MS: This has the makings of an epic letter column which I am rather pleased about. Thanks to everyone who wrote in. Keep 'em coming.
I really enjoyed Sumo and particularly liked the decision to steer clear of public bickering which, whilst being memorable, becomes tedious.
Recently, the local 'advertiser' ran a short piece on Scalextric. What's this got to do with games you ask? For me, rather a lot. During the Sixties, model car racing was the rage and it became most sophisticated. Then it fell into decline. The recent Scalextric article made the point that as there were lots of racers, why don't they get together and form a club, make a big circuit and prosper commonly? I'm tempted to correspond, as Scalextric is great fun, and if you've a turn of mind for games, you're probably a racer too. For me the gaming parallel is all too clear and I remember commenting to fellow gamers at the height of board wargaming success in the 1970's that success courts decline closely. Recent F&M articles have been jaded, but I wish the doom & gloom would be tempered by enthusiasm and vice versa: cyclic fortune is to an extent, I feel, likely to have its way with our hobby.
MS: I too feel much better for not having the feuding in Sumo. One former subscriber decided to be abusive anyway, so his letter flew rapidly binwards. He won't be seeing Sumo again.
OK, so I like Scalextric as well, but the set doesn't come out very often these days (it's the one with Porsches and skid chicanes for those in the know). Much is made of the decline of the boardgame industry, and not without just cause. I tend to go with the theory that while there are the number of companies out there doing perhaps twenty boardgames a year then the hobby will carry on, even if it is in closets. In the event of something horrible like a major company going under or AH switching to exclusive ASL/Wrasslin expansion kit production, then perhaps we'd start to get a realistic shortage of new wargames. The back catalogues though must be good for a few years gaming and then there are always those piles of old games that you've never got round to playing. As they say, we shall see.
(responding in E2000 to my comments last time)
It would be my desire to have in each PBM country a person to report about important events and new zines but maybe the subbers have to take more of an active role. I do need more support from the subscribers and as you can see in this issue, I've got the requested help from Andreas Gomolka and Hajo Schlosser. I'm willing to write one or two articles for one issue but it's a maximum, I also have to prepare the letter column and the issue itself.
I don't like to classify people or things in inferior and superior. I know Small Furry Creatures Press and Cut & Thrust but I still have the impression that British players don't set great store by the layout. I think it's a duty to mention this fact. On the other hand, I wish the German zines would have the chat quality of the British zines.
[[ MS: Fair comment. I too thought it my duty to mention the fact that all British zines aren't horrible to look at and that the British layout diversity is no better or worse than the rows of uniform German zines I saw at Essen on the impressive PBM Hobby stand. The British approach is simply different, probably more individualistic and the content is also 'better' for my tastes. For me, there is little point in subscribing to German, or indeed British, zines that contain nothing but game reports. I think, as we discussed, that we agree in general that higher production standards are good but I can't see the British changing to fall in line and neither can I foresee a formal PBM organisation as was evident at Essen and through the likes of Interzine. In many ways we need it, but I do enjoy the amateur but equally efficient feel of both the British Diplomacy hobby and some of its magazines.]]
Conjunction Capers. There has always been a strong desire amongst the Greasies to clog those who succeed commercially in the SF/RPG hobbies. Old Ian Curtis was triumphantly telling me people were beginning to see through Games Workshop as if this were the triumph of Right over Wrong. The Workshop's sins seem to be refusing to accept the insults of the fandom and simply going off on their own trip. It is not my choice of gaming but I wonder if they are quite as evil as portrayed. Old farts like me would note the general oddity of most fans (and the corresponding failure of their own lives in conventional terms) as the reason for this animus. Still, it keeps them off the streets (but not out of the woods).
Have you watched that Dungeon programme for kiddies which uses lots of back-projection and the 'sucker' with a mask on gets instructions from Spotty and Herbert in the studio? Mondo stuff indeed. The kids are usually brighter than most of the rubber sword crowd but then the effect of that mind-rotting SF has yet to build up.
[[ MS: I'm afraid an uncharacteristic rude word sneaked out last time concerning the latex weapon-wielders but they have a singular ability to wind me up. On the other hand, I have nothing but admiration for the Workshop set- up. As you say, many 'normal' gamers (especially RPG fandom) seems to think GW owe them a living or at least a steady stream of new recruits, but of course all they are doing is raking in the shekels and opening new stores all over. The targetting and exploitation (in a business sense) of their market is spot on and I know damn well that if I were thirteen again it would be Warhammer and Space Marines rather than Tanks and Hussars. ]]
[[ MS: The continuous and sustained marketing of figures, games, records, add- ons and numerous supplements is very clever and the whole 'chapter/army list' ethos is a great ploy to sell even more lead figures. What else could the GW gamers want? They queue around the block for the official Gamesday and Golden Demon shows and they now even have a luxury game club provided at the local shop. Brilliant. There are worrying angles, mainly the spooky Chaos books which are mighty strange but what really staggers me is the massive disposable income of the Irvings. Twenty quid notes are frequently whipped out of bumbags or dice pouches when I'm in there. One spotty even had a credit card and he looked about fourteen! ]]
Conjunction sounded weird. Perhaps I'll go as Wyatt Earp next year, so if she asks me about weapons I can deposit 3 colt .45s, a .41, 2 Derringers, a Winchester and a shotgun. Or just take the leaky flamethrower. The prices for Runequest memorabilia mystify me. If only I could exploit these people's bank accounts similarly, but my mind is too highly trained.
[[ MS: Sorry, I don't understand this last sentence. Runequest II does seem to have a devout (and rich) following. Personally, I just like the Chaosium 'look and feel' (especially the early stuff) but rarely, if ever, actually play the games. Others though are fanatical players of 2nd edition RQ and I therefore feel a bit bad about hoarding items that certain keen RQ players would trade their grannies for. Chaosium is, in my defence, the only company I really properly 'collect' for and of itself. Pretty much everything else I buy has to have some merit or look to have some merit. Oh, alright. Some games get bought because they have nice bits and John Harrington knows it....]]
