Thanks for your letter and Sumo. Do you find yourself writing and reading about games, rather than actually playing them?
My favourite shop at the moment is Westgate Games in Canterbury. Andrew Whitely is a real enthusiast and seems to be an expert on everything. He also carries German titles and intends to expand this side.
MS. First point; yes, definitely. Second point, sounds good - that makes three or four stockists nationwide. As Stuart says in his piece, we need all we can get. However, Canterbury is not too accessible at present. I will get there one weekend if I can. My current preference is for Just Games and the pleasantly surprising Leisure Games in Finchley, but the latter don't carry European items and neither have bargains like the big boys at Virgin, Woolworths and Toys R Us.
For me, the worrying angle of this esoteric hobby of ours is that there is little point in pushing these excellent games if it is very tough to get hold of them. Sure, those that really want them will find them and I can normally get personal copies through my friends in Germany, but what about the poor sucker who sees a glowing review of Schoko and then can't buy one for weeks? Mark Green does a sterling job at Just Games but deliveries are sporadic at best and demand seems to remain high. Additionally, the task of ordering 'Great' forthcoming games remains distinctly dodgy. Nevertheless, current games are, err, current and can be found with effort but worse still are the older, out of print games (eg Formel Eins, Homas Tour, Thalassa, Energie Poker) that must be numbered in units in the UK with little hope of finding more even in Germany, let alone here.
In this respect, GRiM's recent pointed letter about Hungarian Whippet Racing games was spot on - they are obscure, they are hard to buy (and expensive) and they do, as a result, have a certain elitist feel in what is already a miniscule general games market. From the selfish angle, who cares as long as I can get them but if we go wider, and we should, giving them exposure isn't wrong, it just needs backing up with a little more effective distribution or, perhaps, direct mail order from Germany.
A couple of days of a cold permit me to reflect upon the excellent issue and excellent articles (but aren't they just a tad too excellent?) in Inside Adjective 25. I was very taken by finding out what Tin Tin's name is in German, didn't Private Eye have a feature on the chap who was 'boosting' our little chum?
I was shocked to see you are a fan of Ann Robinson (name's not Benjamin is it?) after all it was her own father, Barry Took, that she replaced, shameless hussy. Still, you are more on line with being rude about Basinger who is curiously bland (like white bread with tits, as National Lampoon once so gallantly put it about Cybil Shepherd).
MS: Point taken about my writing 'style'. I guess I am just too enthusiastic in the main. Steps have been taken to improve the situation and attempts at writing GI reviews without the aid of the 'excellent, superb and marvelous' safety net were very revealing. The thesaurus certainly took a bashing though. Underlying all this is an inability to rant and a feeling that my writing isn't up to much. I am told by a friendly professional writer that this is related to 'never liking one's own photograph' syndrome. Oops, there goes another word I overuse. Seriously, I have been waiting for years for suggestions as to where I'm going wrong or where I can improve, but nobody has volunteered any constructive criticism until now.
On women, I have to admit to some strange tastes. Our Ann has one of those faces that just appeals (I've forgotten the word that sums her up), though I've gone off her a bit since the hairdo. Others in the completely unattainable frame include Michelle Pfeiffer, Isabelle Adjani, Ellyn on thirtysomething, the new girl downstairs in Public Relations, Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, Cheri Lunghi, Hana Mandlikova and Jenny Agutter has her moments. I am also, based purely on pictorial evidence, almost certainly smitten with Ulrika Jonssen of TV-AM but as my boss will quickly tell you, I am never up in time to see her. There, that's blown my image.
I'd value your comments on the election game inside this issue (MS: Dail Eirann, supplied free with the latest Nertz). I actually rate it as highly as Kremlin (though I don't rate Kremlin as highly as some do) because it has much in common with Kremlin's approach in making the players form alliances and the fact that the game mechanisms take the result out of the individual players hands to a greater extent than they seem to do. Anyway, let me know what you think.
MS: William joins the growing bunch of enterprising gamers who have got off their botties and produced something concrete. Dail Eirann is a game about Irish elections and looks to have shades of Kremlin, Die Macher and Election unless I am mistaken. The game kit supplied, an 'interesting' stencil production, looks fascinating and quite playable, if a little long at five or six hours (though this should reduce). Given the Die Macher component treatment with wooden pieces and heraldry (do the Irish counties have shields?), it would look great. I am going to try it as soon as I can get a few players together. Comments and probably a review to follow next time, though if someone has played it I'd be keen to see what you think. Anyone interested in seeing a copy should write to William at 10 Salamanca, Roebuck Road, Dublin 14, Eire who I am sure will have some back numbers left. If not, with William's permission I can supply copies.
Tourspel (MS: a recently discovered Dutch cycling game already in short supply) got very mixed reviews. Three of the players and I thought it was a little slow but interesting. Mike Gray and a guy from Parker Brothers thought it was totally boring. I don't think it works with victory determined just by whose leader crosses the line first. We are going to play with the Homas Tour victory conditions next time.
