Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I (and) SPI

Like anyone who wargamed in the 1970s, I guess, I have had more than a passing acquaintance with
SPI. The paper hex boards and tiny cardboard counters seemed to be everywhere. The first game I remember playing was "Napoleon at Waterloo" which belonged to my mate Derek. NAW was sold as an introductory game by SPI, or it might even have been a free gift  with a subscription to "Strategy & Tactics", the SPI bi-monthly history magazine with a game in it.


I know Derek didn't subscribe, so he must have got the game through the advert in Airfix magazine or similar. We played that game a lot, and I don't recall it being improved by the Advanced Game supplement. The first one I think I owned as "Chinese Farm" a game about the opening stages of the Yom Kippur War in Sinai which was in the Folio series so it came in a folder, not in one of the SPI plastic boxes. I liked that one, too, and remember playing it a lot as well.

About 1977 my brother and I took out an S&T subscription. I remember being amazed at the complexity of the rules, the width of the period covered (was there nothing in military history that Jim Dunnigan couldn't reduce to a CRT?) and the unfortunate frequency with which impenetrable ACW games appeared. We ran the subscription for four years, and I recall that we hardly played any of the games. Part of the time my brother was away at Uni, then I was, then he moved out and so on. We also subscribed to Ares, SPI's sci-fi games magazine, mainly because it had a new story by Harry Harrison about Slippery Jin DiGriz as the basis for a game in the first one.

I've still got the S&T magazines. Of the games in the magazines I remember playing "Road to Richmond", mainly because it was the first one we got. Many of the others I had a stab at solo, - I remember being particularly baffled by "South Africa", annoyed at "Cobra" and fascinated by "Siege of Constantinople". The others I recognise but have no clear memory of (except for "Armada", which had such an extensive errata that I took the rules and errata sheet into the Uni Library copy shop to get copies so I could cut them up and put it together in order).

In the meantime I spent some of my own cash on other
games. Simulation Publications UK, the arm of SPI this side of the pond, would periodically print the more popular games in this country, so reducing the price. I therefore bought "Sniper" and later "Sorcerer". We played "Sniper" several times, but I recall being disappointed by it for all the hype and rave reviews. At that point it was obvious to me even as a teenager, that the people playing this game had never played figure games of this type.

"Sorcerer" was an even bigger disappointment. Eschewing a background in established fantasy literature the designers had instead made up a back story which failed to grab the imagination. The suggestion that you should write down the location of every counter each turn so time travel spells could work was frankly laughable.

Why the sudden bout of nostalgia? Well, I bumped into someone on holiday (we'll call him Gary, 'cos that's his name) in Laos who used to play SPI games in his 20s, then had to give them up as opponents moved away and family commitments came on board. We bonded over our mutual annoyance at "Cobra", shared a laugh over "Campaign for North Africa"(that Italian water rule!) and generally baffled some of the others in the party who had known Gary for 30 years or more and had never got this type of game.

Astonished to come across someone else who remembered the games and had even played some of them who furthermore only lived 40 minutes up the road it seemed like a good idea to meet up and play a few.

Several weeks ago we had a game of "Seelowe" - a four hour game that ended in a draw (designed by an American and they complain about cricket) - and intend to play some more.

My attempts to lay my hands on our collection have been frustrated. My brother took all of the games (except "Armada"*) when he left home and moved first into a rented flat and then got married and moved out permanently. A divorce and several house moves the length of the country means they've all gone missing (not helped as he suffered a brain injury in the last 5 years that affects his memory). He found "Sniper" and returned it, however. Great.

One of the games I'd forgotten we'd got was "Raid!", which is a generic commando raid game. I suspect we ignored it as we had the more sophisticated "Sniper", but it turns out it's a favourite of Gary's. I've therefore found the rules on line, and it clearly would work as a figure game. Possibly would work better as a figure game.

So I've been marking up a cloth with 3" off set squares today. They'll take four 30mm x 30mm bases from my Peter Pig PBI or AK47 collections, and are as good as hexes, so I reckon we're nearly there. Also, I reckon this is a gateway game to get Gary to play proper table top miniatures games.

Sneaky, aren't I?

* I'm sure I loaned my revised copy of Armada to Andy "Fergy" McKay who flat shared with Pete Berry for a while in the late 70s/early 80s. I'm equally sure I never got it back as our paths diverged and we lost touch. If anyone knows him, then pass on the message, - I'd be glad to catch up!

16 comments:

  1. I still have boxes of SPI games and S&T magaizines. Regarding game play, many have held up well.

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    1. I have a friend through WD who still plays and loves them. He'll even play "Chicago, Chicago!"

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  2. This takes me back. Nigel and I subscribed c.1975-80 and had much the same experience. Between us, we still have most of the games, and look back with fondness for some and bafflement for others!

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    1. Yes, a path well trod by those of us of a certain age. If you look at what they were doing it was a hell of an achievement. Incomprehensible some might have been, but you could hardly ever blame them for not explaining things fully.

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    2. Aah nostalgia! I have over a hundred of these types of game (SPI, AH, GDW and WWW) a collection built up for my retirement. Of course the irony is that, now retired, I have no one who will play them with me. Club nights of two and ahalf hours are generally a little to short for most of them. Still particularly keen to manage the campaign version of Napoleon's Last Battles amongst others.

      Cheers

      Andrew

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    3. I don't think you can ever play the big ones at a regular club. You have to find a consenting adult and tuck yourself away in a small room for an afternoon.

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    4. Just noticed the errant 'to' in my original post. Should have been 'too' of course. The shame! I shall never respond again. Just leave me a loaded revolver. I know what to do.

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    5. I assumed your mistake was due to your eyes being clouded by the misty tears of nostalgia.

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  3. I think Punic Wars (a folio sized game) must have been one of the first that we had and it was certainly played often. Who can forget the colours of the counters for Siege of Constantinople?

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    1. We certainly played our earlier purchases much more than the later ones. We never had the time to learn them.

      Orange and purple counters. Classic look.

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  4. I don't recal Pete being that much into hex and counter games, but Fergy definitely was. He and I played many of these games. I remember we bought a copy of Campaign for North Africa each and had a copy mounted on the wall of the said flat. Despite countless hours invested in learning the rules of that monster I think we only ever managed 2 game turns even though there were a team of us playing each side. The paperwork required to track everything was incredible. I still have a fondness for these types of games, but can only contemplate playing the simpler ones now. My brain couldn't comprehend something like CNO now!

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    1. Pete wasn't a hex game fan, -but he did like "Mighty Fortress" which six of us played in the Harcourt Road flat all one Sunday. Can't remember the entire cast but I think Pete, Fergy, Ian Lewis, and Chris Chick were there. Perhaps Ian Hodgkinson was the sixth.

      I remember CNA being set up, and I also remember avoiding being in either of the teams. Even as a student I didn't have time for it.

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  5. I never subscribed to S&T - all far too expensive and 'other-worldly' for my part of Norfolk. But I did read all about it especially in my well-thumbed copy of Nicky Palmer's Complete Guide to Board Wargaming which I would recommend to anyone with a bout of 70s and 80s gaming nostalgia. I'm sure I've still got it and its sequel somewhere

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    1. As you can see from a post above it was a publication where the cost was best shared. Plus, as most games were two player you only needed one copy between you anyway.

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  6. I subscribed to S&T for many years. I still remember my first issue arriving. The game inside was The East is Red, a hypothetical Sino-Soviet war. I feigned a sickie so I could avoid school for the day and play the game instead.

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    1. You were an early adopter then. I got "The China War" which is the same war in the 1980s instead of 70s. Obviously don't have it anymore.

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