Simulations Publications, Inc.
|Fate||Loan foreclosure by TSR resulting in assets seizure|
|Headquarters||44 East 23rd Street, New York City; later moved to 257 Park Avenue South|
|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 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. SPI ran out of cash in early 1982 when TSR called in a loan secured by SPI's assets. TSR began selling SPI's inventory in 1982, but later acquired the company's trademarks and copyrights in 1983 and continued a form of the operation until 1987.
Origin and early years
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, rule book 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 card stock. 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.
In 1974, SPI started to ship some of their wargames games to J.D. Bardsley in the UK, who acted as a sales representative using the name SP/UK. Bardsley sold the games either via mail order or face to face at games conventions. Sales increased rapidly, and by March 1976, SP/UK had sold 25,000 units. To handle the increased sales, SPI formed a formal British subsidiary, Simpubs Ltd. in June 1976. Simpubs immediately created the bi-monthly periodical Phoenix with J.D. Bardsley as managing editor.
Commercial success and growth
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 only 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 rule books. 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.
Demise and asset acquisition by TSR
In an attempt to expand its customer base, SPI entered into a much-publicized arrangement with Lorimar Productions to produce the Dallas 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.
SPI had shopped for venture capital providers to take advantage of the perceived expansion of the gaming market in the late 1970s. When the expansion did not deliver the expected higher profits, only higher sales, the money needed to be returned. First efforts led to discussions with Avalon Hill to merge with or acquire SPI, but that did not materialize, partially due to the increasing losses in cash for SPI thanks to the increases in costs from inflation and the decreases in revenue. AH did purchase five of SPI's titles, which helped with operational costs. However, more money was needed.
SPI negotiated a promissory note loan (at the time mentioned as $225,000 but here listed as $400,000 from TSR (the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons). The note was guaranteed by SPI's assets. SPI used the cash to pay their venture capitalists, and were broke but happy. However, less than two weeks later, TSR called in the note. SPI, with no cash available and no options to get the cash, were forced to give over their inventory stock to TSR in early 1982, and were effectively out of business. TSR originally claimed they acquired SPI, but as that would mean they also would be responsible for their debts, quickly changed that statement. Thus, SPI's assets—but not its debts and liabilities—were acquired by TSR in 1983. 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.
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. TSR sold S&T's rights to 3W in 1987.
In 1982, Avalon Hill hired several ex-SPI staffers to set up Victory Games Incorporated, a wholly owned subsidiary. The subsidiary was disbanded in 1989.
Decision Games, a California company founded in 1988, now has the rights to most of the SPI backlist.
- Charles S. Roberts Award, Best Professional Magazine of 1974, 1975, 1976, and 1977: Strategy & Tactics
- Charles S. Roberts Award, All Time Best Fantasy Board Game of 1977: War of the Ring
- Charles S. Roberts Award, Best 20th Century Game of 1978: To the Green Fields Beyond
- Charles S. Roberts Award, Best 20th Century Game of 1979: City-Fight
- Charles S. Roberts Award: Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Game of 1979: The Creature That Ate Sheboygan
- H. G. Wells Award, Best Roleplaying Rules of 1979: Commando
- Charles S. Roberts Award, Best Pre-20th Century Boardgame of 1980: Empires of the Middle Ages
- H. G. Wells Award: Best Roleplaying Rules of 1980: DragonQuest
- 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)
- "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. Retrieved 2005-08-20.
- "SPI Games Printed in the UK: SPI UK - SPI Games printed in England". spigames.net. Retrieved 2021-11-27.
- Simonsen, Redmond. "Why Did SPI Die?".
- "Origins Award Winners (1974)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
- "Origins Award Winners (1975)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
- "Origins Award Winners (1976)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
- "Origins Award Winners (1977)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
- "Origins Award Winners (1978)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
- "Origins Award Winners (1979)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
- "Origins Award Winners (1980)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-08-30. Retrieved 2007-09-14.