Alle Beiträge von Moritz

Influential Game Companies of the Past Part 10: Iron Crown Enterprises

Transcript of the podcast published on December 28th, 2010.

I am ending my little series of memory segments for groundbreaking game companies of the past talking about one of my favourite companies: Iron Crown Enterprises, or short: I.C.E. (not to be confused with the fast trains used in the German railway system). This company was a newcomer when the major role playing boom already faltered in 1980.

It was founded by roleplaying game enthusiasts Pete Fenlon and S Coleman Charlton who had just graduated from the University of Virginia and were hungry to promote their own super-complicated roleplaying system Rolemaster, which grew out of a series of supplements originally intended to expand already existing roleplaying systems like D&D.

Rolemaster – which still is played today in it’s umpteenth version – is a heavy-weight roleplaying game not for the feint of heart, trying to achieve ultimate realism by the most brutal critical hit tables ever devised in a RPG combat system. Going into a battle of Rolemaster often meant losing vital organs, limbs, digits and probably also your head. Which is of course realistic! The system had some success but was no real competitor to the big names at the time. But then something extraordinary happened: through circumstances that are never described exactly anywhere ICE suddenly acquired the licence to produce roleplaying- and boardgames based on Tolkien’s Middle Earth World. This licence had formerly rested with SPI, who had produced some well-known games already featured in my segments, but this move was as surprising as Warfrog games suddenly acquiring the Star Wars licence. Well, perhaps not that surprising – remember, 1980 was not too long after the commercially failed attempt to film the books by Ralph Bakshi and Peter Jackson was still a pimply teenager, so perhaps the Tolkien estate thought: “What the heck?”.

ICE proved to be a very good choice, as they treated the Tolkien material with great respect, probably making more of it than anybody could expect or even has done since, and I’m including Fantasy Flight Games, who currently hold the licence. ICE’s first move was to create a fantastic Middle Earth roleplaying game (a simplified Rolemaster and compatible with that system) that is still considered the best system ever devised for Tolkien’s world. Their sourcebooks and adventures were considered to be the best that RPGs could offer and are valuable collector’s items today – they were incredible labours of love with wonderful maps, graphic art and full of endless content expanding Tolkien’s world with great love and passion.

This brought the company some financial success so they began to create other types of games connected to these licence, both collectible card games (who were still young at the time) and also boardgames, and these games are what makes me love ICE until today. Their Middle Earth Collectible Card Game, MECCG in short, is probably the deepest and richest CCG ever devised. It ran for roughly 10 years, and was highly unusual in that it incorporated solitaire and team play and was also comparable to games like Magic Realm in overall complexity and strategy. Because the game was so beautiful and detailed it never created the raw-edged tourney scene that Magic is known for – instead players simply enjoyed revelling in Tolkien’s world –experiencing this was more reward than winning tourneys or money. MECCG also never went the easy way of reducing complexity to sell more units. Even though MECCG is long out of print it is still beloved by many fans, and it is actually possible to acquire a good collection of it via EBay for relatively decent prices.

But there were also board games – most of them connected to Middle Earth. Their first Tolkien Game was “Riddle of the Ring”, a strange hybrid of card game and Adventure game that wasn’t entirely successful – yet. Then came “Battle of the 5 Armies”, an absolute collector’s item if there ever was one, even though it is a relatively conventional wargame.

But then came a moment of glory, as shortly after each other two games were published that I would consider a shining example of great design as well as impossible rules sets: “The Lonely Mountain” and one of the best games ever created: “Fellowship of the Ring”. “The Lonely Mountain” is a successful dungeon exploration and adventure game romp that makes it possible to build a party of Rangers, Elves, Dwarves or many other characters from Tolkien’s books to explore the lair of Smaug the Dragon.

To make the game more fun the designers introduced some new monsters to Smaug’s domain that might seem out-of-place to Tolkien purists, so it is actually well possible to encounter Krakens and Trolls in one of the many caves of the mountain. But if one sees it as a multiplayer exploration game with wargame elements this is actually great fun and used to be a favourite of my Frankfurt games group for many years.

