• magisterrex Retro Games

    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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Christmas ReBlog: The 12 Days of Retro Gaming

12 Days of Retrogaming

I just read a wonderful Christmas-related retrogaming post from 2011 that I hadn’t seen before, all thanks to the magic of google! It’s called 12 Days of Retro Gaming, and it’s worth a read!

In 1994 my father decided that it was high time to replace that old Commodore 64 (which wasn’t even considered a PC anymore) with a brand new Pentium 90 mhz PC.  I remember coming downstairs on Christmas morning and there it was, a beautiful boxy white machine with a VGA monitor, printer, and took up all the space our wide oak desk could spare.  CD-ROM was brand new and this bad boy came equipped with it and a few initial CDs, including Myst and an Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia.  At that time, however, not every game came in the CD version and many PC gamers were selling off their floppy disc versions of games to upgrade.  It was at this time that I became enamoured with PC gaming and began stopping by the used PC game shop near my part-time job and blowing my money on classics.

Read more by clicking the link HERE

Bundle in a Box – DEEP SPACE Has Launched!

While sitting here coughing up a foreign substance and generally feeling miserable, the thought crossed my mind that I needed some cheering up, and what better way to do so than by checking out Kyttaro Games’ latest limited time offering, Bundle in a Box – Deep Space.

For an absolutely absurdly minimal investment you receive five space-themed games: Armalyte (the classic Commodore 64 game redone for today’s technology), Dark Scavenger (a black-humored adventure game with turn-based combat), Death Ray Manta (a psychedelic and fully customizable arena shooter designed exclusively for Bundle in a Box), Space Giraffe (a mesmerizing shooter in the Tempest-style), and The Wreckless (a space combat simulator in the spirit of TIE Fighter). Pay a little more (beat the average price!) and you receive three more games: Miner Wars Arena, RobotRiot, and Sol: Exodus! Sounds like a great deal to me!

Just like the previous Bundle in a Box release, part of the proceeds are paid into the Indie Dev Grant, a fund created by Kyttaro Games to help Indie game developers by providing them with a little extra cash. For every 100 bundles sold, $10 will be added to the grant, and the cumulative total will be handed with no strings attached to a lucky developer. That’s awesome enough, but it gets even more awesome (awesomer?) with a portion of the proceeds also going to charity. Kyttaro Games is donating a portion of the proceeds to The Hellenic Centre for Mental Health and Treatment of Child and Family, also known as To Perivolaki (The Little Garden), a non-profit and non-governmental organisation established in order to diagnose and treat children and adolescents with autism or psychosis, while simultaneously supporting their families.

Between the charity, dev grant, and just plain selfish desire to play some nifty games, how can you go wrong? Get thee hence to the Bundle in a Box website, located HERE, and bask in the glory of supporting indie game development while playing some great games, all for a ridiculously low price tag! But you better hurry…the Bundle in a Box – Space Bundle offer will expire soon!

Board Game Companies We Have Known: Gamma Two Games

The 1970s was a time of powerhouse board game companies, with Parker Brothers, Waddingtons House of Games, and Milton Bradley hitting their stride, but there was room in the game market for a small, nimble company to sell games that the larger companies would not.  Gamma Two Games was such a company, founded principally by Tom Dalgliesh. I asked Mr. Dalgliesh to clarify some of the historical record in regards to Gamma Two Games – which he kindly did – and his comments are interspersed throughout this discussion.

Scottish born Tom Dalgliesh emigrated to the Canada in 1967, and graduated from Simon Fraser University with a BA in History (Honors) by 1971.  As he enjoyed playing wargames, Dalgliesh decided that designing wargames would be equally enjoyable, and so he and two other partners (Lance Gutteridge and Steve Brewster) formed their own game company in 1972: Gamma Two Games.  Their partnership changed quite quickly, however, as Mr. Dalgliesh explains:

Steve left quite early. Our initial seed investment was $100 each. But Steve opted out when we needed further investment of $1000 each. Steve was a high school teacher until he retired a few years ago.

