MIXED MEMORIES: RAND GAME ASSOCIATES (1974-76)





In 1973, a hitherto unknown game publisher named Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) introduced its first title: DRANG NACH OSTEN; a monster game on the German invasion of Russia, June 1941. A year later, Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) launched its own, long-anticipated —rumors had been floating around about Dunnigan’s ‘super game’ since at least 1969-70 — operational simulation of the entire Russo-German War (1941-45), WAR IN THE EAST. There was no doubt about it: this was a heady period for wargamers; things really seemed to be taking off, and those of us who had been in the hobby for awhile were full of optimism. Then, like GDW the year before, another new game company, Rand Game Associates (RGA), suddenly appeared on the scene. In the spring of 1974, the first copies of Rand Game Associates’ LEE vs. MEADE: THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG were shipped to a mob of eagerly waiting customers. This game was the first installment in a collection of nine brand-new titles which, when printed and mailed, would comprise Volume I of RGA’s ‘Command Games Series’. Moreover, it should be noted that, not only were these first lucky subscribers impatiently looking forward to the arrival of nine (already paid for) wargames, they were also slated to receive — along with their copy of LEE vs. MEADE — a spiffy red cardboard cupboard in which to store their soon-to-arrive collection of new games. Also, along with the ‘unique’ storage cupboard, RGA was sending its lucky customers even more game paraphernalia; hence, in addition to everything else, new subscribers were also fated to receive a ‘Universal Game Turn Record’, twelve tactical cards (six red and six white), and a six-sided die. I was one of those subscribers, and almost as soon as my first parcel arrived from RGA, I began — despite my receipt of the ‘one-of-a-kind’ game box, the new game, the ‘tac’ cards, and the die — to have misgivings about Rand Game Associates. As it turned out, my initial worries turned out to be well-founded.

In the beginning, Rand Game Associates looked like a winner. The first RGA full-page, four-color ads had started to appear, as I recall, in the hobby press towards the end of 1973 and they were eye-grabbing, to say the least. Moreover, the company’s initial pitch for subscriptions had looked mighty convincing. At a time when the typical SPI ‘flat pack’ game sold for $6.00 plus shipping, the RGA subscription package looked downright cheap. So, despite the fact that I knew nothing about the company other than what I had seen in a glossy ad slick; like a lot of other gamers, I decided to give the company and its games a try. In retrospect, I’m not really sorry that I did, but it is still, even after all these years, a very close call. Nonetheless, before I get to reminiscing further about my own love-hate relationship with RGA, a little company history is probably in order.

Rand Game Associates, according to David Isby, was the brain-child of Phil Orbanes and was initially formed in New Jersey. The company based its operations, for the most part, on the efforts of three men: Bill Vega, to handle the business end; David C. Isby, to do most of the actual game design work; and Al Zygier, to handle the graphics design for the finished games. Freelance designers, such as John Prados, Ken Smilgelski and Phil Orbanes, would periodically be brought on board to spice up the company’s offerings and to take a little of the design pressure off of David Isby. In addition, RGA could also look to the likes of Lenny Glynn, Al Nofi and Professor Milton J. Pierce, among others, for occassional help with game development and historical research. The basic business plan seems to have been to cut into SPI’s market niche by offering inexpensive games via subscription. Rand Game Associates could do this because, unlike SPI, it would not have the content, deadline, or production problems that inevitably go with publishing a fresh magazine issue to accompany each new game. Also, like Dunnigan’s ‘game mill’ in New York, RGA would make extensive use of customer surveys in order to select topics for future games and, by so doing, stay in tune with the changing interests of its subscribers. On its face, it all seemed very reasonable; unfortunately the wheels began to come off almost as soon as the first games started to ship.

The initial problem was pricing: by focusing so heavily on keeping prices low, RGA inevitably cut back on revenues and thus, limited its options when it came to producing its finished games. The end result of this pricing pinch was that the games all seemed just a little bit ‘cheesy’. The maps, rule books, and game charts, for example, were all relatively small by the standards of the rest of the industry. And with games, just like many other things, size really does matter. The utility of the rule books and game charts, particularly, suffered because their small size inevitably led to small and, in some cases, even tiny, hard-to-read print. This was off-putting, to say the least. The game counters, on the other hand, were generally well-done. However, by sticking with a single counter sheet and then by opting to use die-cut game pieces with rounded corners, the typical RGA game design was limited to a maximum of seventy-two unit counters; in the age of DRANG NACH OSTEN and WAR IN THE EAST, seventy-two counters did not, in the eyes of many players, seem to be nearly enough. This was particularly true when it is remembered that most SPI games during this era had from 200 to 400 game counters. More than one fellow subscriber to the ‘Command Games Series’ that I talked to echoed my own thoughts when they observed that it would have been better for RGA to have skipped producing the essentially useless game cupboards, and to have spent the savings on the game components, instead.

