Inside Pitch

IMPORTANT, but too big to fit in the editorial. Right, there have to be some drastic changes down at the rules bank. Because my local printshop has closed, I am having to pay far higher prices in town, plus I have to lug the rules there and back. This means, combined with the ever growing demand, I no longer feel inclined to subsidise the service, thus paving the way to rampant commercialism and excommunication from Hobby Service lists. In future, I will be charging 10p per side of A4, minimum £1 to a maximum of £5 per request. There is no longer any requirement to ask for only a few rulesets (about three of you comply anyway). So, as of now, please enclose a blank, signed and dated cheque payable to M Siggins, marked 'Not to exceed £5' along with your SAEs. Alternatively, send a cheque to increase your subs and I'll debit the account in round pounds, though I'd much prefer the former method. Thankyou, most grateful. In an effort to save you money, I have spent a lot of hours copying and reducing the most popular sets to get them onto fewer pages. Sorry about this, but it is out of my hands.

Spiel '92 in Essen fast approaches and, although I am 95% certain of going this year, I don't yet know for sure if Sumo and Lionel will have a stand. We have requested one but haven't yet had confirmation from the organisers. Whatever, for those that have trouble locating me in the vast halls (not surprising really), this year I should be based around the Lionel or Whitewind stands for much of the time, so please come up and say hello - I'll be the one with the Jack Jaffe namebadge. I haven't heard anything much about the Essen releases, though the new Dampfross and two Whitewind games (the promising Santa Fe and Elfenroads) are definites. I think there could also be a large number of new Sala games, probably something from MB (Battle Masters in German?) and if it is ready, a new Moskito game from Mr Teutonic himself, Karl Heinz Schmiel. Either way, even if there are just a few releases (and that has never happened yet), it should be well worth going if you can make it.

The Tour de France was approached not with my usual enthusiasm but with some trepidation. Two reasons; I strongly suspected I had lost interest in the sport after the excesses of last year (working on The Tour, getting to see the World Championships, Eurosport coverage of the one day classics) and that it really looked like a one horse race in the shape of Senor Indurain. Personally, I had hopes for both Chiappucci and Bugno but made the big mistake of taking notice of the pre-race 'experts' who had Indurain riding off from Spain to leave everyone in his wake. Alright, so he cruised it in the end but there was more than enough action and great rides to keep things rather interesting and with Chiappucci around you never knew for sure - if only the man could time trial, we'd have a real tussle next year. I don't really care who won overall, the race is the important angle and the images of the '92 Tour that will linger are of Chiappucci and Hampsten doing their heroic rides in the Alps, of Fignon coming good for a day and of that odd stage where all the sprinters mistimed it (or were too knackered) and Thierry Marie made a large hole in The Tour's game mechanism by winning a bunch finish. Excellent stuff all round, Channel 4 are again to be congratulated on their coverage, and as a result, I now know my interest in the sport is as strong as ever. I really will try to make it next year.

Perhaps predictably, I am a big fan of the Olympics. I concede that most of the Olympic tradition has long gone, and there is a constant nagging doubt over drugs, but the games still offer excellent competition and some suitably obscure events, even if they still can't get the scoring and judging right in some sports. As it comes round so infrequently, I will happily sit there and take in my late night doses of weightlifting, diving, rowing, gymnastics, handball and even a small amount of swimming on the basis that it is going to be four years before I get the chance or the desire to watch them again. That said, I thought the sailing excellent value now that I understand it a bit more, and will brush off my various sailing games as a result. You'll be pleased to know I draw the line at watching dressage (or anything remotely horsey), boxing and synchronised swimming (though even this was a little better). Then again, there are the real sports (athletics, cycling, basketball, baseball, hockey) that I watch every available minute, which in three of the above cases isn't very much at all.

