SPI Infomercial

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A true blast from the past.  An SPI, Simulations Publications Inc., infomercial filmed in the seventies to introduce people to wargames.

Among my hobbies, besides writing blog posts and annoying people for fun and profit, is the playing of rather elaborate strategy games.  I began playing these games circa 1971 when I wheedled a copy of Luftwaffe from my parents for Christmas that year.  The next year for Christmas I received a copy of Panzerblitz, and I have been playing and collecting strategy games since that time.

My wife and I acquired our first computer in 1987, a Commodore 64.  Since that time almost all of my playing of strategy games has been on the computer.  Christmas Eve 1991 was a memorable one in the McClarey household.  It was the first Christmas Eve we spent with our newborn twin sons, and our copy of the computer strategy game Civilization arrived in the mail.

In between playing with our infants and introducing them to the joys of Christmas, we took turns charting the courses of societies through 6,000 years of history.  For a young married couple fascinated by history, it was the ideal Christmas present.


Computers do spoil us.  My playing of board wargames has diminished to almost nil.  When I do attempt to play a board wargame, keeping track of the rules without the aid of a computer and doing the math calculations in my head seems too bothersome for the game to be enjoyable.  Perhaps I am simply lazy, but I do believe exposure to computers does foster a “Can’t a computer do it?” attitude.

SPI went bankrupt in 1982.  Their games are now collector items and I still have many of them.  The magazine they published, Strategy & Tactics, a first rate history magazine with a wargame in each issue, is still being published under different owners.  I have been a subscriber since 1975 when my parents got me my first subscription as a Christmas present, one of the hundreds of things I have to thank my sainted parents for.

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  1. You brought to mind Risk.
    My brother Doug and I would play for hours. Not very “deep” in the strategic aspects, but still much fun.

  2. Risk is to SPI and Avalon Hill what Twinkies are to haute cuisine. That said, my patience for lavish setup and rules parsing has run thin as well in the wake of computer games.

    I’m introducing my son to some, with simpler titles like Across Five Aprils, which is light enough yet still offers a bit of depth. I’m eyeing the value of my SPI collection and thinking eBay may be in its future.

  3. “I’m eyeing the value of my SPI collection and thinking eBay may be in its future.”
    Yeah, I’ve made some money selling games on eBay including some of my SPIs. A good game for a beginning war gamer is We the People published by Avalon Hill in 1994, if you can find a copy on eBay, the beginning of Mark Herman’s series of card driven war games. Relatively simple game mechanics and good historical flavor from the cards.

  4. Yes, Herman’s card-based games were good, as were his titles with Richard Berg (SPQR, etc). I still have them all. I’ve been on the press lists for 20 years, and never got rid of almost anything. I have a giant stack of stuff from The Gamers I never even punched. Maybe they’ll pay for my retirement…

    I did finally start selling off all my ASL modules. Life’s too short for ASL.

  5. One additional point about “gateway drugs” to wargaming. I introduced my son to Memoir 44 and Battle Cry (very light games from Richard Borg), and he really enjoyed them. They were quick, fun (lots of plastic figures) and easy.

    Now that he’s a bit older, he’s getting frustrated with the limitations of design and the strange rules (you can lose 3/4ths of a unit without suffering any attack penalty), and is requesting more complex games. I don’t think the hobby needs to die out. I see teens picking up Warhammer and Flames of War (WW2 miniatures). They just need to be eased into it.

  6. Just bought Civilization IV a few months ago. (Still haven’t looked up from the computer screen. What season is it?) I’ve been through it all: Avalon Hill, D&D, reading Tolkien, playing Sim City. It’s been fun. But since we’re all Catholics here, I don’t mind asking you, do you think it’s a misuse of time? I can’t tell if I’m being scrupulous, or if I’m burning out on Civ, or whatever, but I’ve been trying to figure out what it’s Aristotelian final cause is, and I haven’t come up with a good answer.

  7. “But since we’re all Catholics here, I don’t mind asking you, do you think it’s a misuse of time?”

    Christ loved sailing on the Sea of Galilee I suspect. God did not place us here to be serious all the time, but also to sample harmless amusements that bring joy to the heart and give the mind and/or body a workout. Any amusement can be an abuse if we allow it to dominate our lives, but in moderation they are a much needed seasoning for this Vale of Tears.

  8. Still have a decent collection of SPI stuff, including the massive “Invasion America” and “Objective: Moscow” ultragames.

    Then there’s the Avalon Hill stuff, which is more playable. “Britannia” is a lighter beer and pretzels game of British history between the Roman invasion and the Norman Conquest–really, really fun.

