Gamer's Notebook

Not one, not two, but four new gaming magazines have hit the in tray. Games & Puzzles magazine has been long lamented by many gamers, so the return of this publication in March 1994 will no doubt prove a welcome event. 20,000 copies will be winging their way to national distributors and will cost £1.95 monthly, £19.95 on subscription. The editor is Paul Lamford, noted chess, bridge and backgammon player, and I have been asked to serve on the editorial board, in both an advisory and writing capacity. I don't yet know what the mix of articles will be, but Paul aims to cover all areas of gaming. I shouldn't have to say this, but please support this venture to prevent G&P going the way of recent gaming magazines.

In addition to this good news, there are already two further magazines covering much the same ground as Sumo. The first is The Player produced in the UK by Ian Pearson (5 St Etheldreda's Drive, Hatfield, Herts, AL10 8BZ £1 per issue). Issue 1 has reviews of the Middle Earth PBM, V for Victory, Advanced Civilisation, Family Business, Amber, SPI's oldie Starsoldier and a selection of pen & paper games complete with counters. Very nicely laid out and promising. The second, and another welcome discovery, is The Game Report published deep in Microsoft territory by Peter Sarrett, 6418 140th Ave NE, Redmond, WA 98052, USA. The issue I have, Vol 2 No 1, features Magic: The Gathering, Alibi, Favoriten, Modern Art, Santa Fe, Musketiere, Quo Vadis, an interview with WizWar's inventor Tom Jolly and a respectable amount of chat and news. It also sees the return of Desert Island Games and the 5&10 lists! The Game Report is well written, informative and good value at $2.00 for 16 text heavy pages. Both highly recommended.

Finally, Eamon Bloomfield has sample issues of Het Spel, a new quarterly Dutch games magazine with an English translation supplied, featuring superb colour layout for about £3 a pop. Not much in the way of reviews (yet), but excellent historical articles and features to inform and enthuse issue one has pages on the games of WWII fascinating. Time to sell the Orgasmatron. Het Spel is available from Van Beethovenlaan 53, 2394 HB Hazerswoude, Netherlands for DFL 35.00.

One of the games recommended in The Game Report is Taboo, which just happened to appear at my friend's house on Firework Night. Having played a lengthy session of the excellent Scattergories (see Sumo 12), Taboo followed to much acclaim. The game is simple enough. Flip a card and describe the word, object or person to your teammates so that they can shout it out a la charades, but you are up against the clock and forbidden to say any of the five most useful words (or derivations thereof) that you will need a helpful opposition member sits nearby beeping you for any rule infractions. The result can be hilarious and is often akin to the immortal preacher scene in Life of Brian where they are warbling on about nothing in particular. For instance, an anonymous friend on Charles de Gaulle (Nose, France, Resistance, WWII, Politician all disallowed): "This is a person who, er... , that you might encounter in, er..., somewhere around Western Europe. It's a man who has something big on his face. He was in a war, definitely, and, er..., didn't like the Germans. Oh yes, he was in Day of the Jackal. Any ideas? Okay, pass." He then picked up and immediately passed on Batik, to much amusement. Good stuff, if a little tough after half a bottle of port, though this certainly greases the word association football aspects. The slight problem with both these games, though it affected some players more than others, is that they are high pressure stuff. I speak relatively of course, but the time limit, the need to perform for your team and the requirement to abandon in Taboo if you have no idea what the card means are a little heavy at times. I'm not suggesting they aren't fun, but a couple of tempers were starting to fray as it got later and later and the challenges became just a bit too serious. Swear words were uttered. Gosh.

