An extremely rare blue glass gaming piece from the Viking era has been discovered on Lindisfarne, the Northumbrian island where the first Viking raid struck Britain in 793 A.D. It is gumdrop shaped, made of translucent azure glass decorated around the outside with delicate rings of opaque white glass swirls and topped with five white glass globules that look like an abstract crown.
Games not technically in a box in this short round-up. These are the hot games of the day, as things go around here, anyway. These three games are sitting loose in the office for various reasons.
HellRail, third perdition
Mayfair Games, 2001
One of my later acquisition by far, I picked this up around the time my brother met his wife and we were playing Empire Builder occasionally. I thought a different take on the railway-building game might be fun, but we didn’t ever get a chance to play. The structure of Hell is defined in the rule book, but you build different routes depending on which types of sinners the deck gives you for hauling. I did finally drag it out for a couple of sessions with GameNephew, who found it fun, but you imagine explaining what adulterers or the lustful are to a ten-year-old under the watchful eye of his parents before you make the same decision.
Cosmic Encounter & Expansion Sets 1–9
Eon Products, Inc., 1978–1983
It’s a testament to how much I loved this game that it’s one of the few I don’t have the box for any longer, in any state. It broke down so long ago (and also couldn’t accommodate the expansions) that the box it’s in was a shipping box for Commodore 64 computer software. I feel lucky to still have this, because many yeas ago, I lent it to the guy who was the best man at our wedding, then he got divorced, I moved away from Eugene, and we mostly fell out of touch, but one of the last times we talked—after a period of years—I remembered to ask about it and retrieved the game. The game and expansions span my time working in a game shop, so it captures that period for me perfectly. I haven’t counted everything to see if it’s there, but there should be 75 alien race cards, there are 6 hexes (planetary systems, partially under the manuals), LUCRE (the yellow squares mostly covered by manuals, sorry), Flare cards (next to the Space Warp and Hyper Space Cone), Destiny discs, tokens, Moons, alternate planetary systems and the Praw (on the backs of the systems), and the manuals, including the combined rulebook released with Expansion Set 9. Only played this one time since then, but GameNephew loved reading all of the histories of the various alien races, as well as the fact that he won the game we played, as the Parasite.
Frank Herbert’s Dune
The Avalon Hill Game Company, 1979
To say that I was unaware of this game’s status would be an understatement. It was actually one of the games that seemed like Avalon Hill trying to cash in on the late-70s upswing in science-fiction and fantasy games, it sat on the shelves for years, and—if you click on the photo and look at the player screens—you’ll notice there isn’t a crease on them, because it’s never been played. Some of the number chits are still stuck together. But Richard—who first contacted me a few months back on Facebook because he remembered me from Gandalf’s Den—asked about it a couple months back, because there was a Kickstarter campaign to revive it this year. I was pretty sure I’d seen it not long before, and when I went looking, there it was. Copies of the old game are available on eBay for as much as $200 for a mint copy, but my plan is to play it sometime this month when Richard comes up to Portland on a visit (send him good thoughts because he’s living in the fire zones in Northern Cal!) along with a couple of other interested folk. The 40-year-old virgin game! What I wasn’t aware of until I watched this extremely well-done video linked from BoardGameGeek was that the team behind Cosmic Encounter were the developers.
I opened Box 1 with GDW’s Boots & Saddles way back in 2013, and by the time I got to copies of TSR’s The Strategic Review and The Dragon in Box 4 (mid-2014), I thought I was pretty delinquent. Boy was I ever wrong! It’s taken me more than five years to get around to the fifth box.
Part of that’s what’s left in the boxes. There’s a lot of near-ephemera here, stuff that doesn’t really rise to the level of a game. It’s modules and maps for (mostly) Dungeons & Dragons, stuff that I picked up in my most acquisitive phase without even the real intention of using it in the campaigns my friends and I played. Part of it’s because I had been out of work for a long time with no job and no freelance projects and I was trying to make some inroads into organizing things before I inevitably die. I opened the first three boxes before I was hired as a security guard (the first job off I had in seven years) and the fourth between that job and a brief stint working as a grocery cashier. Since then I’ve been mostly employed (and still am) but I still want to get this project done.
Some of the inspiration to get back to this is because a couple of years after I posted Box 2, I got an email from someone who was interested in buying the Traveller lead miniatures at the top of the box. It was never my intention to sell anything, but the miniatures were mostly still in blister packs, which gives you an idea of just how much I’d used them in more than three decades. So, off they went so John P. and his kids can play the K’khree against the Imperial Marines.
The other thing was seeing Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons.That gave me some serious RAMO (Regret at Missing Out) because I really should have packed my bags and headed for Lake Geneva, Wisconsin right after high school, not because I was an artist, but I might have been able to con my way into a job at TSR (hey, I was a published TSR author by 1979!) No money, no confidence.
