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Editorial – Summer 2011

A Tale of Two Cities for This Century

 

One of the most famous novels by Charles Dickens, legendary 19th century author, was A Tale of Two Cities. The two cities of the title were London and Paris. A best seller when published, required reading in schools across the country, even a pick for Oprah’s Book Club over a hundred years after its initial appearance, all testify to a great story, one that transcends time. But in this century, the 21st, I’ve experienced a different Tale of Two Cities. In this case, the two cities are New York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

It was in New York that Gamers Alliance began. It was 1986 when the first issue of Gamers Alliance Report appeared but the roots for both the publication and the organization began years earlier.

I have three brothers, two of them older and, growing up, I always wanted to hang around with them. One of my first memories as it pertains to games centered on one of their games: Star Reporter. Loved the idea of being a newspaper reporter. It didn’t hurt that Superman, aka Clark Kent, was a reporter for the Daily Planet. (Today, I have EVERY edition of that great game.) As I got older, my parents would always present me with a game for a birthday gift. That’s how I got introduced to my first Careers, Clue and Risk games. It reached the point when I began to fool around, designing my own games. Did a baseball and football game, based on real life statistics, that my younger brother and I played for years. (I can’t begin to tell you how many hours I spent pouring over the numbers from a well worn copy of The Sporting News to make the player cards come out “just right”.) I had visions (and made attempts) at designing other stuff too but I got sidetracked by all the games out there yet to try and experience.

In those pre-Internet, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter days, my neighborhood crowd was into games too. We’d play a variety of the mass market stuff. I recall one Monopoly game where it was down to just two of us: my friend Brian and me! We were in my basement at the time and, wouldn’t you know it, the upstairs phone rang. This was decades before cell phones and answering machines, you understand, and I was the only one of the family in the house at the time so I had to go upstairs and answer it. Before I left, I told one of my friends who was watching the endgame to take my turn for me until I got back. I was gone no more than five minutes but when I got back, Brian was absolutely jubilant, holding and shaking a fistful of money in his hands! “Look at all the money I have” he announced. “What happened?” was all I could say. Turns out: Brian had a plan. He figured to win the game, he had to have the most money so… Brian sold me (actually, sold my proxy) ALL of his property to amass this wealth. From that moment on (actually only a few minutes), that vast bankroll of his shrunk to bankruptcy as every space Brian landed on was owned by ME! I won that game.

In the constant search for new stuff (or, at least, stuff new to me), my friends and I discovered wargames. I had played mass market wargames (Conflict by Parker Brothers and the American Heritage Game of the Civil War by Milton Bradley come to mind) but my first “real” wargame was an Avalon Hill title called D-Day. We had great fun playing that. But as we got older and interests changed, the gaming group faded away, drifting apart due to other interests. I had other interests too but gaming was never far away. Unfortunately, it was difficult (make that, impossible) to find people to game with. From my D-Day experience, I began to more closely follow wargaming magazines. The focus was on, of course, wargames, and, while I found them interesting, a diet solely of wargames was something a bit too narrow to completely satisfy my ever-widening tastes. And then I discovered something inside a game box.

I bought a copy of another Avalon Hill game: Kingmaker. This was a terrific game about the War of the Roses. But besides the board, counters and cards, there was something else in the box that caught my attention. It was an ad for a gaming publication: Games & Puzzles. This was a magazine from England that seemed to provide coverage of a wide range of games. Although the magazine had been around for years, it was new to me and this seemed to be what I wanted. I immediately subscribed and eagerly awaited the first issue. It finally came and I read it cover to cover.

G&P did, in fact, cover a wide variety of games and gaming topics. The magazine sometimes wrote about older, out of print, titles. There was an ads section too where people could try to track down titles. But my favorite part of the publication was the smallest: Gamesview. This was a section that reviewed current game offerings. I loved discovering new titles and reading about how they worked and what was good or bad about them. But, as good as G&P was, it was not immune to financial turbulence. It went through several different ownerships until finally, in a last ditch effort to save it, it split into two magazines: The Gamer and Top Puzzles. As they say, the operation was a success but the patient died. Both publications succumbed to financial woes and disappeared quickly. Now what?

