Friday, April 9, 2021

"That Bastion of Socialist Game Design"

SPI is well known for its publication of the famed wargames magazine Strategy & Tactics, but the company also published a second periodical, Moves, which first appeared in 1972. Whereas S&T was a more general wargames magazine, Moves focused on the play and design of specific games, providing play reports, variants, new scenarios, and reviews. 

Recently, I was reading issue #35 of Moves (October/November 1977) and came across an article entitled "Captain Video Returns." The article is a collection of brief reviews of science fiction games, both wargames and RPGs, the author, Phil Kosnett, came across at Origins 1977, held that year in New York. Among the reviews is a glowing one of GDW's Traveller. I reproduce the entirety of the review below for the benefit of readers. Take note of its first sentence.

I assume – without proof, mind you – that calling GDW "that bastion of socialist game design" is a joke, a bit of gentle ribbing at GDW's expense, but perhaps there's more to the comment than I know. If anyone can shed some light on this matter, I'd be appreciative.

28 comments:

  1. Interesting that he says it was the best science fiction rpg thst he has ever seen; at thst point, was it not the only science fiction rpg available? St. Andre's Starfaring beat its release by a bit, but was never widely available... Or am I misremembering?

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    1. You're pretty much correct. In fact, the "in contrast" at the start of the review is there because he'd reviewed Starfaring in the previous paragraph. Metamorphosis Alpha is the only other significant SF RPG I can think of prior to 1977 and it's not quite in the same genre.

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    2. Can you post the Starfaring review so we can see the contrast? I did not consider MA either, as while it is SF, it is indeed in a distinct subgenre...

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    3. I'll try to do it later today, if I have the time.

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  2. That's a really weird comment, and a really weird joke (if that's what it is).

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  3. Perhaps it’s a play on “GDR” (East Germany)?

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  4. GDW always came across as 'red blooded Americans' - Twilight: 2000 got quite a slagging off in the pages of White Dwarf - so I'm guessing sarcasm.

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    1. That's my guess too, but it's always hard to say for certain.

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    2. The only thing I can think of is that GDW seemed to mostly work as a collaborative team on their designs, so while Marc Miller was the primary designer and credited author on Traveller all of the other guys also contributed and were involved, which is perhaps different than how some other companies worked?

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  5. A $12 RPG being overpriced is amusing.

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    1. Adjusting for inflation, that's close to $50 in today's money, I think.

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    2. Yeah, the "expensive" nature of RPGs has always been a complaint by the fans since Day One. Sure, $10 (OD&D) or $12 (Traveller) back then were princely sums at equivalent to more than $50 in today's money, but even today, a full-color book with art and graphics the likes of which were not even dreamed of in that day costs... $50. And that is if you buy it at a game store instead of at almost half-price at Amazon or the like.

      Many gamers have always been cheap, miserly types. Dinner for two today at a nice restaurant costs $50. Movies for four cost... $50 (not counting snacks!) A simple phone plan and internet connection for a MONTH costs twice that. PER MONTH.

      $50 for a book that gives you a lifetime of fun and friendship? DIRT CHEAP. And people still complain. Sad and pathetic.

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    3. >>Dinner for two today at a nice restaurant costs $50<<

      Heh, on Tuesday board games evening I paid £67 for Sushi delivery for me and a female friend here in London - well it was her game. :)

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    4. Closer to $55.50 by the conversion calculator I'm using. Bit steep for three slim softcover black & white staple-bound books even back then, but of course modern printing standards are better than the old days. The relative costs of printing in color and hardcover have declined and glued bindings are usually more durable, although saddle-stitching is a bit more expensive now.

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    5. As James Mishler rightly points out, gamers have always been parsimonious. For as long as I can remember, reviews have regularly included included complaints about how expensive this or that product was.

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  6. Where does the racial intolerance come from? I don't recall the original 3LBB mentioning races at all.

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    1. Good question. Was there mention of the Villani/Solomani divide that led to the Rule of Man, maybe? Certainly some racism there.

      Or maybe they meant "species bias" and were talking about aliens like the Droyne, Vargr, and Aslan? Don't recall them being mentioned either, but I could be wrong.

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    2. I don't know what he's talking about, honestly. The original three LBBs from 1977 contain no setting of any kind.

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    3. Do the original rules include the note that “characters can be of any race and either sex” neither of which have any statistical impact? I know that shows up in later versions, but my boxed set isn’t handy to check. If so, that’s presumably what is being referenced here. Not that the rules support racial intolerance as that they bother to address it at all.

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    4. Page 8 of Book 1 (4th print, 1977) says "Nowhere in these rules is a specific requirement for any character (player or non-player) be of any specific gender or race. Any character is potentially of any race or of either sex."

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  7. I am approximately 90% certain that the author of that review is this Phil Kosnett.

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    1. He's probably also the same Phil Kosnett that was active in the Star Fleet Battles community for decades, and may still be for all I know. Very much a lapsed player since the early 2000s.

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  8. Cradle to grave - all encompassing and done for you. No need to devise your own as it's been thought out and coveted. I am myself "going out on a limb" by saying this, but that may be what Kosnett means by the term "socialist". It is the 1970s!

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    1. That seems like the best and most likely explanation for what was meant - that GDW’s games are so all-encompassing.

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  9. I think the odd reference to socialism is due to the work of the game designers at GDW just a few years earlier. Frank Chadwick, Rich Banner, and Marc Miller (the latter, of course, being the main designer behind Traveller) had earlier collaborated on wargames to simulate the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the Soviet counterattack in WWII. That's how GDW got going. My guess is that the reviewer who called GDW a bastion of socialism was thinking of these eastern European wargames simulating battles between the USSR and the National Socialists (Nazis), starting with *Drang nach Osten!*

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    1. Drang nach Osten was my guess. I never played, but I assume after the first year the Soviets start winning and never stop.

      But this may have been too early for Waffenboo nonsense.

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