I'm glad I missed out on Conjunction, I am surprised you went really, but you love to feed your addiction for buying games you'll never play. I'm slowly reversing out of FRP. I feel I've sucked it dry. I can well remember the obligatory trashing rival game systems. It's all fairly harmless and makes a bunch of losers feel superior for a short while.
[[ MS: With hindsight, I'm surprised I went to Conjunction too but obviously the auction was the big draw. You are right about games I will never play, but I have drastically cut back on these recently having realised the error of my ways (again). Another big game sale is imminent. I can relate to gamers slagging off rival systems (much like the eternal, oh-so-boring ST vs Amiga 'debate') but for a well respected designer to do it didn't seem right. Stafford is talented enough to realise that there are horses for courses - what would he have to say about Tunnels & Trolls?]]
I entirely agree with comments on the passing of GI. Having seen the first of the new version, I think that the number of new readers won't replace those lost (or to be lost) in the change. As you say, as a news source it was unbeatable and it brought a lot of new games (albeit mostly German) to our attention. I can't help wondering, however, whether the paper/print qualiity was perhaps a bit too ambitious for the small circulation.
[[ MS: Well, yes, but GI was aiming for a bigger circulation than it actually got so it had to try to look the part in readiness for potential fame and journalism awards. I also think the games would eventually appear anyway through the various fanzines or at conventions. I find that people do buy these weird games on spec and remember that lots came in via the backdoor only to get wider exposure in GI. Full Metal Planete and Liftoff are just two examples, he said modestly.]]
[[ MS: It will be interesting to assess how many games get away now that Strategy Plus has adopted an 'only review it if it is widely available' stance. I believe they call that a U-turn in politics. I think you can rely on me to keep exploring the obscure, minority games as will Perfidious Albion, Electric Monk and Cut & Thrust among others. There are always scattered reviews and mentions around the hobby and elsewhere, it is just a matter of keeping in touch, looking around and telling someone about discoveries - good or bad.]]
Paul Oakes has just lent me the middle period Terry Pratchett to allow me to complete my reading of the Discworld series thus far. I don't give a toss about critical backlash, I think he's funny. All of Woody Allen's films are the same [[ MS: Hrumph]], the characters of the Marx Brothers are unchanging from film to film and M*A*S*H peddled the same War is Hell joke for a decade or more, but so what? The jokes were/are good, and that's the most important thing.
I don't subscribe, however, to the view that it is difficult to write consistently funny stuff like Pratchett does. Writing original comedy is tough but pastiche or parody is much easier, and the fact that he churns the books out suggests he finds it relatively easy. He still does it well of course, and as long as the variations onm the old jokes are funny or the extrapolation of inconsistencies in the logic behind man's beliefs are still annoyingly absurd, Pratchett will be good value. Perhaps his novelty value wore off quicker in the Diplomacy hobby because stuff like his has been appearing in 'press' for years now.
[[ MS: I really reacted to the Pratchett backlash simply because I stupidly still feel part of 'the Diplomacy hobby' despite much evidence to the contrary. The fact that three or four hobby zines all commented on it, and all of them see Sumo, I angled it that way but I could just as easily have done a review of Good Omens and gone onto my usual paragraph of waffle. Your comments on humorous writing are interesting coming from someone who writes some of the funnier stuff around, so I guess I'm speaking as an outsider. See Gareth Lodge below for more revelations on this!]]
How can you say that you won't entertain Donaldson on your shelves when in the next sentence you are admitting to liking Leiber's Fafhrd & Grey Mouser? I've got both sets - and put them on a shelf next to each other! I admit I've read Leiber once more than Donaldson but ask me again in a year's time and the situation will probably have reversed. In fact, I rate F&GM well down in the fantasy stakes. But it is a good read to see how it influenced the development of D&D.
As regards your reading, it sounds like you're heading for Goethe, Schiller and Heiner, with Shakespeare for light relief. My wife and I did enjoy the Donaldson/Covenant trilogies so in case you haven't tried them, they are worth a read, despite the populist cult following.
[[ MS: My views on Covenant are based on a reading of Lord Foul's Bane which was possibly the most turgid, poorly written, uninspiring and overwhelmingly gloomy book I have ever read. This makes the fanatical following even harder to understand. Well, perhaps not. On the other hand, Leiber was a witty, fun-filled romp and excellent for atmosphere. I don't think there is much more to say as I was simply expressing a personal preference and one that pertained a few years back. Sorry, but this is obviously a case of agreeing to differ! ]]
I find your comments on books rather odd. Eschewing certain authors isn't discretion, it's censorship. To take the only two authors on your banned list that I know anything about, they've both written some unmitigated rubbish in their time but there's some good stuff too. Try High Justice by Pournelle or almost any early Heinlein, Universe for example. Sound if not brilliant hard science fiction.
[[ MS: I think censorship and banned are a little strong. It really comes down to not having time (or the reading speed) to read everything just to check if it's good or bad and on the basis of stuff like Janissaries or any of the Heinlein I saw, I had to take a decision to forget those authors. If it wasn't clear, I have tried the authors and then discarded them in favour of subjectively 'better' ones, rather than just ignoring them completely. Time is short and, long term, I can still see myself conking out with a big list of things to do and books to read and still not having got round to Shakespeare.]]
I noticed your book wants list in the most recent issue of Sumo and thought I would get our bibliographer at work (WH Smiths) to see what he could discover for you. He looked on it as a challenge and spent about a day and a half (between other queries) on it. I hope what he has found will be of some use to you.
[[ MS: Er, yes, you could say that. Enclosed with Madi's letter was a four page breakdown of the books I was looking for with publisher, ISBN, availability and price. He even managed to find about fifteen books in French on Detaille which staggered me. As a result of the list I picked up four books straight away and went on to find two copies of Shankly for Paul Oakes as well as a pinball book that is going to make him dribble a lot. I am now awaiting a trip to Paris to pick up the Detaille books of my choice. This is what a fanzine is all about - it doesn't get any better than this.]]
