MS: I suppose if I said I had close on 60 letters in front of me, it would make my complaints over the last couple of issues look a little flimsy. Mmmm. I don't understand this feedback business, but thanks anyway. The result is that I may well not be able to get all the comments in this time, so there will be some carry over to issue 16. And don't stop sending them just because I have a backlog. Thanks also for the many 'Don't let the B*st*rds grind you down' comments they are appreciated.

Francis Tresham It is Sumo's reputation, and other people's, including mine, that is the most serious part of this letter. The 'if there ain't no news, invent it, and if it starts a row that's even better' type of journalism may be OK if your office is several stories up over Wapping Creek and your legal department is adequately funded to deal with any backwash, but it won't do in Sumo. Quite what set off items in the Sumo 12 letter column I do not know. I have raised the matter with 'Francis Tresham's brother' and he does not know what it's about either. We have negotiations in hand regarding future licence deals but we certainly wouldn't pre-empt a licensee's release of a new game by giving away its name or number in advance of his intended publication. What might have been thought a harmless bit of name dropping and, perhaps, a bit of a giggle, can get dangerously out of hand if it leads to someone being several thousand pounds worse off due to a fouled up commercial deal. Hartland intends to pursue a policy of orderly development and licensing of 18xx games. If your living depended on games development you would, I am sure, take a similar view. Fortunately, there is a tradition of respecting other people's copyrights and concepts in games design as in literature and play writing. People who do not respect such traditions do not do their own reputations any good and this particularly applies in games design where most, possibly all, major games firms depend on outside submissions for the bulk of their products. There is not enough money in games for legal wrangles to be justified, and we certainly don't intend to sue anybody, common sense is a much stronger controlling influence in the long run. Perhaps you will now set the record straight by discounting rumour, clearing matters attributed to other people before publication of items that might be sensitive and apologising to my brother, Tom. You can apologise to me, too, if you wish I'd I would appreciate it immensely.

MS: I do of course apologise for any offence caused. I would say that the reasons the letters and extensive gossip are there because copyright is an interesting area (I still don't know whether using an unlicensed 18xx system, tweaked or by straight lift, is strictly illegal) and, aside from a small group of fortunate gamers (playtesters and the few Hartland confidants) the game buying public, myself included, has no idea what Hartland are up to. You might argue that we have no right to know, but gamers will speculate nevertheless (which is human nature). Meanwhile, those same gamers know of prospective deals, are certainly playing with 'kits' of, and are keen to buy, well developed games like Alan Moon's 1869. Look at the recent Origins 18xx releases are these games official? If one firm is going to publish unfettered, there could be a flood of unlicensed copies with obvious problems for quality and royalty control. The 18xx hobby is undoubtedly there, partly underground; witness the many requests for info on the Rules Bank kits (which I have withheld pending these discussions). To my mind this is because of the absence of official progress and new titles and a natural desire to play more of the system. This is why I chose to print the comments; could I suggest that a regular official Hartland bulletin in Sumo might be a good development?

Richard Bass Sindbad gets a good review is this the general impression?

MS: Yes & No. I know a lot of gamers who enjoy it, especially as a very light, fun game, but there are roughly equal numbers who think it worthless. This seems to be a concise summary of the game and saves me typing up all the comments. I must admit that when I played it recently I thought it had at least some merit but it got a rapid thumbs down from all three other players, so we hardly got started.

Stuart Dagger Ali Baba is in no danger from Dr Dagger's alchemical experiments, and so Ian can rest easy. The only reason that I fiddle around with the rules of games is to get more mileage for my money. The group I play with have three main reactions to new games: thumbs up, thumbs down and 'There is a game in there, but ....' With this third group I then have the choice of accepting that I am only to get one play for my 25-30 quid or of coming up with some rules modifications that will make the game more to our liking and get it a place on the play list. Calamity was a game that got a simple thumbs down, and so I am not tempted by a reworking of it. I no longer have the game, it was a long time ago, and so I can't remember just what it was that we disliked so much, but it was probably the point you made about 'do nothing' being a good strategy. Games of that type don't attract us. We are not super competitive but do think that if a game is to work satisfactorily, having fun and playing to win should involve the same approach.

John Webley Ali Baba is a family game, ie not for gamers, although I think you ought to be able to make some money, we certainly have, but as I say in the review, you need people who are prepared to trade without 10 minute analysis of whether it is a good deal for you, ie non-Sumo readers I suspect.

Richard Bass Interested that Ali Baba is Calamity reworked. I enjoy Calamity and unlike yourself I do enjoy the insurance theme (what other games are there on insurance?) The odds are iffy and yes, you can win by doing nothing but it is a 10+ for me and is a good one to play when folk want something light hearted.

John Webley Then there is Stuart's tweaking article, worth the price of the zine on it's own. I'm not sure that I agree with him over the 1835 idea, if the Vorpreussische are too powerful then it is up to the others to get them scrapped as soon as possible, and it is a finely balanced decision already as to whether the 6+6 trains ever come out, cut down on the earnings and the end game is substantially altered. Elfenroads, well I had already been thinking along these lines, so that is something I will try. The Silverton ideas are also excellent except that I would be dubious about capping the life of gold and silver mines, a bit artificial I think.

Iain Adams Reviews of old games is always a recurrent subject. Those who are new to gaming or the hobby find it difficult to know what's worth having or playing amongst those games more than six months old. Without a way to understand what everyone's talking about, gaming fandom becomes self serving clique which leads to degeneracy. Reviews of old games by reviewers writing about the new games can also help the reader to understand and see past the biases of the reviewer. An easy way round this is to keep old issues of Sumo handy or maybe in future to review older games in comparison with newer ones. We've all seen the debates in the letter column about Formule De vs Speed Circuit, why not a long article comparing as many as possible?

Paul Jefferies Vertigo: Very good.... one of those games (and I hate it when people say this) that you have to play more than once to know what you should be doing next time. The natural thing to do is go for the heavy pollution factories at the beginning but the game system punishes you if you do because the Earth's pollution goes up too quickly. It takes a good two hours to play but could probably be reduced to 90 minutes if you perform the moves simultaneously. the only really important things to be done in player order are: Placement, movement of graduates (?), pollution and proposing law in the UN. Definite replay value.

Merfyn Lewis We played The Phantom last night and it is a very good little game. The family and game group both like it. You can play with two to six in about 45 minutes. As mentioned on the phone, Spiele der Türme is an excellent abstract game and I believe should do well in the Game of the Year. I certainly think it's better than Rheingold anyway.

MS: And on that tantalising note, he signed off. I'd be interested in views on Jumbo's Rheingold from anyone who has played it. I must admit I am stumped on whether it is any good. I like it, and will probably get round to a review next time, but I don't think I like it for the right reasons and there are still some important clarifications required on the rules. We have a situation where the two English rule sets circulating are subtly different and either could be correct, though I suspect neither are spot on. The rule is the one relating to the start boxes and subsequent movement therein can you move through, can you stop? I say yes to both, as they appear to represent strategic movement, combat being disallowed in these areas. It comes down to some very specific translation work, as do many of these games see the En Garde comments elsewhere. As Mark Green recently observed, a translation can sometimes stand or fall on the interpretation of just one or two key words and it may be that as a result we are losing, or perhaps gaining, something in a few of these games. I seem to remember writing about this in an early Sumo.

Merfyn Lewis I've played Knizia's Last Paradise and it is rather dry as it is mainly a bidding game. Again, a very clever idea and one which is very hard indeed to win and will take a few playings to get into.

Gary Dicken Have you played Greyhawk Wars? It's a Spawn of Gygax production and if you tweak the turn order so that each player only moves one army stack per turn instead of all of them, then it's not at all bad if you're into fantasy wargames. There are a lot of counters and cards to sort through though.

MS: I haven't got any further than popping mine, as we have set it up twice and my opponent has been called away on business on both occasions. It must be jinxed. This is another game from TSR which is basically a proper game but which has to suffer the varnish of fantasy before it will sell. Lots of event cards, a big map, Kingmaker style troops and some interesting systems.

John Webley New games against old. This is a real problem for me. Gaming at home tends to include at least a measure of non-gamers, who get bored learning new games, and I find that I almost always lose games that I am explaining. On the other hand I already have more than enough games that I have never played. The answer is I think to include one new game per session, but no more. This seems to be a good balance. It depends too on the players of course, but I find that more than two new games is too many.

John Neeve Game Sessions: It is important to have a good proportion of time dedicated to tried and trusted games for the very reasons you stated re the games session we had you know, the one when you kidnapped my slippers. Well I'm not paying the ransom and it is no good cutting off the toes and sending them back in a box. Sorry, went a bit mad there. A couple of light games to start, followed by a couple of new ones while minds are still fresh and then back to tried and trusted would seem an ideal day to me.

