Roger Seaman Next time someone asks me how I find the time for my various gaming interests, I shall refer them to you for comment!

Dave Farquhar A couple of people have asked me recently how I came to be writing for Sumo. The answer is that I asked if I could do it, and sent in an article. I am no more 'qualified' to do reviews than anyone else, being an ordinary gamer, who enjoys talking about the hobby with others. However, as such I feel proud to be appearing in a magazine with articles and letters by people that I have a lot of respect for, such as Alan Moon, Ian Livingstone and Don Greenwood and I would like to encourage others to have a go.

[MS: So there you have it. The requirements are indeed that simple; no interviews, no exams, no hassle, no pay. If you are at all interested in writing a review or an article, drop me a line and we'll talk it over and I'll try to fit it in. Whatever you do, don't think someone else is doing it, or that your idea is worthless. It probably isn't. Alternatively, a letter on any subject, however short, is equally welcome.]

Stephan Valkyser Der fliegende Hollaender: No player has to surrender any shares!

[MS: Derr. You are quite right, my mistake. The provisional rule set had one mistranslated word ('return' instead of 'show'). I now have a corrected set of rules thanks to the prolific Mr Webley and we have played twice more since. It is even better the right way, though not quite as cutthroat. It is hard to believe you get this much play value in a game lasting less than an hour, I think this will be a popular purchase at Essen. If anyone is still looking for a copy, drop me a line with a firm order and I'll see what I can do. Thanks for the spot Stephan.]

For more interesting play, try this variant: All players that participate in moving the Hollaender to an island may show three shares. Now the timing when to move the ship is far more crucial.

Don Greenwood I too enjoyed Der Fliegende Hollaender - I think it's Teuber's best game to date. Of course I'm not nearly as taken by Adel as most. Two of my gaming friends number Adel among their top three games of all time. Although it's a fine little game I find their degree of devotion ridiculous. I've never shared their opinion of its merits as a game of skill, because although I'm far from a student of the game I've beaten them regularly on the few occasions when we've played and they fancy themselves to be great players. Lest I be accused of touting my own skills, I hasten to add that when I've shown the game to novices and thus been the most experienced player present, I've been trounced.

[MS: Adel seems to be a game that encourages gamers to think they are great at playing it, probably because of its highly illusory skill element. I have had numerous challenges to take these Adelmeisters on personally, presumably so I can see what a marvellous game it is. I still think it is massively overrated and will continue to hold this view.]

Don Greenwood Koalition impressed me less. Although my friends think very highly of it, I found the math too burdensome for a 'light' game for the public and the negotiating of who wins a complete turn off. But then I've never been a fan of games where you could negotiate who wins which explains why I've never much cared for Diplomacy.

[MS: Well I can't stand Diplomacy either, but the two negotiating systems strike me as crucially different. Firstly, in Diplomacy you are expected to lie. In the other two, you can't. Secondly, there is perfect information (Koalition) or near perfect (Trump) to base the deal on and Koalition's approach to deals struck me as a way of balancing the game and encouraging tactical cardplay rather than being the main way to win. In Diplomacy, however, you have to deal with some two timing git who you just know is going to shaft you as soon as he can (Trump: The Game obviously missed its niche here) and I personally don't enjoy this element one little bit. The Dip players seem to revel in it as well - accordingly, I thought the recent, overlong game write up in The General very sad. Okay, there are some players who will 'honestly' stick out an alliance, but I've never played with one. Overall, I see the comparison as skilled, ethical play vs lying and underhand scheming; perhaps Diplomacy is too much like real life.]

Stephan Valkyser Koalition: Not so bad, but tends to slow play. The last player in a round has a definite advantage. I recommend that the starting player is changed in a clockwise order around the table, so that every player comes last in turn. Dave Spencer Koalition: yes, I quite like it as well, having now played about five games. As you say, it is essentially a card game, but I actually quite like that. What we have here is a rationale applied to a card game in order to widen its appeal. Put some gloss on (good/amusing graphics, quality components) and you have a winner. My problem comes when playing these games against non-card players. I'm not saying I'm an expert, but no-card players do the wrong thing and as a consequence totally foul up your logical play - and win! The preceding comments realte to four player Koalition, with eight players the game changes. For me it is ceratinly less satisfying and becomes more of a lottery (you haven't got enough cards to maximise a poor hand through clever play). The negotiating/koalition phase also becomes a lot more important, which removes the playing skill and relies more on bullshitting ability. I'm not keen on diplomacy/negotiating games that penalise the quiet reserved (though skilled) type.

[MS: See my reply to Don on this. Either I am missing something here or the strength of a negotiation position is being underestimated in our games. We normally have little trouble in seeing who is in the deal so there is little discussion, normally a polite invitation and acceptance. Very civilised.]

I think you go a bit over the top in talking about 'ultimately restricted tactics' - yes, you might be right, but considering there are just under 280,000,000,000 possible four player hand combinations, there should be sufficient variety to the game. With the eight player game however, there are only two tactics; follow my leader and play your scandal card on the person who is winning.

[MS: I don't see what the variety of card combinations has to do with the tactics. There are lots of card combinations in Snap, but the tactics are still rudimentary. I think the less than eight player game only adds 'start a new party' to the above list, but it is in the nuances that the game scores short term. I just don't think those nuances are going to be appealing ten games down the line, unlike a reverse queen finesse in Bridge for instance. I may be proved to be wrong. Nevertheless, it does easily beat the bulk of recent card games for tactical depth and has hit 5+ status here too.]

I also take issue with your comment (under Koalition) 'Extrablatt ... the realisation is the in order to consider all the options ... will ... require a computer like brain'. I have to say Mike, that that comment is utter garbage unless you restrict yourself to noughts and crosses - do you really mean it?

[MS: No, I always throw in a completely fictional sentence in every review I write. It's my equivalent of that little mouse the carpenter chap puts on his furniture or Terence Cuneo puts in his pictures. I do in fact completely agree with you, it was indeed utter garbage... Not!]

William Whyte 'Teutonic' is a very good word to describe Koalition - it's quite fun, but ultimately it's just another German trick taking with a bit more atmosphere. I found that, even with five players, we were almost always able to form a one-party government, except on the last country of each deal. Maybe this was just my friends being cautious. I enjoyed it, certainly, and I'm glad I bought it, but it's extremely lightweight, and the complications don't make it any less lightweight.