Omaha Beach map

The second major problem for the Rand Game Associates brand was the graphic presentation of the games, themselves. Al Zygier, sadly, was no Redmond Simonsen. First impressions are important. A mediocre game with clever or visually appealing graphics will, almost without exception, find a wider audience than a good game with awful artwork. And RGA managed, against all odds, to produce some of the most vividly amateurish graphics that I, personally, have ever encountered. But it need not have been so. For several years, the map for Avalon Hill’s ALEXANDER (1971) had been, I thought, the most repulsive (almost vomit-like) game board that I had ever laid eyes on. But I was premature. RGA utterly crushed its competition in the ugliness category by publishing my hands-down choice for the most revolting 17” x 24” piece of commercially-printed paper ever, the game map for OMAHA BEACH. To be fair, it should be noted that the game map and counters for THE WAR OF THE WORLDS II, when seen together, came in a very close second.

The War of the Worlds II

Of a piece with RGA’s uneven map quality was the format and print size of most of its game charts. Instead of listing battle results using traditional and familiar abbreviations — like DR, DE, or Ex, for example — tiny abstract symbols such as solid or hollow dots, and solid or hollow arrows were instead printed on many of the RGA charts to indicate combat outcomes. This irksome little convention was pointlessly obtuse, and would have been wholly unnecessary if the charts had been bigger and more legible in the first place. However, the use of symbols in lieu of letters for combat results was not the only pointless innovation that RGA introduced. Combat Results Tables (CRT’s), for example, became Combat Computation Charts (CCC’s), and Zones of Control (ZOC’s) became Ranges of Influence (ROI’s).
Lee vs. Meade Time/Space Grid map

This smacked a little bit of conceit on the part of the designer; after all, even Jim Dunnigan and Frank Chadwick had not attempted to completely change ‘game speak’ in this way. Moreover, this pernicious custom of game designers rechristening existing (and perfectly adequate) simulation concepts, thanks to Rand Game Associates, has now become a pervasive and common design element in contemporary American Civil War and Napoleonic simulations. In addition, everyone presently in the hobby also has Rand Game Associates to thank for the ground-breaking introduction of German military symbols into the mainstream of contemporary board gaming. This pointlessly confusing little affectation first appeared in RGA’s INVASION: SICILY, then in OMAHA BEACH, again — just in case you hadn’t noticed the first two times — in ROMMEL: THE WAR FOR NORTH AFRICA, and finally in the first of the ‘Command Series II’ games, HITLER’S LAST GAMBLE: THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1975). Despite RGA’s fixation on this graphic formula, however, their obnoxious innovation really only reached its apex when Randall Reed, apparently channeling the Führer Bunker over in Baltimore, adopted this pretentious and distracting style of unit annotation for both German AND Allied units in THE LONGEST DAY (1979).

Lee vs. Meade

Rand Game Associates, of course, had other problems besides graphic design. Product presentation is important but, in the end, it is the games themselves that actually matter most. And the game designs produced by RGA were, to say the least, a little uneven. Errata — the bane of all players — reliably followed each new title’s introduction. These types of post-publication corrections, needless-to-say, were hardly unique to RGA; what was unique, however, was that the errata that inevitably accompanied the next game — in far too many cases — dealt with simple errors or omissions in the rules that should have been caught during proof-reading, or with glaring problems in the game system that should have emerged in the first few ‘play-tests’. Blame for these lapses is difficult to assign. Rand Game Associates — wisely, it turned out — usually did not list game design or development credits; so, while there is a popular consensus as to which designers created which titles, there is no general agreement as to who handled the critically important development chores for the various games.

