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REMEMBERING SID SACKSON

REMEMBERING SID SACKSON: GAMERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD SHARE THEIR THOUGHTS

 

Sid and his devoted wife, Bernice, lived in an old house in a nondescript area of The Bronx, New York. The house was almost unreachable. Buses and subways never heard of Arnow Avenue, and anyone trying to drive there had better be prepared for a frustrating adventure through a confusing labyrinth of one-way, wrong-way, no-way streets.

Inside that house, however, was one of the wonders of the world: an unbelievably vast collection of board games, which occupied every shelf, every nook, and every cranny of the living quarters, and every inch, floor to ceiling, of a large cellar. A life’s work, to be sure, and worthy of preservation. Sid’s dream, he told me, was for the collection to be housed in a museum, perhaps in Germany, and for him to be its curator-for-life. A nice dream, but, sadly, it was not to be. Sid’s collection was broken up and sold at auction soon after his death.

My responsibilities at Games magazine included managing the game review section. I therefore received all the new games. It also became my pleasant responsibility to entertain Sid whenever he came to visit. For Sid, my office was an irresistible magnet. And he didn’t discriminate; he was interested in every game, good or bad, trash or treasure. He would happily have lugged every one of those games back up to The Bronx, on his back if need be. He had to make do, however, with copying the directions. Forget about using the copier when Sid was around!

Those were good days. I will miss that dear man.

— Burt Hochberg, Editor Emeritus, GAMES Magazine


 

You’ve probably already read that Sid Sackson, creator of many much- beloved and much-played games, died yesterday at the age of 82.

A couple of years ago somebody on r.g.b posted that Sid was sick, and he was collecting get-well wishes from people to send along to Sid in a batch. I wrote a note thanking him for my many wonderful hours spent playing Acquire, Can’t Stop, and Card Baseball.

If Acquire had been the only game Sid ever invented, his contribution to gaming would have been merely immense.

Last night at about the time Sid was checking out, I was teaching his game Samarkand, one of my favorites of recent years, to two new players. The game was given an enthusiastic reception.

I hope Sid has gone to a better place and has been given an enthusiastic welcome there, as well.

— Stven C


 

I was privileged to have known Sid Sackson in the prime of his inventing lifetime.

We first met in 1973 through Sid’s agent Felicia Parker, who became my own agent as well. Believe it or not, I had contacted Felicia out of the yellow pages. I had put together a few designs and at the urging of friends, I simply had to give it a go. I was so naive in all respects that I thought Ms. Parker was from the Parker Bros. family and had no idea at all who Sackson was. Felicia introduced him as America’s greatest game inventor, a title I subsequently learned was richly deserved.

Sid was quiet and quite shy and allowed Felicia to ramble on about how he started designing. A child of the depression, Sid did not have many friends, and spent much of his free time not only playing his small collection of games solitaire, but taking pieces from different games and making new games with them. His favorite game was Lotto, which he transformed into several different incarnations, including a wargame and finally, Acquire. As a testament to Sid’s devotion to an idea, Acquire is still being published, decades after the first edition rolled off the presses.

During the period 1973-1982, I was semi actively designing games with a few modest successes, most notably Super 3, which sold a half million copies in Europe. But very few of my ideas saw the light of the publisher’s day. A naïf in the company of a master. Sid was prolific. Idea after idea poured out and all seemed to be directly in the path of publisher’s plans. I was in awe.

Slowly, I began to understand why Sid was so successful. For starters, he was a copious note taker. He always had a note pad and pen handy and every time I was with him, he found something to write about. One could sense that even the most fleeting iota of an idea never escaped Sid; it was jotted down on the spot. He also saved every game he ever bought and in doing so, had an incredible library of games pieces and boards. If one rummages through the pieces and boards long enough, a fertile imagination can conjure up new and original perspectives using the same or similar materials. Sid did so brilliantly, conceiving entertaining new perspectives from what was already tried and true.

