Inside Pitch

Judging by the letters, most of the subscribers obviously like Inside Pitch but, to be honest, it doesn't really have much substance. I believe I has a place though, and I enjoy doing it. In the same way Vasey has his Back Pages, Clifford his The Guvnors and Birks his Sweepies, I have Inside Pitch. It is simply the place that all the 'other stuff' goes into and is reliant on what I have seen, thought about or done in the previous couple of months, hanging loosely around sport and gaming topics. This time I am woefully short of things to write about (which is one of the reasons why it would be tough to shift Sumo to bi-monthly) but I guess it has to happen anyway.

Firstly, I need some help. I have book after book about the Tour de France and most have a table of the overall points winners but none tell you exactly how these points are awarded. Is it simply 10 for a stage win, then 9 etc down to 1 for tenth place or is it staggered like Grand Prix scoring? Help please!

OK sumo fans, diaries out. After all the rumours, sumo is indeed coming to London next year and at last we have some firm details. The venue is the Albert Hall and the dates are 10th-13th October 1991 and the action seems to be in the evening. Tickets are priced at #100, #75, #50, #35 and #15. I am already buttering up my contacts at Nomura to see if they might consider some corporate entertainment! If I don't get a freebie, I would be keen to organise a block booking for anyone interested but at these prices I think I'd prefer pre- payment. This information was gleaned from the Sumo UK Fan Club Newsletter for which I can't find an address at the moment. Sorry.

So what else has been happening with old Siggers? Well, as you will have spotted we went into the ERM just as everyone was packing up to go home on a recent Friday afternoon. This singularly boring event is unfortunately rather important to my job and thus myself and many pundits had been trying to pick the date for ages. Typically, having waited on and off for six or seven weeks for it to happen, Siggins was in the loo when the news broke on Reuters. I emerged to find the markets going absolutely bonkers and I had to take some profit on a big dollar position. Thus started fifty minutes of frantic dealing where I actually needed two phones, shouted a lot for effect and finally got to do the classic 'OK, buy 25 dollars at 20' which I have to admit I've wanted to do for ages. Jeez, was I buzzing. I closed out the group's year end hedging, made $600k profit (which pays for the department for a year), floated out of the office and was on a major adrenalin high for the whole evening. I was unbeatable at our weekly games session that night! Amazing stuff, I can see why proper dealers get off on trading. What it did for me was boost my enthusiasm for the job and life like nothing else recently. The long dormant Siggei-Dow is moving into an uptrend.

There have also been some stirrings in the UK game industry, but boy do you have to look hard. Charles Vasey showed me a mail order toy catalogue recently that had a few surprises. On one page it had three English editions of the Franckh/Perlhuhn games including Wabanti and Muller & Sohn. The nicer surprise was that these are retailing for just #10 and presumably will be around in the shops soon. What with English versions of some Mattel games (Cafe International is now out) and Jumbo doing us proud with steady releases, things are looking up.

Elsewhere, Past Times (the essentially kitsch 'heritage' shops) seem to be pulling games out of the air. Most recent is By Jove, a game about gods and heroes which I would be keen to get a 'played' rather than 'bought' report on, but they also have The Viking Game, the promising Expedition (Egyptologists tramping round the pyramids), The Hieroglyph Game (a neat 'word' game) and some others at reasonable prices. Worth a look at one of their shops. After Mike Clifford's bargain hunter tips last time, I investigated various branches of Woolies and came away with a good selection of games at giveaway prices. I am now the proud owner of Capital Adventure, Trump and Willow, none of which I would have paid full price for but I'm glad I picked them up. I also laid down stocks of Flying Carpet (still, I believe, the lovliest production of any mass production game) which is actually an English edition that I never knew existed. Keep those tips coming.