The Select Game Co have announced a new add-on data pack for their excellent Fastcard Soccer, reviewed in Sumo 10/11. These are team sheets for the English and Scottish 92-93 Premier Divisions which nicely beef up the range of modern teams. Also thrown in are Liverpool, Aston Villa, Rangers and Aberdeen from the 1989 season, ideal for the all time greats fan. As with most games that enthuse me, I welcome all this new stuff and instantly start thinking about further potential. What about the great European teams so we can do a European Cup, or likely lineups for the 1994 World Cup, or all the teams in the recent Double years and where is that PC version? Get your finger out Ellis, anyone would think you had a full time job and a family or something. Available, along with the original game, from The Select Game Co Ltd, 4 Langtree Ave, Whitecraigs, Glasgow G46 7LW

Warfrog is a company operating out of Manchester who have launched their first gamekit production recently. The game is called Lords of Creation (watch out for the Avalon Hill corporate lawyers) and covers the terraforming and populating of a new planet. Playable by 2 to 4, the game costs £12.45 inc p&p (US$23 you may send a $ cheque) and is well produced on a Mac, by the looks of it. Great logo, too. In common with most gamekits, counters need to be cut out, incurring Ragnar Wrist, but they are on good thick card and look attractive. Let's have more like this one. Warfrog are at 54 Beverly Rd, Fallowfield, Manchester M14 6TG. Review inside.

I have mentioned before that I rather like the odd game of Scrabble, and even rate myself quite highly at the game, but the latter has changed since seeing the World Championships on C4 recently. I appreciate that play is of a different order at this level, but even so I was taken back with the vocabulary and depth of play. I suspect a good 50% of the words being laid I hadn't even heard of, the players seemed disappointed if they didn't line up a seven letter word and talk of 'blocking off the board', archaic spelling, tile counting and momentum left me reeling. Impressive stuff.

I have to admit I approached the World Chess Championship with a mixture of disinterest in the match and hope that it might promote some knock on interest in boardgames, by way of sales, magazines, newspaper articles and so on. As it happened, I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. I followed some of the extensive press coverage and watched what I could of the late night C4 reports and thoroughly enjoyed them nothing too stuffy, quite witty at times, the disagreements and predictions were entertaining and Carol Vorderman, despite having a planet- sized brain, was good value. Mark Green at Just Games reported frantic activity on the sales front, mainly for chess sets, computers (naturally) and the MB trainer, so people are at least coming into the shops and seeing what is around. Mark told a humorous story of a number of chess computers being returned by 'experienced' players complaining they were too tough to beat. Mark often had trouble providing a more basic machine... The match itself, given fresh and lively (revolutionary?) treatment was very entertaining. To hear some of the commentators, especially the excellent Bill Hartston, you would think they were describing rugby or similar with the florid descriptions on offer. As they say, I never knew there was so much in it. I am still blissfully unaware of the 40 move rule, why there is a need to write things down (surely enough people are watching) and more than puzzled at why there is no second hand on the clocks, but I thought it a positive and enlightening spectacle even if Nigel Short is exactly the sort of swotty, anti-hero type who got bullied at school. I can't remember the last championships being this good, or is the memory on the blink again?

There must, by the way, be a fast play version of chess lurking in someone's head. You could run it off a card system or perhaps use a Football Strategy matrix. For instance: Kasparov, playing white, opens with the Ruy Lopez card (it saves all that tiresome moving around). Short counters with the Sicilian. Kasparov plays the castle card, black retaliates with an Opponent Error (Basic) and uses the extra turn to play his Bishop Power Diagonal. Two cards later, he plays a Perfect Pin and nabs a rook. Struggling, Kasparov goes early to his Exchange Queen card and surrenders two pawns in the process. Short accepts the swap, plays the Extreme Mental Duress and Killer Instinct cards, casually tosses a Hurry Up Offense and a Perfect Endgame on the table and whups his ass. All over in five minutes; maximum enjoyment, minimal fuss, no need for high priced tickets and plenty of time for the Speed Chess for those who enjoy the longer game.

