[MS: Let's start with some ego-massaging comments, because I need all the enthusiasm I can get to sort and type-in this two inch wad of letters next to me. Oh for a scanner or for you lot to send it in on disk....]
Andy Key, Lechlade I note from Sumo that JJ is charging £100 per hour for advice from 'Britain's Leading Authorty on boardgames'. Does this mean he's your agent?
[MS: I'm not sure where misplaced flattery will get you Mr Key, but it certainly gets you into my letter column.]
Alan Moon, Lancaster NH I've enjoyed every issue of Sumo but this is the best of the lot. Great blend of features. The only negative is the final revelation of your personality flaw. It is now obvious what you love best in life is novelty. While the Germnan games were new, you loved them. Now that the novelty has worn off, you are moving on. Fickle, fickle.
[MS: Mmmm. You might just have something there. It must only be types of games though as I have been playing games of various sorts for eighteen years so I can hardly be a butterfly.]
Paul Oakes, Wandsworth Initially I was disappointed at how short Inside Pitch was this issue, but the length of the rest of the zine compensates adequately; I'd sub to both if you demerged. As I'm in a game buying phase at the moment, I find the reviews of games and suppliers this month useful, and am trying to get 'Khan' and 'Rep Rome' based on your reviews. What a pity there aren't any book/record/films you recommend in Sumo 5. And publish more often. And get a £ sign.
[MS: IP is longer and - £. Faster publishing is currently a problem. Mike Siggins, Third Base; hitting 2 for 3. What it means though is you get to see Courier 10 pitch which Frank Dunn and Iain Bowen hate with a vengeance.]
Alan Parr, Tring I enjoyed Sumo 5 no end. It's very interesting to see the very different pattern of readership you've built up from conventional editors such as myself, lots more collectors, lots more international contacts, lots more people not part of what we are accustomed to think of as the postal games hobby.
Seriously, I do hope your interests don't move too far away from those we've grown used to in Sumo. It's a unique magazine and one I'd miss very much if for any reason it couldn't continue.
[MS: I'm not sure where the readership came from really, though Mark Green and Alan Moon are responsible for most of the exotic foreigners, for which I'm grateful. Whatever, the readership continues to grow at a worrying pace. As for content, I try to respond to the subscribers where I can, but this is dependent on my still being interested in what they want to read about. We shall see how it goes.]
Ben Volmert, Aachen Inside Pitch was informative and fun to read - I wonder how many hours you spend playing games each week?
[MS: Probably not as many as you lot think. I normally play two or occasionally three evenings for a about three or four hours each (I am always tired the next day) and the select, invitation-only, 9 O levels or better group gets together on the odd Sunday adding about seven hours every two months on average. So, 30-35 hours in a good month plus lots of reading, writing, notetaking, shopping, chatting, 'design' and now gamekit production.]
Mark Buckley, Wootton Coincidentally, re birthdays, my 30th birthday is also on the 3rd October.
[MS: Spooky. But he likes Adel, so he can't be a lost twin.]
Hironori Takahashi, Tokyo I heard of the magazine named 'World Game Review' and I want to see it. If you know about it, please let me know how to get it.
[MS: I don't see it (well there's a turn up) but, reaching for the latest Hopscotch, I see it is available from Michael Keller, 3367-I North Chatham Road, Ellicott City, MD 21042 USA at $11 for four issues.]
Paul Oakes, Wandsworth Thought Goodchild's footy game was both dull and lacking in flavour - you get to make few decisions in the game (none when you don't have the ball) and the player stats are crude - Rush is +1 on goalscoring, on a range of -1,0,+1. That's it! Players have one attribute covered by three possible values. Sorry, two attributes - some midfielders may re-roll once if they don't get a good pass result first time (2 players get this option for Spurs and Liverpool).
Abilities, such as speed, dribbling, tackling, heading, initiative don't exist. Teams are given overall ratings on their possession, which are cross referenced to determine who controls the ball after an attack is broken up - control always starts in the centre circle. The pass mechanism is neat; you look up the card fpor the part of the pitch you are in, roll dice, and get two choices of action: which will hopefully move the ball forward, reduce the 'defence state' (a modifier on goal attempt die rolls) and eventually set up a goal attempt from a decent position.
So, as a game; poor, slow, lacking flavour. Terry may claim it's abstract and designed to recreate results in a similar fashion to Metric Mile. But in the half game we played, Rush missed a volley from six yards and Waddle scored.... with a header. Any simulation that has Spurs ahead of Liverpool has to be badly flawed.
[MS: Well, yes, but then as a replay game it isn't designed to do any more than what it does and given the competition, Soccer Replay is the best we have on the market - that is, he's gone out and produced it. The 'unfolding events' school of games is, as we said in a recent Sumo, a peculiar diversion for the decision making, hands-on type of gamer. Some gamers will play both genres but there is normally polarisation, especially in the sports gaming sub-hobby. I tend to agree with you on Soccer Replay as although it is a clever system, there isn't anything much to influence and thus, for me, the game loses much of its appeal - believe me though, it has many fans. I also don't think, despite it being quick, it is quite fast enough to do much beyond a small tournament. This, of course, depends on your available time.]
[Turning this round, can I ask what you want from a soccer game? Given that you want decisions and presumably individual player characteristics, do you want a solitaire, two or multi-player? How much time are you willing to concede to get the detail? Do you want a system like Tomas Gustavsson's Euro Soccer or Stephan Valkyser's Bundesliga that lets you play entire leagues? Do you want a five or ten-minute game to play a tournament or one team's season? Or do you want the detailed one-off match like Soccer Replay or World Class Football? I know you rate John Harrington's prototype for its portrayal of players and play options but, as I remember, a match takes as long as the real thing. I'd be keen to know if you or anyone else cares to send in comments. In case you noticed a slight bias earlier, Paul is in fact a Liverpool supporter.]
