MS: Let's get last issue's controversy out of the way while I'm feeling upbeat...

Pete Birks, London SE27

Sorry if I accused you of 'elitism'. In your case, I accept that 'exoticism' may have been a better word since, yes, I do know you better than that. I guess you were the poor bastard who put his head over the parapet just as I was thinking about people who only watch sports which other people didn't (you know, street hockey, croquet, four day county cricket, that kind of thing). I assume that 'NBA' and 'NHL' are to do with basketball and ice-hockey, but your use of such initials indicates a certain elitism, does it not? If I didn't know that they were your interests at the moment, I wouldn't have a clue what you were referring to. Perhaps 'elitist' is the wrong term and 'exoticist' is wrong also (much though I like the word). The phrase 'ahead of your time' seems more apposite. Maybe you genuinely get bored with sports just as we lumpenproletariat are learning about them. Thus your shift to something more 'exotic' gives an impression of 'elitism'. Then again, you might be an elitist git. But I doubt it.

MS: OK, these are fair comments. Yes, the initials could be taken as elitist and that is exactly the way they were used last issue. As long as we are clear on my not trying to get one over on people by being the first kid on the block, the 'ahead of my time' phrase sounds about right in a modest kind of way. I am afraid this all stems from my American Football stance where, because I had followed it for years before the C4 coverage, I got over-exposed very quickly and started getting bored when most others were on the crest of the wave. Baseball, basketball and hockey have filled the gap to some extent but, yes, you do seem to have me neatly summed up.

Brian Walker, Ealing

Calling all sports fans. Homas Tour will almost certainly be republished next year, and by a major company.

I was surprised to see you asking for a (software) baseball system. What's wrong with Earl Weaver and Hardball II?

MS: Earl Weaver and Hardball II are game by game simulations and do not realistically permit the full replay of an entire baseball season. I was talking about games on a par with soccer management games and was therefore looking towards a much higher level 'macro' system that enables one to play the hundreds of games required and still retain some management and trading potential. Avalon Hill did a Pennant Race-based computer game but I never got to see it and the reviews were not marvelous.

Great news on Homas Tour (from Jumbo I understand), I can't wait. It is about time this one was available to more people. Hope this answers your questions Rob and Giorgio.

Alan Moon, Lancaster, New Hampshire

A game you have to have is Cannae, if you don't have it already. Cannae is a Jean du Poel job with round wooden pieces that have hand drawn and coloured Roman soldiers on them; beautiful.

The other game that looked especially good was Sindbad (Flying Turtle) so this was the first game we played. Good idea but too much luck involved. Played Treasure Hunt (Jumbo) after that; it's one small step above turkey.

Got the latest issue of Command in the mail today. have no idea why. Cummins is publishing a special magazine with a Sevastopol mini-game and a complete index for S&T, Moves, Wargamer and Fire & Movement.

Big News. Craig Besinque called me last week. Eastfront (Columbia) is on again. Carig and Tom Dalgleish took one last stab at it and came up with a new, simpler system. Should be out in December. It will sell for $50 but you get 120+ wooden blocks plus a beautiful map so it's probably worth it.

MS: Cannae sounds good but we know what Jean du Poel's games are like.... Good to hear the latter news. If it's a patch on Rommel in the Desert it will be well worth it. Keep the news and views coming, it's always welcome.

Stephan Valkyser, Aachen, FRG

Yesterday, I played Romer again. Slowly but steadily we are finding out some good strategies. It's really a good game: my current rating stands at ****! We've played MB's 20 Questions too. Horrible! A turkey rating.

I did not include Abalone in my Hall of Fame list because repeated playings showed a stalemate-like situation which can easily be achieved by both players. If one arranges his marbles like this:

    * * *
  * * * *
* * * * *

with two marbles to be played anywhere, one's position cannot be attacked successfully. Since you have two marbles left there is no fear of a Zugzwang (a situation where it is mandatory to move, even if this becomes a drawback for you). So, if both players make for safety, there is nothing left to do in this game. Perhaps not a good 'simulation' of Sumo Wrestling (haha).

