A Trip to Berlin

The origins of the eurogame movement are usually traced to two German innovations. The first is the Spiel des Jahres, a gaming award that began offering awards in 1979, and which honored its first homebrew German game, Scotland Yard (1983), just a few years later. The second is Essen Game Fair, which debuted that same year and quickly became the second major gear in the engine that would soon be propelling German games to success.

Of course it’s wrong to say that those early Euros were German games, because they were in truth West German games. At the time the country was still split, with East Germany then being a satellite of the USSR. So if you look at the maps you’ll find Essen, Prien am Chiemsee (the home of F.X. Schmid), Munich (the home of Schmidt Spiele), Ravensburg (the home of Ravensburger), and Stuttgart (the home of Kosmos) were all in West Germany. The Special K of early German designers — Reiner Knizia, Wolfgang Kramer, and Klaus Teuber — similarly all originated in West Germany.

Which all goes to say that if you want to make a pilgrimage to the German Game homeland, the western part of Germany is the place to go. Essen is the high holy spot, of course, but Munich would probably be a great alternative for really seeing German game culture in its native environment.

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Asmodee: The Other Creature that Ate the (Gaming) World

Some years ago, I wrote an article about how Hasbro had gobbled up the entire gaming world. It’s ten years later and Hasbro is not just sitting pretty atop their piles of toys and games, but considering a merger to turn them into a truly terrifying megacorp. Hasbro’s games division is just a quarter of their entire business, but in recent years it’s managed to scrape by with $1.2 or $1.3 billion in sales. I think it’s safe to assume that they still own the vast majority of the gaming market, with everything from Monopoly  to Magic: The Gathering in their portfolio. And, I think their massive size continues to damage their less popular brands, including my beloved Dungeons & Dragons, which is being starved to death, one product-less month at a time.

But what about the other elephant in the room? What about Asmodee? What about the company who was one called Asmodée Editions and before that Idéojeux before they gave up the Francophilian accent. What about the publisher that began life as Siroz (cirrhosis) Productions, best known in the US as the original creator of the In Nomine RPG? Since their 2013 sale to Eurozao, they’ve gone on an impressive shopping spree, picking up publishing houses throughout the United States and beyond.

Do we have the next Hasbro on our hands, the next company to eat the gaming world? Continue reading

Designers & Dragons

Designers & Dragons: The '70sSadly, I missed publishing a new Mechanics & Meeples article again this last Monday, but there’s been a good reason for it. I’ve got a live Kickstarter going for Designers & Dragons, my 4-book history of the roleplaying industry, and it’s been eating up my free time like you’d expect a hungry dragon to do.

If you enjoyed the short historical tidbits I’ve written on the board game industry, I encourage you to take a look, as Designers & Dragons was a model for those articles. More generally, if you’re curious why small hobby companies rise and fall, and how roleplaying publication intertwinces with wargame publication, eurogame publication, and miniatures gaming, Designers & Dragons is a rich source.

The first book, Designers & Dragons: The ’70s is particularly good in this area. It talks about the rise of fantasy and science-fiction board games and of the minigames (with a focus on Metagaming Concepts), and it also talks about how miniatures led to roleplaying games (in the TSR article). Continue reading

Board Game History: The American Board Gaming Century Begins

I’ve been lagging in my Mechanics & Meeples posts again, and it’s for the same reason as last time: I just finished up work on book #3 of Designers & Dragons, my four-book history of the roleplaying industry.

To commemorate that event, I’ve opted to share a second part of my fragmentary history of board game. This one falls a bit after my article on The Birth of the Modern Board Game


Wargaming would eventually become an American-dominated industry. However, first the United States had to develop its own gaming national identity, and that would begin in late 19th century. Though the earliest major publishers aren’t remembered well today, they nonetheless form the start of a long stream of publication.

The first leader in the American board game industry was McLoughlin Brothers & Co. (1858-1920). By the 1880s they dominated they industry. Though their games are little known today among the general public, they remained the most desirable games for this period from collectors. With the emergence of chromolithography their beautiful designs truly began to shine.

Other early companies that were active by the time McLoughlin rose to ascendance include the aforementioned Milton Bradley (1860-1984) — then primarily an educational company despite their production of The Checkered Game of Life — and Selchow & Righter (1867-1987), best known in early days for Parcheesi (1870).

But these three companies were a prelude for what came next.

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Board Game History: The Birth of the Modern Board Game

Mechanics & Meeples had been absent these last few weeks, and that’s only been partially due to the holidays. I’ve spent the last two weeks cramming to finish my first new Designers & Dragons books, which detail the history of the roleplaying industry, one company at a time.

That got me thinking of another project. A few years ago I started putting together a history of the gaming industry generally, in the same style. I only wrote a few sections, and it only came to 5000 words or so, but it’s a good start for a project I may come back to some day. To commemorate my recent work on Designers & Dragons, I thought I’d share one section with you.


The Birth of the Modern Board Game: 1820-1869

What we’d recognize as modern board games first came about as a result of the Industrial Revolution. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries technological changes resulted in new industrial techniques and in turn social changes as well. This allowed for the creation of a new genre of games supported by these various changes.

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The Expansion Game, Part One: The History

What was the first gaming expansion? I’m sure that if you looked back to the 1930s and 1940s you could find some amateur Monopoly supplements.  Likewise, I wouldn’t be surprised if amateur Diplomacy supplements appeared in the 1960s. For professional publications, it’s obvious that things got going even later. You can find some linked games as early as 1973, when GDW began their “Europa” series. SPI’s North Africa Quad of four games similarly appeared in 1976. However, the surge of true gaming expansions appeared in 1977, when SPI put out its two supplements for War of the Ring and Avalon Hill supplemented their Win, Lose & Show game.

I’m sure there’s a few scattered earlier expansions that one could dredge up, and I welcome your comments on them, but I think that 1977 is a pretty good starting point for when gaming expansions became a professional business.

And, as part of an overall look at expansions in gaming, I’m going to tell you why. Continue reading

Role-Playing Games: A Primer

Not for KnucklebonesI was very pleased in late 2007 when Knucklebones magazine commissioned me to write not one but two articles for their May 2008 issue. I was less pleased several months later when it became clear the Knucklebones had ceased publication … and positively bitter  a bit later when I started to hear rumors that these articles had been commissioned to aid in the sale of the magazine — though my editor said that wasn’t actually the case when I queried her.

One of the worst things that can happen to an author is to have a finished work sitting around, unpublished. Sure, I love to get paid for my writing, but I love even more to have my writing read by others. Unfortunately, My May 2008 Knucklebones articles sat around for a long, long time. My editor at Knucklebones convinced me to leave the articles with her for a whole year and a half, saying that the magazine was going to be relaunched and/or sold, and so the articles would eventually be published.

They never were.

Seven years after I wrote those unpublished articles, I’m collecting all the boardgame writing that I own into a single web site, and so you can now to read my primer on roleplaying for board game readers for the first time. There’s one other unpublished article, on Atlas Games, which will appear in the January 2008 archives. —SA, 1/12/15


Role-Playing Games: A Primer

In early 1974, Tactical Studies Rules — who would later become known as TSR Hobbies — published an innovative new game named Dungeons & Dragons. Authored by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, it was the earliest public release of an entirely new type of entertainment, the role-playing game (or RPG). Continue reading