Quebec 1759, Gamma Two Games

Their first offering, Quebec 1759, fit this mold, a historical wargame (Canadian history, no less!), based on the pivotal battle on the Plains of Abraham between English and French forces which ultimately led to France’s exit from North America, as did their next game released in 1973, War of 1812 (a game based on the two year conflict between the United States and Canada, well, the British Empire, but let’s not quibble), and the next release in 1974, Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign (based on the conflict between France and everybody else in the European Lowlands which decided Napoleon’s fate).  All of these games were based on interesting and pivotal conflicts in the history of warfare in Western civilization during the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Airline, 1975 Gamma Two Games

However, the company’s 1975 game releases, Airline, Klondike, and Team broke away from the wargame motif, and were done in a more traditional board game style.  Airline was a game about establishing travel routes between various cities and cornering the landing rights in enough airports to achieve dominance in the airline industry (and came complete with little plastic airplane tokens – never underestimate the power of little airplane tokens!). Klondike was a game based on the Canadian Gold Rush, wherein players make their money prospecting for gold on one part of the game board, and then buy up properties to charge exorbitant rents on the other part of the game board. The “anything can happen” feel of the Klondike Gold Rush era was duplicated by the game, including the “riches-to-rags” possibility! (The game was even endorsed by noted Canadian historian and author, Pierre Burton.) Finally, Team was a strategy game based on managing a hockey team to make the playoffs (and then hopefully win it all!), which included drafting and trading players. It was later re-released as Slapshot.

Compared to the first three games, the next three releases of Gamma Two Games were completely different. Why make the change from wargames to board games? Mr. Dalgliesh explained the decision succinctly as:

Just a desire to sell more games. Wargames then (and still) are more a labor of love than good business sense.

Star Wars 1977 Gamma Two Games

More traditional board games followed, with The Last Spike in 1976 (a game based on the race to build a railway system across Canada from sea to shining sea), UFO: A Game of Close Encounters, also in 1976 (a game where one player defended the Earth from alien invasion, while the other player attempted to overcome those defenses and land his alien forces), and Star Wars in 1977 (another two player game wherein each player attempts to destroy their opponent’s fleet and capture their home star). The latter two games are interesting in the timing of their release, what their titles are, and when the movies Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars hit the theaters.  I asked Mr. Dalgliesh if Gamma Two Games had attempted to ride the coattails of the Spielberg and Lucas blockbusters:

The games were both developed before Star Wars. UFO came out unrelated to the Close Encounters movie. Star Wars came out three weeks AFTER the move and was, in effect, a very lucky break. I had heard the name being used in promo for the movie and I liked it for the game we were developing. There is no relationship between our game and the movie except the name. Like most others in the business, I had no idea that Star Wars would become the franchise it became. 20th Century Fox purchased our trademark name for their own use in Canada, a board game licensed to Parker Brothers.

It is true that no one had any idea that Star Wars was going to be a culture-changing phenomena, and it’s original trailer clearly shows that 20th Century Fox weren’t aware of the possibility, either.  Actually, the 1970s was a decade that saw a huge upswing in public interest for all things Sci-Fi. Popular television series included such classics as The Six Million Dollar ManPlanet of the Apes, and The Bionic Woman. (As well as some less popular, but still classic series, such as Logan’s Run, Star Trek: The Animated Series, and Space: 1999.) After Star Wars was released, even more TV shows appeared, including the classic Battlestar: Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. So science fiction themed board games were an excellent strategy to ride the wave of Sci-Fi’s cultural popularity. (Incidentally, the Star Wars game Mr. Dalgliesh refers to is the 1977 board game that Kenner sold in the United States, and Parker Brothers sold in Canada.) As for Gamma Two Games’ Star Wars game, it was re-branded as Starlord (and even had a box redesign in its 1977 re-release to further differentiate it from its original incarnation!).