Actually our bibliographer is one of WH Smith's best kept secrets. Not only does he have a memory that you wouldn't believe he also inevitably knows where to look for information about books. Customers can ring him so if ever you want information on a particular title it may be worth giving him a call. His name is Philip Johnson and can be reached on 0793 616161. He has access to the full British Books in Print listing as well as the American Library of Congress file, plus of course his memory.
[[ MS: The existence of this appealing vocation is, to me, a serious indictment of the schools careers advisory service. Quite clearly, this was the very job for me and was I guided towards it? Was I heck. No, I was told to go and work for the Halifax 'because the money's good'. They really have no idea, do they?]]
I'm sure you could get most of your book wants in Hay-on-Wye. I went there last Saturday, on the way back from West Wales, and the town is one mass of second hand bookshops, some stocking 50,000 or more. The trouble is, you need at least a week to look around!
[[ MS: Yes, well, therein lies a story. I was recommended the same place by some daft bloke in a London bookshop and off we went one Saturday to check it out. On arriving we found just two pokey little bookshops with the grumpiest staff imaginable. The slight hitch, realised when we had left in disappointment, was that we'd been directed to nearby Ross-on-Wye by the said twerp. Making matters worse is that I am always ill when I go to Wales (sometimes seriously) and sure enough I had flu on the Monday. Jeez, what a country. Somebody is going to write in now and tell me they are both in Herefordshire or somewhere I suppose. Must try it again sometime, but probably when the bank balance is a little fatter.]]
Your played '5&10' times piece intrigued me. I did a quick calculation and came up with 25x10, 30x5 but this represents 35 years gaming!
I was interested to read about '5 & 10' list. I agree that there is a whole lot of rubbish not worth attempting to play a second time; our group also prefers to play something different every week - that way we do at least sort out the rubbish from the goodies. Never mind, it's time to stock up at Essen again, which should take care of at least six month's playing time.
[[ MS: I received a later, post-Essen letter from Denis who must have bought over twenty games, most of them playable so he's going to have a good Christmas (as soon as I send him the rules!). I am intrigued by your being able to find a copy of Auf Fotosafari im Ombagassa which is a tough one to dig out. Now there's an excellent family game.]]
[[ MS: It may be worth noting at this point that Alan Moon also sent in his 5,10,20 and 50 list which filled a half-page. Suffice to say Alan has played more games more times than any other respondent. ]]
Interested in your comments about how often games are played, but the same is also true of my much humbler collection. Evcen more worrying is the list of those never played or only once. At least 1/3rd of them.
[[ MS: Yes, a good point and one I omitted to mention. There is no doubt that there are lot of games buyers, as opposed to players, out there. Much fondling and cellophane ripping is done, adn I guess rules reading too, but in the end a low proportion get played. I can tell you with some accuracy that my current collection is just 60% played and my list of games I'd like to get to runs to about 200 games. Depressing, but I explain it by being a better buyer than I am a player. ]]
I've been trying to think of the games I've played more than five times. A lot of the time the frequency with which a game gets played is down to the logistics of finding the players, not the appeal of the game. Of a Sunday, four or five of us sit round at Brian Walker's well-stocked game room and go through a dozen or so suggestions before we find one we like. One of my faves is Grand Prix but getting six players willing to play it is tough. Getting them to participate in a campaign game - forget it.
The golden age for repeat game playing for me was my schooldays. Risk! took a hell of a bashing in the upper sixth and we even played Diplomacy for about thirty lunchtimes. In the Summer holidays it was Subbuteo (not the legendary angling game, unfortunately), Totopoly, Escalado, Soccerboss, Soccerama and Wembley.
Post schooldays my list of five and tens goes something like this:
10: Tunnels & Trolls (about 350 evenings worth), Title Bout (100 days worth), Acquire, Sechs Tage Rennen, 1830, Statis Pro Football, Metric Mile, Chess and Liar's Dice.
5: Railway Rivals, Shark, Abandon Ship, Breaking Away, Borsenspiel, Karriere Poker, Indiscertion, Judge Dredd Boardgame, Armchair Cricket, Speed Circuit, Der Aussriesser, Thunderin' Guns, Hare & Tortoise and Election X.
The amount of time I have spent playing Title Bout is ridiculous, but it's a fabulous game and it is solitaire, so it gets a real pounding. I suspect Metric Mile would be up there too on the 'I gave you the best years of my life' scale if only it had the same variety of um, 'runners' as TB has boxers.
Right now I also have a biological dependency on Railroad Tycoon, but that's a computer game, so it doesn't count. It almost ousts Rails West from the top spot on my list of all-time great computer games.
During my time off, I've been continuing my progress through a season of The Metric Mile. After a break of a few months I have returned to the game and think I have found a way of stopping Peter Snell winning everything. Last night, Patrick Deleze, a bit of a donkey from Switzerland, set a new Harrington World Record for the mile in a field that included Snell, Boit, Maree and John Walker. Snell's supreme sprinting from 330 yds out pulled him from 9th to 2nd but a fast pace all the way made life difficult for him. If you can tempt him into forcing just to keep in contact you can draw the sting from his sprint.
I was chatting to Paul Oakes about the game. Although he has had a copy for as long as I have, he doesn't play it solo. On the occasions he has played it, the chosen runners have all been modern dudes like Cram, Ovett (Hooray!), Coe (Boo!) and Aouita, and of course Cram has generally trashed the field (he was World Record Holder at the time of the game's release). I don't think Paul is aware of great old timers like Snell and Herb Elliot. That Roger Bannister geezer could run a bit too.
I must try and get a multi-player game of this sometime. I'd like to see if it is feasible to deliberately try and box in your most dangerous opponent, or whether it is better to run your own race.
