Before SPI - Test Series Games and Poultron Press 

Tracing the Evolution of SPI Game Formats

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Chapter 1: The Coming of S&T...

In the beginning, there was only 2 games a year - both from The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC). Wargames had sprouted from nothing in the 1950s largely thanks to Charles Roberts. He named his company Avalon Hill, and would reach annual sales around 200,000 games in the early 1960s. But Roberts would not be there. The high cost of printing materials for games and the need for large numbers of games to reach distribution in retail outlets would result in the printing company taking over Roberts' company when a recession hit in 1962-63. 

But a variety of people were coming together around these games, and a few of them wanted more. Fans created newsletters and game materials to find other fans. A notable early circular was  Kampf,  a fanzine / newsletter dedicated to producing "a series of lucid, concise, and inexpensive military histories." Information included Orders of Battle. troop strengths, characteristics of weapons, tactics and an incisive narrative of the battle or campaign. They also featured numerous maps, charts, diagrams, and illustrations.  The author of this 'zine was James F. Dunnigan, who had begun wargaming during his hitch in the Army.

By 1967, Dunnigan had already produced issues featuring the Ardennes Offensive (1944-45) , Battle for France (1944) ; Guadalcanal (1942-43), and the Battle of Jutland. (1916). In the planning stages for Kamph by 1967 were Waterloo (1815), North Africa (1940-43) , and Korea (1950).

Kampf had attracted the attention of others. One was likely Tom Shaw, a high school friend of Charles Roberts who started as a sports game designer, but quickly became the guiding hand behind TAHGC after it was taken over by Monarch Publishing.  Another innovator, Christopher Wagner, an American serviceman stationed in Japan, had also started a newsletter that mirrored the early formats of TAHGC's The General, but wanted a broader audience, and more history. He named his magazine Strategy & Tactics and mailed the first issue to subscribers in January of 1967.

His goal?  Well, let's get it straight from the issue:

Announced: Strategy & Tactics 1

Editorial column, January / February 1967

"Our purpose is to bring you (the reader) all aspects of wargaming so as to further the hobby and the industry and produce. the highest quality of skill at our art. ... We hope to become the spokesman for the serious, experienced wargamer,
and an advisor to the novice."

A lofty goal. Wagner went on to say,

"There is another goal we are attempting to attain with S & T: development of the 'general' wargamer. The majority of kriegspiel enthusiasts are limiting themselves to one aspect of their hobby.... You'll find articles in S & T that deal with all types of wargames, and though there will be "something for everyone" here, the readers who have the widest interest will enjoy the magazine most."

The cover of the first issue sets the tone. Only 12 pages, the issue is text heavy with few graphics. The front page is spilt into two columns. The left is an examination of the Avalon Hill game "Blitzkrieg." The right column explores the historical background of the Remegan Bridgehead. On page 9 is an article on a tabletop game examining that battle for the bridge, with all the necessary information to play it yourself as a miniatures game.

Dunnigan's Kamph is mentioned numerous times in the issue, and a coming attractions note for issue two headlines with Dunnigan while actually listing him as 'Janes' . No matter. Dunnigan himself arrives in issue 2, dominating the cover. Over the course of the coming year, his material would be featured prominently. By issue 7, James Dunnigan is listed as staff, in charge of Research.  He graduates to History Editor by issue 9. And disappears from the masthead in issue 10. Where, by great coincidence, Albert Nofi takes his first bow in issue 10 with "The Battle of Ulsan."

Other changes abound - more pages, and more graphics. Dunnigan is back on the masthead by issue 13, but that issue also sees the touch of a serious graphics up grade - with the familiar touches of Redmond Simonsen on the cover. By now , S&T has expanded to 32 pages. By issue 16, Redmond Simonsen is listed as layout director, and S&T now looks like a professional magazine.

But it almost didn't happen. The editorial alludes to the near financial shutdown of the project. Only the intervention of Eric Dott and TAHGC makes it possible. Why? As issue 14 points out, S&T staff were instrumental in the creation of 1914, AH's newest game release. It is Dunnigan's second game for TAHGC. Third time, of course, will be the charm. 

Issue 18 - and bigger things are afoot!

First game in the magazine - Crete! No inserts - the rules, and pictures of the counters and the map are printed on the pages!

In the beginning, there were the Test Series Games.

The Test Series Games were the original efforts by the formative band of would-be designers that came together around S&T magazine in the early days. Poultron Press was organized to improve the games offered to wargamers, and break the 'one game a year' stranglehold AH exerted on the hobby. Poultron Press first advertised in S&T 18 - click the link below to see an ad from S&T 20. 

The response was overwhelming.

The rules were not typeset. The maps were black & white, on very thin paper. Counters were essentially printed on construction paper, unmounted. And yet - they sold hundreds. Check out all the great pictures at the bottom of the page.

By the way 
-  Poutron is the French word for 'lunatic.'

Here is a page advertising the games:  AD FROM S&T 20

Here is an article talking about these games: TEST SERIES GAMES

Below: Some examples of the Test Series Games (Click on the thumbnail picture to see it enlarged.)



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Next page - Chapter 2: Mounted Counters, Retrofit and 'Second Edition' Games - Next


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This site was last updated 12/11/19