Gaming Timeline: 1974-1979

The late seventies saw the introduction of two games that were not only popular, but which each launched an entirely new genre.  That’s pretty rare and the fact that both debuted in the same year is remarkable.  The decade also laid the seeds for modern boardgaming, with the first publication from one of the hobby’s greatest designers and the introduction of its most celebrated award.

Dungeons & Dragons; Creation of Roleplaying Games (1974)
The story behind D&D is fairly well known.  Dave Arneson, a young miniatures wargame fan, began running a fantasy-based campaign in which the participants played individual characters.  He based the combat on a game called Chainmail, which was co-created by Gary Gygax, but Arneson added many other elements, including the critical concept of character improvement through experience.  After running this successfully for a couple of years, Arneson showed the game to Gygax and the two decided to publish it.  Gygax wrote up the rules and added some modifications of his own.  The result was Dungeons & Dragons, which, despite its roughness, sold far better than either of its co-designers imagined it would.  It really was a new kind of gaming.  Roleplaying could be found in earlier recreational pastimes, but the type of play acting that players could indulge in with D&D was brand new and proved to be immensely popular.  Just as appealing to players was the identification with a fictional character of your own devising whose abilities would grow over time.  Many competing RPG systems arose following the release of D&D and, within a decade, it was a thriving branch of gaming that wound up having immense influence (both positive and negative) on society.

I was introduced to D&D in 1980 by a co-worker, soon after the first hardbound rulebooks of the game (referred to as Advanced D&D) were released.  I fell for it hard and loved being both a player and a referee.  I continued roleplaying with various systems for the next 20 years and it was a huge part of my life for most of that time.  Even though I eventually switched to Eurogaming as my principal recreational activity, some of my best gaming memories came from my roleplaying days.  The sort of gaming I participated in required a huge investment in time, but when it worked, it was incredibly enjoyable and satisfying.  I’m very happy I discovered it when I did.

This quote from Larry is equally applicable to me.  “Even though I eventually switched to Eurogaming as my principal recreational activity, some of my best gaming memories continue to be from my roleplaying days.”.  I started on the original three small books set and graduated up through to second edition AD&D over the next few decades.  Role playing games were a huge part of my life for a long time, in fact it was at a role playing convention that Melissa and I first met as well as many other lifelong friends from running conventions etc.  Fast forward many years and when our first child arrived, we switched to primarily boardgames as the time constraints were easier to manage.

I have played quite a few other RPGs over the years, including a Call of Cthulhu campaign, currently on hiatus, that has run for over 20 years, but D&D was my first.

Dungeons and Dragons was my first degree at university though I did not get any letters after my name. In December 1975, the man who wrote News from Bree, Hartley Patterson, visited my college to initiate students to this experience. My gaming friends were introduced to D&D and we were hooked. We had a fantastic first adventure as the dungeon we encountered was well tested, run by an experienced dungeon master, while we were enthusiastic students. The next day I went to the Games Centre in London, bought the three white books, Greyhawk and the silver fronted introduction to fighting called Chainmail. Then loads of graph paper. We immediately started designing our own dungeons and learned so many lessons about good and bad things to do.

One person became the DM. He went home at weekends and updated his dungeon, while 4 of us plotted how to overcome his latest creations. It was an incredible experience as we did so many funny and stupid and clever things. One day we had a 24 hour dungeon, so we played all those hours. And because we were bright, we had great ideas on how to overcome the obstacles in our path with ideas bouncing off us. It was a joy to play. We tried following up with future editions, but then life got in the way. But I have very fond memories of that time.

