THE 20 BEST S&T MAGAZINE GAMES FROM THE “GOLDEN AGE” OF SPI


A Subjective List of My Personal Picks of the Best S&T Magazine Insert Games Published during the 1970’s and 80’s






INTRODUCTION

A few days ago, a visitor to my blog commented that, because he had only become interested in conflict simulations a few years ago, he felt that he had missed the “Golden Age” of wargaming. Having come “late to the party,” as it were, this reader lamented that he now had to look to internet sites like mine to help him separate the early game design “nuggets” from the far more abundant “dross” of those early years. I sympathize with his problem: a great many wargame titles were produced by different (often short-lived) game publishers during the 1970’s and 80’s, both as regular commercial offerings and as magazine “insert” games; and although some of these games were truly excellent, ground-breaking designs, most, alas, were eminently forgettable. That being said, the obvious question then becomes: How does a relative newcomer to the hobby tell one category of game from the other?

Putting myself in the reader’s shoes, it occurs to me that a pretty good place to start with a “winnowing out” project like this one would be to examine some of the titles from the most prolific game publisher of the 70’s and 80’s: Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI). Moreover, since the driving force behind much of SPI’s early game production originated with the company’s magazine, S&T, it might be especially useful to look at a representative cross-section of the various S&T magazine “insert” games that were published during the years when James F. Dunnigan (design) and Redmond Simonsen (graphics) pretty much ruled the whole game design roost at SPI.

This sounds pretty easy, right? Maybe, maybe not; at six magazine games per year, old S&T titles begin to pile up in a hurry; so when it comes to actually following through with a project like this, where does one start? Stated differently: given the 100 plus magazine games produced and mailed during the two decades that are most commonly associated with the “Golden Age” of wargaming, which titles really represent the best of the S&T insert games to appear in the 70’s and 80’s? This is a tough, maybe even an impossible question to answer fairly. In reality, it is highly unlikely that any diverse group of experienced gamers would ever be able to unanimously agree on such a compilation; therefore, any such list, of necessity, would be both subjective and arbitrary. Fortunately, “subjective” and “arbitrary” both happen to be right up my street; thus, this quasi-rhetorical question provides me with the perfect excuse to catalog my own favorite picks — twenty, in all — from the many, many S&T magazine games published during the period in question. These games, I believe, should be a part of any collection of those players with a serious interest in older SPI games.

Finally, before actually getting down to the “nitty-gritty” of this self-indulgent essay, I should note that certain early S&T games were not considered for this list — whatever their other qualities — if they were published before SPI began to include “backed” counter sheets in their magazine games. In addition, a number of otherwise worthwhile titles, published in the 1980’s, were eliminated from consideration because of shoddy production practices on the part of SPI. For a time, certain later-issue S&T magazine games were mailed to subscribers with “tissue-thin” map sheets. These maps tended to split along the folds as soon as they were opened for the first or second time. Because of this serious quality control problem, all of the magazine games produced during this period — fairly or unfairly — have been omitted from the following list. That being said, the following catalog of titles represents the twenty S&T magazine games that I personally think are the best all-around “insert” games from this early period in the development of the wargaming hobby.

MY PERSONAL “TOP TWENTY” S&T MAGAZINE GAME PICKS


1. USN, S&T #29 (Nov-Dec 1971)

Designed by James F. Dunnigan, with help from John Young and Robert Champer, SPI broke new ground with this strategic air-land-sea simulation of World War II in the Pacific. The game map covers virtually all of the Pacific War battle area from China to the U.S. West Coast, and from the Aleutians to Australia; units typically represent individual capital ships, air groups, and, in the case of ground units, regiments or divisions. USN offers four short Battle scenarios (mini-games); two longer Campaign scenarios; and an “extended” Campaign game. Almost a monster game in scope, if not in scale, the ambitiousness of the game’s design really exceeded SPI’s capabilities at the time of its publication; however, many of the ideas that first appeared in USN would resurface later in SOLOMONS CAMPAIGN (1973) and FAST CARRIERS (1975). USN is not necessarily a playable game in the conventional sense, but it is, nonetheless, still a very interesting one.