Lambourne Gamesday was on again at Ipswich recently and, with a new venue, several new releases and a solid day's discussion, was the best for some while. Terry Goodchild launched a number of new computer games (mainly Spectrum (!) but gradually approaching mid '80s tech with forthcoming Amiga versions), Ryder Cup Replay complete with Battle at the Belfry (the '93 supplement), a National Hunt add-on module for The Sport of Kings, and also a new chapter in the excellent World of Motor Racing series. The latter features the British Touring Car Championships, notable for providing some amazing TV action this Summer. Terry has recreated the tracks and races to perfection with just enough bumping and lead changes to make the feel spot on. The odd thing, given the dozen or so drivers in the race, was that it felt exactly like a race game even though no-one was making any decisions. I think the cars were running on atmosphere. There were even some More Metric Milers (including revised Bannister, Bile and Morceli cards, the latter being a wee bit useful) for those, like me, who can't get enough runners for this outstanding game. Also due, but sadly failing to appear, was Darren Edwards with his four player Sumo system being unveiled for the first time. In his absence there was much speculation about how it would work, and I suggested Tag Sumo as a working title the mind truly boggles, but I hope it has both 'ring' action and perhaps stable management (shovels provided) as well. I will hopefully be playtesting this in the near future and a review will appear as soon as the product is available. As ever, details on the Lambourne range are available from Genial Terry Goodchild, Lambourne Games, 15 Millview Close, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 4HR. Tel: 0394 388102 and his Sporting Deals Soccer cardgame should be available soon after Christmas. Can't wait.

On conventions, there has been much talk of Avaloncon recently, both from people who have been lucky enough to get across and from those who are just surfing the not inconsiderable buzz. The general reaction seems to be highly favourable and many have asked why I don't make a visit. Well, there are a couple of reasons: the main drawback is that from what I have heard, the emphasis is firmly on competitive AH gaming which is not my cup of tea seemingly in contradiction of the current trend as outlined recently in BRoG, I neither play much at cons nor care for the baubles on offer. While it is possible to play outside of the tournaments, this seems to defeat the object somewhat. Secondly, there is no trade presence aside from AH, which is fine for them and good business sense, but not likely to draw me in as someone looking for the interesting spread of product found at Origins. Not that I would make a special trip for Origins either, you understand, but if I were in the vicinity the chance to see a lot of unusual stands would be a draw. Thirdly, it is held in August which means peak airfares and, on a very personal level, I don't much like taking my holidays at that time of year after Labor Day only for me. All things considered then, it is not an event that holds much appeal but I can see exactly why it has created the significant impact it has and, if the service it offers suits you, I can definitely pass on the recommendations of those that have been. On the same subject, what did cheese me off was missing the Calgary convention (run by the CWJ crew) and Steve Zanini by about three days this didn't please me, but did at least prove to my dad that even if every holiday just happens to coincide with a games convention that I don't go to them all...

Despite its title bearing next to no relation to the game, Ransom has been one of the better games to emerge recently. Like the two following games, it isn't the best system ever to appear, but it does work very well and, at your discretion, it could stand a few outings. The trouble of course is that there are so many other good games out there, but this at least plays in about 30 minutes and is worthy of your time. The theme is construction, a fine and noble industry, portrayed through buying plots of land, bricks and labour cards, as they are offered, in order to fulfil a range of contracts that will appear throughout the game. All of the cards are tradeable at any time and, as it is unlikely that you will get exactly what you are after, you will need to trade a fair bit. The contracts are for various sizes of building and carry different profit margins and bricks/labour requirements. Additionally, they must be fitted exactly into the land grid to build the three block hospital, you thus need three adjacent plots. You have to work out what you are willing to pay for the cards throughout the game and try to strike a balance between buying everything and having to pay premium prices when you are, literally, one brick short of a load. The game is quick, exciting and reasonably taxing. This is all packaged in a video box, with outstanding laminated components for the price, which is just £12.95. Interesting.

Jolly Roger is a nice enough little card game. The theme is pirates (again) and the idea is to play a round of trumps to establish a pecking order for the pirates and also to decide trumps for the next hand of cards. There are a couple of wildcards thrown in which have special powers, namely Ben Gunn and the Black Spot, but broadly it is plain old trumps. What sets it apart is that whoever has the lead at the end of the hand gets first dibs in the treasure chest. This involves taking face down counters, representing either doubloons or rubbish, up to a maximum indicated by a treasure card. You can keep drawing until you either hit the maximum or decide to stop (in both cases you keep the points) or draw a rubbish card (in which case you lose all the treasure earned that turn). If, at the end of your draw there is still treasure to be taken, the next pirate in line gets a turn and so on round the table. This is good fun, rather like Pass the Pigs, Gold Connection or Can't Stop where you know that extra draw is risky, but it might just work. The last game I played saw me draw nine straight treasures on the last hand to take the game overall. A very good filler.

