Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Strategy and Tactics

As I posted last week, while searching for a book, I came across an old wargame - Ambush! - that I'd almost forgotten I had.  Well, today I unearthed several more things I'd forgotten I owned.  Indeed, in a couple of cases I'd forgotten completely buying them.  The bulk of these finds were, once again, wargame-related, namely three complete editions of Strategy and Tactics magazine and a game originally published in the magazine:

Strategy and Tactics was, for many years, the house publication of Simulation Publications Inc (SPI), the main rival to Avalon Hill (who had their own magazine, The General) in terms of producing wargames.  The unique feature of Strategy and Tactics was that every issue included a complete wargame, most of which were later published in boxed form by SPI.  Publishing six games a year this way meant that SPI quickly outstripped Avalon Hill in the number of games they produced.  They were also cheaper, featuring unmounted boards and plastic packaging, in contrast to Avalon Hill's bookcase-style boxes and mounted boards.  In addition to the games, every issue also included detailed articles on military history, analysis of famous battles and so on.  Whilst SPI are long since defunct, the magazine is still published, by Decision Games, still with a complete game in every issue.

But to get to the point, the only one of the three complete editions above I actually remember buying is the May 1991 edition (on the right in the photo, green cover), which I bought new when I worked in London.  The main reason I purchased it was because it featured a solitaire wargame, Tarawa: Red Beach One.  The other two editions I must have bought via eBay (I can vaguely recall buying the middle one, which features Conquistador as its game).  I don't remember acquiring the October War edition - it came as a real surprise to me when I found it.  I'm guessing that I must have acquired it around the same time that I bought MechWar '77 - which had originally featured in the magazine - as the  two games are based around the same rule system.  Another reason for me buying the October War edition was that, at the time, I couldn't obtain a copy of Arab-Israeli Wars, an Avalon Hill game covering similar subject matter and based on their Panzerblitz system.  Indeed, the system used by SPI for MechWar '77, October War and several other tactical armoured warfare games (including Panzer '44, Desert War and Kampfpanzer), was very much their answer to Avalon Hill's hugely popular series of Panzerblitz games (which included Panzer Leader and Arab-Israeli Wars).

Anyway, to give a better idea of the games being included in Strategy and Tactics, here's shot of the map from October War:

A more detailed view of the map and counters for Conquistador:

Conquistador is interesting for being more a strategy game, based around the discovery, exploration and exploitation of the New World by Europe's Imperial powers, than a straightforward wargame.  It can also be played solitaire.  This game, like October War and MechWar '77, was later sold by SPI in boxed format, it was subsequently sold to Avalon Hill and sold by them is a bookcase box edition, with mounted board, extra counters and amended rules.  Both the boxed versions are now quite expensive second hand and not always easy to find, which is why, as I recall, I obtained the magazine version.  I have to admit that it was map boards like this which attracted me to a lot of the wargames produced during the seventies - they usually looked magnificent, just crying out to be explored in a gaming session.

SPI's games were often more complicated than those of rival Avalon Hill, placing more emphasis upon the historical military simulation side of things than on the gaming side.  Consequently, their appeal was mainly toward dedicated wargamers and military history enthusiasts, rhather than the more general gaming fandom Avalon Hill aimed for.  (Although, to be fair, SPI also issued a number of fantasy and science fiction themed games).  When they eventually ran out of money (I'm assuming that the sale of some their titles, like Conquistador and PanzerArmee Afrika to Avalon Hill was to raise cash), their assets were acquired by TSR, who continued to publish Strategy and Tactics and market some of the games.  The magazine was subsequently sold to 3W then Decision Games, which also now owns the rights to most of the SPI back catalogue.  Many of SPI's designers were later taken on by Avalon Hill and set up in their subsidiary, Victory Games - which continued to turn out SPI style games packaged in Avalon Hill-style bookcase boxes (albeit still with unmounted maps), for several years.

With two lengthy posts about wargames in less than a week, my regular reader(s) might be fearing that this is about to turn into a wargaming blog.  I don't think there is much danger of that, although I'm always looking for something new to write about.  Then again, if I actually start playing some of these games again, I just might start posting turn-by-turn accounts of battles!  But, as I indicated at the start of this post, these old copies of Strategy and Tactics weren't the only thing I stumbled upon today - but we'll come to that later this week.

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