Yesterday, I heard some good news: Adel Verpflichtet has won the "Spiel des Jahres" award. A very good choice by the jury!

MS: Mmm, well I beg to differ of course but this was inevitable when the competition was taken into account. Yes, I had spotted that Abalone got into a stalemate very quickly but I hadn't worked out this fiendish perfect plan. Any suggestions for solving this one? Why don't we have marvellous words like Zugzwang in English?

Giorgio Salvedego, Marghera, Italy

I found your idea about setting up a rules bank very interesting, and the funniest thing is seeing included some Italian manufactured games. In fact the now defunct International Team Co. has produced great games on the graphical side, but often weak on the gaming side. This opinion is commonly shared by Italian gamers, both sportsgamers and wargamers.

I have divided the gamers in two sides over IT because IT was the only game company in Italy that released sports related games such as Mundialito (soccer), Superbowl (Am. football), Playoff (basketball), Thalassa (sailing) and Rally (rallying). All these games were great on the components side, great counters, colourful boards, but nearly unplayable as a whole. For instance, in Superbowl, if a couple of guards were able to win the dice war with the defensive tackle, the usual dive of the fullback had the same effect as a screen pass from Montana to Rice!

However, A good friend of mine, Danielle Pagnutti, has rewritten and and redeveloped the whole Rally game and has made a wonderful game.

I have to admit that maybe most of the Italian gamers suffer from a chronic inferiority complex about the production of Italian games. I can guarantee that the worst game in English you can imagine would be more appreciated in Italy compared to any domestic game. The power of a foreign language....

Don't ask me why, but if Italians don't get coloured boards, heavy cards, thick rulebooks in English (and a nearly unreadable photocopy of the translation) they do not consider the game worthwhile. The clearest proof was the reaction of most gamers when they saw, for the first time, Lambourne's Soccer Replay. Most had heard good reviews of the game and they waited anxiously to see and test the game. When they saw the simple envelope etc they panicked, but forgot it after the kick-off (remember I live in soccer land, alas). It's just a matter of habits.....

MS: I don't think it would be exaggerating to say almost everyone worldwide agrees with you about IT. What amazes me is just how many games they produced before they (or the buyers?) realised. Nevertheless, some of the IT parts are inspiration enough to get out there and make it work or re-write from scratch. Thalassa has the best sailing pieces of any game and Rally is great too - you even get little metal Lancia Stratos cars. Good to hear about the Rally fix, for anyone interested it is on its way and hopefully I can get it translated soon.

The question of game aesthetics is also a problem over here. Quite a few players react badly if faced with a game kit or a game that doesn't have top notch components, even if it plays better than most. One friend of mine instantly turns his nose up if I break out anything less than a professional product, but I slap him about a bit and he plays anyway. Avalon Hill have a lot to answer for! Once you have experienced one Lambourne game there are no problems but the initial shock can be enough to put some players off completely - and these are far from poorly produced! As you say, habits die hard. And now, the Dicke Kartoffeln backlash...

John Webley, Salzgitter-Bad, FRG

I wasn't so struck with Dicke Kartoffeln as you. I agree that it looks lovely but we found producing potatoes to be sadly unrewarding. Worm farming is definitely a viable alternative and if I were desperate for a double win I might follow this path with a minimum of potato growing. I suspect that at one point in the devlopment it was definitely the most lucrative option. The rule preventing movement of worms from bin 1 to bin 2 has the air of a tacked on rule sealing off a flaw. I also find that the bourse shuttles are very unstable. I'm not at all sure their positions were always rightly replaced after the numerous spills. The holding back of seeds is not prevented anywhere in the rules. I'm far from clear whether the authors meant it to be done or not. I must admit to being disappointed with the game when we played it.