[MS: Mmmm, this latter point is what I had been worried about and I am grateful for the crosscheck. However, I think that your deal must have been a little less than random (a poor split, to coin a Bridge term) to give you that many (nine?) single party wins. We had only two all game with five players. I'd be interested in more comments on this one.]

Dan Glimne Ostindiska Kompaniet: The box cover picture shows a painting of an actual East India trader, the 'Finland' (the country of Finland was part of Sweden in those days). As for the gameboard, I managed to find an artist who could do the gameboard the way I wanted. The slightly stretched representation of the world is the result of my wanting a big gameboard to more accurately simulate the long hauls back and forth. Note the use of 18th century engravings on the gameboard, scanned and cropped to size. All the cards and paper money were designed on the Calamus DTP package on my Atari ST, using suitable typefaces and in some cases scanned pictures - at the end, I had about 8Mb of Ostindiska stuff on my hard disk. I also used 18th century names and spellings throughout and the ship names are all taken from actual East India traders owned by the company and by jove, they could really give ships impressive names in those days, nothing like the namby pamby stuff of today. I was forced to make one concession to reality (and I admit it in the rules of course) and that was adding Nagasaki as a port of call. The Swedish East India Co never did any trade there for political reasons, it was chiefly Portuguese trading territory then. However, I needed a fourth choice so as not to constrict the options in the game too severely.

[MS: This is part of a three page letter outlining how the game came to be, how it was produced and how it plays. If Dan doesn't object, I'll make it available in the rules bank. I thought the above of special interest, mainly to complement the review; I am particularly interested in the production methods because the result is excellent for a 'home' DTP job. Thanks Dan.]

Denis Arnold Bausack: I agree it's a great game, but does Mark realise there are about four or five games within the one bag? The one that is generally played is, I think, the best one; but Mark says that if a player refuses a piece the forfeit doubles. Try playing it where the forfeit increases by one each refusal; that way it gets back to the originator more often, thereby making him think before selecting in the first place. It consequently results in bigger towers and a more satisfying game. Incidentally, I got mine at Essen for £20, but it's a bit on the weighty side if you are travelling by air.

[MS: We don't play Bausack anymore. Mike Clifford showed up recently and performed feats with gravity-defying building blocks that would make Paul Daniels happy. Clearly one from the Uri Geller camp or indicative of misspent school play periods, we won't be giving him the satisfaction of winning again.]

Mark Green I think some people must be trying too hard at Extra Blatt! It isn't the type of game that lends itself to in-depth calculation each turn. There are too many variables hidden in the future for you to be able to say 'this is the best choice of action' in every game situation. I would compare it to Go rather than Chess; overall feel and general strategy are more important than calculating ahead for six moves. Sometimes there will be detailed tactical considerations to weigh up, but 2 in 3 moves will be quickly decided by general strategy.

[MS: I think that is the way it should work, but perhaps we are unusual in our speed of decisions. Many other players will sit deliberating at length, precisely because the variables are there for consideration. There is no incisive thought or reckless play, they just sit there searching on deeper and deeper patterns until they glaze over. Meanwhile, other players sit round and say, 'Who's turn is it' in accusing voices. Okay, I exaggerate a touch, but this is a problem.]

Dave Spencer I enclose the Extrablatt headlines in English as used by Manchester Board Wargamers. They obviously need mounting, but as a freebie, what do you expect. If people send me a stamp, I'll send them a set.

[MS: Thanks Dave. These are on coloured paper and represent but a few minutes with the scissors and glue to get an English headline version. Unfortunately for us they have some MBW in-jokes, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem. Dave is at 10 Ash Grove, Timperley, Cheshire WA15 6JX.]

Richard Breese The 5+ listings were interesting and amusing. I am sure many of us can admit to a childhood addiction to Mousey Mousey and a succession of bruised knuckles as a result. I appreciate that this section has run its course [MS: If only it had] but your comments deriding Talisman prompted me to defend this game. My wife and I, with one rule change (when a character loses four lives, the game is lost) have played out four knockout tournaments using all of the characters, over 200 games in all. I would add that what was once a fairly slow game has been transformed into a quick two player game played almost at the speed of Snap. For interest, two of the tournaments were won by the same character, the Prophetess, which if you discount a pre-Timescape trip into the horrible black void has only lost once.

[MS: Well that sounds a little better. Anything bringing the game time down has to be a good thing. Fortunately, I am now excused boots on this one as I got round the compulsory play by buying my friend a number of games that both he and I like, thereby relegating Talisman to the cupboard for at least most of the time. Anyway, now we have Timescape, I get to play the Space Marine which helps me stop clenching my teeth.]

Trevor Deadman-Spall Formule De: excellent game mechanics give good races but you get so little for your money. Another circuit on the reverse of the board perhaps or some markers to cover tyre wear etc so negating need for pencils plus a marker to show car duration in bends. Simple additions that I will add myself but should have been included.

William Preston Have been enjoying Formule De no end and thought Dave had much of the game summed up in his review. Although nothing special as a game system, it does have that special 'something' that keeps you going back for race after race. One of the most played games this year.

[MS: Yes, it does have that rare quality. We are still playing it as well.]

Ellis Simpson The reviews of the "European Games" are very welcome. I only wish I had read this issue before my last flying visit to Virgin and I would have been able to make some purchases. One game I have played which you mention is Final Score. I can see your reasoning and why the game might be a disappointment. The game is not one of Lambourne's best - that much is clear. However, the way the problems are tackled (sic!) is interesting. Terry will be able to get his revenge when my own design (hopefully) is complete later this year.

Mark Whittaker Final Score: I liked the game and once familiar with the rules I got through a match quickly. However, I do agree with the many negatives, ie naff teams (where's Nottingham Forest of the late '70s and the European Cup winning Man Utd side?) and you do tend to forget players, thinking of them as D1 or S3 or whatever. A partial solution to the form problem is to roll ten times on the form tables (5 def, 5 attack) then total up the form and divide between players as you wish. Or, in a more subjective way, give each player a base form between one and three and then make out an advancement table from the form table (ie 1=+0, 2,3=+1 etc up to +3) meaning that a base one player could never be better than four.