But “Fellowship of the Ring” has to be mentioned as a highly unusual game recreating the events of the Tolkien Trilogy from the perspective of the hunter and the hunted, not from the perspective of all-out war like in SPI’s and Nexus Games’ “War of the Ring”. In “Fellowship” an ingenious system of movement dice that serve as placeholders for possible positions of the fellowship is used that keeps the Sauron player really guessing where the hobbits are. Combats are rare and spectacular and one really has the feeling an alternate history to the books is created, so detailed and rich is the gaming environment. The board is absolutely fantastic and true to the high graphic standards that ICE employed throughout their existence. For some strange reason this game has little love on the Geek, but it is truly a masterpiece that is worth every cent you pay for it on EBay. Beware the rules though – they are badly written and confusing, but underneath is one of the best 2-player games ever created in my opinion. Perhaps somebody will find the time to create an improved rules set?

There were many more games produced in ICE’s roughly 20 years spanning career –I should mention for example “Dicemaster”, a collectible roleplaying dice game which was weird and fun but without success, and “Silent Death”, a good Sci-Fi space battle game. But not the quality of their games but the downfall of games distributors proved to be the end of ICE –they simply could not sell their games through the usual vendors anymore.

ICE still exists, but only as a brand of roleplaying games now owned by another company. In their time they created incredibly detailed worlds of imagination, and they are still underrated as game designers in my opinion…

Influential game companies of the past, part 9: Game Designers’ Workshop

Transcript of the podcast published on December 1st, 2010.

BGG Con: Moritz playing Magic RealmI have just come back from BGG con and it was a blast to meet all you Dice Tower fans out there. Thank you for all the great moments I had there – the Dice Tower fans are the best! But I have to hurry on as Tom only gives me 5 minutes…

We are nearing the end of my 10-part series about game companies of ‘ye olden times’, and this time I would like to counter my last segment about Games Workshop with a segment about a company with a very similar name: “Game Designers’ Workshop”, or short GDW.

The two companies have nothing to do with each other, and they also existed on separate parts of the globe, as Games Workshop is British and GDW was an Illinois based American company founded by four game designers who then went on to regularly create games from 1973 to 1996: Frank Chadwick, Rich Banner, Marc Miller and Loren Wiseman.

It’s active life of 23 years makes it one of the longest running game companies in my list, and their output was truly impressive, even though it is probably still more known for its role playing games than its boardgames, the most famous being the most influential SF role playing game of all time, “Traveller”, a game which solely used 2 normal dice for the resolution of everything from skill checks to character creation.

How did such a company come about? Chadwick, Banner and Miller were the founding and basically only members of the Illinois State University Games club. Rich Banner was into graphics and secured a grant that enabled him to print blank hex paper to be used for wargames, something that wasn’t as easy then as it is today. Shortly after that Illinois University suddenly became a haven for gamers, as educational initiative SimRAD (Simulation, Research, Analysis and Design) was founded to encourage the use of games in the classroom. Chadwick, Banner and Miller began work on a huge World War II boardgame using the blank sheets and the fund money. For this they founded the game company with the name GDW. Soon after they shifted to the commercial sector when the grant money got cancelled, and they did so with no little success.

This can mostly be attributed to the incredible hard work of the founders of this company, (especially Frank Chadwick) who were joined by Loren Wiseman in 1974 – there was probably never a small game company that was run so efficiently by a small group of people that also mostly designed all their own games. The Wikipedia entry states that GDW published a new product every 22 days average and that for 23 years, which is quite a feat. This is why mentioning every game in this feature is a futile task – there are way to many!

GDW was famous for their game presentation which can be described as minimalist. Most games came in small boxes featuring bound rulebooks which always had a similar cover design, paper maps and charts. The first edition of Traveller the role playing game had barely any graphics and used a font that became GDW’s trademark for science fiction games. Also their later games kept eye-candy to a minimum, rather concentrating on story and atmosphere. “Traveller” became the first SF roleplaying game and also spawned a couple of boardgames related to its universe. My favourite were always the 2 sci-fi skirmish games “Snapshot” and “Azhanti High Lightning” which were the first games featuring single-man combat on starship maps using role-playing style characters. These games actually had relatively simple and elegant rules using Action Points, and were closely related to Traveller’s combat system, which is known to be extremely lethal – when you were hit by anything you basically died. This gave the scenarios a usually rather short playing time, but one played the games again and again because of the great starship maps.