Charles Vasey, East Sheen

Not having played the game I cannot comment on the play style but I would have thought that the non-active farmer should be dealt with by some scale of eco-points per sack produced, so that victory goes to the man who optimises the two. I was interested to see that the function of real ordure has been subsumed into the worms (presumably to avoid the game having turd counters!). I can already see a game based on the Barley-Beef cycle, possibly with rabbits, sealed pig units and ramblers as alternative crops. However, the ingenious idea of allowing seed stocking should be re-considered. One seldom (if ever) uses ones own seed due to disease risks, instead one buys controlled seed taters. If you want to keep seed you will have to increase the chances of bugs zapping the crop. Thanks for the tip on the game. Didn't Business Strategy have a market mechanism?

Peter Gehrmann, Herne, FRG

Dicke Kartoffeln is an excellent game, I enjoyed your review.

Pete Birks, London SE27

I like the sound of Dicke Kartoffeln, although, as some critics seem to have said, this namby-pamby idea of two 'winners' leaves a bone (or a potato) in my throat. The last game I can recall which specifically denied a winner was 1914. But at least there was a point to this. 1914 was a draw before the first shot was fired.

However, I expect a little tweaking could produce an overall winner and were I not on a self-imposed economy drive I might well pick a copy up.

Eamon Bloomfield, Addlestone

Dicke is a poor game. You cannot defend it on the grounds that other people are using a poor translation (in your words 'The usual misunderstanding of German rules'). I have had my rules looked at by Joe Nikisch, owner of Abacus, and he agrees they are correct. I agree completely that the game is nicely produced, and has some interesting ideas. BUT, there are flaws and there is no point in ignoring them. The ecological winner is a sop to the Greens of this world. It is not a game issue. The game is, and should be, a business game. You cannot have two winners in a four player game. It goes against nature (if you'll pardon the pun). As for the money making side of things, you don't buy a game and expect to give it a slight rules tweak before a glitch is cleared up. Slight rules tweaks belong in development and play testing, not in after sales reviews. The sell/demand charts don't really work very well apart form being printed the wrong way round. If you think about it, if there is a shortage of something then the market should encourage you into that area of growth, but in this game, because you know that if you produce something over and above what was produced, the price will drop! Luck plays an enormous part. The event cards are swingeing in many cases. And worm sales do win games. You are quite right, game players aren't as negative as that, but it is a poor game that leaves a loophole like this in it.

MS: Surely the bourse demand/supply mechanism works? If the demand level is set at, say, 10 sacks and players produce a supply of 12 then this is over-supply and the price will rightly fall. If 10 are produced that is equilibrium (thus no move in price) and less is under-supply with a corresponding price rise. This seems to be how the game works and is true to demand/supply theory.

Paul Jefferies, Petts Wood

Thanks for your very helpful review of Dicke Kartoffeln, it changed my mind completely about whether or not to get the game. What clinched it, of course, was playing it for the first time the other day and thoroughly enjoying it. As a group we decided it needed a few tweaks in the rules to even it up a bit.

  1. Pesticides were far too expensive, we never even considered using them since there are only three event cards (of sixteen) that actually warranted using them. Suggest dropping the price here.

  2. Bank price for worms is too high at DM80. Suggest halving this. Plus, in the end of game count up, rules say DM50 per worm!! Odd, seeing as everything is in DM20 denominations. Suggest DM40 as well.

  3. Not enough paid for having a good field at game end. Suggest raising to DM100.

  4. Finally, we couldn't understand why the Germna rules place an artificial limit on the number of fields ploughed in the first round. Not having polayed it without this rule, I don't know if it would affect the game much? Any advice?

Anyway, an excellent little number and one I shall most certainly be trooping out to buy it.

Alan Moon

Dicke Kartoffeln is just one rule short of potentially being a great game. Now all we need is someone to volunteer to spend the time to perfect that final rule. Wonder if Stuart Dagger has a copy? Of course, I'm only talking about the victory conditions and the need for reducing the number of winners from two to one. Should be a simple matter of coming up with a system for converting points into money or money into points, after first calculating the scores in the normal manner.

