Gamer's Notebook

This is a new section in Sumo that is intended to cover those games-related snippets that have until now appeared rather incongruously in Inside Pitch. It also seems to have absorbed a number of short reviews which is helpful. This one will be quite long, because a while has gone by since the last issue and because the hobby seems quite active at the moment, but I foresee it as a couple of pages per issue if there is enough to write about. It is also a convenient way to complete a section of the magazine with my current time problems - the paragraph format is ideal for a spare twenty minutes at lunch or a quick hour before bed, without getting into full blown reviews. Let me know what you think.

Spurred on by Dave Farquhar's article and Mike Clifford's ceaseless enthusiasm, I took delivery of a Carrom board just before Christmas. My observation on these gentlemen's gushing praise is simply that it was probably understated; the game is excellent in all respects. Combining elements of pool, curling and Subbuteo, it is surprisingly strong on tactical play and is quite compulsive. Within an hour of opening the box, Mike and I were discussing (like a couple of old pros) silicon polishes, defensive tactics, sanding down strikers and the effect of woodgrain direction on shots; in other words, we were totally engrossed. The whole game stimulates a peculiar, all-encompassing feeling of delight and, more worryingly, fanaticism for true and smooth running strikers. I guess that if the average Carrom player put half the effort into housework that he does into board polishing, his house would look like an advert for Mr Sheen. The real question is, which is better? Lemon Haze or Original? Only time will tell. All this could easily become an obsession and I am already looking forward to Germany to get hold of a top notch striker (one rather imagines, like a good putter, that a cherished example would not be let out of one's sight). This is a truly great game, for two or four, and I suggest you try it as soon as possible. Nevertheless, I still want a pool table (and the room for it). I got my board from Karum's Karom Workshop at Annan Farm, Easons Green, Nr Framfield, E Sussex TN22 5RE which are of an excellent standard. Mark Green at Just Games (see game shop list below) also has stocks which are from Queen's Karom of Germany. Anyone interested in pursuing the game can contact the UK Carrom Club at the Karum address for details of beginner's sessions and tournaments or you can write (SAE please) to Matt Millington, 9a Park Road, Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey KT2 6BX for details of the UK league. Matt is on the lookout for players of all levels and the league will be organised on a regional basis.

No doubt still very popular with the youngsters, Subbuteo seems to have made something of a comeback with the older generation. Wanting to put our highly trained Carrom digits to further use, the usual crew recently rolled out the old green baize and thoroughly enjoyed a few tight games. Things were going spiffingly until three ringers (lead by Clifford - definitely a man with a misspent youth) turned up to contest the Ardmore Cup and put on a display that impressed and depressed. So good in fact that it left the host nation's manager weeping into his Umbro Jacket. Not only was I completely outplayed (and bear in mind I have been substantially outplayed by Paul Oakes before now), but I had trouble touching the ball on occasions. We seemed to broadly agree on rules (not that it would have mattered much), which surprised me, but only because every member of our league twenty-odd years ago had a different interpretation.

The good news is that the fun level is much the same and I was pleased to find that, in most areas, the technology has moved on, though it does now cost £30 to put a decent set together. The pitch is now termed Astroturf and lays flat, without ironing, on first request. The players still have the same haircuts which have been out of fashion, back in and are now out again (definitely no Gullit barnets here) but seem lighter and stronger than they once were. As we all know, many a promising winger's career was ruined by that painful double ankle fracture and subsequent 'glue-blob leg', or Humbrol's Disease. The balls are lighter and run truer and the goals have decent bases, at last. On the downside, some teams look as if they've been painted by someone with St Vitus Dance, the goalies are anorexic and poorly moulded and the number transfers still don't stick.

What seems to characterize the game is that everyone has their own Subbuteo story, often wildly apocryphal yarns concerning the many variants to the basic game. At Lambourne Gamesday, Ted Kelly made an almost believable bid to have Subbuteo Speedway added to the list. Apparently this featured little bikes mounted on the infamous bases, propelled around an oval track by marbles. Hmmm. In a more plausible vein, I can confirm that Subbuteo Angling definitely exists, because I have recently seen it in the flesh (though a more boring concept I cannot imagine), and to my knowledge the only other three were Soccer, Rugby (with the scrum machine) and the excellent Cricket. The only mystery is provided by HFN's Fairway game that comes with two Subbuteo Snooker players, chalking their cues (and I have witnesses). I would be pleased to hear from the hobby wrinklies if they know what other sports were covered by this fine company.

My only contribution on the subject follows, and this is not a wind up. About four years ago I was approached, via the shortlived Strikeout baseball magazine, by Peter Adolph (the original designer of Subbuteo) who was living in some luxury in Southend (perhaps a contradiction in terms, but there you go). Oddly enough, he had devised a Subbuteo Baseball system, had some of the backing required to launch in the States and wanted me to raise some cash, test the game and write the rulebook - tasks I subsequently politely turned down for the reasons outlined below. I grant you the following seems a bit unbelievable, but it is gospel.