As Games & Puzzles began its slide to oblivion, it suddenly appeared that the vacuum in game coverage was about to be filled. I saw on the newsstand GAMES magazine! A slick publication devoted to games. Great! I eagerly scooped up the first issue and the next and the next. I subscribed. But I came to discover that, despite the name, the magazine was mostly puzzles! Games, at least the kind of games I wanted to read and learn about, were almost an afterthought. The game review section was about the size of the Gamesview portion of Games & Puzzles and I wanted more. So, this wasn’t going to be the answer. I wanted a source for game information. I wanted game reviews. I wanted a way to get out of print games that I had heard about. Now what to do?

I continued to trade games and correspond with fellow enthusiasts which is how I met Bruce Whitehill. Bruce talked about forming an organization. Groucho Marx once said that he refused to join any group that would have him as a member. I, however, have no such compunction. I told Bruce “Count me in!” When the American Game Collectors Association started, I was one of the first members. My original membership card is #101! But the original emphasis in the organization was on antique games (the first 100 membership numbers were reserved for antique enthusiasts which is why I ended up with 101!). I was more interested in games of more recent vintage. So, now what?

With the incurable optimism of someone who doesn’t know any better, I figured if it’s going to get done, then maybe I will have to do it! And so I did! I went to my first New York International Toy Fair in February 1986 and I went to see lots of game manufacturers seeking to bring their games to market. I didn’t want people to think I was just a one-man operation (which, in fact, I was) so I figured I needed a catchy name for my organization. I first thought of “Global Gamers” but there was already a company called Global Games. Too close. What else could I call the organization of a group of gamers allied together to enjoy games? Allied? Alliance? How about Gamers Alliance? And so that name was born. From that Toy Fair experience, I received my first review copies of games and played them.

I started slaving away on my old typewriter (remember those?), telling about games (both games I received for review and games I bought myself) and giving my opinions about them. I cut and pasted the issue (literally, no “point and click”, really cutting and pasting!), visited a couple of printers – and found a good one, and had the first issue printed with a cover date of Fall 1986 and Gamers Alliance Report was born. I placed ads in hobby publications to announce the start of Gamers Alliance and GA Report and the issue was mailed to people who I had traded games and corresponded with through the years and who answered the ads. I offered a catalog of out of print games available for sale and trade. I figured: lots of work but lots of fun too. Maybe I’ll do this for a year or two. Who knew?

It has now been 25 years of Gamers Alliance and GA Report. I want to thank our worldwide membership for without them, this milestone would not have been reached. I want to thank the many contributors over the years who have shared their remarkable talents and insights to make Gamers Alliance and GA Report that much better. I want to thank my parents who didn’t quite “get it” but were always supportive. I want to thank my children Alana and Daniel and my lovely wife, Lynn, for being tolerant – and often co-conspirators – in this madness.

I said in the beginning that this was A Tale of Two Cities for this Century and I mean it. The Gamers Alliance story began in New York and, in Lancaster, PA, I received the Bradley-Parker Award from the Association of Game and Puzzle Collector in recognition of the contribution I (and Gamers Alliance) has made to the hobby of gaming. The century? This issue is the 100th issue of Gamers Alliance Report. Who would have thought that from such a small seed and tiny idea, this international organization has grown. It makes you both humble and proud at the same time. (And I’m looking forward to the next century of gaming.)

In this issue of GA REPORT, we struggle – in Catan, with dragons and in a volatile financial market. Plus, to make this special issue even more special, we’ve gathered together many past contributors over the last 25 years (and we wish we could have gotten them all!) who have graciously taken time from their busy schedules to join in in this special 100th issue celebration! We’re delighted to have such an All-Star line-up of, truly, some of the best and the brightest in the World of Games, as Dave Rapp cooks up a storm, Jeff Feuer discovers a 51st state, Greg Schloesser digs and displays ancient artifacts, Larry Levy flies high, Joe Huber checks out castles in the French countryside, Chris Kovac gets moonstruck, Andrea “Liga” Ligabue explores, Marty Goldberger plays “mind games” and we “flashback” with Sid Sackson who tantalizes with a now classic abstract game! And, of course, much more!

Until next time, Good Gaming!