But these games were not their most famous SF-boardgame, this honour goes to “Imperium”, perhaps the most influential SF-boardgame ever created, and predecessor to contemporary games like “Twilight Imperium”, which even honours GDW in its name.

In “Imperium” – a game influenced by the writings of Isaac Asimov and especially the Foundation series – a young upstart human space empire fought against a Roman like “old” alien imperium who at first underestimates them completely. The battle rages across the galaxy, depicted by a web of jump points that basically form a point-to-point map. Both players can run a huge assortment of small and big ships, and there are Star-Wars-like space battles galore, as well as epic ground combat. This is even more impressive when one thinks about the fact that “Imperium” was published in the same year that “Star Wars” was first screened, so there must have been some prescience by the designers, as there are certain similarities, especially the “Death Star” like units.

Before that game there was also “Triplanetary”, a game that is now less known, but which already featured the same ship types of “Imperium”. “Double Star” featured two planets battling that were also moving in an orbit around the same star, ensuing in interesting tactical challenges. “Asteroid” was a pulp-exploration game of an asteroid controlled by a mad computer. But there were also many traditional wargames, classics like the Civil War game “A House Divided” or submarine warfare game “Harpoon” by Larry Bond. The list of games is huge, as well as their output of roleplaying games which saw several editions of Traveller in various time periods, like Traveller 2300 AD, but also horror and historical roleplaying games.

One genre totally missing is Fantasy – there are no fantasy boardgames by GDW, only historical and SF, and with the exception of “Asteroid” even their SF games were usually of the “hard SF” variety trying to base their rules on real physics. There was only one attempt at a fantasy role playing game called “Dangerous Journeys”, which was a design by Gary Gygax, abandoned in the end.

The output of GDW was so persistent and of such a persistent quality that only one thing could end their run – and this was of course financial troubles suffered as late as 1996, long after other industry giants like SPI had folded. This long life can be attributed to GDW’s quite good management. But apparently it was simple burnout that ended the run of one of the most successful and influential game companies that ever came out of a university experiment in a basement.

Analysis Paralysis

I already mentioned the “Black Arpad” a while ago – a hideous chess figure which we simply place in front of the player who is paralyzed. Usually this is regarded as suitable threat to move on. But thinking about it seriously I think the best way to get players going is acting like a teacher who tries to get the right answer from his class. A teacher would start giving hints, so what players should do is to publicly and calmly talk about the options available to the paralyzed player. This might give the player a new perspective on things, on the other hand you might even make him do what YOU want instead of what is best for him, but that is left to your own Machiavellian inclination I think. But never try to put pressure on such players, otherwise they will simply shut down and play even slower.

Influential game companies of the past Part 8: Games Workshop

Transcript of the podcast published on November 1st, 2010.

