&T has improved with him as editor (I don't count Beirut '82 here!). I think he deserves an award. However, I believe there are people who deserve them even more. My first candidate is Joe Balkoski."

"Next year Hexacon will be better. There will probably be a third tournament and umpired multi-player games of Flat Top and WSIM. In addition we have the room booked for Saturday evening, so we can leave games up."

"Recently Charles Vasey and I had a game of Custer's Luck. It is one of my favourite games of all time but he hated it. He insisted we play The Cossacks are Coming! He thought this was intelligently designed and, above other strong features, a lot of fun."

Ulrich is writing here in response to my letter in which I berated the Charles S Roberts Hall of Fame award winner, Ty Bomba. (See Origins article this time). Ulrich has a point and perhaps I am being a little unfair on someone I don't even know, but I can't see much evidence of Ty having contributed to the hobby in the way of good designs, innovation or even longevity. He has a great stamp collection though. To rate the man on a par with Dunnigan, Greenwood, Berg or Chadwick and to exclude Balkoski (also my first choice) or Herman, as just two examples, is just plain wrong. By extension, Ulrich seems to agree with this but perhaps not for the same reasons.

In a later letter, Ulrich told me that Ty has upped and left 3W, no doubt clutching his stamp albums, together with the artist (no great loss here) and will be setting up his own 'game in a magazine' called Command, or similar. Can the hobby handle another one? Apparently Ty was displeased with Keith Poulter's management and allocation of funds and feels he can do better elsewhere. I suspect funding will be a problem. But, as ever, we shall see. I thought that news was major but the real shocker is that James F Dunnigan is back at the helm of S&T which I personally regard as A Good Thing. Good because he can't be worse than Mr Bomba and because he really does seem to know his onions as far as computers go. If all this rumour is true, look out for some interesting stuff on disk over the next year or so. That forecast of course assumes that 3W don't go the way of SPI; rumours indicate terrible sales figures on their Origins releases and the 'end is nigh' according to some cynics. Quite what will happen to the games output of S&T I have no idea. I think it is best to wait and see.

Good to hear that Hexacon will be better still next year. Frankly, I thought it was damn good this year (and, on balance, a better bet overall than Origins) so it will definitely be worth attending next May. I will issue a reminder nearer the time and I recommend it to all gamers, not just the 'hardcore'.

Ulrich's comments regarding Mr Vasey's game tastes are of course simply an example of the 'German Ironic' school of humour which I print purely so Inside Pitch can retain that cliquey feel that you all know and love.

Geoff Challinger: "CDs. As mentioned in Home of the Brave, the two things which most benefit from digital recording are piano (a bugger to record even these days) and the human voice. There are albums which I know would be magnificent if done DDD (digitally recorded, processed and pressed). However for obvious reasons, anything pre 1983 (?) is going to be AAD and anything since will be ADD at best. I would dearly love to hear Pete Atkin's A King at Nightfall on CD but it would never be sufficiently hiss free. Piano sonatas and concertii work excellently. If you have a taste for opera I guess that would be good; Philip Glass's Akhnaten is, er, impressive, even if it is quite hard work as a piece of music."

Having had the CD player for some months now, I still come back to the minor gripe that certain records sound subjectively worse than their vinyl equivalent, however produced, which is the most disappointing angle. Otherwise, I am more than pleased with the results. The convenience of CD over the vinyl album is a major plus, it being so easy to store them, pop one in and play a single track without cleaning, mucking around with sleeves and, best of all, you don't have to rush over and take the arm off when the disc finishes. Shuffle play is another excellent benefit, especially as I like the unpredictability of 'what is coming next?'. As for sound quality, it is true that one is spoilt with the right material. I have been shipping in a lot of the old Blue Note stuff, several classical discs and numerous 'odd' things that have sounded interesting at the time; Fela Kuti being one good example.

Opera has always been an acquired taste but I have found a fair few recordings that I have become partial to. Admittedly they are all 'popular' in nature and are exactly the sort of thing you find on these 'educate the unwashed' K-Tel compilations. One of the best things I did over the last few years was to invest in the Great Composers partwork from Marshall Cavendish. No-one is going to claim that the tapes were of particularly high quality but it did enable me to inexpensively spot all those composers and pieces that I would like to investigate further. The last thirteen parts covered opera and through listening to these I have developed more of a taste for it. The best CD recordings I have so far have been the new Jessye Norman Carmen and a very good production of Don Giovanni. Definitely an area for further investigation and I apologise to any experts out there for my faltering first steps.

As Geoff mentions, piano and predominantly vocal recordings are a revelation and most recordings lose that 'hissy S' problem so prevalent on even good quality turntable systems. For instance, Tracey Thorn's 'A Distant Shore' shows a massive overall improvement over vinyl, even though it is AAD and betrays more hiss than my vinyl copy. As I mentioned last time, where possible I now try to listen to the CDs before I buy them and the Penguin CD Guide is invaluable for the classical discs. A great joy for me has been finding 'better' versions of my favourite classical works. My Four Seasons standard previously was the AAM/Hogwood rendition but with a little investigation it is possible to find recordings like Marriner's ASMIF 1970 version that, bluntly, knocks spots off Hogwood for all his authentic instruments. In fact, Marriner is a generally good bet for all sorts of composers and if in doubt I plump for him. In a completely different area, the best record I have bought for a long time is Soul II Soul's Club Classics and I have no idea whether it is better on CD or vinyl, though the trendy old farts will tell you it is poorly produced on both. It is marvelous stuff either way. Bambelela!

Mike Siggins. 18/7/89 - 23/10/89.

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