Paul continues... Talking of sports stats, did you notice BBC Wimbledon databank - 1st serves in, % points won with 1st serve, % serves not returned, % won with volley etc. This looked more like Statis-Pro cards than BBC sports - so why do we see so little useful data on cricket (% runs scored by boundaries, shots between gully and covers, % times out LBW, to spin etc.) As for football, stat analysis seems too much work when you can build up 'personalities' and have the artificial enthusiasm of Motson instead.
[MS: I have noticed steadily growing caption numbers such as you refer to. The trouble is, I doubt that they are recorded anywhere so unless you tape every game of, say, the Rugby World Cup, you won't know who was 4 for 7 in penalties. Anything, even shots or passes on target, must be useful to the soccer game designer (I know it would for me) but where is it going to come from? My investiagtions into the Soccer Statisticians Society proved fruitless, they concentrate on areas such as player appearances and goal frequency.]
Charles Vasey, East Sheen I agree with your German views. There was a time in the early Seventies (when Europa used to appear) when most of us were new to the hobby; publication and technical standards were low and so, correspondingly, were entry costs. In that time we enjoyed that sense of a new and exciting world as miraculous designs appeared, rumoured at first, searched for with care and then bought (often with great thought - no-one had the money). This Golden Age soon 3ended as we found our way through the back catalogue and began to look behind the ideas and question the content. Even worse, the excitement of the amateur was replaced by the formula crap from SPI who raised the entry costs until folks were not willing to try to produce. The hobby was stuck, the only discovery one could make was buying new games before anyone else - some thrill! When Games International came out it rode on the back of a huge back catalogue and of enormous ignorance of what was out there. You have all lived too fast and loved, not wisely but too well. Now you are all where we were after the Golden Age and as you note it is time to be more sober and rather more careful. And don't worry, once you lower your sights you still find interesting stuff, you just savour it more, and you play those unplayed games again.
[MS: Good, I'm glad my comments made some sense and that I'm not alone. Looks like Mod music all over again - the wrinklies have always been there first!]
Nik Holliday, Welwyn On the subject of German/European games - although the latest crop of these games may not have hit the mark, they do have at least two points in their favour over games from the large American companies. One is quality of the design and components (MB's Gamemaster excepted) and two is the sheer originality and bizarre-ness (is there such a word?) of the subject matter. It would be difficult to imagine Don Greenwood and the team at AH sitting down and designing a game about potato farming, or cooking or any of the other strange ideas that the Europeans come up with. If they did, there would have to be a combat rule in there somewhere: 18.9 optional Combat Rule. Destroy opponents crop with chemical weapons (see chart 1). I rather like the move away from combat/conflict type games even if some of them are rather lightweight.
[MS: Ooooh, unfair. One of my points is that the components are generally accepted as excellent but this doesn't mean the design is to the same standard or that the games work for me - at the end of the day, you can be left with lots of nice boards and counters but no play value. The bizzarre nature of the topics is indeed a selling point, but I'd still prefer an above-average game on Stalingrad or Waterloo than a great one on sewage treatment.]
Denis Arnold, Felixstowe Translations - Mark is doing an excellent job; I appreciate his problems as I went to evening classes in beginner's German. I learned sufficient basics to enable me to translate most rukes (with a permantly open dictionary) although it usually takes several days - or even weeks! There are always difficulties unless you know the game first; numerous words or phrases have multiple meanings, so it's not until you understand the game that you know the translation makes any sense. Anyway, apart from tournaments, most people are capable of amending rules to improve a game if they're not satisfied with the translation!
John Kingsbury, Brookwood I think Andy Key is right about the rules sets in circulation. I have had some trouble with certain sets not making any sense and Brian Walker's sets do seem to be the worst offenders. It is annoying to have to stop in the middle of a game to translate a rule and even worse if you can't get started at all. However, I have had only a few problems with Mark Green's efforts and the set of 1835 rules you sent me (by John Webley?) are really well done. I don't know what to suggest to improve the situation. I think if we were a more European country in thought, then perhaps a few of us might have the necessary language skills to translate them ourselves. Otherwise, you are doing a fine job with the bank and I hope you keep it going.
[MS: Thanks John. These were virtually the only (printable) comments I got on the subject. I assume then it is not a problem or no-one has better suggestions?]
Nik Holliday, Welwyn As fast as Strategy Plus has disappeared from my local Smiths, the gap has been filled by a new publication, Gamesman. This magazine seems to be trying to cover all aspects of the hobby, from roleplay and boardgaming through computer games and related media (books, films etc). Unfortunately, it appears to be written both by and for the 16 to 19 year old market who have just discovered that there are more interesting games than Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit on the market. Definitely a no-no for Sumo readers, I believe. Incidentally, I did come across a recent Strategy Plus in a Londis shop of all places. Glossy cover, £2.50 price tage (are they serious?) and one page of boardgame coverage. Surely the death throes of a once fine publication!
[MS: It is a while since anyone has read about Strategy Plus in these pages, partly because it helped my blood pressure if I ignored it, but mainly because it had precious little to offer on the boardgames front. As of now, it appears to have nothing to say at all and of course the subbers weren't warned of this editorial shift. Whatever, the one page of boardgame 'review' you mention gave way to nothing at all, which makes my earlier prediction spot on. It also means that Strategy Plus can concentrate on impressing the world through its new talented writers, Big Mama and Commander Crunch. And this is a magazine that once championed the values of adult writing while denouncing the likes of Ace. Jeez.]
[As a check on my bitter and twisted views, I picked up Strategy Plus 13 at Essen and found three crucial trends confirmed. Firstly, the editorial stance on letters is still to abuse the readers for having a viewpoint different to their own. Secondly, the bulk of the staff writers are enthusiastic but mediocre and often lacking in analytical powers and vital background knowledge; witness the bozo who considers LaRussa the A's most successful manager and our very own Mike Woodhouse who got in a pickle over his Rorke's Drift lapse. Thirdly, we are told in the letters column that boardgames were dropped due to lack of reader interest; if you convert The Rugby News to exclusive rugby league coverage, then you must expect to lose interest from the old readers - it doesn't mean they aren't still out there. But enough of this, I'm getting annoyed again. To give it its due, Strategy Plus covers computer games in depth and has an excellent standard of news and colour.]
