Friday, February 22, 2008

Another February flashback

Gaming flashbacks. What causes them? The advance of old age? Weird February weather? A side-effect of pushing too much cardboard around over the years?

I don’t know, but whatever the reason it looks like February is a good month for flashbacks. First there was the trip to the old FLGS in Orlando. Now I’m having more gaming flashbacks, triggered by the arrival of a Moldie Oldie that I bought on Ebay.

SPI’s old “Mechwar 77” is a game that, somehow, I managed to miss on the first orbit around Game Planet. In the SPI production cycle, it sits between “Red Star, White Star” (1973) and the imaginatively named “Red Star, White Star 2” (1979).

Mechwar 77 was published in 1975 and used the same game system as their “Panzer 44” game. The system was extended and improved in the Strategy & Tactics issue game “October War” (1977). I consider October War pretty much the pinnacle of tactical moderns development under SPI because, unfortunately, “Red Star, White Star 2” bodgered the whole thing with some very over-the-top and needless design complexity.

But back to my recent acquisition, Mechwar 77. I owned and played all of the above-listed games – except MW 77. It (and Panzer 44) are exactly the kinds of games I was devouring in the 70s, so I have no idea how I overlooked them. Probably because I never saw them in a store anywhere. Remember, this was the 70s and there was no Internet. Maybe I missed the ads for them in Strategy & Tactics. Maybe I was just too busy playing the games I did own to scout around very much for new ones.

The copy of the game I bought (for cheap) was bare bones – the flatpack and box-cover were long gone. The counters were punched, although some were still ‘strip punched’ in threes and fours. The map is in good shape, the rules are a bit ‘used’ but not bad.

While they were punched, the counters were not ‘trimmed’. For the novice, I’ll explain. Cardboard game counters are printed in sheets and die-cut in ‘trees’. When you get one of these things, you have to punch the counters out of the trees. Typically, this leaves little fuzzy nubs of cardboard on the corners of the counters where they were attached to the trees (the die doesn’t cut out the entire counter). If you don’t trim the nubs, your counters look sloppy and they become harder to stack and move around the map.

So my ‘new’ Mechwar 77 counters had to be trimmed. That’s when the real flashbacks started. SPI had an identifiable graphic ‘style’ in the production of their maps and counters, so it brought back quite a few memories to sit there and fiddle around with counters that were printed in the wayback before I graduated from high school. I still have a few SPI flatpack games (and old issues of S&T) sitting around the game closet – including the first two wargames I ever bought – but the close encounter of trimming was a process entirely different from, say, playing a game of my old “Barbarossa” (see an earlier post on this).

Flashbacks included some of the games of October War and the“Modern Battles” quads that I played in college. Game-mastering double-blind games of SPI’s “Fulda Gap” that were played by officers attending the old Naval Logistics School. The three-player game of “Outreach” that I screwed up by forgetting a key production rule. The six-player game of “Terrible Swift Sword” where the Confederate player attacking my Union cavalry on day one did even worse than his historical counterpart. Countless games of “Squad Leader”. A game of “Wellington’s Victory” that my Allies won before noon because the French player got stoned and played stupid.

Funny. Those silly cardboard counters can sometimes be very cheap substitutes for a time machine.

1 comment:

Russ Gifford said...

Wow... someone else as afflicted as I am! I, too, have suspended time and turned back the clock while trimming little cardboard counters! Nice blog! (And Mech War '77 is one of my favorite games! Enjoy!)

---Russ Gifford