Inside Pitch

Some editorial overflow to start with. Lots of rules have arrived, though none were on the list, which therefore stands as last time and gives me another page to fill with waffle. Those received including an excellent set of instructions on how to make your own Al Parlamento and some useful variants on Silverton. Keep them coming if you've got them - Eamon, any chance of sending me Neolithibum please? Rules received this month: Guillotine (but no card translations), Silverton Supplement, Silverton Sumo Supplement (!), Silverton Cards Statistical Analysis, Tour De France (MB), 1990/1 March Madness Teams, Minos, Fliegende Hollander, Al Parlamento gamekit, Formule De chart, HOTW Empire Arrival List, Razzia, Viva Pamplona!, Superblatt, Okand Planet, Rymdimperiet, East India Company (G&RRRRR), Ratselturm, Hydra, a decent set of Black Monday, Chalet, Henne Berte, UFOs, Trumpett, Pirat and Koalition.

On the subject of rules, though not wishing to single out an individual effort, I have to thank Bert Fridlund for his heroic efforts in translating the three Swedish games mentioned above. The result, if I can tempt enough people to play, should be a series of Swedish game reviews next time that will feature Rymdimperiet (a space trading game), Okand Planet (a planetary exploration game), Hatunaleken (a Kingmaker-style game set in Sweden with many new rules) and the sumptuous Ostindinska Kompaniet (Dan Glimne's recent trading game on the East India Company). Expect comments on as many of these as I can get played over the Summer.

Final point on rules relates to something I mentioned a few issues back on translation programs. I have now spotted a review in a PC magazine for just such a program on the IBM that you can feed ASCII text which it translates into passable (or editable) French or German. This costs £70 per language which seemed pretty reasonable. The company is working on the programs to bring the data back the other way and I have asked them to keep me informed of developments. Is this something that could be purchased by a £1 subscription from each reader? Is it worth it, or are we willing to wait for manual efforts? Please let me know.

I heard some rumours in May to the effect that Perlhuhn's 'factory' in Germany had burned down, destroying all the old stock, masters and the prototypes for this year's games. I have no idea what this means for production (unless it is a ploy to ramp Perlhuhn prices a la Homas Tour) but I hope Herr Wittig is back to full strength at Essen.

In the first couple of issues of Sumo I put out a request for information on any Britannia variants apart from Conquest Europa and Chariot Lords but sadly nothing was forthcoming. At the request of a couple of readers, I'll try again. I am looking for details of designers, publishers or availability on any Britannia variant but particularly those known (thought) to exist which include a middle east scenario, one set in Africa and, I'm told, a Tolkein version which I'm sure was being done by Graham Staplehurst. Any info appreciated.

I am never sure of the scope of the gaming grapevine, but if anyone hasn't heard that, at the time of writing, Eamon Bloomfield has not yet been paid by the auctioneers and that he stands to lose not only his game collection but £20,000 odd and his shop as well, then now you know. This is obviously a terrible state of affairs but sadly, beyond sympathy, I have no idea quite what can be done to improve the situation. It should be noted at this point that if you have cause to use an auctioneer, on no account should you approach James Ltd, James International Ltd, or any of the myriad companies in the James group to sell your wares. Aside from the fact that auction law seems to be notoriously complex and in some respects favours the auction house, Eamon still managed to get a court order demanding the cash, outstanding since early this year, yet still nothing was forthcoming. I understand the bailiffs have been instructed but I really do wonder what they are going to achieve. Any helpful suggestions to Eamon please.

Talking of boycotts, I would like to warn you against buying any product from Fresno Games Association (FGA) now or in the future. I was unfortunate enough to purchase their Civil War Classics (£21) which is all but unplayable. If it were a toaster, I'd take it back to Mr Ashton for a refund on the basis of being unfit for the purpose sold - an interesting point this, anyone care to test it? I admit to no first hand knowledge, but I hear on good authority that the other games are just as bad. There are also stories of their Civil War: Brother against Brother being a ripoff on an old SPI design into the bargain. We clearly have a case of nice graphics fooling the public (including me) into parting with cash and then taking the 'sod them' stance. They completely ignored my two letters of complaint and didn't even have the courtesy to send an errata sheet, yet this is a company claiming customer care of the first order. According to gamers I've spoken to, and various magazine comments (BROG in particular), there is widespread dissatisfaction, but FGA seem to be carrying on regardless while taking in the money as people are, presumably, still buying the games. Not many are playing them, I'll warrant. I am open to hearing the other side of the argument, but I strongly suspect there isn't one to be heard. The real bummer is that I can't even get a fiver for Civil War Classics so it is off to Oxfam in the near future. Avoid.

