[MS: A reduced letter column this time (well, with thirty odd pages in Sumo 7, this was inevitable) though I have some in reserve for next time, but keep them coming please (on disk where possible). I have dropped the writer's town because of space this issue. I think it is apparent by now that Sumo has an international, multi-lingual readership of awesome intellectual prowess. I doubt it matters too much where they come from. And I think I've probably just used up the space I've saved.]

Alan How On the games playing front, I have found History of the World to be a good game, with plenty of entertainment. One of the best features in that game is that everybody goes forward in points scoring and everybody wins battles on their turn, which means that no-one gets bashed without the chance for a return a few centuries later. The only downside I have found is that it is unlikely that one player establishes an insurmountable lead and thus any of the top four players may be able to win in the last round. This I regard as more of an advantage though.

Jennifer Schlickbernd While a good game with lots of flavour, HOTW has a last turn problem. Whoever gets Britain or France (particularly if only one of them appears in the game) nearly always wins. Part of the problem is that the players going before them don't know who has Britain or France and therefore don't necessarily attack them. Any fixes that anyone's thought up? We thought perhaps allowing full knowledge would help, but we haven't had a chance to try that out.

Merfyn Lewis History of the World as you say is quite balanced with the use of empire cards and how they are distributed. Quite a clever mechanism really and not one I've come across before, but I've not played many wargames anyway.

[MS: I would consider HOTW closer to Risk and multi-players than wargames, but either way the mechanism is unique as far as I know.]

William Preston We have been playing quite a bit of History of the World and agree wholeheartedly with your views. Thanks for the lead on this one, I doubt I'd have bought it otherwise. The nicest thing about it compared to Risk is that no-one is ever completely eliminated and in fact have a better chance of making a comeback than the leaders. This is doubly important as it does slow up considerably with five or six players. Four is just about acceptable, but even so we agree that it is one of the best games of last year.

[MS: The afterthoughts on HOTW are perhaps a little more contentious than the review. Of all those I've spoken to, there have been just a couple of dissenting voices but generally it has gone down a storm except for the two hours graft of cutting out counters and, in some quarters, the price. Personally, I would now downgrade the game a little (Moody's Gamewatch re-rates as AA3), but that is only after about seven or eight games which most designers would certainly be proud of. Overexposure aside, it is certainly true that the game becomes bogged down and too slow with five or six yet this is the only way most of the empires can emerge. We find three or four is ideal for about a two and a half or three hour game - you just have to accept that a number of empires won't participate, which is no great loss as you will probably play again. We have found a useful aid, especially with new players, is to have a game chart of the appearance order and relative sizes of the empires. I have Alan Moon's version in the rules bank for those who can't be fagged to knock it up themselves.]

[The main benefit seems to be that the games have been universally close with just one player occasionally dropping out of contention. Like Jennifer above, Andy Daglish phoned to say that he thought the final epoch determined the winner in that if someone anywhere near the lead drew Britain they could score so many points that victory was assured. I have some sympathy with this view as it is of course possible to draw that card for yourself and the British Empire should indeed score you a lot of VPs, with a player in contention probably winning as a result. However, if drawn, that card should (some of the time) be given to the player in last place which is the whole strength of the self-balancing card system - the leaders are forced to sort it out with Ivan or Grant. Comments were also raised as to the logic of counting of victory points for old empires which can seem odd and which also compounds the benefit of getting the Romans early on. This is made worse when a player gets two sequential turns as virtually the whole map can turn green. Again though, even this advantage normally comes out in the wash as you can bet such a player will get the Khmers and the Incas further down the line. I can only say, with one exception, all the games have been exceptionally close and exciting so the designers deserve a nod for that at least.]

[I also found that as well as the game in general palling over time, with such a simple system it got to the point where the only flavour being generated was coming from the names on the cards and my familiarity with the empires concerned. Even this wore thin eventually so I would think that something more is needed to retain the atmosphere long term; but then perhaps it is a game with a shortish life span, which is perfectly acceptable. Overall then, it has been very enjoyable and, in due course, it will undoubtedly get played again to make the famed '10+' list. High praise indeed. For those interested, I am told HOTW has all but sold out (there are a few copies left in Virgin as of 4th July) and it seems to be in the running for major company production in one form or another. Something of a triumph for the self publishing cause, I think. Another self-published game is also drawing favourable comments...]

Mark Bassett Re Silverton: I've always liked playing the idea of playing 1829 but the length is just too demanding, so something that can provide the same flavour in 2 hours has to be a good buy. Like you I find the route-planning part of these games the most interesting and in my very small experience of 1829 I felt that the choice of routes was really subservient to the real business of making money by speculating. Obviously some routes were better than others, but getting the route right (or deliberately wrong) wasn't really an end in itself.

By focusing on goods transport Silverton seems to offer a much more satisfying link between routing and profits. That's the theory anyway! I'd love to test it but I need a copy if the game first: perhaps you could tell me, just what is the address of 999 Games, Holland? (we do a fair bit of business in the Netherlands, and I'm pretty sure I could get it from there faster than from the States).

[MS: 999 Games are at Rondeel 134, 1082 MH Amsterdam Tel: (31) 20 644 5794. The proprietor is Michael Bruinsma who speaks excellent English (well there's a turn up) and, I believe, now takes plastic for those games in his long lists. UK stockists include Esdevium, Spirit and Leisure Games among others. Reports from those that have bought the game have been very favourable.]

David Ward Have only played a couple of games of Silverton, and it is absolutely marvellous. Knocks Rails thru the Rockies into the bin. RTTR is too complicated for its own good, whereas Silverton bowls along at a fair pace.

Andy Daglish Silverton was OK, the chrome seemed to be nailed on inexpertly.

[MS: This is an unusual view, I though much of the appeal derived from the smooth, logical systems and level of built in detail.]

Jennifer Schlickbernd Silverton: I'd like to see a stock system on the game too. One thing I'd have added to the review is the significant amount of bookeeping required to play. There is a lot of die rolling. Even though you can do simultaneous turns, having to do all the price changes by die roll can be slow, particularly if you follow their instructions and have a different player do the price changes. We had the same person do it, and at least that person memorized the results of the common rolls.

Phil Smith (Designer of Silverton) Thanks for such a positive in-depth review of Silverton. I am happy to report that several individuals in Great Britain have ordered the game direct thanks to the review. Also, Esdevium Games will be distributing Silverton so it should be in the stores soon.

Concerning loopholes in the rules, since producing Silverton I have had several people write with rules questions. I always answer these letters and have put together a supplement that includes a Q&A section.

I recently attended the GAMEX convention in Los Angeles and ran a Silverton tournament. Even though its time slot was overlapped by two other railgame tournaments it received a great response and a good time was had by all. I also unveiled a prototype of the New Mexico expansion which many people were eager to play and own. It is still in development stage and I do not yet have an anticipated release date.

[MS: Thanks Phil, glad to see you got a few sales from Sumo. The above mentioned supplement is in the rules bank along with a second supplement featuring variants, scenarios and so on. Also, Stuart Dagger has done a full statistical summary of the cards showing which mines will produce when and how much. Now to the excellent Chaos Gaming article which has prompted a lot of response and chat around the hobby.]

Alan How So there now appears a mood to throw in some random factors to stop all this perfect planning. I think it will help and so cause another catchphrase 'chaos gaming' to take hold and rejuvenate a set of games into a more entertaining light. This is not to denigrate the current mechanisms, but is just a lighter variant. I believe that this adds to the flavour of the game because both sets of players (engineers and financiers) will find new areas to explore in the pursuit of their goals. As far as I am concerned, the historical accuracy of these variations does not matter; what does matter is the continued enjoyment of the game.

[MS: I have found that the Chaotic systems can be more work rather than less. To an extent you can be carried along by the game but the mental anguish can be greater. More views follow...]