    Alas, you can blame TSR for screwing up the SPI purchase. I’ll let Greg Costikyan explain:


  9. “Invasion America” and “Objective: Moscow”

    Two of my favorites, especially Objective Moscow and its orbital samurai drop troops! The imagination behind some of those SPI games was awe inspiring.

  10. Yes, Dunnigan and Co. were pretty imaginative. Not to mention mordantly funny: I remember one of their games involved rules for tactical nuclear weapons. For the simulation of a strategic nuclear exchange, “the designer recommends dousing the game map in lighter fluid and striking a match.”

    Good stuff.

  11. I suspect that if one surveyed men and women as to their level of interest in these games, (especially those relating to war strategy), the result would likely reflect greater interest by men than women.
    Of course if there was a Jane Austen game focused on her novels and characters, I would sign on forthwith. : )

  12. slainte: I always wanted to be a spy, but I followed my vocation and brought five children into the world. Some time later I realized that I would not have survived or made a very good spy.
    I like Jane Austen for the good she brought to her culture.

  13. Ms. De Voe,

    I commend you on your wise decision to become a mom and bear five immortal beings.
    “But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her”. Luke 10:42
    I love to read Jane Austen as her characters disclose much about the human condition and the moral constraints of a golden age. Their reflections on virtue and honor, and even the vices, are timeless in their application.
    Some years ago, I visited Bath, England to attempt to capture the reality of Jane’s novels…proverbially stepping back in time to another age. I stood gawking at the Hanoverian wonders…the Circus, the Royal Crescent, and the wonders of a much earlier age…the Pump Room and Roman Baths with their greenish, lead tainted waters and surrounding antique statues.
    Such fun….only later did I learn that Jane Austen disliked residing in Bath and was happy to leave. I concluded that she must be daft. : )
    Now how might one translate an Austen novel into a game of strategy and chance…a war between the virtues and the vices?

  14. Not mentioned here but every bit as fun were “Play-by-mail” strategy games. The upsides were that the play board was a modern atlas and the pieces were limited only to the imaginations of the players.
    The downside is that they were moderated, so if a player was more adept than and strategically superior to a moderator, the plans were ususally misunderstood and not executed correctly until the player was able to explain the order of battle in more explicit detail. While this is a necessary condition for victory in most cases anyway, the one battle that was lost because the moderator misunderstood was always taken the same way as a ball game lost because the ref blew the call.
    Nonetheless, there was little to compare with the thrill of opening the mailbox and finding a $3.00-postage envelope stuffed with battle outcomes, salvage totals and casualty lists.
    I remember the very first time I transmitted production expansion and battle plans via modem to the moderator’s AOL account with a 9600-baud modem. It was only marginally quicker than the mail.

  15. My family and friends still play Axis and Allies, which has a great balance between overly simplistic Risk type games and the more technical board games like SPI. I detest playing Risk. Too much chance, too little strategy and flips have too much impact on in determining the winner.

  16. slainte: “I commend you on your wise decision to become a mom and bear five immortal beings.” The best thing I ever did. A woman cannot grow another arm or leg. A woman can grow another person.
    “I love to read Jane Austen as her characters disclose much about the human condition and the moral constraints of a golden age.” “the moral constraints of a golden age” Could it have been a golden age when only men could vote and inherit property, on the chance that men would all be gentlemen and not cads or “gold diggers”, when infants were promised in marriage at birth? I am so much happier in our day and age. Now if only I could invent a game to focus on these problems. Can you imagine a game of players marrying to obtain an estate? Oh, that is monopoly.

  17. Mary De Voe wrote,
    “….Could it have been a golden age when only men could vote and inherit property, on the chance that men would all be gentlemen and not cads or “gold diggers”, when infants were promised in marriage at birth? I am so much happier in our day and age”
    No matter the travails of that age Mary…I cannot read or watch “Pride and Prejudice” and not want to be transported back to that time and place….even with the possibility of cads and gold diggers lurking about.
    Have a look at this video…..accompanied by a glass of wine, of course. Perhaps you will agree?