2. BORODINO, S&T #32 (May-Jun 1972)

Designed by one of my favorite SPI designers, John Michael Young, BORODINO is a grand tactical simulation of the clash, in September 1812, between Napoleon’s invading French army and the troops of Marshal Prince Kutuzov’s Russian army who had taken up strong defensive positions to block a French advance towards Moscow. Based on the popular NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO (NAW) Game System, BORODINO offers three relatively short scenarios as well as a “three day” Campaign Game. Like NAW, the game is easy to learn and fun to play. Moreover, not only is BORODINO a great introductory title for beginners, it is also a super “beer and pretzels” game for experienced players. Simple, fast-playing, challenging, and enjoyable, this is one of the few magazine games that I would personally classify as a MUST OWN for virtually any category of gamer.

3. WINTER WAR, S&T #33 (Jul-Aug 1972)

Designed by James F. Goff, WINTER WAR: The Russo-Finnish Conflict, November 1939-March 1940 is an operational-level simulation of the Russian invasion of Finland in winter 1939, and of tiny, out-numbered Finland’s dogged resistance until spring 1940. The game's mechanics are comparatively simple; it is the difficult nature of the battle area — particularly for the Soviets — that really makes WINTER WAR challenging. The Russians begin the game with an overwhelming advantage in rifle strength, but appearances are deceiving: supply and deployment restrictions, in concert with special Finnish retreat rules, severely limit the ability of the Soviet commander to bring his combat power to bear against the tough and elusive Finns. Interestingly, as published, the game actually heavily favors the Finns; however, a number of different post-publication rules “fixes” have been proposed to restore play-balance. WINTER WAR is probably not for everyone, but for those players with an interest in this almost-forgotten historical episode, it is an intriguing little game about a seldom-examined conflict.

4. YEAR OF THE RAT, S&T #35 (Nov-Dec 1972)

Designed by John Prados (who also authored THIRD REICH) with some help from Jim Dunnigan, YEAR OF THE RAT: Combat in Vietnam, Spring 1972 is an operational-level simulation of the Communist Spring offensive against the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), in 1972. This is the only game dealing with the Vietnam War on this list. Admittedly, there is little about Prado’s ‘move-fight’ design that is truly innovative; nonetheless, the mix of limited intelligence, American airpower, South Vietnamese air-mobile units, and powerful Communist combat forces works together very well, and almost always produces an exciting and usually very hotly-contested game.

5. DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER, S&T #36 (Jan-Feb 1973)

Despite its uninspiring title and bland graphics, James Dunnigan’s DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER: The Soviet Summer Offensive, 1944 is actually an interesting operational simulation — based on the KURSK Game System — of the Red Army’s brilliantly successful “Operation Bagration.” This offensive destroyed an entire German Army Group and tore a 250 mile gap in the Axis frontline in Poland in summer, 1944. The German player in the Historical Scenario will have his work cut out for him avoiding the fate of his historical counterpart, but with exactly the right blend of audacity and careful defensive play, he just might be able to turn the tables on an unsuspecting or overconfident Russian commander. Players will tend to like or dislike this game based on their view of the challenging defensive problem confronting the Germans. For my own part, I find it quite engaging; other players, however, may well find the German situation a bit too depressing to interest them.

6. PANZER ARMEE AFRIKA, S&T #40 (Sep-Oct 1973)

It’s not every day that players open up a game and see combat units with mobility ratings of 40 to 60 movement points; nonetheless, such is the case with James Dunnigan’s PANZER ARMEE AFRIKA, a regimental-level simulation of the most decisive months of the seesaw North African struggle between Axis and Commonwealth forces in 1941-42. Almost everything about this game sets it apart from other titles that have attempted to deal with this popular topic. Thus, players will have to rethink their favorite strategies as they cope with unexpected design features such as: a ‘strength differential’ CRT; special supply rules that dramatically influence the combat effectiveness of attacks; and, perhaps most frustrating of all, the built-in, random hex-based movement inhibitions on Commonwealth forces. Players may love this game or they may hate it, but whatever one’s opinion, no one can accuse Dunnigan of being afraid to “think outside the box” when it comes to this innovative and ingenious new take on the battle for North Africa.