[MS: That sounds more like it. I would plump for this straight away. Has anyone converted any decent Soccer Replay teams yet? We might get there yet by steps.]

Mark continues... Race to Win: Yuk. However, it can be found at several shareware libraries and so costs a couple of quid for a try and in the flyer the company did state CGA required, though I don't see why a text only game shouldn't run on a Hercules.

[MS: I was annoyed before, I'm livid now. If this is correct, why the hell have I paid £15 for a shareware product? Don't answer that. There is no mention of this in the flyer I have (which does say Hercules is supported, though it clearly isn't). I wonder if Terry agreed to shareware sales. Terry? I think a stroppy letter to Mr Nazgames is in order when I get a moment. Thanks for the info Mark.]

Martin Leathwood Daytona 500, probably top 10 for me, I suspect. You can teach anyone in five minutes, lots of little decisions and interaction and that great attribute of the winner being convinced it is all skill whilst the others believe with a little luck they would have won. Both the bidding round and the races are likely to give all players at least one coup to savour each race.

[MS: One of many comments received on what is probably a better game than even my very favourable review indicated. Sadly, the latest rumour is that it has been deleted by MB so grab one quick or it could be as rare as Formel Eins.]

Mark Green The Automania debate provokes a response from one of the testers: all six of us liked the game and in retrospect my views haven't changed much. The cards were not finalised so we didn't worry too much about individual details (I don't recall anything in the nature of 'leader goes back two spaces'). We all agreed that the cards should have a reasonable impact on the economic side of the game. I think Automania mostly suffered from the pricing problem of limited edition games; whereas Boomtown was the first Livingstone Game and had enough in it to overcome the price. The sequel fell short of gaining general approval. Automania has not sold as well as Boomtown, but those who bought it from Just Games have probably split 9:1 in favourable responses.

[MS: I daren't say anything at this point.]

Martin Leathwood History of the World is really for me - simple elegant mechanics, empires waxing & waning, lots of smallish non-decisive decisions and best of all, my last surviving Minoan single handedly stopping the expansion of the Romans into the Middle East by smashing up five legions with a breathtaking display of virtuoso dice rolling. Did I win? Can't remember and I don't think the others could either - always a good recommendation for a game.

Dave Spencer History of the World. As with all games like this (I similarly categorise Britannia), I think one should be wary of over exposure to what initially seems a brilliant game - it's good, but not that good. The game is well worth repeated and regular play, but there needs to be healthy gaps and other games in between. It's just like beer.

[MS: Yes, I agree with this entirely. I think it was just the fact that I flipped over the first couple of games and ended up showing anyone who would play with me just how good it was, resulting in about eight games in as many weeks. The zeal of the converted can be frightening to behold.]

Don Greenwood Minos is a game you just want to love. The components and scale are such that you'll forgive it almost anything. But for all that, you're right. The game is badly flawed in its present form. The ability to control the Black Sea and thus determine when the last settlement is built is a bad mistake made worse by the ineffectiveness of the combat system, although there seemed to be some question by the fellow who translated the rules as to exactly how it worked. My friends took the view that combat ended as soon as the attacker lost a piece, but I can't help feel that the design intent was not that strenuous and that if the attacker had multiple armies to move into a battle site beforehand he could continue the attack. In either case, I think the cheapness of battle rings destroys combat as a viable tactic - especially in the later stages. Perhaps something as simple as not allowing the purchase of battle rings and allowing the attackers turn to continue after losing would restore the effectiveness of combat and give the game more interaction. As it is, my friends were deathly afraid of attacking each other until the very end for they were convinced that whoever attacked first was destined to lose.

[MS: I agree entirely with these views, particularly the point about wanting to like it. Anyway, we played the combat rule as part of the movement phase by which if you lose, but still have movement points, you can move another army in if it is in range. Not sure this is right, but it seems to work okay.]

Denis Arnold Balloon Race: This time I must disagree with the comments. This is the same as the German game Himmelsturmer which was played in the Essen tournament and generally got a big thumbs down. True, it looks great, with lovely balloons, but it was felt that the luck element was much too great. Admittedly I'v played it a few times since but it's no competitor to Ausbrecher, Hemilich, Hare and Tortoise or Pole Position.

[MS: Well, as I said, I enjoyed it and find it on a par with most of these games, certainly 'better' than Pole Position that I really dislike. I would agree though that as a tournament game, with players probably expecting skill-based games to show their prowess, it doesn't fit quite as well as in the family game environment.]

Andy Daglish The other day we played a wonderful British-crap type game called First Impressions where players vote on which of their number best fits the description contained on one of the 400 cards. These are stereotypical and personal, and slightly embarrassing, but the game worked surprisingly well. I found out I am a non-practical theorist who spends his life in a trance-like daze (unanimous!).

[MS: Oooh, this sounds potentially divisive to say the least. We did something similar years ago when a mate of mine decided he wanted to design a role playing game based on real life (not a bad idea, if a little over ambitious; it certainly beats Careers as a valid use of free time). This entailed us all sitting round and rating each other D&D style for Strength, Intelligence and so on. You can imagine the outcome; a number of painful differences between self-perceived strengths and external interpretation. Friendships were sorely tested, I can tell you. It is really quite hurtful and revelatory when you find out how other people see you, especially when comments about high waisted bellbottoms and purple platform shoes are involved. Whatever, while I was naturally tops in Int, Strength and Dexterity (oh, and Modesty), the bastads slaughtered me on Appearance. I've never fully recovered, though I'm off medication now.]

Steve Kingsbury Your article on 18xx I thought particularly interesting. I've had similar doubts concerning about its lack of wildness particularly in the end game. This is despite it being one of only two games on my 20+ list (the other is Acquire). So I thought you might like to hear of two variants we (my wife and friends) have tried to try and make the game more exciting and unpredictable. First to increase the variation in route building we added all the tiles from 1829. Although the routes did vary from their usual patterns, particularly with the acute angled routes into towns, it seemed to reduce the tautness of some of the route choices.

