Seems about time for another crop of new and not so new on the magazine front.
The Private is something of a rarity, a British magazine concentrating on board wargames. I think, with PA and The Letter, that makes three unless I'm very much mistaken. The first issue is a promising mix of reviews, news and letter snippets with some dry humour that works in the main. The subject matter tends towards what I might call hardcore games - lots of hexes, ZOCs and WWII to generalise broadly. This is not a major drawback, especially if that type of thing appeals, and the signs are that the coverage will be as eclectic as it can be. The Private has lots of potential, and it needs your support. Recommended.
Gamesman has folded I think. Andrew Rilstone, a RPG fanzine editor (Aslan) of my acquaintance, was at the helm the last I heard of it and as nothing has surfaced for over two months, I fear the worst. Sadly, Sumo never did get a plug and once again it is proved that any professional general/RPG oriented magazines are going to have a hard time surviving. It makes White Dwarf's longevity appear all the more notable. Not really one I'm going to miss, but there was at least potential there. The field is now completely clear for Sumo to turn all pro and glossy, get some artists in, bung fortunes the way of a printer and grab all that advertising revenue! Circulation of 10,000!! Power!!! Money!!!! ...Not.
World Game Review is an impressive publication. Although I've known about its existence for years (via Hopscotch), for some reason I have just never got round to it. Whatever, Alan Moon rightly pestered me to send a sample Sumo and Michael Keller has kindly sent me a couple of recent issues in return. WGR is slanted towards the abstract end of gaming, though other gameforms such as general games, sports, cryptarithms, puzzles, books and so on are also prominent. I am not really sure what a typical mix is, but issue 8 has reviews, variants, comment and news and is a good read. Issue 10, a massive Sumo-sized affair, is a chess variant special and although chess is not a game played by me, even I can see that this would be mouthwatering stuff for fans - page after page of high quality features, systems, sample games and listings that must represent hours of work (he said, knowingly). All ten back issues are available and I have sent off for the lot, I just know there are going to be game systems and ideas in them that I'll want to read about. My only question is why did it take so long for us to get in touch Michael?
Berg's Review of Games has been reborn recently after a few years in cold storage and is again offering regular and opinionated reviews of the latest board wargames. Close in spirit and appearance to a professional financial markets newsletter, it is tempered by a healthy dose of humour and sideswipes at prominent members of the hobby. Of course, the big draw is that Richard Berg can write a bit and, to say the least, doesn't pull any punches. If a game stinks, Berg shoots from the hip and everyone connected with the game is obliged to duck quickly. As a result, BROG is undoubtedly extremely rude in places, particularly about FGA (rightly) and minor league designers, but is highly amusing for all that. I liked it and I recommend a subscription if you want an interesting and readable view, which I also think is honest and independent - all attributes long since absent from F&M and its ilk. Primo.
The Round Table is a new semi-pro magazine that again slots into the RPG, LRP and PBM area in an effort to pick up where Gamesmaster and Gamesman have left off. In that respect, with the added appeal of the enthusiastic 'amateur' writing typical of the upmarket fanzine, it is certainly worth a look. I most enjoyed an intelligent review of the new Tolkein/MERP PBM game which at least looks playable, though no cheaper than the norm. The writing is good, if a bit chaotic in parts, but this is down to a lack of 'polishing' and spellchecking more than anything. I certainly enjoyed the read and there are even articles on fringe areas such as figure gaming. Production is of a high standard for a short-run magazine costing £2 (glossy cover, graphics, good layout) and they have already secured distribution through Virgin and most other shops. There is an advert in this issue if you are interested in subscribing. I just wonder what it is about this area of gaming that keeps throwing up magazines full of enthusiasm and apparently large readerships.
The Unspeakable Oath is a marvellous magazine. Concentrating purely on Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu and related matters, it is full of atmospheric articles, humour, scenarios and opinions. It also features a seriously odd letter column to which I am tempted to contribute on the basis that almost everyone else must be making it all up. The writing and scenario ideas are first class, the graphics and layout better than Chaosium's own and it is cheap at about £2 for a chunky issue. A recent edition included a potentially fascinating card game based on the mythos and the latest is a Cthulhu in England special. Oath is everything Dagon should have been without the clutter of 'literature', though I feel the distinctly weird editorial team is a big factor here. Excellent, but not really one to read on the train to work as the covers tend to severed heads and runic symbols. They just can't handle that sort of thing on the Central Line. On sale in Esdevium, Leisure and all the usual outlets. If anyone can trace a spare copy of issue two, I'm a buyer.