Cambrai, 1917

As to the various games, themselves: opinions, even today, will vary as to which of the RGA games were ‘good’, which were ‘mediocre’, which were ‘bad’, and which were just plain ‘ugly’. The ‘ugly’ titles I have already touched upon. As to the others, estimates vary wildly. I personally detested INVASION: SICILY and NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS; other players, much to my surprise, liked one or both of them a lot. Both LEE vs. MEADE and ROMMEL, I considered on the borderline between mediocre and good; on these appraisals, at least, I have generally found few players who strongly disagree. The best of the lot — in the eyes of most players, at least — undoubtedly were SARATOGA: 1777, CAMBRAI, 1917, and MISSILE BOAT. Oddly enough, despite the justifiably bad odor in which Rand Game Associates tends to be held by today’s crop of players, virtually everyone that I know who has actually played these three RGA titles thinks that they are, given the production limitations imposed on their designs, outstanding little games. Interestingly, the creator of CAMBRAI, 1917: THE FIRST BLITZKRIEG, David C. Isby, revisited the same topic four years later with the SPI title, TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND (1978); unfortunately for SPI, despite the six-times larger, more colorful counter-mix, the much nicer Simonsen graphics, and the denser, more elaborate game system that accompanied the newer title, most people that I know who have played both designs still consider CAMBRAI, 1917 to be, far and away, the better game. And pretty much in the same vein, despite the fact that SARATOGA: 1777 is vulnerable to almost the identical bit of tactical gamesmanship that detracts from SPI’s VERACRUZ (1977); I would still probably jump at the chance to play the game again. In any case, good or bad, the RGA titles continued to arrive in the mail at regular intervals into the spring of 1975. Once all of the first batch of games had been delivered, by the way, a complete Rand Game Associates ‘Command Games Series Volume I’ collection of games would include the following titles:

1. LEE vs. MEADE: THE BATTLE OF GETTYBURG (Time/Space Grid
Game System), by David C. Isby
2. SARATOGA: 1777 (Strategic Points Grid Game System), by David C.
Isby
3. INVASION: SICILY (Hexagonal Grid Game System), by David C.
Isby
4. NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS (Area Game System), by David C.
Isby
5. CAMBRAI, 1917: THE FIRST BLITZKRIEG (Hexagonal Grid Game
System), by David C. Isby
6. MISSILE BOAT (Hexagonal Grid Game System), by David C. Isby
7. OMAHA BEACH (Time/Space Grid Game System), by Ken Smigelski
8. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS II (Orbital Grid Game System), by
Philip Orbanes
9. ROMMEL: THE WAR FOR NORTH AFRICA (Hexagonal Grid Game
System), by David C. Isby

Rommel: The War for North Africa

At the end of March 1975, the last of the ‘Command Games Series Volume I’ games shipped; and enclosed with the final game in the series, ROMMEL: THE WAR FOR NORTH AFRICA, was yet another in the long string of more and more frantic appeals that, with increasing frequency, had been bombarding current subscribers urging them to sign up for the new improved, bigger, and better ‘Command Games Series Volume II’ collection of five or maybe six new games. I decided to pass, and apparently, I was not alone. Subscription rates plummeted. Rand Game Associates struggled on for awhile longer, but was only able to finish work on two more of the Volume II games before it ran out of cash and finally gave up any pretense of honoring its obligations to its subscribers. Bankruptcy was the next stop, and, as quickly as it had come on the scene, Rand Game Associates disappeared permanently from the game publishing business.

Invasion of Sicily

By the time of its demise, Rand Game Associates had actually published a total of thirteen titles. Besides the nine games that collectively made up ‘Command Games Series Vol. I’, RGA also published several larger, more complex titles as part of their ‘Military Time Capsule Games’ series of independent offerings. These were: the John Prados design, VON MANSTEIN: BATTLES IN THE UKRAINE 1941-44 (1975), which has subsequently been reissued by several different publishers under the title, PANZERKRIEG; the John Prados game, VICKSBURG: THE WAR IN THE WEST (1975); and David Isby’s BRANDY STATION: THE CLASH OF CAVALRY (1976). It should probably be noted that BRANDY STATION was originally slated to be the second game in the ‘Command Games Series Volume II’ collection of RGA titles following HITLER’S LAST GAMBLE: THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE, but when the struggling game company began to finally slip beneath the waves of insolvency, it was offered as part of the ‘Military Time Capsule Games’ series of independent titles.