This time I want to talk about another company that existed some time ago but which has left its mark on the gaming scene, and this company is called “Games Workshop”.
“What?” you may ask, “Games Workshop? But they are alive and kicking and very much in the business? What is this, some evil mockery”?
But I am not talking about THAT Games Workshop, that multimillion dollar company that sells crack in the form of miniatures to masses of teenage boys and men, about Warhammer or Warhammer 40000, game systems that have mainly been designed to make people follow the cult of GW, as they are mostly called nowadays.
No, I am talking about the ORIGINAL Games Workshop, a company founded by genre luminaries Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone (they were later famous for their Fighting Fantasy solitaire game books) and John Peake, originally as a manufacturer of wooden boardgames in 1975, but then quickly becoming the main importer of that game called D&D and spearhead of the British gaming scene.
In order to promote their postal games, the London shop that was called “Games Workshop” printed a magazine called Owl and Weasel, which later became “White Dwarf”, perhaps the most important European roleplaying magazine ever, a fantastic magazine that used to be full of scenarios for all kinds of roleplaying games, along with fantastic art and comics, and which now also has become a Warhammer only magazine about how to paint miniatures. But in the days back then every roleplaying fan used to anxiously await the new issues of “White Dwarf”, because it was simply the best magazine out there, even more beloved than the “Dragon”, TSR’s own house magazine. There was actually a time when Gary Gygax proposed a merger between TSR and Games Workshop to prevent this competition, but even then Games Workshop proved to have a lot of business sense and declined. By now they had expanded all over Britain, with shops opening practically everywhere.
But I am not talking about Games Workshop the role playing and miniature gaming entity, but about the relatively short period of time in which they produced great board games.
The most famous of these is most certainly “Talisman”, a game hated by Tom Vasel but beloved by many, as it was the first successful attempt to transfer a role playing experience into a boardgame, along with the possibility to add endless expansions with new adventure cards and boards.
But there were also other influential games, next to the reprints of games like “Cosmic Encounter” that Games Workshop also had in their line.
For example “Blood Royale”, a now highly sought after game by Derek Carver about medieval power politics that enabled players to actually marry off their princesses and princes while fighting wars with neighbouring fiefdoms. Or “Fury of Dracula”, the game of vampire hunting and a variant of Ravensburger’s Spiel des Jahres’ “Scotland Yard” (a fact that is often forgotten) which for a long time was one of the most expensive out-of-print games one could buy because of it’s legendary fame and a relatively low print run.
“Warrior Knights”, another medieval wargame. Or how about “Dungeonquest”, the first international edition of the Swedish cult game “Drakborgen” which became very successful in the Games Workshop version and thus created more expansions than the original Swedish version.
Or “Battlecars”, a generally underrated game that transported players into the world of Mad Max style automotive combat, a game that was famous for its big car displays that were literally slowly shot to pieces by using damage counters showing the piercing of the various armours of a car. This was also followed up by an expansion, “Battlebikes”, a very rare item to find nowadays.
Or “Dr. Who – The Boardgame”, the first “serious” boardgame in the Doctor Who universe, in itself related to Talisman from some of its mechanics. Or the ingenious “Rogue Trooper”, a game based on a series in Britain’s number one selling anthology comic, “2000 AD”.
Or “Warlock”, a card game of duelling wizards which most certainly was an inspiration for the biggest success story in gaming ever, “Magic The Gathering”. Or “Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb”, a game mostly known for its actual cardboard depiction of a pyramid that players could explore Indiana Jones style. Or “Apocalypse”, a Diplomacy variant set in an apocalyptic future.
As you can tell many of these games are still known well today, which has to do with the fact that one excellent company called Fantasy Flight games is publishing them in new and very often improved editions today. This in itself was no simple task. The Games Workshop juggernaut more and more concentrated on their miniatures brand that made the most business, and the GW of today has little to do with the friendly hobby orientated beginnings, and it also has different owners now. GW is feared for being very protective of the game rights they own, even if they don’t plan to ever publish these games again. This went so far as forcing Boardgamegeek contributors to remove all fan-created files for their games to protect their copyright, a stupid move if there ever was one. But somehow Fantasy Flight managed to convince some folks at GW to let them republish their most beloved titles, and as far as I can tell they have a very good success with it. This is also good for the games themselves which usually had quite flimsy production values when they originally came out. So we have to thank Fantasy Flight that one of the most important fantasy game companies of the past is still with us, at least in spirit. And perhaps the current Games Workshop will at some point change back into the friendly Games Workshop of the days of yonder. Let’s hope that!

Game to play with my spouse

When my wife was pregnant, I used to play endless games of Chaosium’s and Avalon Hill’s “Dragon Pass” with her. Perhaps not the best game to play with your spouse, as it is a complex fantasy wargame, but I have so many fond memories of the various homebrewn scenarios and variants that we tried out that in my mind it is a game of love and good spirits in a relationship. Beat that, “Lost Cities”!!!!

Games on ipad

I am momentarily absolutely obsessed with games on my iphone. I mostly play the excellent “Carcassonne” app, and recently made it into the top 100 players of the world. At least for a day! Also recommended is the “Neuroshima Hex” app, which is excellent, as well as “Tichu” and “Wabash Cannonball”, also excellent conversions of excellent games. The iphone is like crack to any boardgame player – don’t buy it or you will seriously lose a lot of your free time!