Starlord (formerly Star Wars) Gamma Two Games

More games followed, with SupermoneyBacchus: The Ancient Roman Game of Skill and Strategy, and the hilariously unique Smokers Wild in 1978; Maneuver and Foreign Exchange in 1979; Score! Soccer Game in 1980; and, capitalizing on the success of the first “Wild” 1978 release, Lovers Wild and Drinkers Wild in 1981. Clearly the decision to move away from wargames to traditional board games was a fiscally sound one for the young company. As Mr. Dalgliesh has stated elsewhere, Quebec 1759 sold around 20,000 units (which he attributed to being distributed in department stores), which was a success for a wargame (5,000 units being deemed a good seller with modern wargames).  I asked him if any other games approached that level of success:

Sure, Klondike sold about 30,000 and Smokers Wild 80,000.

The first Hârn advertisement, found in a 1983 Dragon Magazine.

So if Gamma Two Games was a niche player in the board game market that was having success, where did it go? The answer is quite straightforward: it just changed its name! In 1983, Gamma Two Games relocated to the United States, and the company became Columbia Games. The company returned to its roots, releasing a slate of well-received and well-reviewed wargames, such as Richard III: War of the RosesJulius Caesar, Eastfront and the epic Eurofront, as well as the Hârn roleplaying system.  Columbia Games has since re-released its original wargames, Quebec 1759 and War of 1812, and they are not done with their old game catalog yet:

We are actually planning to release new editions of Last Spike and Klondike soon. Later this year or next.

This is wonderful news, as reprinting old titles in the company’s game catalog speaks to the soundness of their financial position. Hopefully a new generation of board game enthusiasts will enjoy these older titles, albeit repackaged and formatted for today’s gaming audience. In that same spirit, a final thank-you to Mr. Tom Dalgliesh for answering my questions; his company’s games were always some of my personal favorites when I was but a young lad, and those same games remain part of my collection of board games today. Here’s to wishing to the continued prosperity of Columbia Games: may they never become a half-forgotten footnote in board game history, but rather an example of how to adjust your business model to stay ahead of the ever-changing cultural and financial environment that has doomed so many other companies before them!

Bundle in a Box Has Launched!

From time to time I look up from my stack of retro gaming treasures to explore the world of the now, leaving behind my classic gaming consoles and vintage computers, focusing instead on more modern machines, such as the Nintendo Wii, the Xbox 360, or something for my desktop or laptop computers – or even on my Android phone.  Many of these excursions of late have been to immerse myself in the world of indie gaming, a place where the corporate beancounters and stock-vested management team do not have any sway over the final product and therefore cannot dilute the gaming experience and dim their creators’ visions.  Indie gaming is the place where imagination still trumps profit margin, and where a gamer can find something unique to counter the ennui caused by too many Call of Duty clones and the endless repetition of sequel after sequel.

It is in this spirit that I was excited to discover Kytarro Games’ upcoming release, Bundle in a Box – Adventure Bundle, which contains not one, but SEVEN adventure games, all DRM-free, and is being sold under what is described as a “pay-what-you-want” payment model. The games included are The Sea Will Claim EverythingGemini RueBen There, Dan That! Special EditionTime Gentlemen, Please!1893: A World’s Fair MysteryThe Shivah, and Metal Dead.  Seems like a decent return for a minimal investment to me!

However, the most interesting aspect of the Bundle in a Box release is that a part of the proceeds are paid into the Indie Dev Grant, a fund created by Kyttaro Games to help Indie game developers by providing them with a little extra cash. It’s actually a brilliant concept, and one that every indie dev should embrace in the interest of keeping the community healthy.  In this case, for every 15,000 units sold, $2,000 will be added into the Indie Dev Grant, and the cumulative total will be handed with no strings attached to a lucky developer.

Where do you find this amazing gaming package? Look no further than the Bundle in a Box website, located HERE.  Take a moment to support indie game development and play some great games for the price of a good cup of coffee and a tasty donut – purchase a good and tasty game pack today!

Advertising From Yesteryear…Double Dragon 3: The Arcade Game

Back in 1993, the Sega Genesis was still at war with the Super Nintendo, and both enjoyed full-page spreads in various comic books.  The back cover was usually a full-color extravaganza showcasing the newest and potentially best-selling games for whichever system paid the most for the coverage.  Today’s installment of Advertising From Yesteryear features Double Dragon 3: The Arcade Game for the Sega Genesis, with “real martial arts action!”.  Enjoy!