Next up were two of my East German train games: Train and Trans-Kombi. Not much to either of them, but I may use one or two of the good ideas in one of my games. Also, the map in Trans-Kombi is an excellent starting idea for a transportation game by itself.
MS: Obscure? I'll give you obscure. Admittedly this is the sort of thing that gets many backs up, but to me it is desirable, even necessary to investigate these exotic games and I actually enjoy reports from all over the place concerning Czech abstract games, East German trains or Tunisian chariot racing games (no joke I'm afraid, it's in the post). Just wait for Ronde de Frankrijk, yet another limited run cycling game. Review coming soon!
Two instant benefits accrue from buying and trying such games. The first is obvious; it could well be the next Sechs Tage Rennen. Remember that little gem was invented and sold by a cycling promotion company. (As an aside, does anyone play this anymore? It seems to be one of those games, like Die Macher, that rapidly loses its appeal.) Secondly, even if these games are beyond redemption, they often throw up some materials or good ideas that are nickable for use in other games, as Alan demonstrates above. The games I am working on have several borrowed ideas which can be adapted or improved to good effect. In the same vein, Charles Vasey runs an occasional column in Perfidious Albion which aims to be a 'design mine'; that is, rifling old games for clever ideas and systems. As ever, there is very little new under the sun and re-inventing the wheel is certainly fairly common in the game industry.
It was a bit of a shock to see most of the first Sumo's Karaoke Club subsequently appearing in Games International.
MS: Guilty I'm afraid. Not sure what to say about this one except to apologise to anyone who thinks it a bit cheeky. Comments appreciated, it would be interesting to know the numbers of readers who see both magazines. To briefly explain, Thomas the Tank engine was lifted from GI anyway and Brian Walker was so impressed by the Full Metal Planete and Abalone reviews that he plied me with large amounts of cash to buy the rights for his next issue. Well, something like that. My defence is that it was a free pilot issue and if Brian deems my stuff worthy of a wider audience then I'm not going to fret too much. I wasn't keen on the severe chopping enjoyed by the FMP piece though. Hopefully, in an attempt to prevent a re-occurance, I have planned this issue to mesh with reviews that I know other people are already writing for GI, so that Brian shouldn't need to use mine. That should solve it, but you never know.
The other angle is that I will be re-reviewing or commenting on some games that GI has already covered. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I have to question some of the dubious conclusions on the recent crop of games from Germany (see elsewhere) and secondly, although it has improved, I feel that some of the games warrant more in-depth coverage than they receive in our premier games journal. This is not a real moan, I appreciate that Brian can't fit in six pages on what are minority games.
There is a rumor that the Pursue the Pennant people have purchased the rights to Fast Break, a classic basketball boardgame and are re-issuing it. If this is true I would like to see it. Lance Haffner is coming out with a PC Boxing game soon which is supposed to be impressive, with 612 boxers on the game disk and an input feature for even more! Tom Trunzo, co-designer of Title Bout, supposedly helped design. Replay unveil their PC baseball game soon in which it is possible to run eight games at once! APBA have released PC games on football and bowling. A new hockey game, True Hockey, offers real NHL stats and text play. Electronic Arts have a new game on the Indianapolis 500. Micro League Sports have released a new edition of their Micro League Baseball for the PC.
Cyberpunk as a genre is big right now. I do not really understand why, but then I'm behind the times. Steve Jackson Games' zeal to do a realistic cyberpunk sourcebook is what got them raided by the Secret Service (their research included working with the notorious Legion of Doom hackers, something the Feds do not take kindly to. Steve Jackson Games are rumored to be in real trouble so the GURPS series may not continue.
MS: Michael supplies his usual batch of fascinating news! I've been looking for Fast Break for some time now and hear good things about it. In fact, good enough for Mike Clifford to rate it a Hall of Fame place in Games International. If the PtP boys get their hands on it, the production should really look impressive but I hope they don't 'improve' the system too much. Boxing isn't really my field but I am sure John Harrington and Peter Hatton will be interested in this one. Haffner's games are rather expensive over here and a little dry for my tastes (being text only) but their 'accuracy' and atmosphere is spot on and my college basketball system has paid for itself many times over. On that topic, I'm looking forward to Avalon Hill's forthcoming March Madness which covers the NCAA final 64 tourney. This appears to be a quick play game system rather than a true replay and it sounds interesting. The only drawback seems to be that you need to roll a lot of dice to generate the scores.
Being a fan (though dormant now everyone seems to have stopped writing for the genre), I can understand the appeal of Cyberpunk as a theme for games, especially roleplaying. Shadowrun has some really well produced modules and sourcebooks appearing (Sprawl Sites is one of the best I've seen) but I'm sure the GURPS treatment will be to their usual high standard. I recently picked up the GURPS 'The Prisoner' source book that is rather good, prompting all sorts of ideas based on the series for board games as well as roleplaying.