Herb Levy, President

 


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Summer 2011 GA Report Articles

 

[Jeff Feuer is relatively new to the World of Games but that hasn't stopped him from voicing a knowledgeable opinion. In real life, Jeff is a professor of mathematics and he brings that analytical nature to his game playing and reviews. Jeff first appeared in the Summer 2007 Gamers Alliance Report with his review of Age of Empires III. Now he's back and, with his ...
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[David Rapp started out gaming with the Long Island Gamers and was a stalwart at our weekly gaming sessions for a number of years. An early contributor to the pages of Gamers Alliance Report, Dave made his GAR debut in the Fall 1999 issue with a review of Brawl from Cheapass Games. Dave would continue to be a steady contributor over the next several years ...
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[We are very pleased to have Larry Levy as part of our 100th issue celebration. We've said this before - and it's worth saying again - that Larry is one of the best known voices on gaming, sharing his expertise and insight throughout the world via his internet postings and writings for many game review publications. And more! Larry helped open up our 25th year ...
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[Gamers Alliance is international in scope, both in readership and contributors. Andrea "Liga" Ligabue is one of our valued international contributors hailing from Italy. Liga's first contribution to Gamers Alliance Report was in the Winter 2008 issue with his review of Race for the Galaxy. In this, his 11th review for GA Report, Liga races back to the galaxy to explore new (alien) frontiers.] (Clever ...
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[Games designed by Friedemann Friese have often found a place in the pages of Gamers Alliance Report. This review marks the 5th game designed by him to appear here - and my 691st (!) review for GA Report. - Herb Levy] BLACK FRIDAY (Kosmos/Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 13 and up, about 60 minutes; $44.95) Reviewed by Herb Levy The Long Island Gamers, my ...
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[Numbskull Games is a relative newcomer to the gaming scene. Their first appearance in these pages came with Last of the Independents in the Fall 2010 issue. This is the second appearance for the company here - and my 692nd review for GA Report. - Herb Levy] (Numbskull Games, 2-6 players, ages 12 and up, 90-180 minutes; $49.99) Reviewed by Herb Levy 2011 marks the ...
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[Joe Huber is one of the few: a recognized voice in the worldwide gaming community as well as a published game designer whose credits include Ice Cream, Scream Machine and Burger Joint (the latter receiving an International Gamers Award nomination for best 2 player game of the year and cited as "Best In Category" for family games in the December 2010 issue of GAMES Magazine) ...
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A Tale of Two Cities for This Century One of the most famous novels by Charles Dickens, legendary 19th century author, was A Tale of Two Cities. The two cities of the title were London and Paris. A best seller when published, required reading in schools across the country, even a pick for Oprah's Book Club over a hundred years after its initial appearance, all ...
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[As one of today's leading game designers, Michael Schacht games have often appeared in Gamers Alliance Report. This is the 13th time that a game designed (or co-designed) by Schacht has been reviewed - and review number 693 for me. - Herb Levy] (Matagot, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, 60-90 minutes; $49.99) Reviewed by Herb Levy Michael Schacht must love cats. How else to ...
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[No Gamers Alliance celebration would be complete without something from Sid Sackson. Sid was a valued contributor to these pages for over 9 years. So, to mark our 100th issue, we are going back into the files to reprint a review Sid did of a quality abstract game - still available - in which he not only discusses the game but, in typical Sackson fashion, ...
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[Another one of our international contributors is Chris Kovac. Chris, a Canadian, has been a part of Gamers Alliance for years, doing his first review (of Byzantium designed by Martin Wallace) in the Spring 2006 issue. With this, his 24th review, Chris shares his view of a game by another successful designer, Stefan Feld, who is evidently a little "moonstruck".] (Z-Man Games, 1-4 players, ages ...
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[Marty Goldberger is no stranger to these pages having contributed reviews over our two and a half decades. Marty's reviews are an example of quality over quantity. First appearing in the Summer 1997 issue, he last graced our pages with his 5th review in the Winter 2010 issue with his review of Back to the Future: The Card Game when he helped kick off our ...
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[I've written this before but it's worth repeating: Few people enjoy a better - or more well deserved - reputation than Greg J. Schloesser. Starting and developing a readership as one of the most respected reviewers on the internet, Greg has spread the good word on gaming by being the driving force behind TWO gaming groups (the Westbank Gamers of New Orleans and the East ...
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[Looney Labs can always be counted on for a freewheeling gaming experience, particularly when it comes to cards. And so it is with Seven Dragons. Seven dragons for them, 694 reviews for me. - - Herb Levy] (Looney Labs, 2-5 players, ages 6 and up, 10 to 30 minutes; $15) Reviewed by Herb Levy Looney Labs has been around for over a decade now and ...
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[The Settlers of Catan was first reviewed in Gamers Alliance Report a decade and a half ago, in the Fall 1996 Gamers Alliance Report. Since then, it has blossomed into a sort of cottage industry unto itself. Here, we take a look at the latest addition to the line in review #695 for me. - - Herb Levy] (Mayfair Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and ...
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