People, Places & Things
Just Add Dice
It Came from the SlushPile
by Tim Morgan
Welcome to the first issue of Sabledrake Magazine and the new year. If you're reading this, it means that civilization hasn't collapsed, which is probably a good thing. After all, we wouldn't have much time to play games or read science-fiction if we were surviving day to day, fighting with the wolves for our dinner and trying to get that solar powered flashlight to work.
There's a lot I want to say here, so why don't I start with an introduction. Sabledrake Magazine is the brain-child of Tim & Christine Morgan, who are both long-time gamers and book readers. Tim manages a game store in Seattle, and Christine is a novelist. The name 'Sabledrake' comes from one of the main characters in her first novel, Curse of the Shadow Beast, and a character she played in a roleplaying game many years ago. We both worked on a small gaming newsletter back in college and one day, last summer, we realized how much we missed it, so we decided to do it again, this time on the internet.
With Christine's background in fiction and mine in games and the game industry, we decided that our magazine would do both. It would be about games and review games, have gaming articles, and support games that needed it. But it would also be about writing science fiction and fantasy, the kinds of things gamers like, but that also have a much larger audience. And if we could get non-gamers to read the magazine for the articles and convert them to gaming, so much the better.
So that's who we are and why we're here. We will each be writing articles for Sabledrake Magazine. I will do this editorial column every month plus some game reviews plus another every once in a while as I'm inspired. Christine is writing a fantasy story, one chapter per month that is excellent! Plus more. But, we can always use more articles, and anyone and everyone is encouraged to send us stuff . . . gaming, fiction, artwork, whatever. Check out our submission guidelines and e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The State of the Gaming Industry in the Last Year of the Century
What will the gaming industry be like in the year 2000? The last decade (not to mention the last year) has been a very eventful time for gaming. We've seen the rise of computer games, the decline of chit-type wargames, the rise of Collectable Card Games, the fall of Collectable Card Games, and so much more. What is to come?
War Games have been in decline for a number of years and took a big hit last year when Avalon Hill was bought out by Hasbro. All their games went out of print and everyone went out and scooped up their favorites, leaving only their less popular games on shelves. Other War Game manufacturers have stopped supplying game distributors (and thus game stores) and have been focusing on sales direct to customers over the internet. In many ways this makes sense, since printing hundreds of counters and large maps in full color is expensive, and by cutting out middle men they can keep selling their wargames at a reasonable price. But I personally think this method is short sighted. While it continues to serve a company's regular, hard-core customers, it does little to promote growth or serve the casual buyer, who might pick up a game of the shelf, but who won't go looking for it.
War Games have been hurt badly by the rise of Computer Games and the only way to combat this is to highlight the one thing that tabletop War Games have over the Computer Games - human interaction. Let's face it, Computer Games have great graphics, can do all of the math, can keep track of all of the tables, and can keep the counters from falling over in a breeze. Now, over the internet, they can even offer you a challenging opponent, but it's still not the same as sitting down and staring across the table at your opponent, joking, laughing, arguing, and just generally being social. There is a lot of strategy (and fun) in the mind games that go on between players in a game that has nothing to do with the pieces. There are many more avenues of diplomacy, stealth and subterfuge in dealing with another human in the same room and, to survive, War Games have to encourage this.
War Games should have nice, well written rules that are simpler and more elegant than many of the War Games available in the past. They should also pick eras and situations that are interesting to the common person. Avalanche Press has done well at this with their series of World War I era naval games. One of the games in this series even included a hypothetical US attack on Japan.
Collectible Card Games
If people weren't tired of Collectible Card Games before Pokemon, they have to be now. CCG sales were going downhill before Pokemon, and if you ignore Pokemon, they continued downwards last year. We're down to three companies publishing CCGs, Wizards of the Coast, Decipher and Precedence, and while I don't see them stopping this year, I do see a continued decline in sales (still ignoring Pokemon). Unfortunately for us all, I think Pokemon (not just the CCG) is going to continue unabated all year.
The biggest news in RPGs this year will be AD&D 3rd edition. This will be a simplified version of AD&D targeted at a younger audience. Wizards will support it with a large marketing campaign, that will hopefully get new kids into game stores and playing all sorts of games, not just AD&D. At the same time, AD&D 3rd edition will really annoy many or most of the long time players, who will continue playing 1st or 2nd edition and pretend that the whole thing never happened or quit gaming entirely in disgust or switch to new games. The question for Wizards of the Coast is whether or not this will lose or gain them customers. I'll put my money on their advertising. If we see AD&D commercials on TV, then they'll do well.
This will be a great time for stores and other people to push their favorite RPG systems on the ex-AD&D player. These people will probably be looking for new games, so go out of your way to suggest a great system to them, be it new or old. Or better yet, invite them to your RPG session. When a game company forgets who they're writing for, they need a kick in the pants. And those companies that haven't forgotten need all the help they can get to keep them afloat and producing good material.