Andy Key, Lechlade Now then, Gamesman. I finally found issue 2 yesterday and (grits teeth) I - I - I enjoyed it. Yes, it has improved significantly. The design is competent and improving rapidly (unlike certain computer-game junkie zines). It still doesn't seem to have decided what its target market is, but despite this it manages to come up with more good reading than any of the three previous magazines did. Possibly that's because much of it isn't games material at all - the Pratchett/Gaiman interview was another dead-cert Andy Key Trapper, and the SF book reviews were quite competent - but the board/card games side has improved in quality. Phil Bootherstone's review of Sherlock Holmes was the most informative of several I've read (not that yours wasn't good, he added hastily, but this one gave me a better feel for the flow of the game.)
[MS: No need to apologise. The failing of the short review is exactly that - you have to compress comments or it blows out into a full page. The real problem here is, because of being quick off the mark and possibly underestimating it when we played it, I have probably not done SHCG justice. Phil's review was good for that reason and I personally will be playing it some more to see if there is all this strategy after all. The SF reviews are done by Martin Tudor of, I think, Critical Wave which is a useful magazine.]
Andy... The less said about Games Gossip pages the better. As I read through it I thought the strained style and uncritical waffle seemed strangely familiar - but only when I reached the rave review of Aztral Games' Shogi did it click into place. Yes - Steve Nichols (BSc Psychology and CSE Woodwork) strikes again. If they don't get rid of him soon they're doomed for sure. Go on - offer your services as boardgames news editor, Mike.
[MS: In a word; no. Not only have I had quite enough hassle already with GI, but I doubt very much if they'd want me - Mr Nichol's writing may not be to my taste, but he has a far bigger claim to the position having run a proper magazine. Gamesman seem to have gathered a group of acquaintances around them and are now quite settled - even if, in my view, they could change a few reviewers without loss. As yet (despite their apparent pro-fanzine stance), they haven't even replied to my letter asking about the magazine content, although I did shamelessly ask for a Sumo plug as well. I am quite happy doing Sumo and the odd article elsewhere, it is not as if I crave the 'national' spotlight after all.]
The main problem remains the vast expanse of media covered: boardgames, RPG, SF, wargames, LRP, PBM... They're trying to be all things to all people and it can't last. Something will have to get pushed out, and I suspect it will be boardgames. Which is a shame, because there's potential there. I'd put my money on the LRP contingent taking over in the end. In the meantime, it's an entertaining mish-mash of topics, and I'm nearly tempted to subscribe...
Tim Cockitt, Manchester I'm confident that there would be a mutual advantage in establishing some kind of UK games collector's network - there's already some grapevine with the Warren-Cockitt-Siggins-Bloomfield friendships. Unfortunately, there is no way I have the time to get any more involved. Perhaps using the pages of Sumo is one way forward?
[MS: Well, I don't mind but I will say that response to the ads has been close to zero. I got more response than from the last set of Sumo ads from a one liner in Tales of the Reaching Moon, a Runequest fanzine! As you say, available time is the key and I have more than enough on my plate. I think the best way is to operate through a clearing house like Eamon or Games Galore using their wants lists. Even with a nominal dealer rakeoff, it should pair up searchers and sellers at mutually agreeable prices. Eamon's system seems ideal; you name your price, Eamon adds a turn and asks the searcher if he is willing to deal, you post it to Eamon. Simple enough, plus you can ask what you like rather than selling to the dealer cheaply and him making all the profit.]
Chris Baylis, Basildon I have White Dwarfs 1-96 for sale as a complete set. They are in immaculate condition and all in original WD binders. I will not sell individual copies. I have no idea what they are worth collectively, but offers should be substantial.
[MS: Chris can be contacted on 0268-419933.]
Tim Holliday, Yoxall On the subject of books about games, one I enjoy reading again and again is Brain Games by David Pritchard. This covers a wide selection of games from Pencil & Paper games to monster wargames. Each game is covered by variations and strategy tips as well as simply the rules. While much of it is familiar stuff, ie sections on chess, draughts etc, others are more diverse - Chinese and Japanese chess and two excellent card games, Bezique and Piquet.
[MS: Oh at last. I thought I was all but alone in knowing these amazing games. Get your Phillips or Parlett out now and try them.]
The Mathematics of Games by John Beasley (Oxford) is much more mediocre. Some chapters are good, eg winning strategies for games, while others are a waste of paper like the chapter on shuffling cards. Finally, off the point a bit, is a sort of introduction to some of the interesting areas of mathematical research (eg codes and complexity theory) which has two chapters dedicated to the application of game theory to the study of democratic systems.
Mark Bassett, New Malden In Sumo 4 you surveyed the field of books on games. I was expecting the response in Sumo 5 to make further reply unnecessary but I discover that there are still a few publications you weren't able to cover. [MS: Only because the survey involved those on my shelves, I'm willing to listen to any more suggestions!] On the subject of card games I think The Penguin Book of Card Games (David Parlett) really deserves at least an honourable mention. It is at least as comprehensive as the Pan volume and has the benefit of being about twenty years more up to date. [MS: Not necessarily an asset, I would suggest.] Oddly, despite having gone through eight printings it now seems to have dropped out of sight (my copy is dated 1988). It has some excellent chapters on Piquet, Ninety Nine, Skat and Scopone to name just four games that I really must get round to playing more of, as well as the very odd (and interesting) looking Spite and Malice.
I do have some fond memories of Hubert Phillip's book though; it was my first 'serious' introduction to card playing, being bought at the start of one of the wettest holidays my parents ever took me on. By the end of those two weeks my brother, father and I (mother doesn't really like games) had acquired an expertise at Black Maria that bordered on the instinctive. I can't wait for my two kids to reach the card-playing age!