Mark Buckley I liked the article on Chaos Gaming, I've always felt that the way in which wargaming, roleplaying and boardgaming score over traditional games like Chess, Go, etc is the fact that introducing uncertainty forces a player into constantly re-evaluating their plans based on 'unknowns', not just the actions of the opponent. Many people seem to find this difficult to comprehend and see any introduction of dice or other randomising method into a game as reducing it to Snakes & Ladders. That's not to say that Chess is not a good game, its just that in essence by applying enough processing the unforeseen element can be eliminated. I think that the essence of a Chaos game lies in determining at what level the player will sit, and then providing enough support mechanisms to provide realistic reactions both from a higher level and a lower one, based on the player decisions. Perhaps this is another strength of computer gaming, the fact that the computer can handle these other levels of interaction without necessarily revealing the background processing. I tried to think of the things that would make a good computer game and decided on:

Multiple paths to a solution (or maybe one of several solutions) Flexibility in reaching a solution Good AI opponent Strong siting of the player at a specific level (see above) Time limits imposed when reasonable

[MS: You hit on a point about acceptability to the gamer and it does indeed seem, as Ellis Simpson was saying last time, that some gamers prefer to know what the system is and be able to plan accordingly. This transparency, for want of a better word, can even extend to quite heavily randomised systems where players want to play the odds (cf Bob Medrow, Generals passim). There is no 'right' way, just a difference in approach and preference. The reference to player level is also interesting. This applies most specifically to wargames where the player can often expect to be general, brigadier, colonel and sometimes even lieutenant all at once. The focus of command control into one level, with irrelevant data abstracted out, is a fascinating and overdue development. Ironically, given how much I felt let down by Napoleon's Battles system, this at least had the right ideas about level and doing away with detail; shame it wasn't executed properly with all the complexity and ratings simply appearing at brigade level rather than battalion as usual.]

Francis Tresham Reference the most interesting discussions on chaos versus stable games, it might be interesting to tap people's opinions reference games testing. At least one chap seems to think we skimp on it. How many tests does he advise? Most of our's go through the mill between fifty and eighty times. Perhaps we are overdoing it?

[MS: Anyone accusing Hartland of skimping on playtesting is a hard man indeed - as far as I'm concerned, they are famed for it! I supect the answer is that you test it till it's ready, but that helps us little. We tested Grand Prix Manager about 25 times, but were happy enough after 20 - the extra five just served to soak test it for odd glitches. A key factor to my mind is making sure that your playtest group is either composed of different gaming tastes or that the game gets circulated among a lot of people who are not afraid to criticise. Obviously one doesn't need to adopt all their comments, but it is wise to listen.]

William Preston Charles Vasey's Chaos Gaming piece was one of the most interesting articles I've read since I joined the hobby. About time someone got things moving in this direction - which of his games features these concepts?

[MS: Most of them, but nearly all are still on the final production cycle. When they come, it will be like a dam bursting. You'll read about them here as soon as they are out.]

Ulrich Blenneman I enjoyed Charles' Chaos Gaming article very much. My wargaming top five (Up Front, Empires in Arms, World in Flames, St Lo, Korean War) all have some 'chaos' elements, especially the first one, which really is chaos all over - which makes this game so enjoyable to play. St Lo and Korean War have an initiative system that makes long term planning for perfect 3:1 impossible; World in Flames has open ended impulses in a turn (although the ground combat system may be perfect for an 'ordered gamer'); Empires in Arms is unpredictable because of the interesting combat resolution and the big influence of diplomacy in this multi-player simulation. The other players just won't do what you want them to! Charles, when you've finished Chariot Lords, please consider designing a 'chaos' France '40 game as described in your article.

Ellis Simpson The article by Charles Vasey on Chaos Gaming was typically opinionated, entertaining, controversial and ultimately satisfying. As he points out the difficulty in facing an opponent using a historical game is that we look back on it with hindsight. I believe it has become popular in miniatures gaming, particularly, to use disguised scenarios. For example, the battle of Balaclave is represented as some kind of Napoleonic tussle so that the commanders do not know they are looking at the battlefield that generated the charge of the Light Brigade. Quite how a printed board game deals with this I don't know but there are certainly some efforts that the designers can make.

Mark Telford Another boringly good read, particularly liked the chaos gaming article. Personally I think I fall into that category. One of the things that holds back my playing games is to find a game that recreates the historical options. Too many are full of hindsight rules. Surprisingly, to create a 'contemporary' feel often leads to simplicity. For example the Storm over Arnhem/TPStalingrad games.

[MS: Hindsight is indeed a killer. I am coming to grips with getting rid of it in my thought processes, but boy does it stick around. For fans of the SoA/TaC/TPS system, Don Greenwood has confirmed that the next one in the series will be a Normandy game - can't wait for this one. On disguised scenarios, I think the need for an umpire and the desire to poke him in the eye for being so bleedin' smart would be problems. Next up in the letters is a tempting mixture of computer gaming tailend comments, 18xx and Sir Francis Tresham telling us about his latest game.....]

Pete Birks Damn you. There I was, planning a nice evening reading and I pick up the newly arrived Sumo. Ninety minutes later and I feel I have to write you a letter as well. Most of an evening wasted. I'm sorry, but I think that an hour and a half over a zine is just not on these days. Who has the time? I recommend eliminating one word in three to enable the reader to get through Sumo quicker. I am preparing some other rules-tinkering so that the zine can reduced to the size of 'What's On in Stoke Newington' sheet. This would eminently improve playability, I mean, readability.

[MS: OK, even I can spot the unsubtle 18xx link here Mr Birks. Ninety minutes eh? I'm flattered. The low point of my postal gaming career (which nearly saw me pack-up publishing altogether) was when Paul Simpkins said he though Sensation and Inside Pitch combined (60 odd pages) merited just a five minute read. I'm so easily hurt, even by intolerant comments from a hobby windbag.]

John Webley I bought Civilization, the new Sid Meier game which does in my humble view, owe an awful lot to Tresham's game, and it is as good if not better than Railroad Tycoon. Civilization is truly excellent. You start with one tribe of settlers and the first job is to find them a good site for a city - this is not so easy since you can only see the squares around you at first. Once settled, the city starts producing units/city improvments, a fairly restricted choice of which is available. At the same time your wise men choose which civilization they wish to pursue. Each advance brings an advantage, normally it allows a new unit to be built. Also, succeeding advances are dependent on earlier ones, so if you have never invented the wheel for example, then you cannot invent engineering. The possibility always exists of course of stealing it from another group. As time goes by you build more and more cities, which grow, and as they grow another problem raises its ugly head, the people become unhappy, and must be placated, either by city improvements such as temples or by bringing people in off the land to be entertainers [MS: they were called The Wurzels I believe], but that of course diminishes the food supply for the population and so on. If you manage to survive so long, then you eventually get to the end phase where you are racing the other surviving civilisations to build a colony ship to Alpha Centauri! The game reaches an end either at a specific time or when the first ship reaches another star. It plays superbly, bringing together a wealth of detail into a coherent whole, the graphics are superb if sometimes a little annoying, and the whole is to be heartily recommended.

[MS: Okay, so I'm tempted. I am also on the edge of my seat waiting for Links Pro 386. It looks unbelievable. Now all I need is the PC to run them on at home. Chances are next Sumo will be produced on a new machine, a 486 I suspect, as the Amiga is starting to get quirky on me.]

David Ward Sid Meier's "Civilisation" is more akin to Populous than Francis Tresham's game. Railroad Tycoon on the Amiga was the main reason for buying a monitor - so I could see what was going on. Anyway I too can be found sitting playing into the wee small hours. Game speed was initially a problem but I originally solved it by running the game entirely in ram (at least 3Mb required), then from hard disk. Why the liking for Tycoon? It may be something to do with a closet desire for a model railway - I have neither the cash nor the space for a suitable layout - live steam O gauge would be nice.