As a pre-teen in the early 80s, I was starved for any game I could get my hands on and D&D was no exception.  It also had the advantage of a wealth of “rules” that let me read through and imagine things.  During the D&D “scare” I was not technically allowed to mess around with D&D proper but spent my savings on many other RPGs I came across.  (I inductively taught myself base numbers, hexadecimal in particular from reading Traveller rulebooks.)  I played AD&D sporadically through high school but didn’t have time in college.  Out of college I had a bit more time and got into superhero RPGs (still my favorite but they never run as “smooth” as fantasy.)  Starting in 2000s (3rd edition) I put together a regular gaming group and have been on-again off-again RPGing since then.  My proudest gaming is really my current campaign consisting of my boys, my friend, and his son.  We play semi-regularly and it is great to have a common game to play together that gives us a hobby to play together.
   Matt C

Dungeons and Dragons is certainly the throughline of my gaming life. I was introduced by both a babysitter and my cousin around 1980, when I was in early elementary school. Buying myself the AD&D rule books as they came out was a formative experience. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time, just spending gift and allowance money as I saw them. I still remember the first time my father let me stay up past midnight to just do my own thing. It was the summer after my third grade year and I was reading the Dungeon Masters guide (so well as I could). I still play D&D more than any other single game to this day – despite a hiatus in the mid-nineties for Magic. DMing for my D&D Dames group every few weeks is a joyful constant in a crazy world. Many games are interesting, inspiring or memorable. D&D transcends that, as I cannot imagine what my life would have been without it.
   Brian L

1829; Creation of 18xx (1974)

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In 1974, an ex-radio instructor named Francis Tresham published 1829.  In doing so, he essentially invented the “train game”.  There really wasn’t anything else with that theme.  Crayon rail games wouldn’t come until the 80’s.  Rail Baron was released in 1977.  It’s predecessor, Boxcars, was also self-published in ’74 and didn’t make much of a splash.  Avalon Hill had a couple of rail themed designs (Dispatcher and C&O/B&O), but they felt more like simulations than games.  1829 pretty much started it all.

1829 was also the first 18xx game, one of the great gaming creations.  It’s quite different than most other 18xx titles, being much more concerned with track building than with stock market shenanigans.  But the basics are all there and I marvel that Tresham was able to design such a complex and unique game at that time, essentially in a vacuum.  But it was something he clearly had a proclivity for, as a few years later, he created an equally unique and complex game, Civilization, which basically invented the “Civ game”.  It’s pretty amazing to design one game like that in your lifetime, much less two.  He must have been quite a guy.

I first heard about 1829 from Games Magazine and picked up a copy in the early 80’s.  It was a beast, but I played it half a dozen times or so and rated it highly.  It was not an easy game to get to the table (it took a minimum of 6 hours to play), but those were different times, with far fewer games of interest available and fewer things competing for your leisure time.  There’s no way I’d play something like that today, but 40 years ago, we reveled in such long games.  I’m glad I had the chance to experience it at a time when I could appreciate its brilliance.

I first made contact with Francis Tresham in 1975 or so when he had advertised The Game of Ancient Kingdoms in Games & Puzzles, the excellent boardgame magazine of the period. I asked for a sample piece of the game so I could see what they looked like and he kindly sent me a piece and I bought the game. I immediately added 1829 as well having seen what his first game showed, as it was my introduction to hexagons.

1829 was a long game, though not as long in my experience as Larry suggested, but as it coincided with my college years I had a ready audience for this type of game and enough free time to play it. We played it sufficiently that there were many standard opening moves as well as regular tile lays, probably corresponding to the way the tracks were laid out in England in real life. The shenanigans were milder than later 18XX’s, but the principles of train and track development as well as rusting were there. 

I developed a good relationship with Francis and we visited each other on many occasions throughout the next 20+ years, so I saw his design genius at work on many subsequent occasions as we tested out many of his games that were work in progress.

1829 was another sensational design from the 1970’s from a very mild mannered man.

My first experience with the genre was 1830.  I believe I played it at an acquaintance’s house and had a great time.  As a game-opponent starved gamer, I was quite excited when it was released for the PC (my first CD ROM purchase ever!) and I was able to play some solo, as well as play along with a friend.  Having a few computer opponents to “beat up” and having the computer track all the computations made the game much more accessible to me.
   Matt C.

