Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Remember When This Was All Zines

It was 1990 or thereabouts when I bought a copy of Diplomacy from a toy shop in Salisbury. I think I must have been at a loose end - I remember writing down a list of potential hobbies with "For" and "Against" columns beside each one. I can't remember what the other potential hobbies were, or whether this was before or after my Diplomacy purchase, but it must have been after, because the hobby I was deciding to take up was Postal Diplomacy. Inside my new purchase - the first game I had bought since my teenage years, and the second copy of Diplomacy I had ever owned - was a flyer, written by a man named Danny Collman, who published a zine called "Springboard". I didn't even know what a zine was at the time, but I remember the excitement of receiving Springboard every month. Even now the smell of gestetner ink brings it all flooding back. I remember my first postal Diplomacy game, played to monthly deadlines - it took about 2 years to complete! I used to take a fat folder on the train to work every day with paper, carbon paper, envelopes, stamps, Diplomacy maps, and a bundle of letters from other players that I would sift through, trying to decide who I could trust.

"The Hobby" was very well organised for welcoming newcomers back then - not only was there Danny with his flyer and Springboard, there was also something called.... er.... "The Welcome Pack" (I think) which was a booklet with an introduction to postal gaming, and strategy articles for all 7 powers in Diplomacy. The pack also included a bundle of sample zines, which led to me subscribing to "Electric Monk".

Electric Monk was a very different proposition to Springboard. It was slickly produced on a laser printer as an A5 booklet, illustrated with Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, and each game adjudication included a map - so I didn't have to draw my own any more!

Playing a game in Electric Monk I came up against Vick Hall, who was just starting his own zine "A Little Original Sin". Vick was a persuasive man and before long I found myself producing my own 4-page subzine "The Dissecting Room" which used to go out with ALOS every month. I would laboriously type this up on my Psion Series 3 on the train, print it out back home and literally cut and paste it together with some illustrations before posting it off to Vick. I ran a couple of games - Colonial Diplomacy, and Cannibalism (?) - and found this to be a substantial workload. To this day I don't understand how so many editors managed to faithfully produce their zines month after month, adjudicating dozens of games by hand.

There was a real buzz about the "zine scene" back then. The PC revolution had made it all possible - desktop publishing was an affordable reality at last. But that same revolution, in the shape of the internet, would sweep it all aside by the end of the decade.

I subscribed to other zines as well. "NERTZ (Now Eat The Rabbit)" particularly sticks in my mind. This was the opposite of slick. The insanely clever William Whyte pasted scribbled or badly typed material on top of pages ripped from old comic books. The end result was often deeply unintelligible but fascinating - I used to spend hours poring over NERTZ trying to decipher William's thoughts on "Godel Escher and Bach" or the latest Railway Rivals adjudications.

And then there was ManorCon, The Hobby's annual convention at Birmingham University in leafy Edgbaston, which was an annual pilgrimage for me for many years. 3 days of non-stop gaming, stuffed into a students' dining hall with 300 other sweaty guys on what was always without exception the hottest weekend of the year. Bliss.

There are still a few postal Diplomacy zines around of course, but the excitement has gone out of the scene now. Instead of "wave of the future" the atmosphere is more "hanging on against the odds". It was inevitable I suppose, but I still miss the heady days of the 90's when zines ruled the gaming world. Pass me that bottle of gestetner ink.....


Michael Longdin said...

Interesting post that brought back memories - although I'd pretty much given up on most of the postal fanzine scene by 1990! At one point I reckon I was suscribing to as many as 9 or 10 and I seem to remember a great thrill to find out how I'd got on every time one fell through the letter box. I only played in the occasional Dip game and was more interested in anything else that might be on offer, typically 1830, Railway Rivals or Machiavelli. I tend to remember the editors names rather than the name of the 'zines with the likes of Nick Kinzett, John Marsden (who as far as I am aware is still producing Ode) and Pete Birks (whose 'zine was my favourite mainly because it was more chat than games).

Nowadays the only paper 'zine I subscibe to is Keith Thomasson's 'For whom the die rolls' mainly because of the wide variety of games he offers (the latest being Sceptre of Zavendor) but I recently started participating in Chris Hassler's web based S.O.B ( again because he is running things like Dune, Age of Rennaiassance and Kremlin. Of course most people couldn't put up with the snail turnaround of these games in todays email and PBW climate but actually I don't mind playing in the odd game that will run for a year or more and that you actually have time to sit down and think about your turn each time.

As for Manorcon, I did turn up a few times but my main recollection seems to be around losing too much money in a drunken poker game!


Derek said...

All brings back very fond memories!
Again,played Dip at school,found flyer in box & sub'd to 'Springboard'.Then went with 'Ode',written by John Marsden.
Manacon was always a blast,hot,humid atmosphere,plenty of gaming going on.