[MS: Ah, the old power user option, eh. 3mb and a hard disk is fairly serious kit, but I suppose I'd have much the same if I hadn't started worrying a year ago about switching out of the Amiga for serious applications. The model railway analogy is a good one, and probably correct in a lot of cases, though few will own up to it. I have never really understood the stigma of model railways (or Wham! for that matter), there are some excellent modellers out there (and some pretty bad ones) and I still keep in touch as a passive hobby, especially GWR, American short line and Swiss railways. So there. My anorak is, however, permanently in the wash.]

David continues... The same goes for the 18xx series. Winning is only secondary to building a glorious network. Which is best? No comment - they are all good, but if you want a game with length then try 1829 with both maps and all the companies. An interesting rule formulated at the GLC club railway clique is that a company cannot upgrade into another company's network. They can only get in if a bit of track is left "open". The GLC club is still going strong, especially in the railway department. It meets every Monday night in the club room at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London. Annual membership is ten pounds and there is a table fee of one pound per evening.

[MS: I haven't been to the GLC for some months now. I am a lapsed member (fnarr) because a third regular night of gaming was just too much for my calendar. Nevertheless, the GLC is an outstanding club though and anyone wanting a wide range of opponents who will play figures, boardgames, roleplay or virtually anything really, this is the one to go to. I may well make a move back soon as I have recently resurrected and expanded my 25mm Napoleonics and will be looking for opponents.]

Francis Tresham The game called 'Revolution' is now nearly finished, it has taken about three years longer than we hoped when we started and is now rather different in most important respects from when we started in 1986. The game is one in which different factions compete on the same board for different, but overlapping, objectives. This sort of thing is an interesting design exercise but not the easiest thing to balance. It is a fairly stable system but there is considerable scope for flashes of evil inspiration. I will try to get out a full scale article for the issue after this.

[MS: I'm pretty sure the subject is the Dutch Revolt and, yes, I'd be more than keen to see an article on the game and the design, as would the readers I'm sure.]

Alan How On the subject of 18xx, I found your views very interesting and consistent with my own. Part of the fun of the 18xx games is missing, because it is an involving experience. I have never not finished any game of 18xx, keeping going till the last pound note is exhausted. This generally means that I have a headache through concentrating too much, but I accept this as the price for enjoyment! The main elements of fun come from building railways, for those who find this part of the game most enjoyable, while others appreciate the subtle goings on in the stock market and the best method of earning money. These two groups of people meet in this well balanced set of games and at the end of the game there is a general feeling of satisfaction, because several people will have achieved their goals in the same game.

John Meara I have only come into the back end of the debate on 18xx. My views are close to your own I expect, in that I think four hours plus is a long time to spend on one game. I also feel that the game systems in 18xx are so strong that they will deter many people from playing them often. They also make it incredibly difficult to win unless you understand the systems in depth. That being said, the games are so good that they do warrant repeated playing which is perhaps why my group tends to play them by post, particularly 1829 (South).

[MS: I bumped into Richard Clyne in Virgin last week (instantly shaming him into subscribing!) and he is now playing 18xx by electronic mail which seems to be a good move compared to postal games.]

Jennifer Shlickbernd 18xx computer programs. I noted Mr Tresham's concern about unauthorized computer programs relating to 18xx. I am on Compuserve and the Internet and haven't seen any programs being distributed on either regarding 18xx games. I think the reference was to the fact that you can use a spreadsheet to set up payouts for the operating rounds. You put in the player holdings and the runs for each company. The spreadsheet calculates the amount the players get. You give out the money before the stock round. If you know spreadsheets, it's simple to set up. We played a five player 1835 game in four and a half hours using this program. I can't see anything illegal about doing this, particularly since there is no distribution involved.

[MS: Yes, that seems to be the situation as I see it from here. There are some other specifically coded programs circulating in Germany (and the UK for all I know), but all are public domain and no-one seems to be making money out of them (in fact they must be putting a lot of effort in gratis). However, If they are making money and you know about it, please let Mr Tresham know. Even in the Essex backwoods, we are starting to get positive vibes (man) about Compuserve, Genie and other networks - would someone like to write in (perhaps a short article?) and let us know the basics such as equipment, the best networks, costs and range of features. Thanks.]

Alan How PC games top ten: 1. Civilisation, 2. Railroad Tycoon, 3. Empire, 4. The Lost Admiral, 5. Reach for the Stars, 6. The Games People Play (Software Toolworks) this is Gin, Crib, Backgammon and Draughts all - well presented and executed., 7. Armada 2525, 8. Sim City, 9. Populous II, 10.The Koei games. It's true that there are more board games that immediately roll off the tongue are great (enjoyable, fun) games, but then that's because our primary interest is in board games, rather than computer games. My own list would include: Cosmic Encounter, 1830, 1835, all other 18xx's, Civilisation, WP&S, Die Macher and Trade.

[MS: Trade is a oddball. For a start you can't get hold of it for love nor money though I did hear rumours that it was being republished by Hexagames. As Hexagames has now gone under, it would only be Sala who might consider it and whether FX Schmid (as the owners?) would have any input remains to be seen. Anyway, I was fortunate enough to play it once and immediately gave up the hunt. I can see exactly why it is popular (it is close in spirit to Executive Decision, Manager, Dicke Kartoffeln, Automania and other production/pricing games) but it is one of those systems that just doesn't work for me, writes Mr Rationalisation. The reason is the market mechanism which, I'm sure, is completely back to front. From memory, selling your widgets increases the supply of raw materials in the market place but doesn't their price then go up rather than down as you would expect? Strange, but it does work in an odd sort of way and I'm sure it would be popular again if it re-appeared.]

Adam Huby I'm really glad to see that you won't be expanding the computer games coverage. I pretty much agree with Ellis's and your views on these, though I must admit I've never investigated them too closely for fear that I might find something I'd want to spend 200 hours playing - don't these people have lives?! I don't think there is a single game of any sort that I've played for that long, except possibly Diplomacy, which I used to play an awful lot at school.

John Webley I think that you are being a bit hard on the computer games, perhaps we expect too much, encouraged of course by the less than restrained hyperbole from magazines and manufacturers. The best AI setups are still a long way behind even quite a moderate opponent in tactical awareness, at least in my experience.

Ken Hill I read with great amusement your tirade against computer games. Being an avid computer gamer (as well as an avid boardgamer), I feel qualified to discuss the differences. In my mind, you miss the point about computer games. They do two things that boardgames cannot: provide you with an opponent who's always ready to play a game, no matter what and yopu cvan play a computer game with little effort (no set-up time, no bookeeping or record keeping). Yes, the AI in many computer games is not very good and there are many games that are just not very good in general but not every board game is a winner either! You should try a modem to modem game (like Populous, Command HQ or Perfect General) against another human opponent. This is one of the best gaming experiences you can have in any form.

[MS: Surprisingly, I have played this way and agree that the experience is worthwhile (if expensive to set up) but the three games mentioned have little depth and therefore minimal extended play value. What I got was short term fun but longer term boredom - again, if the games were richer, then I think we'd be onto something.]

Paul Barker Computer Games: They've never kept me hooked in the same way that boardgames have. The closest, I guess, was a few years ago when I went through an Elite phase. Even then I was only really playing a speeded up version of the space trade/travel/combat portions of Traveller. I haven't managed to rationalise why I am willing to part with £25 or so for an Avalon Hill game but not the same amount for a computer 'equivalent'. Any ideas?

[MS: No, not really. I guess it is a combination of heft, presentation, and, mainly, having been burned so many times in the past by computer games. I have got to the stage where Avalon Hill and Victory, subject permitting, are the only games I will buy on spec, trusting that the AH team have done the usual job on development. OK, so the occasional oddity sneaks through, but as I am starting to realise I may be rather off base with Blackbeard, which featured strongly in the AH best seller lists...]

