Strategy & Tactics

Strategy & Tactics

"Strategy & Tactics" ("S&T") is a wargaming magazine now published by Decision Games, notable for its groundbreaking move of publishing a complete new wargame in each issue.

Beginnings

"Strategy & Tactics" began life in 1966 as a wargaming fanzine published by Chris Wagner (then a staff sergeant with the US Air Force in Japan), at first in Japan, then moving to the United States with Wagner. It was intended as independent competition with the Avalon Hill house magazine "The General".

Although popular with wargaming fans, the magazine ran into financial trouble in 1969, and Jim Dunnigan agreed to take it over, founding Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) to publish "S&T".

Interestingly, a persistent rumour that Dunnigan had purchased "S&T" from Wagner for one dollar, and that furthermore the dollar was never paid was confirmed partly by Wagner during an interview printed in "S&T" issue #83 ("The Kaiser's Battle"). Wagner answered a direct question about the rumour by answering that he had indeed sold Dunnigan "S&T" for one dollar but had not received payment until he reminded Dunnigan in "about 1975".

Dunnigan Era

Dunnigan made some radical changes. Starting with issue 18, each issue contained a complete new wargame (The first game was "Crete"). Not only did this represent a break from the cautious policy of Avalon Hill (pioneer company in modern commercial wargaming and the leading company in the fledgling wargaming industry) publishing one or two games per year (for fear of new games cannibalizing sales of old ones), but the need for new game designs spurred research into many of the lesser-known corners of military history. Despite the diversity in themes, the style of the games was fairly consistent. They predominantly used a hexgrid for the maps and many rule concepts such as zones of control were repeated in many games.

In addition to the games, the magazine featured many insightful articles on military history, many of them notable for applying modern quantitative analysis to battles that had traditionally been described in a narrative "heroic" style.

Avalon Hill continued to produce more than just wargames, priding itself on other themes such as party games, sports titles, and children's games. Dunnigan's focus remained primarily on military history, and he felt that there was a market for detailed historical articles as an accompaniment to detailed and accurate games. "S&T" now embarked on providing six new games a year, and at a much lower cost per game than was to be found elsewhere, with the magazine itself almost being a bonus. There was no middleman in the form of a local games store; subscribers got their games delivered right to their homes. Circulation of the magazine was substantial and games that might not otherwise sell went to subscribers automatically, eclipsing expected independent sales of most titles. SPI also benefited from having the magazine as an advertising vehicle for boxed (ie non-magazine) games, sold directly or through local games stores.

Greg Costikyan, in an online opinion article dated 1996, [http://www.costik.com/spisins.html "A Farewell to Hexes"] , Greg Costikyan, 1996] remarked that

:It is hard to overemphasize the importance of "S&T" to the history of wargaming; indeed, the rise and fall of the hobby can virtually be correlated with the rise and fall of "S&T." SPI's staff freely discussed future plans, down to details of marketing and distribution, in the pages of the magazine; its subscribers began to feel a personal stake in the company's survival, going so far as to write long letters of advice and volunteering time and effort to help the company survive. The historical articles were of the highest quality, and quite unlike anything being published in the historical magazines of the period, since SPI, befitting its gaming orientation, tried to quantify almost everything, providing copious tables of comparative data on, for instance, the merits of World War II-era tanks. Other journals tended to be far more descriptive. As a result, "S&T" acquired a readership even among military history devotees who had no interest in the games.

S&T's circulation exceeded that of Avalon Hill's "The General" by the mid 1970s, improving its physical appearance dramatically under the guidance of Redmond Simonsen. (SPI's non-magazine games were improving by leaps and bounds also - their first games were made in black and white on regular paper; counters were simple coloured paper that had to be cut out and glued to cardboard by the purchaser. Rules were not done in booklet form, but on large sheets of paper folded to letter-size as a cost-savings measure. There were not costs incurred, then, for cutting, collating and binding - nor for boxes or counter trays.) As die-cut counters, printed on both sides in full colour, became the norm, they were included in the magazine games, as were two color and finally full color maps.