A second idea was to have the share prices not move by dividend payouts but on company yield. This involved a graph with the X axis being share price and the Y axis being the company earnings. The diagonals of the graph thus provided bands of increasing yield. Broadly at the end of each share dealing round the top two companies in terms of yield (the highest diagonal) would rise in share price and the lowest two fall (this varied on the number of companies). In play the high earning companies quickly rose in price until their yield matched cheaper companies with smaller earnings and so on. Curiously enough this whole mechanism seemed to add little so we abandoned it.

I'm still not happy so my next idea is to have an unlimited number of shares for each company but each but buy raises the price and each sale makes the share price fall (like McMulti). This will need fiddling with but my hope is that this will encourage more share dealing as one, you can't be locked out of a good company although it might cost you to buy shares in it and with this assurance there might be more room for profit taking. You also mentioned computer programs - I've written one to handle the bank and it isn't too onerous a task to enter the info and we find that it makes the game playable in about 3-3.5 hours. By the way I also like the idea of fixed routes to reduce the endless counting. But wouldn't you need to increase the number of trains in total and per company - perhaps the obsolete trains could still be run but at half value? A final small idea which we haven't tried yet is that company tokens only block movement to companies owned by different players. In other words if I am president of two companies their tokens do not block each other.

[MS: I particularly like the idea of unlimited shares, this strikes me as a far cleaner way of achieving what I had in mind. More tiles is also a good development, though difficult to revert to a single game if you have mixed them up. The daft situation of not having the tile you need near game-end has always rankled with me. I still sympathise with the poor soul who got all the way across the States after about ten hours play in Alan Moon's 1869 and then couldn't get into San Francisco because all the broad curves had gone. This is bonkers.]

Steve Kingsbury I have had a few thoughts about Metric Mile which I thought I'd raise. I like how as the runner raises his effort level the stamina is increasingly used up: at an average of 1 for ease-up, 2.5 for normal, 3.5 for pick-up, 4.5 for forcing and 7 for sprints. The thing that bothers me though is that the standard deviation of each mode varies (I'm sure you know but the standard deviation is a statistical measure of the degree of variation or range of a sample). Specifically normal and forcing both have a standard deviation of 1.4 but pick-up has a deviation of 1.7. This means that in pick up mode a runner is more likely to roll extremes on the roll (away from the average) than in other modes. In other words a runner in pick-up mode is more susceptible to luck. This didn't seem quite right so trying to match the variation in this mode with the others I've come up with a not too complicated alternative. In pick-up mode if the red die shows 3 or 4 then this is the roll otherwise its the green die. As you can see from the chart this concentrates the rolls in the middle range with out changing the mean and produces a standard deviation the same as the adjacent modes.

Die Roll 1 2 3 4 5 6 Std dev. %of rolls
Normal 30 24 19 14 8 3 1.4
Pickup (old) 17 17 17 17 17 17 1.7
Pickup (new) 11 11 27 27 11 11 1.4
Forcing 3 8 14 19 24 30 1.4

[MS: Fascinating. I think one would need to balance the slight stats anomaly with the loss of the clear, smooth die system, but the point is well made. I'll leave it to the many Metric Milers to decide.]

Stephan Valkyser Advanced Civilisation: Great! See the review in Die Abseitfalle. I think few players will ever return to the old version.

[MS: This is rather like Maxwell saying 'see the review in The Mirror'. DA is Stephan's review magazine and he gives ACiv a top rating five stars, and no messing. The grapevine seems to be confirming much the same sentiment.]

Andy Daglish We have our own game end criteria for Advanced Civilisation. We play until I get Metalworking and Military at which point a sort of cowardice sets in and they decide to play something smaller or go home. It's silly really, a kind of in-joke that is taken almost at face value these days. I have wanted to play 1066: William the Conqueror for some time but the owner of the game won't risk it. Fortune favours the rash and my friends are so careful.

[MS: I thought fortune favoured the competent? Oops, Brewer says 'Fortune favours the brave'. Even as a reformed collector, I have never understood the mentality that leads to games on the shelf that can be neither touched nor played. It's a shame, though from what I remember of 1066, you ain't missing much. Hardcore Civilisation players seem to get a bit shirty if you play it as a wargame. In my very first game (of a massive two, neither anywhere near finished), two neighbouring empires expanded down a river valley, only to have one of them suddenly make inroads on the other. The attacked player's face was a picture, 'Ere, you're not meant to do that'. That was the beginning of the end for me.]

Dave Farquhar I wish to query the statement made in the previous Sumo, which mentioned that Dan Steel is 'good with animals and children'. At the beginning of our games session, after Dan had made coffee, he was getting the components out of the Footmania box. Ludodelire boxes tend to be rather long, and I watched in fascination as Dan proceeded to shove the box along the table in order to make room for the board. This action propelled my coffee off the end of the table, straight over the cat, which had up to then been sleeping peacefully on the rug. This in turn left a brown stain on the carpet, with an artistic cat-shaped silhouette in the centre, as the surprised moggy fled the scene. So much for Siggins' character assessments. Apologies to Dan incidentally, if his wife reads this, as it might negate his previous attempts to cover up the evidence.

Ellis Simpson I read John Harrington's review of Grand Prix Manager. In amongst the criticism I suspect there are one or two ideas that you might take on board for a second edition (!) but the central criticism about the game being more random than skill based boils down to whether or not, philosophically, you believe that a game player should be in complete control of his destiny. When I was testing it and indeed subsequently playing it I found that I was enjoying it and wasn't really stopping to consider any downside. On my part, I was more than happy.

[MS: The cheque is in the post.]

Charles Vasey I disagree with Barrington on the 'Z card factor'. The designer is entitled to introduce the appropriate level of random events and that need not necessarily be marginal. For a sports games one will statistical models to estimate the random range. Supporting the sagging egos of gamers is surely a questionable role for any designer. Perhaps we need a John Harrington rule, because he's a wild and crazy guy, where you can refuse any two die rolls and re-roll. Very little random about that. What is perhaps a good idea is to offer gamers some variants that allow one to reduce chaos if they want. In my Flodden game I think I have four levels ranging from sub-WRG freedom to true Vasey Chaos. I do think John has a good point about the lack of skill differences between drivers - it offends, but I promised to stop whingeing about Grand Prix Manager, so I will.

Don Greenwood Blackbeard has proved to be one of our most successful releases of late. And while that can be partly attributed to the subject matter and a great George Parrish cover, there is no denying that the game has its adherents.