Ulrich Blenneman Blackbread: so far I've played it three times (always two player) and, dare I say it, I like it! For me and my partners Blackbeard has pirate flavour and definitely plays not too slowly (Ok playing with four may be different). I found it not too difficult to remember the modifiers for different game actions. Ordered Gamers will hate this game because they can plan very little in advance (such is the life of a pirate) while Experience Gamers will love it because they are able to watch the career of their pirate unfold. Blackbeard surely won't become one of my all time favourites games but I consider it a good buy and recommend it for one or two players.

Richard Berg I don't entirely disagree with your assessment of Blackbeard. It is much better solitaire and, even years ago - when the design was first hatched - we were quite aware that there was little interplay. There's no great harm in playing sequentially, drawing chits each turn....probably would help the game. However, I don't remember having a rule that says players adjust their player number each turn, not that it makes any difference mathematically, just that I don't remember. Blackbeard, by the way, underwent major metamorphoses by the time it got published. An upcoming issue of the General has an article on that plus the Cruelty Tables. Also there was a lot more dicerolling etc. In any event, the game is selling like gangbusters here we provincials have much simpler tastes. I also think the 'wargamers' don't mind the off the wall turn sequence or the game length as much.

[MS: I don't think for a minute that large sales are something that proves a game is a good one or even that it is being played, but having had a fair bit of positive feedback, I must admit to some reservations about whether I'd called this one correctly. Having re-read the review though, I can't see anything I'd now change so I guess it is down to varied tastes. Thanks for the comments Richard.]

Mark Bassett Some thoughts on the review of Droids. When we first played it we too felt the programming was all too predictable and experimented with ways of making of making it more realistic (i.e. difficult). Then we realised our mistake: Droids is not a board game but a card game. The decision making lies not in how to steer your robot but in what types of program cards to pick up. Do you go for movement, and if so are you going to try water movement as well, or do you want to try for action or repair cards. Obviously if you get lucky you could plump for just the types you need, but in practice you have to assess what sort of things you're opponents will be trying to do and what is likely to happen to you if you don't get the cards you need.

Conservative players pick up all cards of one sort, e.g. "I want to move to the barrier, so I'll take seven movement cards" but the more daring mix in a couple of action cards as well in the hope that they can pick up the thing when they get there. Running the programs is then just a novel way of playing out the "trick", before we get on to the business of choosing our next hand. Once we'd hit on the card game metaphor (does that phrase qualify me for the games playing intelligentsia?) everyone had a lot more fun with the game and what I take to be the designers original intent came through a lot more strongly.

From this perspective an easily understood "run-program" phase is exactly what you want as it's not the important part of the game - the challenge is not to out-program your opponents but to make the best program from the cards you dealt yourself. Of course, to make this work you have top keep the program cards face down while everyone selects their hand, it wasn't clear from your review if you were doing this (certainly the French rules indicate this is the correct way to play).

Another point easily lost in the English translation: how do you calculate the hits when one robot fires on another? The answer is to roll the dice and then count one hit if you beat or equal the distance between them, two hits if you score two times the distance and three hits of you score *three or more* times. Note the phrase "or more": most translations leave this out but then you get droids rushing right up to another and putting themselves in relatively little danger. Even if they're adjacent to each other the victim isn't likely to take more than one hit. But the proper rule means you're almost certain to take three hits in this situation, which is quite a different proposition!

My favourite Droids scenario, by the way, is the "Golden Chips", where droids try to collect the square barriers. You have to play this quite aggressively to win and you will inevitably have to go for a lot of action cards in order to pick up and put down. Oh, what's this, a "move another droid" action card? Seems silly to let it go to waste... A very nice winning technique is to use a repair droid to push someone onto a dead transmitter. Naturally they will be trying to repair all their transmitters as quickly as possible, but to do that they have to get a repair robot adjacent to them in the first place (grins wickedly).

[MS: Well, I hope this isn't another game that I have completely missed the point of. We were indeed pulling cards blind but I couldn't to be honest see much in the way of card strategy involved. There is some deliberation in how many of each to take, but not a lot. I can see that if you change the emphasis that way there may be more to get your teeth into, but it still struck me as a rather predictable and flat system. Whatever, thanks for the comments Mark.]

Alan How Civilisation (Advanced) continues to fascinate my group, who are all hardened fans of the earlier format. On the same name front Civilisation the computer game is brilliant. Just when you thought you'd mastered it at one level, you find new challenges at the next. Sid Meier, the inventor would seem to have only one way to go, having done Railroad Tycoon, and that would point to a Planets exploration game.

[MS: Ah, now you're talking.]

Alain Henry There was a mention of Advanced Civilisation in Sumo 7. I am very curious about this expansion, although I feel it looks very much like a purely commercial operation, with no real gaming interest. It is expensive and it does not conatin much material. Furthermore, as far as the game is concerened. I am far from convinced that it will add any interest to the game. Let me explain this. I have always thought that the best version of Civilisation was the basic game, seven player, no expansion. In this version, there is a continuous struggle to be in the lead. On the contrary, if you play with six player, or with six players, or with more territory, life is so easy. You have more living space, no problems to build as many cities as you want, and there are as many trade cards as all the players might want. The game is changed into purely a commerical race. Nobody, if playing reasonably well, will ever be stopped on the AST. No competition anymore.

I thus presume, without having analysed the advanced game, that the proposed new new expansions are of the same kind. Given the high price, I am not in a hurry to try it, although I am very curious. Thus my interest in a review.

[MS: Mark, I think, writes this issue's review from a similar viewpoint and he has at least been swayed by the Advanced game, so it should definitely be worth trying. The criticism of being a commercial operation is well made and I have suspicions that the 'Advanced' games starting to appear (Third Reich is forthcoming) could, in less scrupulous hands, easily become overpriced, underdeveloped cash-ins on the game's popularity. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with this if the games deliver value for money and support for game systems and Avalon Hill have never yet been found lacking in this field. Nevertheless, I feel the situation needs monitoring.]

Mike Hopcroft I recently played a complete game of Advanced Civilisation, which was a pretty good experience even though I didn't even come close to winning. In Civilisation is it easy to put most of your attention on board play, when it is really the trade cards and civilisation cards that are important. The board mainly matters because it is the cities that generate trade, so you can't ignore board positions.

Nigel King I have recently splashed out on Advanced Civilisation. We have played it a couple of times at the games club - first impressions are very good and certainly a better system for the shorter game. However, I would like to agree with you on the cost of the package. My main gripe is that we are being short changed on the trade cards. I would like to know why AH didn't print a complete set? Instead they just give you the extra cards to add to the old set. Apart from being a different colour (minor point), they do not match the worn cards from my old set. Also it means you cannot keep the two systems separate without a lot of sorting. Anyone with the Gibsons or Hartland versions will have completely incompatible trade cards. Surely AH must lose a few potential customers here. Or perhaps they expect buyers to fork out for the full set? I might be nit picking over something that maybe other players see as nothing, but I feel AH are giving us the minimum as regards trade cards.

Don Greenwood I did note your continued unhappiness with the price of Advanced Civilisation and I must confess I've received similar sentiments from other quarters. All I can say is that for us, quality playing cards are a very expensive component and Advanced Civilisation had four oversized decks of them! The stock is expensive enough but the collation is extremely labour intensive.

[MS: That's fair enough, and now we know. As a buyer, one tends to just look at what is sloshing around in the bottom of the box rather than work out what the cost is likely to be to the manufacturer. The layman's assumption (ie me) is that AH-sized print runs reduce that kind of problem to a minimum. I note though that new AH product now carries prominent 'Made in the USA' stickers. Is this a reaction to the GATT talks and anti-Far East sentiment or just a patriotic sales pitch? I would have thought quality, coloured cards and collation would pose no problem to a far east supplier. Either way, mainly thanks to Mark's review and these comments, I have decided to give the system another try in the near future in its advanced format.]