Clearly, one of his greatest triumphs was Parker Bros.’ Can’t Stop, an idea that could easily have been pieced together from what was at hand. You can almost see how the idea started, with a simple 11 X 11 grid. Label the columns with the numbers that can be rolled with two dice. But 2’s and 12’s come up less often than 7’s so let’s chop off the corners to give those numbers a shorter route. And so on. But using two dice, we “stop” too often. So we try four dice. The process is so simple when you are a master.

Sid was also called upon by publishers to implement their own ideas. Such as Ideal’s Winning Ticket. The story as I heard it was that Ideal was interested in capitalizing on the rapidly growing fascination with lotteries and asked Sid to develop a game with the theme. However, since lotteries were public domain, rather than proprietary ideas, Ideal would only pay Sid royalties if he could protect the idea. So, Sid had his idea patented and Ideal published the game.

As my own modest successes took me a little more deeply into the realm of “professional,” Sid cheered me on. One day, he called and invited Ali and I to dinner at his home in the Bronx. It took me about 1/1000th of a second to accept.

Ali & I were treated to a great meal and several hours of conversation by Sid and Bernice, our very gracious hostess. Of course, I asked to see his collection and Sid complied with my request, and enjoyed every second of my amazement. Simply put, I was blown away. There was every game I had ever seen on the shelves of the toy stores as I grew up. I was immediately overwhelmed with the desire to rip open every box and peer inside to relish and bask in the glow of my own memories. Sid completely understood and was quite happy to allow me to open a few of my favorites. I’ll never forget those few moments, what a rush!

As I gravitated to other pursuits and Sid grew older, I only followed his success peripherally. Finally, after joining a group in Long Island that played games every week, his efforts were once again on the table. I called him one evening a few years ago and invited both Sid and Bernice to attend a Memorial Day afternoon game session. We expected at least 25 to attend, including children. I had heard he was growing quite frail and his memory was failing. It seemed so important to provide Sid with one more day of respect. He accepted our invitation on the spot. To be sure, Sid proved the grapevine to be correct. He was frail and his mind was not what it once was. But he was there and he participated fully, playing a half dozen games before tiring. We finally pushed him into a game of Kohle, Kie$ & Knete. Forever competitive, Sid won his own game.

Whatever drove Sid to develop his craft is likely the same passion that drives us to pursue this particular form of entertainment. If the story is true that Sid had few friends as the depression ravaged the country, he was probably starved for interaction and as a result, conjured up worlds of interaction with his imagination for the rest of us. And as a result, we all won.

Sid is not gone. We’ll be playing his games a hundred years from now.

— Alan Newman, game designer of Super 3, Babuschka, Tin Soldiers etc.


 

One chilly February day, Sid & I met at 200 Fifth Avenue to make the rounds of the manufacturer’s offices during Toy Fair. Other than a few years during the late 70’s, the manufacturers had really kept a lid on inventors, and a cold shoulder was par for the course during Toy Fair. Sid usually got in based on his Media pass. In retrospect, it seems ironic and simply awful that his coverage of the American game industry came down to his press credentials. But due to the efforts of a few new faces like Parker Bros. VP Bill Dohrmann, Laurie Curran & Phil Orbanes, an effort was made to bring inventors a bit closer to the action. Parker Bros even held an “annual” cocktail party for several years, where I got to meet a few of the more famous names, like Alex Randolph.

Anyway, this particular day, Sid & I met in the lobby and went directly to the Media room, where we were able to pick up our packets that included catalogues from literally everyone in the industry. Hey, in those days, that was about as close to an Essen-type experience that I was going to get. Just picking up all the catalogues was fun.

Then Sid & I started our journey through 200 Fifth Ave., starting at the top and working our way down. We visited just about every manufacturer I can think of except Mego, who were in a different building across from the park. Hey, it was c-o-l-d!

When we got to Milton Bradley, we were ushered in like royalty. Man, what a feeling. Here I am with the country’s greatest game inventor, and *I* am getting to walk on the red carpet. Neat!