By the mid 1970's, SPI's annual income went into the 6 figure range, with paid staff numbering as many as forty people, with 40+ games being produced through both the magazine and boxed sales annually. Competition began to spring up, with many new companies springing up in the mid to late 1970s. Wargaming was reaching its high water mark, just as the release of "Squad Leader" by Avalon Hill took the wargaming world by storm (eventually resulting in an unprecedented 200,000 copies sold). Such faith was placed in the future of the industry that a Game Designer's Guild was even created, in the hope that it just might be possible to earn a comfortable living providing wargames to the public.

Dunnigan's Departure

However, despite annual income declared at two million dollars, SPI's sales declined, and while monetary income remained constant, increasing inflation eroded the company's profits. Dunnigan's departure in the late 1970s led to internal struggle at SPI in 1980; chief among SPI's problems was poor marketing. Howie Barasch's departure as marketing manager in the late 1970s was never properly rectified and the founder of "S&T," Chris Wagner, who was now a management consultant, was brought back into the fold to address SPI's marketing problems. He found that many sales representatives, previously independently commissioned by SPI, had no idea they were still representing the company and some didn't even realize the company was still in operation, as no one had been in touch with them for several years.

TSR

Financial mismanagement also cost SPI money, and a recession didn't help matters. Negotiations began with Avalon Hill and then TSR, Inc. for a buy-out.

From Greg Costikyan:

:TSR indicated initial interest, and SPI, desperate for cash, asked for the loan of a few thousand dollars to meet its payroll. TSR agreed, requiring that the loan be backed by SPI's assets, making it a secured creditor. Shortly after SPI paid its employees, TSR demanded repayment of the loan. SPI agreed to be taken over by TSR, for no cash money.:TSR sent out a press release announcing that they had taken over SPI. Soon, however, they realized the extent of SPI's liabilities; and, horrified, "clarified" their own initial announcement, claiming that, instead, they had assumed SPI's assets but not its debts.:Now, while TSR had been a secured creditor, it was a tiny one. SPI's printers and the venture capital investors were owed far more money. Legally, TSR's position gave them first crack at SPI's assets, but hardly entitled them to take over the company, lock, stock, and barrel, without assuming any liabilities. However, no one in SPI's management was going to sue over the ownership of a bankrupt company, and TSR's takeover seemed the only shot at keeping the company together. And TSR quickly paid off the major creditors, at some cents on the dollar, to avoid the possibility that anyone else would challenge the transaction.

By the time of the buyout in 1982, SPI was selling, it is estimated, some 60-70% of all wargames in the world. Avalon Hill remained a bigger company, but only because it sold many more sports and general interest games than wargames. By this point, "S&T" boasted 30,000 subscribers and the magazine was truly the flagship of SPI.

One innovation of "S&T" was its feedback system, in which readers could answer various multiple-choice questions on a return card, whose data would then be entered into a Burroughs minicomputer for analysis. Thus "S&T" always had good information about which games readers were looking for.

Again, from Greg Costikyan:

:Perhaps "S&T's" most important innovation...was its feedback system. Using primitive Burroughs, later IBM, minicomputers, Dunnigan put together a highly sophisticated system to obtain marketing information from his customers. In every issue of the magazine, there was a response card, with 96 numbered blanks. At the back of the magazine were a series of questions, to which a reader could respond by entering a number between 0 and 9 on the blanks of the card. Some questions provided marketing data, e.g., average age of the readership; some were used to provide competitive rankings of SPI's and other publishers' products, charts that "S&T's" readers pored over when deciding what game to buy next. And some were used to ask the readers what kinds of games they'd like to see. Indeed, every issue provided brief write-ups of game ideas, and SPI would design the games which received the highest ratings.

:This kind of market research was astonishing for the field, remains astonishing for the field, would be astonishing in any field. SPI had immediate, timely data telling it precisely what its most valued customers thought. For years, the sales of SPI's games correlated very closely with the feedback results; SPI could predict, with virtual certainty, a game's sales before embarking on its design.