7. WOLFPACK, S&T #47 (Nov-Dec 1974)

This is the only game on this list that was specifically intended to be played “solitaire.” Designed by James F. Dunnigan (who else?), WOLFPACK: Submarine warfare in the North Atlantic, 1942-44, pits an ‘active’ Axis player against an ‘inactive’ Allied antagonist. The game system determines the routing and composition of the crucially important North Atlantic convoys to Britain and adjusts to simulate changes and improvements in Allied convoy protection as the war progresses. This type of design approach is not really going to please everyone, but, as solitaire game systems go, this one actually works pretty well. As an added plus, it is one of the very few simulations — published by anyone — to examine the Battle of the North Atlantic at the strategic level.

8. FREDERICK THE GREAT, S&T #49 (Mar-Apr 1975)

Designed by Frank Davis and Edward Curran, FREDERICK THE GREAT: The Campaigns of the Soldier King, 1756-1759 is one of those real finds among S&T inserts: a game that turns out to be vastly better than either its title or its somewhat nondescript game components would otherwise suggest. This cleverly-designed gem of a game is an operational-level simulation of warfare during the Seven years War and, as such, focuses on the critical importance of leadership and logistics. The rules are clear and intuitively reasonable, and the various scenarios are virtually all exciting and challenging. Even more importantly, the game’s two designers succeed surprisingly well in conveying the limitations and battlefield dynamics of warfare as practiced during the time of the great Prussian soldier-king. FREDERICK THE GREAT, as noted earlier, is not particularly impressive at first glance, but, once mastered, the game is — in my opinion, at least — a minor masterpiece. Unfortunately, the historical period showcased in FREDERICK THE GREAT is not especially popular with most players; and for that reason, although I personally think that it is a truly brilliantly-crafted game, I will refrain from recommending it as a MUST OWN.

9. BATTLE FOR GERMANY, S&T #50 (May-Jun 1975)

Based on the popular NAW Game System, James F. Dunnigan’s BATTLE FOR GERMANY: The Destruction of the Reich, Dec. 1944 – May 1945 is a strategic (corps/army/front) simulation of the final death throes of Hitler’s Third Reich. Although the NAW-based game system is both simple and familiar, the design feature that really sets this game apart from most other titles is that each of the two opposing players controls the Allied forces on one front and, at the same time, the German forces on the other front. This means, for example, that the same player will control the Red Army in the east and the German forces in the west. Admittedly, this title is exceedingly light on historical detail (no logistical or air rules, for instance), but the design approach is still, I believe, intriguing enough to warrant inclusion on this list. And, I might add, it is actually a surprisingly enjoyable game for both novice and experienced players, alike. In fact, this clever little game has good enough marks in both the design innovation and pure enjoyment categories that I would rate it as a MUST OWN.

10. WORLD WAR 1, S&T #51 (Jul-Aug 1975)

Games about the First World War seem, with monotonous regularity, to be too time-consuming, too cumbersome, too boring, or, in some of the most unfortunate cases, to be all three. James F. Dunnigan’s WORLD WAR 1: 1914-1918 — which borrows ideas from WORLD WAR II and THIRD REICH — demonstrates none of these common failings. On the contrary, Dunnigan’s strategic (army level) simulation is small enough to be played on a regular game table; it is relatively easy to learn; and it can be played to a conclusion in one sitting. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, based on my own experience with the game, I’m not totally convinced that the Central Powers can win. On the other hand, whenever I offer this criticism around other gamers, there are always a few players who are quick to disagree; so, maybe I’m simply missing something. In any case, WORLD WAR 1 is actually an interesting and consistently enjoyable little game to play, win or lose.

11. THE PUNIC WARS, S&T #53 (Nov-Dec 1975)

Designed by Irad B. Hardy, THE PUNIC WARS: Rome vs. Carthage, 264-146 B.C. is a strategic level simulation of the century-long struggle between Rome and Carthage for military, political, and economic dominance of the Mediterranean Basin. Rome and Carthage fought three separate wars before the Carthaginian Empire was destroyed and Rome’s ascendancy was finally assured, and each of these conflicts is represented by a different “open-ended” scenario. This title is not one of my personal favorites — I’m not particularly keen on the “sword and shield” genre of games, myself — however, because of its general popularity among my circle of regular opponents, I have included it on this list.

