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From Joe Beard's outstanding MAP AND COUNTERS blog, his subjective list of the best games to be published in the pages of S&T magazine in the "golden age" of SPI:
S&T 29: USN
S&T 32: Borodino
S&T 33: Winter War
S&T 35: Year of the Rat
S&T 36: Destruction of Army Group Center
S&T 40: PanzerArmee Afrika
S&T 47: Wolfpack
S&T 49: Frederick the Great
S&T 50: Battle for Germany
S&T 51: World War I
S&T 53: The Punic Wars
S&T 55: Breitenfeld
S&T 57: Panzergruppe Guderian
S&T 60: Road To Richmond
S&T 61: October War
S&T 65: Cobra
S&T 67: Stonewall
S&T 70: The Crusades
S&T 74: Ney Vs. Wellington
S&T 82: Fifth Corps
For me personally, WINTER WAR, DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER, and THE CRUSADES would go on the "also ran" list rather than this one as there are a few things about these games that don't make them quite "on par" with the others on this list. Good games these are, but not great. Every other one this list deserves to be there. I'd only add VICTORY IN THE WEST: SICILY, CONQUISTADOR, and MONMOUTH in place of the three I'd take off.
What is most interesting is the number of games that have seen reprints or major variants that are on this list. USN has been redone and published as USN Deluxe, but a lot of the original game is still there. PANZERARMEE AFRIKA, FREDERICK THE GREAT, and PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN were redone by Avalon Hill. WORLD WAR 1, COBRA, and BATTLE FOR GERMANY were republished by Decision Games. FIFTH CORPS is enjoying a revision with a variant retrofitting Victory Games' FLASHPOINT: GOLAN rules to that title and its sisters BAOR and HOF GAP. It's only been now a solitaire game on the U-Boat war has come along to replace WOLF PACK, and that's Compass Games' STEEL WOLVES, which is quite the monster compared to the SPI title.
A lot of us wish for the return of NEY VS WELLINGTON, STONEWALL, and SPI's MONMOUTH, even with newer games on the subject of the latter....
Great list, Joe!
What is your take on this list! What games do you think don't belong there and what would you pick? I didn't mention much about BORODINO, YEAR OF THE RAT, PUNIC WARS, BREITENFELD, ROAD TO RICHMOND or OCTOBER WAR...give us your thoughts!
For me, three absolutes I play to this day are CEDAR MOUNTAIN, MONMOUTH, and NEY VS. WELLINGTON. Also very good, though it has a problem or two, is WILSON'S CREEK.
I'd move any of those ahead of FIFTH CORPS, only because I was not moved b FIFTH CORPS, so I assume the problem lies with me, not it.
The Victory in the West series, with PATTON'S THIRD ARMY, OPERATION GERNADE and SICILY were also good, though not perfect.
I'd likely drop PUNIC WARS (regretfully, to be sure!), BORODINO, (with some tears) and maybe even YEAR OF THE RAT to make room for my first mentions up above.
What these comments show, more than anything else, is just how difficult it really is to distill 100 + titles down to a short list of twenty or so games. It seems that there are always going to be a few titles that deserve a place, but, for one reason or another, get left off.
Another thing that strikes me in reviewing this collection of games is the design discipline that the magazine format imposed on Dunnigan and company when it came to their S&T insert games. As Eric pointed out, WOLFPACK appeared almost forty years ago and STEEL WOLVES is only now being published. The earlier game is a single map, tabletop game; the newer treatment of the Battle of the Atlantic is a quasi-monster game. This is a trend that seems to have really taken hold in the hobby. No one seems to want to produce a game, any more, with 200 counters and a single map sheet.
Finally, what also strikes me is just how few of these games were immediate hits when they first appeared. Except, perhaps, for NEY VS. WELLINGTON, BORODINO, the TSS-based games, and maybe the CENTRAL FRONT games, most of the others gained a following fairly slowly. I remember that, in my own case, I had to be cajoled into playing FREDERICK THE GREAT, OCTOBER WAR, DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER, and PUNIC WARS.
Maybe it was because I was still a teenager at the time, but I didn't have to be cajoled into playing any of the S&T games. I had them punched, had the map laid out, and was reading the rules the night I got the magazine in the mail and was typically corralling friends to play over the next few weekends. Some of my magazine games got HEAVY--and I mean HEAVY--use. OCTOBER WAR didn't jazz me all that much save for the combat system so you could take losses by individual tanks in the platoon. I guess I was too enamored with AH's ARAB-ISRAELI WARS at the time.
Could be wrong, but I think we have a continuing explosion of games fitting the magazine format being produced today. In the "golden era" of SPI's S&T publication, we had basically one wargame magazine with a a game in it. Today, we still have S&T, but also WORLD AT WAR, AGAINST THE ODDS, BATTLES magazine, and the occasional MMP OPERATIONS Special Issue. I am not even counting all the smaller amateur publications like PANZER DIGEST that put games in their pages. So I think there are plenty of people who are willing to produce a game with a single mapsheet and 200 (or less) counters. Indeed, the growth of Victory Point Games and the revision/republication of the old SPI Folios by Decision Games indicates this is a developing trend.
