Before SPI - Test Series Games and Poultron Press 

Tracing the Evolution of SPI Game Formats

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FORMATS | TEST SERIES GAMES | COUNTERS | WHITE BOXES  | FLAT PACKS | QUADS | DESIGNER EDITIONS | SIMPUBS |  SNAPSHOTS - not finished |  WORKING AT SPI |  ALL SYSTEMS GO - not finished  | BOXES | CAPSULES |
SPI BY THE NUMBERS -
Draft| END GAME - not finished |

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!

With issue 18, there is a new sheriff in town. Wagner has turned over his ownership of S&T to Jim Dunnigan, and Dunnigan and Simonsen pool their skills to not only continue the improvements in the magazine, but make a great leap forward with it.

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

But at the same time, they are creating together a new game company. But before all of that is finalized, there is a test: Does the public really want more wargames?

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.

The answer is yes. WEll, it is more emphatic than that. 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 
-  Poultron is the French word for 'lunatic.' (It may not be - but the people in charge of the company thought it was!)

The List:

in 1969:

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Leipzig

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Barbarossa

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Normandy

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Italy

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Flying Fortress

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Tactical Game 3

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Deployment

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Tannenberg

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1914 Revision Kit

In 1970:

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Flying Fortress 2nd edition

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Flying Tigers

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Battle of Britain Revision Kit

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Twelve O'Clock High

bullet

1918

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Korea

On the 'coming attractions' list: Strategy I. That one would never make the TSG lists.

Note that inside two years, six of these games would be 'redeveloped' and re-issued as second edition games for the 'new' company, SPI.

On an average, it would be lucky of each of these games sold 50 of the originals. Barbarossa might have quadrupled that and a few others pushed 100 copies.  And there really is what they are - copies. Pages are either Photostats or mimeographed typed pages, with limited to non-existent graphics. 

And they changed the entire wargaming hobby forever.



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

And a collection of pictures. Click to see full sized picture.

TSG Opening Page

1918 Map

1918 Items

1918 Counters

Barbarossa Mailer / Rules

TSG Notice (Barbarossa)

Barbarossa Rules

Barbarossa Rules

Barbarossa

Barbarossa

Barbarossa Map

Barbarossa Map

Barbarossa Map

Barbarossa Map

Barbarossa Counters

Barbarossa Counters

Barbarossa Counters

Barbarossa Counters

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment Map

Deployment Map

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment

Deployment

Flying Fortress

Flying Fortress Rules

Flying Fortress Rules

Flying Fortress

Flying Fortress

Flying Fortress

Flying Fortress

Flying Fortress

Luftwaffe

Flying Fortress

Flying Fortress

Korea

Korea

Korea

Korea

Korea

Korea

Korea Counters

Korea Counters

Korea Counters

Normandy Rules

Normandy Map

Normandy

Normandy

Normandy Map

Stalingrad

Tannenburg Map

Tannenburg

Tannenburg

 

With the clear success of the Test Series Games, Dunnigan and Simonsen join forces, and launch the successor to Poultron Press' successor: Simulation Publications, Incorporated. Their first effort - to meet all the orders generated by the single ad for the Test Series Games!

Here is an article reviewing these games: TEST SERIES GAMES

After that, they will work on how to put out a magazine on time, and on budget, while moving in short order from less than a thousand subscribers, to over 20,000 within 20 months.

Oh - those Test Series Games? They will quickly become the basis for the new company's line of simulation games.


Here is their next step: Announced as an insert in S&T 28:

They go on to say they will be upgrading the maps, too:

See the entire insert at this link.  UPGRADING TEST SERIES GAMES

But as we will see, they did far more than that! 

The Test Series Games were the emissaries of a new wave in simulation games, and they changed the gaming business forever. As we will see in the next chapter!

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

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FORMATS | TEST SERIES GAMES | COUNTERS | WHITE BOXES  | FLAT PACKS | QUADS | DESIGNER EDITIONS | SIMPUBS |  SNAPSHOTS - not finished |  WORKING AT SPI |  ALL SYSTEMS GO - not finished  | BOXES | CAPSULES |
SPI BY THE NUMBERS
| END GAME - not finished |

 

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This site was last updated 10/23/21