A few eagle-eyed chappies, obviously the products of decent schooling, have worked out that if 5% of the readers wrote letters last time and there were 35 letter writers, then Sumo must have a readership bordering on 700. This is a most excellent deduction, but is slightly marred by two facts: 1) I wasn't being that specific on my percentages and 2) the assumption that 35 people wrote that issue is flawed - I carry over letters issue to issue and some of the writers wrote twice. Actually, from memory, around 20 people wrote. Anyway, since I don't wish to create a Holmesian case out of this and some people are obviously interested, Sumo now has 298 subscribers (including about 5% trades and 20% international), another 100 or so go to shops and a small and variable number of freebies get sent out each time to companies whose games are reviewed. This makes a total of around 400 copies, growing steadily at 8-10 per month at present (4th July 93). I have no idea what the readership is based on this data but it is safe to assume it is a little higher. Either way, my rather heavy handed plea last time generated just seven more letters than last time, so I'm stymied. Looks like the letter column is going to help me reduce the size of Sumo. This doesn't make me the happiest man in the world, but in many ways, that's your lookout.
Steve Kingsbury One part of the zine I enjoy is the letters section. For me it is what sorts out a good zine from an average one. Things like hearing what people have played and their thoughts on such games adds to my enjoyment of what I game - and it fires my enthusiasm to buy or play old and new games. This time I thought it was interesting how soon games go out of fashion in that many of the mentions after the long gap now seemed rather old hat. I guess not many games get much beyond the 5+ limit. It was also encouraging when you said that receiving letters was one of the major points of the whole process for you.....and then you said it helped if letters were sent on disc. I think this is true but to keep this going you do have to send the discs back! Not by return of post of course but with the next issue. So can I have my three back (including this one)?
I also have a fairly busy life and so it is relatively easy to put off writing letters and then time just goes by. I find what motivates me for my other zines is knowing there is a deadline date. Perhaps it wouldn't work for Sumo but a deadline would focus my mind as to when, if I did want to write something, I would have to have it done by.
MS: Sorry about this, it is all part of the general lack of response over the last nine months. Things are returning to some normality now and all disks have been returned to those that sent them. There is a deadline of course, but being as I have been irregular (to say the least) it doesn't mean much - issue 10/11 was mailed a month after a fairly generous deadline anyway. On articles, you can always write or phone to see when I might need them as I'll have a better handle on the turnround by then.
Paul Jefferies Feedback from readers: Contemplating why so few readers write in, it dawned on me that I rarely do and had to ask myself why. The answer I came up with may be a common one. I simply don't feel qualified to make any worthwhile comments. The stupid thing is, of course, nobody is qualified. It's all personal opinion. But more than that, the reason I don't feel qualified is that I don't think I've played the game enough times to make any valid comments. The truth is that the review is often based upon one or two playings (is that a word?) so I should not feel inhibited to throw my tuppence in. Up until now, it is normally so long before I've played the game enough times to feel qualified that the subject is history. Having figured all this out you should be hearing from me a little more often.
Steve Kingsbury Another point about writing letters is that I feel somewhat in awe of this production especially my feeling that most people who write in game more than I do and so will know more about it. I know its pretty daft to think this but I do. I felt so much better - and hence this letter - when you mentioned your awe re some big name! When I started thinking about this I realised that few letters talked about new games and how many had comments about games that had already been mentioned. As though it was easier to comment on a previous issue than start something new.
MS: This is pretty worrying as I hardly think awe an appropriate reaction. Although I strongly dislike the word, Sumo is essentially a fanzine - I have enthusiasm for the games and admire some designers so I too am in awe some of the time but that doesn't mean you are going to get fannish crap. So, please don't be reticent - as Paul says, every reader's view is just as valid and important as anyone else's and is what makes the letter column such a worthwhile exercise. Without a forum where readers can discuss the merits of games, the magazine would be far poorer. Without letters at all, it becomes a soapbox and pointless for me and you. It also helps me spot anything I've missed, gives other readers a wider perspective and hopefully remains interesting. If you liked or disliked a game, tell us why, and if you disagree with something I have said, I really want to know even if I might retain my views, I am flexible. It doesn't even need to be a long letter; a couple of lines is ideal as this builds up into a valid pattern over a few issues - Blackbeard being a good example. And finally, please remember the vast majority of the reviews in Sumo are written off just one playthrough so you are probably more experienced than I.