Alain Henry Speaking of Civilisation, I would like to know in which trade card deck the Civil War calamity is hidden in the original Hartland Trefoil game? In the AH version, it is in the '4' deck, with the grain. I have always used that version until I came across the French Jeux Descartes version some while ago. In this version, they put Civil War in the 5 deck, with cloth. Could this be closer to the original? The Civil War in 5 might be more logical. But I am often amazed by the habits French have in 'adapting' the rules they translate.

[MS: Er, not my subject really. Any comments? Is Derek Carver a Frenchman?]

Alan How I have now had several goes at ExtraBlatt (using both sets of rules) and concur with most of your findings. I did agree that there are so many factors that it seems difficult to form concrete plans, but then many games have this as a problem - the decision making appears more tactical than strategic or long term.

Jennifer Schlickbernd Extrablatt! Underwhelmed. We tried it twice and instead of too much strategy it's more like too much brain power. Do other people find this game to be abstract? We just don't get a competitive feel while playing, even though you are clearly supposed to be competing with other players. Most who play get no kind of feedback from the game and therefore don't have a clue as to what they should be doing. I personally don't care much for abstract games (Acquire is about as abstract as I want to get). The German really gets in the way here for us, particularly when querying others about their holdings in a particular headline. I'm going to give it yet another try, because I can certainly see the potential there, but I think the least it is going to need is a new chit set.

[MS: Charles Vasey and the Ragnars played it recently and I think came away with similar, certainly 'less impressed than Siggins', views. Charles described it as Teutonic, and I know hat he means (see the Koalition review this time). The game is abstract in the sense of it being quadrilateral counters on a grid, but for all of us the flavour held the abstraction at bay. I can see exactly how this would fail (especially given the rather forced interaction), though I am surprised if I liked it (as someone who also dislikes abstract games) that the system didn't work for you. The headlines are indeed a factor; I'll see what I can do.]

Alain Henry Automania: I would agree with the general feeling (or what I thin is the general feeling). This is a very good light game, with one problem: the cards. I don't mind the accounting part. I must confess, we were all number crunchers. We also agreed on what to do with the cards....

Nik Holliday Ian Livingstone doesn't seem to be able to take adverse criticism very well! His apparent dig at Rostherne ('one colour maps stuffed into an oversized toilet roll') was a little bit below the belt. I got a limited edition game from Mr Watts, signed, numbered and embossed with my name (Manchester) for the princely sum of £6.95 and it's been played as many if not more times than Boomtown. So there! Not only that, but if I spend £6-7 on a game and it turns out to be a duffer then I haven't wasted much; £27 on a duffer is a lot of cash to waste.

John Webley I take Ian Livingstone's points about production costs but I still feel that it is not on to produce a game just to be collected, it must first and foremost work as a game, otherwise there is no point to it. And in my experience Automania doesn't work as a game and quite how gamers as experienced as Mark, Theo and Gordon, to pick out those I know, gave the thumbs up to such a game, is something that I can't understand.

Pete Birks A final comment on Automania. I've only played it once, but the obvious potential improvement is to grade the cards according to strength and deal all the players all their cards for the game right at the beginning (say, two strong, two medium, two weak). This may not be a perfect solution but it would certainly be an improvement.

Nik Holliday Mai 68 looks interesting, perhaps this can be found on the same shelf as the game on Hungarian whippet racing (Grosz Jakosa) which appeared in the April '90 issue of GI.

[MS: Hoho. Sadly, Mr Dagger was entirely genuine and he and I have both played the game. It is truly available for 68 DM from many shops in Germany and most in France. Anyway, I have undertaken not to do any more April Fools because I really don't understand how to do humour. So now it can be told: Grosz Jakosa was not so much intended as an April Fool, but as a parody of the effusive GI reviews of German games. As the editor, sub editor and most of the readers missed this point entirely (many wondering where they could buy the game), I concluded that I wasn't cut out for Punch, let alone Private Eye. I was told by an expert that you can't parody a parody, so I'm out of it for good.]

Alan Moon Keywood Cheves tells me he's sent you a copy of Castle of Magic. I bought a copy on his recommendation and it looks great. Can't wait to give it a try. Sort of Cluedo without the deduction.

[MS: Sometimes the generosity of readers is staggering. I received Castle of Magic from Keywood before I even knew I wanted it. Report next time as soon as we can find enough players.]

Andy Daglish Eastfront: Why did you give an award to this game? A game popular because it is so hard to lose in a big way or win in a big way. A Sitzkrieg game where you turn the pieces first one way, then the other, for 4-5 hours. It also suffers badly from the last stand problem where a one step unit survives turn after turn, incongruously, as the opposition fails to roll a 6. The Kursk scenario is particularly boring - no idea will work due to the number of 5s & 6s required for success.

[MS: How odd, we seem to agree on points yet differ in degree. All the above points are true, but taken in the context of a whole game, the problem fades. There may be a full review in Sumo 9 if it doesn't appear in PA.]

John Webley Res Publica: my initial impression was very much like that of Don Greenwood, but against my better judgement we have played it several more times and I find myself liking it more and more. Even Tricia enjoys it, which given her dislike of playing games in general, and playing games in German in particular, is quite remarkable.

Mark Bassett A neat game I played recently is Bausack. This game comes as a sack full of wooden bits which you have to build into a tower. Each turn you select a piece from the pool and hand it to the player on your left. He either adds it to his growing architectural carbuncle or pays a token in forfeit and passes the piece to his left. The next player has the same options, but each time it's passed the forfeit doubles and you only have ten tokens to start with. If eventually the piece comes back to you must use it (and serve you right for being a meanie). An absolutely hilarious game and quite thought provoking. The wooden bits are very well made, and idiosyncratically shaped, and apparently the selection is the same in each sack. Does this mean that someone actually sat down and designed the shapes to include? "Lets see, we need a hump-backed bridge shape and I think a wooden egg-cup, no better make that two." A bit dearer than average (£35 or so) but well worth the money.

[MS: As far as I know, every set of Bausack is different but I got an early set so it could have changed. Oh cripes, that isn't meant to sound as pompous as it reads - you know what I mean. Mine is certainly different from Alan Moon's, as we found when comparing the weirder items enclosed in each bag as we were wondering exactly what you are - do they all sit round at Herr Zoch's house and collate them? I for instance remember a cotton reel, a miniature Christmas tree and a curtain pull that I've not seen elsewhere. Anyway, according to rumours, MB are redoing Bausack in the States with quality components for those thinking of getting a copy of this excellent but considerably overpriced family game. £35 for a bag of timber is a bit rich.]

William Preston Thanks a lot for the tip on Elfengold. This is an excellent game and I have played it a lot with my family - even the wife likes it and she will only play Scrabble or Triv normally. Having enjoyed it, I went out and bought Fishy as well which I thought okay, but not as good as Elfengold. The trouble with Fishy was the cost of £25 for what is really a card game, although you do get five games in one.

Andy Daglish I really like Quo Vadis but like Buck Rogers, and my letters, it seems to end too soon.

Mark Bassett My local department store recently had copies of "Balloon Race" going for half price so I decided to take a chance. Having played quite a few games I have to rate it as value for money even at the full price. Manufactured by Tonka/Parker it's actually a Three Wishes design, and represents the challenge of sponsoring the winners in a hot-air balloon race. The box contains a nicely painted board and eight handsome model hot-air balloons. Everyone secretly sponsors three balloons, and the winner is the first to get all three of their balloons to the end of the race. With each turn you throw a dice and move any one of the balloons the appropriate number of squares along the track. Hazards to be avoided include changes of wind direction, "back to start" lightning strikes and the real menace of "deflated balloon".