MS: In case you were wondering, John left his slippers behind after the St Valentine's Day Massacre Game Session where nothing worked. I took this as a pungent comment on the day's proceedings and so didn't return them until September.

Dave Farquhar En Garde as I mentioned on the phone, I think what put me off the game was the apparent apathy of our two opponents. I actually liked the tie-break rule of 'furthest along the mat wins', as I felt this portrayed a points win for the aggressive fencer, and made the option to withdraw against the charge attack less desirable. I would like to give this one another go some time. Have you thought of using a library? This could be a way of reducing your expenditure on books, while still finding out about epees, foils etc. I enjoyed the rambling start to the review.

John Webley En Garde I like. The draw deciding movement along the piste is in fact one of the most telling reflections of real fencing in the game. In a real match, if no one has scored a point after a set time then judges award the point to the fencer who has shown the most aggression, so it is a very good reflection of the real thing.

Rolf Wichmann When I read in Sumo 13 that you liked En Garde very much (like I do) I was glad, however I was surprised when I read about the sample attack on page 21 (1x4 + 3x3 parried by 2x5, 1x2, 1x1). I was even more confused when I read the English rules which proved your example was correct! It is however in total contradiction to the German rules which clearly say you have to parry with exactly the same cards, not just the same number and value. For your attack it would be impossible to parry at all (only 5x3 cards, not six), so the only chance to avoid a hit is to step back. I personally prefer the German style of Fencing as I think it is more tactical. You should at least try the original rule and decide which you prefer.

Wolfgang Luedtke En Garde: I think you have played it wrongly. The correct rule is that you can play one or more cards of the same value to attack and the other player must play the same card value as well. eg A plays 2x4s so B must play at least 2x4s to parry or 3x4s to counter-attack. This was Reiner Knizia's original intention. So, the game is much easier than you thought. No mathematics, just a little memory. Still a good game. Of course, you could play it with your changes which perhaps are better.

MS: Having read the rules yet again and pieced them together, I am now convinced that I at least partly in error here, on the ability to add cards to a running attack, but I mantain that the rules are clear on parrying with the same number of cards with the same total. However, I note that John has inserted an example which is not in the German rules. Is it possible we have drifted away from the original intention? Reiner? John? If the rules are incorrect, and I certainly prefer John's version, this has the unfortunate effect of wiping out half the review and virtually all the analysis. What this does to my impression of the game I don't yet know. I will have to try it again, and hope that it won't make that much of a difference. If not, it is back to the variant!

Chris Payne Fencing games. Have you looked at the RPGs with fencing systems? I have Flashing Blades by FGU (historical C17th roleplaying) and I have played Lace & Steel by TAGG. Flashing blades has a reasonable system but one which requires familiarity to get the most out of it, and is pitched on a level more complex than Runequest. Lace & Steel has a card based system that gives an interesting game and also copes with 3 on 2 situations etc. The only problem is the price £25. I am told it is much cheaper in Australia and suffers from being imported.

Rob Mulholland I share your interest in fencing. Have you tried the combat system of Lace & Steel by TAGG? Unlike most other RPG combat systems L&S uses a card based system rather than a dice roll. The pack is split into two suits, rapiers and roses, and further split into three aim lines: upper, middle and lower. The cards are also numbered between 1 and 6. For example, a card may be Rapier Upper 2. Each combatant is dealt a number of cards equal to his maximum hand rating, a number directly related to dexterity. A character of a higher skill level will be dealt more cards than his opponent but will need to discard down to the maximum hand capacity. This gives a better choice of cards but keeps his options within the realms of his dexterity. Next step is to decide who is attacker this is fairly critical and involves a straight cut of the deck but includes bonuses for high dexterity, higher skill or surprise. The attacker lays down his first card and declares which aim line he is attacking. The defender plays a defence card and both are revealed. If the defender's card is in the same aim line and of a higher number then he parries and steals the initiative becoming the attacker in the subsequent round. If the defender's card is the same aim line but equal then the defender parries but does not gain the initiative. If lower, then the defender takes damage equal to the difference in the numbers. Should the defender play a card of a different aim line (eg upper vs middle) then he takes damage equal to the full value of the attacking card. If the defender finds himself in the latter position, he may cry desperate defence and discard all his cards and draw new ones in the hope that a suitable card appears. he may do this three times during a duel but draws only two cards the second time and one on the last. Finally, the suits are compared. If the suits match then the defender may draw a new card from the deck. If they mismatch then the attacker draws a card. Combat is further enhanced by special feint, riposte, stop hit, lock hilts, Intuition, Dodge and Disengage cards. As a combat system it has its limitations but for one to one duels it is great fun. It's a novel idea for an RPG system, although has that certain feel of other card games such as Armchair Cricket, and as such is a refreshing change.

MS: I'm embarrassed to say that this game is on my shelf and I had forgotten all about it. So much for the instant retrieval brain. I'll give it a try but it still sounds as if it suffers from that artificial feel where you 'see' the lunge going low but your ability to defend is arbitrarily based on whether you have the right card rather than a base chance of parry or similar. I know that is the best we have at the moment, I just wanted to go that one step further.

Carl Schnurr Um Reifenbreite/Homas Tour: Our group likes this one a lot it's already made the 5+ list here. We noted that first timers are at a distinct disadvantage, especially on the energy-card dominated short tracks. I'm glad I found another racing game our group will play (the other being Daytona 500). Has anyone published any alternative tracks for this fine game?

MS: Not to my knowledge. Can anyone help?

Stuart Dagger Speed Circuit is a game of manoeuvre that centres on trying to get past the car in front, trying to block the ones behind and trying to get through the corners efficiently despite the opposition's attempts to make life difficult. It needs a crowded track if it is to work properly, and for the tracks that came with the original 3M version that means 5 or 6 players. If you only have 3 or 4, you would be better off with one of the two lane wide efforts that Avalon Hill put out in a series of expansion kits.

Ed Caylor The past two Sumos were great reads. The most interesting article was the tabulation of the Britannia results. I would say the numbers fall pretty much into line with my experience in some ten games. I have seen Purple win once; however, the circumstances were not ordinary. Alan Moon had just bought the original, pre-AH version and three novices watched as Alan explained the system. Alan destroyed us all with the Romans before we really understood what was going on, and we were never able catch up.

MS: Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Alfonzo Smith Jr Avalon Hill's edition of History of the World has taken my game club by storm. It is a beautiful production with a colourful map and some of the best designed playing cards to come along in a long time. I have played it twice. Both times I took fifth place in a six player game. Most of the changes made by the Hill seem to be for the better but our group is mystified as to why England remains so strong in Epoch VII. This unbalances the game in favour of whomever is dealt England.

Graeme Forster With great trepidation I sat down to play Avalon Hill's version of History of the World. I had this fear that allowing a player to choose which cards to play when would ruin an almost perfect design. I am glad to say that I feel it even improves the previous versions with fears that every leader, jihad, fanatic, and elite troops card being played in the seventh epoch. These cards tend to get played when you get a good civilisation no matter what epoch. The disaster cards are still a bit wimpy and the use of the 'Empire Revives' card (three additional armies for a past Empire) is practically useless in a game where the combat system is weighted so heavily in favour of the attacker. Overall I think that this is the best version with the production quality outstanding, but congrats to Ragnar Bros for thinking of the game in the first place.

Carl Schnurr History of the World: I've played this twice now and think it's OK, not great. Mostly I didn't care for the long waiting period between turns in a 4-6 player game. Granted, our group takes 50% longer to play almost any game, but without being able to plan ahead it's hard to stay focused on the game when it's not actually your turn. On the other hand, it's a great game for chatting and for gamers with kids that need lots of attention.

Neil Mackenzie My gaming group has been playing History of the World (AH version) recently. The six player games were about one epoch too long for an evening's gaming; four or five player are OK. We found two main problems with the game. Firstly the mechanics seem too simple for a game at takes three hours to complete. Unlike say Civilisation where there is enough variety with cards, trading, units and epochs to keep your attention for the 4-6 hours it takes to play. Secondly, unlike Britannia you can't do much (anything?) with your old empires which we found frustrating. But it should be noted that we've just finished four months of World In Flames so we've left one extreme of gaming. And we will play it again when we have the right mix of people and circumstances.

Martin Wallace Staying with HotW for the moment, after playing both the Gibson and Avalon Hill versions I think the AH has the edge, although I prefer the Gibson combat system since it is slightly more favourable to the defender. On quality of components there is no competition, AH wins hands down.