David Parlett is of course well known for his writings on card games, see if you can root out Original Card Games (Batsford 1977) which contains fourteen of his inventions: Ninety Nine (again (naturally) but Tantony and Counterbluff are both worth a try (and in my experience if you understand how to play well at Tantony you have probably misread the rules!). Parlett has also written the Oxford Guide to Card Games which falls into the history category but does include rules summaries for most of the games it describes. I confess to buying it out of a sense of 'completeism' (assuming there is such a sense, and a word, but I think you know what I mean) but I enjoyed it immensely and don't regret not waiting for the paperback edition. The history of card games is not so much the history of card playing as an activity (which rapidly became near universal) but rather the history of card game invention and the rise of regional favourites to national status and their subsequent decline.
[MS: Anyone with one at least collector gene will know what you mean about 'completeism'.]
Nik Holliday, Welwyn One book which is a must-buy for anyone interested in games is the Oxford Guide to Card Games (David Parlett, Oxford £15). Far from being the usual tripe explaining for the umpteenth time how to play whist, bridge and cribbage, this book is a geneology of card games, with each chapter giving a history of the various 'families' of games. For example, chapter 22 explains the origins of Hearts type games, chapter 17 from Triomphe and Ruff through to contract Bridge. There are some card games explained (the most interesting being a French game called Le Barbu) but this is not the main purpose of the book. An excellent read and well worth the cost.
Mark Bassett, New Malden Stuart Dagger challenges you to get hold of a copy of Twelve Tarot Games - too easy I'm afraid! Earlier this year I wanted to get hold of Michael Dummett's The Game of Tarot (Duckworth 1980), the large volume from which the smaller work was extracted. A quick phone call to Blackwell's in Oxford and it arrived less than two weeks later. Apart from being an enormous bookshop in its own right, Blackwell's is situated in the city of whose university Dummett is Wykeham Professor of Logic [MS: I bet he's a real scream at dinner parties], so it was a dead cert to have his book. I can't in all sanity recommend to anyone that they buy a book costing £50 (it makes my eyes water to think about it!) but it is an amazing tome. Dummett's intention was to provide a complete encyclopaedia of the history of Tarot games throughout Europe and document the rules of all their various versions; I don't pretend to be any sort of expert on the subject myself but it's very hard to believe he didn't succeed.
More books on games: Eric Solomon wrote Games with Pencil and Paper ages ago (Thomas Nelson, 1973); most games players will find one or two good games they haven't seen before and there are the old standbys like Battleships too (here in its 'super-deluxe' version). There are also some good pencil and paper games in Winning Ways and I wouldn't agree that you have to be a professional mathematician to enjoy it (disclaimer - I was an 'amateur' mathematician for four years at university), but volume two concentrates much more on games to play rather than how to prove theorems about their four- dimensional generalisations and if you like this sort of thing there's a lot of it here to like.
Stuart Dagger We enjoyed Express more than you seem to have done. The scoring is badly explained rather than badly put together. What it amounts to is that when you score points for a train, the first two carriages score zero and everything else scores its face value. It is the logical consequence of the fact that trains with fewer than three carriages are non-scoring. The only real burden on the memory comes with the preferred order of carriages in passenger trains, and that problem disappeared when one of our players noticed that there was a military medal mnemonic - MC, DSO. The game plays better as a partnership game.
[MS: Ah yes, the old damn clever gamer ploy eh. That is useful - I'll try it again.]
Alan How, Gillingham Blackbeard: Generally, I'd agree with your views of the game, but having played it before your review, I should make some comments;- a) The cards were much better quality than recent AH efforts (especially Republic of Rome). b) In the (only) game I've played so far, the person who gained access to the best ship started to dominate and I found this the main factor in his success. He was then able to risk looting towns, which he did quite well, and the game was effectively won. I found my group generally enjoyed the game, albeit this is not a classic.
[MS: Too right. If it wasn't clear, I had nothing against the components, in fact they are why I have held onto the game. The early leader is a factor, but one among so many larger flaws that I remain unconvinced.]
Charles Vasey, East Sheen Blackbeard; sounds like the Priapic Principle is heard again in the Land. Smite them (hip and thigh) from Beth-Dan to Jerusalem.
Jennifer Schlickbernd, Baldwin Park Blackbeard - I agree with you completely on your review. We knew a playtesting group who sent in seven pages of remarks close to what you said in your review. Their comments appeared to be ignored [MS: See Don G. below] and they were not credited in the playtest credits. I sold the game within a week of buying it. It's funny, I got Merchant of Venus, that looked real random too, and we are on our third set of counters for MoV. I keep hoping for that experience to repeat itself with other random games, but it hasn't yet.
[MS: MoV is a little more controllable and, I believe, it scores with its subject matter and because its system mesh better than Blackbeard.]
Don Greenwood, Baltimore In response to your assessment of Blackbeard, I really can't argue with you. It is not my favourite game either, although I hardly think it is as bad as you make it out to be. In point of fact, it has created more favourable comment than any game we've released in recent years. A number of people have called to tell me they think it is AH's best game ever. I don't agree with that assessment, but then - few people agree with mine either. Different strokes for different folks again....
[MS: I do honestly try to appreciate others' views, but this acclaim is puzzling. My argument is not that the game won't appeal to some types of gamer, it is more that it simply doesn't work in so many areas that I seriously wonder how people can say it is your greatest ever.]
Don continues... I will say this.. the game doesn't have much of a middle ground - people either love it or hate it. As you pointed out, the game doesn't have a large skill factor - which is why I don't really care for it. Rather, it falls into that type of game whose object is to entertain you rather than challenge you - by portraying a story and springing surprises on you at every turn rather than allowing you to conform to a set strategy. That's not my kind of game - but for many it is. I liken it to B17 (which was quite popular) only with more interaction. The problem is that the interaction is relatively low for a multi-player game - especially in the beginning as you must play for some time before the KC's enter play. All of which makes it more popular among the solitaire players than among the multi-player set. And yes, the 4 player version is the worst due to the time-between-turns problem.