Talking of buying games (snappy linking huh?), an enterprising Sumo reader is willing to offer discounts on virtually any Avalon Hill game and many others such as 3W, GMT, FASA, Decision and so on. The qualification would be that orders are for a minimum of three games of one type (preferably more) or with a retail value of £80+. I suspect this will appeal to clubs or groups who buy in lots of games, but for a new game such as Advanced Civilisation, Candidate or Gangsters it could be worth organising a bulk order. Another reader is toying with the idea of arranging gaming holidays in Cyprus, with hotel, food, beach and so on all laid on in an inclusive price. Let me know if these type of things appeal and I'll put you all in touch.

David Watts was intending to have an advert in this issue but I seem to have mislaid it during the course of production, about which fact I am mightily embarrassed. Anyway, the gist of the advert was that you can write to David for a free catalogue of the Rostherne Game range which is already incredibly good value and, if you place an order before 15th August and mention Sumo, you can have 10% discount from David and a further 10% off courtesy of me. David will also be producing his excellent Essen guide later this month which can be had for an SAE. David tells me that he has re-sold Railway Rivals to an as yet to be named German company who are planning a major launch and distribution deal at Essen. The new version will be a luxury item and feature four new hardbacked boards, though I don't know if David will offer these separately to people like me who already have all four versions of the game! As ever, David is at 102 Priory Road, Milford Haven, Dyfed SA73 2ED.

For those that have asked, the latest Lionel Games situation is that we have just released Matchplay Golf, a simple and quick replay game featuring the Ryder Cup and Suntory tournaments, at £3.95, available from Mike Clifford as usual. The Tour and Grand Prix Manager (review this issue, the game is currently reprinting) are selling steadily and we hope to issue a Tour '92 update set for £2.95 (new counters, charts and updated rules) as soon as this year's race is over. Look for availability within a week or so after the Champs Elysee. Future developments will almost certainly revolve around the RAC Rally system and the Le Mans replay and thereafter we really don't know. On current timetabling, these two should be out by October for Gamesday and Essen, though don't hold me to it. Officially scrapped for the time being is the soccer game which, having chased ourselves round and round for some hours, we realised that we a) couldn't yet crack a system that would allow two players to play and make decisions in a reasonable time and b) couldn't really be bothered anyway after the disappointments of the European Championships and Lambourne's Final Score. It may surface again, but only if one of us enjoys a sudden 'Eureka' experience. My feeling is that the dynamic nature of the game probably has to be abstracted in some way to avoid a hour plus game, but if Kick Off manages to capture the movement and flair in ten minutes on computer, it should at least be possible as a boardgame.

At long last I have my first French subscriber which represents something of a breakthrough. I don't know what anyone else thinks, but the French game market has always seemed rather insular, though I really wish it wasn't. The language difference is an obvious factor, and the cost of the games over here another, but it strikes me that the hobby is active in France (active enough to support a couple of magazines for years, but now 'only' Casus Belli). Mike Clifford brought me a catalogue back from Jeux Descartes which seems to now be the largest French chain of shops and is certainly the one I call into whenever I can get to Paris. Flicking through, we are familiar with most games in the UK, but I would be interested to hear from anyone concerning the systems or merits of: Footmania, Zargos (is this Zargos Lords?), James Bond - Le Jeu, Montgolfiere, Aristo, Vertigo, Krystal, La Bete du Gevaudan, Okinawa, Moskva, Kharkov, Fleurus, Solferino, Friedland, Alesia, Marne, Amiraute, Heroika 1789, Grands Strateges and the new edition of Les Aigles.