Influential Game Companies of the Past Part 7: Yacquinto

Transcript of the podcast published on October 15th, 2010.

As one of the more unusual and quirky game companies, Yaquinto was always its own beast.  It existed only for short 4 years and was founded at a time when wargaming was already on its way out in mass popularity, 1979. But in these 4 short years they managed to become quite a voice in the gaming scene, publishing games of an unusual variety.

The name Yaquinto sounds like a Japanese battle cruiser, but it is derived from the Robert Yaquinto Printing Company of Dallas, Texas, which decided to use its printing resources to power up a game company. For this they hired two well-known wargame designers, Steve Peek and Craig Taylor, who were responsible to create an interesting line-up that would eventually include wargames but also family games, role playing games and SF and Fantasy Games as well as light historical games.

Yaquinto is remembered for their invention of the Album Game format. These came in 2 versions, used at different times in the life of the company:

  • The slim album games used a record sleeve for a vinyl record double LP as the game box. The record sleeve folded out to create the game board, counters and rules were stored in the 2 pockets. This made for extremely slim storage, but usually the many game counters inside the sleeves formed little bulges that eventually began to destroy and bend the cardboard covers. Ironically many of these games actually had a sign “This is not a record” on them, so that people would not accidentally think they would buy a music record!
  • There were also thicker versions of these album game boxes that had something like a paper counter tray insert in between the two sides. This prevented the problem of the bulging counters, but the insert was so flimsy that it was easily crushed if you stored the games on top of each other. If you stored the games in the upright position though the contents of the insert tended to fall out and get lost easily.

Even though the album games looked cool on first glance, the were something of a  drag to use, but they were still MUCH better than the normal oblong boxes used for their larger games – .these were so flimsy that actually already looking at them made them bend. It is extremely hard to find good condition Yaquinto games nowadays and still harder to find some of their best and sought-after games.

It is absolutely impossible to list every Yaquinto game here, so I will name only a few that I know well:

“Swashbuckler” is a still legendary game that simulates Errol Flynn style tavern or pirate combat, using written hidden commands. This is one of the funniest games I’ve ever played; you can confuse opponents by hurling insults at them or waving your hat in their face. It is absolutely stunning to play this game with 6 or more players; the influence on Robo Rally is clearly visible. There was also a science fiction version called “Adventurer” which is less known.

“Mythology” is the best game ever created on Greek mythology. Players have heroes roam the land to fulfil tasks – the players secretly influence these heroes representing the Greek gods by assigning influence points. The game has many rules problems, but these can be solved to create a highly unusual game.

“Hero” was a very successful attempt to create a 3 player dungeon skirmish game. Player A sends his hero into a dungeon controlled by player B, player B sends his hero into a dungeon controlled by player C and player C sends his hero into player A’s dungeon. Lots of hilarity ensues with hidden movement of monsters and even traps. Players design characters like in a role playing game, one important trait was looks, as if you were too ugly the princess you tried to rescue in the game would ignore you.

“Attack of the Mutants” is a very much “Plan 9 from Outer Space” like game, where you defend an underground basis against the attacks of Zombie-Mutants.

“Beastmaster” was Yaquinto’s partly failed attempt to create some kind of “Super-Titan”-variant, but still remains one of the more interesting fantasy battle games out there.

“Apache” was a Western game where players could have Cowboys and Indians fight it out. The game was notorious for its random events table which also featured a landing of aliens in the prairie.

“Dallas” was a roleplaying-lite boardgame featuring the famous J.R. and his consorts.

“Market Madness” was a crazy luck-driven stock market game. Just like real life, then!

“Ironclads” was the still legendary game about battleships in the American Civil War, popular until today.

“Starfall” was an ambitious Science Fiction exploration game for 1-4 players, where the universe was randomly created by a set of sophisticated rules.

“Time War” was the spiritual predecessor of “Time Agent”, a fantastic Time Travel game with many unusual ideas.

“The Roaring 20’s” had players create speakeasies and flee from the police.

“Ultimatum” tackled the most difficult of subjects: Nuclear War.

