Where We're Going #1
Feature by Howard Thompson
The Space Gamer No 1 (1975)
WHERE WE'RE GOING
Since no one had ever heard of us til our ads started appearing last fall its fair to ask what to expect from us. Our only business is science fiction games, we won't diffuse our efforts on anything else. Our hobby is fairly new and growing so rapidly we can't even reach all the potential customers. THE SPACE GAMER will provide a communications forum for fans that can support the hobby. It also gives us a place to tell our own story, which we badly need in the face of the flood of mail from STELLAR CONQUEST. THE SPACE GAMER gives us a chance to tell everyone what's going on without having to say it ten times over. The magazine had been planned for after our third or fourth game but circumstances demand we do it now. Not that we regret it, we just wish our crystal ball was a bit more clear.
In trying to decide what sort of material is suitable for TSG who would read it weighed evenly with what had to be accomplished. A sizeable minority of our readers will be relatively new to s-f gaming and gaming in general. The rest will have a background in historical conflict simulations and have little trouble adapting to s-f themes. While its good to have a broad audience it means the disparities in gaming experience make it difficult to present material in such a fashion as to appeal to both ends of the spectrum. The new gamers will need more basic articles with lots of background. Experienced gamers will want to take their knowledge for granted and go right to the esoteric presentations. Since one goal of TSG is to promote the hobby of s-f gaming we're very much concerned with novice gamers. Growth will come from them but as their knowledge increases they'll want more complexities. For reasons of complexity STELLAR CONQUEST wasn't the best introductory game. Many with no experience made the quantum jump with no trouble but for others it was like trying to read sanskrit with only two hours instruction. Experienced gamers tend to their learning difficulties, but, just remember the problems you had if you didn't have someone else to explain what is now obvious.
So we'll be speaking to two pretty different groups. With your support and our sweat TSG can blend the worlds of science fiction and conflict games into an enjoyable whole. But it means each half of our audience will sometimes be left with not quite what he wants. Its going to be almost unavoidable and we ask your patience. Just remember that while you're having trouble with a particular article you won't be alone and many others will be finding it exactly what they needed. We hope you get out of TSG what we like to read in other publications. If each issue can give you a little humor, something to ponder, something to try and the urge to speak your piece we'll be doing our job.
The first few issues of TSG will be on a quarterly basis as you see it now. The next issues will get bigger as our familiarity with doing a publication grows and as we get contributions. What happens after that depends on response, ie. how many subscribers we get. Going at least bimonthly with significantly more pages per issue is the goal. Graphics, layout, and production will get better as circulation grows. Most of our subscriptions will come from word-of-mouth and from those who buy our games so you can help by showing us around. There will be some advertising and promotion but mostly we'll grow from our readers. We'll do the best we can at what we like. If you like it too TSG will be an instrumental force in helping s-f gaming grow into a viable part of the science fiction experience. If you don't like what we're doing let us know. We are interested in what you have to say so please send us back the questionnaire enclosed, it'll help us know exactly how we're doing. A similar brief survey will be in each issue so we can have a running score.
Since most of our time is devoted to the games you want and necessary mundane business matters the bulk of what will be printed will be contributions from readers. Some editorial effort will go into what you say but you can expect to see it printed if you have an idea and can string simple sentences together logically. The staff will concentrate on games, our news, and s-f gaming news in general. Everything else will eventually come from you so speak up. Most likely others will be interested in what you have to say and respond to it. A small compensation will be paid for the best contributions as determined by reader voting but it may be an issue or two before that is ironed out. That means that if there are sufficient contributions for a meaningful vote next issue the best non-staff article will get $10 and the second best $5 with all others getting some free issues added to their subscription. Not much admitted but it is something in addition to the joy of seeing yourself in print.
In talking about ourselves its also fair to mention who you are. So far more have responded from our s-f ads than any other. Almost 10% are women, about 20 times more than wargaming in general, and we'll follow their experience with particular interest. Nearly a fifth are in the military, 10% from Canada, and a fair chunk from rural addresses. We won't know much more than that unless we undertake a big marketing type survey which we don't have the time for. You share our joy with s-f and games and maybe that's as much as any of us need to know.
Looking ahead its not too early to mention our new game for the fall. Don't send money now, price hasn't been set yet and TSG subscribers will get a price break on it and all games we do from now on. THE YTHRI, based on material in The People of the Wind by special arrangement with Poul Anderson, will be announced next issue with details for ordering. This game had the cover name PLANETHEAD ASSAULT until the game rights to the book had been finalized. So, stay tuned for the Terran Empire's combat assault on Avalon, home of the biracial Ythri, human culture. And remember, subscribers only will be eligible for that price break. We feel those into s-f gaming enough to support a specialty magazine like THE SPACE GAMER deserve some recognition for their support of the hobby. The least we can do is give them a break in the checkbook which is usually their main constraint on enjoying the hobby.
Another thing to look forward to is a game design contest. It will be limited to science fiction/fantasy games with the winning game to be published by us in addition to a prize. Since we aren't assuming we're the only people who can design at least a few unknown talents will be found for sure. In the long run METAGAMNG will develop a number of outside designers to produce most of the games we publish. The contest should be announced next issue so get to work on those ideas you've never committed to paper. Game designing is fun even if you don't have another blockbuster like Monopoly.