Double Dragon 3 Genesis Ad

Board Game Companies We Have Known: Canada Games Company

Canada Games Company LogoThe Canada Games Company was somewhat of a major player in the board game market throughout the late 1980s and during the 1990s, publishing a variety of board games based on both original and licensed intellectual properties.  To the casual observer, it appeared that the company sprang from thin air in 1984 with a full lineup of board games and toys, that included such classics as Balderdash, Ouija, and Kensington: The Great British Game.  How could a company launch a full product line, seemingly out of the blue?

The answer, of course, is that the Canada Games Company was not born in 1984, but had a long history, albeit a relatively unknown one.  The Canada Games Company was born on March 15, 1915, as a partnership between William Copp, Henry Legatt Thompson, and Arnold William Thomas.  William Copp was already in the game business, being the “Copp” part of the Copp Clark Company.   Both companies ran out of the same office.  Later, in 1923, Copp chose to make the company a Limited corporation (adding the “Ltd.” to the name), and thereafter treated the Canada Games Company Ltd. as a subsidiary of Copp Clark.  Canada Games was now an in-house label, owning the intellectual properties, but Copp Clark owned the manufacturing facilities.


Copp Clark product catalog from McMaster University's website

The new Canada Games Company’s first product came shortly thereafter.  Copp Clark had entered an agreement with the International Novelty Company to publish Ouija in Canada (the first coming as early as 1892).  Sometime between 1915 and 1919, the first Ouija game branded with the Canada Games Company’s logo was produced.   (Many games of this era did not include a date of manufacture on the box.  We know that the legal eagles at William Fuld, Inc. sent Canada Games letters in 1919, demanding they stop publishing Ouija, so the date of the first Canada Games Ouija game must be between its creation and these letters.  Ouija made the company a great deal of money, so naturally, they ignored the letters completely, and ultimately won the legal battle decades later.  But I digress.)   Later games published under the Canada Games Company brand included: Coast To Coast (1922), The All Star Hockey Game (1937), and Kensington (1979).

The fortunes of the Canada Games Company were tied to those of Copp Clark, so it could have been the end of the road for the company in 1982, when Copp Clark sold all its game and puzzle properties, including the entire Canada Games Company division, to Albert Diversified Limited.  Rather than attempting to publish board games under the Albert Diversified brand, the new company Borg’d itself, changing its name to Canada Games Company, and the assimilation was complete.

This is the company most people remember when they see games published with the Canada Games logo.  The “new” company started off with a bang, bringing out a made-in-Canada (invented by Laura Robinson and Paul Toyne) board game called Balderdash in 1984 (which subsequently sold 3.5 million copies and generated over $40 million in sales by 1990).  In 1986, the company followed up this hit with VCR Hockey Night in Canada, a game using footage from the classic CBC Television broadcast.  An even larger share of the gaming pie awaited, with the introduction of the An Evening of Murder series (attributed to game designer Cathy Miller of Pentalpha Games Corp. and Max Haines, a newspaper crime beat writer, although I admit to being somewhat hazy on who did what) in 1986, beginning with The Eternal Cruise, Flight 013, Beyond The Grave, and Forever Friends.  Many more games in this series were released under the Canada Games logo, including Last Kiss (1989), Rodeo Round-Up (1989), Love and Marriage (1992), Resort To Murder (1993), Winner Take All (1994), and Terminal Espionage (1996).

More murder and mayhem were in store for Canada Games, as the company acquired the Canadian distribution rights for Decipher, Inc.’s line of How To Host A Murder (with Vincent Price on each box), publishing The Grapes of Frath, The Chicago Caper, The Class of ’54, The Last Train From Paris, and The Watersdown Affair (all in 1986), as well as Wall Street Scandal (1991).  Canada Games also published the spinoff titles from the How To Host A Murder series, such as How To Host A Scavenger Hunt series (Animal Safari and Traveler Safari in 1991), and How To Host A Mystery: Star Trek The Next Generation (1993).

