[The AGPC Convention was held from April 29 to May 1, 2011 at the beautiful – and only a few years old – Marriott Lancaster Hotel in Penn Square in downtown Lancaster, Pennsylvania (see the photo below right). I was the keynote speaker on Saturday, April 30. Following Murphy’s Law that whatever could go wrong would go wrong, the thermostat in the room originally scheduled for the speech and award presentation broke, plummeting the temperatures in the room to arctic conditions! But nothing could deter the AGPC members and we relocated to a new – and much warmer – room. I could only comment that “it is amazing what some people will do to keep me from talking!”
Jim Polczynski did the introduction. Jim and I had first met 13 years ago! Jim, then the editor of The American Game Collectors Journal, and I (along with AGPC founder Bruce Whitehill) had lunch – and a great time – together during the 1998 New York International Toy Fair in Manhattan. Jim offered up a wonderful introduction and then it was my turn to speak.]
“Thank you, Jim, and good evening everyone.
First of all, let me say that I’m thrilled to be receiving such a prestigious honor as the Bradley-Parker Award from such a prestigious organization. But the best thing about this is getting together with kindred spirits. I get you. You get me. We get each other. You know, some people just don’t get us. Let me give you an example.
I always attend the New York International Toy Fair each year. It’s a trade show that showcases what various companies hope will be the next hot toy and game for the coming year. So I was walking around with my son, Daniel, looking at all the amazing sights to behold when I spotted a football autographed by the New York Football Giants that was the prize in a drawing. All you had to do was hand in your business card. Pretty cool! Well, my son happens to be a Giants fan (and yes, I know we’re in Pennsylvania; no offense to any Eagles or Steelers fans out there) so I handed over my business card to the trio of charming ladies manning the display.
One lady took a look at my card. “Gamers Alliance”, she said. “What’s that?”
“We’re into games”. Immediately, she brightened up.
“Games? We accept game donations for underprivileged children.”
“No”, I attempted to explain. “We’re not involved with those kinds of games. We’re into games for adults.”
Now, as soon as I said those words, there was a strange transformation, something like what Dr. Jekyll experienced when he turned into Mr. Hyde. The lady’s lips began to quiver, the color drained from her face, her eyes began to bulge.
“Adult games? Adult games? You mean …… SEX!?!?!?!?”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
Being here reminds me of A Tale of Two Cities. Of course, the original Tale of Two Cities is one of the most famous novels by Charles Dickens, legendary 19th century author. The two cities of his title were London and Paris. But this is a different century and we have a different Tale of Two Cities now. In this case, the two cities are New York and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
It was in New York that Gamers Alliance began. 1986 was 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 there was a popular TV show on at the time, The Adventures of Superman, and, if you remember your comic books, Superman was also known as Clark Kent, star 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, my first Clue, my first Risk games. I would recruit my little brother as my partner-in-crime, playing games for hours. I even designed baseball and football games that the two of us enjoyed for years.
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 that Brian had a plan. To win the game, he figured, he needed lots of money. So he sold me (actually, sold my proxy) ALL of his property to amass this wealth. From that moment on (actually only a few minutes), that bankroll turned bankrupt 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 follow wargaming magazines more closely. Their 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 had purchased a copy of another Avalon Hill game: Kingmaker. This was a terrific game about the War of the Roses. But besides the board, the counters and the cards, there was something else inside the box that caught my attention – 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.
Games & Puzzles did, in fact, cover a wide variety of games and gaming topics. The magazine sometimes wrote about older, out of print, titles too. There was even an ads section where people could try to track down uncommon 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 the saying goes, the operation was a success but the patient died. Both publications succumbed to financial woes and disappeared quickly.
