Is Ian Livingstone best-able to defend himself? On the evidence of his retort in the last issue of Sumo, probably not. Let me do it for him. Plus, to keep readers on their toes, there will be several football references within this piece. Those who spot 40 can claim a copy of Tuna Hunt, the latest offering from Porritt Leisure Products.
Ian, old mate (well, you did nod at me during the games auction at Norwich in December), you take this all too seriously. Yes, get annoyed, but in the privacy of your own home. Pander the doomongers but quietly think "f... 'em", a policy adhered to by Ian Branfoot, articulate manager of oft-criticised Southampton FC.
The point about Automania is that genuine games aficionados want your latest bestowal to succeed. And, of course, it almost does. The problem is, the expectations of the mighty are on a different plain to the mere mortal. Livvo is God, therefore give us something on par with the Sistine Chapel. And, squire, where did you get the nonsense about Boom Towm? I like it. In fact, I like it a lot. So do others of my acquaintance.
To backtrack for a mo, Ian Livingstone and his mucker Steve Jackson founded Games Workshop. Would I be exaggerating in stating that this operation saved the UK games business from oblivion? No, I wouldn't. Livvo and Jacko resurrected a floundering industry and gave it a smidgeon of respectability. They are latter-day Saints following in the fine tradition of an intrepid band of enthusiasts whose efforts I freely acknowledge.
This esteemed (or motley, depending on your viewpoint) group includes the following: Eamon Bloomfield, who introduced Brits to the Teutonic mentality and the range of Strat-O-Matic and Avalon Hill sportsgames. Graeme Levin, head honcho of the ubiqitous Games Centre shops and publisher of Games And Puzzles magazine; David Pritchard, his reputable editor. Derek Carver, who contiunues to invent and re-invent ('we didn't like the rules of chess, and now moves the pawns using the elastic device from Bruce Jenner's Decathlon Game'). George Crawshay and Charles Vasey are brothers in arms from the 'do something, or you are not entitled to an opinion' school. And they are certainly 'doers' - witness the innumerable articles and CHV's endeavours with Perfidious Albion. And, finally, 'Sir' Francis Tresham, the mad professor of the hobby. Ask yourself where we would be without Civilization and the 18xx series, whose influence has pervaded a myriad of designs.
I hope that Ian Livingstone presses on with his one-man operation. There will inevitably be a buzz when a new Livingstone is rumoured. And, guv'nor, if I might offer a final word or two? Freshen up your playtest group, and shoot any member who suggests a 'move back two spaces' card. It also goes without saying that you may use this testimony freely. It might provide a handy reference should you be seeking a career in politics in the near future.
Upon the publication of my last book, a critic (French, be damned!) suggested that I used the word "ironic" too frequently. Ironically, he was probably correct. In this article, I would warn you of the overuse of "furthermore" and "without exception".
Isn't it strange how the initial euphoria for a new game can be replaced by that sinking feeling a couple of plays later? I think I have the answer. Many doctors agree that the chemical content of shrink-wrapping is similar to cocaine. Tests have shown that games' players can succumb to the vapours from clear plastic, and might even display additional strength usually associated with crack. I surprised myself recently when I tore the packaging from Pony Express in one stroke!
As a veteran of the rock business, I was recently asked by a EEC commission to report on the influence of unusual hallucigenic substances. I can now exclusively reveal the lurid habits of many pop superstars previously considered virtuous and almost spiritual. And you thought those copies of Connect 4 were to relieve the boredom of life on the road (and in the air, in most cases):
Archie Ripp, leader of the Shoulderblades, would not step on stage without a sniff of the rule book of Election. Furthermore, Archie enjoyed a between meals nibble of the plastic politicians contained within the game.
Curly Leads and the Switches could not be left for a moment with any of the Ravensburger games. Curly swore that the laminate used on their play cards kept him in touch with David Icke.
Many a reverential word has been cast on Red Haemorrhoid and his legendary band the Piledrivers. But did you know that Red was a sucker for Combat Results Tables? His group used to substitute the running order of their shows with CRTs from War and Peace. I last saw Red mumbling incomprehensibly about ZOCs, strength points and the high ground, which is where I assume he ednded up.
Games companies are not buffoons. They know the risks, and sensibly put the suggested 'user' age group clearly on their product boxes. Many even show gamers sitting down )some would say 'slumped'), surely the safest posture to adopt when 'gaming'. However, European bureaucrats are now demanding stricter controls, and Waddingtons and the like might be forced to submit to the restrictive legislation grudgingly tolerated by cigarette manufacturers.
Addicts might consider purchasing these pocket games now prevalent at Woolworths and behind the toilets at Victoria Station. Without exception, these miniature gems will provide a sufficient 'high' until you can get back to the relative safety of your own home and a copy of Space Crusade.
I know there is diverse opinion about the current state of gaming - I stand with those who declare 'a golden age'. However, all this quality is making me a poor man, and I also wonder if we are not being taken advantage of.
Let me offer a couple of examples of 'dubious value': If Rommel In The Desert (Columbia Games) costs £27.95 (from Second Chance Games), how come East Front is £39.95? Does the fractionally larger playing surface and addition of a few more wooden blocks justify the price hike?