Wolfgang Kramer’s First Design (Tempo) (1974)
1974 was quite the year in gaming, as it also featured the first published game of one of the greatest designers of all time, Wolfgang Kramer.  Tempo was an abstract racing and betting game, but what made it distinctive was that the pieces didn’t advance through dice rolls, but by the play of cards that were dealt out prior to the race, one of the very first (if not the first) uses of that kind of movement mechanism.  Clearly, Kramer was innovative from the very start.  Tempo itself got little recognition, but Kramer modified the basic concept several times to produce a number of related best-selling games, including Niki Lauda’s Formel 1, Daytona 500, Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix, and Top Race.

Kramer would go on to become Germany’s first modern designing superstar, with dozens of brilliant titles to his credit, including 5 SdJ award winners (the most ever).  Almost 50 years after his debut, the man is still going strong.  He’ll turn 80 next June and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he celebrates the occasion by releasing another great game.

Everything Larry says is correct – Tempo is the least successful of these designs, but the continued innovations/modifications to the concept ended up with a plethora of really enjoyable racing games. 

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that the system is still available thanks to the most recent version of it, Downforce – which you can actually pick up in your local Target store here in the U.S. Man, times have changed.
   Mark Jackson

Anti-Monopoly Lawsuit (1974)
This is the third, and final, chapter in the history of Monopoly, the world’s most popular boardgame.  In 1973, a college professor named Ralph Anspach published a game called Anti-Monopoly, which was intended to show the evils of monopolies in a free enterprise system and how antitrust laws could be used to break them up.  Parker Brothers, Monopoly’s publisher at the time, was not amused and sued Anspach the following year over the use of the Monopoly name.  While preparing his defense, Anspach’s research uncovered the story of Lizzie Magee and how Monopoly evolved from her creation, The Landlord’s Game.  The basis of Anspach’s defense then became that Monopoly was based on a game in the public domain and that Parker’s trademark should be revoked.  The case dragged on for 11 years, with various appeals and findings for both parties; it even went to the Supreme Court and Parker successfully lobbied Congress to get the trademark laws revised!  The case was finally settled out of court, with Parker retaining their trademark, but with Anspach receiving damages and permission to keep publishing his game.

The importance to the gaming world, however, was that the history of Monopoly was finally revealed.  Sid Sackson, in his classic book A Gamut of Games, had briefly discussed The Landlord’s Game five years before this.  But now, the whole complex story behind the development of Monopoly was made public for the first time, with Lizzie Magee in a starring, but tragic, role.  It took over 40 years for this uniquely talented woman to get credit for her efforts, but even though it came long after her passing, she is at least now remembered by history.

Anti-Monopoly is actually an interesting re-imagining of Monopoly that does a pretty good job of balancing the anti-trust viewpoint and a playable game.
    Mark Jackson

Cosmic Encounter (1977)

Eon Edition, 1978

Once upon a time, a group of friends decided it would be fun to design a boardgame and then chose to publish it themselves when no other publisher would accept it.  Usually, that’s a recipe for disaster, but in this case, the game was Cosmic Encounter and it turned out to be one of the most influential games ever created.  The friends were Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and Peter Olotka, and, together with CE co-designer Bill Norton, they joined to form Eon Games, which produced quite a few impressive titles during its short, 5-year lifetime.

At it’s heart, Cosmic is a fairly simple game.  Its huge innovation is that each player plays a different race and each race has a unique way of breaking the rules of the game.  No one had ever played around with this level of asymmetry in a game before.  Consequently, even the Eon version of the game sold fairly well.  In fact, Eon went on to release nine expansions of the game (to the best of my knowledge, they was the first publisher to routinely release expansions for its games, initiating a trend that dominates the hobby today).  Eon went out of business in the mid-eighties, but Cosmic lived on and different versions were picked up by multiple publishers.  It is still available, from FFG, and remains extremely popular.