[[ MS: The excellent news is that Terry Goodchild has recently released an expansion kit ('More Metric Milers') with a whole load of new runners from all periods but not quite as many as Title Bout, it must be said. I have to say when I play it I prefer the names I can relate to as well. Bannister and Co are always just flashes of black & white footage to me and they always seem to be running in coaldust or something with big white boots. Nope, I prefer the plastic track era and now I've got the new Ovett card (with added elbow factor) I'm a happy camper. I can't understand how Deleze could win anything, he always keeps Walker and Steve Scott company at the back in my races. ]]
[[ MS: When we first played the game together John (Baycon 1988?), it was the first time that I'd seen tactical running to box in runners, but in practice it didn't work too well as it involves slowing from the pace and if you are mucking around at the back, some opportunist normally hares off at the front. Either way, as you imply, an excellent game. ]]
I agree with almost all that was written about Dicke Kartoffeln last issue. As a game for gamers it needs more thought, though I am sure that Charles Vasey was right when he said in PA that it probably wasn't intended as a game for gamers. However, I reckon it is sufficiently interesting to be worth persisting with and at present it sits in a corner of my desk at home with a 'try and fix' label on it. I'll let you know how I get on, if you are interested, but at present all I have is a reasonable way of producing a single winner. For this you score green points at the end of every year (but without the pointless '-55 Starting Value'); your final game score is then cash at the end plus ten times the accumulated green points.
Not in need of more thought is William Whyte's Dail Eirann which is excellent as it is. A half game, which was stopped when one of the players had to leave earlier than I was expecting, left everyone enthusiastic and keen for a full game which we had about two days later. A third game is now high on the agenda.
Don't be put off by William's estimated times for the game. They are on the generous side. In the half game we had five players, four of whom knew nothing about the rules when we sat down, and still completed 8 of the scheduled 15 turns ina round two hours; in the full game we had four players, one of whom was new, and finished in three and a half hours. As for improving the appearance of the game, the way to do that is to abandon William's counter sheets and use the pieces from your 'Risk' set. The quantity is sufficient, the size righ, the colours suitable and the fact they have to do double duty as both seat markers and markers doesn't cause any confusion.
I have some 150 hours on Railroad Tycoon and can get up to a $6-7 million retirement on level 90 (don't like to use dispatches). On level 100 I tend to stall out 40-50 years down the road around $4m when the rails get too clogged up. Great game but I'm letting it rest now as I just began Their Finest Hour. I finished Starflight II in June, enjoyed it, also built several 100,000 population cities in Sim City and like that game. Can't wait for Silent Service II. My dad was a junior officer on diesel subs in the '40's and I flew P3s in the '70s so I am anxious to see how the game feels.
[[ MS: Ed sounds like the ideal Strategy Plus subscriber! Send that man a freebie. I agree with all these sentiments but I've done nothing like the in-depth play Ed has. Sim City is a classic and Silent Service is still unmatched in the sub stakes. Where I am deeply envious is on Railroad Tycoon - I am still waiting for the Amiga version of this incredible game. Hopefully, I'll get it in time for Christmas. Interesting to note that Ed is a pilot and logs his hours on games as well as planes. I'd hate to see my gaming log for the past sixteen years!]]
Murphy seems very clever, but I keep making mistakes in recording the card colour. Philip Murphy is the reviewer who wrote the crap Romer piece, no doubt.
Murphy I played at Manorcon and it was hard going with six players. It's one of the few games that probably works better with less players.
Dicke Kartoffeln - excellent, but I disagreed a little with the rules translation (Saatgut should = crop, rather than unit of yield). My German is rather rusty A level. Last Days of Pompeii - what an odd game. Beutifully produced. I love the volcano erupting and destroying the town bit by bit. Having played it once, I'd play it very differently next time. ie race round the outside, trade, pick up a few expensive clients, then hope for the eruption card as soon as possible.
[[ MS: Rusty A-level German does in fact qualify you to translate Lieber Bairisch Sterben if you have any inclination to tackle this fascinating thirty page rule book on the Bavarian peasants revolt. No, thought not. I haven't played Pompeii yet, but it sounds as if I should but at #25 'special show offer' at Mindgames, I think I'll wait for it to get 'remaindered'.]]
Wrasslin retails at a good price (#12) and is a reasonable risk for a few laughs and an evening's entertainment. We've had seven or so goes at the basic game and enjoyed it, it's great to have such a game in the collection which is fun and can be played quickly as a 'wind down' game or when time is restricted. The components are great fun and leave the player in little doubt that the game is meant to be light-hearted. We're now hoping to get into the, ahem, advanced game very soon; after a few playings the player naturally gets curious to find out what else is in store in the game as the basic game's limitations become evident.
[[ MS: Well, there's another view but I can't see where the humour came in - it certainly wasn't from the wrestler names or the artwork. On balance, I was probably too depressed about the facile gameplay to get big laughs from Wrasslin'. Sure, I can see that it will serve as a quick fill-in and that it probably is fun with a few players who have indulged in a crate of Thunderbird, but I was really hoping for a little more than this. Oh well, I said exactly the same about Doomed Victory, Indian Mutiny, Napoleon's Battles, A la Carte, Traber Derby and so on back into the distant past.]]
Role Playing Game of the Decade has to be Ars Magica, it has the background since Runequest, the best magic system since C&S and the easiest environment for realists like myself since Pendragon. Actually, it is easily compatible in feel to C&S but simpler for the nerds who never did understand BMF ratings. Very simple, very clean and it has a good feel.
[[ MS: I have recently gone out and bought Ars Magica II (plus some expansion accessories) on the basis that I have heard so many good things about it. Unfortunately, there are not enough of us down here to get more than a one on one game going so I'll have to wait for a suitable occasion. I agree with you on the systems though, very clever indeed. Let's hope it can make a go of it, especially at the new lower prices. I see there are several source books and modules out for it already. I don't know about you (I was a C&S fan by the way, I always played a Forester! What a wimp.) but Ars Magica strikes me as a quality product in most ways.]]
1830 was absent throughout Origins and Atlanta, I wanted to buy a copy at the favourable dollar prices but even AH didn't have any. In fact, all AH had were a collection of computer games for the Mac, some new SL/ASL boards and a game called 'Wrasslin' (ych a fi!). Republic of Rome (which I've been drooling over for months) was not yet out. Why O why are there virtually no medieval boardgames?