The system worked as follows: the pitcher had an enlarged hand (read bucket) into which was placed a small cork ball. By flicking his outstretched leg, he could be made to hurl the ball in a reasonable fashion (and at some speed) towards the batter. This malformed gentleman had a revolving torso and a bat backed by a piece of acetate. As the ball came in, you flicked a stump that protruded from the batter's back and he spun around, clouting the ball or swinging for a strike. All good stuff so far except you seemingly could hit nothing but line drives or grounders to short and third and that the game died a death when it came to the fielders who were modelled on those scooped out cricket bases. You could either be caught out directly (pretty unlikely) or the pitching side would quickly move a fielder to scoop up the moving ball. This was then flicked to a base to simulate the throw while the runner was being flicked along to first. By this stage I was biting my tongue to avoid major laughter, but he seemed convinced that it would work and sell. To the best of my knowledge, it hasn't yet surfaced.

My Christmas present to myself was a Go set from the Ishi Press outfit, something I have been dribbling over for a while at Just Games. I finally cracked and handed over the cash when it seemed the writing was on the wall for my job, or at least those of most of my staff. Odd decision I know, but I thought I'd go out with a bang to celebrate the end of the good times. Anyway. Rather like Carrom, aesthetically we are in uncharted gaming territory. The standard of manufacture (particularly the slotted board) is remarkably good and the tactile qualities while playing are right up there with peach fur and old oak. It even sounds right as the glass stones click down onto the hardwood. I can see why it is a game that has endured because like Carrom it is a game (and an experience) greater than the sum of its parts. But enough of this Zen rubbish and onto my problem which, simply put, is that I don't understand the game. Four times I have set it up, laid lots of stones with a real feeling of achievement and Zen Wholeness (Bob's brother) and then each time I hit a point where I looked up to my opponent and said, 'What the hell is going on?'. Fortunately (or unfortunately) he has been in the same boat. The crux seems to be that you can open as cleverly as you dare, go on to merrily lay stones to capture and enclose areas, but as the complex patterns develop and stones get laid behind the lines, my brain turns to guacamole. For the life of me, I cannot work out who is surrounding whom. I have even sat for some hours with a PC Go simulator/tutor (thanks John) and am none the wiser. It's odd, it really is, because I think it is linear and I can handle linear. I will persevere and try to get some help from the experienced Goer Mark Green, but I'm now thinking that perhaps I should just stay well clear of really abstract games and leave it at that.

Continuing the Japanese theme, Mark Green can now, at last, supply Hanafuda cards. They look great, all I need now is the rules. Can anyone help please? Kevin Jacklin? Theo? Hironori?

The Game of the Year nominations have been announced in Germany and by the time you read this some lucky chap will have won. The list is Bluff, Kula Kula, Modern Art, Pusher, Quarto, Rheingold, Spiel der Tuerme, Tutanchamun and Zatre. The favourites seem to be Bluff, which is Liar's Dice released for the first time in Germany, and Tutanchamun from the high profile Herr Knizia - this latter game gets my vote of the simpler games on offer, with Modern Art if you want some substance. Modern Art is deemed lucky to be on the list as it is far too much a gamer's game (complaints were made last year about the relatively complex Homas Tour - the shops and multiples couldn't sell it to the public) which shows how wide of the mark I am when I suggest that Elfenroads or Modern Art might win on the basis of being excellent games. In case you wondered at the lack of White Wind titles, limited editions are apparently not eligible for selection. Fame and glory would only accrue to Alan next year if he sold the titles on to a major producer. Given all this, I wonder why I get so interested in the proceedings as they bear very little relation to our hobby. PS Bluff won it.

The big news for budding entrepreneurs has been the announcement by Friedhelm Merz of a revised pricing structure for exhibiting at Essen which, without wishing to be overly pessimistic, could well mean major changes to that event. The price for a small stand, such as the one Lionel/Sumo took last year has tripled to DM700 which is a hefty increase for even local retailers. Larger stands seem to be similarly affected. Add on the impact of devaluation for UK visitors and we have a cost of around £280 (with sundries and tax) which is going to be a mighty powerful dissuasion, even after our successful venture last year. Perhaps we will revert to spectators in 1993. I would imagine that we won't be alone in this, leading to a broader drop off in demand as I doubt some of the smaller companies make enough over the weekend to cover the outlay. This would of course lead to a loss of diversity and contact with at least some of the more unusual game designers - exactly the way Gamesday went in fact. I don't honestly know what the reasoning behind the price hike is, perhaps Merz want to make it more of a professional fair to counterpoint Nuremberg, costs may genuinely be rising or they may simply want to milk what they can out of the successful formula. Even to someone as uncommercially minded as me, the danger of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs is very apparent. As they say, we shall see.

