Friday, November 7, 2008

Special Editions of Wargaming Magazines

There has been some confusion about the release of Operations magazine Special Edition No.1, particularly among fans of Advanced Squad Leader here at gamesquad. Perhaps a look at the history of wargaming magazines might ease some of the tension.

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 goal
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?


  1. This was originally posted at The comments there read:

    Rindis - 07 Nov 08 11:23
    To be fair, a good amount of the panic on the ASL side of things revolves around the knowledge that the included Iwo Jima game has a 'limited license' where MMP can only produce so many copies—ever. Given the historical ability of ASL items to go out of print and then hit sky-high prices on eBay, the idea that supplies of the magazine could be limited even for initial demand (the number of allowed copies has never been revealed, though it would seem much higher than the initial knee-jerk reaction guessed) caused a lot of teeth gnashing.

    There are further complaints about ASL content in a non-ASL venue, but most of those are from sources who seem to only be happy being unhappy.

    scrub - 07 Nov 08 15:52
    Nobody is putting a gun to anyone's head and forcing them to buy a "$40 scenario". Rindis, I love your comment about happiness -- it pretty well encompasses the issue.

    Michael Dorosh - 07 Nov 08 16:38
    As usual, Rindis, you provide a balanced perspective to the matter. One hopes that Singling will be made available via another route at some point - perhaps as a bundle with Kakazu Ridge, which was in the now sold-out Journal 2. They are reprinting Journal 2 which is great for collectors and completionists.

    I'm not sure I would like to see (speaking from a personal perspective) Singling repeated in ASL Journal simply because I was already a loyal customer and paid for it once, and have every intention of buying the Journal pretty much regardless of the content.

    Journal 2 is evidence of the ebay madness that you speak of though; before they announced the reprinting, pristine copies were going for hundreds (literally) of dollars.

    Rindis - 07 Nov 08 17:13
    From the looks of things, there may be no need of a reprint for some time. The initial feeding frenzy is over, and they still have it in stock (and the worry was it wouldn't make it through that), which means it will probably be in stock for some time to come.

    Personally, I would prefer (when the day comes) that Singling be reprinted along with the rest of Operations Special Edition #1... without the Iwo Jima game.

    I'd also like to see them reprint the out of print Annuals and Journal #1 (Especially Annual '97, the only hole left in my collection), but those weren't done digitally, and would much harder to reproduce, even for the ones that were put together by MMP, much less the in-house AH productions. So, I'm afraid we're stuck with amazingly high eBay prices on '97 (thanks to Kakazu Ridge).

    Michael Dorosh - 07 Nov 08 22:10
    Personally, I would prefer (when the day comes) that Singling be reprinted along with the rest of Operations Special Edition #1... without the Iwo Jima game.

    From a historical standpoint, I like that option the best.

    Can't think of anyone who didn't consider the publishing/licensing deal with Rage Against the Marines weird, but we shall see what the future brings as far as that goes. Some titles are too clever for their own good anyway...

  2. gamesquad comments continued:

    Egbert - 29 Nov 08 14:34
    'consider the publishing/licensing deal with Rage Against the Marines weird'
    I'm unfamiliar with this. What was weird about it?

    Michael Dorosh - 29 Nov 08 14:37
    The designer of the mini-game said "you can use my game in your magazine, but the contract shall stipulate that once you've sold 'x' units of the game, that is all you're ever allowed to sell, after which all rights return to me."

    Egbert - 29 Nov 08 21:30
    Hm, interesting. Sounds like the publisher was limiting their cost by promising there would only be a certain number of copies printed so, the game designer wrote it in the contract to hold them to it.

    Perry - 06 Apr 09 23:37
    Yet that was not the case.

    Michael Dorosh - 07 Apr 09 06:36
    I'm not comfortable with the level of speculation here. Perry, thanks for the clarification, I wonder if we could ask you to clarify further. I take it your comment is in response to Egbert's suggestion that the publisher (i.e. you?) drove the decision to limit the number of copies of Rage Against the Marines whereas others have been reporting that the game's developer was in fact the one to make that decision. I left mention of the RATM controversy out of the article deliberately as I felt it really had nothing to do with what I wanted to say about the magazine - but Rindis was correct in raising the point that there are a number of observers who became obsessed about the licensing.

    I'm not sure it matters as much as was originally feared by the prospective customers as the magazine is still available; I noticed a copy at my local hobby store just last week, so concerns that the magazine would not reach all those who wanted a copy were unfounded.

    Personally, as I wrote in the entry above, I think it is a trivial footnote that has unfortunately gotten in the way of what should really be remembered: the magazine was the most content-rich example of a "special edition" wargaming magazine in the history of the medium, and in any other respect a triumph. I suppose the fact that RATM was a "limited edition" should only serve to increase the value of the magazine.

    Michael Dorosh - 17 Apr 09 08:37
    I've added a poll in the forums to ask people there what they feel would have been appropriate content for the magazine, particularly the dissenters - i.e. those who felt there was "too much" ASL content. There is some consensus there, that this was a well put together product and a few comments of "just right" in addition to the dissenters.