Don Greenwood Response to HotW over here has been quite enthusiastic, but I expected that in the early going. HotW always made a good initial impression... it was only after you played it a few times that you questioned its warts. I wonder how it will play in Peoria once folks figure out they can't win if they get stuck with the USA. A goodly number of them will probably find it unacceptable to play a game of that length and go through all that posturing just to set themselves up for a favourable position in the last epoch's card draw. My development tried to reduce the considerable luck element but there was no getting around the fact that essentially the game comes down to playing for position on the last turn. If you can't accept that huge hand of fate in the form of the last card draw, HotW will not wear well. Oh well, at least we improved the lot of the Incas locally referred to as the 'stinkas'. With the new system, they can be a good card to draw to set you up for the all-important final draw... a fact that usually takes some selling to convince players who get overly excited about the Strength factors of empires.

MS: Odd to get these responses on the AH edition and nothing much on the Gibsons version. Is anyone playing the latter or did the Ragnar version make inroads into its market more so than in the States?

Stuart Dagger You ask about Gangsters. I think that it is a case of a good game that has been unfortunate enough to appear at roughly the same time as several very good ones. The last eighteen months have been one of the best periods that I can remember for multi-player games, and it seems to me that Gangsters is a case of a beta plus being kept out of the limelight by a clutch of alphas. The water pistol was a mistaken piece of lumpish humour, but once you have got it out of the way (Either give it to next door's children or hide it under the box divider.) you have a well constructed and enjoyable game, probably not a candidate for the 10+ list, but a certainty for the 5.

Carl Schnurr Tyranno Ex: I like the idea of keeping environment chits face up once they've been flipped. And while I like Tyranno's beginning and middle-game, I don't care much for the end-game-it's too easy for a player not in the running to arbitrarily "choose" the winner on the last turn or two, usually resulting in some slightly bitter feelings all around.

Jennifer Schlickbernd Flying Dutchman (I realize it's been out for a year, but this is the first time I've been able to comment on it): Real thumbs down from us. Far too simple in its mechanics. I'd almost rather play Fishy. I was happy to sell it for the price I paid. Santa Fe: A letdown. The game really only plays well with three. We've never been that enamoured of Wildlife Adventure, so I guess our reaction is not surprising. The luck factor (with Los Angeles particularly) seems to be pretty high for a game that takes 1-2 hours.

MS: Jennifer! Don't be embarrassed, speak your mind. We're all friends here. What's with the Fishy dig?

Dave Farquhar I have just this minute come back down to my office having been witness to the most ruthless game of Flying Dutchman. The worst moment came when I dropped out of the bidding after three rounds worth of toilet seats three of us had wanted to go to the island, the fourth to the blue shipping line after we had all dropped out, he went to the island anyway...and received income for his blue share!

Carl Schnurr Black Death: Tried this the other night and didn't much care for it. It was fun choosing a disease and starting out (in a twisted way), but it moves quite slowly with six players. Lots and lots of down time between turns. And while it might be a good simulation of how diseases spread, it was fairly dry overall. It's not a bad game, mind you, it just seems to lack that spark of fun that keeps you playing. The result? We probably won't play it again, unless it's with fewer people.

Derick Green Regarding the game Quick reviewed in Sumo 13 this game sounds very similar to one I have in my collection called Watch this was published by the MPH Games company possibly around the middle to late 70's. A particularly neat sales pitch is the suggestion that players hold tournament parties and buy several sets at once.

Carl Schnurr Musketiere: I'm surprised you haven't mentioned this one. It's a fine little game that's excellent as a filler or with non-gaming friends-especially with those who love cards. Last time we played, three "gamers" were soundly trounced by a person who plays a fair amount of bridge.

Jennifer Schlickbernd Elfenroads: Love it, definitely on our 10+ list.

Denis Arnold Elfenroads: I like the eminently simple idea for shortening the auction time. So obvious why couldn't I think of it?

Michael English Elfenroads: Anybody managed to visit all twenty five villages within the time limit? The best I have seen is 21 in a three player game. I think it should be easier to visit more villages in games with more players.

Martin Wallace I purchased Elfenroads on the strength of the Sumo review and was not disappointed. It seems to work best with four players and has great replay value. I've not played it enough to develop any winning strategies. The next time I do I'm going to concentrate on my card hand, possibly holding back on movement until I've got a good coverage of all the forms of transport.I bought a copy of Take the High Ground at the same time, being somewhat taken in by the advert blurbs and Richard Berg's review. I've found it a bit of a disappointment since it seems to boil down to a slugfest in one corner of the board until one player cuts the other's supply line, ending the game in pretty short measure. There seems to be a lack of alternative strategies. It does, however, suggest to me that there is room for the development of a good, simple game either on the Napoleonic or some earlier period.

Jennifer Schlickbernd Wizards: Have you reviewed/played this excellent Oh Hell! variant? No, Alan Moon didn't like it, but it was a real hit at his annual Gathering of Friends. A 5+ for sure.

MS: Never heard of it, sad to say. Is it a commercial game or a card game? Can you send me the rules?

Gareth Jones Games which we find work well with two players include two Sherlock Holmes games - the classic 'Consulting Detective' of course, which we've long since exhausted ail the cases for, including those in 'Different Worlds' and the execrable Jeux Descartes Parisian one. With this and with various other detective games (Gumshoe, Ellery Queen) we soon found ourselves working as a team rather than in competition. The other Holmes game is the card game from Gibsons, which you need to dabble with to make a good two-player (I'm probably going to be writing to Stuart Dagger with my suggestions on this and other variants).In fact, card, and card-based, games generally work well with two players, though sometimes some dimensions of multi-player sessions are lost. The old TSR Sirocco is excellent and simple, though there is too great an element of luck in getting reinforcements. One of my favourite games memories is of winning this one despite having only a general and one other piece, whilst my opponent had every piece possible on the board. An example (if I say so myself) of reading the rules and using the terrain beautifully. Excuse the self-inflating diversion. Another fine card-based game is the also long out of print 'Star Commander' (from Historical Concepts), bearing many similarities to the combat part of the later 'Star Trek - the Enterprise Encounter'. In both these games, the element of alliances, betrayals, ganging up, etc is lost with two players - but both nevertheless work well. I've also found that both games are over fairly quickly with two players, but can drag on for hours with more, as everyone nobbles any player who is obviously in the lead. I could say similar things about Avalon Hill's highly enjoyable naval war series (includes 'Naval War' and Enemy in Sight'). Non-card games that play well with two include Mayfair's 'Empire Builder' series of railway games, which have appropriately been described in the past as 'solo games for 1-6 players' due to the lack of interaction between players. The UK and Japanese versions do change dramatically with multiple players due to the restricted number of prime routes. A sort-of-wargame which you can actually play with very little combat is 'Colony Delta', an SF game of competitive colonisation - again this is out of print. The main problem with this one was he size of the stacks of counters which you can end up with - ludicrous! I have a fix for this too, (which I may also send to Stuart. And there's a couple of classics from 'Intellect Games', 'Thoughtwave' and 'Shoulder to Shoulder', which somebody should surely revive. Last but not least is the 'Ace of Aces' series of aerial dogfights, which have appeared in many versions since the original WWI set, including a Jet Fighter version and a Dragonriders of Pern one. The best incarnation was 'Richtofen', because you could simulate a number of planes with that. Hmmm, looking through the above, I find the common factor is that the games are almost all out of print, some of them for many years. Perhaps I should have another go at persuading someone to produce my own card-based game of martial arts. Games Workshop actually told me that they would produce this, sometime in the eighties, just before they went all Chaos Spiky.

Patrick Ruttner Do you know the game called City? It's a nice game from Wolfgang Kramer, but with one big problem: If other players want you to lose, you lose. This is a proof that you can really ally together in this game, while in other games (like Quo Vadis for example) alliances are just subjective, and even alone you can win, because other players are in fact forced to collaborate with you. Personally, I prefer games like Quo Vadis, because all my friends usually are all against me (true friends, aren't they?). But for the feeling of freedom, games like City (or Diplomacy) are perhaps a better way to follow. I just tried for the first time to play Koalition, it was a real disappointment. By reading the rules I thought it will really be an election game with a lot of interaction. In fact it was just a card game with some reflection and a lot of calculation: am I right or should I persevere?

MS: Well, you are right and perhaps should persevere, but then again you might be one of the many for whom the game doesn't ring any bells.

John Webley I can't see the problem with neutral play in Modern Art. If the game is to work at all then stupid bids should be punished, and if you're playing with people who treat an auction as a chance to show their macho sides, as I once did, then a neutral policy is the best way to play. It's a game against the other players, not against the system. Conserving the double play cards seems to me to be the key, but maybe I am wrong.

Mike Ruffhead Modern Art as a Gamers' Game. I agree that it is, but at the same time I found that four non-gamers (including two videogame crazed teenagers) took to it more readily than Elfenroads. They were impressed by the artwork, instantly grasped the overall concept, and had no difficulty getting to grips with its subtleties. So much so that I lost the second, game, and the third... Ho hum.