Another break in the pocket book that's being tried this issue is advertised on page four. If enough are interested we'll carry other games by other publishers such as STARPROBE and DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. They are different in style from anything we'd design yet professionally done. Games offered by other publishers will be bought in quantity which qualifies us for an additional 15% discount on the wholesale price. The 15% discount will be passed on to our subscribers with all others paying regular price. This can be done only if enough are interested to warrant the bulk order. The normal retail discount is 40% which we will still realize on the sale and which will go toward our operating costs and helping us promote s-f gaming. Frankly, its not worth handling other games unless they sell in fair quantity so if you like what you see order from us and save a buck. The questionnaire asks about other games you might like at a discount so let us know what you want, if anything.
Much of what we do will be controlled by economics. But since time is all you need to have a good game money won't affect game quality as opposed to packaging quality. If you didn't notice that was the transition to the 'bad' news. Our sales of SC were only about half what we had expected. This was due to the (shudder) recession, our advertising inexperience, and the fact that we were new comers to an area notorious for spotty quality. Hindsight tells us we didn't do badly at all. It does mean our game production runs won't be as large for the next few games. Since unit cost goes up drastically in quantities less than SC's run it means the next few games won't have that wonderful plastic map and full die-cutting for the counters won't come until game three or four. The only other step back will be to omit typesetting of rules and other printed matter but that will be offset by going to booklet type rules. That's the bad news. Games won't be as expensively produced as SC was. We will be improving graphics and illustrations. For example we have permission to use Jack Gaughan's award winning illustrations for Jack Vance's The Dragon Masters with our insect cultures game. We felt strongly about the plastic map as a step up in quality from the usual paper maps so prices for the next few games may run a bit lower than SC. SC has to go to $9 after September 1 to allow for distribution with stores and a professional game cover. Other games will go from $6 to $8 depending. So the 'bad' news turns out to be more of a mixed bag. The main thing you will lose, in terms of cost to us, is the plastic map and typeset rules. Subscribers will get a bit of a price break and still have a soundly designed game.
The game after THE YTHRI will be the one letters tell us we shouldn't do but its really been fun doing so we'll go ahead anyway. Its tentatively titled HYMENOPTRIA and will use the Jack Gaughan illustrations just mentioned. The brief blurb in flyers drew comments like, "sounds weird", and "the other two sound interesting". But, we like it and feel some urge to be innovative. Based on play testing it looks like a real sleeper in terms of fun and playability. It will be a society level game for six players with the basic assumption being that the culture is biology oriented rather than machine oriented as ours. We aren't really satisfied with the name so if anyone has an idea with oomph send it in. You'll get a copy of the game and an extra years worth of TSG. Names are crucial to a game's success and a better one will probably mean the difference between ho hum sales and popularity regardless of design quality.
Many TSG articles will give a lot of background and introductory material on gaming in general for our relatively new gamers. Flack will come from both sides on this. Newer gamers will say too many buzz words are being used and too much being taken for granted. They are right from their viewpoint and utterly right that getting into gaming is rough on the novice. We'll always be guilty of forgetting the novice and we're sorry. There's no help for it despite how hard we may try. Experienced gamers just forget how much trouble it was to grasp the concept of what the games are all about. Newer gamers are invited to submit articles despite their relative lack of experience. Only the gamers just beginning to get it all sorted out can fully bridge the gap to the raw novice and make consistently meaningful comments about learning problems. Old timers are more likely to tell the novice to keep plugging and it'll all come clear. It will come clear if you keep plugging but many who would really get a bang out of games get discouraged to the point of disgust by the initial difficulties. TSG will make every effort to develop material for learners and make the acquisition of a new hobby as enjoyable as possible. We can't make you into instant champs but hopefully we can help explain why you got wiped out so easy.
Articles about basics will hit older gamers as of no use. They will be right and wrong in condemnation all at the same time. Despite experience most old timers aren't as good as they think they are. (Yeh guys, we really said it.) Only a minority of gamers play close competition under controlled circumstances such as exist in chess clubs with player ratings and tournaments. The best players will be in clubs strong enough to have contests and such which includes only a handful of existing gamers. Most games are really fiddled with by most gamers rather than really played. Few players ever become really confident with the rules of even a few of the flood of historical games. And, few of those historical games are balanced enough to deserve the effort of mastery. In short, most 'old timers' can benefit from going back to the basics unless they are among the lucky members of a club.
By now most old gamers with insurmountable ego problems have stopped reading and thrown us aside so we can be even bolder. How many old timers can do much more than wipe up novices on their favorite, oft played games? Their victory is more a product of knowing a game than anything else. Not to say they can't play well, they just haven't had that much real competition. For most games played in this country today winning is a product of experience on a game more than anything else. Ok, ok, it is exaggerating but how much truth is there in it that is usually glossed over. Most gamers really into it are more likely to regard themselves as budding designers rather than as premiere gamers. More comments about the game's design pass from during play than about position or strategy. They are playing the game as an exercise in design critique instead of for the fun or competition. This is perfectly understandable when you realize that the heroes of the historical game world are the game designers and game publishers instead of game players.
Designers rather than game players. It does make you stop and think a bit. Some gamers shell out a hundred or more a year and have no chance of recognition. Is their's but to do and buy? Hopefully that will change and we hope to do our little bit to help.
This column will be a regular one with each issue. It will be devoted to TSG and METAGAMING CONCEPTS happenings. The rest of the magazine is open to our readers.
Retroreview Note: Various typos, such as the misspelling of 'blend' as 'blen' and double "if" both on page 5, have been corrected through the above feature.
Back to Feature Index