On a recent visit to the States, I bought Steve Jackson Games' Hacker and Coup. Both games were $19.95. Hacker comprises a substantial playing card deck, markers (albeit flimsy) and assorted other game aids. Coup weights less than a gnat on a diet, and consists of a single die, paper map and a few poor quality counters. I understand both games are being subjected to the 'replace dollar sign with pound' UK price dictum, compounding the problem.
You might well argue that if a game is played a few times it represents a good return for your money. Has anyone yet devised a formula establishing unit cost per session?
Overall, games are cheap. Twelve or so years ago, Regatta (Avalon Hill) would have set you back over £12. Today, it is just a couple of quid more. But in a competitive and burgeoning market, and with a recession a full swing (both here and in the USA), the 'heft factor' will be a particularly persuasive element in the customer's choice.
Wink Martindale's turgid hit Deck Of Cards told the story of a soldier who was able to visualise the bible through a pack of playing cards, thus saving the grunt from a court martial. The record would have far more interesting if he had owned up to playing Minden Playing Card Cricket whilst on sentry duty and had later been executed (or declared insane).
Minden Games' supremo Gary Graber's penchant for unlikely (for an American) sports simulations (cricket/soccer) has now encompassed a collection of simple one or two player games generated, as usual, by a pack of Waddingtons' Number Ones.
The Minden Sports Quad comprises Marathon, Trading Card Basketball, Quick Cricket and Summit.
Marathon requires the player(s) to move a marker on the 52 space track, which indicates where the main field is located. An individual runner's position in relation to the field is then determined by drawing an 'action card' which players try to 'beat' from the cards in their hand. A card of higher value will gain points, whilst a lesser card will lose points. The board (actually an A4 piece of card) is marked as Fast, Regular or Slow, further adjusting the points totals. Endurance factors (8 are allocated initially) must also be used to 'keep going'.
When the runner counter is moved over the finish line, the player with the most points is declared the winner. Times can also be recorded, each point counting as one minute gained or lost from the mean time of 2 hours 35 minutes.
Summit follows a similar formula to Marathon, wherebye a hand of cards is used to move a marker upwards on the playing board (again, an A4 card). There are four routes of varying difficulty to chose from, and the player must also expend seven expedition points in eqipping his party. These might provide additional cards (extra supplies), a chance to improve the weather (waiting out a storm), etc.
The game board is marked with a series of linked squares, and these 'patterns' are repeated by selecting cards and placing them in the sequence indicated on the playing surface. Cards are then played from the hand dealt in order to scale the mountain. For example: You have chosen the tricky Northern route, which has limited options. The first card drawn is a seven of Hearts. If you are able to play a higher card from this suit, you move up and take a replacement card. If you have a Heart of a lower value, you may move up, but not take an additional card. As you only have five cards to start, it is imperative to maintain your hand. This can also be achieved by moving laterally (if possible) or down (re-tracing your steps).
Each time you advance, you must draw a card for each connected box. As there are usually options, progress in the early stages can be rapid, but trails peter out at approximately 16,000 feet, and your party can be cut off if the Gods are against you. The weather also plays a part, with die rolls necessary at various points on the mountain. If conditions worsen, boxes containing Aces, Kings and Queens will prove impassable.
Reaching the summit (which I have yet to achieve) can be attempted after declaring a final assault. This allows the player to have at least two cards in his hand, and gain three points which can effect a change of cards, buy an alternate route or wait out a storm. Other expedition points are relinquished. If the first attempt to reach the summit fails, the player may try again, assuming he has final assault points to spend on an alternative passage. Summit has excellent atmosphere, and would look very good 'dressed up' by a professional games company. How about White Wind?
As implied by its name, Trading Card Basketball is played by comparing two 'teams' of bubble gum cards. Each player may call one of three categories - rebounds, assists and scoring - and cards are then compared. The highest card wins the trick. eg. A player calls for the rebound category and plays a card featuring Moses Malone (1200 rebounds). His opponent plays Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1100 rebounds). Malone wins the trick. Other elements of basketball - blocking, steals, fastbreak, etc - may also feature when specialist player cards are played. Gary Graber has kindly included player stats enabling the game to be used in the absence of trading cards.
Minden's Playing Card Cricket is my favourite statistical cricket game and Quick Cricket is a neat alternative, and also allows limited overs matches to be played. The sequence of play printed in the rules booklet best indicates the game procedure:
As with it's big brother, Quick Cricket incorporates just about every facet of the game, and the optional rules are highly recommended.
What is staggering about the Minden Sports Quad is the cost, which is just £7.00 (airmail). I would almost guarantee your enjoyment of Marathon and Summit, whilst the basketball and cricket games will certainly appeal to fans of the respective genres. Naturally, a pack of cards (and dice) are included.
Incidentally, the excellent Minden Soccer (£4.50 airmail) has been re-published, and includes the '88 World Cup, whilst Playing Card Cricket (£18.00 airmail) is now in its fourth edition, Gary having combined the two versions of the game. The package now features basic and advanced rulebooks, ratings booklet, reference card, seven player card sets, scoresheet, playing field, ball marker, two dice and the ubiqitous playing cards. For those in posession of previous editions, the upgrade is available for £8.00.
You may safely order from Gary direct. He will accept UK funds drawn from your own bank (don't ask me how!). His address is: 10951 N.91st Avenue, £244, Peoria, AZ 85345, USA. And don't forget to ask for the Minden Newsletter, which provides notes on work in progress and new product information.
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