The other thing I expect to see is more small game companies popping up, and game designers publishing their own works. On-Demand Publishing is a new technology that allows books to be printed entirely electronically, in small print runs, very quickly, for reasonable prices. That combined with on-line publishing should usher in a new renaissance of RPGs. Every Game Master has his own little house rules, and many have ideas for how a game could be re-written. And I'm sure many of you out there have designs for your own original games. Share your ideas with the world! Publish them, either on-line or in print. You will find people who will like your ideas and who have ideas of their own. If you need help getting your ideas on-line, e-mail us, we can help you find a place for them on-line, maybe even in the magazine.
The hottest thing in board games for that last couple years has been games imported from Germany. Games like Settlers of Catan, Lost Cities, Medieval Merchant, Fossil, Torres, Modern Art, Tigris & Euphrates, Mississippi Queen or many others. For those of you who haven't tried on of these games, do it! You won't be disappointed. They all have several things in common:
They have the downside of being somewhat expensive, $30 - $50 for the board games and $15 - $20 for the card games, but they are well worth the money.
These have already become very popular here in the United States and will only continue to. Meanwhile, US board games have been stagnating. There are few new family/party games coming out. Those that do come out are really just reruns of older games. The last few years have seen many games that have been out of print return, such as Masterpiece, Pit, Mille Bournes, Flinch and others. We've also seen the over 100 different types of Monopoly come out, with customized boards for anything from Star Wars to National Parks and every major city in the US. This trend is even expanding to other games. This year there was an Alfred Hitchcock edition of Clue, with the stars, locations and weapons of Hitchcock's most famous movies taking roles in this classic game.
So, more of the same from the US, and more stunning, innovative games from overseas.
Hasbro, the long time giant in the board game and toy industry (owners of Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers and much more), have had a busy year. Last spring, they bought Avalon Hill game company. At the same time, they also bought Microprose and several other computer game companies. Then in September, they bought Wizards of the Coast for $325 million.
Many have wondered what this means and what effect it will have on the game industry. Many of the predictions have been negative and many believe these events will spell doom for game stores and game players. While I am not a big fan of huge trying to do something as delicate as writing games, I see some things which show great hope to gaming.
While Hasbro has yet to re-release any of Avalon Hill's old games, two are expected to come out in January, Diplomacy and Acquire. These has originally been announced to be released at Gen Con back in September, but have run late. The good news though is the quality and the price. The most recent AH edition of Diplomacy had plastic pieces and cost $30. The new version will have metal pieces and cost only $19.95! Similarly, Acquire was $30 with cardboard pieces while the new one will be $21.95 with plastic pieces. This is a trend I like - Better quality, Lower prices.
Many people were worried that once Hasbro took over, they would never even think about re-printing the more complicated and less mainstream war games like The Longest Day or Advanced Squad Leader (ASL). But in stepped Curt Schilling, profession baseball player and ASL fan. He started a company called Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) and talked Hasbro into to liscensing ASL to him. In 1999, MMP came out with four new items for ASL, and continues to plan for more. In addition, they are now saying that MMP will re-print Avalon Hill's Great Conflicts of the American Civil War series, a set of 6 war games. So it looks like we could be seeing more of the old AH war games than we thought. I say 'could' because MMP does have a few problems, including an owner who has another full-time job and has little experience in business and thus far MMP has been offering retailers smaller discounts than they are usually used to. That combined with the fact that you can only get them through MMP (not through distribution), means that many game stores will not consider them worth the trouble.
As far as Wizards of the Coasts goes, I'd like to think that Hasbro can't make them any worse than they already are. Hasbro has taken over many game companies in its history, and should know how to best do this, cutting out the chaff and streamlining inefficient structures. And Wizards has that. Hasbro has never done anything with retail stores, and Wizards has lots of those, about 8 of their own and a hundred or so Gamekeeper stores that they bought earlier in the year. As a game retailer myself, I would certainly like to think that Hasbro is nervous about this new type of business that they've gotten into, and if if does not quickly perform as desired, they will sell it off or close it down. Whether that will happen or not, I don't know, but I do hope, mostly because (living here in Seattle) I have experience with the Wizards stores, and I don't think they help gamers or the gaming industry. I could go on, but maybe that's the subject for a different article.
I conclusion, I am very optimistic about gaming in the year 2000. I think we have a wonderful, creative hobby, that is fun and educational without feeling educational. We are a good, social group that can withstand the few anti-social ones who attract attention to us. Many of us hard-core, long time gamers are now having children of our own, who will be raised their entire life gaming. I can only imagine the games and the world that they will create, but I know I will want to play there.
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