In amongst a fair number of figure gaming shows which ranged from poor (Dunstable) through good (Salute) and excellent (Newark), I managed to get up to Burton for the third Beer & Pretzels organised by Phil Bootherstone of Spirit Games. Don't take this a criticism, because I can see the appeal, but I was a little disappointed to find no traders to speak of besides hobby stalwart David Watts, waving the flag in style as usual. There was no Lambourne, no Spirit stand and no surprises. The result was that everyone else was hard at it playing games. As I arrived late afternoon on the Saturday, this wasn't exactly what I'd hoped to find but I pottered round to the well stocked Spirit shop which cheered me up no end - there really are some good games here and at very attractive prices in most cases.

Phil told me attendance was up yet again and everyone was certainly having a good time but to my mind it is sad to see it going the way of cons where everyone just seems to play games. What else is there to do? Well, chatting used to be a interesting diversion, the odd small dealer with some unusual games, pleasant surroundings for a walk or shopping and a chance to have a drink or three with some like minded gamers. In fact, this sounds exactly like the recent 'successful' Furrycon which sadly I missed due to holidays but which lost about £1,000 for its organisers, by which standard Beer & Pretzels must have been 'Bloody Amazingly Successful'. Let's hope that this doesn't put SFCP from running it again in '93.

Talking about finance, and rather old news now I suppose, but Games Workshop was the subject of a management buyout earlier this year and is now in the hands of Tom Kirby and colleagues, taking over from Brian Ansell and Kevin Pinfold who retain consultative roles. Featuring as Buyout of the Month in Acquisitions Monthly (which probably has a considerably lower circulation than White Dwarf), the deal was worth a cool £10.5m and equity was provided by Bank of Boston, Charterhouse, County Natwest and ECI, senior debt of £2.5m by The Bank of Scotland. To May '91, turnover was £12.2m and they forecast pre tax profits of £3m for '92. Games Workshop employs 240 people. So, to those who would carp, think about that little lot and the fact that Gamesday is now held at the NEC when you next criticise Snotlings or the latest game system (which in fact is a Jervis Johnson wargame called Battle for Armageddon - the first in a series). Figures and details provided by Vasey & Vasey, Sumo's financial advisers. Thanks Charles.

We sat down recently with Bruce Wilson who enticed us into playing Hostage from the ADP group in Aberdeen. This was a nice little game (if a touch sick in subject matter) but, to me, an obvious straight lift from a quite successful game of recent years, with only the topic tweaked to proffer thin camouflage. In this vein, I hereby institute the Separated at Birth club. Current nominations are Ogallala (Pelikan) and Chaos Marauders (GW); Face Off (Waddy) and Slapshot (AH); Mille Bornes, Grass, Nautic Miles and Entrepreneur; Family Business and Hostage. Are they by any chance related? Any other nominations for spooky coincidences in game design welcome. Did somebody mention Avalon Hill's new Gangsters? No, probably not.

I find myself watching less and less TV. Yes, I know it is the Summer and that it is trendy to say this and all the people that 'never watch telly' will surprisingly know the latest catchphrases ('Treeeee!') or who is being written out of Eastenders, but there really isn't that much on to watch. At present, aside from the usual sport (I'm now a major motorcycling GP fan), I am watching just LA Law, the brilliant Have I got News for You (easily one of the funniest programmes I've ever watched) and Cheers. There seems to be a dearth of decent films (when was the last recent French film on TV?) and even LA Law is dropping away slightly - that Mr Sigfuentes is sorely missed. I thought Jack Dee good value when he was on and One Foot in the Grave had its moments, but in general it is a good a time as any to catch up on my video backlog, currently standing at about 120 hours, ignoring those programmes taped to be re-watched at a later date. These latter are of course repeated on TV before the tape comes anywhere near the top of the pile except for ones you didn't tape (like The Prisoner) that I'd very much like to see again. Is there something badly wrong with my brain?

A drop in TV, especially wallpaper TV where you just listen and do something else, inevitably means a rise in background music. I have enjoyed the recent Jam album (Extras) which caused a double take when I saw it on the shelf (a mere eight years or more since the last one and a long defunct band doesn't offer a lot of scope for releases), but apart from a couple of duff tracks (Eton Rifles sung as an acoustic guitar ballad has little going for it) it is a must for the fan (Move on Up is a great cover) and was in no way released as a cash-in to swell Mr Weller's retirement fund. I have also been listening to Electronic, Nirvana, the sadly defunct KLF, much Motown, a Soul II Soul revival, REM, B52's, The Smiths and a lot of Was (Not Was) again, prompted by a memorable concert at the Town & Country Club that was notable for the number of excellent songs they could afford to leave out, yet still put on a great set.