But even more significant was CE’s influence on game design.  The concept of player powers that broke the standard rules of the game was a brilliant one and its impact was widespread.  Perhaps the greatest effect was on Collectable Card Games, which didn’t appear until 15 years after Cosmic’s release.  In fact, Richard Garfield, the designer of Magic: The Gathering, stated, “Magic’s most influential ancestor is a game for which I have no end of respect:  Cosmic Encounter.”  High praise, indeed.

I was introduced to Cosmic by my roleplaying buddies in the early ‘80s.  They loved the game and as far as they were concerned, the more options, expansions, and house rules, the better!  Unfortunately, from my point of view, that made a very chaotic game even more chaotic and I’ve never been a fan of chaos.  I like a lot of control in my gaming and Cosmic is not the game for that!  So I played CE with them, since they loved it so, but it was never close to being a favorite of mine.  I much preferred Eon’s other games, including a game of conquest called Borderlands, that for many years was my favorite game of all time.  But I was never on the Cosmic Encounter bandwagon and pretty much avoid it to this day.

I first came across Cosmic Encounter during after hours at an interstate role playing convention.  It is a game where you have to revel in the chaos, even in the base game.  If that’s not your thing, then this game is definitely not for you. I am not generally a fan of chaos in games, but it is the central concept behind Cosmic Encounter so I enjoy it here whereas I would not necessarily enjoy it in other games.

This is particularly true with our beloved Eon edition, the chaos and the house rules are key.  We have all the expansions to our Eon set, but don’t actually play with all of them, as even we have limits!  ;-)

When Melissa and I play, one of our favourite setups is the three powers –  one permanent power, one power that stays until defeated, and one single power.  On a pre-pandemic trip Melissa took our Warp cone and got it signed by Peter Olotka.

Cosmic Encounter is one of my top 3 games of all time. I bought it while at university in 1977, added every expansion and have since added every version to my collection.

At university it was the ideal place to play such a game. I had a close bunch of gaming friends and we adored the range of chaos that was possible through broken alliances, unusual events and especially the timing of each aspect. I think the timing is key to the game as things happen when you don’t expect them and the combination of those events cause the chaos and in my experience, the hilarity. You can see why this game influenced Magic in so many ways.

Since house rules are so evident, I’ll share the one I most enjoyed and the one I mainly used at college. We would deal out 5 powers to each player and these were associated with home planets. If you lost control of a home planet, you lost control of a power, but could regain it if you retook the planet. Playing 5 player as the most common number meant at least 25 powers in play and the combination of these, as well as the timing impact of each incident meant really unusual things happened. Of course,  being more than 40 years later, I might remember them with too much joy. However, that’s not the case as I still play  the occasional game of Cosmic Encounter with the same house rules. It is an amazing game.

I missed out on the early version’s heyday, but was introduced to the game slightly before the re-releases.  I enjoyed a game or two.  Always a sucker for special starting powers, the game blew me away.  However, the chaos meant I had several bad experiences with almost no leverage to improve my lot.  This soured me on the game going forward.  Two things about the game still stand out to me, and come up in conversations even today.  1st was the expansion that included luchre (or something like that).  It was essentially a resource players could play for or against other players – and (importantly) – it could be used to barter.  This opened up the world of negotiations all over the place, making even a “losing” situation interesting as you could try to barter your services to the highest bidder.  The second innovation is one I still mention today (just told someone about it last month.)  That was something like the 7th player expansion.  This extra player doesn’t actually play the game.  They pick a player at the start of the game, and then spend the game “giving advice” from the sidelines to all the players.  If their picked player wins the game, so does the kibbitzer…
    Matt C.