MS: Well, mixed reactions. At least, as I had hoped, we are getting some discussion on these games. I think we can agree here that Dicke is a good-ish game with a few weak points that should have been eliminated in playtesting but shouldn't be too hard to cure. Unlike some of the above writers, I don't find having two distinct winners a problem but that is me all over. The problem with the worms would surely be best solved by cancelling the rule completely and making worms purely for fields? I also suspect that the game's success depends on whether or not you get into the subject. I did, but I can understand that others won't, and this probably came through in the review. The criticisms from other parties of repetitiveness and processional game systems may have some foundation but again, I didn't notice it. Good to see our Mr Dagger acquiring a deserved reputation as a game tune-up and lube expert.

Charles Vasey

I have to agree about the lightweight games, but the true problem is lightweight reviewers.

Eamon Bloomfield

A la Carte isn't quite the disaster you say it is. I think it is pleasant, mindless fare. I guess, when you've invented Die Macher, the only way is down. And why the dig at Favoriten? A lovely game with a simple but very clever mechanism. I think Hans Dampf is wonderful. Apart from the production values, the game works well. I would guess you have only tried it with four players. Try it with eight. It is chaotic and the crying and begging for coal rises like a banshee from the games table. And where can you buy Hans Dampf in this country for £15?

I think you are missing the point on some of these games. I call them end-of- evening games. There will always be a marketplace for lightweight games. My own game Family Business must come into this category as well. And you mustn't forget that the vast paying public don't play long, complicated games.

Denis Arnold, Felixstowe

I totally agree with Stuart Dagger's reports on Franckh games. I've got Maritim and Muller & Sohn - the quality of everything is really superb.

Yes, our crowd (well, six of us) still play Six Day Race; mainly as a fill in after a shortish game of something else - about five or six times a year. We also enjoy 'the appalling' Traber Derby (even my wife and adult kids have played it twice!). However, like you, I tend to find Die Macher, Schoko, 1829/30 etc rather heavygoing and much prefer games that are fun.

Nigel King, Leicester

I can confirm that you are right about 'Traber Derby', it turned out to be a 'play once' game and is now gathering dust on the top of the wardrobe. I might play it at Christmas with the family but as a club game it is definitely a no-no.

John Webley

I think you were a bit hard on the lightweight games. They're not designed for games groups but rather for family groups, mostly people who won't play a game they can't pick up quickly. I'd agree with you about A la Carte mind you.

As for direct mail order, I'll try to enclose the latest Adam catalogue. They're very friendly and their prices are good. They charge DM 12.50 p&p for the UK for orders over DM 175.00. They stock all the Franckh games for starters.

MS: The lightweight games piece was obviously badly written as I personally don't have much against the games themselves (they obviously have a role in the market and I quite liked Favoriten to start with) just the fact that reviewers have been failing to point out their simplicity and that they are family games. I have spoken to several gamers who have paid out £15 or more for Traber Derby and have been stunned by its basic, non-repeatable gameplay. The phrase 'Is that it?' when explaining such a game system is starting to become a little too frequent. Favoriten, though better, doesn't have a lot more to it.

I am encouraged by the continuing interest in the great 6 Day Race and am intrigued by Denis' comments about Traber Derby. Are we using the same set of rules Denis? I loved the unintentional '.... but prefer games that are fun' statement which says it all really.

Thanks for the info on Adam, John. The catalogue is very comprehensive and is reasonably priced. For instance, Adel Verpflichtet is DM 31.80 (£11), Shark DM 36.00 (£12), Karawane DM 49.80 (£17), Dicke DM 53.50 (£18) and Cash DM 16.80 (£5.50). Adam can be contacted at: Friedhelm Adam, Konigsberger Strasse 10, D-6360 Friedberg/Hessen, West Germany. Tel: 06031/5029.

I am obviously on dodgy ground here with the dealers and importers who see the magazine, but I am all for healthy competition and suggest that we give Adam a try, if only on a cost basis. The price for Adel is particularly good and there are plenty of other bargains. I would be interested in any experiences of ordering direct. For instance, how long do orders take, do you get clobbered by customs, are they well packed, do you think we should support UK retailers etc. I would also be interested in hearing about other companies offering mail order. Don't Spielbrett send games abroad? Spielbrett have one of the best catalogues and had some ridiculous bargains on display at Essen last year. Gosh, it's nearly time for Essen '90. Better get the wallet psyched up.