Marcus Watney I am surprised that you and Mike Clifford judge History of the World on the basis of mere four-player games. Contrary to his assertion, History of the World must be played by more than four players. Interaction is almost a geometrical progression: four players generate only six avenues of interaction, while with six players you have fifteen (i.e. increase the number of players by just 50% and you increase interaction by 150%).
For me, interaction is the single most important aspect of multi- player games (otherwise why are we all sitting down at the same table?). And it is the interaction in History of the World which makes it such an outstanding game. This is because in choosing your next route of conquest you always have to take into account the need to rob other players of victory points as well as amass your own. While with six players there is some thumb-twiddling, it is not as severe as your comments suggest if the players are experienced. Unless you border the current player's new empire, you should be planning your own move while he makes his. Delays stem only from thinking too long, not from actually making moves. I couldn't bear to play with less than the full complement. I think you and Mike have been short-changing yourselves if you have restricted yourselves to four players.
MS: Great advice Marcus! The trouble is I don't have access to or room for five players except on very infrequent occasions when cricket, family commitments and other interests allow five of us to combine. Fortunately, we find three or four ideal and also that most games benefit from play length reductions with this number. HotW is way too slow with six (I tried it once), whatever the interaction gains. As I've said before, our group spends a lot of time chatting and this sets the tone at a very informal, fun level. I have rarely seen anyone plan ahead in any game but this is no loss as far as I'm concerned - game sessions without the banter would be a poor substitute and I'm not sure the two fit.
The game's interaction is superb with no likelihood of boredom or stereotyping anywhere on my horizon yet. I still haven't decided whether it is better to spread myself thin or concentrate on one or two lucrative continents: I've seen both strategies win. I am also the author of the Lie-Low opening gambit (you read it here first). It is my observation that it is most important to get a good race in the second epoch. Therefore it is important to lose the first epoch. This can actually be quite difficult, since at the end of the first epoch there is usually only a few points' difference between first and last. My solution is to do nothing but merely fortify the starting area. This opening also accommodates my established strategy of trying to keep my ancient empires on the map right to the bitter end, holding just their capitals and nothing else.
I've noticed that building monuments for these early empires is counterproductive, since a monument just attracts unwanted attention from later hostile empires. The fact that a capital without a monument degrades to a measly city upon capture makes it an unattractive acquisition in mid-game (if fortified and properly defended, and sited on a continent rich in capital- monuments or resource-monuments). And a capital without a monument that survives will generate more victory points for you than a capital with a monument that does not. Another favourite tactic of mine is to use these early civilizations to lay down fleets for use by my later ones. In my last game, a Sumerian fleet did sterling work ferrying mediaeval forces between Arabia and India, while the Byzantines maintained a naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean for several centuries.
Mike Hopcroft Someone smuggled a copy of HotWorld into the club a few months ago, so I got to play that game. I really enjoyed it, even though I didn't do very well. I am going to have to ask Avalon Hill if they really are planning to put out a US edition. It reminded me a lot of what I'm told Britannia is like. Apparently this guy (I'm not naming names) had seen a British set, made photocopies of the map, made his own counter set, and used a computer to make the nation cards. [MS: Despicable behaviour. The man is a cad and a bounder.] The odd thing about this particular running of the game was that the Aztecs and the Incas managed to survive an amazingly long time, with the Spanish and the Americans both unable to dislodge them and both taking heavy casualties in their efforts. My failure as Spain to conquer them might have cost me the game. I was sort of out of contention by the time I drew Germany on the last turn.
Phillip Smith In response to the three letters in Issue 10 pertaining to Silverton, may I offer the following. Regarding Matthew Hayes' comments: The Salt Lake City silver market has been dropped in favour of an any market silver in both the New Mexico Expansion set and the prototype for the second edition (note: there are no plans yet to produce a second edition). The any market silver uses tables identical to the Denver silver market, so you can play first edition Silverton with the second edition rule by simply not using the SLC silver market and treating the Denver silver as any market. Another option for a more competitive game is to play with four players and start them all in Denver (as we do in tournament play). I've found that buying up strategic claims on the other side of the board can be effective in the mid-game when you can often sell them for a big profit within a turn or two of buying them.