[MS: Which begs the question, why was it not sorted out? Don answers...]
The uneven disposition of player turns was indeed intentional and is an integral part of the design - and is supposed to reflect the chance nature of their coming upon prey, warships, storms etc. Some of the playtesters commented on it as did you, but others actually preferred it that way. I toyed with the idea of allowing a player to trade a cunning for a turn, but decided against it as it was totally out of keeping with the intent of the design. I would quibble with your lampooning the playtesters though who actually did a commendable job in blindtest. The published version is far more polished than what they had to work with. The game improved greatly as a result of their efforts. In point of fact I actually grew to admire what the game could do by the time I was finished with it. Your comparison of it to a computer game probably has a lot of merit. I liken it to a poor man's computer game without the computer.
The game does play better when players are familiar with the rules. A well versed player can take charge of the action deck and keep the game flying - with turns taking but scant seconds apiece - thus doing away with the time-between-turns problem.
[MS: OK, this fits in broadly with what I'd expected to hear and I take the point on rules familiarity. In fairness, Tony at Leisure Games (among others) tells me he has had a generally good response as well, so once again it may be just me.]
Nik Holliday, Welwyn Wings over France - I must admit to being quite disappointed with this one. Not with the game itself, but rather with the presentation. I know that Lambourne are trying to compete with the major wargame companies with this one, but I still feel that the box and the massive board are superfluous. The board could have been printed on the usual A4 cartridge and the whole lot bunged in the old ziploc bag, saving about a fiver in the process. The only other problem I found was that the rules are literally all over the place - not only in the rule book, but also on two separate rule-cards making setting up the game and playing through rather difficult.
I would rather have seen all the rules in one place, making problem solving a lot easier. However, whinges aside, WoF is another good game from Lambourne with plenty of feel and the usual Lambourne style of gameplay. (I remember seeing a letter from someone saying they found Lambourne's rulebooks difficult to follow. I'm the world's worst moaner about rules but I've never had any problems with them up until this game.
[MS: I agree entirely on the production but I think Terry felt a box was essential. Interestingly, WoF was on sale for £15 at the recent Gamesday which implies that, in a bag, it could have been nearer a tenner than £25 - my view is this would have produced a lot more sales. Even so, WoF has sold well by all accounts.]
Bruce Schlickbernd, Baldwin Park Advanced Civilisation should be shipping soon. Did you see my write up for it in Strategy Plus? We do hope you like it, we spent a lot of time playtesting it and we like it very much. Good to hear that you won't put it down just because Frances Tresham had nothing to do with it.
[MS: Tresham's non-involvement is a good thing. I know I rub people up the wrong way with my comments on Tresham games but they always strike me as needing improvements: Firstly, he should get them out quicker as the ideas and systems are his strength. Secondly, they should be developed out of the circle of people who designed it to make the games shorter, less flabby and cheaper. Compare 1830 (well developed) with 1829 or Civilisation (in need of major surgery). Derek Carver might be advised to try the same tactic.]
Neil Walters, Orpington Sherlock Holmes Card Game is one of the finest card games I've ever played. Must admit I am a Holmes fan and was fully expecting it to be the usual spin-off rubbish. But what a pleasant surprise! The more we played, the more tactical ploys became apparent. A game that repays good card playing skills, with a little bluff thrown in for good measure. For example, if you hold the villain, and everybody else knows it, do you necessarily pass it on to your left if you still hold Alibi cards?
When you hold Mycroft, you keep picking up cards from the deck instead of playing one until you can't physically hold anymore. When Mycroft is played, you swap hands with someone who's about to go out. But dare you take the risk that someone won't arrest the villain in the meantime, with the result that you're caught with mega points against?
I suspect most people are adopting the 'if the card can be played, then it must be played' approach. Even though the designer may have meant it to be this way, if you read the rule closely, there is nothing written to stop you picking up the deck instead should you so wish. This certainly opens up more opportunities for tactical play. The downside is, of course, that you are increasing the point count of your hand. The beauty is though that you are at least given the option.
[MS: Yes, I see your point. I think half the trouble with these card games, especially the piles of little boxes from Hexagames and Piatnik, is that they are fine in the hands of family players but once an experienced card player gets hold of them, they often collapse. Digging and Cash are nice little games in theory but you can bugger them up something rotten by holding cards - a sort of second level play that the designer never spotted, if you like. As you say, SHCG doesn't collapse, which is to its credit - intentional or otherwise.]
Nik Holliday, Welwyn Sherlock Holmes: I think this is an excellent game and certainly bears repeated playing. The cards themselves are beautifully illustrated and of superb quality, a definite thumbs up for this one. A word of warning though; I found that the Holmes card was far too powerful in the 3 or 4 player version and no longer use it. By the way, I don't think Gibson's get enough recognition as being the only British company to market 'real' games in this country (apart from 'one-man-and-his-dog' type companies such as Rostherne and Lambourne). They have some 'classic' games on their list and appear to be trying even harder by producing English language versions of some of the foreign games, such as Paternoster and Adel. Good luck to them and I hope they come up with more games like Sherlock.
Mike Oakes, Chippenham While agreeing with previous correspondents regarding the packaging of Lemming, surely the game is more important and if it saves us a few quid then that's Ok by me. I really liked this game, which I bought purely on the strengths of Spielfreaks previous issue, Family Business. My games group enjoyed the 'nudging' aspect although on occasions it affected their own pieces which casused great hilarity. I even took it to work and got two colleagues to try it and they thought it was great fun and not too long to play, so that to me stamps it as a good family-type game.