Eamon Bloomfield

I hope, but no promises, to start up importing Eurpoean games for distribution to the hobby. I am friendly with most people in this trade and I reckon I can get the games cheaply enough and I am willing to supply them in singles, then many more shops will try them. With my connections in the States, I may be able to get obscure American titles as well, so that will give my trade lists an even more unusual look.

MS: Good news. Eamon runs a postal games service that covers not only current games but obscure, collectors items as well. Prices are generally very good value and the monthly lists are available from Eamon Bloomfield, PO Box 30, Thetford, Norfolk IP25 6UZ. My only comment is that the lists are so broad ranging and reasonable that the temptation to buy is horrible. I very rarely get through an entire list without succumbing to something.

Dennis Wilson. Boston (Lincs)

I'm surprised at your claim re the lack of rugby simulations. Lambourne do two - Sixth Tackle and Line Out. I've got both and you're welcome to a loan of them if you wish. It is a pity that Terry Goodchild does not get the credit he merits. In my opinion he's the best thing in the UK games scene at the moment - every release is a winner and some like International Test Cricket and Snooker Champion are superb.

MS: You'll get no argument from me as to the merits of the great and good Mr Goodchild but sadly his rugby games didn't really work for me. Being as the only other rugby game I know of is the incredibly poor Try! (this one is closer to draughts than rugby), I am still looking for something more on the new Scottish national game but suspect it may be the hardest of all sports to crack.

Charles Vasey

Er, can we have a list of what is in the rules bank (as well as not in).

Alan Parr

Glad to see the rules bank developing. Can you include a list of games for which English rules are available in future issues?

MS: Consider it done.

Eamon Bloomfield

Games Hall of Fame. What can I say? No Run Chase. (MS: Eamon's cricket game!) My own Top Ten sports games would change from month to month. There were some strange (to me anyway) omissions: Kegler Kings (a stats ten pin bowling game), Formula One (surely the first motor racing gamer that any of us played - and I know it doesn't stand up to Speed Circuit), Des Lynam's Sports Trivia (I wrote that one! - But then I like Des Lynam), World Class Football (I am surprised no-one nominated this attempt at stats soccer - a noble effort), Paydirt (one of my all-time favourite two player games), Go for the Green (the best of the non-stats golf games around at that time) and Time Travel Baseball (the only baseball game where, if you played in the future, you could kill a player with hit- by-pitch).

Giorgio Salvedego, Marghera, Italy

My personal sports game hall of fame is (in spread order): APBA Bowling, Replay Baseball, International Cricket, Pressure Putt, Fastbreak, Soccer Replay, Strat football, Strat hockey, Strat baseball, Power Play, Pursue the Pennant, Speed Circuit, International Athletics, Goal!

MS: Which just goes to show that tastes differ the world over. I am interested in Goal! which sounds like a very good soccer game from the Italian firm of Clementoni. Anyone know it? Giorgio has promised a photocopy and tells me I need Subbuteo men to play it. At last, an excuse.

Charles Vasey

Good to see you thinking of doing some game kits. We need to push this area hard and gets folks doing as well as talking. The Dail Eirann game could have been done better but then it could also not have got done at all. I know which I prefer. Also, designing games, now that we have word processors, can be very therapeutic. It mixes solitary work with social work when you playtest and discuss the problems with opponents and chums. Buying kits can be off putting. It took me sometime to steel myself into doing Usuthu! but I was glad I did. The next stage is to begin to explore increasing component quality without increasing financial commitment.

MS: Charles, like me, is very keen on the flow of 'amateur' games now starting to appear around the hobby. I am desperately trying to get something done on my soccer game but, like everything, it takes a lot of time. If anyone else has workable games in the playtest stage I'd be very keen to see them, offer comments or whatever, regardless of subject matter. Response to Dail Eirann was good and I referred several requests to William. Sadly, I haven't got round to playing it yet as I need to get the players together. More when I have the opportunity to tackle it.