I note Richard Berg's letter citing the possibility of a chit system to be sure that all players have the same number of turns eventually, but I believe Richard's design was superior in its present form. I find a chit draw system whereby you can back a player into a corner whereby he knows that he'll have x number of turns in a row to be entirely bogus.

[MS: Actually it's most bogus, Don - watch the videos some more and you'll soon pick up the language. I had assumed it would be a chit system by which you put a number for each player into the cup and draw them, replacing them all at the end of a turn. Either way, that is the way I'd play it but it sounds more and more like a solitaire game to me. I note the Series Replay in The General was solitaire as well.]

Don... Our management was so pleased with Blackbeard that they've asked Richard to repeat the trick with a similar design on American Indians. My initial discussions with Richard have indicated that this design will owe at least something to Blackbeard so I suspect the same reliance on a random turn generator to be in evidence.

[MS: My god Chuck, they're multiplying. Well, for once I am not going to be once bitten, twice shy and will gladly buy a game on Native Americans (or whatever they themselves want to be called). I will be very interested in the angle Richard takes here, having just read Bury My Heart again. Potentially dodgy I'd have thought - watch out for the liberal backlash. Will we get a US Cavalry cruelty table I wonder?]

Don Greenwood I very much enjoyed your treatment of election games and was glad to see someone else shared my opinion of Campaign Trail. The latter is again one of the favorites of my gaming buddies and I find Candidate a far better play for my money. You're right, the latter is a much better game with four players. I suggest deleting one Scandal card from the deck for every player over four because otherwise they cycle through the deck too often.

Mike Hopcroft I'm trying to see if I can manage a copy of Candidate. The election year market being what it is, there are several games out. Mayfair's Road to the Whitehouse has a somewhat higher profile than the AH offering. But I expect both these games to vanish in '93, as election games always do after an election year. I still wonder if anyone has a copy of Jim Dunnigan's '72 election game The Next President, which I was introduced to at high school and at which I became rather good.

[MS: This is a game I think I used to own, oddly enough - it's the square one advertised in early S&Ts isn't it? I think it would be pretty rare now. I traded it on to Alan Moon to add to his 'substantial' collection of election games, but it did look alright in the SPI way of things. Whether it played, I have no idea.]

Ellis Simpson Your comment about the Sportsgaming market is apposite. I suspect that very few newcomers will succeed in commercial terms. Computer games appear to sell well, particularly those which have some form of arcade glossy front which can be prettily tarted up and boxed and made to look like a challenging finger twiddling exercise. The more serious applications suffer and there is then a self fulfilling prophesy. They never move on to an improved edition because they never sell and they never sell because the quality of the game is poor. Possibly small run publications will be the only way forward but I for one want to have a crack at a baseball game just to prove that it can be done!

Mark Whittaker Re your article about what sportsgamers want, I'm not bothered about the speed of a game but I don't want to look through 200 tables to see whether or not a base was stolen etc. I think a solo or two player game with trading and management aspects would be nice. The only one I can think with this is Lambourne's Heavyweight Champ. Also nice would be a 'campaign' game such as the tour expansions Lambourne provide for International Cricket. However, this sort of thing is available, just look at the PBMs, the only thing you don't do is play the game. Therefore a PBM system converted to a boardgame might work, though it would probably have to be a manual game and most games systems seem to be closely guarded secrets.

[MS: Not surprising. I'd want to hide the lack of a system as well if people were paying me big money. Thanks for the comments Mark.]

Roger Seaman As a confirmed duvet stuffer, a few thoughts concerning your article on sportsgaming in Sumo 8. My impression of the majority of gamers in the pbm leagues I organise is that the sport comes before the board game. They would not consider say, The Tour, anymore than they would purchase Civilisation if they had no interest in the sport itself. Consequently, the stat keeping side of it all becomes even more important to them rather than the mechanics of the game itself. Following this line of thought, one game per sport is all they require.

My own reasons behind the pbm leagues is that there is no way I would ever replay a season of anything without them. It also introduces the managerial side of the hobby in the form of trades, drafts etc. In the past I have organised pbm leagues where the managerial side is minimalised, eg One Day International. Due to the fact that annual cards are not issued there was little risk management involved and my interest quickly waned.

I completely agree that the major systems seem to have it sewn up with little to challenge them. This seems a pity because I do not regard PTP or Face Off as the ultimate in their particular fields. PTP is basically an advanced form of Strat O Matic Baseball. The designers were clever in utilising percentage dice, adding lots of chrome and coloured cards. However, they are still giving a 50-50 chance of the play result being off the pitchers or batters card and occasionally this falls short of requirements.

As to the idea based around past and future seasons I've got my doubts whether it would appeal. The problems are that the ratings would be to a greater deal than at present, subjective. The average replay gamer mentioned above would not take kindly to this if the competition appears to be more statistically based. This has been where, in my opinion, Lambourne's soccer and rugby games have suffered. Looking at the ratings for some of the teams I know that something is not right so why should I bother with a replay or a league on ratings I don't trust?

[MS: For those who I lost last time (I performed some kind of mental leap and missed the explanation), what I was getting at was that if you took any player in any category, looked at his past seasons stats and made a projection based on those stats for the forthcoming year, you might be able to assign him a subjective but feasible rating. With good design, it may be possible to insert this player and his projected rating into a system that would incorporate an equation of past form, present form and 'fate', giving a realistic spread of results but without the statistical anomalies. I'm sure there is something here, but perhaps not for stats fans. For those interested, Roger now puts out a monthly magazine (To The Wire) packed full of league results, news and replay reports. The latest issue has news of a tempting hockey game for the PC that I will be investigating. SAE to Roger at 40 Glastonbury Close, Ipswich, Suffolk IP2 9EE.]

Steve Street Despite the fact that 'Intelligent comments on sports games earn few rewards', I'd like to see you keep this area up. Have you done a survey on the area of soccer games, for instance? I understand what Paul Oakes says about Soccer Replay but as you said, it's the best we got! I'd never heard of World Class Football though - where do you get these games? It seems to me there is a gap in the market for a soccer game that, like Title Bout, lets you take real players and play a full game in about the time it takes in reality. Can't see anyone making much money form this gap though.