12. BREITENFELD, S&T #55 (Mar-Apr 1976)

On 17 September 1631, the Protestant Swedish Army, commanded by Gustavus Adolphus, and the Catholic Imperialist Army, under Tilly, formed for battle near the small German hamlet of Breitenfeld. Jay A. Nelson’s design, BREITENFELD: Triumph of the Swedish System, 17 September 1631, offers a grand tactical simulation of this pivotal battle in the Thirty Years War. BREITENFELD is both a “stand alone” title and an introduction to SPI’s THIRTY YEARS WAR (Quad) Game System. The game itself is easy to learn, fast-moving, and somewhat similar in feel to BORODINO. However, Nelson’s design adds leaders and a few other clever rules wrinkles that combine to make this title a unique and interesting challenge for novice and experienced gamers, alike. Admittedly, this is not a particularly detailed simulation; nonetheless, BREITENFELD still gets high marks for playability as a classic “beer and pretzels” game.

13. PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN, S&T #57 (Jul-Aug 1976)

Although this title is based loosely on the KURSK Game System, James F. Dunnigan’s PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN: Battle of Smolensk, July 1941 combines so many familiar game concepts with completely fresh design ideas — multiple movement phases, unknown Russian Unit strengths, headquarters-based Russian supply, step-reduction, liberalized overrun rules (to name only a few) — that it spawned a whole new simulation platform for World War II operational armored combat. Not only that, but it is also a great game! Matches are always fast moving, action-packed, and incredibly exciting (or nerve-racking) to play. Moreover, because of the sheer dynamism of the game system, PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN really raised the bar for the entire hobby when it came to simulating armored engagements at the regimental/divisional level. And given this title’s many design strengths, it should come as no surprise that I consider PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN to be absolutely a MUST OWN for anyone with even a passing interest in World War II combat.

14. ROAD TO RICHMOND, S&T #60 (Jan-Feb 1977)

Designed by Joe Angiolillo, ROAD TO RICHMOND: Seven Days’ Battles, June 26-28, 1862 is grand-tactical (brigade-level) simulation — based loosely on the NAW Game System — of the Union army’s attempt, as part of the “Peninsula Campaign,” to capture the capital of the rebellious South, Richmond, in the spring of 1862. The game pits a powerful invading Yankee army, under McClellan, against a defending Confederate force, under R.E. Lee. ROAD TO RICHMOND is easy to learn and fun to play and, although it offers nothing new in the realm of game design, it is included on this list because it does serve as a useful introduction to the extensive collection of American Civil War titles published by SPI as part of the popular BLUE & GRAY series of games.

15. OCTOBER WAR, S&T #61 (Mar-Apr 1977)

This is the only tactical-level armored game included on this list and — so far as I am concerned, at least — it is far and away the best design of its type ever published as an S&T “insert” game by SPI. Designed by Irad B. Hardy, OCTOBER WAR: Tactical Armored Conflict in the Yom Kippur Conflict is a tactical (platoon-level) simulation based loosely on the MECH WAR ’77 Game System, but with a few new touches added (step losses are in), and virtually all of the awkward, cumbersome elements (“si-move” is out) of the original design platform having been eliminated. This richly-textured tactical game is not simple to learn or to master, but it plays extremely well and, even better, combat tends to produce historically plausible outcomes. A number of newer armored game systems have surfaced since OCTOBER WAR first appeared in 1977, but it still, despite its age, manages to deliver the goods in match after match. If the game has any failing at all, it is that there are only ten scenarios (eight short and two longer campaign games) included with the basic design; thus, additional scenarios would definitely be a plus for this challenging, highly-playable title. Obviously, if modern armored combat is not your thing, then you should probably give this title a pass; for “armored buffs,” however, this game is definitely a MUST OWN.

16. COBRA, S&T #65 (Nov-Dec 1977)

Brad E. Hessel’s design, COBRA: Patton’s 1944 Summer offensive in France, is an operational level simulation — based on the PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN (PGG) Game System — of the Allied breakout from the Normandy Peninsula in the summer of 1944. Although similar to its East Front precursor, COBRA offers players a uniquely different West Front battlefield situation to explore; thus, the design, while retaining the basic PGG architecture, incorporates a number of game refinements and even a few major rules changes from Dunnigan’s original design to reflect the special operational conditions in France, in 1944. Gone, for instance, are the dreaded “unknown” unit strengths that so torment the Russian player in PGG; leaders and headquarters are still present in COBRA, however, and command and control is now a critical consideration to both sides’ operational planning. In addition, the rules governing supply have been made more restrictive, particularly for the Allies; and weather effects, completely absent from the original East Front title, have a crucial effect on Axis operations in COBRA. Opinions among gamers tend to differ fairly widely on this title, but since I personally like it, it makes it onto my list.