For those readers who are interested, the three bigger 'Military Time Capsule' games were packaged in a window-style game box and came with a larger map, much more extensive and detailed rules, and significantly more counters. This trio of games included, in the order of their publication, the following titles:

1. VON MANSTEIN: BATTLES IN THE UKRAINE 1941-45 (Hexagonal Grid Game System), by John Prados
2. VICKSBURG: THE WAR IN THE WEST (Hexagonal Grid Game System), by John Prados
3. BRANDY STATION: THE CLASH OF CAVALRY (Time/Space Grid System), by David C. Isby
4. WELLINGTON IN THE PENINSULA (Area Movement System), by Vincent J. Cumbo, Albert A. Nofi, and John Prados

Saratoga

In addition to their publication as ‘Command Series’ games, a few of the Rand Game Associates titles were repackaged for independent distribution. David C. Isby’s ROMMEL: THE WAR FOR NORTH AFRICA was the first and, so far as I know, the only offering from RGA as part of the ‘Great Battles of History Series’ of games. And, last but not least, fairly early in the 'Volume I' subscription cycle (sometime around September 1974), Rand Game Associates licensed the first three of their titles to Gamut of Games (GOG) for outside distribution. As part of this arrangement Gamut of Games republished LEE vs. MEADE: THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG; SARATOGA: 1777; and INVASION: SICILY in a modestly upgraded (mounted map board and colored charts) boxed version.

Missile Boat

Looking back at the short, sad saga of Rand Game Associates, it is easy to see the flaws in the company’s original business plan. By focusing on keeping prices, and by extension, production costs low, RGA underperformed in the area that was most critical to their ongoing success: game quality. This realization, which was reflected in their plans for the ‘Command Games Series Volume II’ collection of five to six titles, came too late to salvage, much less to grow, their original base of subscribers. Moreover, nine original new designs, magazine or no, were simply too many games for David Isby — or anyone else, for that matter — to produce in a single calendar year; particularly without a lot of very experienced development help. This meant that unmitigated ‘turkeys’ like THE WAR OF THE WORLDS II found their way into the RGA lineup. Obviously, Phil Orbanes went to Rand Game Associates with his Sci-Fi design because no one else would touch it; and for good reason. And RGA’s main designer, David Isby, deserves some of the blame for the company’s failure, as well. His use of Phil Orbanes' ‘retro’ Time/Space Grid game system was moderately interesting, but never particularly popular; this fact was something that RGA’s own customer feedback should have told him.

Napoleon's Last Campaigns

And there was something else, even more fundamentally wrong at RGA. In countless little ways, it just didn't seem like the physical production of the games was ever really in the hands of an experienced 'gamer'. The much touted storage cupboard is a perfect example of this disconnect. When examined closely, it was obvious that the little red box, drawers or not, was simply too small and flimsy to meet the game storage needs of a typical player; it looked good, but it was essentially useless. In the end, Rand Game Associates did something that no business can afford to do: it disappointed the majority of its customers. One of my friends, and a fellow subscriber to the ‘Volume I’ series, probably said it best. He was in the process of rereading the game rules to NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS for the umpteenth time,; finally, he put the rules booklet down and observed resignedly: “I think that Rand is where bad game designs go to die.” In more than a few cases, I think that he was right.

25 comments:

  • David Isby says---
    I thought I and my old buddy Elwyn Darden were the only people who remember these from 36 years ago.

    Some nice ideas, some dumb ones, no proofreading (if I did not catch it, it did not get caught) some strange ideas (Phil Orbanes thought up the square-grid time/space system and loved it).

  • Greetings:

    Yes, there were a few designs -- SARATOGA, 1777, CAMBRAI, 1917, and MISSILE BOAT -- that were both ingenious and fun to play. Interestingly, when I dug some of these old titles out to profile them, I was reminded of just how much I had liked some of them, warts and all.

    Of course, there was also OMAHA BEACH with a truly ugly game map that looked like it had been designed by a toddler with unrestricted access to finger paints. Still, on the whole, the Rand Games concept was an interesting experiment. Who knows? With nicer maps and more counters, the whole 'game subscription' concept might have worked out quite well.

    Best Regrads, Joe

  • David Isby says --

    BTW, this whole thing was Phil Orbanes' idea. He recruited Al Zygier and myself.

    As for the OMAHA BEACH map, I recommend to your attention the air photo of this terrain that appears in CROSS CHANNEL ATTACK, the US Army official history volume. It looks just like the map. Considering the limitations as to colors, that map was one of the most successful.