We shall also see whether a new national games magazine or two surface on the back of the Chess World Championshipzzzzz... sorry, the exciting Kasparov - Short match up. These are just rumours at present but at least one of them looks to have professional backing and lots of money to sink into the project. If and when they appear, I shall put Sumo into mothballs because there seems little that can be said outside of a professional magazine that is worth saying. Yes, of course I'm winding you up. Best of luck to the two parties concerned, I think you'll need it.

Edge of Darkness is a newish magazine published by Sumo subscriber Neil Ford. Neil has set himself quite a challenge: he aims to produce a regular magazine that will cover not only RPG topics but also other fields of gaming. The latest issue I have (where's my issue 1 Ford?!) has a set of Shadowrun scenarios (far better than the normal fare), some clever variant rules for Axis & Allies and some rather opaque science fiction that, for once, is quite well written. On the downside there a daft piece on Diplomacy that takes two pages to convey a one line argument and virtually constitutes an adjectival singularity, so dense is the concentration. I think Paul Harrington, the author, has swallowed a thesaurus. However, like Sumo, Edge is dependent on contributions from its readership so it probably takes what it can get. As Neil is already finding out, what they say they will deliver (articles and letters) and what they say they want to read (independent reviews) are never quite the same as reality. I suspect Neil that a lot of them are closet Dragon/Dungeon/White Dwarf fans because the graphics get 'em every time. Whatever the apathy level of the readers, the editors seem to have enough go to last it out. Stick with it Neil, it should come right in the end. I must admit I was impressed overall, so much so that I regard Edge as potentially the best new amateur magazine to appear since Tales of the Reaching Moon. Edge is available from Neil at 30, Haysman Close, Letchworth, Herts SG6 1UB or from Leisure Games.

The extra tracks for Formule De keep appearing at a healthy rate. I got to play Monza again recently and it is definitely disappointing. I guess this is because the circuit is so short and unchallenging but even with two or three laps it lacks something. The fact that half the board is filled with superfluous graphics doesn't help. Rather better is Hockenheim, apparently one of the fastest GP circuits, and that is definitely reflected in the Formule De version. The best though is the latest, Spa Francorchamps, that really fills out the space, has some excellent corners and fast straights (though not quite as fast as I took one recently, ending up with a massive eight space overshoot). Without actually counting the spaces, it looks to be the longest of the tracks so far and really scores in the one-lap format that we still prefer. Still no sign of Silverstone, but being a French company, it will probably be the last to be issued. Just realised that this board buying is another trip of ASL proportions!

It seems to be de rigeur this summer to release revamps of popular titles. New editions of WizWar, Cathedral (both excellent), Liar's Dice, Risk, Acquire, Dampfross and History of the World have all turned up recently. With the the exception of Risk which only has new pieces, most seem to have something extra to offer. History of the World has been repackaged and tweaked by Gibsons, and very good it looks too. Inevitably the cloth map has gone, replaced by a solid board with a slighty different projection. The standard of production is up with Britannia and Civilisation and I am told by most gamers who expressed a preference that the rule changes are beneficial, though Andy Daglish and Derek Wilson have some reservations which do worry me. I have yet to play it and will probably hold on till the Avalon Hill version arrives (with yet another rule set) to see how the land lies and run a comparative feature next issue. Price is around £16-20 and if you don't own the original, or perhaps even if you do, get out and buy it now. There are still numerous individuals looking for the old set - anyone considering a trade- in can ring me for a price or possibly a straight swap. Sort of new lamps for old if you like. Acquire meanwhile has been forced into a massive box by Schmidt as part of its new Master Designers series, notable for half a dozen famous names (Sackson, Randolph, Hoffman, Kramer etc) along with a game by a not-quite-so-well- known designer who just happens to work for Schmidt! Far be it from me to suggest he tagged along or even thought of the series to get his name in lights. Acquire features luxury plastic components representing the hotels, new option cards that let you perform multiple actions and a price tag close to £40. It looks great, but I'll need to play it before I can say if the cards improve the genuine article or not.

In addition to History of the World, Gibson's have a new range of smaller games out in designer boxes, namely Framed, Master Criminals and Vanished. The latter is a revamped Paternoster/Comings & Goings so I have little interest in that one, but if you can handle memory games you should check it out as one of the better games to emerge from Germany recently. Master Criminals is a leetle like Cluedo with cards but is different enough on first reading to tempt unwary gamers into actually trying it. Don't. It's a turkey of the first order that might survive a post dinner party outing but nothing more stressful. The idea is okay in that you are dealt a hand of cards which show a murderer, a location and a motive. The aim is to find out what the other player's hold before they find out yours. This dual criminal/investigator role is clever and I credit the designer accordingly. Not clever is the questioning system which has a fundamental flaw (well, it has if your IQ is in double figures). As a result, I cannot believe this was tested by anyone with any gaming experience. I am doubly surprised Roger Heyworth let it out in this shape. Give this one away to people you don't like. Meanwhile, in Framed, the idea is to link up a series of film strips to make movies which in turn earn points. Sort of a cross between dominoes and rummy, the timing and theme are about right but like Master Criminals, the idea is good (very good in fact) but the execution is critically flawed. Framed suffers in two ways: the main problem is that it is driven off a die roll that allows one turn, two turns, miss a turn and so on. The trouble is that with a one in six chance of doing nothing, and luck like Clifford's, some players get to do very little. As Mike said, there is no real reason to have a negative effect on the dice and I have to agree. The second problem is that you can go to all the trouble of putting together a movie only to see it stolen in part or whole by another player acting off one of the powerful event cards. It's disappointing to say the least butt might just be salvaged. Price is about £8-9 each, with a large degree of airbox marketing about them - they amount to a pack of cards and lots of padding in an oversized box. Components and artwork are first rate though and, with my charitable hat on, it is good to see Gibsons pressing on in what must be a very quiet market and slowly building up a range of games that should appeal to the gamer as well as J. Public. I just hope the forthcoming games are better than these two.