There is little news this time on the collecting front this time except to say that 1830 does indeed seem to be in short supply and was not to be found at Origins. New supplies of The Really Nasty Horse Race Game have surfaced (the price must surely drop soon) and Evolution, once considered extinct, is now back on the shelves in numbers. The big tip for imminent scarcity is MB's Fortress America that joins the long list of earlier Gamesmaster series games that are now reaching silly prices. Rumours of $100 price tags are already reaching me from the States and I suspect we will see Conquest of the Empire levels before too long. It's kind of sad really, because the game is far from great. Another old game worth picking up for the pure collectors out there is Hansen's Football Fever. Eamon Bloomfield sold me this one after a tip from Michele Montagni and it is quite amazing. If you like gridiron or nice bits, this is a must.

I had hoped to have written reviews of Wrasslin (AH) and Red Empire (GDW) for Sumo this time but frankly I can't be bothered. Thankfully, Gary Dicken has come to the rescue on Red Empire and his review and rules fix should be around here somewhere. For me, these are two of the worst games to emerge from these prestigious companies which is doubly sad because I was looking forward to both. Both systems have similar failings; they are mechanical, boring, lacking in skill or need for thought and almost totally unrewarding in play. Arguments as to their being introductory, simple, tongue in cheek games don't wash - even these games should be fun to play. Both games have already been sold, to buyers advised of my views of their shortcomings (!), and I hope for better in the future. Incidentally, I just received Strategy Plus 2 this morning and see that Wrasslin' gets a Walker Special non-committal but favourable review. Are we playing the same game Brian?

Elsewhere, TSR have finally produced Battle of Britain which looks great but has a few problems - more next time as it needs an in-depth piece that I don't have room or time for; 3W have released Modern Naval Battles III which adds even more cards and different aircraft rules; the AH version of Showbiz is out and looks artistically dreadful (what's happening over there?), New World is also out for fans of big, long games and after that who knows. Sea Hawks looks to be a way off yet, but Code of Bushido (ASL) and Republic of Rome should be with us soon. With the Pound at nearly $2.00, once again the prices of American games are becoming dodgy. New World is a $25 game, it retails at #21.50. Time for the Visa card methinks.

New games on the horizon (that I'm interested in) include some indications that the States is quickly moving onto the Modern Naval Battles-inspired card game bandwagon. Most interesting of these is Express which is due from Mayfair. This is a railway empire building game using cards which sounds great. Can't wait for this one. Steve Jackson Games have designed a card version of Car Wars and several boardgame companies are working on various historical subjects. I must say I'm quite keen about this development but hope the games are well designed rather than rushed out to catch the wave.

Elsewhere, several new modules are coming for the excellent Ars Magica, Mayfair have the Watchmen Sourcebook that should make for a good read and Chaosium are releasing lots of Call of Cthulhu stuff along with Knights Adventurous for Pendragon. Sleuth (I think now owned by Chessex) have released West End Adventures for the Sherlock Holmes game. Nova have Captains and Privateers coming soon which is a naval game using the Ace of Aces book system, currently much in favour here in the shape of Jet Eagles. Game Leaders, a new company to me, have announced El Dorado. This is a beer & pretzels game featuring Inca idols and staggering artwork by the look of it. Well, that lot should keep me quiet over Christmas.

At the moment (21/10), I have no way of telling what delights may surface at Essen. I have only heard of 1835 (German 1829/30) and Airlines as definite releases so far, but please see the attached Essen report which should be typed in the few days between arriving back laden with games and posting this issue. I am flying out on the Thursday evening and will try to see most of the stands on the Friday before the bulk of the rumoured 100,000 vistors show up at the weekend. This attendance figure is frightening - it was packed enough last year. I have vowed to restrain myself this year as my game buying frenzy last year was rather worrying. I should really leave my wallet at the hotel but I know I'd crack eventually - the only days I'm safe are at the weekend when I can't get to a bank for more Marks! My improved resolve is based on the fact that I have most of the old games I'm looking for now, so I should be able to resist the secondhand deals. That leaves the new games releases which should be around a hundred or so. Jeez.

The really sad thing about the Essen weekend is that it co-incides with three other conventions in the UK. The annual Gamescon was on over in Essex, Gaelcon was on in Ireland (I wouldn't have minded going to this one) and another appealing first was Boards in the Forest, just a few miles from me in Epping Forest. If anyone would care to let me know how these went off, I'd be grateful.