Obviously you try and move your balloons past the bad squares and everyone else's onto them, but the point of the game comes with the "bumping" rule. No more than one balloon can occupy each square of the race track, so when a balloon lands on another's' square the original inhabitant is bumped out into the next square along. If there's a balloon in that square too it also gets bumped and so on down the line. During the course of a (typically half-hour) game you can expect to see two or three little log-jams with each player trying to nudge their balloon clear of the pack and simultaneously handicap the others. The game clearly resembles Hare and Tortoise in its tactical jockeying, but at much greater speed, and the random factor introduced by the dice is made up for the range of options available at each move. Fun for all the family I would say, except the kids keep hogging it and the rest of the family doesn't get a look in!

[MS: This is one of those little games that I have never got round to reviewing, so Mark has bailed me out here. I agree that it is a neat little game, but then Three Wishes have always been a cut above the norm. It has a lot of Ausbrecher and Heimlich feel about it, yet works really well in its own way. Recommended for families and not at all expensive either.]

Hironori Takahashi In our game club, Boardwalk Community, a popularity vote is taken every year. Recently the result of the vote for 1991 was revealed. The first prize was CuCu. It is an Italian traditional card game. I found that the same game is being played in Northern Europe and Germany. Second Prize was Airlines. It is highly estimated in our club. Other highly valued games are Railway Rivals, Formula 1, Tohsenkyo, Liar's Dice, Ave Caesar and Hachi-hachi. Tohsenkyo is a Japanese traditional game that throws a hand fan at a target. Hachi-hachi (Eighty eight) is one of the games using Hanafuda (Japanese flower cards). If there is a chance I want to introduce you to some Japanese traditional games.

[MS: Fine with me. I met up with Hironori and his wife Masayo when they arrived in London on honeymoon recently and we even fitted in an evening of gaming that was enjoyed by all, the most embarrassing moment of which was having Hironori spot a problem in Koalition's German rules. During many chat phases between the gaming, it was established that Hironori's club in Tokyo has 80 members which meet regularly once a month. This is impressive - a number of cons would be grateful for this turnout - but I suppose the concentration of people helps.]

Trevor Deadman-Spall Like many, it is not I who decides whether a game is played but those who I play with, most of whom are not as fanatical as I may be. Therefore, Britannia, Diplomacy, Kingmaker, Civilisation and others don't get played because of time or complexity. Others don't have the patience to learn rules and are often playing for the first time. Hence I find that Heimlich & Co and Favoriten are the most popular. My real dislikes are Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit. I am convinced that British games have too often revolved around either finance or war and these are most unappealing to a great deal of people.

[MS: I don't disagree with the latter statement. I have heard Trivial Pursuit termed a wargame, specifically by friends of mine who always get into a row over it. I see nothing wrong with either game really, if they (like Pictionary, Scrabble and Question of Sport) get people familiar with the idea of playing games then that should be a good thing. Sadly, in my experience, while my non-gaming friends will happily play all of the above, they will not play anything else and still, I'm sure, regard me as a bit of a weirdo. The line seems to be the social aspect of the games mentioned, though how this differs to Bausack or similar I don't know.]

Alan How On the subject of games invention, there are no doubt many variants that people have devised for their own group of players, which satisfy a local group. This leads me to believe that the composition of a group of games players who meet regularly, determines the style of game played, which in turn regulates who turns up. For example, my group of players meet Wednesday nights and 2nd Sundays. On the Sundays, our session is seven hours long, so we try to have a game that lasts for most or all of this time. Popular games that fit this category are all the 18xx games, Civilisation, History of the World, all of which reach satisfactory conclusions in this time.

[MS: Similarly, Stuart Dagger cannot play anything other than five player games as he is rumoured to be 20% of a Scottish hive culture, whereas Arthur 'Smelly Anorak' Smith is forced to play Carrier, RAF, Hornet Leader and Patience as no one will sit at the same table with him. I take your point, but we see our precious long sessions very much as eight hours to be used for a number of one or two hour games rather than one biggie plus a fill-in. I don't know why, I guess it is mainly the players' preferences. Where this causes problems is that a fair proportion of those half-dozen games are going to be new ones (the Sunday sessions tend to be where the new games get blooded) which means yours truly is left the job of reading up rules ahead of time. If one, two or more of those games bomb (which is not uncommon) we tend to fall back on old favourites. The trade off here is that you can experience days full of good to excellent games or ones that fall flat because every game is a bummer. I suspect those players who opt for 18xx, Civilisation or Empires in Arms are happy knowing what they are going to get. As for mixture, yes it certainly has a bearing. I have to work out which games are going to go down well depending on who turns up, as well as accounting for the players a game can accommodate. One regular won't play anything remotely fantasy-based or 'silly' (Definitely No Pixies), a couple won't play wargames, another has real problems relating to simple German games (he gets a tad abusive), another just doesn't turn up much and one moved to Cyprus.]

Alan... Turning to "lucky" players who win with good turn of the cards or good dicerolls. I have always had in my gaming groups such a player, who throws the required dice rolls or draws the right card. If this is typical of general games groups, there must be some people who have the knack of throwing dice in a certain way. (In the most recent General magazine, I noticed that the convention pictures of AvalonCon included dice tubes into which dice were thrown for (presumably) cutting out this type of player.) Good idea I thought, but it does not stop people being able to exert control over dice once they have landed. We have a player in my group who will always say (to his brother) "throw a six" if a six is a bad game effect and many times this happens. Although we don't measure the statistics of this happening, I am convinced that he has some control over the dice.

[MS: I think I read somewhere (PA?) that certain gamblers or conmen could throw a D6 to order. This has certainly been confirmed on those fascinating Secret Cabaret TV shows where they show the techniques used in con tricks, but I still don't see how it is done. I suppose this knowledge and subsequent distrust of everyone gives rise to the dice chutes or insistence on using dice cups. I have a somewhat ambivalent attitude to this as anyone who cheats at a game, social or competition, is a pretty sad case anyway and paranoia over others cheating can easily be taken as an insult by some. I would certainly not insist on players using a cup if they were round my house playing games, but then again if they are the sort who hurls dice across the board sending dobbers or counters to the carpet, then perhaps cups are appropriate.]

[MS: As for luck, I would say I am an unlucky player in the main but this is balanced by the odd game where everything clicks into place and my 'big play' or gambling style really pays off. Stop sniggering at the back. In truth, I suspect it is more that I am not a great player (wherein poor luck often becomes a good excuse) or that you remember the bad luck rather than the good on the same Sod's Law basis that toast always seems to fall butter down. Mike Clifford on the other hand is consistently unlucky, regularly saying or thinking 'there is only one way of failing here' and then promptly doing it. I still recall his rolling something like five ones and a two in March Madness to lose a crucial game in spectacular style. Conversely, an old D&D friend of mine used to roll natural twenties so frequently that it became a standing joke. Garry 'Double Damage' Nicolson is now thankfully retired from gaming, but my Umber Hulks used to take a real pasting.]

[MS: More interesting are the little rituals involved with dice rolling. Quickly moving on from lucky leatherette dice pouches and flashy rolling techniques, gamers of my acquaintance seem to get up to the weirdest ceremonies when looking for that change of luck. One gamer insists on using red dice when he plays Russians in Squad Leader 'to improve the chances of getting berserk units'. Hmmm. Another rolls dice all game in the corner as a sort of practice swing for the real thing - not surprisingly he is a golfer, but oddly, this seems most common with those crappy D4s which are completely unexciting to throw. A frequent trait is to line up a handful of dice pre-game and test roll them to spot which ones are likely to be lucky. This is, of course, performed twice if a game has high and low roll benefits with two sets of dice being selected. Another gamer changes dice mid-game if he is having a bad run, another won't use dice that are aesthetically unpleasant and yet another will use only those crystal jobs. Perhaps he thinks the solid ones are weighted. I personally get a lot of stick because I take all non-game-specific dice out of the boxes and keep them in a big tube, using them as required, which strikes me as fairly innocuous behaviour. Needless to say, no names, no packdrill on this crop of peccadilloes. And we are surprised when the public don't take boardgamers seriously.]