[MS: I don't think the game quality is in dispute. There is however a line where, however good the game, the production puts you off; Lemmings crosses it. Having laid out a tenner for a flimsy box, a pack of cheap cards and a tiny board (not forgetting the false beard), I for one felt let down in a big way. You mention saving a few quid, how much would you expect to pay for this sort of game? I would have preferred it in a Family Business box.]
Denis Arnold, Felixstowe I was also disappointed with the production quality of Lemmings. It's an excellent game, with plenty of interaction, and should also appeal to the family market; but I was hoping for a better job than my one-off amateur attempt that I've used for several years.
Alan How, Gillingham Discretion: 10/10. A gem. One of my personal favourites. Zillions of options. [MS: Now come on Alan, tell us what you really think] Player interaction. Up to 8 players. My experience of many games of this shows that either the world goes bankrupt eventually or everybody does well, but both scenarios are equally enjoyable.
Great Khan: Tried the game as a result of your review and it didn't go down too well. I think the game mechanism did not immediately appeal, but I'm sure we will play it again - in our game, the Historian turned up quickly, before we'd really got full enjoyment and with five players, the combination of cards for one player were spread so much that no long sets of cards were developed. The magician was toppled quite easily (twice) so perhaps we need another go to see if your general excitement for the game materialises.
Stephan Valkyser, Aachen I've adopted your comments on The Great Khan Game. I've played it four times since. I haven't touched this before because of (yes, you're right) the AD&D logo. We've played twice with five and twice with four, which is still too many. As everybody draws his cards at the beginning of his turn, there is always a lot of thinking how to play one's cards, especially if your hand is full of them. This soon tends to bring boredom to some other people. Perhaps three players will be a better choice. Nevertheless, Khan provided much fun to me. The cards are drawn very humourously (Tom Wham as we know him), the rules are nearly clear (may pirate ships carry troops?).
I do agree with you that Random Events and the Magic are too powerful, but this doesn't matter so much, because this is no 'skillful player's game' anyway. For example, the player going last is at a severe disadvantage, because in his first turn he will find most other countries under control of other players. The first player needs only one flag to control a particular country, any following player needs at least two to get control of the land in question.
Beginning with the third turn, when combat is allowed, things start to become more interesting. Countries without a strong military will change hands soon, so one might hesitate to meld cards without military strength. But I think that it is much more important to get as much money off the cards (especially with pirates, money bags and mines) as long as you have them. The finest cards are useless if held in one's hand. And there is still the possibility to be lucky and draw a castle for one's meld.... But what makes Khan a winner is, that you get at least the feel of a strategic boardgame, and the feeling that your decisions might be the difference between winning and losing.
[MS: That is broadly what I got out of it as well. Glad you enjoyed it, as we seem to disagree quite often!]
Denis Arnold, Felixstowe Bauernschlau - I fully agree with your comments concerning the terrible end game which happens suddenly and as rather an anti-climax. I liked the first, say, two-thirds of the game then suddenly realised I wasn't going to have enough fence left to build with. I think there's a fairly good game in there, waiting for some alterations to the game end rules so it can come out smiling.
Nik Holliday, Welwyn Cloak and Dagger - This game has got to be the bargain of the year so far. For £7 you get a tatty paper box, some rather vague rules and cards with some rather peculiar descriptions. Beneath this umpromising surface lies an excellent little game, not a heavyweight for sure, but a lot of fun and requires a considerable amount of deductive logic in order to win. I saw the game briefly mentioned in Sumo 5 so I presume you are familiar with it and if you're not, you should be.
[MS: See comments elsewhere!]
Mike Oakes, Chippenham Tinkering Corner. 1) I have enclosed a copy of my modification to Broadway (TSR) which speeds up the game considerably; in my games group we cut the game from 3 hours to just over two! 2) Westminster (Gibsons) is slowed down by all the recording of majorities at each seat by each player. I have drawn up a sheet which can be used to illustrate which party holds which seat. 3) I have tried to speed up Ocean Trader (Clipper) by introducing a 10 sided die for movement and giving each player 2 ships and double start money. This helped things somewhat but the game still lacks sparkle which is a shame. I would welcome any suggestions from other readers as to how to improve this one.
[MS: Thanks Mike. Both now available from the Rules Bank for the usual SAE.]
Bruce Schlickbernd, Baldwin Park Fritz Bronner, the designer of Liftoff has designed expansions to the game (LEM, JPL scenarios etc) but has no immediate plans to publish them. Liftoff is currently out of print, but he retains full rights to the game and we may see it and the expansions in the future. This is all straight from Fritz.
[MS: Strategy Plus mentioned a Liftoff computer game in the works - that would be something to see. I, and many others, would love to see the expansions out sooner rather than later. If Fritz Bronner could be persuaded, why doesn't he do a small run private publication? I'll send him a letter via Bruce, for those interested.]
Mike Oakes, Chippenham I recently bought Elixir and this has got to represent real value for money. The presentation is superb and the them is wizards visiting shops to buy herbs, special ingredients and gems to brew a formula which they hope is one of the three parts of the elixir of life. Sometimes a different potion is brewed which can be of help to the wizard when drunk, as it gives him extra powers for a short time. By recording the results of different brews, wizards can deduce which other combinations may give them the elixir formula; they can also observe the result of other wizards' efforts to determine which potions they produce. Success or failure in brewing potions is dependent on the 'strength' of the gems being used and this is cross referenced to a tabel to determine the outcome. If unsuccessful, the ingredients are lost and it is off to buy some more. This is not as easy as it sounds as movement will not always get you to the shop you want in one turn. This means you end your turn in the street so you have to take a 'stranger' card! These strangers try to mug you, steal your ingredients or can be hired to perform such deeds against other wizards. Sometimes they can be benevolent and offer you money for your potions. The game has other features such as limited resources of gold with which to buy ingredients and wizards can buy up all the stock of a type to deny the other players. There is quite a lot of decision making and good player interaction and game length would be about 90 minutes.
