Thursday, December 9, 2010

Speaking of Ares Magazine ...

I was looking through the handful of issues of Ares, including the inaugural issue. Issue 1 isn't all that interesting in most respects (at least to me), but I did find great amusement in some of the snarkily negative reviews it includes within its 40 pages. Of particular interest are the occasional bits of gaming history and philosophizing included in the reviews, many of which lend support to notions currently being discussed in old school circles.

From Scott Bukatman's review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture:
With Star Trek, Roddenberry's trick has been to wear the mask of the humanist as he plays with his Erector set. The scale of the television series arrested his at comfortable and still interesting level, but the new film has finally removed the mask.
Here's David Ritchie's review of Atlantis: 12,500 B.C.:
This goober was designed for the aesthetically retarded. The components include a map, of sorts, showing the world of 12,500 B.C., replete with a few extra continents, perforated counters reminiscent of the worst of Zap Comix, and the aforementioned single rules page. If you are into the turgid nonsense churned out by Erik von Daniken and company, this should please you to no end. The premise is that Mu and Greece are locked in a death struggle with Atlantis in which such exotic weapons as hovercraft, rocket bombers, and flying saucers vie with (presumably spear-armed) infantry, giants, and mythological monsters. Double uggh! The rules are so sketchy as to be non-existent, and if it weren't for the fact that this regurgitation of low-grade pulpdom's worst sins is so unintentionally funny, the game would long ago have been confiscated by the Surgeon-General as hazardous to our mental health. By all means, do throw your money away on this.
From Eric Goldberg's review of Metamorphosis Alpha:
Perhaps Roger Corman (king of science fiction B-movies) will bid for the film rights to the game.
From David Ritchie's review of Rivets:
This one is simple, and should be played by players with the average intelligence of an electric can opener.
From Eric Goldberg's review of Dungeons & Dragons:
The actual game, however, qualifies for federal relief as a disaster area. If anyone can discern organization in the rules, he is eminently qualified to make a living as a cryptologist. The design shows a (hopefully unintentional) contempt for the English language and classical mythology. Matters become completely confused when combinations of typographical errors and game phraseology conspire to make phrases such as "% liar" ... Many of the people who play the game regularly have spent much time at redesigning the game to fit their particular needs, so that it is rare to find two groups playing the same version of the game. TSR has attempted to mend matters by issuing a more complex version of the original, but the revision creates as many problems as it solves. Though D&D is a mediocre game supported by a great idea, it will become the all-time wargame best seller in the not too distant future.
Here's Eric Goldberg's review of Lankhmar:
An accomplished author does not necessarily make a good game designer, even when he is designing a game based on a world of his own creation. Fritz Leiber has kindly provided the proof of this statement in this simple, lifeless game. Players become characters from one of Mr. Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, and gallivant across an area map of the land of Lankhmar. The characters must fulfill geases (i.e. quests), gaining much wealth for doing so. While a game cannot be expected to capture fully the mood of a story which it simulates, Lankhmar manages to strip the Leiber stories of interest. Many wargame companies now understand how to simulate history properly, but few know how to recreate a story. The basic mistake committed in Lankhmar is the design approach: the stories depend on a great of uncertainty (or mystery) which is absent in the game.

30 comments:

  1. I can't help but wonder if David Ritchie similarly panned SPI's own "War in the Ice" which, among other things, postulated a high-tech civilization buried for millenia beneath the Antarctic ice pack, its soldiers in suspended animation finally awakening and vying with modern superpowers with (if memory serves) high-tech weaponry and psionics.

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  2. Actually, "War in the Ice" sounds like it would make a fun movie.

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  3. "From David Ritchie's review of Rivets: This one is simple, and should be played by players with the average intelligence of an electric can opener."

    Is that a good thing?

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  4. How dare they speak ill of Zap Comix!!! I hope they get bought out by another company and then cancelled.

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  5. Is that a good thing?

    I'm thinking not, since Ritchie gave the game a score of 3 out of a possible 9.

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  6. "Many of the people who play the game regularly have spent much time at redesigning the game to fit their particular needs, so that it is rare to find two groups playing the same version of the game."

    What's wrong with that? This guy would love 4ed.

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  7. Yeah, maybe I'm just an aesthetic retard, but that 12,500 BC game sounds like something I'd really be into...

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  8. xaphalanx, have some perspective. Roleplaying games had been only the twinkle in the milkman's eye at that point.

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  9. I have the first 7 issues somewhere.

    I find it funny that they slagged Dungeons & Dragons and Runequest hard in their reviews, then named their own rpg DragonQuest.

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  10. "Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin are horrible. You should hear my rock band: Black Zeppelin!!!"

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  11. Black Zeppelin - I like the sound of that.

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  12. Heh. I get a real chuckle out of these old, snotty reviews! Not much of a sense of "community" in the RPG designers back then. I found a few similar discoveries in some reviews from the old Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society reprints I just picked up recently.

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  13. "War in the Ice" was a great game. At least, I have very fond memories of it. And I believe the reviewer pegged D&D wrong -- it was a great idea, supported by a mediocre game mechanics, not a mediocre game supported by a great idea.