As you can see the line-up of Yaquinto was weird and very varied, but that is exactly why their games still are remembered until today. Graphic design was not always their biggest strength, but their hard-duty, extra thick cardboard counters were always a joy to handle, even if they were very hard to unpunch.

The games mentioned above are all recommended by me, some of them highly, like “Swashbuckler” or “Mythology”. One can do worse with collector games than with Yaquinto, a company that folded after the computer game market began to take over in 1983. We should remember them fondly – they don’t make them like this anymore!

Influential Game Companies of the Past Part 6: TimJim/Prism Games

Transcript of the podcast published on September 30th, 2010.

TimJim/Prism Games – both names work – was always a small company and never a big player on the market, but in their short life – they closed down business 1998 – they managed to put out a small but extremely influential portfolio of pretty outstanding games. In fact they could be called one of the few game companies which never published a game that sucked.

TimJim Games came out of Prism Games, a small company started by James Hlavaty and Tom Lehmann. The first game published by this company was “Outpost”, a game that nowadays has a nearly legendary fame for being one of the first boardgames to translate computer game concepts of science fiction empire building games into a tight and simple design that is still appreciated today and which has even been updated as a fantasy game as “Das Zepter von Zavandor”. Next came “Mystic War”, a fantasy card game that probably would have been a big success had it had glossy cards and beautiful graphics. This was also the year that Tom Lehmann began his design career. Tom should be known to current gamers as the inventor of the widely appreciated “Race for the Galaxy” game, but he has designed games for much longer, having been active as a designer since 1992. Tom has played games all his life, role playing games and 18xx games being his specialty, and is also an avid dancer and choreographer of group dances in his spare time. Logically the company should have now been called TomJim Games, but I am glad they decided against it.

Next came “Fast Food Franchise” by Tom Lehmann, which has the honour of being the only Monopoly variant that I would ever sit down to play, by giving the player’s many more choices during their turn while keeping the fun of estate or rather burger franchise dealing alive.

“Suzerain” was Tom’s attempt at a card game, a game simulating medieval wars of succession to great effect.

The same year saw the release of their magnum opus in my opinion – the super excellent and totally underrated “Time Agent”, the best time travel wargame ever invented in my opinion, a fascinating and intelligent design in which several races try to manipulate time to their advantage. A Wargame with some connections to 1830, as the time web is simulated by hexagonal tiles interacting in complex ways. Actually playing a game of “Time Agent” is like looking at a picture by Dutch artist M.C. Escher, which makes sense, as time travel should make your head spin.

“Age of Exploration” came 2 years later, another solo Lehmann design – this being an interesting and super realistic simulation of the exploration of the two American continents, so realistic that one usually ended up being killed by natives or lost at sea. It’s similar to “Source of the Nile” in style, being more of an educational than a gamers’ game, but still very good.

1995 saw another mutual effort by Tom and Jim, “2038”, perhaps the most involved 18xx variant of them all where players try to mine asteroid fields instead of building a network of rails only. The game is considered one of the best 18xx variants out there and is a sought-after collector’s item.

After a two year delay the last game of TimJim Games was published: “Throneworld”; an ambitious Science Fiction Game design, which can be considered an update of classic games like “Stellar Conquest”. Again an outstanding and good design.

Prism games used the Avalon Hill established bookcase format for their games, which made them handy to store and relatively durable. The graphic design was usually perfunctory but professional, their rules tightly printed and sometimes difficult to work out, while never being illogical or confusing. Just think of your first game of “Race for the Galaxy” when you tried to work out the iconography and you will know what I mean.

Why did they go out of business? I couldn’t find any information of that, but from their line-up one can tell that they tried to cater for the specialist gamers’ market at a time where Boardgamegeek wasn’t yet the force it is now, and before models like GMT’s P500 made small-audience games with good production values feasible. Some of their games could have actually crossed to a bigger market had they had a bit of more glossy production values.

But still, for me the great value of TimJim Games is the high quality of each of their games – one can always tell that a lot of work went into each of their designs, and they strove hard to present them in the most professional way they could achieve at the time. Every game collector worth his salt is bound to have a few of their games in his possession, and they will be treasured for a long time to come.