[[ MS: Well, I concur about the lack of medieval (and ancient) boardgames and I guess the real reasons are lack of knowledge on the part of the designers and lack of period interest from the market (or if they say they want them, they don't buy 'em). Me, I'm quite keen, having recently had a resurgence of interest in the period. The person who may offer some short term salvation is Charles Vasey who recently showed me his Flodden game which is, if I may be permitted a rare usage, excellent. It is tactical and fast playing but feels like no other medieval game I've played. In short, it is pretty damn close to an ideal simulation but works superbly as a game as well. This one should be out soon as a game kit, I will keep you posted through Sumo. Charles also has the potential classic Chariot Lords (an ancient game about the fertile crescent featuring Egyptians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Hittites and all the minor players) at the final playtesting stage. This one is a cracker, and I have over 20 hours at the pointed end as a playtester to base this on. Finally, Charles' much longer term project is a strategic game of the Stephen and Mathilda period.]]
[[ MS: For these reasons, I would have thought Charles' Perfidious Albion (75p from 75 Richmond Park Rd, East Sheen, London SW14) would have been right up your street? It's one of my favourites and often features intelligent (ie over my head) discussion on medieval subjects. It will be especially good over the next few of issues because Dunnigan's S&T Men at Arms is imminent, as is Kadesh from Command. Both of these could be good, indifferent or plain appalling. The latter is likely. Elsewhere, I hear of two or three late-Britannia variants based on Spain and Germany which may be worth looking into. Also of interest will be Welfen & Stauffer spotted in Essen. See the report for more details on this one.]]
I played a German game last week. Not sure of the title but it concerned the ecology of a pond with pike, carp and snails. It was very interesting but, on first playing, appeared to have a major problem - players who make carp breed help all the players to their left and not themselves. Conservative play might cause the game to stalemate as the players' pikes are starved of food. I have a few ideas about solving this problem and look forward to my next game.
[[ MS: The game is Hecht by SBV (or Dicke Karptoffeln as Mr Vasey suggests), designed by Tom Schoeps. I picked up a copy in Essen and understand it to be a good game, if a little dry and tactical. In fact, I am not sure that the carp rule isn't an intended feature rather than a bug - remember the occasional German passion for co-operative game systems. Perhaps a review might appear soon from someone? Either way, I'll be playing it soon. Any comments on the above 'problem'?]]
One of the nicest surprises recently was opening the 'Space Crusade' box. It looks like MB have analysed the strengths and weaknesses of Heroquest and Advanced Heroquest and developed a super looking game for up to four players. The theme is 'Space Hulk' but the components seem a lot better (I don't have Space Hulk). I've read the rules but have yet to play due to there being a lot of figures to remove from their sprues [[ MS: you should see Mighty Empires]] and sculpt off the fixing dross. The figures are so good that they demand to be finished properly, though I will stop short of painting them. It looks like there are a lot of thoughtful decisions to be made in this one, moreover there are incentives for the Space Marines to be co-operative so we don't get this nebulous 'party' idea.
[[ MS: Co-operative Space Marines eh? That seems just a little out of character, 'OK Corporal Thark, cover me with your death grinder and I'll make our tea tonight'. This surely must inspire the Co-Op Chapter! Guess their logo.]]
What about Le Grand Tournoi - one of the great rugby games, but not a simulation!
[[ MS: One of the great rugby games? How many can there be? Either way, if you can find me a copy I'd be interested. Argghhh, I've still got the fever.]]
By the way, isn't there a German game with elephants and logs? I read a review a long while back in a Diplomacy zine but can't recall the details. What is it? Is it any good?
[[ MS: Sounds rather like Elephantenparade to me, by Ravensburger. Of the simple family games it is one of the better ones but I'm not sure of current availability. Check with Just Games, Westgate Games or Eamon Bloomfield.]]
I enjoy your reviews even if I don't always agree with them. However, I've found that gamers seldom agree on what is good or bad about a game so why should we be any different? Whereas you seemed to dislike the the clock mechanism in March Madness - I thought it was the key ingredient to the whole thing. The added time pressure it provides - not necessarily to end the game - but to determine how much time you have to react to your opponent's cards, or even expose them, before playing or discarding your own. Many is the game I've lost because an opponent rolled 21 on the first throw and resolved my best scorer before I could place a card. As for the abstraction of resolving all of a player's points at once... that is admittedly a kick in the pants to the realism types but a necessary sacrifice to playability. The overall feel of the game I found to be quite satisfactory, and very different to what has appeared heretofore. It certainly earns points for creativity and is a heluva lot more playable than most serios stat basketball games and with a lot more player- originated strategy as well.
[[ MS: I agree on the originality and the strategic flexibility, it simply didn't feel like basketball for me and as you say, that is a personal choice. I am not sure the realism freaks alone will balk at the scoring system (I am not one of them for a start), but as you say, the design for effect choice is valid. Since the review, both Mike Clifford and Bruce Wilson (experienced sports gamers whose views I respect) have reported that the game is actually excellent in recreating the to and fro of coaching strategies and it gets the big thumbs up from them and many others. I have played it again and still find the same problems, but am willing to go with the flow on this one. Either way, it's streets ahead of Wrasslin'!]]
I see we agree on some things however: Adel Verpflichtet. My gaming acquaintances are all quite taken by the game and I must admit it is both clever and fun, but still it isn't God's gift as far as I'm concerned. For one thing, I won the only game I played against four experienced players despite not knowing what I was doing half the time. This alone doesn't necessarily make it a bad game but I question just how much of a game of skill it is. Of course, in the general games market skill is a dirty word so perhaps that's not all that important.
Received Sumo and your letter today. Great stuff in Sumo even if you have totally missed the boat about Adel Verpflichtet. Must be your natural inclination to rebel and hate things that everybody else likes. But why do you like Football Strategy which is exactly the same kind of game, the strategy in both consisting mainly of outguessing your opponent? Love it when you use expressions like 'tosser' and 'one off', although I'm still confused over the usage of the latter.
[[ MS: Football Strategy vs Adel? Ummm, are we talking same league here? Granted, Adel does have the element of outguessing but for scope, availability of options, flavour, excitement and replay value, FS wins hands down.]]
