June 19th, 2004

wombat

The lost worlds of SPI

For about a decade, between my freshman year in high school and a couple of years after I got married, I was an avid wargamer. I would spend entire afternoons (evenings, days, weeks...) leaning over a hexagonally-gridded paper map, pushing cardboard counters representing military units around and rolling dice to resolve combat, inflict weather on my hapless cardboard legions, and take care of other game mechanics. One of my favorite game companies was SPI, Simulations Publications Inc., not just because they produced most of the games I liked (including the incredibly large, incredibly time-consuming monstergames such as Terrible Swift Sword and War In Europe) but because they all, from Jim Dunnigan all the way down to the production staff who shoved all the maps and countersheets in the boxes, seemed to be Really Cool People, as opposed to the stuffy sorts at Avalon Hill and the obsessed fellows at TSR.

Well, in the fullness of time, coolness and creativity proved to be less important than business acumen, and SPI went out of business, having its assets purchased by the more successful TSR...which in its turn got bought by Wizards of the Coast, which in turn (along with Avalon Hill) eventually was bought out by Hasbro, which doesn't really seem to know quite what to do with some of the intellectual property it acquired...in fact, they licensed pitcher Curt Schilling's company Multiman Publishing to produce Advanced Squad Leader modules.

And here I sit with a closet full of games from SPI, their bastard nephews at Victory Games, GDW...looking at all the old games being sold on eBay for insane amounts of money. Hard to believe that nobody has tried too hard to transfer some of the old monsters into computer-assisted formats, although Sid Meier's GETTYSBURG is as reasonable a facsimile of TERRIBLE SWIFT SWORD as I'm likely to get.

You know, $30 for INVASION AMERICA really doesn't seem all that excessive...