More than anything though I have been almost exclusively listening to old music that I am familiar with, which means old tapes, compilations and greatest hits 'singalong' fare. The desire to experiment (beyond listening to the odd sample tape) is almost gone. It must be my age (or my job), and considering I am now old enough to think Robert E Smith looks a bit of a pratt with that haircut, perhaps it's all downhill from here.

Wayne's World is a corker, even if I did see it with just sixteen others at the Empire with a commensurate drop off in audience laughter. The trouble is, when you think about it, it all seems very predictable and old hat (see Bill & Ted x2, Spinal Tap etc), but in a strange way it isn't at all and ends up being watchable, appealing, original and hugely amusing [that's enough adjectives. Ed]. There are at least six major laughs and lots of minor ones - if you are feeling cheesed off, go and see this one. The book is good too, except that all too many recent conversations have betrayed signs of Bill/Ted/Waynespeak. But on balance, who cares? Better than Bill & Ted? Most definitely, and film of the month, leaving Shattered (quite unbelievable and suffering from Berenguer B-Movie disease) and Crimes & Misdemeanours (not too funny) gasping in its wake. What is up with Woody Allen anyway? He needs a good shake, as my nan used to say.

In the future, I shall go to see Far & Away, not because it is Cruise and Kidman (the old joke about needing Cinemascope for the smiles definitely fits here) but because it looks like an epic story and you know how I love those. If it is a patch on Reds, I'm yer man. Also looking worryingly good is Batman Returns - the trailer is better than a lot of movies I've watched recently, The Penguin is perfect, but our Michelle looks a bit of a state (are the rumours about bum- enhancing pads true?). By the way, did you see Bazza doing the 'fawn, fawn, slobber, slobber' act with Miss Pfeiffer? How embarrassing. And I still haven't seen Hook, Delicatessen, Howard's End, Barton Fink or The Player. What a wretch.

No response on the proposed TV series as yet, which frankly is no bad thing with my current acute lack of time. Actually, when I say no response, I mean nothing at all, nary a sausage, so I think we can shelve the concept, pack up our Film '91 chairs and forget the book royalties on that particular exercise. And those in the Diplomacy hobby who frantically rang me, post Sumo 7, looking for a piece of the action should take note that Mike 'Cubby' Siggins carefully selects his co-workers while shunning self-promoting groupies and mediocre sycophants. Gentlemen, the ego has landed. No, I'm not at all serious.

Ignoring all distractions and delays, I went to the touring Rembrandt exhibition in London with just a day to spare before it all finished. Lots of people were there griping about having to pay to get in and, to add to their moans, there was a queue with a fixed entry time that was not at all flexible. Jobsworths in peaked caps abounded, and this is before you even got to see the pictures. When you do, it is totally excellent, not least for the draw appeal of art galleries for young, attractive women. Why is this? I was sorely tempted to do the Woody Allen chat up bit but then I calmed down and bought a big book instead. The downside (and isn't there always one to spoil a perfect afternoon?), which really gets on my wick, is the twats who stand there and criticise the perspective or the colour values or the big nose in a loud enough to be heard voice, enlightening all with their wisdom. Jeez. What right have these people got to criticise greatness? Indeed, why do they bother going? Certainly, they all ignored the 'No Lecturing' sign, to my great cost. I had to walk off several times to retain my calm posture. Either way, I really wanted to see this and, despite missing the Tomcats flying at Mildenhall, I'm glad I did. Not sure where the roadshow has gone off to, but catch it if you can.

I've got through quite a lot of books this month and in general it has been a good haul. Jonathan Carroll's Outside the Dog Museum was a tester as I'd gone right off his stuff after Child Across the Sky. Thankfully, this is something of a return to form. Featuring all the usual characters, motifs (Vienna and architecture) and little bursts of magic. The story hangs together well until the end, which is a mite far fetched even for magical realism. Even so, a good read and I really must try and get round to his earlier books.