Nicely timed to coincide with the publication of this issue is the Ragnar Brother's latest release, Backpacks & Blisters, a game about hiking in the Lake District. PR Director Gary Dicken promises 'Germanic' systems and a fun game (and plenty of Kendal Mint Cake), so I'm really looking forward to this one. Variants for the South Lakes and The Schwarzwald are promised for aficionados of the Youth Hostel scene. If they manage to get a copy to me in time, there will be a review later on this issue. If not, get down to your local gameshop or order a copy sight unseen from Gary Dicken, Flat 1, 23 Clifton Rd, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, England. A cheque payable to the Ragnar Brothers (it gives the building society girl a giggle) for £16.50 inc p&p should secure you a pre-release copy.

I am not sure exactly who invented the phrase (I suspect someone in the board wargame field), but you will be pleased to know that the games covered by Sumo are now being referred to, fairly widely, as Fluffy Games. Hence, by extension, you are probably a Fluffy Gamer. Doesn't that make you more happy than you have ever been? I know it cheers me up no end.

Adam Spielt have long been plugged in these pages as an economical and reliable way of buying European games direct. I have no idea of the level of business they get indirectly from Sumo but it must be useful to them - I know at least half a dozen people who send in large orders regularly. Anyway, everything at Adam has ceased to be rosy and they have recently split into two companies. Adam Spielt are at Adam Spielt OHG, Postfach 100 127, 6360 Friedberg/Hessen, Germany whereas the other half, Games & Kites, is operating from Untergasse 6, 6366 Wšlfersheim 4, Hessen, Germany. I have heard several rumours on which company (or indeed both or neither) is going to survive but I suggest you tread a little more carefully when purchasing.

Anyone remember Masquerade, Kit Williams' book that had various loons digging up half of England in search of a golden hare? Well, the marketing boys are still at it. The Key to the Kingdom (£12, Pavilion) by Tony Meeuwissen is to be found lurking in larger bookshops, not sure whether it is a poetry book with pictures or a pack of cards. You get both, for safety. The idea is to read the verse and work out where a golden key is hidden, which for me is about as likely as cracking a cryptic crossword or working out one of the entirely logical clues on 3-2-1. Remember those, boxwatchers? The book is accompanied by a set of beautiful playing cards, all with different artwork, which may or may not have something to do with The Answer but are of interest because their production quality far exceeds those in Modern Art which is rather more expensive. Perhaps their print run is bigger. Overall, a lovely thing to have but, unless puzzles are your bag, offering little beyond the aesthetic.

A nice little range of books has appeared from Outline Press, apparently commissioned by the House of Marbles company in Devon. There are three titles so far: Card Tricks, Dice Games and Marbles, priced at around £3 each. The books feature excellent colour photography and some brief text on the subject in hand but are rather too short to get your teeth into. I thought the best of the three to be the marbles volume, if only because some of the modern and antique marbles are quite beautiful. The odd thing was, the glossary had no mention of golanis (the big glass ones) that enjoyed a brief revival at our school, though allies (alleys) are featured. Local dialect variations I suppose. Recommended and good value, if a little short on content.

One of my moley friends phoned gleefully one Saturday morning to ask if I'd seen the new video dating programme on London Weekend Television the night before. Of course I hadn't. Here is a man who would give Dateline a hard time, let alone video dating. Anyway, he had spotted a slim chappie, slightly affected by lens fright, claiming to be a Ragnar Brother and responsible for designing a boardgame called History of the World. This was allegedly followed by a shameless plug for the then very unavailable game, no doubt flamed by the excess hubris brought on by two international megadeals with Avalon Hill and Gibsons. I cannot imagine who this person is, as Steve Kendall and Gary Dicken are both married, would not stoop to such antics and rarely publicise anything. If anyone can elucidate, I'd be very grateful. I would be tempted to ask the Ragnar in question for sacks of used fivers, but anyone bold enough to broadcast on television has to be beyond blackmail.

