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Mark McLaughlin» Forums » General Creator Forum

Subject: No More Ring Binders rss

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Transcribed FROM and [*Notes* of mine duly denoted as such]: "The Designer's Corner" Fire & Movement #74, Page 62, sub-title: "A thirty-something gamer's view of game designing" by Mark G. McLaughlin:

The first design I ever sold was a "Lord of the Rings" type board game that I presented to the old Heritage Game Company in 1975. They gave me $100 retainer and a contract specifying the royalty rate I would earn once the game was produced. Well, that was the year SPI came out with its monster "Ring" game, and rather than face the competition, Heritage decided not to publish it. They were very nice about it, however, and the(y) let me keep the $100.
[*Note-they did produce their line of 'miniatures', to wit*]:

"photo" by, and permission granted for its use here, through Martin Stever


Now, I have always designed games. As a kid, I remember reading Cornelius Ryan's "The Last Battle", and then drawing out a grid of squares on some large cardboard. I drew in a rough map of Germany and used toy soldiers. After all, it was the early 1960s and I hadn't heard of Avalon Hill and had never seen a counter. From then on, whenever I read a really good book about a war or a battle, I'd start dabbling with bits and pieces of other games, cardboard, toys and dice. By the time I did learn about them, I was already using them for my home made designs. My best pal, Nino, and I, for example, turned the "Guadalcanal" map 90 degrees, taped on some symbols and names and voila, we had "Vietnam, the game" in 1968. A few years later I took the "1914" game pieces, the "Waterloo" map, and some cellophane wrap (for overlays) to recreate battles from Chandler's "Campaigns of Napoleon". Yes, I was hooked.

In college there was my home made version of the Spanish Civil War, the Battle of Fontenoy, several sets of miniatures rules for the 18th century, the renaissance and the civil war and a host of quick game rules for selective Saturday afternoon battles using everything from Zulus to Tiger Tanks, often on the same battle field. (I'm not kidding, ask my friends about the French-Cuirassiers charging with hand grenades and submachine guns like Indians [*Note -USA "Injuns!"*] around a wagon train of kubelwagens.

One man's abject silliness is another's creative outlet, but these strange little wanderings into the realm of the anachronistic were just like the stories by H. Beam Piper, Jerry Pournelle and David Drake, to name a few of my favorite science fiction/fantasy writers. I always based my designs on the books I was reading, and like my actual, published designs of the last ten years, I did them because there was nothing else out there that I wanted to play on those topics.

Take my first published board game [*please! sorry, couldn't resist*], "War and Peace" (TAHGC, 1979). At that time, there was no other game that covered all of the campaigns of Napoleon, and only one rather poor and abstract strategic game (with yearly turns) that let you take the Napoleonic Empire through its rise and fall.[*Note -in 1989 then NES had theirs "L'Empereur" that is a wonderful GAME for this, to a certain extent as you can ONLY 'be' the "French" in that!*] "No Trumpets, No Drums" (The Wargamer, vol. 1 no. 23) was one of the first strategic Vietnam games to let you play the whole war (and do it in less time than the real thing). "East Wind Rain", "Mr. Lincoln's War~Potomac & Tennessee", "Holy Roman Empire", and "Viceroys!", were all designed for the same reason. I wanted to play a game on those topics, and either there wasn't any or I didn't like what I saw out there.

I do not design games for a living. That, to me, would be hell. I do it because I enjoy it, the same way that someone likes to create a flower garden, build an antique replica of a car from a kit, or write a book (which I also do). Then I play with my new toy with my friends. If they really like it, then I start getting notions of grandeur and start looking for ways to get the design published. I used to try and sell games to companies, but even before the number of companies began to shrink, my friends and I decided it was a lot more fun, more satisfying and much less frustrating to raise some money and become partners in producing and marketing a game.

My friends and I in the 'East Wind Rain Company' have done rather well on that score. We made money on two editions of "East Wind Rain", and on "Viceroys!", and have almost broke even on "Grand Army of the Republic", (a design by my friend and partner Roger Nord)~[*Note -verily akin to "Axis & Allies" for the American Civil War period*]. If we had not been hit with a 50% printer's surcharge after the fact, we would already be ahead with "Grand Army of the Republic", too. We're still working on the side to make games. Our next project, my Roman era game, "I Caesar", will be out in 1992 [*Note -sadly, there were nothing on that of which I can locate for and about it all, as of yet*].

"I Caesar", like my "Viceroys!" design of 1987, reflects my basic theory-of-thirty-something, married with children and wargaming. I can no longer devote the long hours to grand hexagon campaigns that take 10, 20, or 30 hours to play. No more long games (like "War and Peace" campaigns), or even the involved games with extensive rule books, half of which I've forgotten (like my own "Mr. Lincoln's War" series: "Armies of the Tennesee" and "Army of the Potomac") Definitely no more "Squad Leader" -- even my computers (I have three) can not keep up with that. [*Note -almost 20 years later, they can NOW accommodate on such most comfortably!*]

Now I get together on Tuesday nights with three to six friends (some of whom I've gamed with for over 18 years) and play relatively easy, multi-player games. [*Note -tally this with the addition for around 2 decades hence on the article's publication = close to 40 years then!*] I do not even bother designing "traditional" board games of the old school, simply because I could never again get them play tested. Besides, I'd rather sit around with a bunch of guys and toss cards, dice and insults at one another than count hexes, figure out odds and then have to go read another book while my opponent takes his turn to do the same. In the old days, when I gamed three or four times a week, that was okay. Now, when I get one game night per week, with one or two Saturday or Sunday games a month thrown in, I like to maximize my time and fun. That means fast, easy to learn, readily familiar games, usually involving three or more other players.

I try to design my games to fit my own game needs and urges, just like I did 25 years ago when I brought out the toy tanks to rampage through the cardboard 'Third Reich' of "The Last Battle".
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[*NOTE*] A more recent interview with Mark McLaughlin can be listened upon with this "Point 2 Point" podcast.
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