[MS: That is exactly what World Class Football was, though it didn't work perfectly. It was released, I understand, by a Scottish company who decided to borrow wholesale from the Strat O Matic games and convert the system to soccer. The company was called Football International and I hope to do an article at some stage in the future, not so much so you'll want to go and find it, but to see how we might go about improving it.]

Dave Farquhar A comment on Devil Take the Hindmost by Lambourne. I just played it six player, and it was brilliant. At £5.25 I highly recommend it.

Steve Kingsbury Your continued enthusing about Lambourne Games reminded me I had a copy of Metric Mile which I hadn't played. So I dug it out and have been playing it solitaire since. This has cost me fifty quid as in a burst of enthusiasm I ordered other games from Lambourne.

[MS: A few extra sales there Terry. See editorial, which I hope goes to strengthen my case!]

Martin Leathwood I like the idea of a gamekit corner in Sumo for those games that will probably never otherwise see the light of day. My venerable Canal Mania, under spasmodic development for 15 years, could even creep out as a sort of beta version. The chances of riches from games are very limited to put it mildly and I suspect others may feel as I do that they would rather have the satisfaction of other games players approbation and interest than keep it all in the dark because they don't wish to risk all on their masterpiece.

Chris Baylis I, with some friends, have just produced a card game called Eurohit and are marketing 1,000 copies. Your readers can have them for £6.95, postage paid, direct from me.

[MS: Thanks Chris. I have bought a copy of Eurohit and I must admit I haven't yet fathomed it out. It looked like a record production game but then I found an Uzi card, so quickly ruled that out. It turns out to be a game about visiting European capitals while being chased by a hitman. I'll let you know when I've played it. Chris is at 67 Mynchens, Lee Chapel North, Basildon, Essex SS15 5EG and if you add a quid I'm sure he'll send you a copy of Games Gazette as well.]

Steve Kingsbury One final thought re your zine. I'd like to see one review per issue on an old game that is high on someone's 5+ or 10+ list. Perhaps review is the wrong word, rather discussion. Maybe it wouldn't interest you but to those of us who own significantly less games that you it's nice to go back and buy games that are highly played that we don't own. I only have approximately 150 and so there is plenty of room to be buying old games as well.

[MS: Assuming you mean 'old' as in older than a couple of years and not something I've missed en route (eg Supergang, Tyranno Ex, Mhing, Dragonmasters), then believe it or not, this is something I have intended since Sumo first started. However, as the main problem has been keeping Sumo under 60 pages on new releases, this has not been possible until now, though we have had the DIY pieces which have helped a little. Hopefully, I will get this underway with a review or article each issue but I need some comment as to how it is handled. If there is the interest, I am happy to cover games with worthwhile design ideas or which are readily available (eg Pax Britannica, Leiber Bairisch Sterben, Hecht) but would wish to steer clear of out of print games unless you insist. Similarly, I would happily cover the 'early' German games from the Bloomfield, Jurassic, Moon and Walker periods (eg Alaska, Balloon Race, Greyhounds, Chalet, Flying Carpet, Jockey, Heimlich & Co, Elefantenparade) if you think this is worth it or items like Extinction, Prospecting, Source of the Nile, Arabian Nights and Mythology if you don't mind digging around for them. Other games, like Dune and Cosmic Encounter, have had it all said elsewhere so I can't see much mileage there. What I don't want to do is get people all interested in a game that they can't buy from anyone but ripoff dealers, rather like the RIP feature did in GI. I can do obscure stuff (believe me, I can), but only those with Paul Jefferies' DIY abilities would benefit. So, yes in theory, but I'd like some feedback on if and how I go about it. For those that noticed, that reply was indeed a thinly disguised list.]

Martin Leathwood Meandering onto computer games, my two main objections to them is that they are largely a solitary pursuit and they are all so long. I accept that there is value to some in a game that takes 40hrs+ to play but that would likely take me two or three years! That takes me back to the old days of postal Diplomacy, 1829 and RR although then you didn't have to cart a bloody great computer about but could work out your moves anywhere.

Garry Clarke I noted with interest the letters about computer games. I've got SimCity which I've enjoyed but solitary computer games of this type I get a bit bored with quite quickly. I prefer more social interaction with my games, but I do like the arcade style shoot 'em ups, alien, death, destruction type games. I have recently bought a Super Nintendo (entire subscriber list of Sumo throws up hands in horror!). I feel that this type of computer game gets a slagging in magazines such as Strategy Plus as something only the munchkins play. I get a lot of enjoyment out of my Nintendo and boardgame and PC owners shouldn't act so superior. I am not saying Sumo should cover arcade games as they get more than enough elsewhere. I enjoy a game of 18xx as much as destroying a million aliens but I don't like being patronised just because some 'grown up' doesn't like arcade games. Sorry for ranting a bit, nothing personal.

[MS: No problem; get it off your chest. So, we come full circle and I have to say that despite my one-sided article, I have some sympathy with this view of things. Plus, I have some worries on the same score. Of three boardgaming friends, one will gladly now play computer games in preference to boardgames (Battle Isle mainly), another has all but given up on the manual systems and the third is about to buy himself a Sega Megadrive (or Master, whichever has the sensational graphics). Frankly, if I was any good at the games, so would I. I think only the fact that I am crap at everything bar Kick Off and Golf and that the games cost so much, I would have been tempted ages ago, particularly by a colour Gameboy. Is this the beginning of the end? This subject is now closed!]

Alan Moon Enclosed are some rules for Elfenroads and Santa Fe, Whitewinds's 1992 games to be launched at Essen. There may be some minor changes between now and October but nothing major. Another railroad game, tentatively titled Freight Train, is under consideration for 1993 and there are four possibilities for the 1993 elf game: Elfenmagic, Elfenminister, Elfenfields and Elfenwars.

[MS: Good to see Whitewind continuing with quality family games. While I am wary of plugging a game pre-release, I have played Santa Fe and having seen the rules it is going to be a cracker. Shades of Wildlife Adventure and Airlines with a railway theme. Can't wait for this one. And now, literature...]