Amigo's Stamp was a pleasant surprise. Looking like a kids game and bought essentially because it has a proper reception bell (Shop!) included, it turned out to be an unusual, fun and surprisingly heavy game of bidding and collecting. The idea is basically to buy stamps at auction which you then sell back in collections to the country of issue. Stamps come in three colours and with three emblems and each country buys only strict combinations of these Monaco for instance buys only sets of three stamps all in the same colour. The purchase price of stamps goes partly into the issuing country's kitty and partly to the auctioneer. Having bought a range of stamps and making up a valid set, any player presenting a set to that country claims the kitty to fund future purchases and, if the stamp shows the right flag, he gets a first day cover of which five are needed to win the game. The fun element is that each player takes it in turn to be the auctioneer, thereby bagging half the sale proceeds, and counts slowly down from twelve to one. At any time a player, including the auctioneer, can ring the bell to buy at the last stated price. Continuing the ongoing chicken & egg theme of German game design (did it have a theme first or was it just a system in search of a topic?), Stamp is clearly all system and, in truth, the subject nearly didn't stick. The links between the various actions are tenuous and I don't think it would have taken much to work it out rather better, probably involving stamp collectors. This in turn would probably have made it easier to learn. Anyway, once you have cracked what is going on and roughly how much you should pay for the stamps, this is a good little filler game that will see the light again. Not, however, one for late night play because of the noise.

Ulrich Blenneman writes to tell me about his new company: Moments in History. Their first game is due out before Christmas and is called Triumphant Fox: Rommel's Finest Hour which covers the battles at Gazala. Objective Kharkov will follow in the new year. While these titles are of little interest to me, forthcoming subjects include South Mountain (GBACW system) and a strategic Napoleonic game, which certainly is. For details on these games, contact your local supplier or Ulrich at Rosental 76, 45529 Hattingen, Germany. All the best with the venture Ulrich.

In an era where there can't be too many kids who haven't at least tried a console game (or indeed spend most of their waking hours using one), it is a little embarrassing to admit that I was exposed to a Sega Megadrive for the very first time last week. Thankfully I was able to stop at experimentation and appreciation of its strengths and then gently put it back into the box to be returned from whence it came. The slight trouble was, while I had no time or skill for Sonic or Mortal Kombat (a pretty sick game, it must be said), I was damned impressed with the Electronic Arts sports cartridge featuring John Madden Football and EA Hockey. The former, good as it is, I can live without but the hockey was something else. Realistic skating, checking, sound effects, shots and enough action to keep me playing for two hours solid not quite bleeding thumb syndrome, but close. I can hardly suggest shelling out on a Sega for this alone, but this is the ice hockey equivalent of Kick Off 2 and I can offer no higher recommendation. I can only hope that the PC version is on a par.

I have made a little flurry of computer game acquisitions recently, namely Fields of Glory, Syndicate, Sim Farm and a couple of new courses for Links Pro. As a result of the Sega conditioning, I am sorely tempted by NHL Hockey but this will mean attaching joysticks (gasp) to my PC which is after all meant to be a 'business' machine. On a slightly more justifiable basis there are also Privateer and a new version of Elite which look stunning and Sim City 2000, judging by the recent Equinox, is going to be mind blowing. I also detect a major buzz forming on Masters of Orion and may be tempted to investigate this. The jury is still out on Sim Farm as it is far more complex than I had imagined. This is no bad thing as it lets you do just about anything you might wish to do on a farm, including speculation in Strawberry futures. I just need more time with it really. If only it were a British farm then we could lose those wretched silos.