But my question is whether people are actually playing the magazine games. Unlike my teenage years, it's not often I punch and play my magazine games. I'd say within the past half year, of all the games I've gotten in my magazines, the only ones I tried out were Miranda's AFRIKA KORPS, GUARDS TANK ARMY, J.D. Webster's BUFFALO WINGS, and Suzuki/Starkweather's FURY IN THE WEST. There's more I want to try, but these were the ones that made it onto the table. I'm not sure how many others there are like me.
It seems to me that BATTLES and AGAINST THE ODDS magazines most consistently take on the esoteric subjects with only a few occasions where they return to "the mainstream," most typically (for ATO) in the ATO Annuals. Both the subject matter and the systems are definitely different. Perhaps the most recent illustrations are ATO #26, THERE MUST BE A VICTORY on the 1866 battle of Lissa between the Austrians and the Italians in the Adriatic. Now, this is not to say that ATO games don't have their share of problems--many do. But that also was the case with a good number of S&T games in the "golden era" as well. BATTLES had done games on ANVIL-DRAGOON, ARRAS in 1940, the battle for the new city in Hue in 1968 (as opposed to the Citadel), and done a very different take in THE RACE FOR BERLIN where both players are Soviet Front commanders (Koniev and Zhukov) trying to outdo each other. I'm looking forward to the next game on the 1919 battle for Petrograd during the Russian Civil War.
Even S&T has been doing some new things even as they publish some updates/revisions to old favorites. OPERATION JUBILEE is perhaps the first really decent game on Dieppe, even if solitaire, using the same system as their solitaire game on Omaha. They've done a game on the 1898 Santiago campaign (a favorite topic of mine), one on Chosin Reservoir, a very different strategic game on Frederick the Great during the War of Austrian Succession, etc.
WORLD AT WAR to me seems to be doing the most "going over the same old ground" of all the magazines--perhaps that's to be expected, given the topic. Thankfully, the revisions have generally appeared to be improvements in most (but not all) cases.
So, to me, there are those efforts that are like VERACRUZ or CONQUISTADOR being produced, and I'd argue more of them than we ever saw in the heydey of SPI's "golden age." But the key issue now--as it perhaps was then--is whether or not people are actually playing these games.
What I don't see yet are efforts to "test bed" systems/designs in magazine formats that eventually would become bigger games. SPI didn't do it often, but it would. KAMPFPANZER si-move paved the way for PANZER '44 and MECHWAR '77. PANZER BATTLES soon led to MECH WAR 2. Then there were those "foundation" games that led to whole series of games--PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN, KHARKOV, CORBRA and FIFTH CORPS, BAOR perhaps being the best known examples. But there were others--like the "Victory In The West" series that never seemed to take off (until now!). And I'm not talking about "retrofitting" already successful designs to smaller formats, such as we saw in the GBACW series, starting with STONEWALL, or NEY VS WELLINGTON.
No, we don't see that kind of thing these days, even with all the games getting published in magazines.
Joe, probably the best illustration of the problem today would be to ask what are the best 20 magazine games (of any publisher) in the past five years and see what you get. Despite the differences in what people perceive as the best 20 "golden SPI era" S&T magazine games, there's a good bit of agreement in the main. Nobody disputes PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN being on the list, for example.
I doubt you could get that kind of unanimous agreement on magazine games today. Mostly because I suspect so few people have played them. Turning back the clock to identify the best 20 magazine games produced between 2000-2005 probably wouldn't yield much agreement either....
Unfortunately, we know that the intersection of Eric and Joe's discussion lies right here: finding players for these new games is difficult, because so few people know the games.
I haven't had a copy of one of my new S&T games on the table in over a year. I think the 1898 Santiago game was the last one I punched and pushed around solitaire. I finally stopped the World at War purchases. I might have liked the looks of the games, but I can't find time for the games I love, let alone these unknowns. And finding time AND opponents? Arrrgh.
Russ points to the often obscure and unplayed status of contemporary subscription games; however, I think that this has actually been the case for much longer than we tend to aknowledge. Thus, although we tend to look back (rightly, I think) on the 70's and 80's -- at least when it comes to magazine games -- as being dominated primarily by S&T and The Wargamer, there were a number of other game/magazine publishers that appeared and then disappeared, often with little notice, during the same period. How many of us who were there at the beginning of the hobby, for instance, still remember BattleFlag magazine or any of its insert games? Or how about the magazines that attempted to offer criticism and analaysis? Almost all long-time players will immediately point to Fire & Movement, Moves, Panzerfaust, and Grenadier; but how many of us still remember less-popular publications like the unabashedly amateurish The American Wargamer, or the better-quality Zone of Control? Not many of us, I would wager.