  • Greetings Again:

    Point taken; and, in fact, when I first looked at the game map for OMAHA BEACH, it did remind me a bit of an old WWII black & white bomb damage asessment photo. Nonetheless, you may recall that I never said that the map was inaccurate, only that it was not, graphically-speaking, a feast for the eye.

    To be fair, I should also note in Rand Games' defense that at least the company never misplaced the course of any major rivers by dozens of kilometers or put Kiev on the wrong side of the Dnepr, like the boys from Normal did. Moreover, Rand never published a game map that, upon close inspection, looked suspiciously like a hastily cleaned-up version of a 'play-test' map. Something that SPI did with WAR IN THE EAST (1974).

    Again best Regards, Joe

  • My dear Joe (may I call you Joe)?

    Anyway, I happened on this site by mere chance and what memories it has brought up. Wow! 36 years have passes since I even thought about Rand Games Associates. I am amazed that anyone has taken so much space and trouble to review so many old games. And a very thorough review too. A bit harsh in places though, especially on me. I am that infamous Al Zygier you speaketh off and I must say I don't think I deserve so much criticism we did pretty well after all.

    What I tried to do is make the game pieces and boards as if they were done in that period of time the game was and I hadn't had any complaints, that I know of, we had a good run and probably would have made a success of it if we had someone that was running the business instead of all of us trying to design games.

    Was Omaha Beach really the worst map you ever saw? Come on, there was real crap out there, at least I tried to portray the bocage country, hey maybe I failed but I've seen worse from many games companies. You know we only produces these boards in two colors so we could sell these games economically (OK, cheaply) there was a lot of info that we had to put into all that limited space and, well, I thought I did a pretty good job doing it. My and many others opinion but hey, not every one has to like it.

    Anyway, its been 36 years, who remembers all the nuances of why we did what we did, we had a lot of fun and some really good people to work with. I also worked at SPI, sure, I wasn't a Redmond but I never tried to be. He had his ideas and I had mine.

    I see that you're a vet and if you were in Nam I know you probably had a tough time, I served in Korea 1956-57, I had it probably easier.

    I'm not sure if any of my comments will be read but if by chance they are and anyone wants to criticize me more you can dig me up on facebook.

    Al

  • Greetings Al:

    First, let me say that I'm happy that you're still around. We old-timers are getting to an age where friends and associates are beginning to exit the scene with depressing regularity.

    Now, as to my criticisms of Rand Game Associates in general, and your and David's work in particular. There is no doubt that, given the constraints under which RGA operated, both the game designer and graphic artist had a formidable set of challenges to overcome right from the very beginning. And, in fact, friend Isby has already taken me to task for my occasionally uncharitable comments. So let me say right here and now: I concede that a two-color palette and a map sheet limited to 17" x 24" does not give either the designer or the graphic artist a lot of room for creative scope. And that, if you recall, was one of my key complaints about RGA: that the company spent too much on non-essentials, and not enough on the games themselves.

    Still, as I noted in this piece, I do not have completely negative feelings about Rand Game Associates or all of its games; in fact, as I note in a few of the subsequent game profiles of specific Rand titles, there were a few of the 'Command Series' games that I liked then, and still do.

    I should also admit that you did not have a lot of time to figure out what worked graphically, and what did not. As I recall, I wasn't very impressed with Simonsen's (may he rest in peace) graphics contributions to 'BASTOGNE', 'STRATEGY I' (what a complete turkey!) or 'USN'. So, it is probably a little unfair for me to compare your early efforts with those of Simonsen once he had finally hit his creative stride -- a full two to three years after he started with SPI. And although I still don't like the map to 'OMAHA BEACH', I do admit that it is, at least, an accurate representation of the battle area; something that GDW was notoriously unlucky with in their early, 'DNA/UNT' days.

    Finally, my game reviews and ruminations may not always be fair, but they are always honest. Thus, in the past, I have had no qualms about 'torching' Jimmy Dunnigan (many times),or Redmond Simonsen (see my profile of 'AFTER THE HOLOCAUST', for example); or of taking David Isby to task for several of his designs, despite the fact that I still think that his 'SOLDIERS' is a truly great game.