Having read your opinion on Adel Verpflichtet, I'll tell you mine.... I think that the game mechanics are very clever and quite innovative. The gamers here at Milton Bradley really liked the game. But when I played it socially at home with two couples, it didn't go over too well. Non-gamers found it to be too long, not fun, not engaging. You can't please everyone. No game can please everyone either. You have to have the right game for the right people.
AV is a great game that I would rate as having classic potential, but only for avid gameplayers. A 45-minute game with a nice blend of strategy, bluff and luck is a welcome relief when most gamer-games take hours to play. Four-player Cosmic Encounter (with no optional rules) delivers the same payoff for me. But for non-gamers, the game does not have enough interaction, it is not a funny game, the letters on the cards have nothing to do with the theme, there is no safe way to stop a player who is far ahead, the game is too long, it has lots of rules etc. The game bceomes endless and repetitive 'Pick a card, resolve auctions, resolve shows' ordeal instead of an enjoyable social experience.
As a game designer and manager in product development, I am glad that I own a copy of the game. I will play it with the right people at the right time. In the meantime, it stands as proof that there are still new ways to play games.
I do not agree with your opinion on Adel Verpflichtet that there is 'precious little information and data to draw on' and that 'you play the people and not the game'.
In fact there is a lot of data to draw on: 1) A player with two thieves in jail is in a bad position. If you are at the castle with him, you can exhibit without danger. If he is in first or second place, he won't get much from a detective, so he is likely to exhibit too, so an occasional thief can hurt him effectively.
2) A player, who has fallen far behind, is likely to play detectives in the castle, especially if the bonus for exhibitions is 2/1 or 3/2.
3) The most important thing is to memorize the number of cheques the other players hold, or at least who owns the biggest cheque at the moment.
Here's my strategy: Try and enlarge your collection at the beginning to at least seven or eight pieces and score points with the occasional detective in the castle. Five spaces for a successful detective will bring you back into contention. You should exhibit very carefully and almost never with three or more players in the castle. If you are in possession of the current largest cheque, grab very old items (1600-1799) in the auction (uncontested!). Ten or more items in your collection will bring you the eight points at the end. Make sure you have the best collection at the end of the game. If you exhibit only rarely and stay behind the pack, the other players a) won't know how many items you have and b) will think you are no winning threat.
I do agree there was no worthy opposition for Adel Verpflichtet this year, but the 'no award' option is not fair.
[[ MS: True, but it was controversial! Thanks for the tips Stephan, shame everyone gets to read them and beat your impressive unbeaten record. Didn't I say that Adel's fans said, 'you play the people and not the game'?]]
Adel Verpflichtet. OK but over simple. Your ability to write two sides on it is therefore very clever.
I disagree totally over Adel Verpflichtet but then I expect you've heard that from a few other people. I find it an entirely new system, a completely new theme and superb graphics. With plenty of interaction and I'd say more clues than you'd suggest, I really can't see why you're so disapproving.
I rather agree with you over Adel Verp. Quite fun, but the way I play it, little more than guesswork. But, good to know we agree - at least we're in a minority of two!
Can I put your mind at rest on Adel Verpflichtet? I don't much like it and I suspect the reason for my dislike could strike a chord with you. Basically, when I play the game I don't get any vibes from the subject. It is an abstract game and not enough atmosphere has been injected into it. With something like Schoko & Co it is easy to imagine you are running a chocolate company, not because of the components, but because the decisions you have to make bear some relation to the decisions made by a factory owner. I don't get the same empathy with Adel V.
I will still play it, because it's fast, neat and simple. Brian Walker rates it very highly, partly, I suspect, nbecause he's very good at it. He's also good at Liar's Dice; the latter, I feel, is a better game than Adel because you really are playing the other players and not the game. The other thing about Adel is its lack of tension. I put it in the "So What?" category of games.
[[ MS: These excerpts are the exact response to last issue's review of The Game of The Year. I am surprised that there are not more favourable comments but I guess these people are happy enough playing it and don't need to write. ]]
[[ MS: Bearing in mind I didn't intend to belittle the game, I have taken these comments (both good and bad) on board and have closely monitored the game since. My conclusions are that it may be just slightly better than I thought. The main factor in my upgrading the rating was watching a game played at Essen by a group of 'experts'. Their tactics were something to be seen and I quickly realised that it is possible to play the game on a higher level than I had seen when I wrote the review. Thanks to Stephan Valkyser for the Masterclass! Basically then, I stick by my views expressed in the review and feel it is a good game but perhaps a little too dry and mechanical to appeal across the board. I think John H has this spot on. As for the artwork, it simply doesn't do much for me. Thankfully, the hype is now dying down and with the game selling at #8 or less in Germany, we must expect sales and success to rank with the best of the Spiel des Jahres.]]
Hope to see a fuller review of Winchester next time, from someone whose cup of tea it is! I include samples of the larger plastic pawns which are now included in Send! and Winchester as they are larger than the wood. However, the wood ones stay in Bus Boss and Railway Rivals as the pieces are often congested.
[[ MS: On Winchester, I haven't found anyone rushing forward to review it (none of my possible contributors are really into these games) and I'm not sure there is that much more to say really. As a compromise, could I ask for comments for next issue from anyone who's played it?]]
The review of Send! (and semi-review of Winchester) seemed fair. A few points: Rules: very difficult to write! If you try to make them simple and extremely clear, they become far too long. I assume a certain amount of common sense will be used in the interpretaion.
[[ MS: OK, I had to put the comment in the review because it is something I have always had a problem with, and I don't believe I am alone in struggling a little with Rostherne rules. I didn't play RR for three years because I couldn't work out the early edition. That said, two things have changed my view a lot recently. Firstly, I have been trying to write my own rules and, yes, it is really difficult. Point conceded. The second is that the Bus Boss rules (I still haven't managed to play it yet though) are a model of comparative clarity.]]