Plus, of course, the box had been sitting in the middle of my home office for five years.
Finally, one of my nephews—who was just 5 at my last installment—is now almost 11 and is a bit of a board game nut, so my goal in life these days is to get invited to his family’s game nights.
Mayfair Games, 1982
I think this is one of the first edition versions of this rail-building game, but it’s far from pristine condition. I played this with my girlfriend at the time, with the guy who was best man for my wedding (to someone else) and his (former) wife. I even played it with my brother and his wife when they first met. And earlier this year, we dusted it off for a game with my nephew and his folks. Just a great planning/resources game with rub-off crayons to draw on the map and tiny metal engines.
The Judges Guild Journal
Holiday Issue 12
Judges Guild, 1978
I can’t say that I actually remember ever reading any of these, but you can see the era they represent from the publicity still Imperial Stormtrooper on Issue 8. There was no actual STAR WARS-related content in the issue, nor was there anything in Issue 10, which features a Chewbacca shot on the front (hidden beneath the Holiday Issue).
Judges Guild, 1976 (?)
This was my first shield, and as it doesn’t have a copyright notice on it, I’m not sure of the exact date. You might be able to see the tape on the edges. and the portion of the Monsters list on the central portion of the shield has my numbering of the monsters (Zombie as #128 back in those simpler times) for random generation.
STAR TREK Blueprints
Ballantine Books, 1973
Not technically a game item, but this set of “12 Authentic Blueprints of the Fabulous Starship Enterprise” was one of those things a kid into making maps for dungeons and spaceships was going to get. Want to know which deck the six regulation bowling alleys are on? Deck 21, along with the pool.
Frontier Forts of Kelnore
Judges Guild, 1978
Well-done maps, amusingly bad illustrations, charts and scenarios for exploration, “Approved for use with Dungeons & Dragons.”
Village Book I
Judges Guild, 1978
Fifty pages of village layouts on hexagonal grids, with charts for naming villages (4xD20: 4, 20, 20, 13 = Cold + zine = Coldzine), determining the use and structure of building, etc. Keep in mind that back in the days before copy shops on every corner or desktop computers (much less quality printers) just reproducing blank hex maps was no mean feat.
Citadel of Fire
Judges Guild, 1978
“Ages ago a lone wizard named Nrathax the Black came to a hill that the natives called Flotggardt…” Well, of course they did. The cover illo really doesn’t do justice to the Isengard-inspired tower of “smooth black stone.” This is a proper module, with cruder maps than some of the other Guild products, but more-fleshed-out content.
The Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor
Judges Guild, 1978
Badabaskor is another scenario, covering both the surrounding area, five levels of dungeons, and the fortress itself. Watch out for the Dragon-People!
City of Terrors
Flying Buffalo, Inc., 1978
I’m not really sure why I have City of Terrors. It’s a Tunnels & Trolls scenario and I never really played T&T which was considered by some (including me) to be a pale shadow of D&D, but which distinguished itself by creating solo adventures (there were a lot of lonely nerds out there). So CoT is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure book, printed on heavy, glossy paper, which provided 23 different possible adventures.
The Siege of Constantinople
Simulations Publications, Inc., 1978
As you can see from the unbroken unit card, this game was never played. I believe it came out as an inclusion in SPI’s magazine, which featured a game every issue. The rules for this are probably in the magazine, which may be in another box!
My boss, Brad Smith was in Cork, Ireland the other day and ran across a building with this interesting plaque.
I’ve had a fondness for Kenneth Branagh‘s version of Henry V ever since its relative box-office success almost exactly 30 years ago seemed to validate my undergraduate thesis (which I’d just defended the previous spring) on Shakespeare as the writer of popular entertainment, rather than highfalutin court plays (using Henry V and some analysis of the size of Elizabethan theater audiences and London’s population as my arguments). Possibly the shortest English Literature thesis on record at Reed College.
Anyway, today is St. Crispin’s Day, a day that I’ve observed a number of times in the past years, so here’s the man himself with the speech that gave us “band of brothers.”
And here is a sample of my latest Shakespeare fix, David Mitchell in his show Upstart Crow, which continues to prove my point.
Several years back, Rob Ford of the FWA contacted me to ask some questions about my minor role in the history of online multimedia for a book he had been working on. I was both flattered and flabbergasted. Like so many labors of love, there have been a number of deadlines that came and went for the project’s release, but apparently Web Design: The Evolution of the Digital World 1990–Today (Taschen) has finally reached gestation, and Phillip Kerman caught a glimpse of my first book’s cover in Rob’s unpacking video, posted on his Amazon author page.