    Finally, I am pleased that you stumbled onto my blog, which is, when everything is said and done, an attempt to imbue younger players with an appreciation of the many great games that emerged during the 'Golden Years' of the hobby, but are now largely forgotten.

    Best Regards, Joe

    P.S. Although I served in RVN for a little over thirty months, I really didn't have it all that bad -- I was, if the truth be told, really little more than a glorified signalman for all but about six months of my time in country. And even when I went back to work as a civilian for the Deptment of the Navy, I spent my time nice and safe in Nha Trang, on the Cham Coast.

  • I just want to add I enjoyed all the Rand games when they came out and still play them today. Von Manstein,Cambrai,Sicily,Rommel and Hitlers Last Gamble plus Vicksburg at the top.
    Rand was a important part of my early days in the hobby and have a soft spot still for the games -even the Not too good ones ;)

  • Greetings Kim:

    Thank you for visiting my blog and for taking the time to comment on some of my posts.

    Interestingly, as I have gotten older, my attitudes towards a few of the Rand games has mellowed a bit; although not my feelings about either their graphic presentation or some of their production values.

    Nonetheless, CAMBRAI, SARATOGA, and MISSILE BOAT were all surprisingly good games, given the limitations that Isby had to work under. Even VON MANSTEIN, despite its use of back-printing to increase the size of the available countermix wasn't all that bad a game; moreover, there was little else available in the hobby to directly compete with it when the Prados' design first appeared. On the other hand, there were some real "bow wows" in the mix, as well: OMAHA BEACH and WAR OF THE WORLDS II, spring immediately to mind.

    Still, when everything is said and done, I think that I got enough enjoyment out of the series to justify my subscription -- if only barely.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I was happy to see Al Zygier post here.

    I for one didn't know at the time it was David Isby who designed so many of the games until I saw them posted over on BGG.

    I had to laugh at Joe on War of the Worlds.I must of liked it enough since I bought another copy to just add in the counters for some What If campaigns and expanded variants I've been tinkering with.

    I'm planning next month to start and replay every Rand title-even the ones that had two versions-Rand & Gambit of Games.

    I did find how I like that Rand would give the Allied units in the WWII games Nato style unit symbols and the Axis the German historical style(as they are also in Streets of Stalingrad) .I found that very different but special too. I will admit Rand was the only one who could come up with symbols on the CRT for combat results .

    I thought they did great work on the style of counters(rounded edges as SDC also produced) and thicker too. a great gamers benefit.

    Mr Zygier-Thank you and also the rest of the Rand/Mornigside staff for the games when the hobby needed more diverse titles and cpmpanies. I was sad when Rand folded but the members went on to greater things and WestEnd did at least produce a couple of other titles that were ready to come out when Rand folded

    Joe-Did you post or thought of maybe a link on BGG so when someone looks at a Rand title they could click and come over here for the great review here?

  • Greetings Kim:

    Yes, Al is a real gentleman; particularly considering how badly I torched him in my essay.

    Like you, I think that there are a few of the Rand games that really do deserve to be cleaned up and reissued. Poor little SARATOGA, which I really liked (although the advanced CCC had a problem), just never seemed to get any respect.

    WAR OF THE WORLDS II (which Phil Orbanes gets to take the blame for), on the other hand, was a game that, not only did I not like (which would make sense as there are very few SciFi games that I do like), but even a couple of my friends -- who really do enjoy SciFi games -- couldn't bring themselves to endorse it, either.
    Interestingly, I still have a copy of the game, but every time I get it out with the idea of doing a profile for my blog, the liver-colored game map causes me to hastily put it away again.

    So far as linking to BGG: every once in awhile I think about it; but with so many reviews to link to, I quickly lose whatever enthusiasm I started with, and typically just go back to pounding away on my keyboard.

    Which reminds me, I was unable to find the "gamebox" forum over at CSW, so if you would like to link some of my phase record charts to it, please feel free. Don't worry about the copyright notice at the bottom: when I first started blogging, my wife (who used to be a professional technical writer) tried to copyright everything that I wrote or designed. Happily, now I can handle most of my desktop publishing tasks myself, so it is no longer a problem.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Excellent article... do you know what titles were part of Volume II?

  • Greetings Charles:

    Thank you for your kind words and your interest.

    Regarding your question about the games intended for publication as part of Rand's "Command Series II": As I uderstand it, three games were actually in the pipeline: HITLER'S LAST GAMBLE: THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE, BRANDY STATION: THE CLASH OF CAVALRY, and WELLINGTON IN THE PENNINSULA.