17. STONEWALL, S&T #67 (Mar-Apr 1978)

This is the perfect game for those players who are interested in trying TERRIBLE SWIFT SWORD (1976) but who don’t want to take on too much, all at once. Mark Herman’s STONEWALL: The Battle of Kernstown March 23, 1862 is a grand-tactical (regimental-level) simulation of the clash, in and around the Shenandoah Valley hamlet of Kernstown, between Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s out-numbered Confederate force and a Union division, under the command of Brigadier General James Shields. Although the piece density for both sides in this title is low, this is not a simple game either to learn or to play; nonetheless, for players with an interest in the War Between the States, this is an excellent introduction both to Richard Berg’s TERRIBLE SWIFT SWORD (TSS) Game System and to the many follow-up titles published by GMT as part of its GREAT BATTLES OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR (GBACW) Game Series. Of course, those players who don’t want to keep track of battlefield factors like elevation, ammunition stores, and unit fatigue (just to name a few) should probably give this title a pass.

18. THE CRUSADES, S&T #70 (Sep-Oct 1978)

Designed by the prolific, if sometimes obtuse, Richard Berg, THE CRUSADES is a strategic/operational simulation of two different European invasions of the Holy Land: the Third Crusade (1191-1192 A.D.); and the First Crusade (1097 A.D.). This is not, by the way, an easy game to learn; in fact, prospective players need to be aware of the fact that some of the game’s rules tend to fluctuate between the merely confusing to the almost incomprehensible. For this reason, although Berg introduces a number of clever concepts into the total design mix, this game definitely requires some thoughtful rules work on the part of players to actually make it playable. In spite of its several shortcomings, however, THE CRUSADES has been chosen mainly because the First Crusade Scenario (admittedly, after some creative rules tweaking) works very well as multi-player game, and it seems only reasonable that I include at least one multi-player title with this collection.

19. NEY VS. WELLINGTON, S&T #74 (May-Jun 1979)

The Napoleonic Wars have been a topic of special interest to me for many years; hence it should come as no surprise that I am always interested in simulations that deal with this colorful era, particularly when they do so in an innovative and historically persuasive way. Joseph M. Balkoski’s battalion-level simulation of Napoleonic combat, NEY vs. WELLINGTON, is, quite possibly, the best small-scale (regular game table) treatment of tactical warfare in the Age of Napoleon that I have ever played. Of course, the designer did not simply invent NEY vs. WELLINGTON out of “whole cloth.” Balkoski’s game design, good as it is, is actually based on Frank Davis’ brilliant monster simulation of the Battle of Waterloo, WELLINGTON’S VICTORY, and except for a much smaller game map and a significantly lower unit count, the basic rules architecture underpinning both games — while not identical — is very similar. For this reason, NEY vs. WELLINGTON is both a superb game in its own right, and an excellent introduction to Davis’ much larger, more richly-textured, tactical–level treatment of the entire Battle of Waterloo. Needless-to-say, this title will not appeal to every type of gamer, but for Napoleonic War buffs like me, it is definitely a MUST OWN.

20. FIFTH CORPS, S&T #82 (Sep-Oct 1980)

Designed by James F. Dunnigan, FIFTH CORPS: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda, is a simulation of a hypothetical clash between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in the Fulda Gap region of Germany, sometime in the 1980’s. This is the first — and, in my opinion, the best — of the SPI CENTRAL FRONT Series of Games (the other titles in this series are BAOR, HOF GAP, NORTH GERMAN PLAIN, and DONAU FRONT). The ingenious movement/combat system first introduced in this title (with its use of “friction” points), although far from either simple or fast-moving, is really quite clever. Admittedly, the game can reasonably be faulted in a few areas, but the several scenarios (although a little time-consuming to get through) are interesting and, more importantly, they also tend to generate a surprisingly realistic period feel as the action develops. FIFTH CORPS is certainly not a great game; nonetheless, I believe that it contains enough intriguing and fresh design ideas to warrant the final place on this list.

