David Watts told me at B&P that another national boardgames magazine, Gamesman, is due to hit the streets this Summer from an outfit called Pegasus, a Brummie company. First I've heard of it, so their advertising must be low-key to say the least and with the immaculate track record of British games publications, this one can only be a winner. But seriously, I hope this one is a success but I'd hold onto your subscription cash - I still haven't got any money out of GRiM... Elsewhere, firm rumours are surfacing again on the Liftoff expansion kit - late Summer is suggested....Most of the long-lost Excalibur Game range has been dug out of a stasis pod and is now readily available again....Chessex are to re-issue the very passable Wiz War...Mayfair have a Xanth boardgame in the works and are to re-re-box Cosmic Encounter....The Journeys of Paul from IGT sounds like a real humdinger. Convert the infidels, build churches and spread the gospel. This one is straight out of the Bible Belt....Victory's Peloponnesian War is due this Summer.... Advanced Civilization could be the best thing to come along for ages. No input from Tresham, five hours playing time and a lot of smoothed out systems makes it a game that Siggins will definitely give another chance.
Ted Kelly, Sumo's Stats Supremo, has put together some extremely interesting sports games recently and, once the playtest is finished, they should be available as gamekits. The subjects covered so far are baseball and ice hockey, though basketball and gridiron are in the works. All the games emphasize a strong stats base and rapid game resolution. A baseball game plays in two or three minutes, yet allows for pitching decisions and produces decent game stats. If, like me, you acknowledge that Pennant Race was a great idea only half baked, then this seems to be just what draft league players are after. It certainly has more interest to me than the likes of Pro Football Fantasm, the newly released orgy of cards and numbers that reputedly can take seven or eight hours to play! Yes, it may give you play detail down to each offensive tackle's forearm strength, but is it really playable? Is this where the modern game should be going? Wise up, and don't buy this one unless you simply want to tinker.
There was a superb article in a recent Sports Illustrated called, appropriately, Staturated. Poking wicked fun at the Bill James and ESPN's of this world, it tore into the modern fascination for evermore arcane baseball stats in a light-hearted but devastating style. Having knocked the industry and the fans who lap it all up, the best point was made by commenting that for all their ability to analyse batters performance with runners on second and third during night game doubleheaders, there is no way of notating and thus recording something as basic as a great fielding play. The likes of Jose Lind, Ryne Sandberg (or Ozzie Smith in his heyday) are condemned to having a simple fielding average for perpetuity - the recording of their skill is thus even more subjective than many of the existing stats. This is such an obvious omission that one wonders how it can be allowed to continue. Even in our Statis Pro replays of years ago, a player could earn a 'mention' award to assess who would have a shot at the MVP title.
Hexacon came and went recently and continues to appeal. A gentle-paced weekend spent with friends in a picturesque German town with a few decent restaurants makes for a relaxing, if not inexpensive, break. The con itself is still pretty hardcore as far as boardgames go with World in Flames much in evidence, but there were signs of a few general games and miniatures starting to appear and the now well-established auction is not to be missed. The gaming highlight though was Microprose's Command HQ, a computer game that was running on two linked PCs with players fighting out a strategic WWII or modern encounter in real time. The game system itself is fairly basic and offers little more depth than Empire, but the ability to play at your own pace, react to a real live opponent and enjoy the problems of limited intelligence gaming was a real treat. A little on the expensive side to set up, but perhaps a glimpse of what can be done in the future. Rumours were circulating about a change of location for next year and a move to the Autumn may be planned. Either way, this is still an excellent convention.
