Magazines and House Organs
The first name in wargaming magazines was The General, which went into publication in 1964, as a bi-monthly periodical devoted to supporting Avalon Hill's line of wargames, with articles on game tactics, history, and industry news. Wargaming in the modern recreational sense was in its infancy, and AH had been producing wargames for a mass market for only five years. The General was intended at first as a general interest magazine, but developed into a "house organ" in which discussion was restricted to AH published games.
Strategy & Tactics was founded in 1966 as a wargaming "fanzine", or amateur publication, by US Air Force Staff Sergeant Chris Wagner. It was intended as independent competition with The General. The magazine did not meet with commercial success, and James F. Dunnigan bought it out for a dollar, founding Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) to publish it (it was also published under the name Poultron Press).
The rest, as they say, is history. The General went on until 1998 until AH was sold to Hasbro. SPI was bought out by TSR, and S&T eventually ended up in the hands of Decision Games, who also acquired Fire & Movement, another wargaming magazine started in 1976. F&M was a true hobby (or industry, if you prefer) magazine, whereas SPI was more of a military history magazine with a game in every issue.
Other titles appeared in the early 1970s; Moves was SPI's own house organ, and discussed strategies and published variants for the games published in S&T. Panzerfaust was another fanzine that turned into Campaign when editor Don Greenwood left for Avalon Hill; it folded its tent in 1982. The Wargamer was another magazine that offered a game in each issue between 1977 and 1986, and then was resurrected in a second volume briefly from 1987 to 1990.
As The General was nearing the end of its run, The Boardgamer was founded by Bruce Monnin. Avalon Hill had been bought out by Hasbro and the future of their games was in doubt. Monnin intended to continue support for Avalon Hill products in the same way The General. The magazine never achieved high circulation and boasted only 200 subscribers although it did manage to survive for nine years. The magazine also lacked color and professional graphics.
The Gamers, under Dean Essig, who had been producing such games as the Tactical Combat Series starting with Bloody 110 in the late 1980s, had their own house organ called Operations which began publication in 1991. Many threads came together when Multi-Man Publications acquired the rights to Advanced Squad Leader as well as The Gamers line of products. Bruce Monnin later, in 2004, became editor of Operations. The stated aim of Multi-Man Publishing was to have Operations be to their line of games what The General was to Avalon Hill's line of products.
Advanced Squad Leader
ASL had been considered by many to be the premier game in the Avalon Hill line; with a dozen modules and a rulebook set in a 3 ring binder representing years of rules development, it occupied a special pride of place. It had its own periodical under Avalon Hill - the ASL Annual - which became so popular it was published twice annually for a brief period. Under MMP, a new periodial, the ASL Journal, was begun.
The development of Advanced Squad Leader into a sophisticated and complex game system made it difficult for newcomers to get into the hobby, and so the Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kits were printed by MMP; additional scenarios were published for these ASLSKs in Operations, but other ASL content was restricted to the Journal.
Operations Special Edition No. 1
In the fall of 2008, the first Special Edition of Operations was announced. For the first time, full ASL content was to be included in the magazine; including a full Historical ASL module with map, campaign game, and two scenarios, as well as a scenario for Valor of the Guards. The magazine also offered a complete mini-game (unrelated to ASL) depicting the battle for Iwo Jima complete with map and mounted counters, as well as a wealth of articles on other products in MMP's line, for the price of $40.
The controversy among some ASL collectors who now have their noses out of joint is that they feel put out by the fact that they were unable to obtain the ASL material except by purchasing the special edition of the magazine.
Special Editions in the History of the Medium
The number of "special editions" that have been produced by other publications has been low and the Operations special issue may in fact represent the most content-rich special issue ever produced for a wargaming magazine in terms of practical content. A complete game and an HASL CG between two covers seems to be something unmatched, especially with the additional scenarios, and articles for a variety of other games.
The "special editions" of Strategy & Tactics were basically historical articles and minor variant rules - they actually had less content than their normal "game in a magazine" regular issues.
The General did a "special" issue for Origins in 1988 that was basically reprints of issues they had previously run, from issues ranging from Volume 8 to Volume 24, on arcane stuff from how to pronounce Japanese ship names to a glossary of fighter pilot terminology. There was no new content.
Moves had at least two special editions, but they weren't printed out of sequence. Issue 71 in Aug-Sep 1992 was simply sub-titled as Special Edition #2. The issue was designed for the beginning wargamer, and featured an introductory mini-game, a "Basic Wargame Library" article, an article index to Moves and S&T by military period, and an article on "Basic Tactics for Beginners" as special content.
In my opinion, Operations presented something truly unique, especially in comparison to what other publications have historically offered up in their own special issues.
The goals of these special issues seems to have been the same in all cases - to welcome new players to the hobby, to provide "special" content to veteran members of the ranks, and to give a wide view of what the hobby has to offer. The General did it by offering up a broad base of its past articles. Moves did it with a handy index to its past articles and an introductory wargame. Operations hit all the bases by covering many of its popular titles with various articles, as well as appealing to new and older gamers alike with a brand new introductory-level title. It's loyal ASL fans were treated to brand new content as well - though interestingly the Singling situation had been covered in not one but two previous scenarios in "official" ASL and was now being done in "historical" form on the actual terrain.
In short, Operations was doing what all special editions had done in the past, offering broad coverage of what MMP had to offer its customers.
My final word
If Ladies Home Journal has a cover story on Barack Obama that I really want a copy of but nothing else in the magazine interests me, I have the option of either buying the magazine knowing that my money will largely be invested in that single article, or I can simply pass on the issue altogether if I feel my money is poorly spent by doing that.
My question to you
Why should that be different for ASL players?