Where We're Going #14
Feature by Howard Thompson
The Space Gamer No 14 (November - December 1978)
The first thing you'll notice that is the last issue of 1977, yet you're getting it in January, 1978. This was a decision on our part to avoid Christmas mailing loss in sending TSG by bulk mail. The good old post office is known to literally throw away a good portion of bulk mail during the holiday crunch. We'd rather you get it late than lose 5-10% of the magazines completely in the Christmas mail.
WARNING: If you don't give the post office your forwarding address and tell them you'll pay to have all mail, including bulk (like TSG), forwarded, your copies of TSG will not follow you. It's up to you to let us know when and where you move. We are sending out a lot of extra copies of TSG as replacements when a move was invo1ved. The extra cost may mean that we will have to discontinue this policy short1y.
We are working on second class mailing privileges, but are uncertain if TSG will qualify. A second class permit should help curtail the current mail loss.
THE FANTASTY TRIP publishing schedule has been altered again. We don't want to come out with the LABYRINTH segment for game mastering until we have it very well done. Others have rushed their role p1aying games into production and have what we felt are far inferior systems. THE FANTASY TRIP: IN THE LABYRINTH is already equal to anything else and getting better...
Worried gamers who fear we are duplicating the D&D style release of multiple dependent segments of the game should quit worrying. THE FANTASY TRIP system is coming out with a variety of games based on the same system. Unlike D&D and other systems, we are trying to make each segment stand alone as a separate game that doesn't need any other game to play. The only exceptions will be the solitaire LABYRINTHS and some play aid packages for those who want them. MELEE is a stand-alone game. WIZARD is a stand-alone game. TFT: IN THE LABYRINTH is a stand-alone game. If you never buy more than one, you will still have a playable game with many possibilities all by itself. The games can be put together. MELEE and WIZARD together are a good basic magic/combat system. LABYRINTH will have all the economics, world stocking, and campaign rules needed to play long, running games. LABYRINTH will also contain more combat and magic, along with MELEE and WIZARD style rules all worked in, plus combat and magic as appropriate to campaign games.
LABYRINTH will improve on things that don't work well in MELEE and WIZARD. A project as ambitious as TFT system must be looked at as a game system that will evolve and mature. Major structure won't change from game to game. But, as we see ways of improving the system, you can be sure we'll put them in later segments and revised editions of earlier segments.
An open-ended system like THE FANTASY TRIP is too big to be made perfect on the first pass with the resources avai1able to any wargame firm. It was decided to develop TFT as an evolving system rather than design it with constraints that would let us iron everything out from scratch. We aren't perfect and aren't designing TFT as if all our current ideas are the perfect and final answer. A game that simulates role playing life should be open-ended. It should allow for change and growth of the system. That's the way life is and that's the way the game should be.
That's saying up front that TFT will never leave the development stage. There will always be something new in the works. There will always be playtesting and reading your letters for new ideas. We'll always be looking for ways to improve. We, and you, will never come to the end of TFT as a static system that bores.
Other things planned for TFT at this time include solitaire booklets in the MicroGame size. These will probably come out in the February/March time frame at $1.95 to $2.95 each. This is a bit higher price than we'd like for them, but their distribution as specialty items won't be nearly as great as the MicroGames. But, we'd rather give you the specialty items at a higher price than not offer them at all.
TFT: IN THE LABYRINTH will probably see release before June as things are now planned. That's six months more for it; we decided we needed that much more playtesting and time for it to mature in our minds. It will also give us more time to absorb gamers' feedback from MELEE and WIZARD.
WIZARD buyers will note they got a 32 page rules booklet, instead of the advertised 24 pages, and double the counter set usually given with Micros. WIZARD ran five to six weeks late partly because it ended up with 60% more material than anticipated. There was another week delay while we consulted legal council over a threatened TSR lawsuit. It seems TSR thinks WIZARD infringes on their previously published title WAR OF WIZARDS. Considering how many gaming products have used "wizard" in the title, we think not.