The second Beer & Pretzels games weekend was held in late May and, as last year, I had a good time. Once again it was a success in terms of getting bodies through the doors; perhaps a hundred or more on the Saturday, slightly less on the Sunday. The venue, Burton's cultural centre, was modern and ideal for a games meet (but I guess expensive) and the catering was measurably improved from the converted 1950's ice cream van ('Mr. Botulism') of last year. Sole drawback was that Burton, when the wind is blowing in from the breweries, does pong a bit. Niff notwithstanding, the stalwarts of games demonstrating Messrs Watts and Goodchild were in good form and Tom Tresham, Spirit and Westgate Games were selling their wares. Sadly though, there was much doom and gloom on the part of these retailers; times are hard and the recession meant reduced sales despite Attack Sub, Wings over France, Chafts, Chessington, Heavyweight Champ and Eamon Bloomfield's Lemming being newly available for the cellophane rippers. Terry Goodchild commented in a later letter, 'I thought the whole weekend was uncannily quiet - I've never seen gamers actually sitting down (and staying down) to play games in almost complete silence! Eerie!'
Games played were much as last year, except there were no Ragnar Brothers and there were more games of Battletech than I would have believed possible. This game must be far more popular than I'd imagined as it supports a national championship and attracts devoted followers, many of whom seemed quite normal. I suspect it has come on a lot since I last looked at it many years ago, but it struck me as a run-of-the-mill techy game with lots of charts, modifiers ('ah, but I get +3 for my nipple mounted laser-guidance') and 'required' supplements. You do get to use some nice figures and terrain though. Either way, it outnumbered most other games played. Elsewhere, there was Republic of Rome, the usual Lambourne three-ring circus, David 'One more for Chafts?' Watts, a fair few German games, ASL, figures, D&D and the usual run of big convention games. Under cover of all this, Mike Clifford and I even managed to get off two five-player playtests of Grand Prix Manager without attracting big laughs. Overall, a good weekend's gaming and thanks to the enthusiastic Mr Bootherstone for his efforts.
Hard by Beer & Pretzels is the Donington Collection, a fascinating and extensive range of historical Grand Prix cars which fill half a dozen very large Nissen huts next to the Donington track. Compared to the average British museum or collection, this is rather impressive. There must be a hundred plus cars ranging from a pre-war Auto Union to Senna's 1990 McLaren dodgem and you get the Speedway Hall of Fame thrown in for good measure. Worth four quid of any motor racing fan's money if you are passing.
I thought the Horizon Virtual Reality programme was a good effort, not least because it featured a lot of my old pals from my computer graphics days. Otherwise, it was rather too full of weirdos and I'm not sure whether they knew exactly what they were trying to get over. It seemed to fall short as a trendy cyberspace, left-field episode but neither did it achieve the professional detachment that Horizon normally delivers. If anything, the very similar QED effort a couple of weeks before was better in this respect. With Horizon, you got the distinct impression that the spectre of hallucinogenics was close to the directors mind and he fell between two stools as a result.
Either way, it had good impact but I think VR is going to interest me as something to experience only when the graphics get very good indeed. I am not interested in walking around in rooms, dungeons or whatever that look as if they've been done on a Spectrum. This seems to be the 'acceptable' standard at present and frankly it ain't good enough for curmudgeonly old Siggins. Flying a Harrier or a Lynx around a decent terrain model and shooting up realistic looking trucks would be great, but farting around clenching my fist to pick up a glass or strapping on some cyberjockstrap device is not where I'm at. I think, as usual, I am going to be more interested in pipedreaming - theorising on what could be done with the technology rather than actually getting down and being a 'user'. The trouble is my technical abilities rarely let me get what I want to do onto the machine. Time is also a factor here.
What else has been on the old TV? Apart from the stunningly original BBC programme 'headers', the re-runs of One Foot in the Grave are very welcome - this is inspired humour. Keith Floyd is excellent value as usual, I loved the attempt to cook a steak on a Jeep's exhaust pipe. I also liked the short Bicycle series (but then I would, wouldn't I?) and the recently aired programmes on colour theory make for fascinating viewing. A big let down was The Civil War - even as an interested party I found it overlong, uninspiring and frankly nothing special. I suppose the high standard of our documentaries over the years has raised our critical threshold. I'm still waiting for some of the better films of the last five years to appear (even if Vamp and Something Wild were pleasing surprises from left field), though after the BBC's riot at Christmas I guess we can wait a year before they have enough money to buy any more. That said, I still have about fifteen tapes to watch from the Winter, so I don't think I can complain too much.