[MS: Finally, on dice, while playing HOTW recently I not only threw eight consecutive sixes while defending Constantinople (a 1 in 1,600,000 feat, I believe) but also managed to throw a D6 which came to rest on its edge, unmoving, and would have done so all night had we let it. All with witnesses, and no messing. Quite uncanny, definitely worthy of the Twiglet Zone theme. Oh yes - does anyone supply D10s with a 10 instead of a zero?]

Paul Oakes Your Grand Prix Manager seemed neither much of a game or a simulation, but I think it could be saved as a game and improved as a simulation. Here's a few thoughts: 1) Bid for teams. This stops C teams being too powerful as they are now, and allows a choice of 'high expense, high quality' portfolio or the 'cheap rubbish' approach. 2) More movement variation between teams, eg A teams could be 8+5, 7+7, 7+6, 6+6. This adds flavour and makes the bidding interesting. 3) Label the cars. Half the game we played was spent moving non-player cars, the other half identifying them (and we're experts on the subject!)

[MS: The identification of cars seems to have been a universal problem and one that the second edition, if there is one, will take steps to improve. Overall, I take your initial comment in good grace and agree with it fully. All I will say is that the game suffers/benefits from extreme views - some people are real fans (including the designers!) others have not been, er, so polite. No problem as far as we are concerned, though I would like to think it isn't a bad game.]

John Harrington The "added realism" rule I spoke of for Grand Prix Manager ("Harrington out duvets Mike Clifford in upset storm!") requires a bit more collating of facts from the 1991 season. Basically, the idea is to go through the 1991 season recording the number of laps each driver finished (but ignoring those results where the driver was forced to retire owing to someone else's crash) and then to calculate some sort of reliability index. Hopefully I can then devise some sort of system that can be grafted on to the current action card mechanic without too much extra effort, but failing that it may have to be the dreaded die roll & chart reference. This is, of course, the height of irony from someone who has so often ridiculed this form of game but, as Birks points out in the latest Greatest Hits, I am a closet duvet stuffer myself and I like to think that I am sending myself up too when I witter on about the weirdos who spend large chunks of their time recreating the 1973 badger-baiting season.

The introduction of reliability ratings will clearly make cars within the same class - e.g. McLaren and Ferrari - different from each other, which will alter the spirit of the contest somewhat. As an aside, it will also differentiate between the two drivers on the same team so that if you get the McLaren you have to endure the wretched luck of Gerhard "Six foot man in a five foot car" Berger. To get round the luck of the draw Oakes suggested starting each player off with some money and then having an auction to see who controls which team. Typical Oakes suggestion but one which could add some much needed strategic flavour to the game. If you really want to stretch a point you could even have the prospect of punters going for Benetton on the basis that Schumacher is going to turn up for them towards the end of the season. Great for the campaign game over more than one season!

As I said in my review, I liked it, some did not. Its major drawbacks, I felt, were the confusion brought on by who is on which lap, plus the side-on similarity between Tyrell and Brabham. Not your fault, the last one; Tyrell should have chosen a more distinctive livery. God only knows what trouble non-Formula One buffs would have differentiating between the cars.

While I am here, can you clarify the pit stop rule, please? The way we played it, the car stopped on the square immediately after the pit stop line, even if the car was only halfway through its movement for that turn. It then picked up an action card and moved off straight away according to the number on the Pit Stop value. Consequently, timing your move into the pits was a factor. The other odd thing was that it seemed possible to slipstream into the pits or indeed charge into the pits.

[MS: Yes, you can do both the latter as the pit visit is, er, symbolic. You are right on the pitstop move. It is additional to the full move and is triggered by the crossing of the line during your move. If you cross it at any point, you flip for a pit number. Yes, I know they go forward but it is relative and we didn't want the cars going backwards. Getting back to the 'Blind Fate' reliability rule, yes we did consider a more complex system (the original playtests were conducted using 1980 turbo era cars so this was even more appropriate) but it did slow down the game a little. Even so, I take the point despite it being my 'design' feature. Personally, I quite like the sudden blow of fate that for me encapsulated much of last season. Considering that we emulated the Mansell Canadian GP 'stop' in playtest made me even more happy with it. Overall, after much tinkering, the retirement rate works out almost exactly right - check the real life GP attrition rates. I guess the point must be the fashion in which they retire, not how many. However, if someone is willing to do the work on the stats, we'd be pleased to see them.The comparison in the review with Ravensburger's Grand Prix is interesting since that is roughly where we started out, with the intention of adding some real team and finance flavour and 'improving' the system while retaining the speed of play. I would have thought the original game was not that strong on decision making - it boils down to not spinning off and deciding which car to favour with the bigger move allowances.]

Mark Buckley of 14 Hawkins Way, Wootton, Abingdon Oxon OX13 6LB (0865) 730317. Dave Farquhar's idea to print names and addresses is good, if anyone wants to contact me they can at the address/phone number above. I am involved with a rather loosely-organised bunch in the Oxford area, we are into roleplaying, boardgames and wargaming in addition to the other important things like going to the pub and social events.

John Webley Jumbo Homas Tour is definitely out, the new Adam catalogue has it listed for DM 39.00 (about £15). They have renamed in Um Reifenbreite (by the thickness of a tyre) for some reason and they haven't changed it at all. The new catalogue is a mere 120 sides long and looks packed with goodies.

[MS: Thanks John, I assume Adam are still at their old address? Um & R is also called Demarrage and looks very good indeed. Interesting that original Homas Tour's are now appearing on the market - mine is up for sale for a decent offer.]

Paul Jefferies Just started working on a home made Energie Poker which I'm quite excited about. I ran the game through on my own and I was quite impressed. I'm having lots of fun dreaming up what I can do for 'bits' and boards, etc. I'm keeping photocopies of things so we can do another DIY piece in Sumo with you having the necessary pieces in the rules bank.

[MS: Sounds good. Paul recently told me he is in a busy phase so this article may not appear until Sumo 10, but it will be worth waiting for as the original game is now tough to find. Others are also working long into the night to provide us with new games....]

Alan Parr New Orleans Big Band: I have translated all the cards, though I've yet to tackle the rules themselves. I don't think the game is at all like Haggle to play (I claim a certain amount of authority here as I doubt if there are many in the country who have played both). In Haggle you have to discover the rules as you go along - I recall a glorious game I set up with twenty five 13 year olds.

[MS: That's odd because when it was explained to me at Essen they sounded rather alike. I will bow to your greater knowledge here (as you are almost certainly unique in knowing them both) and look forward to the rules for the bank. Thanks Alan.]

Neil Wilson Your reply regarding reader's games has prompted me to write to you. If anyone wants a free prototype of my go-karting game, they can ring me on 0272 409533.

[MS: Thanks Neil. Would you please send me one when you're printing them off?]

Andrew Johnson Could you or your readership please help me. I have a game and want it printed. A tiny print run is all that I want, and would be prepared to make a modest loss if necessary. The game would consist of a board, various cards and rules. Difficulty may arise in the dashboards and playing cars I would like (in the same vein as Formula 1). Could someone please tell me the best way of going about this without creating a serious financial burden.