First Empire is that item that I never imagined would appear, a magazine devoted to Napoleonic gaming. Although mostly figure game oriented, it does cover boardgames, rulesets and computer GAPs as well. The first few issues were entertaining and showed appealing signs of intelligence and impartiality. A personal complaint is that, despite being a glossy publication, there are no colour pictures of figures or uniforms. The editor and much of the readership seem to think this a good thing but I can't believe I am in a minority in finding these great for inspiration. Now up to issue six, it sadly seems to be degenerating into orders of battle, thinly disguised plugs for computer rulesets (which the editor happens to sell) and little else of substance, but it remains a central and apparently viable forum for the Napoleonic gamer. At £1.50, recommended.
The Gamer (sounds rather familiar) is mentioned in BROG as a new general gaming and RPG magazine launched recently by a team featuring Greg Costikyan and Doug Niles. I sent off a Sumo and some dollar bills in return for a sample copy and got a brusque letter in reply telling me that they 'don't normally do this sort of thing'. Whatever, I think we can sleep safely in our beds knowing that The Gamer isn't going to take the world by storm. Best summed up as a professionally done Gamesman, with some good but short pieces by the likes of Costikyan and Tom Wham, The Gamer is another magazine which claims to cover all elements of gaming yet sticks in the odd token boardgame review to keep us quiet. The rest is RPG and LRPG (the cover is graced by some American bozo with pointy ears and rubber sword - the disease is spreading chaps). Okay, but not great.
Casus Belli is exciting in that unmistakeably French way - even the adverts are sexy. If only it were in English, it would be twice as good. It isn't, but that doesn't mean with O level Franglais and a dictionary you can't make sense of most of it and access a new boardgame at least every other issue for a mere £4 a shot. The last three issues have featured Formule De tracks, Valmy 1792 (stonkingly good graphics and Bourbon troops to boot) and the Bellum Gallicum wargame plus extra counters. The artwork is up to the highest Clash of Arms and Command standards (if not better in some respects) and I think the games bear distinct resemblance to, umm, games released not a million miles from the above companies. I suspect you could use Alexandros and The Emperor Returns rules to play them straight away, but you didn't read that here. The rest of the magazine covers all sorts of games (with an emphasis on RPGs and scenarios) in a truly catholic fashion, devoid of tokenism but perhaps a little short on length, criticism and analysis in their reviews. My favourite sections are the 'inspirational' reviews that cover related books, graphic novels and computer systems offering ideas for gaming. I doubt an English version could survive in WH Smiths; it would simply be too good for us. 100% pure class.
Strategy Plus seems to be back in its stride following a three month hiatus wherein only the substantially overprinted Shuttle issue could be bought in newsagents and Brian Walker upped and moved to Vermont as, apparently, the only viable alternative to producing the magazine in Ealing. A tough choice indeed. What has emerged on the magazine front is a COMAG import job that has adopted that squat American format and sets you back a cool £2.25, though in fairness the subs are good value by comparison. In content, it is still much the same with the usual Anglo-American crew putting out okay to good reviews in that pithy, superior style we have come to know and love. Sadly, Big Mama remains firmly in residence and still seems to be looking for talent in one of her dungeons. Laudably, Commander Crunch, despite the name, has improved with experience. Oddly, our hero Murray still believes a review to be a showcase for his self-perceived journalistic skills rather than the strengths and weaknesses of the game and in the manner of his namesake, he makes the occasional blunder to boot - fingerprint files in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective? I think not. Nevertheless, the print and colour quality are even better, the news is good but fading and, as I've said before, you won't find anything to match it in its field.
The Wargame Collector's Journal is edited by the estimable Rich Erwin and features reviews on a wide range of wargames in three broad categories; current games, out of print and distinctly obscure (but I've got a few they don't yet know about). An excellent newsletter for the collector, it satisfies all those hoarding related needs such as a sales and wants page, notification of potential collector's items (like Sumo, obviously) and features on pricing, availabilty and, hopefully, the inherent futility of buying in mint games for serious money in the hope they will offer a 500% return. Even as a member of Collector's Anonymous ('CA', or S&T 38), I still get a low-level shrinkwrap buzz from WCJ and a lot of you are going to like it.
Operations Magazine: Just a short note, after my complaints on European pricing last time, to say that this is available at £2.50 per copy (representing substantial savings) from Esdevium. Dan Steel, big cheese of said company, has a massive range of other magazines and games which he will be pleased to describe and sell to you on the phone. He is also good with children and pets.
On to the review of Inside Pitch or back to Better Be Silent than Speak Ill.
Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information