Carl Schnurr Modern Art: We've played this one quite a bit recently as well. I find it quite fun and usually do pretty well though I'm clueless as to how I manage this. The last two times I tried a passive, sell-only strategy which netted me two second places. Based on these extensive statistics, I'd say that reasonable cards and a sell-only strategy is a safe, but not necessarily game-winning ploy. Usually our winners take some buying risks in the later rounds.

Patrick Ruttner All the real gamers I play with enjoy playing good German games (from Teuber, Knizia...), but they always ask me: "When can we play a game like Civilization, 1830 or Republic of Rome?". This bring me to the point that German games are not for gamers but for group of people who like being together but are tired of talking about sport, work, cinema or playing trivial pursuit. It will be really great if someone like Mr Klaus Teuber could conceive a game with a playing time of 3-4 hours with a solid story going in the background and with his so subtle game mechanisMS: It would be for him like going from short story to novel. And for us a pleasure.

Dave Farquhar Where does Mike Clifford get his article titles from? I suspect he has designed a 'random title generator'.

MS: Goodness only knows, Dave. I think he was deeply affected by a special offer at the height of the recession. This issue's Gene Pitney tribute is an in joke, based on the fact that every single journey we made from Essen to Mulheim and back was different and never, it seemed, exactly the right one. Map reading is another country .

Mike Wall I recently came across a new amateur games company, Warfrog, and their first production, Lords Of Creation. Though not usually an impulse buyer or a fan of amateur productions, I decided to take a chance. The game is for two to four players and represents an abstract representation of creating a world and then peopling it. I've been thoroughly satisfied with the results. The computer graphics on both pieces and cards are bold, simple and attractive. When laid out on the board and a game is under way, the effect is one that always counts for me in a good production: namely, eye-catching and appealing. The board is hexagonal in shape with six hexes on a side. The game begins with each player randomly picking tiles and placing them on the board to create the world that the game will be played on. From the very start, the hand of cards that you have been dealt will influence how you try to place the tiles that you turn up. After you've created the world, you play through the hand of cards, until they are exhausted. The interaction of the type of terrain with the number of pieces it allows you to place, followed by movement and combat, produces a game that is simple and quick in play, but capable of infinite possibilities of strategy. How does it play? Brilliant! l genuinely think this is one to have in your collection. I've now played this with both my own children, aged 10 and 13, and with adult players. Above all the strategies are endless and one point that I really like is that despite my going all-out to win, younger and less experienced gamers can still come out on top. Yes, my kids keep beating me! Don't feel that means it's a luck dominated game. It's not, but the endless permutations and interplay of card strategy with how you use your pieces on the board make it a very difficult game to master.

Martin Wallace Just in case you are interested Warfrog is an amateur (for want of a better word) games company. I do the bulk of the game designs while my partner, John Frost, concentrates on sales, finance, playtesting, and unhelpful comments. Lords of Creation has been produced on a laser printer using Apple Mac software (ClarisWorks). We intend producing all our games on laser printer in short runs of around 50 copies a time. In this way we can reduce print costs and always meet sales demands. We have a number of games in the pipeline. 'Beyond Pluto...' looks like being the next release, depending on a successful playtest. This is essentially a business game involving man's first expansion beyond the solar system. Players explore and settle new star systems and earn income, all done in an incredibly simple and elegant manner [MS: steady on, Martin]. At the heart of the game lies the costs of star travel. Players develop FTL systems to bring down the costs of space travel, thereby making more distant systems economically viable. Players will spend most of the game in negative credit, facing a fluctuating interest level. The more distant star systems carry the possibility of alien contact, which may be friendly, or may not. The game will be about the same size and price as Lords of Creation. Other games on the cards are Space Route 66 (a space race game), Marengo and an ACW hidden scenario system.

MS: I like the sound of the Marengo game (predictable, me?) and also Beyond Pluto. This seems like the sort of game that could easily encapsulate the 'discovery' element that is so noticeable in the best computer games. One of the strengths in those games is that you literally don't know what is out there until you run into it. It would be fun to include something like this, or better, in Pluto especially if aliens are to feature. I still have hopes for a good first contact game and wonder if the best way to do this might be a paragraph system or a variant thereof. As I've said before, I do like paragraph systems for the 'discovery' element, among others. Failings as an interactive game aside, this is what underpins Tales of the Arabian Nights and the similar Star Trek game that we tried recently on the recommendation of last issue's letter column. Actually, I found this a very good two player game. Still not overly high on interaction, but at least possessed of a logical and interesting scenario. The paragraphs were just as entertaining as Arabian Nights and we even managed to recreate the episode that had been on TV the night before, according to my apponent.

Garry Lloyd Tutanchamun is a very simple and elegant game design, offers much in the way of tactical forethought and plays in around half an hour. As such it is one of my favourite games at the moment. The games I have played have been very close and there doesn't seem to be a clear cut winning strategy.

Richard Bass Tutanchamun: I've played this twice in recent months though I have not really given it the attention it deserves. I think this is one that will stick around for a long time as it is good and quick. There is more to this than first meets the eye; superficially it looks like a kid's game.

Graeme Forster Tutanchamun, a great little game with a myriad of different tactics possible. Great replay value. Timberland, no problems with the board. Very clever game with the tactics only becoming apparent after the first playing. Controlling the woodcutter is almost impossible and so your higher cards are best played in autumn, to gain the important 'first to grow trees' position and in winter to move the diarrhoea-ridden boar.

Paul Jefferies Tutanchamun: I agree with everything you say in your review. A great filler game that takes two seconds to explain and is almost impossible to predict who is going to win. My only beef is that I can't see the last wildcard on the pyramid being used as someone always wins before you get there anyone ever used it?

Rolf Wichmann Some comments on the Nuremburg releases: We played and liked: Santa Fe, Modern Art, Revolution, Quick, Banana Republic, Bluff, Stamp, En Garde, Attacke, Sticheln, Spiel der Türme, Tutanchamun, Quarto, Zatre. You seem to have missed these goodies: Hopfen & Malz, Al Capone, Spekulation, Wucherer, Wu Hsing, Crash & Ruhropolis. Disappointments: Sensationen, Ali Baba, Jolly Roger, Marlowe. Minds divided: Wahlfieber, Rheingold, Das Letzte Paradies.

John Webley Waldesfrust is another Fanfor 'do the translation then throw away' game. Cockpit was never going to attract me anyway.

Paul Jefferies Waldesfrust: I disagree with you mildly on this one. The game is repetitive, it is expensive and isn't exactly gripping but I've enjoyed playing it nevertheless. As long as someone in the group has a grasp of the rules and you dish out dice to all players you can play the game in under two hours (for four players) quite easily. The decision making is not taxing but deciding who to pick on can be an enjoyable aspect of the game. It is not a game to be played seriously ie if you are getting frown lines through concentration you're on the wrong track. Perhaps it is because I approach most games light heartedly... but heck I'm out to enjoy it. Win, yes, if possible by enjoyment is my main aim. Waldesfrust can be 90 minutes well spent in the company of like minded people, three hours of boredom with the Mr Spocks of this world.

MS: Another person disagreeing 'mildly' was the designer of Waldesfrust, a gentleman possessed of an ego to rival the very worst in the hobby. According to Alan Moon, this man was after my blood at Essen as I had 'no right to be a reviewer what are his credentials?' and that I had single handedly 'finished the game in Britain'. I would have thought the duff gameplay, the £45 price tag and noticeable lack of importers killed it, but hey what do I know? True to the Siggins military heritage, I avoided the stand all weekend so he probably lost another sale of his new game as well as the chance to have a pop at me.

John Webley The mainstream games article is great. Trivial Pursuit is a good game, but somehow people rarely want to play me at it, odd really. [MS: John won The Krypton Factor final a few years back] I was talked into playing Facts in Five in Braunschweig, a 3M version of Scattergories, and rather surprised the Germans by beating them comfortably, although to be fair they chose some English orientated categories. Charade type games are quite popular among one set of friends here, and I go along with them, although I found Taboo in German horrendously difficult. Trying to define words without using the five most common clues/synonyms, against the clock. I comfort myself that it is good for my German, and glow with pride when I manage to successfully mime "Da ist der Hund begraben", "That's where the dog is buried", without having a clue what it means. (That's the heart of the matter apparantly). Smuggle is possibly my worst ever game. To say that I can't play it is to miss the mark by miles. I got to the point that I was deliberately overpaying duty. They still knew that I was lying, but at least I got some back as slander fines.

John Neeve Trivial Pursuit. I have a friend who I've played this with quite regularly and was quite interested in your Fatty Arbuckle story. Whenever we play and don't know the answer to a brown question, we say Ernest Hemingway (silly in joke). Later when playing with his prospective parents-in-law... well, you can guess the rest and they now think he is a literary genius.