On the subject of hobby personalities, I was apprehended by Jack Jaffe recently while heading up Ballards Lane on one of my all too infrequent trips to Leisure Games. After exchanging pleasantries, Jack decided to take offence at comments in Sumo 9 about my 'wearing a Jack Jaffe namebadge' at Essen. The general gist of the complaint was that I had mentioned him but not his games, namely Save the President, a game designed by Jack that you may have heard about. I volunteered that the only reason I would wear a Jack Jaffe namebadge is because he is such a well known figure in the games world. Satisfied (and not a little flattered), Jack and I came to an agreement: I can write freely about Jack in the magazine but I have to plug the excellent Save the President at the same time. This seems entirely reasonable and I will stick to that every time I need to mention him. Needless to say, I apologise unreservedly for any offence I may have caused by my earlier comments.

I recently got round to playing Supergang, the seemingly much loved game from Ludodelire. Sadly, after my wittering on about this consistently good French range, this one lowers their batting average slightly. The game covers the usual gangster ground as typified by Rubout, Organised Crime and The Brotherhood. Each player has a hitman, a drug pusher and a vamp who potter around town acquiring property and money while trying to avoid les flics, inconveniently moved by the other players. When there is a need for combat (usually when taking over a building or resisting arrest) the fun starts. Resolution is by setting up cardboard targets at one end of the room and shooting at them with the dart gun supplied. When hit (not as easy as you might think) they fall over on a dead or wounded side and you carry on till the combat is decided either way. The appeal of this is remarkable and four grown men (well, physically grown anyway) had a good time adopting American cop stances and complaining about 'dart drift' and sudden (in-house) gusts of wind.

Unfortunately, this is the only real strength in the game - the moving around phase is weak by comparison, fiddly (there is bookkeeping for criminal records) and a little routine. I suspect even the shooting element will quickly pall. It's not bad, but it certainly isn't great and falls short of Footmania and Valley of the Mammoths and well below the standards set by Full Metal Planete and Formule De. I haven't yet played Avalon Hill's Gangsters that seems to be a licenced production of the same game but which has met with a strange silence around the hobby. I have heard no-one comment on its merits or otherwise, although I have deduced that it is subtly different. It's odd how some games just sink like this. AH's adaptation includes a water pistol instead of a dart gun with which, I think, you are meant to spray other players. Now this is just silly (as opposed to firing dart guns which is of course quite grown up). Given that by far the main interest in the game derives from the shooting and knocking over the odd vase, I can't see this being a major success with gamers or their wives.

Pocket Football is a recent release from AWV Publishing and it will cost you around £11. Nothing at all like pocket billiards, this is a game that unashamedly borrows Nova's Ace of Aces picture book system and matches it up with American Football. A fairly obvious development when you think about it, but of course until AWV came along, no-one had actually realised and got off their bum and published it. For those familiar with the Nova set, it is easy to explain what happens: instead of performing a manoeuvre, you call a defensive or offensive play from those illustrated and, after some flipping of pages and depending on the field situation, the book tells you what happened. The benefit over the air combat game is that there are less results (I think - might be more pages) so every other page is not a picture but a commentary of the play that just occurred and a chalkboard illustration thereof (good for beginners who don't need to know the jargon). This is done in the style of your average gridiron commentator such as, "Defense in a 3-4. Here's the snap... fading back... fires out to the sideline... complete. Pick up of five." As the offensive plays are also selected using a chalkboard display, it makes it easier to show a novice what is going on. The execution is good as far as the graphics and systems go, ie I haven't yet been sent to a non existant or illogical page, but I have some nagging doubts. Firstly, I feel the perfect bound books will fall apart quite quickly which can only be built-in obsolescence. Secondly, gains, losses and completion percentage seem a little odd, especially since I have yet to see a bomb completed by anyone in three full games - though this could easily be luck. It would be virtually impossible to analyse this feeling without seeing the base data so it must stay as nothing more than a hunch. Thirdly, the special situations (punts, returns and fumbles) are completely random (you actually flip the pages to get a result) and this feels a bit weak. Good idea, but not I feel going to trouble Football Strategy's hold on this area.

I received an interesting letter and parcel from Dan Glimne, one of our men in Sweden and head honcho of G&RRRR Games. Dan sent me a copy of Spionage!, his revamp of Adel Verpflichtet for the Swedish market, which looks excellent. No, not a volte face by Siggins, I refer purely to the graphics and theme which have been switched to that of 007, Q's gadgets and the spy world. The game itself is identical to the German or Avalon Hill editions with the exception of some minor tweaks and the cards, which have been renumbered. Alan Moon, noted Adelite, tells me that this latter change affects the balance of play, but I honestly wouldn't be able to offer a view on this (a first, surely). All that said, I will play it soon to see if my opinions have softened. Dan tells me that the game, along with Ostindiska Kompaniet, will be available from Just Games in the near future, such was the demand generated by Sumo! Well there you go. English rules and variants will be provided, but I think a hobby hero is still required to redo the Ostindiska cards in English which will speed the game up no end. At the moment it is a game that takes some effort to learn and commensurate staying power from the players. The second game is always much better, so hang in there.