Well, we went through their line, one by one, stopping at each for a bit to determine how the game was played and to either nod our approval of the game’s merits or shrug indifferently. Then we got to Tri-Trac, a “strategy” entry. One willing exec explained the rules and patiently waited for our reaction. Sid looked at me. I knew what was on his mind. I looked at him and smiled. Then, he turned to the executive and said, “But the game doesn’t work.” The exec put his finger to his lips and said, “We know, shhhh!”

— Alan Newman


 

Sid loved games more than any person I’ve ever met, and they loved him back.

However, my strongest memories of Sid have surprisingly little to do with games. Games were the excuse for me to get to know a wonderful old man, the crazy uncle every family should have and whom I aspire to be, the uncle who sprinkles ground red pepper on his pound cake but who also designed weapons systems for aircraft carriers and who helped build the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

I’ll have his games always. But I’ll miss Sid.

— Kevin Maroney


 

Although I only had the privilege of meeting Mr. Sackson once, I feel like I have known him for most of my life.

My first entrance into hobby gaming was in 1977 when I bought my first microgame. Since then I have never looked back. However, the seeds of gaming where planted in me at an early age by my parents. One of the first games I ever played with them was Acquire.

Our family Acquire set was the equivalent of most families Monopoly set (my mom hated Monopoly as she thought it was too random). Ultimately, when I learned that games had authors and that, much like books, I tended to like games by the same author I began hunting down games by author. I very quickly noticed that Sid Sackson was the author of a number of games that I really enjoyed playing. I have been seriously collecting Sid’s games for 15 years now and am six games and one book away from finishing the set.

I met Mr. Sackson only once, at Al Newman’s Memorial Day party where I had him sign five of my all-time favorites (Kevin Maroney joked with me about there being a signing limit). I also got the chance to play the prototype game Plan Ahead which would ultimately be published as Business, his last game. I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank him again for all of the hours of entertainment that he has given me and all of the people I have gamed with over the years. It felt like someone stole a tiny piece of my heart when I heard about his death. I’m really going to miss him a lot.

— Nick Sauer


 

After Sid¹s death, I spoke with Alex Randolph, perhaps Sid¹s oldest friend and associate. “Sid was the first colleague I ever had,” Alex said. Sid¹s Acquire and Alex¹s Twixt were the first two highly successful games for an unlikely game company, Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing. “We were the beginning of 3M,” Alex reminded me, referring, of course, to their game venture. Alex has lived in Italy for many years, now, and over the last two decades, Sid found Europe a better marketplace than the U.S. for his special signature games.

On occasion I would visit Sid at his long-time home in the Bronx. We would talk about the newest games on the market, why there were so many good games coming out of Germany and so few in the U.S. He would show me whatever he had purchased that was new (he didn¹t talk much about his newest invented games), and then ask what I had been up to. We discussed how difficult it was to make it as a game inventor (something I do as well), especially with the number of American game companies dwindling so rapidly (thanks to so many takeovers by Hasbro). One time I told him I had developed an extension of his game Haggle, which I called Negotiation and was playtesting at parties and using at corporate events. “Great,” he said with enthusiasm, not bothered by the fact that I had adapted and altered one of his games. “Maybe we¹ll make lots of money!”

Besides these all-too-infrequent visits, I always knew I could count on seeing Sid every year at Toy Fair. He would take the train in, and rush around to see everything he could before having to catch the train back home. In spite of a self-imposed, hurried schedule, he would take time to sit in the press room, talk about the promising games he had seen, ask if I had discovered anything interesting, and chat about life. Sid was a friend and colleague. I will miss him.