Charles Vasey I do not agree about the Christopher Awdry novels (he warmed to his subject). The last ones from the Old Clergyman were almost Pooteresque in their lack of action and certainly of original action. Everytime an engine hoves into view with some trucks then sure as eggs is eggs the little bleeders are going to say 'on, on' and it's curtains for our chums. Engines are always falling off lines or proving they are better than diesels. The new Christopher Awdry stuff has some good ideas. 'James and the Diesel Engines' is surely better than 'Enterprising Engines' (or whatever the one that introduced Bear is called). 'Thomas and the Great Railway Show' at least takes us out of Sodor. 'Gordon the High Speed Engine' admits to the existence of the 125 (and they are female 125's too). They are not perhaps up to the standard of the first eight books.

William Preston I thought you were a bit rough on poor old Christopher Awdry. What a hard act to follow is all I can say. His stories are good enough and they keep me amused at bathtime. What disappoints is the drop off in artwork after the early books. There is nothing later to match Reginald Dalby's work for atmosphere, skill and that light quality.

[MS: Typical. I spend hours toiling away on reviews and articles and what do I get? Throwaway line feedback. But seriously, having been put straight on the phone by 'Troublesome Trucks' Vasey, I concede I was partly incorrect in my rash statement on Awdry Jr's work. I was basing the view solely on the first couple of books which are distinctly ropey. Apparently, and in defence I claim lack of time to browse the children's section, there are now several new books out that are considerably better. I don't know, more expense - £2.95 a pop these days. I agree on the artwork point entirely, Dalby is indeed the business while the Edwards' efforts have an unpleasant, grubby style and the engine faces lack character. I think they try to be too arty and realistic. Spong and Kenney fall somewhere between the two.]

Charles Vasey Why not print up some cards to give to know-alls at art galleries - 'Please do not discuss art aloud as a kick in the testicles often offends' and sign them Brian Walker.

Bert Fridlund I read in Sumo about your vision of 'automating' the rules bank with scanning, OCR and German-English translation software. A word of caution here - even though such hardware and software exists you will not know how well it works until you have tried it. I am especially wary of the quality of output from translation software. You may still have to do most of the work yourself editing and correcting the text afterwards. Automated translation is very tough to implement.

[MS: This is the only comment I have had and as such, many thanks Bert. There are now programs being advertised cheaply to do bi-directional translation and the thought of using this for simple, two or three page family games is still quite appealing. I know that a degree of work will undoubtedly be required but it should be much less than working from scratch. Shouldn't it? At the very least it should handle the nouns. I'll see how it goes.]

Geoff Challinger 21st July 1992. 23 years to the day that Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and not a mention of it. Space program junkies should have a fanzine of their own.

[MS: Well I'd certainly buy it. Understandably, it all went rather quiet when the shuttle blew up and yet, if odd snippets are anything to go on, there is still some hope for the programme. Oddly, I get most of my NASA feedback from Jerry Pournelle in Byte who, for all his faults, still has the knack of getting me excited on computers and space. Does anyone know what is happening or if there is such a newsletter? I know Omni covers it, but I refuse to read such tripe.]

Charles Vasey Dice Throwing. Most people drop the thing flat on the table with no bounce. It is not cheating, but it is not random either. I recommend a) throwing it into a box top, throwing onto the table punished by the other playing choosing the result. b) New dice each throw. c) Use a cup to throw but make sure it is large enough to permit lateral roll.

Some unlucky players become so because they persist in explaining what they are doing all the time which is both annoying and fatal in that it discloses just what they fear. As you know from Chaos, one always thinks the other guy is supremely confident with only a couple of obvious concerns. If a player explains his reasoning he frees you from a lot of worries.

Denis Arnold On dice: At our small club we always have a selection of dice out on the table and different players prefer different dice, be it because of colour, size, attractiveness or just plain difference. We try to use a tray for the dice so as to avoid sending the playing pieces to the floor. We also generally have an aversion to green pieces and, to a lesser degree, to the red ones in any game. This is because players using those colours have come last in so many games that it has become a bit of an obsession with us.

[MS: I'm a yellow dobber man myself, so much so that if I am not that colour for whatever reason, I have been known to move the yellow bits anyway by mistake. Pretty sad really. There is no problem with using red round at my house; Paul 'Berserk' Townsend has to have anything signifying Russian allegiance, even if he is playing Ludo. Paul Oakes is also obsessive about red dobbers; no idea why. Brian Walker, always politically right on, is firmly a red man too. Mark Green, logically, uses green. Jokes about his passing resemblance to Reverend Green from Cluedo are not tolerated. No other preferences or trends noted, so no doctoral thesis this time.]

Denis Arnold Re the comments concerning the popularity of certain types of games and their general social acceptance, I thought you might like to hear my wife's opinion. Twice when we have been going out, she has said, 'Please don't tell people you collect/play games; I don't mind you saying you collect stamps, but people (particularly grown ups) don't play games except with children.' As I point out to her, she's reasonably happy playing Scrabble and Canasta and also doing crossword puzzles, but she cannot see any similarity in this. What is the answer, I wonder. I don't consider myself to have a juvenile mind and, although I say it myself, you have to be fairly intelligent to understand and play some games. Has anyone else had similar problems and if so have they been overcome?

[MS: I was sitting at lunch the other day with some co-workers and I somehow got round to being unecessarily rude about another, absent, colleague's hobby. Basically, he has an oldish Fiesta XR2 that he polishes up and displays at car shows with the hood up. You know the sort; owners club member, furry dice, picture of prized car on desk, no women. Now if he was showing off his Cobra, GT40 or Dino, then I might drift towards toleration, but an XR2? Okay, so I'm a bigot. As a hobby his is not too odd (though pretty boring) but it is getting right down there with angling, raffia work and the rubber sword crew. But each to his own, I suppose. What surprised me, given that the others had been laughing heartily, was that having finished my invective, two people in unison said 'Well at least it isn't as weird as what you do.']

[ So, seriously for a moment, I think people in general have a fairly low opinion of gamers. My usual reaction is, perhaps wrongly, to get all superior inside and yet smile and say nothing. After all, most people's hobby is watching crap television and I think gaming is slightly more rewarding than that (I exclude Traber Derby at this point in the proceedings). I don't think playing games is juvenile though I don't see anything much wrong with being a big kid at the right time - no hang-ups on this score. However, although a lot of games are indeed challenging, this in itself can't be the sole justification or one quickly gets into intellectual willy measuring. Playing Die Macher because it is complex doesn't make someone 'better' than a player of Flying Carpet or someone who doesn't play games at all. I play games because I have a good time doing so (though it is hard to put a finger on quite why), I like those people I play with and the bulk of gamers I've met, I enjoy writing about games in Sumo and, now, I'm having a stab at designing some. It's a hobby that keeps me interested long term and it is undoubtedly rich in many areas. And I don't even win very often. All this combined is good enough for me and the non-gamers can think of it what they will.]