Regarding John Webley's Comments: When a game took 5 hours and came down to a Single dice roll it was a very close game and in my opinion far preferable to a 5 hour game in which it became obvious who would win 2 hours in (although I understand wanting a higher skill to luck ratio in a long game versus a short one). I'm not sure whether by 'play consecutively' you meant a single player combining phases or all players doing their turns at the same time. We generally 'pay expenses' as one phase instead of three and 'Collect Income' as one phase instead of two, but have each player do his turn in sequence (with a certain amount of planning ahead of time). Playing this way, a four player standard game takes us about four hours, just right for an evening. I think that the amount of budgeting required using the starting cash and the restrictions on paying before collecting is just right. It forces players to play based on the cards that come up in order to bring in some income during the opening game. Whereas if you allow loans without reducing the starting money then I believe players would be able to play a predetermined strategy based on a knowledge of the deck and succeed as the cards eventually come up. I do encourage players to invent their own optional rules and use them whenever all players agree at the beginning of a game. You might allow players to borrow money in $500 increments and charge them 10% per turn on all outstanding loans, loans having to be paid off to win (and I'd halve the starting cash when doing so).
Brian Hughes Silverton: Now well established as a firm family favourite, particularly with our two children (12 and 14) who prefer it to 1829. Though it is an excellent game, in my opinion there is rather too much luck (die throws, turning over claims) to make it a real classic in the Acquire/18xx/Civilisation class. Still it is a genuine addition to my collection which will see many more replays. We play as much as possible simultaneously, except for moving prospectors and surveyors. This means we all trade/deal once per game turn - this seems to work well perhaps because I suspect we should do more dealing than we do at present. The end of turn die rolling is a bit of a pain - where do you get the dice you spoke of?
MS: I think the shop just puts together a set of appropriately coloured dice - this should be possible for most gamers, certainly after a visit to a game shop. There is now a Silverton expansion kit available covering New Mexico. This can be bought from all the usual UK outlets.
John Webley I am surprised by the Silverton comments about closeness of scores, especially after the game where I went past 50,000 before anyone else managed 25,000, but maybe this was a more experienced set of players.
Andy Daglish Formule De: Ludodelire follow the 3W pattern of releasing the least good first, so Spa Francorchamps looks the best yet.
Steve Owen Formula De: the new Belgian track is an excellent wreck-former with the corners just in the wrong places to get through them without pain. Looks quite well balanced as the initial leaders often come to grief attempting to maintain their position. One rules question surfaced (after only 20 playings!) regarding tyre loss. The rules suggest that cars spinout the moment their last tyre is lost - is this how others are interpreting this? Does this mean a car may overshoot a corner at virtually any speed at this stage, and just spins out at the appropriate spot, or are further penalties invoked? [We play the D&D house rule - Okay on zero, dead when you go negative.]
Steve Kingsbury I have also recently bought Formule De and really enjoyed it. I think it's a must to play two laps as its only as the leader starts getting cautious towards the end that the field can really close up. I also bought the new German track. This isn't terribly good. Its much faster but the decisions seem more obvious and it felt rather routine. To make the gear decisions more interesting on the last 3 bends I extended the final bend and made it a 2-stop curve forcing a major change down and this helped but Monaco is still better.
MS: I would say that of all the one lap games we've played, about 75% have been close finishes involving several cars so we have never been tempted to go for the extra lap. Interesting that you think roughly as I do on Hockenheim. It should be good, but it falls a little short. Perhaps the large number of '1' corners let it down. Feeling the need for speed, I'd rate them: Magny-Cours tied with Spa Francorchamps then Hockenheim, Monaco, Monza.
Steve Owen Still playing quite a lot of Formule De. We have retained the collision system and get round the time/tedium problem by having at least fifteen dice (twenty sided naturally) ready to roll - colour coded too!
MS: Good idea, but I think I am right in saying we have never found it tedious at any point. I am interested to know if you have large numbers of players? Dave Farquhar mounted a ten or twelve player game which, in his words, was less than perfect.
Alfonzo Smith Bruce and Jennifer Schlickbernd, who introduced me to all of the above mentioned games and to Sumo (now that I think about it), introduced me to Formule De and I was not fond of the game. While it is lovely to look at, I don't see the logic of choosing a gear (a la Formula 1 and Le Mans) and rolling a die to see how far I may move a la every other race game I played in my youth). I think the span between the fewest number of spaces one may move in any given gear and the largest number of spaces is too great. In most gears it is a 2 to 1 ratio. When it comes to racing games give me Speed Circuit or Daytona 500.
Andrew Johnson Formule De: Due to the flexibility drivers are allowed around corners, in addition to the uncertainty of the distance each car will move, the game is much less precise than Formula One or Speed Circuit. Since the latter games are pretty much decided upon exact positioning of cars upon speed bands, Formule De gives a more realistic feel of motor racing. First impressions would suggest a better game that Speed Circuit (an awful game) but will be hard pressed to match the all time classic, Formula One (with adapted turn order).