    Elizabeth is every bit as masterful a strategist in capturing Darcy (while letting him think he caught her) as the men who strategize to win war games. : )

  18. slainte: Thank you, thank you for the link. I watched the whole 6 episodes last night. Here with is my take:
    Mr. and Mrs. Bennett never went to bed enjoying each other’s company. Mr. Bennett did not cherish his wife. What did he expect of his children, who were embarrassed for their parents. The fact that Mr. Bennett relied on his daughter, Lizzie, instead of his wife and later rejected Lizzie’s advice is troubling. The proper behavior was exemplified by Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. Mr. Gardiner, the brother of Mrs. Bennett, calmed and reassured her, whereas, Mr. Bennett was rather smug and distant. A firm hand in the smaller sqirmishes would have gone a long way to bring peace to the household. Mr. Bennett grew. Mrs. Bennett grew. Mr. Darcy grew. Lizzie knew who she was. I liked Mr. Bingley. Most of this idiocy might not have been, were women given the vote and were free to own land and given inheritance. Job gave his daughters an inheritance. Only landowners voted, so only men voted. Women, especially, if they were cherished by their spouses would have had inheritance and land. The only way this could have happened is if the estate were sold and the proceeds given to the wife and family before the death of the husband.
    The acknowledgement of the human person by the curtsy and bow was indeed spectacular. War of self-defense and survival is indeed the only game to play. War of aggression will only teach players how to hog the road down home.
    If I were to choose a part in the story, I would enjoy playing the histrionics of Mrs. Bennett. Were I a man, I would enjoy playing the obsequiousness of Mr. Collins. I couldn’t do the part played by Barbara Leigh-Hunt, of Rosings Park. I appreciated the servants, some of whom had more class and character than the principals. The artificial teeth and hairpieces to make some of the characters less attractive also tickled me.
    A game to cast lots to see into which class one might be born and how one might play out one’s life might be fun.
    The courtesy and deference were indeed uplifting and would make one want to return to those days.

  19. Mary Devoe wrote, “….Mr. and Mrs. Bennett never went to bed enjoying each other’s company. Mr. Bennett did not cherish his wife. What did he expect of his children, who were embarrassed for their parents…”
    I am happy that you enjoyed “Pride and Prejudice” and commend you for having watched all six episodes; I can assure you the novel is even better. While you are an acknowledged Bingley fan, I am most definitely a Darcy fan; he is quite amazing as is Colin Firth. : )
    Thank you for your insight regarding Mr. and Mrs. Bennett; I confess to never having paid much heed to the dynamics of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett’s marital relationship, yet your observation is spot on. The couple is dis-engaged from each other; almost estranged. There is no touching of the other, or uplifting verbal communication, or shared laughter, or even sitting comfortably with each other. He hides behind his newspaper or sits away from her pretending to be engrossed in financial records, and she remains turned away from him, issuing frenzied orders to her daughters, and complaining to him of matters over which he has no control. She is so fixated on her own sense of financial in-security that she unwittingly and publicly emasculates him in her search for quick-fix solutions. She further breaks all rules of propriety and protocol when she publicly proclaims her match-making strategy to an assembled group of strangers; clearly a matter best reserved for private conversation. Yet Mr. Bennett is not without blame; as her husband and head of the family, he should have assumed control and guided his wife and daughters to secure their well being. By neglecting these duties, his indifference resulted in chaos for the entire family. His love for his daughters, though, is apparent when he laments to Elizabeth, who is leaving for vacation, that he shall miss her and Jane as he will have no one else with whom to enjoy intelligent conversation.
    Your point, Mary, is well taken about the perilous role occupied by women in 18th century England. English commonlaw assigned women a status akin to chattel…divesting them of any right of ownership of property, inheritance, or of making a living. Women were completely beholden to their sons and/or male relations for food and shelter in the event of a husband’s premature demise. Those who had no male relatives were at a significant disadvantage and quite possibly faced financial ruin. Much of Mrs. Bennett’s panic is directly related to her not having borne that all important male heir. Her future well being, and that of her daughters, was thus contingent on the whims of a distant male relation and heir to the Bennett estate, the very obsequious Mr. Collins. Yet none of this can be blamed on Mr. Bennett as he is as much a victim of the legal status of women as his wife. His weakness, if one can be identified, was his indifference to his wife’s panic and a failure to assert dominion over the situation. As a consequence, his wife assumed control, and in so doing, emasculated him, embarrassed the family, and created distance in their marriage.
    I agree with your assessment of the Gardiners; they are a loving and well balanced couple who enjoy each other’s company after many years of marriage. And I have no doubt that Jane and Bingley, and Elizabeth and Darcy would follow suit. All in all, “Pride and Prejudice” is still good fun despite the passage of two hundred plus years since Jane Austen wrote it.
    If you are interested Mary, I would also recommend the novel and movie rendition of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”. Here is the link to the trailer. http://youtu.be/eJMnm28vAqQ
    Have fun.

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