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One of the things many of us seem to remember fondly about Simulations Publications, Incorporated, and its stable of talented designers and developers were the courage and spirit of innovation they brought to producing commercially published wargames. For those of us who'd grown up on the staple diet of Avalon Hill wargames with standardized CRTs and movement/combat systems that didn't vary all that much from game to game, SPI was not only a breath of fresh air, it brought a gust of wind through the open windows of the house that sent the curtains waving!
It's interesting to look at the epistemology of commercial wargame design and identify those titles that appears be "breakthroughs" in design mechanics and/or "benchmarks" that related subsequent efforts seem to trace from. It can be that a single wargame title can be both--arguably PANZERBLITZ was both a "breakthrough" design as it basically established tactical World War II ground warfare games back in 1970, and it is arguably the "benchmark" that we seem to compare later efforts to. Others will concede that PANZERBLITZ is indeed a "breakthrough" design, but prefer to "benchmark" more refined later designs by Avalon Hill to be the basis of comparison for platoon-level tactical 20th Century ground wargames (typically PANZER LEADER and ARAB-ISRAELI WARS).
So this discussion group is meant to identify, describe, and justify those SPI games that were "breakthrough" and/or "benchmark" designs. Some will be well known, others may not be. Some may have achieved a stellar reputation, others won't have but will have proved to be necessary evolutions for the other well-regarded titles that followed.
Greetings Eric and Russ:
I have been thinking about the general topic of this forum and it occurs to me that, besides revisiting the long-term influence on the future trajectory of the hobby of the many new game platforms that were produced at SPI during the so-called Golden Years, we might also consider the plethora of new gaming concepts that were also introduced by SPI's design shop during this same period. Speaking for myself, I can think of at least four gaming concepts that were birthed by SPI, and that had never been seen in other war games prior to their appearance in certain early SPI titles.
For starters, there is the introduction of the use of multiple "scenarios," intended to both enrich and to expand the play value of an individual game. Interestingly, although their appearance is now commonplace in many of today's titles, prior to their introduction by SPI in Dunnigan's Simulation of armored WW II tactical combat in Russia, PANZERBLITZ (1970), and also in SPI's collaborative (Dunnigan, Patrick, Simonsen, and Young) "monster" game, STRATEGY I (also1970), these "mini-games" simply did not exist in the hobby.
Second, there is the expansion of the scope of war games -- especially those modelling conflict at the strategic level -- to include economic, as well as purely military factors. In the minds of many contemporary players -- if they were to be polled -- the credit for introducing economic considerations into war games would probably go to John Prados and his strikingly-innovative design, THE ADVANCE AND DECLINE OF THE THIRD REICH (1974). To a certain degree, that credit would be warranted. On the other hand, many of the economic ideas that found their way into THIRD REICH, actually appeared four years earlier in SPI's STRATEGY I. It is true that the economic sub-routine of Prados' game is much more detailed than that of the earlier SPI design, but it is also true that most of the key economic elements that distinguished THIRD REICH from other games actually made their first appearance in STRATEGY I.
Third, there is the concept of player-directed variable unit production in multi-year strategic simulations. In a very real sense, the Russian Production Routine that SPI introduced with the publication of Dunnigan's, WAR IN THE EAST (1974) was almost a game within a game. It also represented a significant break with previous games, including its main competitor in the Russo-German simulation space, DRANG NACH OSTEN (1973), when it came to how and where Russian combat units would be mobilized over the course of four year's of war. Previous designs had tended to rely on "replacement points" which, in most cases, were tied to specific geographic locations. Dunnigan's WAR IN THE EAST, unlike its many East Front predecessors however, for the first time allowed the Soviet commander to choose exactly the types of units that he wanted, and to then expend Russian personnel points, arms points and production capacity in order to build those units as the game wore on. The Russian Production Routine in the 1st edition of WAR IN THE EAST made use of individual Training Centers that required that all units at each Center be individually adjusted turn-by-turn until they had completed the construction process. However, SPI's graphics guru, Redmond Simonsen, very quickly came up with a way of streamlining the production process in future strategic-level games by replacing the individual production centers with a single Production Spiral.
Fourth and last, there is the SPI innovation of injecting abstract political considerations into what would, at the hands of another publisher, be purely military simulations. Dunnigan's decision, for instance, to introduce political considerations into certain of his designs is especially obvious when it comes to the titles in the LEIPZIG family of games (see, for example, 1812, LEIPZIG and LA GRANDE ARMEE); however, political considerations also influence the play of THE DRIVE ON STALINGRAD (1978) and THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES (1977).
Best Regards, Joe