As threatened, Sky is now installed at the Siggins residence and it has its moments if watched very selectively. Surprisingly, aside from the orgy of sport, of which the motorcycle Grands Prix have been the best value, MTV has proved my most listened to channel so far. The trouble is, I was beaten to Sky by my brother who turned up one evening with the dish under his arm and promptly grabbed the only spot on the wall we can easily use for a mounting. Suffice to say, he has been less than helpful in allowing me to watch basketball, baseball and the Tour of Spain in his room. But then that is him down to a tee. I stuck my head round the door five minutes ago and HE is watching the ice hockey playoffs! If he follows past form, he'll get bored with being a couch potato, mellow out and concede a cable feed to the rest of the house. We shall see. By the way, despite the ridiculous claims (and prices) of the 'professionals', installation is a doddle to do yourself. Well, alright, it's a doddle if your brother and dad have every tool under the sun and loads of DIY experience.
As one of the more specialist magazines around these days, Pro Gamer concentrates on computer sports simulations, tending toward the stat based games. All of the major sports are covered along with obscure ones as they appear; the issue I have covers wrestling and football betting programs among others. Being an American publication, the emphasis is firmly on the IBM format but others are not ignored. Pro Gamer is best described as semi-pro in production, being well printed with card covers, but as of this summer it is trying to get onto newstands to live up to its name. More important than its appearance is that the reviews are very well written, there is a useful news section and, of course, the adverts are a mine of information in themselves. Overall, it is an excellent read and I'd recommend it without hesitation. It is strange to say that I came across this magazine once before and can't imagine why I didn't subscribe then. Suffice to say, if you play stats computer games, you should be reading Pro Gamer. Thanks to Ed Caylor for the sample issue.
In an effort to cut back on the gratuitous woffle so prevalent in Sumo, I have decided to compress most book, film and other non-game comments into a readily digested end-bit, just like that nice Mr. Pournelle does in Byte. So, here goes. Game of the Month is TSR's Great Khan Game, Book of the Month is The Crisis on the Danube by James Arnold (Arms & Armour Press), Record of the Month is REM's Out of Time, Film of the Month is Dances with Wolves by a country mile (with Silence of the Lambs to come!) and Travesty of the Month is Kabaddi. Hang in there.
FOR SALE: Large collection of boardgames and books, SAE for list to Charles Vasey, 75 Richmond Park Road, East Sheen, London SW14. FOR SALE: Tales of the Arabian Nights - Best Offer [Gareth Lodge] WANTS: Games International Issue 2 [Mike Oakes], Games wanted, far too numerous to mention but including every Intellect Game ever published, lists from [Rudolf Ruhle, Burgweg 33, D5300 Bonn, Germany] Heroes 2/5 and later, White Dwarf 1-64,88-93,95-97,99,105, Strategy Plus 1, Games Trade Monthly (all issues), Games Monthly (all issues), GRiM 14,15,22 and later [Ferdinand de Cassan], Pavis, Big Rubble, Any Runequest Items, Ringworld Companion, Wyrm's Footnotes 1-10, WBRM, Nomad Gods (All Chaosium), Bonaparte in Italy (OSG), Allan Jones Formula One (Jedko), Feds & Heads (Rip Off Press), It's a Raid (Rip Off Press), System 7 sets 7,10,11,13, Mythology (Yaquinto), Dune (Avalon Hill), Collect (Stanley Gibbons), Source of the Nile (AH), Monaco Grand Prix (Triang), Bonnie Prince Charlie (Warthog), William the Conqueror (TSR), Fire & Movement: Nos 3,6; Battleplan: No 1; Grenadier: Nos 1,4,7,8; Moves: No 60; Empires, Eagles & Lions: Any Issues; Canadian Wargamer's Journal: Issue 1; Fairplay: Issues 1,2,3,4; [Mike Siggins & others!] All responses to editorial address please.
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