The best of the batch was Syndicate which really grows on you and is shaping up to be one of the best. The scenario (your global corporate versus the rest, victory effected by performing one-off missions) is a little odd, but then Bullfrog never do quite manage to cover all the bases. Tactically, you get to control up to four drug-enhanced cyborgs who drop into various cities around the world and try to perform the said missions, sporting shotguns, gauss guns and flamethrowers. The task may be as simple as bumping off a rival colonel or rescuing a couple of scientists or as stressful as taking out every enemy agent in town, and they are mental. The game is undoubtedly violent and cynical, but the graphics are outstanding, so that's okay then. The intro sequence is almost worth the money alone, the Blade Runner style isometric cities are huge (but way too clean) and you can run around them at will, even to the extent of driving the cars and tanks and hopping onto the monorail carriages. You can't see inside the buildings, but you can go in I'm sure internal detail will come in later games. The strength of the system is the simple mouse click control that has redefined tactical games I can only wait for the skirmish gaming equivalent but ultimately I think we'll need two meeces (or two PCs) to really get there. I have two complaints; you guessed, I'm sure. The first is that a major element of the game is just plain silly. The culprit is the Persuadatron device which converts enemy scientists, civilians, police and probably stray dogs to your cause. Like the Moonies really, only far quicker. The result looks ridiculous as the newly devoted drones follow your agents around (taking bullets on your behalf) in an ever growing crowd resembling nothing so much as a school outing, "Tarquin! Leave that tramp alone". Equally odd is that throughout the considerable mayhem, the civilians often keep strolling around as if mass murder with miniguns and burning police cars are an everyday occurrence the game is badly in need of a panic algorithm. The other hitch is that the later scenarios get a little 'puzzley', but that is understandable and par for the course. The ever helpful Pete Bartlam at Games & Jigsaws gleefully informs me (in his best John Peel voiceover) that there will be extra scenario disks so it's a touch of the old 'Charge 'Em £50 for the game and an extra £20 for the chance to play it for a while' problem, but there is plenty of mileage in the basic game. Whatever, a very impressive system, good enough to get us cheering our evening's successes, and the add-on disks will feature air strikes and multi-player missions running over a network. Wow. Given that Formula One GP also offers this feature I can understand the anti-games backlash in offices. Now where is that Novell catalog...

I can't imagine how I managed to miss off Eamon Bloomfield from last issue's shop guide put it down to a mental aberration. Eamon has long been an acknowledged expert and primary source for European games as well as a fascinating range of obscure and interesting general titles. For instance, he can supply both Peloton and Hokej '92, as well as stocks of hard to find items such as the very latest releases, Ostindiska Kompaniet and Spionage. He currently has a shop at Games Corner, 76 High St, Watton, Thetford, Norfolk IP25 6AH Tel: 0953 883007, which is well worth a visit if you are in the area and he also provides a monthly list for £8 per year that covers both in print titles and a massive range of collectibles. Eamon has sent me a couple of sample lists recently which confirm exactly why I stopped subscribing they are just too tempting by half. The lists include a page or two of commentary on the latest games, Essen, variants and so on which makes for fascinating reading. The latest issue announces that Eamon and a group of friends are considering publication of limited run games aimed at the hardcore gamer market, designed by the likes of Eamon, George Crawshay and Derek Carver. Sounds good to me. Drop Eamon a line if any of this appeals.

I recently sold my copy of Hare & Tortoise (the German version, with a hedgehog replacing the toitle) to Dave Farquhar who expressed surprise when he found a cassette tape in the bottom of the box. On playing it, after some tinkly jazz, came a description of how to play the game, with a family chatting away, laying cards and so on. While I haven't yet thought it right through, this strikes me as a great idea. Imagine opening Empires in Arms or Up Front or Die Macher to find a tape with the designer or an experienced playtester explaining how to play the game in much the same fashion as you or I do at any game session. That could well have given me a two year start on playing Up Front's opaque but worthwhile system. I am not suggesting this as the only way to learn, you could still ignore the tape and read the rules or combine the two, but if you were stuck on a complex and important rules point (as with the start box confusion in Rheingold) it could help no end. Even a description of how to play the game would help to clear up any discrepancies or misunderstandings and I can't imagine it being too expensive. We could even end up with celebrity voices doing the intros. Go to it. PS the latest Canadian Wargamer's Journal tells me that Ulrich Blenneman's new game, mentioned above, will contain a ninety minute audio tape. Spooky.