Pente (1977)
For some reason, the 1970’s in the U.S. were a time when quite a few “amateur” game designers successfully self-published and promoted their creations.  They risked everything, often living out of their cars as they traveled the country hawking their wares, before hitting it big.  These games, which included Uno and Othello, were usually variants of established games in the public domain.  I wonder if the Backgammon craze of the time (as well as the greatly increased interest in Chess that came from the Fischer/Spassky match) inspired so many people to take such a chance.  Anyway, Pente is another example of this.

Pente was created by a college student (who was working as a dishwasher at the time) named Gary Gabrel.  It’s a streamlined version of a Japanese game called Ninuki Renju, which itself is a mashup of Go and the traditional Japanese 5-in-a-row game of Gomoku.  (Ninuki Renju was developed in Japan in the 1920’s.)  Played on a Go board, Pente allows players to capture pairs of their opponent’s stones by placing their stones on both sides of the pair.  You win either by getting 5 in a row or by making 5 captures.

Gabrel was convinced of his game’s potential and followed the usual barnstorming promotion model.  It finally clicked during the 1979 Christmas buying season and by 1981 had sold 300,000 copies.  It was one of the leading abstract games of the 80’s.  The game is still available for sale today, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve heard of anyone playing it.

I played quite a bit of Pente during the 80’s.  It felt more open than similar games and seemed easier to grasp than Go.  Abstract games have limited appeal to me, so Pente was never a go-to title for me, but it was a fun game for a reasonably extended period.

I’m not an abstract fan, but I did enjoy playing our family’s copy (from the 1980’s, probably) last Christmas.  My eldest pulled it out and we went 1 and 1 with a friendly handshake for a tie.  I was pleasantly surprised at the balance between tactics and longer term planning and would have gladly given it another go, given time. I don’t think I got too many plays in my younger days, but I’m glad my son and I took it out.  I seem to recall you could actually play 4 players if you had enough color beads?  No idea how that would work out, but the game board seemed awfully big for the two of us.
    Matt C.

Squad Leader (1977)

Clean Boxfront Scan

Squad Leader is a tactical level wargame published by Avalon Hill which simulates infantry combat in Europe during World War II.  It was designed by John Hill, one of the most honored names in the wargame hobby.  It was very successful:  AH sold over 100,000 copies of the game and the game it eventually spawned, Advanced Squad Leader, is one of the best selling games in wargame history.

All I can say is that it was another game I desperately wanted to play back in the day, but never got a chance.  Now it seems too detailed and would take time away from other games I (probably) like more.  I did, however, seek out any videogames in a similar vein, leading to a copy of Galactic Gladiators in 1982 (turn based squad combat in a sci fi setting.)
  Matt C.

For a few years, the initial run of the Squad Leader system was my favorite war game – my best friend and I would set up a battle on a card table and play over multiple days. The programmed system of learning the rules scenario by scenario allowed us to progress into more and more complicated scenarios without being overwhelmed by trying to figure the entire system out at once.

D&D (see above) slowly but surely took over more & more of my playing time – and by the time I headed off to college, Squad Leader (and the expansions) sat in a closet gathering dust. (And, no, I never jumped on the ASL bandwagon.) Many of the lauded skirmish level wargame designs you see today owe a debt to Squad Leader.
  Mark Jackson

Black Box (1977)
Black Box is a unique game and those don’t come around very often.  It’s a 2 player deduction game.  There’s an 8×8 display and one player secretly sets up an arrangement of 4 marbles in them.  The other player tries to figure out where they are by shooting “rays” into the display from different spots along the perimeter.  The first player tracks how the rays interact with the marbles (hitting one or being deflected by them) and announces if and where the ray emerges from the display.  The second player has to use this information to discern where the marbles are located with the least number of rays.