MS: My group always say Thomas Hardy, except for me who is known to have some ability in this field (due to my having no social life as a youngster beyond books), but I get them wrong by thinking and they get them right by guessing. This hardly seems fair.

Martin Burroughs Mainstream games Bamboozle is still the best trivia game for me, if only because it is silly and cheap and the extremely stupid can still win. It wouldn't do to ignore Pit either, a splendid game even if it is a tad loud.

Paul Jefferies Glad to hear you are enjoying Smuggle (Contraband). It was one of the few games my parents always pulled out when they had close friends round. I have many happy memories of 10 to 12 of us sitting around the dining room table all trying to keep a straight face. The best Pepys game I've ever played. Actually, it's the only Pepys game I've ever played....

MS: And now Subbuteo. Oh lordy, what have I done?

Carl Schnurr Naive Question Dept What is Subbuteo?

Ed Caylor The comments on Subbuteo were fun. Years ago, I was one of only two people (my best friend was the other) in the Atlanta area who knew what the game was. [MS: Ed, please give Carl a call.] In 1966, the city had just been awarded a franchise in the original North American Soccer League. My friend's father flew to the UK often, and brought home Subbuteo after one of his trips. We saw every game in '66 and in '67 when Atlanta won the championship. Manchester United came in on an exhibition game and won 3-1, and Pele even showed up with a Brazilian team, scored a goal, and trounced Atlanta handily. Anyway, getting back to Subbuteo, my best friend and I would pretend to be Phil Woosnam, Peter McPharland, Graham Newton, or Kaiser "Boy-Boy" Mautung (Atlanta's best strikers), but never could get the little fellows to play that well on the felt. We wished so much to see how the children in the UK played the game, but never had the chance. In 1991, we got to visit my wife's relatives in Chelmsford, north of London, and my dream of watching the Subbuteo pros came true. I was floored. Never, ever, did I think those guys could move around like that. But there was an ad on TV showing just what could be done. In retrospect, my best friend and I would have been laughed out of the room in England, but we still had fun in our ignorance in the mid-1960's.

Tony Valvona There were more Subbuteo games than you recall, there being a game called Snooker Express which came out in 1973 and lasted some five years. My own copy is missing the two player figures and several balls, if anyone can oblige! Around 1980 Subbuteo Hockey was introduced in an attempt to tap the female market. Subbuteo Sports Games was bought out by Waddingtons around 1982 and this game was one of the first to go out of the range perhaps it was a last desperate bid to keep Subbuteo popular? Also during the 1960s was a game called Fivesides which I would like to obtain this was replaced by Football Express in 1971. Going back in time you mentioned Subbuteo Speedway similar sets of Motoracing, Cycling and Horseracing existed during the fifties exactly the same principle as Speedway, merely with a change in the flat figures to represent the sport in question. In the same era was a game called Journey into Space I've never seen it but the catalogue describes this as 'played with rotator space craft, launching ramp, model planet... pilot the space craft to the planet Saturn. Price 23/4d.' I want one! Lastly, Soccer Market came form the same era.

Alan Parr I can confirm the rumours of Subbuteo Speedway I used to run extremely long races which must have driven my parents crazy as I took over the living room for ages. I guess they far preferred Subbuteo Cricket games although these lasted a week or more these did at least use the spare bedroom. But no one has mentioned Journey into Space which involved landing hovering spaceships on the rings of Saturn the other side of the room. When things were going well I could get three spaceships in the air at one time.

Neil Howarth More on Subbuteo variants: I can confirm that Subbuteo Speedway existed. I never saw it in shops nor have I played it but remember it being advertised on a list of Subbuteo products dated around 1954-6. Also on the list were two other products which definitely existed because I ordered them. The first was called Soccer Fivesides it was advertised as giving good solo practice because it was played without goalies. The pitch was about half the size of a normal pitch and had five players a side, hence the name. It was not successful. Another game was Soccer Market. This was a card game involving four teams and eleven players for each of the old fashioned positions of full back, centre half, inside forward etc. The idea of each player was to build up a full team of eleven players.

MS: Now I am completely lost. Are we to believe then Grinning Ted Kelly's tales of Subbuteo Speedway? Or is this a conspiracy to create a fictional game and make me look a chump? It's possible you know, all it would take would be a couple of phone calls.... Nurse, the screens. I will believe it when I see it. As for Journey into Space, well, I am flabberghasted. I do not believe this for a minute.

Mark Whittaker Re Subbuteo Baseball please see the attached flyer. I saw an advert in Anglo American Sports and sent off out of curiosity but I certainly wouldn't pay £29.50 for the game.

MS: So it made it out. This is the same game and is being marketed as Atlantica Mini Baseball. So that tells me. Next time I start to pontificate on something I know nothing about, someone kick me please.

Mike Brian I was one of the people involved in the setting up and running of the Britannia game at SELWG. You may be interested to know that we won best demonstration game prize which we were pleased about considering the competition. The game has received many favourable comments at the shows we have attended and it follows earlier attempts to 'convert' board games to a figures stage such as Wooden Ships & Iron Men with 1/1200th scale ships and Blue Max using 1/72nd scale Airfix kits (and aren't biplanes a joy to glue together when you have a couple of dozen to make and only limited time...). We haven't decide what to put on at SELWG this year though Mustangs sounds promising. We even considered Civilisation but the thought of all those figures was too much!

Don Greenwood I was disappointed in your reaction to Roadkill as your letter hinted at a better reception. I rather like it myself but then I should. I'm not really surprised as most of the 'doily' gamers here (our term for 'fluffy' gamers) dislike it also, but it has received an enthusiastic reception from the D&D types. I can't agree with your criticism of the artwork as the comic book 'punk' look was deemed appropriate for the subject and the potential market.

MS: The letter was positive because at that time I had read the rules but had not played the game. The game promised much, as I had visualised it, but it just didn't work for me the lack of a race feel being the worst failing. I don't disagree on the artwork's theme, just the execution.

As for the box canyon being too strong, I think not. A wise player will hold it for the final section and that takes a heavy fall from his hand capacity throughout a long race. There are also three cards that nullify it. All in all, I thought it worked rather well, especially when you move on to the upgrades. I can see though that it is not for everybody and those of the Doily persuasion will certainly quibble with the rules or the length. I was pleased to see it outdrew Adel at Avaloncon, though.

Graeme Forster Roadkill: A very clever adaption of the Up Front system which (apart from the box cover) is very well presented easy to learn and fast playing. We managed to play an eight player game in under three hours despite the fact that five people had not played it before. The small rules questions concerning the effects of attack results <1 or >5 and the interaction of some of the optional add-ons are the only problem with a very enjoyable game. Still on driving games the latest Formule de track is the best yet and has rekindled my interest in a game that I was beginning to feel was to luck orientated, as with the Monza track.

Tim Cockitt Roadkill: heresy alert. I'm not that bothered by it it just doesn't make the earth (or road) move for me. I don't get excited by Formule De either.

Andy Daglish Roadkill: It sounds as if you have a rules interpretation problem. Occasionally it takes us a while to leave the paddock due to sabotage, siphoning and spraying fire but those doing milk float impersonations are usually two or three sections behind. This is a very clever game with problems connected to the attack modifiers.

John Webley Vernissage, as you write the review you are playing it wrong. Maybe I should have done a translation after all. You do not get three art works to start with. Quite the reverse, you deal three brown cards and if they should happen to be three art works then you return them to the pack and draw again. I hope this is just an error in your report, if everyone in England is playing it this way we will probably never sort it out. Good game though but I still prefer Modern Art.

MS: I was both wrong and right, which proves I shouldn't work from memory when writing reviews as much as I do. The English rules I have say you are dealt three brown cards. There is no mention of returning artworks so, if you were pretty lucky, you might start the game with three. The gist then is that you get dealt movement or powerplay cards only? Is everyone playing it like this?

Rob Mulholland Vernissage has become a firm favourite amongst the Exeter gaming groups and has been played at virtually all of the last dozen gaming meets. I personally feel referring to your question on the luck element that the random element caused by the distribution of cards within the stacks is precisely what keeps the game from becoming boring. The randomness effectively makes each game different and keeps you on your toes. Our players make much of the bluff tactic when sorting through the packs and therefore it is likely that most of the players can be coaxed into wasting their money on the dud pile with no artwork. Having said that all cards are important and one of the nice parts of the game is that you are often tantalisingly close to having a balanced hand but only rarely seem to achieve it. All in all it is a game that is currently in my top 10 and likely to stay there.

Chris Payne Vernissage has proved popular but it is not a game for the colour blind. Indeed, under poor artificial light the colour differentiation is not good, even for those of us with normal vision. I'm not sure why different primary colours were not used rather than various shades of brown or yellow. There is enough of a luck element for me to play it with a variety of groups and players.