The computer games scene seems to be chugging along with no real ground breaking games, more a steady evolution. Having bought none at all since Links Pro several months back (no time and trying to cut back the gaming spend), the only games I think might worth picking up in a sale are any of the Sherlock Holmes games (for the sake of my ego, it may be worth mentioning that I put in a proposal to Sleuth years ago to put SHCD on computer but they turned it down - like Geoff Hurst, I'm ahead of my time), Wing Commander II, Comanche and Dune II. Looking rather tempting for the future are Sim City 2000, Sim Farm (Sim City goes rural - am I alone in spotting Sim Life's similarity to Quirks?) and Privateer (what Elite could have been). I will have trouble resisting these but have no chance against Fields of Glory which is Napoleonic miniatures gaming on screen. What is the betting the infantry will move the equivalent of 6"? Report (small, as promised) next time.

There is much excitement among computer wargamers over Three Sixty's V for Victory series, so much so that Patriot (Harpoon on land) has been impolitely bypassed in the usual glorification of such things (just possibly because it is crap and full of bugs. Er, allegedly). The V4V games do look lovely and are at last harnessing super VGA standards to get high quality maps on screen (I suspect this is the real selling point), but the programs are tied to hexes, counters, seventies boardgame systems and, I think, still lack command control and hidden factors/movement that were pioneered by Fire Brigade, what, four or five years ago now? These must be the elements that computers handle well, yet how many games have exploited them? Very few, but then didn't I write something on this a while back? A recent quote in PA has a software company claiming they have the programming skills for good games but lack the designs - surely a widespread problem outside of Microprose and a handful of others or, depending on your cynicism, perhaps this is the problem across the board. All that said, I might well try the V4V Arnhem game when it is released in the UK (they have gone for Velikiye Luki first...yawn) to see what all the fuss is about. Marketing, eh? Gets you every time.

A game I have been enjoying, for the princely sum of £2.95 (a PC Home demo disk), is Microprose's Grand Prix. Actually it cost me a bit more than that as I had to upgrade to Dos 6.0 (for 600k free RAM) before I could get it running! This is programmed by Geoff Crammond who did the excellent Revs on the BBC years back. He has taken all the best bits of that game (really fast graphics, realistic cars in the right colours, proper tracks and cornering) and brought it bang up to date. The latest version stands head and shoulders above the earlier simulation as it gives you a chance of staying on the track - automatic gears and intelligent braking help no end - Revs was always a little too realistic to drive. The course supplied is Monaco and I have to say he has it all spot on. It is difficult to pass except in the tunnel (is this right, or is a game tweak?), the racing line is vital, the cars accelerate and brake believably and move around the track just as you imagine they do, even to the extent that there is an 'aggressive' McLaren driver. It actually feels like you've been in a race and the 'Just One More Time' factor is huge. The only drawback is that there are no pit boards (you need them badly), real names (drivers or cars) and the demo disk only lets you do three laps. Looks like I'll have to buy the full version.

Mike Clifford and I have recently been discussing the merits of using valuable gaming time playing new games against replaying games of known quality. I have always favoured a mix, heavily slanted towards the novel, whereas Mike and most other gamers would, I suspect, go more for the tried and trusted. My stance is I suppose down to my love of novelty and an understandable reaction to the 100+ games that lurk on my 'To be Played' list, which firmly encourages me to play at least a majority of fresh systems. The result of the chats has been that I have reined back my desire to experiment and will now settle for a 60/40 split of new vs established, the former still being a requirement so I can produce material for Sumo. This is in tandem with a substantial pruning of my game collection (SAE for lists for anyone interested) and thus the 'To Play' list and a realisation that if you play the good games over and over, some of them will improve beyond the first favourable impressions. Totally obvious statement I know, but something I had completely lost sight of in the pursuit of novelty. Other games might decline of course, but it is unusual that they will drop below the initial assessment for a while.

This all grew out of an inquest on a Sunday game session that went a bit flat. Well, in truth, so flat that I actually considered retiring from gaming altogether and taking up marquetry or perhaps needlepoint. Basically, we had played a succession of new games (new to us) with various problems including Summit (dated but potential), Lords of the Sierra Madre (major rules problem, down to me entirely, that quickly prompted 'Unruly Gamers Syndrome'), Extinction (an educational game lacking anything much, but good ideas) and Fast Food Franchise (just about okay and looooong). Only Tal der Kšnige was any good, though that couldn't save an otherwise duff session, and even Banana Republic seemed to lack lustre on this darkest of gaming days. I think you had to be there, but it was a cumulative build up of depression more than anything. As the man who chose this selection, it was wrist-slashing time by the end. I genuinely felt really bad. Is there such a thing as a gaming biorhythm?