I don't know about you, but I didn't see one minute of baseball in the evening programmes - was there anything shown? The only reason basketball appeared pre-final stages was because of the US team, who through their initial attitude turned me off of the event almost completely but redeemed themselves with some outrageous skills. It's showtime, folks. Worse, I reckon there was ten times the coverage of judo (including that cringe-inducing sequence where our woman was fighting with a dislocated shoulder) than of cycling, even when Chris Boardman clocked that world record and the gold in the pursuit. Gawd, I sound like one of those letters in the Radio Times.

Boardman was brilliant by the way - easily my highlight, though Christie, Gunnell and the Searles in the coxed pairs ran him very close. The idea of someone actually catching their opponent (especially one of that class) in an Olympic pursuit final would have been unthinkable before Barcelona and that it happened in style is a tribute to both the bike and the rider. Boardman's efforts were also notable as, for the first time in living memory, the UK had not only a high tech bike that was miles better than anyone else's, but that we also decided to use it in the face of rampant conservatism and contract disputes. It can only be a matter of time before we give the technology away because we can't afford to develop it; who mentioned Chobham armour? Either way, several house points to the British Cycling Federation for the decision, but despite the British media's views on the bike's merits I think Boardman just might have won it on a standard Ribble low profile. In fact, the way he was riding, he might well have won on a delivery bike.

There are some new gamekits and short run games starting to surface out there. Charles Vasey has finished Tsushima, a simulation of the crucial naval engagement of the Russo-Japanese War and gamekits are now available. I already have the kit and it has very nicely printed counters and maps on high quality card, plus I know the game is a damn good one as I was a playtester. Cost is £7 inc p&p, £7.50 by surface rate or $15 in notes. Charles is at 75 Richmond Park Road, East Sheen, London SW14. In the course of the last month I have also been sent Eurohit (see letter column), a second edition of Dail Eirann that comes complete with a family game variant and whizzo graphics (for details, SAE to William Whyte at 200 Iffley Road, Oxford, OX4 1SD), Space Pop is a final playtest game from the infamous Mr Sudall and Speed Six is the karting game made available by Neil last issue. Needless to say I haven't yet got round to playing any of these, but I will. Honest. Keep the information coming in.

Despite coming dead last in the trial half-season, I have again entered a soccer dreamteam league with the hope that my players perform something closer to their potential. The recent auction saw me repurchase a number of my old Sporting Sumo squad and maintain my, umm, reckless spending tactics. Thankfully, among the high priced stars, I bought Alan Shearer again and am having minor ecstasy attacks each time he scores - as of week two, Sporting are top of the league and I'm a happy man even though I'll undoubtedly come last once more. Elsewhere, Dream Team is moving into the big leagues itself, with a guidebook (a la Rotisserie Baseball) already available at Sportspages, rating the players for form and traits. Unlike Rotisserie there is as yet no generally accepted money/bidding system or even scoring rules (I like the idea of assists, but where do they get the information?) so perhaps we are in that phase before dominance of one game is established. Either way, good fun and I must say I am taking a low key but worrying interest in soccer again.

A quieter month for reading this time, basically because it is really a month and with the long 'sunny' evenings and piles of work I simply don't get to sit down and read so often. I thoroughly enjoyed Nine Sides of The Diamond, that I seem to remember reading before, but the brain is collapsing slowly and I can't recall for sure. Anyway, it is the best (only?) book to concentrate on baseball fielding, still my favourite element of the sport. Each position is covered, with reference to the stars of the game, and the book is full of anecdotes, techniques and little flashes of baseball lore. Excellent stuff.

Following up from my comments last time on David Martin, I have now finished Bring Me Children which I found less impressive than Lie to Me, but still a good read. The odd thing is that it reads like a fantasy or horror tale more than a crime thriller, and at times some of its characters drift into unintentional humour and unreality. The real reason for this is the geographical setting of the American South; an odd place at the best of times, or so Martin would have us believe. The closest comparison I can think of to explain the feel is to say it is a book with the qualities of Deliverance. That film always seems to be set on another planet and has a constant unreal feel throughout. Bring Me Children is much the same, but still spiced with some tinglingly frightening scenes and a reasonable ending. Well worth it, but I'm already starting to drift away from Martin's work. Next please?