MS: Interesting that you raise colour blindness which after all must affect a number of gamers, simply based on the law of averages. I had a long chat with another subscriber recently who has a colour blind member in his group and needs to choose games carefully to avoid problems. I know from a close friend's experience that red and green are the worst colours in combination and there must be a large number of games where difficulties can occur for those with impaired sight. I get the impression that game companies, or more specifically the artists, don't pay much attention to this aspect and I agree that the colours in Vernissage could have been more distinct. There is no need to use bold primaries, subtle tints of the usual four or five game colours would have been fine to maintain the 'arty' feel.

Martin Higham Vernissage, definitely dry and not much fun. Lots of decisions but they just seemed too mechanistic and I couldn't map them to real life. Very much the "I've got this wonderful set of mechanics. Art seems to be in at the moment. Lets call it an art game". All very Germanic. I usually like the Germanic style but this is a definite miss. I seem to be going off this style of games since I thought Drunter & Druber was pretty nothingy too. I haven't played/bought Flying Dutchman yet but I remain cautious. Elfenroads I like a lot but the auctioning gets to you after a while making it a game we can only play occasionally. I gather it is now sold out. Santa Fe is a game I can only play once (actually twice). It is a no,no with our group. Perhaps we're playing it wrong. Too many points swing on picking up cards to where railways have already gone, particularly the West Coast cities. Planning to get a railway to a city seems hardly worthwhile when the likelihood is that somebody else will pick up the other cards (and therefore points) for it, and there's a good chance that the railway will not make it anyway because other players have other plans without necessarily being vindictive. Then of course they can be vindictive too! It becomes a total lottery. You might as well deal out all the cards and the player with the highest total wins. It saves a lot of time. I was seriously disappointed with this game. Please tell me if it sounds like we've got a rule wrong somewhere.

MS: What games did you like Martin?

Wolfgang Luedtke You supposed that Klaus Teuber had set up his own company to get a larger share of the profits or because no other company was interested in Vernissage. Both wrong! The truth is that the game was planned as one of Schmidt's Master Designer series. It was an abstract business game called Pleitegeier. At this stage Klaus thought he would lose control of the game so he decided not to give it to Schmidt. At this time, the name and theme were changed to the existing ones. Now two companies were interested in the game, including Bandai Huki who did Flying Dutchman. They then folded their game line and Parker who took some of their games decided not to do Vernissage. Because Klaus knew the Bandai Huki production team including Reiner Muller, he proposed forming a company to market Vernissage and I and another investor joined as minority shareholders. TM Games will continue to produce sophisticated games for adults and not only Klaus teuber games the next release due at Nuremburg is by another designer and I think you will like it.

MS: Thanks Wolfgang. This is interesting news as I had always imagined Vernissage to be an art game from the start (it fits the theme so well), though I can now see how the business game might have worked with the fame representing market popularity and perhaps advertising and profit elements as well. I look forward to the next release from TM.

John Webley Hard to know what to suggest re Go. It isn't linear, it is about patterns, but how to recognise the patterns, that's a bit harder. I thought I was quite good at the game until I played an expert at Essen and got stuffed. One day I will take it up seriously. I had a go at Shogi the other week, Japanese Chess. The different moves weren't too hard, the difficult concept was the fact that pieces once taken can be "Parachuted" back onto the board with some restrictions. This makes it far harder to exploit an advantage, since new pieces appear to block the gap.

Martin Burroughs Axis & Allies. Worth the wait eh? It's quite rare now but if you really like the game you might look out for the earlier version which is broadly similar but had special abilities for each power, a slightly more complex map and a couple of other differences. It's a moot point which is better, possibly the old special powers with the new map. Perfect planning? Not really. I have seen several people think they have the game sussed but it is a sort of stone-paper-scissors situation; there is always a good defence against each attack strategy.

Michael English Axis & Allies: I played this game six times earlier this year and I think your comments regarding the replay value are correct. The game remains interesting whilst various strategies are developed and tried. Once all players have some expertise the game is reduced to a dice rolling contest, the outcome being largely a matter of chance.

Martin Burroughs Formule De: I don't think any of the rule variations I've seen in Sumo improve on a great game. The only variation I like is to extend pit stops the rule says to roll for exit time immediately on entering but this makes stops far too advantageous. Rolling on the player's next turn makes the stop far more marginal. This is especially necessary on circuits like Monaco where the route through the pits is so short.

MS: I like the sound of this, though we rarely frequent the pits. Estoril and Silverstone are the latest tracks for this game looks like we might get them all eventually and as Andy Daglish says, they are getting better as we go along. Silverstone is good, but for the first time fails to capture the spirit and feel of the real thing I think the chicane should be a 2 corner at most and you rarely, if ever, get into 6th gear. Estoril is really quick and suits two laps well.

Martin Burroughs You were a little hard on PBM gamers weren't you? Yes, the prices are high and they are going to get higher but some of the systems are good. Illuminati for example captures the feel of the board game very well and most hand moderated PBMs seem to be of a very high standard. On the other hand I've yet to see evidence of a football game that can match United. As with most boardgames, it's a mixed bunch and I suspect it always will be. having said that, the vast majority of gaming is still in zines.

MS: I wasn't hard on all the gamers and games, just some, and you seem to confirm this. As with most gaming hobbies, there is an element of quality and a lot of dross. Much like life, in fact. To be specific, I just find it hard to understand how one of the top games, Austerlitz, can purport to be historical when the gameplay owes more to Tactics II than Napoleonic warfare and the designers think the eponymous battle occurred in 1806. I concede it might be a good PBM game, but that doesn't fill me with confidence. Either way, anyone interested should feel free to try the very generous Flagship offer advertised on the back cover.

Martin Burroughs Wicketz: a fine looking game but fatally flawed. The cards follow a sort of pattern and it is possible to win easily by playing shots which, I'm told, are completely irrational. But then cricket is completely irrational anyway.

John Webley Phil Smith misunderstood my Silverton comment. The crucial dice roll did come after about two hours. If I had lost it then my game was to all intents and purposes over, once I won it then it was overwhelmingly likely that I would win. The next three hours went to confirm this.

Alan Parr I'm sure there will be several obnoxious bastards who like me will want to point out that it was Martin Peters (and not Geoff Hurst) who was ten years ahead of his time.

MS: Well Alan, you were the sole OB to point this out and, sadly, you are correct. I knew that really, just a slip of the brain, like Terry Goodchild who recently reported on the All Blacks playing New Zealand at rugby.

Tim Cockitt Do you have Cathedral by Mattel? Super little game and ideal as a time filler. Shades of Go meets Skirrid meets Lego.

John Webley Re Steve Kingsbury's Hacker comment, he is right, it isn't clear but I read the rules to say that you stay at the terminal unless someone displaces you from further back in the queue.

Rudolf Rühle In answer to the Al Parlamento query, the split of seats is: Collegio Unico Nazionale 10 seats, 1 Collegio 20 seats, 2C 15, 3C 14, 4C 12, 5C 10 and 6C 9.

Don Greenwood I find your game leanings these days a bit too heavy towards the 'Doily' persuasion for my tastes, but even so I read more of Sumo than any other hobby magazine.

MS: Fluffies, doilies, where will it all end? But see below for your answer, oh valued purveyor of Breakout: Normandy, Kampfgruppe Peiper, ASL Annual, Here Come the Rebels, RQ3, We the People, Assassin and Statis Pro Basketball all of which I have bought or will be buying.

Andrew Patrick Finally, I wonder whether you have ever thought of reviewing some slightly less 'serious' games that are available from the likes of the Virgin Games Centre as well as from Just Games. As a gamer with far less time - due to family and work commitments - than I would like, you often have to make do with quicker and less demanding fixes that can, nevertheless provide a great deal of enjoyment. Titles that spring to mind - all of which would feature on my 10+ list incidentally - would be: Who, Taboo, Murder On The Orient Express, Scotland Yard, Twenty Questions, Outburst, Video Cluedo (hugely underrated) and Personal Preference. Please understand that even compiling this list took a degree of courage because you run the risk of being laughed at by hardened and more experienced gamers. But for the others like me and surely there are some a few lighter reviews would be interesting as the stronger and doubtless worthier offerings that are traditionally featured on Sumo's pages. And just where did you get that name for the mag?