Components. As you suggest, I reduce component costs to the minimum. Otherwise, on a prodcution run of 1,000, costs soar too much. Every #1 at the production stage means at least #3 at the retail level:
Production Costs #1.00 My Margin 0.90 Retail Margin #1.10 VAT 0.45 ----- #3.45
My 90p isn't all profit, it has to cover postage, overheads etc. Using professional design alone would add nearly #3 to the retail price. Using a normal hard board, folding, and box, would double the overall cost.
Now, all those costs are paid at the start and the money comes in slowly, typically over 8 to 10 years. By the time you allow for interest on the production costs my margin on wholesale sales to shops disappears completely!
In fact, RR is the only one of my games on which I've made an overall profit to date. If I went to full professional standards, design, box, board, then my games would have a retail price in the #13-20 range and this not only means increasing my losses - increased sales would be unlikely to make up for the extra costs - but measn laying out much more money to launch each game.
This would restrict me to one game a year. And where are all the small independents that produce games to full professional standards? Except Francis's Hartland Trefoil, are there any still going from the '70s like me?
Even if you make a success of one game, what do you do for a second act? You have to have several ready as not everyone will like your proposed follow up even if they liked the first game, so you have to have a range. In my case, I long ago realised that I couldn't take the big companies head on.
So instead, I concentrate on producing a playable version, at reasonable cost, which doesn't increase my losses too much and hope that a licencing agreement will come along on the continent will make the money.
Without licencing royalties, I've never made more than #2,500 profit in any one year from selling my own products. Not really enough to live on!
So, I don't intend to 'make it big' on my own products, but will continue as now. Maybe this year one of my designs will be taken up by a German firm - as you say, I'll be working on that at Essen!
At present I'm trying to get Chafts out for Essen. It's a two player abstract strategy game. Like you, I don't like two player abstract strategy games. ([[ MS: !) Though two player abstract strategy games aren't popular with the major firms (not surprisingly since anyone can invent 3 or 4 a day), I really feel this is a winner. Modestly, I'll just say that this is the best of that type this century. Some put it higher than that!
Besides Stockbridge and Chafts, I hope to get Chessington out early next year. Two more chess based race games; not like Winchester system)
Stockbridge: turned down by Waddingtons, their reasons:
"Briefly, it was determined that 'Stockbridge', which played very well and was much enjoyed, was based (sic) too much towards boys".
[[ MS: Thanks David. I think David would be one of the few people willing to divulge this level of financial detail and I for one found it fascinating, if rather sobering. What I was getting at on Rostherne production was not the format of the game - I have no problem with tubes or rolled maps (in fact I quite like them) - but simply the standard and design of the components. I know professional design is expensive but surely there are talented people in the hobby willing to help out at cut-price rates? And there's always Letraset or low- key DTP. You don't mention the component cost differentials but surely the difference between the pieces of driftwood in Send! and the quality wood squares available on stands at Essen can't be that large? For the few extra pence, the aesthetic appeal would be massively improved.]]
I'm sure a lot of readers would be interested in knowing a little more about some of the games mentioned frequently in issues of GI, a few of which spring to mind are Auf Achse, Greyhounds, Junta, TV Wars, Showbiz and Doolittle & Waite. Could you perhaps find space for perhaps a review of them?
[[ MS: Well, I wouldn't really want to do a full review of these older games (for time and space reasons) but then again I wouldn't want you having to buy them to find out. Briefly, to use the Vasey patented broker system, those mentioned are Hold, Buy, Strong Buy, Hold, Buy and Sell. Auf Achse is a little straightforward for my tastes but others rate it highly. Greyhounds is a neat card race game with a dodgy betting system, Junta is an all-time favourite of mine, TV Wars is fun initially but a little samey, Showbiz is probably the only Carver game I'd recommend and D&W fails abysmally unless you are all RADA types. OK?]]
I keep coming across references to deleted games being available on the second hand market - apart from Eamon Bloomfield and yourself - how do you make contact with these people? I assume most of them have connections with the London based games groups.
[[ MS: There is no mystery here, simply that I am lucky enough to know two people (Alan Moon and Ernst Knauth) who can find almost any game published for me, given time. These are my main source for old games but I also spend far too much time wheeling and dealing (in my Arthur Daley hat) and buy a fair few from Eamon, private lists, Thomas Sudall at CME, Andy Ashton at Second Chance, RS Games, Games Galore and any dealer who has old stocks. It is a matter of knowing where to look and as soon as I've finished it, I'll run a piece in Sumo on where to find these old games. I'm convinced the best and cheapest source is still jumble/carboot sales, but I can't be fussed to go to them. I ought to stress again at this point that despite my frequent sale lists I am not a dealer like Eamon, I just have a high turnover of games and like to get shot of duplicates, games not to my taste and ones that have lost interest for me. I am of the view that if old games keep circulating at reasonable prices, it is better for everyone but of course lots sadly disappear into collections never to be seen again.]]
I enjoyed the tale of the naughty Railway Rivals GM. I imagine the air was fairly blue at the time. Although it was topped by the story about the Hamilton Academicals manager. Subbuteo always used to cause enraged rows at the Vasey household (can you imagine several Vaseys all cheating!). But I still remember painting up a Peruvian squad for little brother to annoy his Scots chums.
Surely your Inside Pitch story about Subbuteo Rugby bases is mistaken? The rugby game had completely different players - discs about the size of two or three new 5p pieces stuck together. Don't argue with me, because I've just checked with my own set!
[[ MS: Well, I wouldn't disagree and I did say the bases were different, I just couldn't remember the degree. The old memory starts to fade at my age Alan, and I never did get the rugby set for Christmas. And talking of Peru.....]]
What do you mean by 'the Scots are quite amazing aren't they?'. If we had a fraction of England's luck Scotland would have won the cup. OK, at least got to the second round.
[[ MS: Well, what I really meant was what you said - it seems that every World Cup the Scots play way below their best, are incredibly unlucky and end up in a similar desperate position. I wonder how many Scots fans started the Costa Rica game with a very worried feeling? ]]
Reading about the 'Hall of Fame' for sports games, I got inspired to do this list:
and the worst...