Han Heidema As regards the calamities of Civilization, the original Hartland version and the later AH version do not differ, but the Gibson version does. Flood became part of stack 3 (was 5), Famine stack 4 (was 3) and Civil War stack 5 (was 4). This was, as Francis will probably tell you, a deliberate design change and it was also incorporated in later versions (German, French and Dutch). It has nothing to do with a French Derek Carver! Funny that no one noticed it before - the Gibson's version isn't that new!
Ken Tidwell I noticed you were interested in CD-ROM based computer games. As it turns out my wife and I work for Kaleida Labs, the new spinoff from Apple and IBM that is developing a portable delivery system for multimedia experiences (how's that for a mouthful?). One kind of "multimedia experience" will be CD- and network-based games. I'd be interested in hearing ideas (or even proposals, Kaleida may have funding for some titles itself) for fun games that could be played round a typical home video-entertainment centre - TV, stereo, that sort of thing - using fairly simple controls - people really do hate to have to type while they play a game. What do you think of Alan Moon let loose with video and stereo sound. Frightening, no?
MS: He's pretty scary now. Ever work as a straight man, Ken? [Monthly, Mike, monthly.]
Andy Daglish I feel there is money to be made in CD-ROM games, if only I had some (any) expertise. Perhaps produce a video? We've had Vinnie Jones and David Leadbetter, how about 'Mike Siggins Teaches Gaming'.
MS: You're such a card Andy. I can't imagine anyone worse than me telling people how to play games well. Ballsqueezing or bunker shots perhaps, but strategy isn't my strong suit. CD ROM generation commands little expertise (surprisingly) but does require large amounts of money (for the specialized equipment to plug into your PC) and copyright free data (to fill the buggers up). And good ideas. And accessibility. And distribution. And aqueducts. I speak from some experience as I was all but 'in' a joint venture about a year back to write edutainment/adult games for Phillips. This was purely on the basis of my ideas and my colleague's programming skills, but in the end they went with a 'tried and trusted' company who wouldn't have needed as much loaned equipment. I think the current output is sufficient testament to their ability - they could have had my Dinosaur Safari (Crichton is just so passˇ), Source of the Nile or space exploration systems in the shops already.
Alan How Against Eamon's better (biased? after only one game) judgement I bought Palermo, which I am afraid I do not share his view. He played one game with me at Essen (and 2 other people) but I think the game is better than he thinks and you can have much closer games than the one we played. I suspect that the game is quite good, but is not going to challenge the heights of Modern Art. While in Essen I played Gold Connection which I thought merited a purchase, so it came back in the boot. Alas I have not shared its game mechanisms with other people yet, but it has a feel of rummy, but played on a board with some interesting features. Similarly, I played Income and gained a pretty good idea of the essence of the game and this too was extracted from its inventor by passing another 50DMs. The game is about trying to increase your cost of living, going around a track which uses up your starting capital, whilst also trying on another track to increase your capital. The 2 tracks are linked like a figure of eight and you have to choose which circuit to go around first. The winner is the person who achieves the best combination of each element. Again, this has not been tested on my local gaming group, so I am not absolutely sure of its pedigree. Devil take the Hindmost also made a positive contribution to recent gaming session. Although it is a knockout contest and the racing cycles theme game are better elsewhere, it nonetheless is fun and doesn't last too long, so those knocked out do not have long to wait.
Marcus Watney I was surprised to read a favourable comment about Spanish Main. I found it neither chalk nor cheese. The amazingly sophisticated abstract movement system does not sit well alongside the luck-ridden search for gold and silver. I found that players who liked the easy-going search for goodies were baffled by the abstract movement system, finding themselves going round and round in circles; while those like myself who admired one of the most original game mechanics seen in years were bored by the random nature of the ensuing landfall. Consequently, nobody enjoyed themselves and the game is now gathering dust. Perhaps the new edition is better? I'd also like to add that Election (from Intellect) is one of the finest games I own. A few years ago I read an anthology of election games compiled, I think, by Alan Moon. I was amazed to read that he thought it flawed. Not so, Alan! It is the British electoral system which is flawed, and the game faithfully recreates those flaws. It is the best advertisement for Proportional Representation I have seen.
Steve Kingsbury Hacker: (not the Steve Jackson one) I couldn't understand the rules. Particularly whether you can choose to remain at a terminal or do you have to back into the queue? Sloth by Eurogames (le paressue) is really excellent for a quick game that even non gamers enjoy. A nice change in that the winner in this race game of south American sloth's is the one that can fall asleep most often and come last. Tutenkamen we think is really excellent. Simple and quick so you can play two or three games and full of subtle well balanced choices as to which tile to pick.