So putting this theory into practice, we have been playing a lot of Modern Art, Quo Vadis, Tutanchamun, Elfenroads, Flying Dutchman, Vernissage, En Garde, Razzia, Karriere Poker, Tal der Koenige and Santa Fe. All of these are growing in popularity and play depth and are likely to remain regulars for a while to come. Moving slightly down the chart are Banana Republic and Koalition, but they remain firm favourites. Mike Clifford extended this change of sentiment to encompass a group of titles that would form a 'hard core' of good games which, if stuck, he would be happy to play for ever more. He put the figure at 20-30 games, but I would almost certainly have to go higher (50,100?) and can't imagine gaming being the same without new titles (yes, CHV, I was mistaken). I am still of the opinion that no matter how great a game is now, after ten or twenty playings it may not feel quite as good. Fortunately, due to the current steady flow of new products and a reasonably well stocked wallet, this isn't a problem for which I am very grateful. But it don't 'alf make you think.

Quatro is a game I spotted at Essen, resisted, and bought at Just Games in a moment of weakness. I'm glad I did. Beautifully made out of two colours of natural wood, and surprisingly priced at just £18, it is essentially a Connect 4 clone but with a couple of neat tweaks. Each of the sixteen pieces has four attributes: tall or short, hollow or solid, light or dark and square or round. The game is won by placing four pieces with a common attribute in a row, either diagonally or orthogonally. The clever part, rather than just alternating turns, is that you choose the piece that your opponent will lay next and you may choose from the entire selection. A lovely addition to my wooden games collection and an excellent little game that introduces a sudden and inexplicable burst of two player abstract games this issue: see the reviews of Quick, Revolution and Fibonacci elsewhere.

Tucann Games of 19 High St, Heighington, Lincoln have put out a boardgame to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Dambusters raid. Dave Farquhar phoned in a report after leading 617 Sqn in low once again (humming the music and drinking Carling Black Label no doubt). The general view was that with a structure similar to Escape from Colditz (what a great game), a largely long and pointless pre-raid build up and some balance problems in the clever card-based raid system itself, it garnered mixed responses at best. Probably about £25 if you can find it (some Virgins have it), or write direct and help clear Tucann's garage of boxes. I don't think this is one I'll be buying but Dave's review is somewhere hereabouts.

I was handed a freebie copy of Nicky Palmer's PBM magazine Flagship recently and have to say that despite my oft-recorded prejudice against the form, there do seem to be stirrings. The playing costs are still horrendous and the standard of games remains pretty dire (you can spot this just by reading the descriptions and printouts) but a few, such as Austerlitz, Assassin and Middle Earth, show signs of potential maturity and play depth, though Austerlitz's designers think the battle was in 1806. Great research chaps. The magazine itself is nicely put together and I suspect it pleases the punters. Nevertheless, at least 50% is written by or for bozos and I fear the average standard of PBM gamer and game remains dreadfully low. Oh for the free time and resources to move in with a proper system and ice the turkeys, writes Mr Pompous.

The Encyclopľdia of Chess Variants from David Pritchard will be published late this or early next year. Priced at £25, it will contain nearly 1,500 variants, 500 diagrams and 350 games. Contact address is Cadogan Books, Mercury House, 195 Knightsbridge, London SW7 1RE.

Some of you who go back as far as Games International's early issues may recall Wicketz, the rather expensive cricket game that had a few people, including myself, in raptures. The good news is that it is back with a smaller box and price tag (£30 or thereabouts) with, it seems, most of the components intact including the little Subbuteo men. I suppose the bad news is that although the bits are still superb, the game didn't get much extended play and soon went out of favour here. Probably the spinner killed it. My set now resides in Germany of all places.

Falling somewhere between Inside Pitch's book section and here is King of Sartar. This is the first proper work of fiction put out by The Chaosium and was, as such, a buy that could not be resisted. In essence it is a book based on the Gloranthan mythos (which provides the background for much of Runequest), outlining the history and personalities of the region. Written by Greg Stafford, a man capable of both excellent and mediocre work seemingly at random, it is well presented and likely to become a cult item for the RQ fraternity. However, in a brave effort to avoid the Emperor's New Clothes (resulting in almost certain drumming out of the Boy's Brigade (again)), here are my honest thoughts on the work: I found it almost entirely unreadable in much the same way as The Silmarillion and ultimately it left me bored. Sadly, in keeping with most fantasy works, even The Chaosium (we are not worthy etc) let themselves down with a remarkable selection of silly names. We know Stafford has a great imagination, why doesn't he use it rather than going for weak humour? More to the point, how can he create something with the richness and scope of Glorantha and then allow anomalies that, for me, shatter suspension of disbelief and the whole feel of the world? For example, this volume features, among others, the Port of Corflu (probably quite a smelly place) and, get this, Stikklebrixx the fighter. Jeez. Those are nearly as bad as Varikšse the Eternal Champion or Legoland the Elf (no, only joking). Alright, so it is an easy target but why do they wonder that they don't get taken seriously? Mike Siggins. News at Ten. Being rude about the great and the good.