[MS: I can't imagine how I've gone five big issues without mentioning this game. Thanks for the reminder Mike. It is indeed a very good family game and by far the best of the 3 Wishes line. I'm pretty sure it has now been bought out by TSR and is being more actively marketed.]
Mark Buckley, Wootton Two boardgames I've had problems with are Auf Achse and Supremacy. Auf Achse seems very simplistic to me, am I missing something?
[MS: No, I don't think so. It boils down to working out an optimum route for the goods to be carried. Despite much acclaim I don't rate it, and never have!]
Mark... Supremacy is another problem, in that it just doesn't seem to work. We have played it at least five times, hence its inclusion in my list, because it seemed a good idea. Is it a turkey, or am I again missing something? All the people I spoke to before buying it all enthused about it, and with the proliferation of expansions, I assume someone must be playing it.
[MS: I would think all those people had bought the expansion kits (£8-10 each and hundreds of the little buggers) and were getting their own back on someone. I haven't played it or indeed bought it, the latter on the basis of cost - I've never seen it for less than £30 and it does look a lot like Super Risk. I may be wrong - I though their later Rollout was an almost-there system - anyone care to shed some light on this one?]
Nigel King, Leicester I was surprised by the comments on McMulti. Like most people I agree that it is a great game. However, in the past I have played in two games where the unfortunate lack of doubles slowed the play of the game right down causing a glut in oil and a slump in prices which consequently makes profit margins low. Also less opportunities to buy and sell assets for profit as the economic climate is at a standstill. Even so, the games were still finished albeit after a longer game. The chances of this occurring are quite remote and I would not blame the game system because of this rare situation.
Mark Bassett, New Malden I finally became an Airlines owner at the weekend and the game looked so inviting we sat down and had a couple of two-player contests straight off. Even with just the two of us playing (and hence relatively more stock cards to go around) the unpredictable appearnce of the dividend cards caused a lot of anguish!
Neil Walters, Orpington I must say I was a little disappointed by Airlines, probably because for me it didn't quite live up to its build-up. The play is really too much dependent on the luck of the draw from the card decks and any choices or strategic options are very low key. Even the choice of share cards from the open deck is generally fairly obvious. Not a bad game, but unlikely to drag me away from Acquire, Dallas or Trump.
Nik Holliday, Welwyn I must be the only correspondent in Sumo that doesn't like Airlines. Correction, I neither liked it or disliked it. Nice components, easy to play, but for some reason I found it rather uninteresting and extremely frustrating; I'm afraid Airlines is to be consigned to the dreaded 'bottom of the pile'.
Phil Murphy, Bangor I was surprised to see the mixed response to Airlines and your own very badly disguised slagging off of Adel. Both are classics. Hard money says they'll still be both played at cons ten years from now and, as a matter of interest, both entered my 'played ten times or more' list within a month of purchase. Neither has lost its shine nor been a novelty - five of us are getting together this very evening and Adel and Airlines are as likely to be played as anything else.
[MS: I hope you all enjoy the variants elsewhere this issue - either to improve your enjoyment or perhaps to see it in a new light. I think that should do it for Airlines comments now. Adel isn't completely bad, I just used the review as a vehicle to vent my spleen over the GI style of previewing. I'm all grown up and mature now.]
Ulrich Blenneman, Hattingen You should definitely start to play 'Empires in Arms' soon. In my opinion it is the best game of all types on the market! Yes, it is very long but the diplomacy rules actually make some sense.
Alan Moon, Lancaster NH Once again, as with Adel, you have obviously played a game for the first time with the wrong group of players. Res Publica is a great game. Simple and full of life, much in the manner of Karriere Poker. Try playing it again, this time with some fun guys.
[MS: Got that Mike, Ted and Mike? Less of the Boring Brothers act! I still think it is like a heavily subdued Pit. Alan is not alone...]
Jennifer Schlickbernd, Baldwin Park, CA We have really enjoyed Res Publica. We consider it a challenge to be able to figure out how to be able to communicate legally what is in each player's hand and get the offers we want from the other players. Not a particularly deep game, but good for a time filler.
Giorgio Salvadego, Marghera Unfortunately I'll be unable to attend the Lambourne Gamesday because on the same weekend in Italy there is the second Italian Games Festival, a national event and the organisers of the Festival included my small newsletter in the programme and also invited me to a round table to discuss the state of gaming in Italy. The odd thing is that the other invitees are real big names in the gaming field, here in Italy, people who write for the major Italian newspapers, who write games for national television or represent games manufacturers... not bad for a guy who secretly prints 55 copies of Sports Center....
[MS: Not bad at all. I would be more than honoured to be asked to such an event, especially if we had such an event in the first place. I included this as I thought it might interest a few readers to see the differences between us and Italy, let alone Germany. Why is this? Does anyone have a historical or sociological reason for the different attitudes and marketing of boardgames? Does anyone care?]
Jon Madge, Tamworth Sumo 5 - best one yet. The free game was great - I've played it 46 times and it has proven statistically correct nearly every time!
[MS: The man is a loony. Ignore him. Talking of loonies...]
Giorgio Salvadego, Marghera Can you tell me who David Icke is? Mike Clifford cited him somewhere in his Sumo contributions.
[MS: As you can get done for libel in an amateur newsletter just as effectively as in a national newspaper, I'll have to pass on this one. I'll tell you when I see you.]
[And finally, we now have the last of the 5&10 lists which I hope someone will analyse for me now we have all the data - though I guess Risk is the most common by a long way.]
Lukas Kautsch: 30+ Titan (319), 1830 (77), Hols der Geier (55), Acquire (52), Mr Moneymaker (43), Merchant of Venus (41), Cosmic Encounter (37), 1829 (35), Bausack (31), Metropolis (31), Midgard (30). [MS: Speechless.]