MS: Well you won't get laughed at here. Taboo is mentioned in Notebook and I too enjoy many of these games as I said last time in the Mainstream Games feature there is little else appropriate when I go out for 'social' games evenings rather than with 'gamers'. The trouble I have is steering a course between the demands for lighter game reviews or indeed heavier topics. In an ideal world, Sumo would be a hundred pages monthly covering wargames, fluffies, family games, sports, figures, design, gamekits, computers and even the occasional RPG, but there is life and work to contend with unfortunately. In reality, rightly or wrongly, I do what I used to do with party music I review what I like and assume the readers will like it too. I got the name from Charles Vasey, for which I am more than grateful. I could have ended up as The Gamer's Quarterly or something equally boring, but I guess you want an explanation. Well, when Sumo launched in 1989 there was a programme on C4 called Kazuko's Karaoke Klub or similar it was something to do with the Frank Chickens if I remember correctly and long preceeded the current situation where Karaoke nights can be endured in almost every Essex and London pub. I inherited the unwanted nickname of Sumo Siggins from my Games International days, so it seemed ideal to combine the two in a sort of reverse psychology move. It has no deeper meaning than that, sorry to say.

Michael English Chess: The Kasparov-Short match was one of the most exciting sporting events I have seen on TV. The 10th game even had my wife shouting at the television, a previously unknown phenomena. I preferred the Channel 4 coverage over BBC 2, although Ray Keene was as irritating as always, especially when he took the mickey out of Carol Vordermann. Despite my preference for Channel 4's presentation, Bill Hartston gets my vote for "Most Intelligible Grandmaster", closely followed by Jon Speelman.

Martin Higham I notice an absence from Inside Pitch. You haven't got a modem yet. The world needs Sumo via electronic mail. It might also up the number of letters you get. I always find it easier to knock up an email than to actually write a letter and stick it in an envelope and post it. There are basically two options open to you, (actually three you don't have to do it at all), Compuserve or Internet. Both are dominated by Americans but also used by lots of others. Compuserve is a business, the Internet is a loose collection of University and private sites across the world. Both contain news sections for computer and non-computer subjects. I personally use Internet. As mail networks they can both contact each other. As a 'discussion' service I tend to think Compuserve more computer orientated. Internet has discussion areas for everything, board games (about 30-50 messages a day with too much discussion on Axis and Allies, World in Flames, Empire in Arms etc, but an increasing amount on the German games and more obscure American stuff), baseball (200-300 messages a day during the season), Star Trek, films, books etc. Discussions range from personal thoughts to actual news. For example, from just reading this stuff I found out all the differences between the AH and Gibson versions of HotW within about a week and a half of the AH version coming out. The great thing is it is so up to date. After posting a brief review of the new games I played at Essen, I was emailed by Frank Nestel (of Frank and Doris) wanting to know what Sumo was and how to get it. I expect he'll be in touch. If you decide to take the plunge give Demon a call on 081 349 0063, they can provide a Internet connection, software, modems etc. WARNING: Modems can severely damage you bank account. For a start a good, fast, modem will set you back £220ish, Demon charge £10+VAT a month for an Internet connection and then there's the phone bill. Compuserve charge a small yearly fee but charge you for connection time. Let me know if you want to know more.

MS: It is interesting to note that both the new magazines referred to in Gamer's Notebook make a mention of Internet or Compuserve communication in their editorials. Both have mailboxes and presumably are active users. Add this to the fact that, within just a few days of Essen finishing, reports were appearing on the networks about the latest games, and I started, once again, to feel a little behind the times. I sat down for a while and considered the wonders of online Sumos, instant messaging and all the undoubted news and conferencing benefits but I still came to the same conclusions it is too expensive and while Sumo may arrive in printed form, it still has to be written and administered whatever the delivery medium. Printing and mailing makes it a week or two slower than an E Mail version, which I think is not too bad. Sure, you could in theory have reviews as soon as they roll off the WP, but a piecemeal Sumo must lose something, somewhere. Oddly given my receptive attitude to technology, I have never been that enthused by the idea of a modem and the accompanying bills. I still can't help feeling that the network advantage is with the Americans with their reasonable modem and phone costs and that, ignoring for a moment the potential new market, the number of Sumo subscribers using the networks is tiny. The main benefit then would be to access large (?) numbers of new readers by making an E Mail Sumo available, naturally at a cost. Long or short term, I would be interested in this side of things and would appreciate any advice presumably I would need a closed mailbox or similar? Please send all snail mail on this subject to mike@129ardmorelane.

Jennifer Schlickbernd Magic: The Gathering has hit the States running. It's clearly the game of the year over here, and from what I've been hearing, it's pretty popular in England too. We love the game, spent more time with it than any other game we own. Yes, we realize the marketing is controversial, but frankly, it's a free country and you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars to enjoy the game. My husband and I fell in love with it when we'd only spent $16! It's also making a profitable difference to the local game merchants in town, and I like that. I also like to see another American game company do well. Wizards of the Coast is proving themselves to be responsive too. I subscribe to the mailing list, and many game ideas including new rules, have been submitted for our comment. Would TSR ever do something like that? Even AH, while having an online presence on GEnie, doesn't solicit public player input into their designs. Wizards of the Coast doesn't even mind admitting that they are wrong from time to time. Very refreshing PR.

Andrew Davidson Magic: I'm not too sure about the title of this it had sold out when I tried to buy a copy. I am told that this is a massive seller over 3m copies in the US. It takes the idea of Barcode Battler and puts it into trading card format. I can see this being very compulsive and am told that some of my circle have spent over £100 per head trying to find Cosmic Zaps or whatever the great cards are called. The actual gameplay seems a little ordinary but anal-retentives and perfect planners will find it hard to resist.

Paul Jefferies Was Sticht? Good game but way too long for my liking (for a card game). Bridge it ain't and the game I played lasted two hours! This could be shortened by taking less task cards but even so getting rid of your last one could make the game drag on too long. A must for all card game lovers no doubt, but if you prefer board games play it before you buy.

MS: I hadn't thought of the end game too much as we have managed to finish quite quickly so far. In the situation where all the players gang up on the leader though, this could, as you say, slow it up. The answer might be to play a set number of hands or to a time limit (an hour plus one hand?) and the player having completed the most tasks wins. No time wasting allowed. Ties can be split by the difficulty ratings. YES! Like it.

Gareth Lodge Backpacks & Blisters once I got over my dis1ike of the dish cloth (does anyone play it without a perspex cover?) I can only say that this is a real winner, one of the best games I've played in ages. Yes, there is a fair bit of luck involved caused by the movement cards drawn, but one can make decisions as to how to make the best use of limited resources. There are some interesting decisions to be made such as whether to spend your money on a boat trip or a cup of tea, when to start the trek home, and of course which route to take. OK, so the range of decisions is limited, but so is my brain and I liked the level at which the game was set, It may be a bit short on player interaction, but I will need to play more multi-player games before I decide for sure, I enjoyed B&B as much as HotW and found it are skilful, lots of fun (frequent howls of laughter) and it did not suffer from the excessive game length of HotW.

Martin Wallace At Northern Militaire I got involved with a game of Backpacks and Blisters. Steve Owen seemed to be quite impressed by it, but then he won. I did incredibly badly and my first impression of the game was not a good one. However, after reflection I think the game mechanics do allow for the adoption of varying strategies and the topic is definitely a winner with those familiar with the Lakes. I'm concerned that the small hand size limits your choice and increases the chaos factor. HotW is a hard act to follow and I don't think B&B has the same class.

Ed Caylor On board games, I have played few of the games that show up in Sumo. I must be the only person in the world to think little of Adel Verpflichtet. At Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends this past Spring, I think I was the only one of 40+ to sit out on the tournament [MS: I'd have been the second we could have played Armchair Cricket]. I ended up playing The Gamer's Perryville with a Vermont player who lasted for only the first round of AV. I have enjoyed Santa Fe, but have never won. As several letters have indicated, I also feel it is hard to tell just who is winning, and all too often, the object seems to be to kill off a railroad's progress to hurt a player, than to build the railroad to a more historically logical conclusion. With views like that, it should be obvious that I have never won, but I have come in a very close second twice in a total of four games. The above is not to say I don't like SF, because I do. And most of the players seem to have a clearer idea of who is winning than I.

Mike Ruffhead Victory Signals. Personally I can take them or leave them, but they have their uses! It depends on whether the game system actually allows you to do anything about the guy who is obviously winning. I would rather think I am in with a chance right up to the end than participate in a procession where the result is obvious and the smug sod in the lead cannot be touched. Generally, I think that the more player interaction there is, the more you need to know, or be able to deduce, who is ahead. If not, an appropriate signal at least allows you to concede a game where the result is a foregone conclusion half way through (eg Silverton both times I've played it).

Alfonzo Smith Jr Basically when it comes to gaming, the play is the thing. Degrees of luck or skill and subject matter take a back seat if the game has any sort of drama. A game is worth my time and effort if during the course of play there has been good natured laughter, outrage and competition. Distasteful to me is the gaming as a fashion syndrome. Anyone who says 'Oh you play that. Nobody plays that anymore.' is someone I don't have time for. I will play a new game as easily as an old game if it is a good game.

MS: Little bit of philosophy thrown in there; no extra charge.

