Like anyone who wargamed in the 1970s, I guess, I have had more than a passing acquaintance with
SPI. The paper hex boards and tiny cardboard counters seemed to be everywhere. The first game I remember playing was "Napoleon at Waterloo" which belonged to my mate Derek. NAW was sold as an introductory game by SPI, or it might even have been a free gift with a subscription to "Strategy & Tactics", the SPI bi-monthly history magazine with a game in it.
I know Derek didn't subscribe, so he must have got the game through the advert in Airfix magazine or similar. We played that game a lot, and I don't recall it being improved by the Advanced Game supplement. The first one I think I owned as "Chinese Farm" a game about the opening stages of the Yom Kippur War in Sinai which was in the Folio series so it came in a folder, not in one of the SPI plastic boxes. I liked that one, too, and remember playing it a lot as well.
About 1977 my brother and I took out an S&T subscription. I remember being amazed at the complexity of the rules, the width of the period covered (was there nothing in military history that Jim Dunnigan couldn't reduce to a CRT?) and the unfortunate frequency with which impenetrable ACW games appeared. We ran the subscription for four years, and I recall that we hardly played any of the games. Part of the time my brother was away at Uni, then I was, then he moved out and so on. We also subscribed to Ares, SPI's sci-fi games magazine, mainly because it had a new story by Harry Harrison about Slippery Jin DiGriz as the basis for a game in the first one.
In the meantime I spent some of my own cash on other
"Sorcerer" was an even bigger disappointment. Eschewing a background in established fantasy literature the designers had instead made up a back story which failed to grab the imagination. The suggestion that you should write down the location of every counter each turn so time travel spells could work was frankly laughable.
Why the sudden bout of nostalgia? Well, I bumped into someone on holiday (we'll call him Gary, 'cos that's his name) in Laos who used to play SPI games in his 20s, then had to give them up as opponents moved away and family commitments came on board. We bonded over our mutual annoyance at "Cobra", shared a laugh over "Campaign for North Africa"(that Italian water rule!) and generally baffled some of the others in the party who had known Gary for 30 years or more and had never got this type of game.
Astonished to come across someone else who remembered the games and had even played some of them who furthermore only lived 40 minutes up the road it seemed like a good idea to meet up and play a few.
Several weeks ago we had a game of "Seelowe" - a four hour game that ended in a draw (designed by an American and they complain about cricket) - and intend to play some more.
My attempts to lay my hands on our collection have been frustrated. My brother took all of the games (except "Armada"*) when he left home and moved first into a rented flat and then got married and moved out permanently. A divorce and several house moves the length of the country means they've all gone missing (not helped as he suffered a brain injury in the last 5 years that affects his memory). He found "Sniper" and returned it, however. Great.
One of the games I'd forgotten we'd got was "Raid!", which is a generic commando raid game. I suspect we ignored it as we had the more sophisticated "Sniper", but it turns out it's a favourite of Gary's. I've therefore found the rules on line, and it clearly would work as a figure game. Possibly would work better as a figure game.
So I've been marking up a cloth with 3" off set squares today. They'll take four 30mm x 30mm bases from my Peter Pig PBI or AK47 collections, and are as good as hexes, so I reckon we're nearly there. Also, I reckon this is a gateway game to get Gary to play proper table top miniatures games.
Sneaky, aren't I?
* I'm sure I loaned my revised copy of Armada to Andy "Fergy" McKay who flat shared with Pete Berry for a while in the late 70s/early 80s. I'm equally sure I never got it back as our paths diverged and we lost touch. If anyone knows him, then pass on the message, - I'd be glad to catch up!