Black Box was designed by Eric Solomon, a talented English designer who passed away last year.  It was inspired by the work of a scientist named Godfrey Hounsfield, a friend of Solomon’s, whose research eventually led to the invention of the CAT scanner.  (The shooting of rays is also highly reminiscent of the famous experiment conducted by Ernest Rutherford in the early 1900’s, in which he shot subatomic particles at atoms and, by measuring how often they were deflected, proved that atoms consisted of a tiny nucleus with orbiting electrons.)  Some of Solomon’s other designs include Conspiracy (aka Sigma File and Casablanca), Alaska, and Billabong.  All of those games (other than Black Box) were nominated for SdJ awards.

Black Box was a favorite of mine during the 70’s and 80’s.  The deduction is on the simpler side and you can get lucky or unlucky, based on which rays you initially use.  But the basic idea is very clever and a lot of fun and I think the game still holds up well today.

Star Fleet Battles (1979)

Cover of original edition, Task Force Game #4

Star Fleet Battles (invariably abbreviated as SFB) is a ship-to-ship warfare simulation based in the world of Star Trek (specifically, the original series and some elements of the Star Trek Animated Series).  It was the brainchild of a fellow named Steve Cole, who originally sold the game in ziplock bags through his company, Task Force Games.  It was one of the first wargames to utilize an impulse-based turn system, in which a turn is broken up into many “impulses” and opposing players can react to what the active player is doing during their turn.  The game expanded considerably over the years and eventually rose to the status of being considered one of the “Big Three” games of the hobbyist game industry (with the other two games being D&D and Advanced Squad Leader).  SFB is still available for sale and continues to be supported by Cole.

Ooh, a game I can speak about, even if it was the mid-80s before I stumbled across it.   It was one of those games sitting on the shelf in the local hobby store (model rockets, art supplies, etc… all before “game stores” were a thing near me.)  Of course, I jumped on the bandwagon and gave it a try.  There were plenty of rules to be read (a major source of boardgame entertainment to an opponent-starved teen such as myself) and I particularly liked how each type of alien (Federation, Klingon, Gorn, Orion Pirates,.. ) had a very distinct ship style including their specialty weapons (Gorn plasma torpedo for the win!)  In very much old-school style, the game had plenty of things to track.  Speed being one of the easiest.  Each round had 32(!) phases and your speed decided when you got to move.  So if you were speed 1, you moved in phase “1”.  If speed 4, you moved in phase “1, 9, 17, & 25.”  Movement was separate from actions, so players could still fire weapons, etc…  even when they weren’t moving.  Weapons all had very distinct optimal ranges, so positioning was important, bringing about my friend’s credo “Speed is Life.”  Of course, like the series, the game was 2 dimensional, so was an excellent simulation of (water) naval battles as well.

As any Star Trek fan can can tell you, combat is all about how you distribute your energy.  This was true in the game.  You can spend energy on weapons, targeting, shields (yes, you had 4 different sides), speed, etc..  Some weapons could fire every turn, while others needed time to power up.  (Looking at you, plasma torpedoes!)  Combats could be 1 on 1, ship to ship battles, all the way up to fleets shooting it out.  Balance was maintained by giving each ship (including crew, ammo, etc…) a point value.  Each race had multiple ship types (can you say expansions?) complete with little boxes to tick off if taking damage.  Due to rules-bloat over time, there were a few rules-resets with the most substantive one in 1999.

Fun Fact: The license is apparently perpetual, so the game is still going strong despite the many years.  However, it is only for the Original series so you’ll never see a Ferengi ship. They dug deep into the series to find races for expansion.  (Tholian Webs anyone?)

Fun Fact 2: If all this sounds like it is ripe for a computer game, you are absolutely correct.  Star Trek: Starfleet Command was an amazingly faithful reproduction of the boardgame, complete with all the energy management.  Consistently ranking as one of the top Star Trek-related videogames, the company even had more direct sales of the game than Baldur’s Gate.  Designed to be played in real-time (rather than turn based) to keep things moving, the UI did a decent job of letting players manage their energy in real time.  There was a campaign of missions, but ships still had point values that could be used to build custom fleets.  The game was an early adopter of LAN (local) gaming and allowed multiple players (and fleets) on the field at the same time.  I haven’t dragged it out in a long time, but I suspect it still holds up well since it’s not about the graphics but the rules of the game.  (Yes, even the computer game is 2-dimensional.)