Virgin Games do have a new gaming magazine out but they are keeping it a secret. If you ask for a copy of Scenario, everyone looks blank. Well, blanker than usual then. However, if you fill out a free subscription form, your first issue miraculously appears from below the desk. The reason for the secrecy is the fact that they want your details for the mailing list and that each issue carries a 25% off voucher for any one game and a £2 off voucher for Mr Gygax's and GDW's RPG newie, Dangerous Journeys, renamed at the last minute from Dangerous Dimensions. Can't imagine why. Anyway, the magazine is little more than an RPG newssheet with a sparse section on wargames but it does have details of special offers and arrivals and it's free, so it is probably worth getting for the discounts alone.

The Sports Page is a recent magazine produced by David Baumgardner of 3621 Wayland Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76133 USA. It concentrates exclusively on the Avalon Hill/Sports Illustrated range and as such is fits into the gap left by the sorely missed All Star Replay. At the moment, while in its formative issues, TSP is still getting there on presentation and writing style, but there was enough in the first two issues to grab my attention. Forthcoming features include March Madness ABA style, a solitaire Bowlbound system, a new offense chart for Football Strategy and features on SP Basketball and Title Bout. PBM leagues are already starting to form and enthusiasm among the readers seems high, if thinly spread. I would go as far as to say that if you have an interest in these games then you should get hold of this magazine immediately and, whatever you do, try and support it with letters, articles or whatever. My concern is that David seems a little fragile in terms of feeling no-one is out there and that those that are don't care. I don't think there is a formal price but a few dollar bills or a letter will get you a sample. Go to it.

Musical input has hardly changed from last time though I have belatedly discovered En Vogue. Right up my street actually, can't imagine why I took so long tracking them down. A bit like The Pasadenas except they are female, have better legs, aren't ugly and they can sing a bit.

Batman Returns is a film surviving almost entirely on atmosphere, which suits me fine. A little long at over two hours and lacking any plot to speak of, one hopes the scriptwriters suffered financially in favour of the set designers and director. There are some brilliant, memorable vignettes and the imagery of Gotham, helped by the falling snow, is staggering. Oh yes, there were actors too. Miss Pfeiffer is highly scrummy, gets all the best lines and steals the show. The Penguin is alright, but he lacks staying power and Batman hardly seems to be in it at all. As my mate said, it struck him as being a two hour pop video but I loved every minute and the old spine was tingling at times. Excellent stuff and Alien 3 to come tomorrow.

I was going to do a short piece on the BBC Woody Allen season, but Time Out got there first. Five years since the last one and inexplicably omitting Manhattan, I have to say I was a little disappointed to find all the films in the season have been on before. By my reckoning there are at least three films post-Hannah that could be shown but I suppose all the BBC film money has gone into making Eldorado. The gist of the Time Out piece was that we plebs who moan about the recent films not being 'early and funny' are wrong because the early and funny films are just that and nothing more. Apparently the later movies have a depth and richness that transcends all that humour and stuff, but even they concede that Interiors, Another Woman and September are a bit on the morose side and they also think Hannah is his best work. Good to see that we almost agree on something. Personally, I am still deciding which one I like best (though Manhattan usually wins out) and every time I watch them my feelings change. If I can watch Sleeper half a dozen times and still see and hear new jokes, then 'early and funny' is fine with me. Whatever Time Out may say, Woody Allen is still at his best when he is making us laugh and his desire to make serious films is entirely understandable. Sadly, the latter is also disappointing in much the same way that one wouldn't want to see Michael Jordan playing golf for a living, as good as he is.

On to the Letters or back to A Survey of Incomplete Game Reviewers.

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