It is unusual for me to come back to a reviewed game apart from in the letter column, but I will make an exception for Modern Art. Every time we play this game it seems to get better and better and I would go as far to say it is destined for greatness. This of course represents a significant upgrade from even my very positive review, so I was wrong in the best possible way. I have played it ten times or so now, the balance is near perfect, I am still finding play options and am not even remotely bored with it. The tactical discussions that were going on soon after release (whether it is better to sell, buy or establish a balance) are still as fresh today and are testament to the game's depth. I know it is an expensive purchase, but it is close to ideal and if you haven't yet played it, please do.

I have made something of a tough decision recently, but one that was long overdue. Basically, I have decided to stop buying RPGs and ASL. Having been slowing considerably, the former stops immediately and there will be very few exceptions. Despite some interesting new systems, I don't think I have been impressed sufficiently for some while and, on the systems I hope to play, I have enough modules, rulesets and scenarios to take me well into retirement. Chances are I will never get to play most of them, or indeed any, but if seems pointless compounding the situation. Much the same logic applies to ASL where I have piled up all the modules and scenarios yet am still working through the first 25%, using the SL rules with ASL 'bolt-ons' as required. I have recently bought the first half of Kampfgruppe Peiper, which is an impressive but thin package, and will complete this game, and that will be it. Having supplied most every conceivable counter, map and scenario situation (at a price), I just feel it has now run its course and don't really see where it goes from here perhaps Beyond Squad Leader on the computer will show the way. My great regrets (on a system still close to my heart) are that the Annual drifted slowly but inexorably away from SL and that Deluxe ASL failed to become a commercial success as this, for me, was a great idea. Hopefully these two resolutions will reduce my annual outlay on games in general and let me concentrate more on the games that are either on the shelf or likely to be more of interest to me.

Both new editions of History of the World are now with us and, on your behalf, I have undertaken extensive testing. The conclusion, perhaps surprisingly, is that things are much the same. Little has been done to 'correct' the 7th epoch British Empire problem, which I never regarded as much of a problem anyway I feel the card allocation system sorts this out well enough and if you are fortunate enough to get Britain, good luck. Both games play in much the same time and still, to my mind, slow up unacceptably with five or six players. There are slight changes throughout the rules, Gibsons even change the combat in favour of the defender, but the key difference is in the event chits. Gibsons have gone for epoch related piles that cleverly constrain historical events to their correct period, but it is still sufficiently random to keep players on their toes. AH have opted to initially deal out a handful of cards, some of which must be used in a specific epoch, which can be played throughout the game. The Gibsons version has some useful cards showing VP values and arrival data and has some nice thick counters though tends towards the garish. The AH version has the better graphics and production values, and I do like their event card system, though for some reason they insist on compulsory naval deployment. The downer is that it costs £35 as a grey import here, almost twice the price of the Gibsons equivalent. You pays your money and takes your choice I plump for the AH on balance, but only if you can get it direct from the States. The good news is that this game is back in print and doing well, the AH version selling out its first run.

There has been a savage decline in the standard of Strategy Plus since the demise of Brian Walker. I make no comment on how Brian went as I have heard a dozen different conflicting stories, but suffice to say he is gone and possibly starting a rival magazine, somehow, somewhere. The new editor, our old mate Steve Wartofsky, really has no idea and is screwing up the magazine seemingly without effort. I think you only need look at the new crop of American writers, weak reviews and pathetic attempts at humour in the letter column to get the drift. Whatever I might have said about Brian Walker in the past, he at least made an acceptable job of editing more apparent now with his absence but the current situation is a joke and they have lost a reader. Meanwhile over at the big rival, Computer Gaming World, I note an advert for Girlfriend on a Disk software. You can chat her up, make suggestive small talk or presumably take her home to meet your parents. And yes, you get graphics. Sad, very sad.