Fun Fact 3: SFB spawned other games including Car Wars, my first game in this style since it came in a rather inexpensive little plastic black box.  It used 12{?} phases for movement, but also allowed players to build their own cars/trucks/motorcycles from scratch. I played this one a lot in my preteen years, even programming our brand new IBM PC to print out custom car designs (taking into account weight and cost limits) onto our dot matrix printer.
   Matt C

SdJ Awards Begin (1979)
The gaming scene in Germany today is vibrant and cutting edge, but it was not always so.  During the late seventies, most of the popular games available in Deutschland were imports and were rarely innovative (to be fair, games weren’t much better in the U.S. and Britain, but at least they were creating their own product).  German publishers and leading figures in the hobby wanted to encourage more and better home grown titles, with the ultimate goal of emulating something like 3M achieved during the 60’s in the U.S—a steady stream of quality games, including excellent designs like Acquire and Twixt.  Consequently, a few steps were taken at that time to try to improve the gaming product in Germany.

The first was the inauguration of the Spiel des Jahres, or Game of the Year award.  This was originally proposed in 1978 by a German journalist named Juergen Herz.  The independent jury was to be composed of game writers and reviewers.  The organization was set up and the first award was made in 1979.

It took a while for the award to have its intended effect.  The first three winners, and five of the first seven, were designed by non-Germans and the games had all originally appeared in earlier, English language editions.  However, in 1986, Wolfgang Kramer won the first of two consecutive SdJ’s and from that point on, the awards almost exclusively went to German designers, for games that first appeared from German publishers.  The SdJ logo definitely meant higher sales and the quality of games began to improve.  The SdJ’s, together with the start of the Essen game fair a few years later, are considered to be two of the most important steps that pushed German games to the point where many would soon rank them as the best in the world.

Western World Gets First Exposure to Climbing Card Games From Far East (1979)
By the 1970’s, you would have thought that people were aware of all the types of card games being played throughout the world.  You had your trick-takers, your Rummy games, your gambling games.  Obviously, there were many kinds of traditional games being played, but most of these had been around for decades, if not centuries.  New games were rare and there was no reason to suppose that a new type of card game was being widely played that most people hadn’t heard of.

But we were wrong.  In 1979, some British Go players visited China and encountered a kind of card game that the West had never seen before.  These were climbing games, a kind of trick-taking game, but the option to play cards keeps going around and around the table until everyone passes.  Usually, you were playing different kinds of melds and the one you played had to be of higher rank than the previous one.

The fellow responsible for recording the details of these games and publicizing them in the West was John McLeod, who was uniquely qualified to do so, as he’s a card game historian.  He authored the definitive book of games played with a Tarot deck and also created the website, which houses the most thorough collection of card game rules in the world.  So he was definitely the right man for the job.

The game that McLeod described in greatest detail was Zheng Shangyou, which translates roughly as “Struggling Upstream”.  It opened a window on a whole new rich world of card games, at least to those outside of the Orient.  The best known climbing game is Tichu and it is now widely played throughout the world.  Games of this type probably date back to at least the 19th century in China, but until McLeod’s efforts, they were unknown outside of the region.  Despite this, games such as these are now widely played today.  Prior to ’79, this would have been a totally unexpected development, but sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction!