Did I mention Kick Off 2 last time? Well, I'm going to tell you again anyway. This is the new version of Kick Off from Anco which is available for most micros. Kick Off was excellent, KO2 is better. All the annoying little problems have been resolved like slow goal kicks, hopeless goalies and the long ball rolling into touch. The most useful upgrade is the selectable pitch surface - we play virtually all our games on 'soggy' which makes for a good, tight game with fewer goal kicks and corners. The goalkeepers have been upgraded in ability but most now play like Grobelaar used to, running all over the box. A great game feature is 'after touch' that lets you bend passes and shots - mondo.

Anco have also thrown in a World Cup replay module which we have run through once already with Holland beating Austria 2-0 in the final, but otherwise broadly realistic. What is most attractive about the game is the ability to develop your skills gradually. It takes some persistance but eventually the one-twos, through balls, lay-offs and headers start to come off and the quality of play rises accordingly. The only difficult act is scoring from free kicks. No-one has yet managed it and we have a prize awaiting the first curled set piece goal. If, for once, I can go for the big sign off - Kick Off 2 is the best two player action computer game so far.

According to the little piece of yellow paper to my left, I am now signed up for Sky TV with movies and am looking forward to some decent hockey, basketball and the latest Woody Allens. Of course, just as I sign, network TV decides to get back on track (not least the sensational Lycra advert) and I have again been watching selectively. PS. Timing Siggins, timing. Just as we sent off the agreement the news broke on the BSB/Sky merger. Talk, however apocryphal, of the three sports channels merging into one did nothing for my confidence and I have cancelled until the dust settles. Oh well, I've been without it for ages, a little longer won't be a problem.

Star Trek: The Next Generation has been good in parts, but why is it that proximity to a starship reduces acting ability to Woodentops level? Blake's Seven suffered from exactly the same disease with the symptoms being terminal overacting, unbelievable characters and uneccessary shouting. That said, the special effects are rather good and the plots have been, well, acceptable in the main. The one where the Enterprise got whisked to the edges of time, space and the universe was a winner but I can't understand why they wanted to come home - surely the chance to literally be where no-one had been before is the whole point of their existence? I suppose they have to report in to Starbase to earn their salaries. I'm also not sure whether the serious and sensible captain is a good idea but the agressive and not un-attractive security officer and the Klingon with the Play-doh face are major pluses. Overall, it is something I will set the tape for (due to the dumb screening time) and will save for later 'background video' listening.

The two anti-soaps have also been raising some eyebrows: the low key and occasionally subtle Fresno and Twin Peaks which, for the hype and David Lynch alone, had to be worth a try. Fresno sneaked into its obscure C4 slot without warning and although a little overlong and likely to pall quickly, I find it quite watchable as late evening humorous fare. Teri Garr, of course, has nothing at all to do with this decision. Twin Peaks is too intertwined with Lynch's psyche to be tackled separately and as such has to be taken in the same vein as most of Lynch's stuff; good to excellent in detail but strangely unsatisfying overall. Worth it for Agent Cooper and the Log Lady, but disappointingly weak elsewhere.

In the short slots I have been enjoying the French import of The Ninth Art, a considered documentary looking into the history of the latest media fad of comics and graphic novels, but the voiceovers could have been translated better. Also late on a Sunday evening is the excellent Into Print which not only revealed much inside knowledge about DTP and design techniques, but offered fascinating viewing in the form of the 'how it used to be done' pieces. The sadly very short section on the master printer and his masses of metal typefaces was the most interesting TV I've watched for years.

The best repeats recently though have been the re-runs of the first series of Cheers. I am ashamed to say I only watched a couple of these first time round and decided they weren't funny, only picking them up later in the series, so the chance to see them is not to be missed. Sam is noticeably different (definitely pre-voice training and a touch of the Vidals required I think) and the humour is less subtle, but it's good to have Coach back.