CONCLUSION

When I initially contemplated this project, I only planned on cataloguing five or so S&T magazine titles that, when they first appeared, I felt were both clearly representative of the design trends at SPI at the time of their publication, and that were also notable for their quality, purely as games. In essence: a sort of “short list” of the greatest “insert” games from the 1970’s and 80’s. That was the plan, anyway. Somehow, in spite of my best efforts, the list got longer and longer, and I finally simply pulled the plug at twenty games; which, if the truth be known, is probably at least five titles too many. Be that as it may, this collection of games — for better or worse — is the one that I have decided to stick with. Of course, I am absolutely positive that my picks of the best twenty S&T magazine games from the 1970’s and 80’s are not going to meet with everyone’s approval. That’s as it should be. Individual players will inevitably differ when it comes to their personal tastes in games; so I’m sure that any number of visitors to my blog will take exception to one or more of my choices. Moreover, I’m certain that, in almost every instance of disagreement, a strong case can be made for an alternative choice. In a number of different instances, I could make such a case, myself. So, to those readers who disagree with my selections, I invite you to present your own picks; after all, that’s why there is a “comments” section at the end of each of my posts!

Related Blog Posts

  1. THE 20 BEST S&T MAGAZINE GAMES FROM THE “GOLDEN AGE” OF SPI
    A Subjective List of My Personal Picks of the Best S&T Magazine Insert Games Published during the 1970’s and 80’s
  2. THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART I ,S&T Issues # 38, 41, 43, 45 & 48
  3. THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART II ,S&T Issues #’s 37, 39, 42, 44, & 46
  4.  THE ‘ALSO RANS’: S&T INSERT GAMES THAT FAILED TO MAKE IT ONTO MY ‘TOP 20’ FAVORITES LIST, PART III , S&T Issues #’s 52, 54, 56, 58 & 59

17 comments:

  • Eugene Reynolds said...

    Aloha, Joe,

    I find it difficult to disagree with your choices for S&T issue games. I started my subscription with WOLFPACK (#47) and ran through to The End of SPI (issue #90). Plus, my high-school games club advisor was a HUGE BORODINO maven, so we got to enjoy being defeated by him in that wonderful Napoleonic game.

    Of the issue games of my personal acquaintance, I particularly liked BATTLE FOR GERMANY (WW2), WORLD WAR 1, BREITENFELD, PANZERGRUPPE GUDERIAN, and OCTOBER WAR.

    FREDERICK THE GREAT and THE PUNIC WARS also have a lot to recommend them, but I just never fell in love with them for some reason (akin to my fumbling with COBRA, no doubt).

    I would also toss in some shout-outs to FIGHTING SAIL (#85) (and yes, I have played WOODEN SHIPS AND IRON MEN as well as Mark Campbell's major upgrade, CLOSE ACTION) and CEDAR MOUNTAIN (#86).

  • Greetings Eugene:

    It is nice to hear from you, as always.

    Regarding some of the later titles that you rightly mentioned: more recently published magazine games like FIGHTING SAIL, SICILY, and MONMOUTH were all eliminated from consideration because of "shoddy" production values (usually tissue-thin game maps) on the part of SPI.

    By the way, for a slightly different (European) take on the topic of the best of the older S&T "insert" games, you should visit Jean-Luc Synave's blog "Bir hacheim.com" which is listed (with a link) in my side-bar.

    Also, before I forget to ask: Have you had an opportunity to try "BREAKOUT & PURSUIT" yet? I still believe that you will find this game to be well worth your time.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Eugene Reynolds said...

    Aloha, Joe,

    I appreciate your disdain for the lesser production values of late-SPI STRATEGY & TACTICS. In its defense, FIGHTING SAIL did not require much of a map, just squares of open ocean, not unlike the fabulous map for DREADNOUGHT. *Grin*

    I have not tracked down a copy of BREAKOUT & PURSUIT yet, but I will keep an eye open for it.

    Thanks for the recommendation of Mr. Synave's blog. I will follow the link and see where it leads.