And as a bonus, here’s a note from Mitchell Thomashow about one of the pioneer publications from the time period:

Games and Puzzles Magazine (1972-1981)
I first discovered Games and Puzzle Magazine in 1976 as it was carried at Games People Play in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was thrilled to discover a world of German, French, and British games that rarely, if ever, made it to American shores. I eventually purchased the entire backlog of issues so I could track down most of the games of interest, the great majority of which were interesting and unusual abstracts such as Pagode, Springline, Intermedium, Mentalis, Thoughtwave, Entropy, along with two games by David Parlett—Quandary and Shoulder to Shoulder—and quite a few more. These were the prizes of my collection. And although at this time they are totally obscure, I am sure that many of the Euro designers were familiar with them and accordingly inspired. Indeed, many Euros built on game mechanics that first appeared in these abstract titles. A great example of this is Tempo (described above). I still have the best of these games in my collection and don’t get them to the table nearly as often as I should.
   Mitchell T

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8 Responses to Gaming Timeline: 1974-1979

  1. CM says:

    Kramer’s Tempo from 1974 is not the first game where movement is performed using cards dealt out at the start of the game. Jockey, a horse racing betting game from 1973, did it as well.

    • huzonfirst says:

      You’re absolutely right, and even though I’ve never played Jockey, I should have remembered this because I’ve played its predecessor many times. Jockey’s designer also created an American stock market game called Broker that uses cards to influence stock prices. Ravensburger produced a German version called Das Borsenspiel which was quite popular and it probably inspired Jockey. Broker is very good and Jockey looks interesting as well. It and Tempo came out about the same time, so Kramer probably came up with the idea on his own, but it’s true that Jockey was released before Tempo was and deserves the credit for this innovation.

  2. Daniel Brown says:

    Avalon Hill is where I started back in the 70’s. Friend of mine got Squad Leader and we played it a good bit. In college, I purchase Advanced Squad Leader the week it came out. I use to think the larger the rulebook the better. I am unable to keep the rules in my head now that I am older. I appreciate Squad Leader to ASL and all the expansions but I have moved on.

  3. Talaraskan says:

    This brings back good memories. Having been solidly in the RPG camp in my younger days, I never dipped into either Squad Leader or SFB. That said, I have found memories of being a spectator of each while killing time at different conventions.

  4. Phil Bauer says:

    Excellent overview as always Larry. In the 1970s, I played many older games like Acquire, Sleuth, and Mille Bornes. I did get into D&D (though we found the white box edition unplayable and had to wait for Basic D&D) and also Squad Leader. One of the original (at least original to me) ideas in Squad Leader was the idea of introducing more rules as you played more scenarios with new types of units and tactics. Though not exactly a campain mode, I thought it was an interesting approach.

    • Larry Levy says:

      Thanks, Phil. The friends who introduced me to D&D learned the game from the white books. As you say, those books were exceedingly rough and to make the game playable, they added many of their own house rules (a very common, and almost necessary practice for early D&D players). Even after we switched to AD&D, we continued tweaking the rules to suit our preferences. But the foundation of the roleplaying concept was so fantastic that it produced great experiences, no matter what rules were used. In fact, after trying dozens of different RPG systems (and a few of our own devising), we came to the realization that the system used was much less important than the skill and the camaraderie of the players and the referee. Thus, the game we played most frequently was D&D (warts and all), since it was the system we were most familiar with. Man, those were some fun times!

  5. Phil Bauer says:

    I didn’t discover “Divine Right” until college (~1986/1987, I think), but it was a 1979 TSR title. Maybe not the first example of merging a fantasy theme with a modern-day wargame, but certainly the best at that time. I think it’s as deserving as “Titan” for a mention on your list.

    • huzonfirst says:

      I’ve heard of Divine Right, Phil, but I know next to nothing about it. In fact, until I checked it out following your comment, I didn’t realize it was from TSR. It’s hard to believe that a game where you had to cut out the cards yourself was considered state-of-the-art back then! Guess things have changed just a little bit in the last 40 years, huh? Anyway, I didn’t know about it and none of the other OGers suggested it, so that’s why it didn’t make the article. It does sound notable, though, and it would have been interesting to do some research on it.

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