The early 1990s was a strong period for Canada Games.  Games such as Hedbanz (1991), Dark World (1992), Dark World: Dragon’s Gate (1993), Dark World: Village of Fear (1993), Star Trek: The Next Generation: Klingon Challenge (1993), Beyond Balderdash (1993), Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Final Frontier (1993), as well as one of the flagship products from Copp Clark, Stock Ticker.  All the while they also manufactured a large line of puzzles, some based on other licensed properties (such as Star Trek and Dynasty), others on sports figures (such as their hockey player series), and some on various scenic vistas or artist’s renditions.  The Canada Games Company also ventured into the ever-changing toy industry, taking advantage of the resurgence of the yo-yo by securing the Canadian trademark and selling 1.5 million units (but also learning a lesson in Canadian trademark law along the way).

Not content with the Copp Clark intellectual properties and their own lineup, sometime around 1991, the Canada Games Company purchased the various Canadian trademarks and licences of Waddington Saunders, giving them access to the any games and puzzles published previously under the Waddingtons House of Games logo.   This included Ratrace, which was somewhat reimagined by Canada Games in 1994, as well as the already mentioned Dark World series.

With all this success, why don’t we see the Canada Games logo on new games on the store shelf?  The quick answer is that the Canada Games Company went out of business in 1997.  The shorter answer is this: Pogs.  Sometime in the very early 1990’s, the world’s citizenry went insane, and began collecting smallish round cardboard tokens with various pictures on them (based on the cardboard inserts many dairies used to use to help seal old milk bottles).  They would stack them up, and take turns hurling individual tokens (called “Pogs”) at the stack, picking up and setting aside the ones that fell down, taking turns until the entire stack was gone.  This was no small thing: Pogs were EVERYWHERE.  At one point, the U.S. Military used them as a substitute currency.  The World Pog Federation held global championships to determine who was the best Pog player on Earth.  This was a BIG THING.

Examples of U.S. Military Pogs

The Canada Games Company executives wanted a piece of that action, and got into Pogs in a big way.  And so they did, producing a wide variety of Pog sets.  Unfortunately, the Pog craze died faster than their inventory depleted.  It’s been speculated that this put the company in a cash crunch, with unsalable inventory and a need for cash.  By 1997, the company was $11 million in debt and needed a cash infusion, but all efforts to find an investor willing to take a chance on the “feast or famine” toy market fell short.  It was the end of the line for the Albert family business, and the company was put into receivership by KPNG, to sell off its remaining assets.  The made-in-Canada game company that had soared to such great heights was brought down by a lowly piece of cardboard, which should be a lesson to all toy makers to beware the capriciousness of the market, and never, ever put all your Pogs into one basket.

Dark World TV Commercial of Dubious Quality

Board Game Companies We Have Known: Copp Clark Games

In 1869, William W. Copp and Henry J. Clark, two employees of W. C. Chewitt and Company (previously known as  Maclear and Thomas, and Scobie and Balfour before that, and just a small bookstore in Toronto, Ontario upon its founding by Hugh Scobie in 1841), assumed control of their company, renaming it to the Copp Clark Company.   In all its previous incarnations, the Copp Clark Company had been a publisher of books, including the first Canadian Almanac, and this continued for the rest of the company’s existence.

However, the advent and success of other board game companies, particularly Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, prompted many other companies to seek a share of this new revenue stream.  Copp Clark was no exception, and throughout the 20th Century the company brought a number of board games.  Most of these games would be considered “also rans”, such as North Sea Oil, Find the Lady, or The Perfect Crime, but some were genuinely fun to play, such as Oh Hell and the still-popular Stock Ticker.

But all good things come to an end, and so did the Copp Clark Company’s board game ventures.  Today a quick Internet search reviews Copp Clark Limited as, “…the leading publisher of financial trading and settlement calendars in the world. The company provides authoritative reference data on holiday observances affecting global financial markets as well as publications and software products for the trading community.”  [LINK]

OMG, it’s a gamer fate worse than death.

The next time you play an old Copp Clark board game like Stock Ticker, remember to mourn the zombification of the once great Copp Clark Games Company.  And don’t forget to support your favorite game publisher, or it could happen to them, too!