March 28, 2013

“Gaming in the 1970 and 80s felt a little like being into punk rock”

Filed under: Gaming, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:32

Explanation of the headline: gaming in the 70’s was like being into punk because it was very much an outsider interest, you had to go well out of your way to find it, and it was cool (at least to you, not so much to your family and non-gaming friends). Peter Bebergal finds online caches of some of the classic gaming magazines of the day:

The Internet Archive is one of the great treasures of the internet, housing content in every media; texts, video, audio. It’s also the home of the Wayback Machine, an archive of the Internet from 1996. I thought I had explored the site pretty thoroughly — at least according to my own interests — but recently came across runs of some of the great gaming magazines of the 1970s and 80s; The Space Gamer, Ares, Polyhedron, The General, and — temporarily — Dragon Magazine. These magazines represent not only the golden age of gaming, but expose the thrill and excitement of gaming when it was still new, still on the margins. It was a time when gaming still felt a little, dare I say, punk.

Today, finding members of your particular community of interest is a Google search away, but in the 1970s the only way to be in contact with others who shared interests was through magazines. For many gamers, even finding the games could be difficult. Discovering the gaming magazines revealed an active gaming industry that still maintained a sense of being on the vanguard.

The earliest issues show off their newsletter origins. The Space Gamer and The General started off on plain paper in black and white. Even the first issues of Dragon look like a teenager’s fanzine, but the enthusiasm and energy are infectious. Who couldn’t love the introduction of new monsters for your campaign such as the Gem Var, a creature composed entirely of gemstone and that cannot take damage from bladed weapons. The artists, editors and letter writers were the best friends you had never met. Gaming in the 1970 and 80s felt a little like being into punk rock. You knew it was offbeat, knew that outsiders didn’t get it, but you also knew that this was cool. Even the advertisements and listings of conventions expanded the universe of gaming a thousandfold. Not unlike ordering 45s of unknown bands from punk zines, was sending away for microgames, miniatures and supplements from tiny game publishers.

While I wasn’t as much into the early roleplaying games, I was very much into wargaming and that was in the “respectable” part of the gaming ghetto until the boom in RPGs pretty much took all the oxygen out of the room. Of course, even in the “respectable” area, there were the Napoleonic grognards and the frisson-of-insanity East Front fanatics


  1. I recognized most of those magazine names. I have played wargames and RPGs since the mid ’70s. Avalon Hill introduced me to Panzer Leader and Panzer Blitz. I played Squad Leader, and then I played all sorts of board games in between. I was part of a D&D group, played Traveller, and a host of other RPGs. Loved them all! And then I saw Napoleonic Miniatures being played at a local club on the campus of U Vic in the early ’80s and I had to try that! Today I am a computer gamer, having given away or sold all my old board games except for Advanced Squad Leader, and alas, I have not played that in a while as I left a club in Winnipeg that was small but active and moved to an area of BC where there are no local gamers.


    Comment by Dwayne — March 28, 2013 @ 12:24

  2. I was an SPI fan, mostly because the games were a bit more affordable than the Avalon Hill variety (but were still big-ticket items for me for the first few years of gaming). I liked their basic Napoleonic games and their at-the-time-modern warfare games. I didn’t own more than a couple of AH titles until I got a job at a game store (where one of the few benefits was a pretty generous employee discount). I got into the original Squad Leader (but around the time ASL started to come out, the game store went bust and I was jobless), Third Reich, Starship Troopers, and a few others.

    I still have a number of games gathering dust, but I’m still reluctant to get rid of them: I keep thinking (foolishly/unrealistically) that someday I’ll find the time for them again.

    Comment by Nicholas — March 28, 2013 @ 13:31

  3. I still have all of my ASL games and magazines. I also have one Wargamer magazine, issue 20, with the map and pieces for the game Little Round Top. I played a bunch of the SPI Blue and Gray series, I owned most of the Wargamer magazines, but I got rid of them all, much to my regret now. I get more time on the computer though and I play a lot of wargames still. I look up at my shelf of boxes and I have Combat Mission 3, Korsun Pocket, Highway to the Reich and so. I waste most of my time now with Guild Wars 2, btw, and I read your links every week.

    Comment by Dwayne — March 28, 2013 @ 18:18

  4. Thanks for letting me know that someone here reads my GuildMag round-ups. 😉

    Yes, Guild Wars 2 has eaten up most of my available gaming time … and I refute you by saying that time in Tyria is far from wasted!

    From where I sit in my office, I can see a stack of wargames gathering dust, including several GDW “Europa” series games (GDW’s even bigger response to SPI’s War in Europe monster game), Avalon Hill’s The Russian Campaign, Caesar, Victory in the Pacific, Victory Games’ Civil War, NATO, several Clash of Arms US Civil war games, GDW’s minigame Raphia, and SPI’s Crimean War quad, Hof Gap, BAOR, Modern Battles/Modern Battles II quads, and three of OSG’s Napoleonic campaigns.

    No lack of games … just lack of time and space.

    Comment by Nicholas — March 28, 2013 @ 22:05

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