I finally got round to playing Speed Circuit and, like many old games brought into the spotlight, it proved disappointing. In fairness, we played with just three cars and it would undoubtedly improve with six, but I think my expectations had been for more of a simulation than it actually is. All Star Replay used to carry interesting articles on rating drivers such as Ronnie Peterson and Mario Andretti and their rather stylish cars and I was therefore expecting something more 'realistic' than the Formula One clone that it essentially is. Nothing wrong with it, in fact quite enjoyable, but a bit ordered and planny for my liking. It certainly doesn't top Formule De, Daytona 500 and, dare I say it, Grand Prix Manager in the motor racing stakes. By the way, please send all Lionel abuse or requests for expedited 2nd editions to Mike Clifford in future! I've had enough. Better still, don't send them at all.

There are a couple of gameshops out there, new to me, which I'd like to mention. It seems inconceivable that I have never been to the Esdevium shop in Aldershot given the number of years I've been in the hobby, the obscure sports games I bought from them at Gamesdays years ago and the fact that they account for almost 10% of Sumo sales. I rectified this omission recently while en route to the New Forest and have to say that I have been the loser all these years. The shop is excellent, selling everything from Pass the Pigs and Subbuteo to Amiga 1200s and the selection and display are marvellous. I intended to pop in to look round, say hello and buy a pot of paint. I ended up being dragged out after forty minutes and I still wasn't anywhere near finished scouting the shelves. It is a long shop and seems to go on for ever as you check out each section while the willpower is constantly tested (not least by a surprisingly large range of out of print games and magazines). I suppose given the comprehensive adverts put out by Esdevium I should have known what to expect - a wonderful shop.

Over in Shrewsbury meanwhile is the recently opened Severn Games, possibly hoping to catch the upswing out of the recession. The owner, Mark Kennett, has a positive outlook and is stocking a representative selection of games that will appeal to all tastes - classic German titles share shelf space with Paul Lamond's range and Hungry Hippos. The shop is, umm, compact but absolutely brim full of goodies and is situated in one of the nicest towns I've visited in ages. I combined the visit with shopping in town, a preliminary look round the Ironbridge site and a trip on the Severn Valley Railway (are all weekends on steam lines now Thomas the Tank Engine days?). All this was rather like finding a small oasis hidden beyond Birmingham, an area I usually avoid with good reason, and I had a marvellous weekend. Severn Games are not open every day, so it might be worth dropping them a line before visiting which is well worth it if you are in the area and I wish Mark luck with the venture.

Pete Bartlam, a new subscriber, has recently opened Games & Jigsaws in New Malden which will stock IBM PC games, a big range of jigsaws and a good selection of European and other family titles. Pete has a number of ideas to get the shop underway and a level of enthusiasm that is frightening to behold. From what he tells me, Pete is aiming for the individual attention school of marketing which should make a pleasant change from the Virgin approach. Because of holidays, I haven't yet had a chance to get across to the shop but intend to do so in the near future and of course, I wish him all the best. See his advert this issue for details.

Gameskeeper in Oxford is not exactly new, having been around for ten years or more, but until last week I'd never actually managed to find it. This has not been helped by Oxford being a town that you can enter, hopefully looking for somewhere to park, and be on the way back out to the ring road before you've blinked. Meanwhile Cambridge, still one of my favourite places, has gone the other way, banning cars from the centre of town completely. I thought I'd dislike this intensely (having to walk an extra mile in winter with shopping is not great fun), but the excellent Park & Ride service makes it a pleasure to visit. But I digress. Gameskeeper is an excellent little shop, with a range of stock that belies its size. I would say the range is getting up there with the very best (ie Leisure Games and Esdevium) and Carol Benney is the nicest, most helpful shop owner you could hope to meet. If I were only ten years older etc. Although I was only there for an hour, we managed to cover a substantial number of topics and I felt quite at home at the end. Highly recommended for a visit if you are calling in on the city.

Esdevium, 6 Wellington St, Aldershot, Hants GU11 1DZ Tel: 0252 311443
Gameskeeper, 105 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1HU. Tel: 0865 721348
Games & Jigsaws, 115a Burlington Rd, New Malden, Surrey KT3 4LR Tel: 081 395 6777
Just Games, 71 Brewer Street, London W1. Tel: 071 437 0761
Karum's Karom Workshop, Annan Farm, Easons Green, Nr Framfield, E Sussex TN22 5RE
Leisure Games, 91 Ballards Lane, Finchley, London N3. Tel: 081 346 2327
Mac's Models, 133-135 Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8BP. Tel: 031 557 5551
Severn Games, 3 Meadow Place, Shrewsbury SY1 1PD. Tel: 0743 361417
Spirit Games, 98 Station Road, Burton on Trent, Staffs. Tel: 0283 511293
Westgate Games, 91 St Dunstan's St, Canterbury CT2 8AD. Tel: 0227 457257

On to the review of Lords of the Sierra Madre or back to the Introduction.

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