Once Upon A Time is finally out from Atlas Games. To be honest, for the price (£17) it is a little thin, comprising just a pack of special cards and a rule set. I assume it plays rather better than it looks, which is certainly borne out by the glowing reports filed so far. The idea is to tell a story using the cards in your hand, interrupting the flow to introduce your, say, 'transformation' or 'talking animal' card and finish off with a 'They all lived happily ever after...'. It is hard to know who this is aimed at, RPG players in the main I suppose, but the box blurb is notable (unique?) in referring to the players in the feminine which may be a clue. I intend to try this in the near future, as I have been itching to play, and will report back. Two of the designers, James Wallis and Andrew Rilstone, are behind the launch of the Journal of Interactive Narrative Studies, the first issue of which will appear early next year. I am pretty sure it will cover interactive fiction from all the angles, ie CD Rom, PBM systems, experimental novels, paragraph games etc although I suspect it will be specialising in verbal interaction, but it might be of interest to some of you. It certainly is to me both the editors are known to me and I have high regard for their work. JINS can be contacted at 29a Abbeville Road, London SW4 9LA and they are looking for articles.

I have no idea quite what the sale of the Virgin Games Centres to Rhino will mean, but if London is anything to go by there could be a lot of computer games and RPGs and not too much in the way of anything else. Mmm, I wonder if Tony Berry will be selling Leisure Games shares? The upstairs department has been transformed into a set from Alien, complete with rusty bulkheads and loud screams played over the PA. Good to see the latter died a rapid death, let's hope The Games Centre doesn't as well. It all seems a long time since Hanway Street.

Just Games have recently received new stocks of Cathedral, a quick little two player game that works well, offers good replay value and is superbly made out of two colours of wood. The game is a challenging problem of placing various shaped buildings into the city walls while your opponent is doing the same. Any buildings left out at the end count as points against you, the bigger the building the more penalties they carry, and it is probably best to play a series of three or five games. Excellent. Continuing with the wood theme, Mark also has some sets of Deluxe Jenga that come with five flavours of wooden block, all expertly cut and sanded, in a luxury wooden chest. Very nice indeed, though at £34.95 substantially more than the £10 being asked for Jenga. The rub is that Jenga is set to disappear soon so this and Tyrant's Tower may be your only option.

Bandu is MB's recent release which takes Zoch's infamous Bausack block building game and packages it for the mass market. I must admit I had some reservations when I heard this, wondering if we would get cheapo pieces, but the conversion is excellent with the wood being of high quality (better than the original if anything), a good set of English rules and instead of the sack it all comes in an attractive box. I wish I could tell you how much this one is in the States, I guess c.$30, but all I know is that is substantially cheaper than Bausack (currently around £40 here). As there is no real downside to buying this version over the original this seems like a good deal to me. Pester your local gameshop until they get some in. MB have also released Omega Virus which is a highly impressive piece of kit. About six square feet in size and needing batteries to drive the game control computer (a real chip with voice synthesis built in), this is a game about an alien base, full of nasties, who will do damage to your agents as soon as look at you. The clever theme is that you are searching the rooms for an access code, against the clock, and the computer remembers just about everything that happens in the game (and, of course, randomises it each time you play). It reports what is happening, throws abuse at the players ("Human Scum!") and monitors the real time deadline. Amazing, good fun, but loud.