Neil Walters: 5+ Trump, Dallas, Kremlin, Shark, Crude, Seaside Frolics, Ironclads, Twixt, Dover Patrol, Railway Rivals, Junta & loads of Waddies 10+ Risk, WP&S, Alaska, 18xx, Hare & Tortoise, Acquire (100+), Napoleon, Sherlock Holmes Card Game. More enlightening though is my list of games played at least once and would be 10+ if time and available players allowed: Britannia, Decline & Fall, Civilisation, Rommel in the Desert, Third Reich, Die Macher, Blood Royale, Dune, Rep of Rome, Full Metal Planete, Supergang.... Maybe soon.
Stuart Dagger: 5+ 1835, 1853, Adel, Airlines, Alaska, Ausbrecher, Battlecars, Britannia, Caramba, Cold War, Consulting Detective, Decline & Fall, Dail Eirann, Diplomacy, Discretion, Dune, Election, Enemy in Sight, Fellowship of the Ring, Fortune, Forum Romanum, Grass, Hols der Geier, Illuminati, Janus, Kingmaker, Kings & Things, Kremlin, Machiavelli, Maritim, Merchant of Venus, Metropolis, Mythology, New York New York, Paydirt, Pax Britannica, Ploy, Pompeii, Raiders & Traders, Republic of Rome, Samurai, Sechs Tage Rennen, Shark, Shogun, Sleuth, Sniff, Spanish Main, Talisman, Thoughtwave, Titan, Trump, Venture, WP&S, Xerxes. 10+ 1829, 1830, Acquire, Borsenspiel, Circus Maximus, Civilization, Cosmic Encounter, Crude, Cul de Sac, D&D, Empire Builder, Family Business, Gunslinger, Hare & Tortoise, Junta, Die Macher, Monad, Naval War, Organised Crime, Rail Baron, Railway Rivals, Rummikub, Runequest, Sigma File, Speed Circuit, Spies, Statis Pro Football, Tarock.
Paul Oakes: (* - Desert Island [MS: Paul must be the only person left in the hobby not to have plastered his all over a certain national games magazine.]) 5+ Karriere Poker, Nappy's Last Battles, Flat Top*, Drive on Stalingrad, 1835*, Britannia, PGG, Kharkov, Spy Trap, Colditz, Grand Prix, Hitler's War*, Kursk (1980), Ambush, Armchair Cricket, Showbiz, Fortune, Tobruk, Typhoon*, DNO/Unentschieden, 1829 (N), Dallas (Cartel), Big Boot*, Big Helmet*, 1853, Creature that ate Sheboygan, Kremlin, Breaking Away, Starforce, Black Monday, Fulda Gap, Swashbuckler, War at Sea, War in the Pacfic. 10+ Sopwith, McMulti, Wembley, Hare & Tortoise, Cluedo, 1829 (S), Borsenspiel, Illuminati, Hols der Geier, Mine a Million, Railway Rivals, Risk, Shark, Speed Circuit, Metric Mile, Formula One, Sigma File, Scrabble, Mastermind, Othello, Air War, Statis Pro Football, Dreadnoughts, Trivial Pursuit, Nuclear War, Halma 20+ SL/CoI*, Pit*, Monopoly, Campaign, Acquire, Formel Eins, 1830, 6 Day Race, Civilization*, Diplomacy, Subbuteo. Plus Stockmarket Specialist and After the Holocaust both underplayed because of insufficient opponent enthusiasm. Are you going to collate and analyse this data? [No.]
John Armitage: 5+ Mousey Mousey.
Jon Madge: 5+ Metric Mile, Sixth Tackle, Air Superiority, Flight Leader, Strat Hockey, Pro Golf, Turning Point Stalingrad 10+ International Cricket, Championship Boxing, Statis Pro Football, Clubhouse Baseball, Pressure Putt, World of Motor Racing, B17, Anzio, Soccer Replay, Pursue the Pennant. The Worst Game I Ever Bought - Fore (the golf game).
Ulrich Blenneman: 5+ PGG, Midway, Squad Leader, Fleet series, Statis Pro Basketball, Shanghai Trader, Kremlin, Desert Fox, A House Divided, Sherlock Holmes Criminal Cabinet (SHCD?), Chickamauga (Blue & Gray), World in Flames, St Lo, Normandy, Hitler's Last Gamble, B17 10+ Borodino, Metric Mile, Soccer Replay, Up Front/Banzai/Desert War, MNB, Diplomacy, Civilization, Junta, Tigers are Burning, Sunrise of Victory, Blitkrieg 41, Napoleon at Lutzen, Risk plus campaign games of Pacific War and Empires in Arms, which should qualify for 10+.
Derick Green: 5+ 1830, VITP, Illuminati, Blue & Gray, Shot & Shell, Colditz, McMulti, Merchant of Venus, Formula One, Hare & Tortoise, Risk, Family Business, Monopoly, Awful Green Things, Mah Jong 10+ Civilization, WP&S, Backgammon, Junta, Six Day Race, Cartel, Squad Leader, Naval War, Railway Rivals, Scrabble, Apocalypse, WS&IM, Chess, Continuo, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, Diplomacy, Ogre, Car Wars, Kings & Things.
Mark Bassett: 5+ Elixir, SPIVS, Judge Dredd (Boardgame), Schoko, Marrakesh, Sigma File, Ace of Aces, Spanish Main, Amazing Labyrinth 10+ Star Fleet Battles, Dune, Sorceror's Cave, Mystic Wood, Acquire, Hare & Tortoise, Awful Green Things, Reversi, Thoughtwave, Speculate, Cul de Sac, Epaminondas, Alaska.
Mark Buckley: 5+ Adel, Broadway, Car Wars, Circus Imperium, Civilisation, Die Macher, 1830, Elixir, Family Business, Grass, Illuminati, Junta, McMulti, Nuclear War, Railway Rivals, Schoko & Co, Shark, 6 Day Race, Swords & Sorcery, Supremacy 10+ Britannia, Favoriten, Hare & Tortoise, Call of Cthulhu, AD&D, Traveller, Runequest, Stormbringer. Software: Deja Vu, Elite, Starflight, Wings.
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