In this special tribute issue, we honor the person who, in my estimation, is the greatest American game designer in terms of both quantity AND quality – a combination impossible to beat: Sid Sackson.
I met Sid almost by accident.
I didn’t know much about Sid Sackson in my younger years. I did read A Gamut of Games, Sid’s classic book on games but I remember being most impressed by the fact that Sid had a “gaming group” – The New York Game Associates – that played adult games together! Could you imagine that? I had thought that I was the only one who thought games were not just for kids! I would have LOVED to discover where the NYGA met and join them. Unbeknownst to me, though, by the time I read A Gamut of Games, the NYGA had long disbanded. (It would only be years later, when Gamers Alliance took shape, that I got my wish: the Gamers Alliance gaming group.)
Still, the Sackson way of games found its way into my gaming habits. Acquire, from the 3M line, was probably my first Sackson treasure. I remember coming across an interesting looking game called Focus. It was probably a “bootleg” copy as Sid’s name on the game was misspelled as Saxon. But that didn’t change how it played. My wife and I played it and played it and played it. Damn, it was good! (I didn’t know it at the time but the game won German Game of the Year honors in 1979.)
Anyway, once the Sackson bug bit, I began looking for games designed by this clever guy, a bit difficult to do since American game companies generally refused to credit game design to anyone except Mr. Anonymous. But not so in Europe.
I came across a promotional ad in an Avalon Hill game for an English games magazine called Games & Puzzles. I quickly subscribed and, mimicking Columbus who traveled east to west to discover a new world, I traveled from west to east to discover a whole new world: a whole new world of games. I began to correspond with other gamers and the Sid Sackson game Holiday was mentioned more than once. That was enough to convince me that Holiday was a game I had to have.
I became friendly with a game dealer in England who happened to know Sid Sackson. I was suitably impressed. The dealer offered to “broker” a trade for Holiday between Sid and me. Great! Except the deal never came off! Well, what are you going to do? Nothing except….
My interest in games led to my joining game associations prior to starting Gamers Alliance. It so happened that Sid was also a member in one of them. That emboldened me to take matters into my own hands. I wrote to Sid and broached the matter of a Holiday trade. Sid responded. Not with a trade but an invitation. Would I like to come over to his place? After getting over the momentary shock, I jumped at the chance. But, to be honest about it, upon thinking things over, I began to be a little worried. What if my impression of the man, based solely on admiration of his work, did not live up to reality? I took the chance.
My wife, Lynn, and I traveled to the Bronx. (Sid gave explicit instructions. A good thing too as the weaving around the blocks to the Sackson residence would have left me lost.) Sid and his lovely wife, Bernice, treated us like gold. Sid showed me around his massive collection. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. Games of all kinds in virtually every room, stacked from floor to ceiling. Games I hadn’t seen in decades, games I hadn’t ever seen, neatly arranged in some semblance of order. And, then, finally, a copy of Holiday. At last, ready to complete the trade. Well, no. Sid explained that he had hopes of getting Holiday republished and needed this copy in his collection so no trade. A little disappointed, of course, but too thrilled to actually be there for the disappointment to last more than a second.
From that time on, Sid and I (and Lynn and Bernice) became friends. We often visited each other. We’d spend the evenings talking about everything: family, politics and, of course, games.
Genius is a rare commodity. Sid was a generous genius who had an unbelievable wealth of knowledge about game design and history that he was always willing to share. It wouldn’t take much to get him to elaborate on a game mechanism or a design idea.
Sid and I would often trade games as he was always interested in any game he didn’t have. The very fact that I could come up with something he hadn’t seen (a daunting task to be sure) generated a ton of enthusiasm from him. But, as you might suspect, the main activity of the evenings was game playing. We played lots of games of all kinds but my favorites were the Sackson designs. I remember playing with Sid prototypes of his game called It’s a Deal (which became Kohle, Kies & Knete), Plan Ahead (which became Business) and other Sackson gems that still haven’t seen the light of day. The evenings would always end with some food. Bernice was always the perfect hostess at the Sackson home. Ice cream was a favorite dessert. I’ll never forget how Sid would eat ice cream: with chopsticks!
Sid always encouraged me with Gamers Alliance, taking great interest in the organization and reading the issues. It was a measure of the man that he treated me, someone literally off the street, as an equal to himself. We would meet up at the annual Toy Fair in New York City and often compare notes on what we saw. (Several times, I drove him home as he was weighed down with game samples and literature.) I gathered the courage to ask him if he would like to do a column for Gamers Alliance Report. Sid, without hesitation, said he gladly would. And he was true to his word, turning out insightful columns for GA REPORT for almost nine years.
On what must have been one of our last visits before Sid’s health deteriorated, the four of us were talking and, somehow, the topic of how Sid and I met became a focal point of conversation. I mentioned Holiday. And what do you think? Bernice and Sid left the room and came back with a copy of Holiday just for me.
Sid Sackson was a remarkable individual in many ways. As a game designer, he was able to create games of all kinds – abstracts, business games, wargames, even sports games. As a human being, he was a strong believer in treating people fairly and with dignity. (In our political discussions, I would tease him about being a “Bolshevik”.) And he had a droll sense of humor too. (The Sackson sense of self deprecating humor was readily apparent when he commented to me that he really enjoyed the review of his Card Baseball game where the critic, evidently not a baseball fan, stated that the game captured all of the tedium of the real thing!)
The World of Games has lost a true titan. Judging from the reactions around the globe, gamers around the world know this all too well and he is greatly missed. I miss this great game designer too. But I miss my friend, Sid, more.
In this issue, we offer a retrospective of some of the exclusive “Sid Sackson Says” columns that highlighted GA REPORT issues in the 1990s. Plus reprints of contemporary GA REPORT reviews of Sackson games as well as a comprehensive list, compiled by Nick Sauer, of Sackson creations, Sid’s lasting legacy to the world. And, of course, a section devoted to thoughts on the passing of the great Sid Sackson. Finally, special thanks to everyone who contributed to make this special issue truly special.
Until next time, Good Gaming!
Herb Levy, President