Andy Daglish We need a 1993 answer to Napoleon at Waterloo. Battlemasters is too effing big, those who use two maps need to re-evaluate their.. well I suppose you have two already.
MS: Yup. Got one in the box that was out of register and then got a replacement. The idea of setting them up together came quite quickly after that. Yes, it is big, definitely a carpet and knee pads job. I agree with your sentiment on NaW, though perhaps not for the same reasons. If I am going to play a game late at night that isn't going to hurt my brain too much, I want it to take two to three hours (no more) including set up, have short rules, historical systems and preferably be Napoleonic or Horse & Musket rather than one of the swathes of ACW games. I regularly search the shelves and back catalogue for such a game and it isn't there. GDW's Series 120 came close to the format, but tend to be longer in play.
Merfyn Lewis We have been playing Vernissage a lot and I like the player interaction in this one. Not as good as Adel, but very good.
Mark Green Vernissage strikes me as rather under-themed and over- developed.
Steve Owen Liars Dice: end of session favourite which is fast, infuriating and fun- at least until you run out of dice. For those without access to the MB original, FX Schmid do a version called Bluff and there is also Perudo available locally which looks similar but without a board (? a sort of travel version).
MS: Featuring cups made from Peruvian Tree Bark and a price tag to match. If you are just concerned with getting the game, I'd go for the Bluff option - this game is selling like hotcakes in Germany and sales of 500,000 are predicted!
John Webley Pfusch and Burp are from the Krohnland team but they are now trading as Heidelburg games, they promised me their new game in February for translation but nothing has arrived. Both one play games I think, when the joke wears off there aint much left.
Ken Tidwell We've been playing The Really Nasty Horse Race Game from Upstarts quite a bit. I'm sure you know that one (but if you don't - look it up). It does a really good job of simulating a really dirty day at the races where the fix is on in every race.
Steve Owen Played Ostindiska recently with five and, as you suspected, the down time was considerable. I'm sure faster ships speeds would help here and the speed markers from Fagus's Ben Hur seem to fit the bill quite well. A second game with just two players worked rather better timewise although we suspect the second player may have an advantage. The three player version is probably the best and it was probably fortunate you played it in this format for the review.
MS: Yes, we did. The sentiment around these parts certainly points to three players as being pretty good for a lot of games, though when I started out into this field the consensus was that there are very few good games for three; Abilene from Hexagames being among the best. May I say Steve you have the most legible handwriting for a doctor I have come across.
Roger Heyworth Play-testing: At Gibsons, we prefer to rely on a small group of people who a) Enjoy playing games b) Are friendly with one another c) Are able to make intelligent comment d) Can take instant rule modifications in their stride e) Don't worry if they come last!
The wider you spread your net, the more diverse the reaction and an important point on a commercial basis, the more chance of 'industrial espionage'! The last point is actually quite important because many of the games we are testing have come to us from inventors who expect us to respect the confidentiality of their work. If you look through perhaps the more serious games we publish, Britannia credits 16 names, Civilization 6 names and History of the World 13 names. I think we are protected from too much in-breeding because the initial game idea or indeed a substantial part of the development is done by the inventor whose circle of game testers and the game is then subjected to an entirely different batch of people.
On the other hand, it is amazing how many game ideas are submitted to us with a covering letter which starts 'I have invented a game which I am sure will be successful, all my family and friends love it'. I don't think this is necessarily people being sycophantic but if they are sat down to be entertained with a new game for an evening, they probably do their best to enjoy themselves and it may well be that they are discovering for the first time that playing a new and original game can indeed be enjoyable.
Name Withheld Francis Tresham's brother has used Alan Moon's 1869 as an example of the 18xx system being 'pirated' without even the slightest attempt to clear it with Francis first. He was so annoyed about it that I got the impression that any publication of 1869 would lead to writs flying. This surprised me, having met Alan he didn't seem as hard boiled as the Treshams seemed to imply, but I don't think we will be seeing the game for a long time, but you probably know more about this than I.
Frank Cunliffe The word on the 18xx system is that Mayfair is going to be publishing it. They have three games in the pipeline, Alan Moon's 1869 set in the Western USA, 1856 (?) set in Ontario of which playtest copies were the hit of Origins '92 and a third game of which I know nothing. Prior to releasing them, Mayfair is going to work on a combined set of rules covering the 18xx series and then produce one new game a year along with the specific rules
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Sumo - Mike Siggins - Legal Notices and Other Information