Moritz over and out.

Influential Game Companies of the Past, Part 5: Hexagames

Transcript of the podcast published on July 16th, 2010.

This time I am going to talk about a German game company that few of you will know, but which was extremely influential in the rise of the Euro Game phenomenon in Germany. The company was called… Hexagames.
For 10 years, 1982 to 1992 – which seems to be the lifespan of many game companies – Hexagames was an independent voice of quality in the German gaming scene.
It was founded by L. Hensley to promote his stock market game “Long Short”. I say L. Hensley because nowhere on the web could I find his first name, not even on Boardgamegeek.
There is actually an interesting story behind this game: L. Hensley was not a gamer but a business man who did something that today would probably be called “Day Trading”, meaning that he bought the rights to buy and sell shares only to wait until the shares had fallen before actually buying them, then selling them for the old price making a profit.
This activity – which regularly brings on financial breakdowns until today – was regarded as highly dubious in Frankfurt at the time, so L. Hensley actually went to prison in Frankfurt. There he had 7 months and 1 day of leisure time which he used to create this stock market trading game. Hagedorn met him and became his business partner after his release from prison. The resulting publicity about the “stock market game that was invented in prison” fired up the company that was Hexagames. It was Hagedorn’s idea to create a special hexagonal game board that could be looked at from each side and give the same information to everybody, because he was annoyed with the usual boards where some players always have to read everything upside down. As he used the hexagonal board design for several games in a row it gave the early games of the company a distinctive look and the name Hexagames was born and quickly became a trademark.
At it’s time “Long Short” was regarded as something of a hit, and if one believes the comments at the Geek it still can be regarded as a business game of high quality, simulating the turns and tides of the stock market quite well. Together with Juergen Hagedorn Hensley wanted Hexagames to publish further new games, but quickly they found themselves as the inheritors of the Buetehorn games line instead, a company that went bankrupt roughly the year Hexagames started business. Buetehorn had several beautifully produced games in its line, most notably the strategy game “Conquest” which still exists in one form or another until today. Buetehorn games had a specific box design – a sturdy cardboard box that opened and closed with a button that was also used by many of Hexagames’ games.
Hexagames was quickly recognized for their design quality. First was “Uisge” by Roland Siegers, which garnered the special “beautiful game” or “Schoenes Spiel” prize at the Spiel des Jahres 1984. Already their next big game, the fabulous “Abilene”, also by Roland Siegers, made it on the selection list of the same prize a year later.
I still have a special place in my heart for “Abilene” – it was an unusual design for the time: a fun Western game that was specifically designed to be only played by 3 players, something that is still a rarity and difficult to pull off. Sadly it fell under the curse of the Western game genre – always a difficult sell in Germany – and is now mostly forgotten. But I can only recommend it to anybody interested in unusual games.
Also in later years Hexagames always was a contender for the Spiel des Jahres, but it unfortunately never won the coveted prize. But the company attracted top game designers like Sid Sackson (who did “Die 1. Million” for them) and especially the young Reiner Knizia, who did one of his first and some may argue still best card game design for them, “Res Publica”, a very good civilization light card game that is in print until today.
Like many game companies Hexagames also specialized in bringing interesting games over the pond. They were the first German company to produce a German version of “Cosmic Encounter” for example, still a rarity among collectors. “Cosmic Encounter” had attracted them because of their similar use of a hexagonal game board, so it was a perfect fit to them. Alan Moon did “Black Spy”, a game that was also published by Avalon Hill.
Other games in their very varied line were for example:
“Choice” – an interesting dice game by Sid Sackson which can be seen as an influential multiplayer solitaire dice game, later known as “Einstein”:
“Gimel” – a 2 player abstract game influenced by Egyptian designs.
“Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom” – an unsuccessful movie tie-in attempt.
“Karriere-Poker” – a wonderful card game that later became “The Great Dalmuti” and which can be seen as the direct predecessor of the wonderful “Zoff im Zoo”, sharing some of its mechanics.
One of the most legendary games ever produced by Hexagames must certainly be “McMulti” by James St. Laurent, though, a game that still is held in high regard in German gaming circles. This is an economic game that has some design similarities to the much later “Settlers of Catan” and which has been published in the US under the name “Crude: The Oil Game”.
Another notable Hexagames game is “Showbiz” by Derek Carver, a game that bears a not too slight resemblance to “Modern Art” in a way and which has players manage stars with varying success levels.
Many of Hexagames’ games may seem as if they haven’t aged that well, but in their time they were highly influential. One impressive aspect of Hexagames output was a great variety of games with a preference for simple and non-convoluted designs paired with good production values.
The end of Hexagames was a prolonged one. First Hagedorn left the company and was replaced by Joe Nikisch who later founded “Abacus-Games”, a company that is still going strong today. Hexagames was dissolved in 1992, but was taken over by the Berlin company “Sala Games” which published the best of Hexagames under their brand name. But also Salagames went down, only 2 years later, in 1994.
Today Hexagames’ games are sought-after collector’s item – their legacy is not forgotten and they have shaped many designers that still are successful today.
Moritz Eggert