[MS: There are three ways to do this. Sell it to a major company, produce it yourself professionally or produce it yourself as a gamekit. The first is next to impossible unless the game is outstanding and even then a presentation version or previous sales help matters, the second is risky and very expensive and is likely to leave you on Death Row at the Toyfair with an overdraft, the last is what I would suggest you consider as a first step. First make sure the game is finished, thoroughly tested (internally and blind) and that the system and rules work and are understandable. As for the game, if people don't like it in playtest, there is little point in trying to sell it unless you are convinced it is a winner. Be prepared for criticism. Produce the artwork as best as you can or get a pro to help out (a computer helps here), compromise where you have to on cars etc (they don't have to be 3d). Then print as many as you think you can sell and afford (I suggest no more than fifty), using photocopying rather than printers, and try to sell them through review copies, shops, magazines, contacts and so on. If you sell those, you can print another fifty if it warrants it. I will run you an ad in Sumo and you could send me a copy to review. Most important, if you think it is worth doing, go for it. Good luck.]

Mark Buckley Liked the idea of 'Games I feel guilty not to have played' list, what about 'Games I feel I ought to like but don't', 'Games I don't like and don't feel guilty about it' and 'Games I bought and feel guilty about because I haven't even played them yet though I have had them for five years'.

[MS: 'Games I feel I ought to like but don't' has never bothered me as I am opinionated enough to never think that I ought to like a game. No designer or hype campaign is safe, but it does make me seem a little odd to people who can't fathom why I don't like Adel, ASL, A la Carte (perhaps I just don't like games starting with A) or whatever. Where I fall down, as I was discussing with Charles Vasey recently, is that I tend to go into the play of any particular game with high expectations and often end up disappointed, whereas Charles, probably because he's seen so many more, starts with low expectations and can then only go up. My view is odd because I am very much a pessimist elsewhere in life, I suppose I just get too excited with a new game and look forward to it.]

Stuart Dagger, Tweakmeister General Formule De: A suggested optional rule courtesy of the motor racing enthusiast in my group - Include an extra category, driver points, representing driver skill. Each player has, say, five of these for a two lap race. Suggested uses are: 1) Perfect Timing: a player may decrease or increase his movement by one. 2) Great Manoeuvre [copyright Lionel Games]: a player may make an extra lane change 3) Late Braking: if a car finishes one or two spaces behind and other car and within three of a corner, it may move into the first row of the corner. Penalty for late braking is 1 brake point. 4) Shut the Gate: defeats a late braking manoeuvre. Instead of the late braker moving forward, the gate closer moves forward one. We also wondered about a one-use-per race Mulligan card, 'Murray thinks it's incredible' which would allow a player to re-roll the die.

[MS: Apart from the braking penalty, this strikes me as making the race easier to drive and stay on the track, thus reducing attrition which keeps the game speedy and exciting. Much of the game's appeal is the risk of going for it by blasting headlong into a corner in top gear with the possibility of ending up in the stands - with driver skills, this becomes less risky. These driver points are much the same as the home advantage points in Statis Pro Basketball - the feeling was similar to having spell points available. But as ever, these are optional rules to try as you see fit.]

Ian Livingstone Nearly two years too late, I have recently come up with a Top Tip for Boomtown which makes the game more balanced for three, four or five players. Why I didn't think of it before is beyond me as it seems so obvious. Anyway, here it is. When there are less than six players, instead of giving players more houses to make up the shortfall, simply contest the number of areas on the board equal to the number of players. Therefore, no matter how many players there are, they will build twenty houses and the game will be over after five turns.

Alain Henry On October 2,3 and 4 we will organise our tenth annual convention in Liege, the well known (?) Mach die Spuhl International Rendezvous. For more details, contact me at Avenue Telemaque 54/1, B-1190 Brussels, Belgium (Tel:(32) 2 345 40 66). Manhy of us speak English (at least well enough for a game) and we indeed have an international audience!

[MS: As this falls on my birthday and well into the convention season (Gamesday, Essen and Midcon quickly follow) I am sorely tempted. I am happy to mention forthcoming cons, but give me plenty of notice (six months is useful). There was a con in Eindhoven, Holland (organised by 999 Games) that I have missed completely between hearing of it and getting this issue out. Sorry Michael.]

[Other upcoming cons include: Avaloncon, Camp Hill, Harrisburg, PA July 30th-August 2nd '92; Beer & Pretzels IV, 15-16th May 93; Furrycon '93 28-31st May, Brighton.]

Mark Bassett I read "The Mathematics of Games" by John Beasley this month. Most of the material I've seen before but there are a couple of chapters on sports that were new to me. What he tries to do is determine the role of "chance" in a sportsman's performance, specifically for golf, cricket and football players. This question is made harder because the various leagues rarely publish exactly the information you need. So the chapters present small but real exercises in statistics applied to real sports, including an attempt to build a forecasting model for 1st Division football matches. This is probably old hat to you, but as a non-sports gamer it opened my eyes.

[MS: On the contrary, this is exactly what is needed to get a grip on what goes on in these sports, even if the data is only used to dismiss statistical systems. Baseball, perhaps the most statistically analysed sport, has a big lead in terms of designing games yet I'm sure there is still scope for new angles, as there is with most subjects. Just imagine all your favorite games tackled from the Chaos viewpoint and all those wargames with some history added.]

Andy Whitney I see the use of Wayne's World speech patterns is causing some problems in the States. It seems a popular trick is to go into a restaurant and make an extremely long and complicated selection from the menu only to add ....Not!!! at the end of the order.

[MS: Probably a wildly apocryphal tale, but pretty funny anyway (assuming you are not a waiter). On this subject, Paul Oakes, possessed of a rather ironic style of speech, also made me laugh by saying he'd have to add ...Not! to every sentence.]

Mark Bassett After a year getting quite caught up in all the comics revival, I decided that actually it was all just hype. The best comics may be marginally better than they were but there's an awful lot of rubbish, and books and the cinema have comics beat hollow. Now cartoons, that's a different matter! You may not have Cerberus but I trust you're a regular reader of Calvin and Hobbes. "Attack of the Terrible Mutant Snow Goons" should be getting the Pulitzer prize for extreme rib-tickling any day now.

[MS: An entire paragraph of agreement. I thought that Calvin & Hobbes had gone past their sell-by date in the same way that The Far Side no longer has that killer comic edge, but they have both redeemed themselves in Snow Goons and whatever the latest Larson is called. And Finally..... 5&10s, which for new readers are lists of games you have played either five or ten times which, apparently sometime in the last century, it was suggested might prove a good indicator of the really good games out there. We have armies of clerks compiling the stats as I write, so here goes with more input...]

Christopher Dearlove: 5+ Adel, Alexander, Caesar's Legions, Circus Maximus, Discretion, 1853, 1835, Kings & Things, Kremlin, Magic Realm, Spanish Main, Talisman, Trireme 10+ Acquire, Apocalypse, Civilization, Cosmic Encounter, Dragon Pass, Dune, 1830, Freedom in the Galaxy, Junta, Kingmaker, Merchant of Venus, Railway Rivals, Speed Cicuit, Star Fleet Battles, Star Traders, Titan. A few of these were for lack of anything better at the time - I'd be glad never to play Kingmaker again.

Ian Humphrey 5+ Diplomacy, Risk, Go, Fastest Gun, Great Game of Britain, Exploration, 221b Baker St, Campaign, Air Charter, Hype, Quirks 10+ Flutter, Careers, Spy Ring, Scoop, Awful Green Things, Cluedo, Mine a Million, Colditz, Fury of Dracula 100+ Formula One, Mystic Wood and not a German game in sight!

Adam Huby 5+ Formula One, Cluedo, Totopoly, Risk, Kingmaker, Origins of WWII, Panzerblitz, Empires of The Middle Ages, The Creature that ate Sheboygan, Voyage of the Pandora, Ambush, Der Aussriesser, Wembley, Soccerboss 10+ Diplomacy, 6 Tage Rennen, Football Strategy, Paydirt.

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