IMPROVEMENTS to our MicroGames have been noted by many readers. Starting with WARPWAR we've gone to full-color covers and are now using a better stock of board for the counters. Coming improvements include the introduction of unsealed little plastic envelopes instead of our sealed baggie. These new envelopes are 5 mils thick as opposed to the 2 mil baggies. They open on the side and have a 2 1/2" flap that tucks back inside the game. This will provide an inexpensive but more durable permanent storage for your MicroGames. Another upgrading will be a shift to 24 pages for the rules, counting the covers. instead of our current 20-page format. The full 24 pages will be on coated 70 lb. stock. Current format is 110 lb. coated stock for the cover and 50 lb. interior stock. You won't be able to see through the interior pages with the new stock and images will be sharper on the coated stock. You will not have the heavy-stock cover, but the color art will reproduce as well. We feel that 20% more pages and better interior reproduction are worth it!
The improvements are raising our per game cost on the Micros by a small amount (about 10%), but we feel the increased quality compensates. Most of the cost increase was absorbed by increasing production runs. The Micros are selling so fast that the second printing of OGRE, with full-color cover and some rules revisions, was 250% larger than the first printing.
Those who note the second edition of OGRE has some minor rules and counter changes should note that those changes will appear in TSG. You won't have to buy the second edition unless you just want to.
COMPUTERS...COMPUTERS: My every waking day now has about three hours of computer planning in it. We simply have to have a computer for our business operations. We're processing 3 to 4 times the mail this December than last December. The computer will make MicroGame subscriptions possible. The computer will ease our eventual shift to twice-weekly order processing and cut out two more days of the order processing cycle. That may not mean much to you except that we'll get your orders to you an average of five working days sooner with the help of the computer; but that's 30-40% less handling effort for us.
Planning for our first computer game is well along also. We've already planned to do the play-by-mai1 testing part with our Patron Subscribers. If it goes as envisioned, the Patrons will participate in at least several mail turns at no charge as playtesters. About all they will have to contribute is the postage for sending turns back to us. We expect almost all our Patrons will want to participate. Patrons should note that we'll keep them posted by first class mail on when this will occur. You should hear some definite details in April.
Per turn cost for the METASTAR 80 game will be in the $1.50-$2.00 per turn range. I know that price will bother some of our readers, but there is no way we can do the kind of game we want, and the kind you tell us you also want, for less money. Those who are aware of the STARWEB game run by Flying Buffalo know the delay problems that they are having at $1.00 per turn game. There is no reason to run a game that we have to cut all the corners on just to make a very small profit. Profit is what has let METAGAMING do the new things. You'll get a good game for $2.00 per turn rather than a problem plagued game that's often late for less. It may cost more than you feel it should, but it will be worth the entertainment value.
METASTAR 80 will be a more complex game than STELLAR CONQUEST, but it will be less difficult to learn and play. Much of the complexity will be monitored by the computer. Much of your production and record keeping will be done by the computer automatically, based on your instructions. There's no reason to have you do a lot of shuffling and paperwork to keep your empire going when computers are soooo good at picky tasks.
Since this TSG is going to press late, nearly complete 1977 sales data are available. METAGAMING posts 1977 sales at 350% greater than 1976. The sales rate actually increased during the year with the last quarter also 350% more than first quarter sales. We don't know how many games were sold, but the preliminary estimate is 40-45,000 METAGAMING titles.
It was a very good year for METAGAMING. 1978 should be even better! Current minimal plans call for another tripling of sales. Six to eight new MicroGames will be published. MicroGame subscriptions should be available by April or May. TSG will more than double the current 3,500 paid circulation base with the 8 1/2 x 11" format. A professionally managed play-by-mail computer game should start by July-September. Also planned are two boxed games, including a reprinting of STELLAR CONQUEST in boxed format.
All these things will be possible in 1978 with your continued support. Depending on how fast we absorb growth, even more may be possible. Miniature figurines for some of our games are possible. Another whole line of innovative games is possible; we'd like to try a series of inexpensive, boxed games. Semi-historical MicroGames are possible by year end. I say "semi-historical" because we wouldn't try to recreate historical battles in Micro format. They would most likely to based on historical technologies and environments, but be abstracted, play-balanced scenarios. The feedback form is your place to let us know what you want in detail, so give it the attention it deserves.
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