[ Whatever, I don't really care what people think but I am interested to know why they consider gaming on a par with train spotting below stamp collecting in the smirking stakes. And remember wargamers and miniaturists get an even worse press because of the toy soldier and war overtones - for every over zealous, vociferous wargamer there are several closet players. The concept of 'outing' players of Advanced Third Reich may not be far off according to Mark Green! I would think roleplaying and fantasy rank even lower in the public's eyes. Oddly, the stigma doesn't seem to apply to chess, backgammon and certainly not card games, especially gambling games such as poker. Again, I come back to the fact that most people wouldn't flinch at playing Trivial Pursuit these days, but perhaps that is only in moderation and the disparaging thoughts are reserved for those of us who play much of the time.]

[ If quizzed, I am not much fussed about telling people what I do and why I keep going off to Germany and coming back laden with tubes (they think I'm an arms dealer), but I do try to avoid it for the above reasons. In general, I keep myself to myself and certainly never own up to wargaming or painting figures. This is purely because the reaction is usually a patronising 'Oh really? How interesting. You mean Monopoly?'. Very, very rarely do you get someone who seems genuinely interested, tolerant or knowledgeable - for these people, I might put out and go into details. Whether all this is a problem, I don't know. The hobby can easily continue even in the face of abuse, but it does nothing for recruitment (though no-one seems much bothered about that anymore). Is it the odd appearance of the hobby that causes the problem? Are we being tarred along with the headbanging spotties or the latex elves? No idea really, comments welcome.]

Mark Green Confession time: games I am embarrassed about not having played - Heimlich & Co, Wildlife Adventure, Broadway, Flusspiraten, Escape from Colditz, Sleuth, ASL, World in Flames, Imperium Romanum.

[MS: Mark! I don't know, call yourself a gameshop manager. I mean, this guy is actually recommending games to the general public. Truly pathetic. My list (owned games only), recently much reduced, is topped by: Axis & Allies, Ballon Rennen, Bushido, Centre Court, Crimea, Dragon Pass, Empires Of The Middle Ages, Go, Lieber Bairisch Sterben, Mare Mediterraneum, Metropolis, Nomad Gods, Pax Britannica, Pendragon, Rail Baron, Regatta, Reich, Ringworld, RAF, Speed Circuit (!), Summit, Tac Air and Tank Leader. Well, there goes some cred, but you should have seen it six months ago. Talking of listings, the now traditional 5&10s follow. Next issue (No 10+) will be absolutely the last chance to get yours in, so if it doesn't arrive by the deadline, that's yer lot. This time, we start with Alan Moon who I am sure has been here before. Customers should note only one visit to the salad bar is allowed.]

Alan Moon 10+: Barbarossa, Britannia, Caesar Alesia, Campaign Trail, Can't Stop, Clue, Die Macher, Diplomacy, Doolittle & Waite, Dune, 1829, Flat Top, Fury in the West, Greyhounds, Homas Tour, Junta, Karriere Poker, Kremlin, Luftwaffe, Monopoly, Mr President, Mystic Wood, Napoleon, Ogallala, Password, Personality, Schoko & Co, 1776, 6-Tage Rennen, Slapshot, Speed Circuit, Stellar Conquest, Storm over Arnhem, Stratego, Totopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Wembley, WP&S. 25+: Acquire, Adel, Blue & Gray, Careers, Cribbage, Dorada, Football Strategy, Hearts, Hols der Geier, Liars' Dice, Formel Eins, Oh Hell, Origins, Railway Rivals, Risk, Russian Campaign, Titan, Victory in the Pacific, War at Sea, Wildlife Adventure.

Theo Clarke 5+: 1830, 221B Baker Street, 6 Day Race, Africa, Airlines, Aces High, Automania, Black Monday, Ave Caesar, Circus Maximus, City & Suburban, Die Bosse, Dallas (Yaquinto), Civilization, Formula 1, Game of Life, Go For Broke, The Great Balloon Race, Hare & Tortoise, Homas Tour, Kingmaker, Kremlin, McMulti, Midnight Party, Murphy, New Faces, Obstgarten, Quirks, Rock Island, Snits' Revenge, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Targui, Topple, Totopoly, Trivial Pursuit. 10+: Adel Verpflichtet, Asterix the Card Game, Der Ausreisser, Awful Green Things, Boom Town, Broadway, Cluedo, Cosmic Encounter, Diversion, Escape From Atlantis, Family Business, Formel Eins, Hanafuda, Judge Dredd, Karriere Poker, Liars' Dice, Mhing, Monopoly, Naval War, Pass The Pigs, Pit, Railway Rivals, Scrabble, Shark, Sherlock Holmes - The Card Game, Speed Circuit, Yahtzee.

Dave Spencer 5+: Thin Red Line, The Great Redoubt, Empires in Arms, War & Peace, Napoleon's Last Battles, La Bataille, Forward to Richmond, Republic of Rome, Battle over Britain, Pax Britannica 10+: Civilisation, Empires of the Middle Ages, Sechs Tage Rennen, 18xx, Aces high, RAF, Macchiavelli 20+: Squad Leader, Third Reich, Ace of Aces.

Stephan Valkyser 5+: uncountable [MS: Uhoh] 10+: Title Bout, Republic of Rome, Kremlin, Statis Pro Football, Drunter & Druber, B17, Attack Sub, Dampfross, Seti, Heimlich & Co, Borsenspiel, Gespenster, March Madness, 1835, Abalone, Junta, Check, Slapshot, Britannia. 30+: Ambush!, 1830, Football Strategy, Zaster, Venture, Geisten, Reversi, Midguard 100+: Statis Pro Basketball, Statis Pro Baseball, Titan, Wrasslin, Adel Verpflichtet 500+: Up Front. [MS: Wow.]

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