    - Eugene

  • As always, it is extremely hard to fault your logic on choosing these games. A solid 20 without a doubt. Wolfpack and World War I are not on my list - my loss, I am sure.

    However, I have to argue that two of their finest games, in my humble opinion - Cedar Mountain and Monmouth are certainly worth the time.

    I was surprised and pleased to see Year of the Rat on your list. It rarely gets any notice, and as it was my first SPI wargame, I think, it certainly has always held my interest.

    Again, thank you for this overview - but I would of course enjoy reading your usual detailed review of any or all of these!

    ---Russ

  • Greetings Russ:

    You mention some interesting titles that, were it not for SPI's cheap and shoddy production values during the period when they were published, would probably have made it onto my list. I'm not sure that I am as keen on "CEDAR MOUNTAIN" as you are, but "MONMOUTH" would definitely have made my list (I really wanted to include an American Revolutionary War game among my recommendations) if only the game map had not literally split along the center-fold when I first removed it from the mailer. I can overlook a lot when it comes to murky rules writing and uninspired graphics; however, games that self-destruct before they have even been played tend to lose my interest, almost instantly.

    Best Regards, Joe

    P.S. I have done long reviews on a number of these titles, already. Who knows, I might get around to some of the others, as time goes by.

  • An excellent list, much of which I agree with wholeheartedly. My only issue is with the severity of your disapproval of production values at certain times; I may be unusually gentle with my toys, but I've never, ever experienced an undue problem in this regard.

    Tim Alanthwaite

  • Greetings Tim:

    thank you, as always, both for your interest and for your helpful comments.

    You are not the only one of my readers to take me to task for barring some of the S&T titles because of production defects: Russ Gifford also takes your side, at least as regards "MONMOUTH" and "CEDAR MOUTAIN." Unfortunately, my problems with SPI extended beyond one or two games.

    First, I should probably explain how I handle titles with unmounted maps. I al ways place a paper map under a clear piece of plexiglass (no tape or pins) so that the playing surface lies flat and the game map is protected from accidental stains. Second -- and much to my wife's bemusement -- after carefully punching and trimming the counters, I always handle the game pieces with tweezers (I have several different sizes for use with varying types of pieces). So, I am, if anything, probably overly careful with my games. Hence, my frustration with the quality of the first post-Dunnigan batch of S&T titles.

    In the space of a year and a half, I received one title after another that had defective maps: "SICILY," which split along two folds, as soon as it was opened for the first time; "MONMOUTH," pretty much the same; and most egregious example, of all, "FIGHTING SAIL," whose game map split completely in half upon being unfolded.

    I grant you that an occasional production defect is to be expected, but during a certain period in SPI's history, such problems seemed to become the rule rather than the exception. That being said, it is always possible that I was simply unlucky, but my attitude towards these several games remains sour to this day.

    Thanks again for your contributions to my blog and Best Regards,
    Joe

  • Interessantissimo e affascinante sito !
    I miei più sinceri complimenti!
    Cordiali saluti!
    Fabio Rizzo


    Very interesting and fascinating site!
    My most sincere congratulations!
    Best Regards
    Fabio Rizzo - Italy

  • Greetings Fabio:

    Thank you for your kind words and especially for your interest.

    It is reassuring to see that, even after all these years, there is a large and growing international community of gamers that still play and appreciate many of the older titles.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment on my blog and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Joe--a terrific list. Best of all, your descriptions of the games are particularly accurate. For myself, I also enjoyed the Victory In the West games that came out (PATTON'S THIRD ARMY, OPERATION GRENADE, and--my favorite--SICILY). Admittedly none of them come up to the level of most of the games on this list, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. BAOR I liked almost as much as FIFTH CORPS, and I also have a soft spot for VERACRUZ, although I understand it wasn't much appreciated.

  • Greetings Eric:

    Thanks, as always, for your contributions to my blog.

    So far as the "Victory in the West" series of games is concerned, I didn't find OPERATION GRENADE all that interesting (I suspect that the basic situation had something to do with my lack of enthusiam), but PATTON'S THIRD ARMY probably would have made it onto the list, if I had decided to increase the number of titles to twenty-five from twenty.