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  14. I can't believe this guy! Rivets was a fun little game. Perfect to play while your drinking a beer and munching from a plate full of nachos. Metamorphosis Alpha was the Roger Corman film that SHOULD of been made. I can't imagine this asshat is still working in the Industry.

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  15. @Crowking, not sure the "asshat" in question is still working, but it would be a safe bet he's the same David J. Ritchie that worked on Adventures in Blackmoor, Temple of the Frog, and City of the Gods with Arneson.

    /according to Wikipedia anyway.

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  16. IMO, this line was the best: "Though D&D is a mediocre game supported by a great idea, it will become the all-time wargame best seller in the not too distant future."

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  17. None the less he's still deadwrong in my book--Both of them.

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  18. Very interesting--thanks for posting this! Although I must admit, going just by the excerpts you've posted here, I find the extreme negativity somewhat off-putting rather than amusing. There's absolutely an important space for critiquing games in our hobby where they fail, but I wish gamers in general were more willing to just celebrate the fun parts of the hobby without ripping other people's creative efforts to shreds. Oh well, this has at least served as a useful reminder that bashing Other People's Favorite Game isn't a new development in the hobby :)

    Nevertheless, interesting. I wasn't even aware of Ares magaine until your post.

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  19. In fairness OD&D was pretty dense, complicated reading, even for the period.

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  20. The subject material for Atlantis: 12,500 B.C. certainly sounds quite fun, even if I have to take his complaints about rules a little more seriously.

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  21. The sad thing is most critics of the time were RIGHT about 1974 D&D. I have taken time to read it from the mindset of someone unfamiliar with RPGs even though I am well acquainted.

    Its TERRIBLE. The rules are loose and disjointed without a real lick of sense to them, and the single partial example of play makes it sound more like a cure for insomnia.

    Its so hideous it is a complete wonder it ever survived or became the juggernaut of gaming it was in the 80s.

    The OSR crowd's answer to OS gaming is both why D&D of then is great and completely awful:

    Its a set of Lego bricks, or Erector components and only a vague sheet instructing you what to do with it.

    If you like to DIY and needed that initial bit of components to go crazynuts with here you go.

    If you want something you can play and enjoy by itself without needing to do anything else or learn it from somebody you are better off just trashing it.

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  22. I had *just* scanned out the reviews in issue one of Ares last night to post to my blog.

    (shaking fist)

    I'm a big fan of Greg K's design work over the years... but some of the snotty shit he wrote in the reviews in that rag were... unsportsmanlike.

    But the angle of the magazine is understandable - they are wargamers who are used to a rule for EVERYTHING, clearly set out in sections.

    1.0.0.1
    Every rule has a section

    1.0.0.2
    Every section has a rule

    1.1.0.1
    Rules that contradict other rules always give preference to the rule with the LARGER number (so rule 1.1.0.5 supersedes rule 1.0.0.7)

    1.1.0.2
    Blargle

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  23. Dyson Logos said:
    "1.0.0.1
    Every rule has a section

    1.0.0.2
    Every section has a rule

    1.1.0.1
    Rules that contradict other rules always give preference to the rule with the LARGER number (so rule 1.1.0.5 supersedes rule 1.0.0.7)

    1.1.0.2
    Blargle"

    Can't figure out if that's Advanced Squad Leader or 4th edition! ;P

    Seriously though, did those Ares guys like anything that wasn't SPI?

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  24. Update: for those who want to read the full reviews (at least of some of the key RPGs in that issue), I've posted them to my blog.

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  25. Seriously though, did those Ares guys like anything that wasn't SPI?

    Oh, they did. They quite liked Steve Jackson's GEV and Marc Miller's Imperium and Traveller, for instance. They adored Cosmic Encounter, too. From what I can see, their tastes were decidedly "grognardy" in the original sense of the word. If it strayed too far from being a "real" wargame, they didn't like it.

    (This is, of course, an exaggeration based solely on what's in issue #1, just in case someone feels the need to point out contrary examples from later issues to prove what a person I am for speaking ill of the reviews in Ares.)

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  26. I can't help but wonder if David Ritchie similarly panned SPI's own "War in the Ice"

    David Ritchie didn't, but Eric Goldberg was less than enthusiastic about it. He gave it 4 out of 9, which I suppose is only a mediocre rather than a bad rating. That shows some degree of objectivity, I suppose.

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  27. I owned and played Lankhmar back in the day, and liked it. The production quality was quite low, so I got rid of it when I went to college. I have been looking to replace it ever since, but have never found a copy, or really anyone who has ever heard of it. I eventually bought Divine Right to replace it, which was a much better game really.

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  28. I estimate a 90% chance that they had a lengthy justification as to why rating things out of 9, rather than out of 10, was both more realistic and more precise.

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  29. @anarchist: It was a 10 point scale. It just started at 0, rather than 1. As in this product has no redeeming features.

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  30. OD&D confused the heck out of me when I first bought it in the late 70s, when I was still in grade school. True, I didn't have Chainmail, but OD&D *was* really badly organized. The OSR improved the game in that respect at least.

    1.0. On the other hand, rules don't need to be numbered.

    1.1. Numbered rules do not necessarily add clarity.

    1.1.1. DragonQuest provides examples of ambiguity.

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