    I hope this helps.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Ran across this while looking up if I can get a Vicksburg and Brandy Station game.
    I believe the author was a bit harsh.
    First games in the 70's by SPI, AH, GDW were all by todays standards rather bland.
    Rand Games seemed to be trying to give us then games which were of interest and some titles not covered like they are today.
    I always like the German symbols for combat units like in RAND ww2 games and Dave Parhams Stalingrad and Longest Day.
    I see some nice games here, different by standards back then, even innovative.
    I like NAPOLEONS CAMPAIGNS 1814-15 AND LEE VS MEADE AND SICILY, SARATOGA AND ROMMEL GAME
    I purchased a Series I pack with all 9 games and a extra game Von Manstein/Panzerkrieg game and added a seperately purchased Wellington Peninsula game and found a extra red box enclosed box withthe series I held all comfortably and got it for 100 dollars in 2010.
    Good games here and happy with my purchase of the whole set, trying to get some others, but pricey for Vicksburg game in Noble Knight.
    But thanks for the time taken for writing a review I found helpful (never have tried the Hitlers Last Gamble).
    BOB JAMES
    LAFAYETTE, IN.
    also can be found on boardgamegeek for contact to play in Lafayette area.

  • Greetings Bob:

    Thanks for visiting; I hope that you connect with an opponent in the Lafayette area.

    Your view that the criticisms voiced in the above piece were a little on the uncharitable side was -- probably not surprisingly -- shared by David Isby and Al Zygier; nonetheless, I will continue to stand by my original verdicts: some of the Rand games were very good; some were mediocre; and, as might be expected, a few were real "stinkers".

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Wanted to say Omaha Beach was also in the small red Great Battles of History folder.Thats how my copy came to me.I even have Rommel set up for another go.

  • Greetings Kim:

    Alas, OMAHA BEACH -- in spite of it's interesting combat subroutine -- is not a Rand game that I have much inclination to revisit. On the other hand, I would like to see SARATOGA: 1777 redone (blocks, maybe?) and both CAMBRAI and MISSILE BOAT cleaned-up, expanded (more counters and bigger multi-colored maps and more legible charts) and upgraded in terms of overall graphical presentation.

    Regarding ROMMEL: THE WAR FOR NORTH AFRICA, it's certainly a worthwhile title for the "DAK afficiando" to own and play.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Oddly, no mention of the one game I have from Rand: The Great War 11914-1918

  • Thank you for your review Joe, and the pics. Well written; its fair enough, and fills a missing gap.

    I have rather fond memories of RAND games. I was a subscriber to both S&T and CONFLICT (by Strategic Design Corps.) at the time. I thought many of the RAND games were innovative with easy punch/rounded counters; point-to-point movement (Saratoga 1777) and area movement (Napoleon's Last Campaigns); and a form of card-driven mechanics (CDGs) when introducing the TAC Cards. RAND was definitely ahead of its time. Sure, some of the games were good and some much less so. I do not remember any being "unplayable" like many of the SPI duds. And one thing is for sure -- these games got PLAYED, whereas most of my S&T magazine games did not. Why? Perhaps they were simpler and more-manageable. Who would have thought that VPG's 20-series would be so-popular today, right? Some of my favorite games still are GDWs 120 series for the same reason. And Small Print? I challenge anyone to do a comparison to SPI's fold-out small print rules booklets. And the maps were okay, not SPI 3-color schemes, but passable IMHO.

    Maybe I'm being nostalgic; I have much the same feelings for CONFLICT magazines and a few of their games. The only bad taste that remains with me, although it has greatly subsided now after many decades, is the discontinuation without notice of Command Series II. For the record, I received all 9 games from Command Series I and Hitler's Last Gamble and Brandy Station from Command Series II (after much delay I might add), then things stopped altogether. No more games; no letter of apology from Bill Vega, President; nothing. This was somewhat disconcerting to a teenager who had just scrapped up his last few bucks to invest in his favorite hobby. [To be fair, SPI and (was it) TSR reneged on, not one, but two LIFETIME subscriptions to S&T at a much greater financial loss.]

    What CLASS ACTS from David Isby and Al Zygier for coming on here and responding professionally. For what its worth, thanks for the good times guys! Your games are fond memories of times past. RAND still owes me money, however. :)

    Steve M.