Dave Farquhar I did enjoy TimJim's Fast Food Franchise much more than I expected. It was easy to pick up, and worked well. I think though that there are some fairly obvious strategies, which would quickly become popular and so am not convinced of the game's long term popularity. I don't think that can be said of Time Agent, which appears to have many different strategies. The problem for me was that they did not occur to me until the post-game inquest. I thought that the races were sufficiently different in strengths and aims to give good long term 'play value'. A good gamers game, but I think difficult to get social gamers into.

Gareth Lodge Suzerain: this was a game which played much better than I had anticipated. Initially I thought that the rules were badly presented, but on playing it all seemed to slot into place fairly easily. I found the rules concerning courtship, consorts and playing the heir hard to understand, possibly because it is an unusual game concept (at least it is for me) and it may have not been possible to explain them more clearly. As I said, it all worked in the end. I found it full of player interaction with lots of interesting decisions to be made - it is an unusual and very clever design. And it is playable in a reasonable time.

Graeme Forster I believe that TimJim has got both of their new games almost right (Time Agent & Suzerain). Time Agent is very atmospheric and I enjoyed greatly the two different challenges of the Zytal and Buralti in the games I played. The only problem lies in the ending which, I agree, can drag on. In the first game on player got fed up with trying to win by himself that we teamed up to end the game (which we drew) and in the second, as the Buralti I ended the game despite being second with only the vague hope of one of the technologies being cut off giving me the chance of winning. Overall the game towards the end becomes an 'ambush game' in which players take it in turn trying to reverse a few key events and then cut off time, failing, and then getting pounded by all the other players. The only way to win is to surprise your opponents and present them with a fait accompli. I feel the same problem crops up in Suzerain when trying to get two complete sets of royalty. In the single game that I have played three players got to the stage of having completed one couple but no-one wanted to play a single royal card because it would be kidnapped straight away by a prospective spouse who was quite willing to pay the dowry. This did not concern me as I had foolishly played a very strong peasant line (1-4-5-4-1) and surprise seemed to attract all the 'Peasants Revolt' cards. Nothing wrong worth kicking a man when he's down, it's safer, but the annoying thing was that I could not get rid of any of the three high value cards even when I lost a battle. No-one would take one. OK so I need better planning in future, but I still will need a lot of persuading to play this one again.

Michael English Time Agent: The recent review Of Time Agent prompted me to buy the game. The review proved accurate, but I think the comment that real historical events could be substituted for those given in the game is not valid. Use of real events would allow beginning players to get to grips with the game without having to understand a fictional milieux, but suffers considerable lack of realism because of the necessity that the key technologies for time travel must have been developed before the earliest events in the game. An alternative is to use an established science fiction universe. Both Doctor Who and Star Trek (The Next Generation) are good candidates. How long will it be before there is an extension kit to change the six player races to the CIA, Humans, Sontarans, Rutans, Cybermen and Daleks? Will Task Force Games provide a tie in to Star Fleet Battles or Federation and Empire?

Dave Farquhar Agree with most comments on Time Agent. I found it difficult at first to grasp the basic concepts of the game, and never did work out a viable strategy. I think my problems stemmed from having the rules explained by someone who had never played it, and being landed with a race for whom the status quo was actually quite good. Would definitely benefit from a second try for me.

Gareth Jones I see you wanted to know about Yaquinto's Time War. I played this some while ago, several times. It has some similarities to the game you discussed, Time Agent, but not a lot. It's actually a very abstract game, but the window-dressing is quite fun (and incidentally includes 'real' historical missions such as "Prevent Martin Luther from posting his 96 theses", "Sigmund Freud must not be potty trained until the age of 3", "Prevent the Louisiana Purchase" etc). Essentially, the board (or rather sheet) is a series of concentric circles divided by 12 radii, each circle depicting an 'age', from the Prehistoric (central) to the interplanetary (circumference), and each line depicting a possible path through that era. History 'so far' is depicted by placing on the board a series of arrows. They begin by depicting normal history the arrows are placed in a straight path. The objective of the game is to carry out time alterations in such a way that these arrows move clockwise/anticlockwise, both in the era when the operation is carried out and in subsequent eras. All players missions each turn are determined simultaneously. Where a mission is successful a player places a time arrow of his own colour on the appropriate space. Victory points are accumulated each turn, and depending on how many arrows of each colour are on the board, and how far they are from the player's 'home'. Making alterations involves training operatives of various types in your 'Bureau', also on the board (and shielding from your opponents by a cardboard screen). Different operatives have different capabilities so there's strategic considerations when investing time in training an operative. You can also upgrade your 'Chrono-Computer' so as to be able to range further back in time. A further complication is that operatives of different players who are on the same point on the board may engage in combat. Planning is quite difficult: the alterations which you can attempt are determined by cards drawn randomly ('researched'). Even when an alteration is completed, the result may not be what you expected; firstly, there is a random dice-rolling element added to the movement of the arrows so that an alteration may do more, less, or even the opposite from what was planned, and then there is the factor that, although your operation was successful in (say) Time band "G" it may be cancelled out or even thrown too far by an 'earlier' alteration in (say) Time band "K". There are various optional rules for money etc, in case the whole thing isn't confusing enough already. In one edition they included rules for a completely abstract game which I can remember nothing about. It's a decent and extremely unusual game, almost ruined by badly-written (badly-translated?) rules.

MS: Thanks Gareth. That doesn't actually sound too bad perhaps I was always put off by the psychedelic cover. I like the idea of altering everything in the future (what's the name of that short story where the time traveller treads on a butterfly?) and the unpredictable results. Anyone in the regular group own this one?

Ed Caylor I have played quite a bit on the computer, as a group of six or seven New Englanders have enjoyed replaying past baseball seasons. After experimenting with several of the games, we unanimously felt PTP was the best computer baseball simulator. Strat-o-matic probably has the most accurate data for rh vs. lh player performances, but a less than intuitive user system. It also has the most abominable copy protection of any computer program I have ever seen. If your hard drive crashes, or you inadvertently wipe the directory off your drive. You have lost S-O-M for good, your only resort is to buy a new copy from the company...at full price. APBA for windows is absolutely elegant in its appearance, but it is easily the weakest of the games in realistic statistical results. So PTP won the nod, and we have had a blast replaying 1957, the NY Yankees won the pennant, but Ted Williams had a banner year. We did 1950, and Boston nipped NY by three games (it was the other way round in real life). We replayed 1966 with the LA Dodgers winning in the NL, but losing in 4 straight to a brash Baltimore Oriole team led by Frank Robinson. That is exactly what happened in 1966. Then we did another replay in which we took 8 of the best teams ever, put them against each other, and saw 1970 Baltimore come out on top with 1961 NY second (that was the team with Maris' 61 homeruns and Mantle's 54.) We did not have the 1927 Yankees or the 1975 Reds in the league, but did have almost every other superb team in baseball's history there. All games were played by humans, none of this set the computer on auto-pilot and let it play. We also used the actual schedules as played by the teams, limited player usage to no more than 5% above real-life, and often used the same starting pitching assignments. This has been an ongoing project for almost 30 months now, and has been the number one consumer of my free time. The computer game eating up a lot of time has been Warlords II. The original SSG game was one of my favorites ever, this one is a wonderful improvement over the original. There are so many units, with so many specialized abilities, that it takes a tremendous effort to get your production up to speed and your units where you want them. The AI is tough, and when you set up at the highest levels, with limited map information available, and then tell 7 AI's that you are the greatest...well, the player is in for a long, tough battle. I can win about 2 of 3 at that level, but it often goes to 150+ turns, and 10-15 hours of play.

MS: I was quite excited to find the computer baseball replay page in Baseball Weekly and have been following their reports with interest. I have, as you will have gathered, drifted from replay games of late and I'd like to get back. Some of Terry Goodchild's recent games have re-inspired me (and his Sporting Deals Soccer is imminent), computer games will definitely play a role and I can't wait for the revised Statis Pro Basketball. I just have a good feeling about this one and I hope to review it next time. PS It just arrived and looks excellent AH have even provided some all time great teams.

Jennifer Schlickbernd Computer Games: You have to get Master of Orion by Microprose. The best space game yet, and I like it even better than Civilization, since the games are generally shorter. It's been described as Civ in space, but I think it's more than that. Unfortunately, no multi-player ability, but the designer has gone online (through Computer Gaming World) and solicited player comments and incorporated as many as possible. It's one of those games that will keep you up until dawn at least.

MS: Alan How has sung the praises of this one and Mike Schloth gave me an equally strong recommendation at Essen. Sounds well worth a look. Meanwhile, I am playing Brix, a fair amount of Syndicate and lots of the amazing Microprose Grand Prix.

On to Sumo Awards or back to the Interview with Reiner Knizia.

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