    Also, you and I seem to be about the only two players that I have encountered who really like VERACRUZ. I found the design innovative and challenging; unfortunately, most of my regular opponenets found the combat resolution procedure either cumbersome or murky, or both. Such are the vagaries of the "cardboard wars," I suppose.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • LoL-You could have made it at least favorite 25 S&T's ;)

    OK,Here is my top 25 favorite S&T's and in no order(I could stop at just 20).

    France 40,
    Breitenfeld,
    Winter War,
    Borodino,
    Panzer Gruppe Guderian,
    Cobra,
    Battle for Germany,
    Road to Richmand,
    Rennaissance of Infantry,
    Centurion,
    Armageddon,
    Destruction of Army Group Center,
    The East is Red,
    Kharkov,
    Napoleon's Art of War,
    Berlin 85,
    Ney vs Wellington,
    Stonewall,
    Wilson's Creek,
    Cedar Mountain,
    Battle of Monmouth,
    The Kaisers Battle,
    Operation Grenade,
    The China War,
    Veracruz

    Have to admit but the early S&T's were pretty good on the whole and a hard choice picking even 25 games. I even liked Dixie!

  • Greetings Kim:

    It looks like you, me, and Eric walters are probably about the only fans that VERACRUZ has!

    I notice that you included a bunch of the Prestags precursors on your list. As I think I mentioned before, I'm not a real "sword and shield" kind of player; so, you can imagine my delight when SPI redesigned and reissued all of those early games. Having hunored a couple of my regular opponents who loved those early tactical games, I then had to go back and play through the scenarios of the reissued versions!

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Played some of these and they were great games. I just found your blog here and what bugs me the most is no one near me plays these things and I still have afew games around. I will be reading more and searching for a game, Keep up the good work, brought back some good memories

  • Greetings Anon:

    Thanks for visiting; I appreciate your interest.

    Yes, finding opponents can sometimes be difficult; fortunately, we live in an electronic age. That being said, I would suggest you check out the following:

    "Hexwars", which offers both free and subscription games (you pay a monthly fee to play online), including a number of SPI titles.

    "Consimworld", which offers a number of game-specific forums; however, you must sign up in order to actually leave comments on any of the many, many forums.

    "Boardgamegeek" which also offers a number of game-specific forums, as well as other possible ways of contacting potential opponents

    Finally, besides the sample Game Spreadsheets that I have posted on my site (e.g., PANZER LEADER, WAGRAM, MARENGO, WATERLOO, AFRIKA KORPS, etc.) to make PBeM play easier, there are also a number of relatively easy-to-use internet game platforms such as "Zun Tzu", "VASSAL", and "CYBERBOARD", just to name a few.

    Good luck with your gaming and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • Hi Joe,

    Great list.

    I would probably have Renaissance of Infantry (reissued with die cut counters), along with Sixth Fleet, in there ahead of Road to Richmond and Wolfpack. Otherwise pretty much agree.

    I'm a big fan of the scale and scope of Sixth Fleet, and have developed some additional DTP scenarios for it, together with a a few tweaks to the game system.

    I'll admit to bias though - I started wargaming in 1974, and a friend had an S&T subscription that started at about #43 (American Civil War - a ground breaking game in its own right in terms of the strategic concepts and mechanics it introduced). We played them all, and the Jedko campaign games, and mostly side-stepped the Avalon Hill standards.

    The first S&T I acquired was #52, Oil War (and I still see that as a game that was underated because the game mechanics of using air cover were widely misunderstood) but I soon had copies of of the earlier issues back to #48 as well.

    IWR

  • Greetings IanR:

    Thanks for visiting; and for staying long enough to share your thoughts.

    Regarding '6th FLEET': I personally found the game interesting, but frustrating. Of course, since I never really developed what I felt was an effective "operational doctrine" for this title, my games (even when I won) always left me a little dissatisfied.

    Redmond Simonsen's 'AMERICAN CIVIL WAR', on the other hand, just never "floated my boat". I personally found the game mechanics somewhat cumbersome and even boring. Granted, one problem could have been the scale of this "table top" game; although I should note that Frank Chadwick's somewhat similarly-scaled strategic treatment of the War between the States, 'A HOUSE DIVIDED', I liked then, and still like today.

    Best Regards, Joe

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