A little Sid Sackson story:

One evening in the beginning of the new century in Rochester, NY, our usual game-playing contingent had been reduced to only three regulars, with a fourth person who was brand new to the group. Someone had brought the new, Milton Bradley Acquire, so we decided to play it. One of the rules of the new edition was slightly different from the original–I think something to do with the start of the game. The neophyte asked why the change was made, and the reason was not obvious to any of us. “³We¹ll just have to call Sid and ask him,” I declared. It was nearly midnight when I picked up the phone and began to dial. The face of the new guy showed signs of skepticism. But I knew that not only did Sid stay up very late working on his game projects, he actually asked not to be called before 11 PM, when he was busier and had less time to talk. Sid answered, and after the usual small talk, he responded to my question, saying something about a nearly arbitrary decision that came about from the suggestion of someone at Hasbro. More small talk. I thanked him and hung up. The three of us regulars got a kick out of knowing that the new guy would never be sure if I had actually talked to THE Sid Sackson, or if he, the new guy, was, more than likely (he would think), the dupe of a light-hearted prank.

— Bruce Whitehill, Editor
“All in the Game” newsletter
www.thebiggamehunter.com


 

I remember when Bruce Whitehill and I made the pilgrimage to Sid’s and Bernice’s house where they had lived for fifty years in the Bronx. All I could think about was that I was going to meet the man who had raised the bar in American game design. And yet nothing I saw that day was anything but unassuming.

The house was modest, the game area (in the basement on steel shelves and under the stairs and surrounding the washer and dryer) was modest, Bernice was modest, and, remarkably, so was Sid.

He was, of course, proud of the games he had designed and took us on the required tour of his books and his office and his decades of minute note-taking at which any CPA would have marveled. But he seemed as interested in us as we were in him, and I couldn’t shake the impression that the house simply closed up for the season when no visitors were there to enliven it.

We talked about the games of other inventors. I went shopping with Bernice at the local deli, after which we enjoyed a Brobdingnagian lunch and Sid signed my early copy of his Gamut of Games. (Or rather, he inscribed it but left his name off until I reminded him that that was the most important part.)

I came away that day with mixed feelings, of having been as close to the man as friendliness and well-wishes would allow and still having seen nothing in him that would belie his impact on the world of game design. His delight in games was my own, but his analytical depth and canny imagination were locked away in a place I couldn’t visit, where, though there was so much to the man to make up for it, even Bernice probably couldn’t follow.

Most sincerely,

— Wayne Saunders


 

I’ve been a game player and collector for 30+ years now. I’m a communicating member of GAMA, member of the Association of Game and Puzzle Collectors, member of Gamers Alliance, etc. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Sid Sackson in the past and always found him friendly, open, helpful and informative. Sid knew games and understood gamers! I was amazed at his accessibility and cooperation. He is THE Legend in gaming. He was unique and will never be replaced. I will miss Sid Sackson. However, I will think of him every time I play Acquire and Can’t Stop – two of my favorite games.

— Tony Elam


 

I had heard that Sid’s health was deteriorating over the last few years and I still felt quite sad when I learned of his death. When someone’s creative genius has impacted your life in a positive way, it’s hard not to feel personally affected by such bad news.

I learned about the joys of gaming as a pre-teen, and as a teenager I moved up a notch in my gaming experiences with Sleuth, Venture, Executive Decision, and Monad. In those years, I also remember reading an article about this “odd” person who had invented many of the games I enjoyed, and the fact that he had the world’s largest private game collection. “Wow” I thought. “If this Sid Sackson guy can design all these games, and also enjoy building up such a huge game collection, maybe I shouldn’t feel so odd about wanting to take games seriously as well.” With that thought, I was well on my way to be becoming a lifetime game hobbiest.

As most of us are aware, Sid was one of the few designers in the “early days” who actually produced games meant to appeal to adults, and showed the world a game doesn’t have to involve throwing dice to move pawns around a track. Thank you Sid Sackson for your pioneering efforts and the brilliance inherent in so many of your designs. May your legacy of your designs live on.

— Barry Ellis


 

I feel like one of my personal heroes is gone. Mr. Sackson helped to usher me into gaming as a child with his great 3M games; his A Gamut of Games was a tremendous influence during my teenage years and really made me realize that games were things that could be designed, rather than just played; and he was one of the architects, along with his friend Alex Randolph, of the modern gaming revolution in Germany. Acquire, Focus, Venture, Sleuth, Can’t Stop, Metropolis, Samarkand, Kohle Kies & Knete — what great creations. But I think his greatest creation is the gaming industry we all know and love today.