Through this feedback, it became obvious that "S&T"'s readership included many of the avid wargamers - over 50% of readers claimed to own 100 or more games; many bought a dozen games every year on top of those contained in the magazine. SPI estimated that 250,000 people in North America had ever bought a wargame based on the total number of games sold by all companies to date, and felt that its subscribers probably owned a disproportionate share of those games. In other words, these subscribers were the key market audience for the entire wargaming industry. And SPI had its finger on their pulse through the feedback system in "S&T."

When TSR took over SPI, it made a colossal blunder: it refused to honour commitments to these dedicated "S&T" subscribers. SPI unfortunately had no assets to its name when the takeover occurred, and over 1,000 subscribers had been accorded "life-time" status, meaning that they were entitled to all future issues without any further payment. TSR saved money in the short term, but alienated its best customers.

Greg Costikyan claims that this was the turning point in the wargaming industry; few "S&T" subscribers renewed, even though the magazine continued to be published (TSR published issues 91 through 111); many also refused to buy any TSR titles due to bitterness over the handling of their subscriptions.

SPI's design staff moved on to Avalon Hill, where they set up a sub-company based in New York called Victory Games. It produced many unique and popular titles, which by the late 1980's were outselling even Avalon Hill games. TSR continued making games, hoping to recoup its investment in SPI (another reason was the enthusiasm of some staff members for wargaming), but despite a healthier distribution chain than SPI had enjoyed, its wargame line was never successful. "S&T" Magazine was eventually sold to 3W, a small company which published The Wargamer magazine, a direct competitor. By this time, other companies were also stepping up production, and a splintered market ensured that the days of selling 50,000 copies or more of a title were gone. Publishers became happy to sell 10,000 copies, with 20,000 being considered phenomenal.

3W

It was during this decline that 3W continued its publication of "S&T" (specifically issues 112 to 139), and James Dunnigan returned for a brief stint as editor of the magazine (Keith Poulter was the editor from issues #112 to #119, Ty Bomba from #120 to #129, James Dunnigan from #130 to #139). Although circulation began to increase again, subscriptions never recovered fully, and most sales were through game stores and not subscriptions, which meant third party retailers cut into profits. Sales were also no longer guaranteed. Keith Poulter, the head of 3W and founder of The Wargamer, sold the magazine to Decision Games, who continued publication beginning with issue 140. (Fire & Movement was published concurrently by Decision Games.) Issue 176 saw "S&T" introduced for sale at newsstands, minus the game, and according to the official website "by issue #216, more copies of the magazine edition were being produced than the game edition." As "S&T" approaches its 40th year, it lays claim to being the longest published wargame magazine.

Awards and Value

"Strategy & Tactics" won five Charles S. Roberts/Origins Awards between 1974 and 1988, and in 1997 the magazine was inducted into the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame. [cite web
url=http://www.originsgamefair.com/awards/1974
title=Charles S. Roberts Award Winners (1974)
publisher=Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design
accessdate=2008-08-15
] [cite web
url=http://www.originsgamefair.com/awards/1975
title=Charles S. Roberts Award Winners (1975)
publisher=Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design
accessdate=2008-08-15
] [cite web
url=http://www.originsgamefair.com/awards/1976
title=Charles S. Roberts Award Winners (1976)
publisher=Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design
accessdate=2008-08-15
] [cite web
url=http://www.originsgamefair.com/awards/1977
title=Charles S. Roberts Award Winners (1977)
publisher=Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design
accessdate=2008-08-15
] [cite web
url=http://www.originsgamefair.com/awards/1988/list-of-winners
title=Origins Award Winners (1988)
publisher=Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design
accessdate=2008-08-15
] [cite web
url=http://www.originsgamefair.com/awards/1997
title=Origins Award Winners (1997)
publisher=Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design
accessdate=2008-08-15
]

Back issues of "Strategy & Tactics" are today valued by wargame collectors, and some of them have seen steadily rising prices in the wargame market.

References

External links

* [https://strategyandtacticspress.com/index.php "Strategy & Tactics" homepage]
* [http://www.costik.com/spicom/sandt.html Index of Articles and Games in "Strategy & Tactics" Issues #1 to #90]


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