Pete Birks

I think it was about three years ago that I hypothesised in Greatest Hits about the possibility of the genuine 'interactive novel'. I won't be big-headed, but I will crow, in that CD-ROM occurred to me at the time. However, I will go back even further, to 1981 or 1982, when Jon Palfrey and I argued about the future of music technology. I said that CD was the tchnology of the future (right, there) but he pointed out that the information loss on CDs would be greater than that on DAT, that the entire programming system necessitated a loss of at least one in ten thousand bits of information.

Now this is irrelevant to all but the most pitch perfect music buff. But in computers it is significant. If (and I suspect it will be) CD-ROM is used for the games you are referring to, the programmers will need to do one of two things. The simplest will be to write everything twice and throw-in a duck & dive sub-routine. "If it ain't there, go there".

The more attractive option would be to make a CD gap part of the game. "If fault on disc, go to RND 109876". This would make for much toughrer programming, so I suspect the former will be the one used.

But there is a certain aesthetic appeal in using a hardware fault as a game randomisation technique.

And no, your enthusiasm counter was not way off the scale. I reckon that in five years' time, what you imagine will exist. In ten years' time, we cannot imagine. If you want a personal prediction, we will have flat screen TV, five foot by three, on which we can get a weather map direct by satellite, for anywhere in the world. Larry Niven's organ transplant prediction will have come true. Margaret Thatcher will be talking about 'four more years'. Er, the last was a joke, I hope.

MS: Thanks Pete. I had hoped I could rely on you to come back on interactive fiction which remains one of my favourite fields for speculation. As we have discussed before, the drawback to this area is the work involved for the author. Assuming we want fiction of high quality, then the author must write not one good ending but several, each with different plot lines that must remain internally consistent. We are drifting into alternative universe theory here and that is what interests me.

The first signs of development in this area are already with us. Commodore have released a CDTV system that is essentially an Amiga with CD-ROM and multi- media ports built in. After all the hype, there seems to be some confusion over what exactly it can do but the sample software includes a trip around Tutankhamun's tomb, a trip into a rainforest, the works of Bach (with pictures and digital stereo of course) and various other goodies. The price? £600 to you squire.

The latest development in what I was talking about last time is the re-emergence of Nolan Bushnell of 'Pong' and Atari fame. His latest sales drive is into 'cybergames' where you put on a sensor-laden helmet, gloves, jockstrap or whatever and interact directly with whatever is happening in the software. So, in a kung fu game you actually punch, or shoot Apache in a wild west scenario and the mind boggles over the cybergame version of Leisure Suit Larry and other risque software. How long? Three years tops.

Mike Hopcroft, Portland OR

Rick Mathews, inventor of Star Empires, is fond of a shortened Kingamker variant he invented. The intent is to produce a two hour game. This is done by changing the victory conditions: in this variant, the first player to crown the senior royal heir of either house wins the game immediately. Royal heirs are distributed randomly. The players take turns placing an heir in London, the four regions of England, Ireland and Calais. Bishops are taken out of the crown deck before the deal, and re-inserted afterwards (to prevent an immediate win by a player with lots of bishops in his initial hand). In this variant, Margaret turns out to be the most important piece in the game, while the lower end Yorkist heirs are often ignored. Since no-one can win as long as long as Henry is alive, the usual ending is for the same player to get Henry and Margaret, kill Henry, and crown Maggie immediately for the win.

MS: I have to say that this sounds interesting from the speed angle but wonder what it does to the history. Kingmaker hasn't come out of my cupboard for years because despite its flavoursome system it never really had a proper end game. Most of ours finished with all the key players at sea. I guess the system and the game is also a bit dated now. I would be interested in knowing if anyone still plays it and if anyone wants a set of these rules, I'll see what I can do.

The Game Cabinet - editor@gamecabinet.com - Ken Tidwell