Simulation Publications

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Simulations Publications, Inc.
Industry gaming
Fate bankrupt, assets acquired
Successors TSR
Founded 1969
Defunct 1982
Headquarters 44 East 23rd Street, New York City; later moved to 257 Park Avenue South
Key people James F. Dunnigan (Founder), Redmond A. Simonsen (Art director), Howie Barasch (marketing manager)
Products Strategy & Tactics magazine, Ares magazine, board games, wargames

Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) was an influential American publisher of board wargames and related magazines, particularly its flagship Strategy & Tactics, in the 1970s and early 1980s. It produced an enormous number of games and introduced innovative practices, changing the course of the wargaming hobby in its bid to take control of the hobby away from then-dominant Avalon Hill. It went bankrupt in 1982. TSR acquired the company's trademarks and copyrights in 1983.[1]

History[edit]

The company was founded in 1969 by James F. Dunnigan to take over publishing Strategy & Tactics, which had been in financial trouble. However, SPI quickly proved that it was primarily a game publisher; not only did it produce many regular wargame designs, but starting with SPI's takeover, each issue of S&T included a complete wargame, comprising a map, rulebook and a sheet of die-cut counters.

In SPI's first two or three years, it embarked upon an expensive advertising campaign, including—but not limited to—full page advertisements in Scientific American magazine. New subscribers received free copies of its most successful game, Napoleon At Waterloo—an "easy to play" pocket-sized game with a foldout map and 78 pieces punched from cardstock. This advertising campaign led to a much larger subscriber base and SPI came to be seen as a serious competitor to Avalon Hill, the company that had founded the board wargaming hobby.

While S&T had started as a wargaming 'fanzine', under SPI it became more of a military history magazine that included a wargame. So in 1972, SPI started Moves as a house organ that talked about current and future SPI games, including a fair amount of information on SPI's game design process.

Like many new wargame companies in the early '70s, early SPI games left a lot to be desired physically. A typical early game came in an envelope with a one-color map and one large folded sheet for the rules. However, SPI quickly set about improving the physical quality of the components with better printing and boxes under the guidance of Art Director Redmond A. Simonsen. In 1973, they introduced a flat plastic box that was molded to be a counter storage tray with a clear cover. The actual cover of the game was a printed sheet that backed the clear plastic. This allowed SPI to produce the boxes in bulk, as they were identical for each game, the printed sheet provided the cover and could be printed with all the other components of the game. This system became the hallmark of SPI games, and was later emulated by Simulations Canada, whose early games utilized a smaller storage tray, with the cover of the rules booklet doubling as the cover sheet.

SPI used a unique feedback system, polling the readers of S&T as to which games they would be interested in seeing (and buying). This market research gave SPI a greater likelihood of developing successful games.

Although starting with small to medium size wargames, SPI found an insatiable market, with subscribers clamoring for an ever wider range of wargames, including historical simulations that were daunting in their scope and complexity, such as War in the East, War in the Pacific, The Next War, Terrible Swift Sword and Campaign for North Africa, each with several maps, thousands of counters and multiple rulebooks. Campaign for North Africa was an ultra-detailed and virtually unplayable game, covering the entire North African campaign down to the level of individual fighter pilot ratings and supply trucks. At the other end of the spectrum, SPI created a new series of smaller games called 'folio' games, often created in groups of four and sold both individually and together as a "Quadrigame". Each of the four component games included two rules booklets, one with rules common to all four games, and the other with rules exclusive to the individual game; the component games would each cover a different battle from the same war, era, or genre.

The scale of the games ranged from the strategic to the operational and down to the tactical level. Three of the more popular games were tactical: Sniper!, FireFight and Air War, all of which were later reprinted by TSR.

SPI started out publishing games on historical subjects, but soon started producing games that were more hypothetical (e.g. World War III, Invasion: America), and a little later, also tackled fantasy and science fiction subjects, such as Starforce: Alpha Centauri and War of the Ring (a Lord of the Rings game), eventually starting a new magazine, Ares which, like S&T, included a new science fiction or fantasy game in each issue. At this time, the company also attempted to tap into the growing popularity of role-playing games, with DragonQuest and Universe, responses to Dungeons & Dragons and Traveller respectively; the term "Adventure Gaming" also replaced "Wargaming" in company advertising. In an attempt to expand its customer base even further beyond the "hobbyist" core, SPI entered into a much-publicized arrangement with Lorimar Productions to produce a role-playing game based on the soap opera Dallas in 1980. The game proved to be an infamous failure, and Simonsen later remarked that the 80,000 copies printed were 79,999 too many.[2]

SPI's financial problems increased in the late 1970s. SPI defaulted on a loan of over $400,000 from TSR (the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons) guaranteed by SPI's assets. SPI went bankrupt in 1982 and its assets—but not its debts and liabilities—were acquired by TSR in 1983.[1] TSR refused to honor SPI subscriptions and used the "assets, not liabilities" agreement to ignore SPI's debts. This policy alienated many of TSR's potential customers. Avalon Hill hired the majority of ex-SPI staffers to set up Victory Games Incorporated, a wholly owned subsidiary.

With the quick collapse of the wargame market in the early 1980s, TSR published fewer and fewer simulation games and eventually all the magazines (except for Strategy & Tactics) were discontinued.

Decision Games, a California company, now has the rights to most of the SPI backlist.

A number of former SPI games (many of them magazine games originally published in Strategy and Tactics) can be played online using software from HexWar, which licenses the rights from Decision Games.[3]

Awards[edit]

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • 1977: Wargame Design: The History, Production, and Use of Conflict Simulation Games (ISBN 0-917852-01-X)
  • 1977: War in the East: The Russo-German Conflict 1941–45 (ISBN 0-917852-00-1)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. Retrieved 2005-08-20. 
  2. ^ "http://grognard.com/zines/so/so43.txt". 
  3. ^ http://www.hexwar.com
  4. ^ "Origins Award Winners (1974)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  5. ^ "Origins Award Winners (1975)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  6. ^ "Origins Award Winners (1976)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  7. ^ a b "Origins Award Winners (1977)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  8. ^ "Origins Award Winners (1978)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  9. ^ a b c "Origins Award Winners (1979)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  10. ^ a b "Origins Award Winners (1980)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 

External links[edit]