I have to admit to watching Top Gun again (four times now, gosh) which really is a film I should dislike for a variety of reasons but it wins me over every time. I have got so involved with the soundtrack, the silly bar scene, the tacky phrases ('Turn and Burn'), Cruise's cheek and that amazing hardware that it has reached cult status here at the Siggins residence. Even my dad enjoyed it and he never sits still for more than an hour. I expect it will be on every Christmas and Easter for the next few years anyway.

On that subject, I see Dune is now appearing with some frequency, probably because every time they do a Lynch feature it has to be either Dune or Eraserhead/Blue Velvet which are not really appropriate for sensitive souls - both are very weird, the former strikes me as pretentious crap (Whoop. Whoop. Jarman Alert) and the latter is probably a bit rude even for C4. I know Dune has flaws (its excessive length for one), but I am growing to like it and I still haven't read the book. The more I watch it, the more detail and cinematic talent becomes apparent and I now think it is probably something of a minor SF classic to rank with Blade Runner, Terminator and Aliens. Bummer of the month was setting the video for Ran while I was in Essen and finding a lost hour due to the clocks going back.

Although I got a small sackful of letters this time, not one even mentioned the shy and retiring music paragraph that I sneaked in last time. I strongly suspect this is because music chat still falls into the politics and religion field where it is almost pointless talking about one's personal tastes. Most people seem to keep listening to Philip Glass, Genesis, Merle Haggard, Bartok, Charlie Parker, Anthrax or NWA regardless of whatever else there is around. For these reasons I don't normally bother with any of the three but for the second month running I have to make an exception.

The reason is Was Not Was's What up Dog? which has not only blown my socks off musically but has also been played almost continually for two months. The big draw of the album is that there is no one style of music. There are sixteen tracks, of which perhaps two and a half are duff, that go through the whole stylistic range. There are ballads, dance tracks, R'n'B, silly (but witty) songs, soul anthems - the works. Every song is almost instantly memorable ('Somewhere in America' should be a classic), the lyrics are universally brilliant. Every track is played by a top notch selection of musicians that have been astonishingly well produced. The CD has rarely sounded better. OK, so I quite like it. Buy it, you can't be disappointed. I have to thank the eclectic Paul Oakes for the tip (and the tape) on this one.

At long, long last Apple have decided that they want to sell some Macs within the price range of the home user and I was sorely tempted to rush out and buy one of the new machines which go for as little as #600. I have been a long standing fan of the Mac and have always coveted even a basic model, while the Mac II with 24 bit colour is very approximate to my dream machine. However, when I sat down and read the very objective PCW reviews I found that aside from a smaller footprint and some more RAM I wasn't going to get anything more than I can presently do on the Amiga and PCs at work. Given that I would definitely want to re-buy Word Perfect (I've still to find a weakness in this package) the whole system price quickly moved out of my range. The current plan then is to keep using the PC (with the superb Allways basic dtp extension for Symphony) and the Amiga until I find it can't do what I want anymore in the WP area (this will be a way off yet) or until Macs come further down in price with a higher spec. I take all this as conclusive proof that I am very nearly cured of impulse buying.

Late News: My reliable US sources tell me that 3W are on the verge of selling S&T to Cummins Enterprises and are on their last legs financially (again). I'm not surprised at this news given their recent releases like SS Amerika and Nato, Nukes and Nazis - who needs them? This must of course cast a shadow over Jim Dunnigan's editorial role as Chris Cummins will presumably take over the helm. Mr Cummins has made some shrewd moves over the last few years and seems to have crept up on the industry to take a commanding position. If Moves returns, as was promised in a recent F&M, he will have a virtual monopoly on pro boardgame magazines. Only Command stands alone (we'll politely ignore The Grenadier and Counterattack). Interesting times.

I am pretty sure, for those nearby, that The British Museum has an exhibition of old boardgames on at the moment. I suspect it will run to the new year. Though if it is anything like the disappointing Fakes season, you can probably safely forget it.

Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information