[[ MS: Mmm, well aside from the fact that yet another person has now said how great APBA Golf and Goal Pro Hockey are (both unavailable of course), I have to agree with all those on the list except Pennant Race which you know I still carry a torch for. Agreed, you don't get much out of it but it is the neatest management level system I've seen and all it needs to work superbly is a decent GAP on computer. I still have hopes for the basic idea in baseball and other sports.]]
I was interested to read in Sumo about availability of small cars (Micro Machines) suitable for Speed Circuit etc. but I have been unable to find any cars small enough for this. I have not seen the full range though. Can you actually get Formula One cars that fit on SC track? or are you suggesting larger track to accommodate the larger (Hot Wheels size) cars?
[[ MS: Micro Machines are a little over an inch long and fit most motor racing games such as Grand Prix and The World of Motor Racing. Not sure about Speed Circuit as it is buried at present behind half a ton of games. It should be OK though. The trouble is, the cars are hard to find at present because they come one to a box of thirty two assorted Micro Machines. A good idea raised by Ellis Simpson at Lambourne Gamesday was to commission a special run of metal mouldings taken from a Micro Machines master. If there is any interest in this (each syndicate member buys, say, thirty cars and if we could get twenty or so interested it would be viable and not expensive).]]
News: Mr Sudall's CME is now at 10, Douglas Rd, Adswood, Stockport SK7 4JG
Anyone interested in PBM can join AHIKS. Contact the secretary, William Black, 93 Cross Lane, Scarborough, N Yorks YO12 6DQ.
Could any of your readers help me get Nena CDs in German? Contact me, Andy Dalglish, 7 The Spinney, Cheadle, Cheshire, SK8 1JA Tel: 061 428 5390.
[ MS: When Andy says PBM, he means play by mail wargames, probably mainly Avalon Hill but I may be wrong. Nena? She of the unshaven armpits? Didn't she have a hit record years ago?]]
Re Swap Shop: I've received a copy of Prize Property rules from Eamon Bloomfield to whom, many thanks.
[[ MS: Yes, me too for the Subbuteo Angling rules. (Yes, you doubters, it does exist. Just like Alan Parr's Hungarian Whippet racing game exists. Honest.) Swap Shop seems to have worked quite well and it returns this time because I just love to type page after page of lists. ]]
Incidentally, the mention you gave me in Sumo 2 generated a fair amount of interest for which I'm grateful. [[ MS: Reasonable advertising rates available on request]]. This interest culminated in an invitation to visit a local Sumo reader (Andy Daglish) who wanted to 'talk shop'. Unfortunately (for him) only two days before I'd had my head shorn and was sporting a very short skinhead. Having learned of my new address (Adswood is Stockport's equivalent to Toxteth) on opening his front door, he looked a very worried man. His pallor was only matched by that of his poor mother who could not disguise her agitation. Sorry for going off the rails like this but I feel you should know what can happen to the unwary Sumo reader.
[[ MS: Hoho. Sorry Andy, it was such a good story it had to go in. No true skinhead would know the words pallor or shorn, so Andy should have realised he and his games were safe from the Stanley knife treatment.]]
You will probably disagree with me on this but I am dismayed at the prevalence of American sportswear in men's shops these days. It was unusual back in, what 1975?, when Slik wore baseball shirts but now, with thousands upon thousands of dickheads wearing baseball caps of teams they don't even know the name of, it all seems rather pointless. Of course, they are doing it to look 'good' but it all seems very unoriginal. I sometimes have this fantasy about American schoolkids in cricket caps, Essex sweaters and flannels. Now what would look really awesome would be the pads as well!
The other thing that marks me out as a resident of Fogeyville is my abhorrence of those disgusting cycling shorts. They may be very utilitarian for riding bikes but I think they look hideous. In a few years, people are going to look back at photos of themsleves in cycling shorts and die of shame in the same way we blush at photos of ourselves wearing luminous tank tops.
[[ MS: Judging by Trading Places and recent episodes of Cheers, I'm not sure that the Eastcoast 'preppy' yanks don't wear cricket-style gear but the idea of a Bostonian in an Essex cap and white woolly is quite amusing. Would they also buy imported Stuart Surridge Jumbos to use against burglars, I wonder. I suspect the real answer is that cricket gear is universally boring and no-one would want to wear it off the field. ]]
[[ MS: Cycling shorts come in two types, practical (with attached chamois nappy liner) which are great as long as you are on a bike, and cosmetic which we still term spray-ons in good old Essex. Worn by your average male, with the traditional bag of radishes on display, they are indeed disgusting. Conversely, on the female French student we have working with us this summer, they do have a certain basic appeal. Whatever, they should only ever be worn on bodies in good shape. I have seen some amazing sights where the wearer has obviously spooned him/herself into the special XXXL kevlar-strengthened size. The result is not unlike a walking bin bag filled with cellulite. Me, I wouldn't be seen dead in them in my current shape. ]]
[[ MS: Worse though are the male athletes who have taken to wearing ever more revealing clothing such that the head-on, slow-motion shots of hurdlers and Messrs Christie, Lewis and Regis are quite embarrassing. Worst of all is Kris Akabusi who seems to have a wayward anaconda loose in his shorts. Interestingly, I detect not a murmur from Mrs Whitehouse on the swinging sausage brigade. You should understand that I don't make a habit of checking out the contents of men's shorts, it just gives me something to do while I'm waiting for Katrin Krabbe to re-appear. ]]
By the way, I expect Oakland to sweep Cincinnati in four games.
[[ MS: One reason I rarely make predictions is to avoid looking this silly.]]
Your magazine seems to cover ground similar to the late, lamented GI so it's right up my street. In a way, it reminds me of Don Turnbull's Albion although (as yet) it doesn't have the humour.
[[ MS: Gobsmacked! It is true to say that I am no great wit but in a way I'm glad any humour that does sneak through in Sumo doesn't come over like Don Turnbull's. Thanks for the sub by the way Gareth, good to have you aboard and I hope the Sumo humour improves to your taste!]]
I am always tickled by the remarks from the intelligentsia of the games world!
[[ MS: Who can he mean?]]
Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information