As Games & Puzzles began its slide into oblivion, another publication appeared on the newsstand, a new, slick publication devoted to games aptly titled GAMES magazine! Great! I eagerly scooped up the first issue. I subscribed. Lots of interesting stuff in each issue but my favorite part was the game review section. But the game review section was about the size of the Gamesview portion of Games & Puzzles and I wanted more. I wanted more 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 would refuse to join any organization that would accept him as a member. Well, I have no such compunction. I told Bruce, “Count me in!” When the Association of Games & Puzzle Collectors started, I was one of the first members. And here is my original membership card – number 101! The original emphasis of the organization was on antique games (the first 100 membership numbers were reserved for antique enthusiasts which is why I ended up with 101!). Antique stuff is great but 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 I better be the one to do it! I mean, how hard could it be?
I went to my first New York International Toy Fair in February 1986 and I went to see lots of game manufacturers and companies 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 and it stuck. 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?), writing and giving my opinions about both the games I received for review and games I bought myself. I cut and pasted the issue (and I mean that literally, none of that “point and click” stuff – I remember spending many long nights into early morning doing just that, 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. Gamers Alliance and Gamers Alliance Report were born.
I got together with a good friend of mine – Steve Kurzban – and with five other friends (we called ourselves “The Magnificent Seven”) started a gaming group – The Long Island Gamers – to play games and prepare them for review. Today, the LI Gamers is one of the largest and most active gaming groups in the United States! And if you’re ever in the Long Island area, there is a seat at the gaming table for all of you! (But please, CALL FIRST!)
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 throughout the years and who answered the ads. Over the years, I had amassed a very large collection of games and 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. Well, it has lasted a lot longer than that!
Throughout the last 25 years, it’s been my pleasure to spread the “Gospel of Games” and, slowly but surely, our reputation grew. Gamers Alliance was featured in a 1997 issue of GAMES magazine. Not only have I written hundreds of reviews for Gamers Alliance Report (close to 700 now), my reviews have also appeared in such diverse publications as GAMES magazine and the well known wargaming publication Strategy & Tactics. We kicked off 2002 by launching the Gamers Alliance website which today has become a leading Internet site for news, views and reviews of games. (Not to mention a leading site for locating out of print games too!) And our international reach has widened. In July 2004, I was interviewed about games on South African radio! That was great fun! And speaking internationally, there are 19 voters gathered from around the world to bestow the International Gamers Awards (the IGAs) to the best games of the year (think of those Awards as the “Oscars” for games) – and I’m one of those voters! And now, today, Gamers Alliance Report is the longest running, continuously published, English language game review publication in the world!
But you can’t do this alone and I’ve been fortunate in attracting lots of talented people to the cause. Sid Sackson, a past recipient of the Abbot Award (which has become the Bradley-Parker Award) was a good and valued friend and he wrote for Gamers Alliance Report for over 9 years. Throughout the years, I’ve recruited the best and the brightest gamers from all around the world – including successful game designers and developers – to contribute insights and opinions. In our latest issue, for example, we have reviews written by gamers not only from all across the United States but from those who call Italy, England and Canada home.
Our membership has grown too. Today, Gamers Alliance Report is read on every continent except for Antarctica – and we’re working on that!
I have always thought of Gamers Alliance as a complementary organization to the AGPC, a love of games linking us both. And that’s what makes this award so special to me. To be linked to such past recipients as Jim Prentice, Lynn Pressman, Robert Whiteman (Bettye-B Company), Francis Spear, Douglas Bolton (Cadaco-Ellis), Victor Watson (Waddingtons) as well as my good friends Sid Sackson and Bruce Whitehill just makes the whole thing sweeter.
I want to thank all of our worldwide members for their support. This wouldn’t be happening if not for them. I want to thank my parents. They didn’t quite “get it” either but were always supportive in every way. I want to thank my children, Alana and Daniel, and my lovely wife, Lynn, for tolerating and often being co-conspirators in this madness too. And, of course, I want to thank the AGPC for this wonderful and greatly appreciated honor.
It has now been 25 years of Gamers Alliance and GA Report. I mentioned a little while ago that this was A Tale of Two Cities for a different century and I mean it. The Gamers Alliance story began in New York and, tonight, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I have received the Bradley-Parker Award. The century? Well, I’m going to write about this in the very next issue of Gamers Alliance Report and that issue will be my 100th, my century. This award is the perfect way to begin the next century of gaming.
Thank you all.”