Archive for the 'Games Workshop' Category

Dungeons & Dragons in Games Workshop’s Owl and Weasel (1975)

Owl & Weasel #5 June 1975-1

Owl and Weasel (February 1975 to April 1977) was the first Games Workshop newsletter, eventually becoming White Dwarf in 1977. The snippet above, from Owl and Weasel #5 (June, 1975), is probably the first time GW co-founder Steve Jackson mentions D&D in print. He hasn’t even played the game yet, but “watched one in progress the other week at the City University Games Club…”

The very next issue, Owl and Weasel #6 (July, 1975), is a “Special Issue” dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons, described as “a sort of free-form fantasy game.” Jackson delves into the game mechanics as he outlines his party’s adventure, and touches on the novelties of the game: “It is non-competitive in that each player is simply trying to further the development of his own character…”; “The beauty of the game is that any decisions made by any of the players can be incorporated…”

Owl & Weasel #6 July 1975-1

Owl & Weasel #6 July 1975-2

Owl & Weasel #6 July 1975-3

The last page advertises TSR products that GW hasn’t even received yet. The board game Dungeon! hasn’t been released, and it costs more than the D&D set. $10.00 in 1974/1975 is the equivalent of $50.00 today—a lot of money, as Jackson notes in the article. And that’s not including shipping and handling. After meeting Jackson and Ian Livingstone at Gen Con IX (1976), Gary Gygax granted Games Workshop exclusive rights to distribute D&D products in the UK. (Jackson talks about the early days of GW at a 2013 interview at The Register.)

We have Timothy Brannan at The Other Side to thank for the scans, and he has lots more selections from Owl and Weasel to peruse. Brannan is a RPG writer who specializes in the horror genre. Check out his books here.

Board Games: Apocalypse: The Game of Nuclear Devastation (1980)

Apoc 1980-1

Apoc 1980-5

Apoc 1980-2

Apoc 1980-3

Apoc 1980-4

Apocalypse originally appeared as Classic Warlord, self-published by designer Mike Hayes, in 1974. The name changed to Warlord in 1978. Both of these versions came in plain red and blue boxes, respectively. Games Workshop, displaying its usual marketing prowess, released what you see above in 1980. The kids ate it up, despite the fact that the game board was cut in half. How could we resist playing out the “nuclear devastation” that grown men were on the verge of playing for real?

Here are some directions from the 1978 version. See if you can follow them.

Warlord 1978

We were not a squeamish generation, clearly, apart from the wankers who ran out of the theater during Gremlins.

(All images via Board Game Geek)

1983 Games Workshop `Catalogue of Adventure’

GW 1983

GW 1983-2

GW 1983-8

GW 1983-3

GW 1983-4

GW 1983-5

GW 1983-6

GW 1983-7

Thank you, Pitch & Putt, for posting the whole catalog. It’s glorious. The number of role-playing games and non-traditional board games available by 1983 is incredible, as Livingstone and Jackson admit in their introductory note. The games are based on every genre, and nearly every workable property (Judge Dredd, Dune, Starship Troopers, Watership Down, The Road Warrior).

As I mentioned here, GW’s approach was much more cerebral than TSR’s. They focus on the novelty and sophistication of role-playing (“the most original concept in commercially available games for hundreds of years”), diversity of rules systems, and sheer range of game titles.

Compare the GW catalog to this 1981 TSR catalog.

Geekery in the UK: Games Workshop and the Early Selling of ‘Mind-Games with Dice’

Games Workshop Ad 1981

I’ve talked a little bit about TSR’s early marketing campaign in the U.S., and now, thanks to Dirk Malcolm of The Dirk Malcolm Alternative, we see how game makers won over the kids in Britain.

The ad above is from the December 1981 issue of Starburst, “the world’s longest-running magazine of sci-fi horror and fantasy.” I don’t remember seeing anything like it in the U.S. It’s very effective, the staid schoolboy quietly conjuring his inner barbarian. The message is a moral: reality comes with escape hatches, and it’s okay to use them. (For the low, low price of £7.95!)

Games Workshop was (and is, they’re still very successful) a British company that started to import D&D and other U.S.-produced RPGs in 1978. In a 2008 interview, Gary Gygax talks about granting GM, founded by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, “a license to produce TSR products in the UK, even print their own material unique to the UK.” The cost of importing was high, so the deal effectively unleashed the swelling nerd-thusiasm of the new market. (There was even talk of a TSR-Games Workshop merger at one point, but the parties couldn’t come to terms.)

RPG Article 1981

RPG Article 1981-2

In the same Starburst, there’s an article (above) written by Steve Jackson introducing the concept of role-playing games. In his post, Starburst Memories: Tired of Reality?, Dirk talks about the impact it had on him at the time.

When I read this article back in 1982, everything seemed to click into place, and those mysterious games that sat in the corner of Boydell’s Toy Shop in Bolton, became a tantalizing gateway into a new world.

He also nicely describes the stark novelty of the hobby when it first appeared:

It is difficult to appreciate now how much of a conceptual leap it was to play a game that didn’t have a board. This was before Fighting Fantasy (choose your own adventure books), before Zelda, before Warhammer, before Total Warcraft and before Second Life. Most people are used to hypertextual narrative games, they are part of everyday life, but back in the early 1980s it took a leap of faith to move from Monopoly to playing mind-games with dice.

STAY TUNED: Dirk (a.k.a. Chris) has kindly agreed to participate in my Interview with a Geek series. I’m super excited about getting a non-American perspective on living life “with funny-shaped dice,” among other things.

(All images are courtesy Dirk Malcolm/Chris Hart)




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