Many people have expressed the opinion that modern gaming stems from the 3M designs of the sixties, which of course included many games by Sackson and Randolph. I agree, but I think the true point of creation might well be a loosely knit gaming group Sackson organized around 1960 called the NYGA (New York Game Association). As described in A Gamut of Games, this was a group primarily interested in designing and playtesting their own games. Besides Sackson himself, the group included Randolph, Robert Abbott (Eleusis, Code 777), and Claude Soucie (Lines of Action). I can¹t be sure, but it seems as if, for the first time, the *craft* of game design was actively pursued by this little group. The impact the various members of the NYGA had on modern gaming is tremendous. And Sackson was its founder and most active member. He continued to influence an entire generation of game designers, either in person or through his wonderful designs.

For these and many other reasons, I celebrate the life of Sid Sackson. Thank you, Sid–you will be remembered for as long as games bring smiles to our faces.

— Larry Levy


 

I was saddened to hear about Sid’s death. What a kind and very unassuming guy who obviously had a great love of games and deep down a wicked sense of humor. You’ve only got to play Acquire to appreciate Sid’s gaming acumen.

— Andrew Berton, CEO, Excel Development Group


 

I first met Sid Sackson in 1968 while I was in college. In all the years that followed, Sid remained as true to his purpose (love of games) and as kind to me as he was on our first meeting.

At that first meeting, during my stay in New York for Toy Fair, he invited me and others to his home for dinner. That night, we played a prototype of a new game I was developing, to be called Cartel. Sid’s Acquire game was highly revered by both me and my friends. I was nervous that Sid would be overly critical of Cartel because, it too, was a business development game. However, midway through the game, a competitive auction for a strategic acquisition took place, which Sid won. Sid reacted like any game player who had taken a strategic risk and prevailed. In that moment, Sid not only endorsed my game, he endorsed what became my career. I came to respect how eminently fair Sid was when evaluating the work of others.

I am eternally grateful for Sid for the respect he showed me from the first time me we met, through the last. I am also grateful for the many occasions he allowed me to study games in his collection and for our collaborations on new games after my arrival in New York following my college days.

There will likely never again be someone like him, but it is my hope that game scholars, for centuries to come, will hold him in bright light of acclaim, which he richly deserves.

— Phil Orbanes. President of Winning Moves


 

I was very sorry to learn of Sid’s passing. I first met him when I was a little boy living in New York and I am very thankful for having known him. I am especially thankful for the exceptionally lucid conversation Sid and I shared six years ago at Toy Fair, on a day that was good for him. I will miss him, as I know many, many people will. He was a real human being, a friend to my family, and a real gamer.

— Philip C. Orbanes, Vice-President, Winning Moves


 

Wow. Having been out of the games business for so long, I didn’t realize Sid’s passing. I was Director of Creative Design at Milton Bradley during the 70’s and early 80’s, and came to know Sid quite well. I had the privilege of having dinner with him and Bernice at their house in the Bronx on many occasions.

Besides games, we also shared our enjoyment of spicy food. I’ll never forget one evening when Bernice served up some home made apple pie, and Sid deftly peeled off the top crust to add his hot peppers! How cool is that?

— John Vernon, Vernon Design


Sid was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met… shy, meek, brilliant, and somewhat of a “nerd” (before the word had entered the lexicon).

— Joseph Balkoski, Game designer (Atlantic Wall, 2nd Fleet, 5th Fleet, 7th Fleet, Wacht am Rhein etc.)


I remember Sid fondly. He was a quiet, thoughtful voice amongst the brash SPI folks. Sid was boardgames when boardgamers weren’t cool.

— Davis C. Isby, Game designer (To The Green Fields Beyond, Hitler’s Last Gamble etc.), former editor of Strategy & Tactics magazine


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