Backpacks & Blisters got played almost as soon as it was published and I have to say I was rather disappointed. There is nothing wrong with the game as such, even the production has moved on despite the lower price, it is just that I was expecting another design of a similar stature to HotW. As it is, it represents a family route planning game on a par with Auf Achse okay, even fun at times, but no great challenge and the systems are not interactive or clever enough to appeal on that level either. In fairness, I don't think B&B (one of the most appropriate acronyms of our time) is designed for the same gaming market if it is, it is a bit of a let down. The game certainly works but I found it to have little repeat play value, not least because we spent far too long scanning the map for locations we now have a helpful guide produced by John Lyne. Far be it from me to offer marketing suggestions, but having released a hardcore wargame, miniatures rules, a true gamer's game and now a family type effort, perhaps the Ragnars need some new divisions or names within the company so that we know what we are buying. All that said, I have no doubt at all that it will appeal and sell to walkers of both the gaming and non-gaming variety. This is going to be far better than anything they have ever seen or experienced and I would imagine the discovery of B&B to be similar to me finding a playable game on fractals, Fabergé eggs or mountain biking (the natural enemy of the walker, by pure coincidence). Dave Farquhar is half gamer, half rambler (whereas I am half man, half biscuit) and his review is inside.

Probably as a reaction to the price hikes at Essen, I have received a mailshot advertising a new show in Hennef, Germany on 24-27 February 1994 called Mein Steckenpferd which I think translates as My Hobbyhorse! Not exactly the ring of Spiel '93, but that's their lookout. I get the idea that the show covers all hobbies with an emphasis on children, so the chances for adult game sales may be limited. The good news is that stand prices start at DM105 or about £40. The show is organised by Expo Concept, Zeunerstrasse 19, 45133 Essen, Germany for those interested. Judging by the show manager who appeared at the Lionel stand at Essen touting for business, Michael Bruinsma is pushing his Eindhoven convention as well it will be interesting to see how these pretenders pan out. But what is wrong with holding a show in a town with aesthetic appeal?

A few quick notes to finish off. Those dealers charging upwards of £50 for Avalon Hill's Dune will be pleased to know there is a French edition coming out this Autumn from Jeux Descartes the cover art has changed, for the better, but the components look very similar. Worth a look for those of you who have been hunting this one for a while. Mmmm, might be time for a retrospective on this ace game... Merfyn Lewis assures me that Caspar's Mafioso, a game of almost mythical quality and collectability, will be republished next year by a UK company. I've heard this rumour for three years now, but you never know... the chain of Past Times shops have a new range of games in stock, including Cathedral and and Retro, the art history game. The latter is packed with, um, extremely difficult questions... Esdevium have a new American game in stock, Distant Seas, which covers Merchant Marine activities in the sail, steam and modern eras it's on the playlist for next time... Hartland's Revolution seems to have delayed until May 1994 but may be followed by a couple more titles (18xx?) in an unprecedented burst of activity, though see the letter column for an explanation of my hesitancy... At Essen, I managed to track down a supplier of D10s numbered 1-10 rather than 0-9. That supplier is Chessex, who also do the latest version of Wizwar, and the dice can be obtained from most wholesalers via you local game shop. Little things please little minds... The excellent House of Marbles range of books mentioned last time actually comprises four titles. The one I had missed is Card Games and this is as good as the others. Around £3 each plus postage or from Karen King, House of Marbles, Pottery Road, Bovey Tracey, Devon TQ13 9DS. Four further titles are promised in 1994... Also on books, John Lyne waved a lovely volume under my nose recently which is a must have for fans of Spin Again and all those other picture books. The title is A Collector's Guide to Games and Puzzles by Caroline Goodfellow, printed by Quintet/The Apple Press... Ludodelire have been busy recently, pushing out the long awaited Silverstone track for Formule De along with some neat little whitemetal cars to replace those in the set painting skills required here though. They also have a new big box game out called Terrain Vague which seems to feature child gangs fighting for control of a junkyard. More when I have the rules... On a similar theme, there is King of the Sandbox, a game about playground rivalries, from the intriguingly named Howling Falcon Cross Dimensional Trading Co... Chaosium have finally released Credo, a card game of early Christianity looks interesting... Finally, for those who move fast and get hold of a copy of the Telegraph, you can join in their postal Fantasy Football league for the princely sum of 50p. The rules look clear and logical, effort is minimal beyond initial selection, the drudge is being handled by a big type computer and the whole thing looks fascinating. I'm tempted, I really am.

Mike Siggins

On to the review of Freight Train or back to Essen - 24 Exits From Mulheim.

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