Influential Game Companies of the Past, Part 4: International Team

Transcript of the podcast published on July 16th, 2010.

After looking at some of the most important game companies of the US let’s move over the big pond to small and crowded Europe, and to a country that was nearly lost to gamers at that particular time in the past: Italy. That is until International Team came along.
In the year 1979 Renzo Angelosanto and Marco Donadoni decided to bring the joys of wargaming to the land of wine, good food and opera. They founded the company “International Team” which for nearly 10 years was an important presence in the European market.
At that time Wargaming was an extremely obscure hobby in Italy, even more obscure than in other European countries because of a huge language problem – as every American Tourist can attest Italy is not exactly a country with many English speakers, so it was no surprise that only a select few in Italy could actually understand English-language games.
Instead of translating titles from the US International Team decided to create their own line of mostly conflict orientated games, and from this decision resulted a line of the most beautiful, interesting and also frustratingly irritating games ever made in the history of mankind.
International Team’s games were always extremely pretty – they were published in huge and flat oblong boxes, difficult to store and easy to open while emptying all their contents on the floor. But pretty. Also the graphic design was always ahead of it’s time, featuring stylish illustrations which especially came to life in the many Science Fiction and Fantasy games that they published, like the game “Zargo’s Lords” which must count as the most successful game of their line. Boards were gigantic and always mounted – so from a sheer production viewpoint their games were superior to all other games published at the time.
But there was one big problem: The Rules.
Early on International Team decided to address an international market, hence their name, so rules sets usually came in Italian, English, French and German. So far so good, but sadly there never was any person in the whole company who actually ever checked the translations. This resulted in the most bizarre rulebooks ever published – the Italian rules were usually decent albeit imperfect, but all other languages sounded worse than even the worst on the spot babelfish translation you can get from the internet.
International Team’s most ambitious effort, the actually fabulous Science-Fiction-Roleplaying/Boardgame Hybrid “Legio VII”, was so lost in translation, that whole parts of the game became absolutely unplayable to anybody not speaking Italian. I would like to convey you the bizarreness of some German sentences in this rulebook, but I fear you would lose too much sanity if I tried.
But that was not the only problem – many games that International Team published were only vaguely tested, so sometimes they would simply break down once you tried to play them. Important rules concepts were not thought through, the rules would contradict themselves even in Italian, etc. This has been an ongoing problem with wargaming rules and certainly something that plagues games by SPI and Avalon Hill, but International Team brought the negligence in rules design to a never before achieved height.
The frustrating thing was that International Team’s games were actually no duds at all – they very often were full of beautiful ideas and interesting concepts, but trying to decipher what the game designers actually meant sometimes was a huge task.
Still, International Team enjoyed some success to the extent that their games are still sought after by collectors and they were very influential on the budding European games market and prepared the soil for later great designers to come from the country of Italy, like Nexus. But it was a venture that couldn’t last forever because of these problems, so in 1988 they declared bankruptcy and both founders moved on to other projects, still being influential in gaming circles. The most important lesson was perhaps learned by companies like Fantasy Flight – if you make your games beautiful people will most certainly look, but try to make them worthwhile as well.