  • Greetings Steve:

    Thank you for visiting and for taking the time to contribute your own thoughts on Rand Games. To be fair, RGA at least tried to honor its commitments to its subscribers; when it came to SPI, the "life time" subscriptions (at a price that was too good to be true) that they started to push towards the end was -- at least to me and my friends -- a flashing warning that SPI's finances were in disarray and that the company probably was already on the brink of insolvency. That said, at least RGA and SPI actually produced and shipped games; I remember the flyers from a new publisher, "Flying Buffalo," that promised a whole library of new games (and all at bargain basement prices), but that, as far as I know, never shipped anything to anyone.

    Ah well, those were the days ...

    Thanks again for visiting and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Greetings Joe,

    I ran across your article and enjoyed reading it. I recently retired and got rid of a number of my old AH games. I kept the RGA games as well as Trafalgar because they were, in their way, a bit different from the standard, AH hex grid type of game.

    I think the attraction I had/have for these games was that they were not exclusively a cookie cutter type game like SPI was cranking out. The point-to-point of Saratoga reminded me of Gamescience's Confrontation as did the Tac cards (which were also a feature of that game and, in a way, their Vietnam game) which was doubtless Orbanes influence. I liked it when a designer experimented with alternative approaches to modeling a battle in game form.

    I got interested in game design when I started reading Scott Berschig's articles in S&T. It has always seemed to me that SPI just started cranking out games for the sake of cranking out games and inundated the market. Different map and OB but essentially the same type game. I do not perceive that this approach is always the best way to model a battle or campaign which is why I liked Gamescience's and RGA's alternative solutions. The games may have lacked spit and polish, but they were interesting to me as alternative solutions to a problem.

    When SPI published Bastogne, I wondered why S&T wasted time re-designing a wargame that had already been flogged to death. I had AH's original game, an OB variant by Richard Gutenkunst (he also produced a game called Iwo Jima I believe), and another, similar OB variant by S&T's Scott Berschig, both of which were probably influenced by an issue of Dunnigan's Kampf. Bastogne, to me, was worse than any of the 'travesties' produced by RGA.

    At any rate, thank you for your article. It brought back memories of my first few years as a wargamer. It has inspired me to dust off my designer's muse and once again take a look at the Great Patriotic War which has been my research and design passion ever since Scott Berschig published that (Workers and Peasants) Red Army Order of Battle in Vol. I, #3 of S&T. It will make my retirement more interesting. : )

    Peace be with you. Steve B

  • Greetings Steve:

    Thank you for visiting and for your kind words.

    It would be nice if someone with both the time and the talent could revisit a few of these titles (e.g., SARATOGA, CAMBRAI & MISSILE BOAT) with the sort of improved graphics and presentation that are now available through DTP; alas, however, I have yet to hear of any takers.

    Thanks again for visiting and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Hi Joe,

    Did you ever hear of a computer game called Harpoon? I think it was published about 25 years ago. It reminded me of Missile Boat but on a more global scale.

    Steve B

  • Greetings Steve:

    Yes, the game title 'HARPOON' does sound familiar, although I have to confess that computer games have never really interested me that much.

    I do remember that a Canadian company published a game somewhat analogous to MISSILE BOAT probably forty or so years ago. The title, as I recall, was 'RAKETNEY KREUSYER' (I'm sure the spelling is wrong), which is Russian for "Rocket Cruiser."

    Best Regards, Joe

  • At the flea market in a game convention this last weekend I picked up the whole shebang, including the red box, fora very reasonable price. Some of the games are unpunched and I have yet to inventory the ones that are, but I am looking forward to playing some of these!

  • Greetings Brian:

    Congratulations on your lucky find.

    As you probably gathered from my essay, I consider the games included in Vol. I to be pretty uneven in quality. Nonetheless, there are a few real gems in the Rand collection if you know where to look.

    For my own part, I really like SARATOGA (although it needs some sort of home-brewed AV rule), CAMBRAI, 1917 (ugly graphics but fun, fast-moving game), and, if you don't mind rereading the rules a couple of times until the game system begins to make sense, MISSILE BOAT.

    To be fair, a number of players I know as liked SICILY, and NAPOLEON'S LAST CAMPAIGNS.

    In any case, happy gaming and

    Best Regards, Joe

Post a Comment