I have been avoiding Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books for ages, based upon an interview in which the author struck me as a bit of a tool, though this in itself is not unusual when you think about authors in general. But, stuck for something to read at the airport, I picked up Sharpe's Waterloo (it was that or soft porn, such is Skyshop's excellent range....Not! [Sorry]) and whizzed through it. Readable it certainly is, the historicity is a little doubtful in places but the outcome is at least known in advance. Cornwell uses the simple measure of inserting his hero Sharpe (late of the 95th Rifles, 33rd Foot and Prince of Wales' Own Fictional Volunteers) into various timetracks and having him do the interesting things that would probably get done by about ten different people rather than one superman. I suppose comparisons with the Flashman books are therefore inevitable and as a big fan of the latter I shall certainly not be unbiased.

The differences are primarily that of writing talent (15 love, Flashy), characterization and style. As a character, Sharpe is pretty weak. He may well have belonged to all the right regiments and be a tough old campaigner (did he really sell cooked human buttocks to the Portuguese as hams? We don't know for sure), but the gruff, grumpy rogue is just so flat, predictable and boring, one quickly falls into the trap of not caring for his safety - I was cheering the French lancers much of the way. Worse though are Sharpe's hangers on (lots of poorly drawn Etonians, the laughably Irish Sgt. Harper) and the women (for we have a love interest) who really don't work at all. Cardboard is an adjective that springs to mind.

Stylistically, Sharpe comes across as more heavily detailed (and gory) history, but I feel it falls short when taking the wider view, losing a lot of atmosphere as a result - while the cavalry may well have the right uniforms, the lengthy battle and campaign descriptions hardly feel Napoleonic. Where Cornwell's books really fail in comparison, and indeed in absolute terms, is in their lack of humour. They are almost devoid of wit and the Sharpe character only adds to the problem. I guess what I am really looking for is Napoleonic Flashman novel, that sadly will never be. As they stand, I rate the Sharpe books as a poor substitute for the One True Flashy but I'll probably read one of the earlier ones to crosscheck.

The sportsgaming mafia (Clifford, Simpson, Salvadego, Montagni - we name the guilty men) has thankfully declared a new author fit for public consumption. Having spread the word on a certain Thomas Harris, the new candidate is David Martin, author of Bring Me Children and Lie To Me, among others. Having read the latter recently, I agree entirely with the nomination and, pausing only to consider if the abovementioned gentlemen are completely normal, I suggest you try him as well. As you may have guessed, we are back in the land of the murdering loony screwed up by parental action (I blame Early Learning Centres) but, perhaps more disturbing than Harris' nutters, the guy is not that far removed from the man who reads your gas meter. Martin also has a penchant for involving kids in his storyline, which is creepy (and I'm only a godparent) but I am glad to say he never crosses that fine line between the scary scene and bad taste. Otherwise, I have slight reservations about the plot (just a touch contrived) and the writing is not as polished as Harris', but for sheer readability, suspense, twists, dark humour and sicko grammatical tricks, Martin has it sewn up. I used to think there were no true crime 'thrillers'. I was wrong. Get on the phone to Murder One immediately.

Those worried about the quality of my literary intake should note that grisly murder books are always balanced by the odd Tintin or Thomas the Tank Engine re-read (aren't the Christopher Awdry books crap?) and extravagantly intelligent modern novels of great skill such as, oh, William Boyd's Brazzaville Beach. This is a marvellous story that saw me wide awake at dawn having finished it in one late sitting, and believe me that is praise indeed at the moment. Just a little slow to get moving, it builds steadily and pulls in so many diverse strands in such a clever fashion that I just had to say 'wow' a lot. It is so impressively trendy as well, considering it was written at least two years ago. Boyd uses and clearly explains concepts such as chaos, theoretical maths, intellectual property and the (hinted at) Mandelbrot set in a manner that deserves instant promotion to Editor, New Scientist. The characters are believable and interesting; they really worked for me. This is easily on a par with Boyd's earlier class works such as Ice Cream War and New Confessions, and is my Book of the Month. Great Stuff.

Late News: German Game of the Year nominations are in: Knit one, pearl one from Die Verbotene Stadt, Donnerwetter, Um Reifenbreite (aka Homas Tour, that well known new release), Entenrallye, Gold Connection, Palermo, Quo Vadis, Razzia, Schraumeln and Tabu. No, I don't know much about them either. No Klaus Teuber game featured this year though - what is the German for sour grapes?

On to Letters or back to Magazines.

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