Memories of wargaming

For my gamer friends:

While falling down an internet rabbit hole, I found this article on a history of wargaming. I recommend reading it, if only to learn about the rise-and-fall of an important segment of gaming.

The article was written by Greg Costikyan in 1996. I knew Greg briefly in the late 70s or early 80s. He’s a talented writer and game designer.

This subject fascinates me because of the influence of wargaming on me when I was in my teens. I saw an ad for Strategy & Tactics magazine bound into a SF paperback in the mid-70s, and wrote in for a subscription. S&T was unusual in that it included a wargame in every issue, with a rulebook, map, and cardboard counters. Though I may have actually played one of these magazine wargames only once, there was the pleasure of reading the articles and collecting the games.

(Hey, gamer friends! Does that sound familiar?)

In the late 70s, I saw a notice somewhere that S&T‘s publisher, SPI, was looking for playtesters. They were located in Manhattan, and had open playtests on Friday nights. I showed up and started gaming there weekly. Like most game playtesters to this day, I didn’t get paid for it (apart from occasional credit in a rulebook), but I didn’t care.

I had a teeny, tiny influence on SPI. In 1982 they started publishing a science-fiction equivalent to S&T called Ares. The name of that magazine was my idea; they agreed that the name combined the ideas of SF and wargaming. If you can get hold of Ares #1, you’ll see I’m mentioned in the introduction.

Among the games I playtested, the game Freedom in the Galaxy was the most interesting. It was, of course, not based on Star Wars at all. There is no legal basis to think otherwise.

The game wasn’t great; the Rebels usually won. But the artwork and design were unusual for the time. What I didn’t like about the game was the short story written as a background to the game. So I wrote my own story and submitted it to SPI as an alternative. I thought it would be rejected. I was surprised when I heard that they liked it and that I would receive a minor designer credit in the rulebook.

What I hadn’t known that the writer of the original story, unlike me, had actually been paid for their work. SPI apparently felt that they should get their money’s worth. The published game presented my story and the original story in alternating fragments. The whole thing didn’t make much sense. Oh, well.

In a foot locker in a back corner of my closet are some old SPI games. It includes the original Freedom in the Galaxy (the Avalon Hill re-issue of the game doesn’t include my name in credits), John Carter: Warlord of Mars (one of the few SPI games I’d still be willing to play today), and perhaps one or two other SF-related titles.

I haven’t looked inside that locker in over 30 years. For all I know the games have been eaten by moths or something.

Interests change. I still play games to this day, but they’re abstract strategy games. Detailed war simulations have fallen out of favor, both in the gaming hobby at large and for me personally.

But I still remember the pleasure I felt when a new issue of S&T arrived in my mailbox.

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