March Madness sounds like one of those games that makes it all worthwhile. The idea of turning it into an FA Cup game must have struck other sports nuts. I can't wait. Why didn't I think of it?
I have Harpoon running on my PC. Pretty damn good. It is expensive compared to other games software, but it is comprehensive. The data contained is huge. The displays are great and the scenarios are challenging (at least the basic two I've tried) with all the right options to save games, suspend play, etc that a detailed simulation needs to allow continuous study and to breed addiction.
Also, having actually played Harpoon (the boardgame), double blind with an umpire and seeing how the game went I much prefer playing versus the computer. Why? In my experience the human players cannot cope and certainly the umpire cannot. Even with good organization there was much time wasted looking up charts etc. Just try calculating bearings and ranges among a couple of forces per side when every second is supposed to count. The computer was built for this task. This program handles the task particularly well.
Of course, for competitive human v human play I would anticipate some form of add on program. As it stands I feel I got value for money. I compare it with, for example, Tracksuit Manager. It cost #25, won't save due to a bug and unless you start off with the computer generated squad (England!?) it generously gives you a bunch of weak, low stamina, no talent crap. The manual is the worst I've ever seen - and this includes all the Spectrum software I once owned. It's also ridiculously slow - on a 386 machine! - and dull. Harpoon is the future of computer generated wargaming.
MS: I too was impressed with Harpoon. For those interested, my full review appears in the upcoming Perfidious Albion. The cost (#40) is high but I don't mind too much when I get more than one play out of these games. It is when I buy something like Space Rogue or Hunt for Red October that I feel I have wasted #25.
I was recently chatting to Brian Walker about soccer management games and we agreed (gosh) that they are universally dire. Most of them, even the apparently highly complex ones, use very rudimentary systems (almost on a par with rolling a D6-1 for goals) to simulate the games and in some cases all the player ratings, stamina, morale and anything else are irrelevant to the match result! This is a problem with computer games, it is so easy to hide what is really going on behind pages of impressive stats and graphics. As a result, if there was ever a big hole in the market that needed filling, this is it. I am confident that the forthcoming Amiga version of Lambourne's Soccer Replay will offer a high standard of soccer simulation but there is still scope from the team management angle. I hope someone comes up with a decent system eventually, and while you're at it lads, what about a baseball system as well?
The real baseball season has been salvaged a least. Our press passes from the Giants arrived in the mail today. There have been rumors of a fan boycott at the beginning of the season, but I doubt it will materialize. I wouldn't be surprised, though, to see attendance down overall this year. Folks do have a bad taste in their mouths from all the unsavoury goings on.
MS: How to make me extremely envious in one sentence. Press passes to see the Giants eh? It's a tough life. Chuff, who works for Ted Turner's CNN network on the production side, gets some great assignments. And this in addition to a ground level pressbox at the last two A's World Series. While it doesn't top my ideal job of being the California based buyer for Lejaby, Chuff's job has real appeal. I'm off to sulk.
Wargames are not susceptible to the sort of whizzo fun we had with Borsenspiel, but that's because we would never dream of "inventing" a wargame like we did. Chariot Lords, Modern Naval Battles and Up Front seem to do the trick, but not many people would play them that way. To replace the "fun", I like my wargames to include constant change (political, military, economic, weather) so that one is always reacting and never thinking. It may not give a lot of laughs but it is exciting.
MS: Shock horror, could this be a 'Wargames not Fun' expose? No, probably not. I wrote to Charles following an impromptu session we had where three of us played a truncated Targui, the appalling Traber Derby and the latest Ravensburger version of Borsenspiel which bears little relation to any of the four or five sets I have. That said, neither do my sets bear any relation to each other. In the end, the Broker/Borsenspiel rules were so different that we made it up as we went along. To give the system credit, it held together well and made for a good game involving much use of a calculator. The outcome was a fun-filled afternoon (with lashings of ginger beer and ice cream for afters) that I suggested was now much more the norm for me than brooding studiously over a wargame or a 'serious' game like McMulti, Schoko or Die Macher. The giveaway for me, watching my various friends who play regularly, is their facial expressions. The wargames bring about thoughtful, wrinkled faces while the lighter stuff provides a good time for all, drink or no drink. My contention was that there weren't many wargames that you could say you have fun playing; challenging, enlightening, exciting or interesting yes, but usually not a lot of fun. I agree with those that Charles nominates and would add some others like Sixth Fleet, Dragon Pass and Tales of the Arabian Nights, but these latter two fall into the much more jolly fantasy area.
Related to all this, I was warbling on in the last letter column about fitting the 'dreamer' category of gamers and, by chance, the latest General has a very good article (expanded from the original letter) about these gaming types and the way they think. Some of the observations are spot on and he has me down to a tee. I don't know what the author does for a living (shrink? sociologist? anthropologist?, gamer?), but I believe he makes many accurate observations about our hobby.
To finish, apologies for the lack of italics again but it seems that there are no suitable daisywheels for my printer. I will keep looking and hope the above is reasonably clear.
Sumo - Mike Siggins