Simulation Publications, aka SPI Games, Inc, the late and still lamented games publisher, was an innovative and incredibly prolific publisher of games that existed between 1969 and 1982. I liked their approach– their forte was military conflict simulation games, of which I owned plenty, and they published maybe the best gaming magazine of that distant era, Strategy and Tactics, a magazine with a wargame in every issue. S&T (as it is commonly abbreviated) outlived its parent company, and has lived on under a variety of owners, the most current being Decision Games. S&T was a great magazine and a great marketing tool that allowed the parent company to stay in touch with the core audience’s likes and dislikes using a simple feedback mechanism using postcards in every issue. The magazine would poll the audience about future game proposals and generally make decisions about what to publish based upon that feedback. A simple system, and it worked very well.
One market niche that was taking root and growing fast in the late 70s and early 80s was the desire for fantasy and science fiction games, a niche that SPI did very well, in my humble opinion. Their version of War of the Ring, John Carter of Mars, War in the Ice, even supposedly “lowbrow” stuff like The Creature that Ate Sheboygan… well, maybe they weren’t genius designs, but they sure were fun to play, and the market was growing by leaps and bounds back then. Remember, D&D had been out for just a few years (from roughly 1975 onward, but really 1977). The market wasn’t nearly as saturated as it is today for F&SF game products, so SPI did reasonably well in that niche. To support their expanding hobby base, SPI decided to create another magazine, specifically themed for fantasy and science fiction games, with the intention of supporting the existing SPI F&SF game products, adding in short fiction and science articles, and of course product reviews from inside and outside of SPI. Best of all, there would be a game included in every issue, just like S&T managed to do. Thus, SPI could field a publication that could included in different marketing outlets that might not support a military history themed gaming magazine, like comic book stores. The new magazine was called ARES. From the start it was big and bright and colorful, displaying Redmond Simonsen’s particular genius for evoking themes from simple images and bright colors. Individual issues retailed in the six dollar range. A grand total of 17 issues were printed before the parent company SPI, facing disastrous financial issues, was swallowed up by TSR, the company that published D&D. TSR, though in the fantasy business, of sorts, didn’t know what to do with a gaming magazine that was a former competitor to their own in house magazine, THE DRAGON (1976-2007 in printed format, online thereafter). So they added an “Ares Section” to each issue for about a year or so (focusing solely on TSR Science Fiction games like Gamma World! and Star Frontiers), then even that died out, and that was that for ARES magazine. During its short and productive life, ARES created some fun games and a magazine that was genuinely entertaining to read. The fiction pieces were no slouches, either, with some genuine talents here and there. John Boardman’s science essays were generally very informative. One in particular, “No, you won’t be going to the stars”, which was featured in the premiere issue, has stuck with me my entire life as a reference for just how LONG travel between stars will be.
Greg Costikyan, who contributed his share of F&SF games to SPI’s output, published a canonical List of Ares Issues and contents on his website. He’s what I would call an authority.
Nowadays, if you’re interested in revisiting individual issues from that long ago era, you can download every issue published before the TSR takeover in various formats from ARCHIVE.ORG, though I recommend the PDF version. The Epub conversion are less than optimal.
One Small Step Games (who I had thought folded tents a long time ago) is a not very prolific publisher of small format games that used to fit in the “Microgames” niche– noticeably from their own (long defunct) gaming magazine, GAMEFIX/COMPETITIVE EDGE (ceased publication in 1998). Like SPI of old, their magazine also had a game in every issue while it lasted, which was 13 issues. I liked GF/CE games– many of them designed by some reputable designers like Richard Berg and Joe Miranda. I had lost track of this little company a while ago and thought they had jumped on the road to palookaville, like a lot of small game companies. I’m glad they are still around, as it turns out– they recently announced on their blog that they are in the process of acquiring publishing rights to ARES MAGAZINE, the great old Fantasy and Science Fiction themed magazine-with-a-game product from SPI’s past. I’m a little apprehensive of the language being used, here..
The vision we hold is for an all-new Ares magazine, published bi-monthly, with 80 pages of fiction, 20 pages of OSS nonsense, and a complete game in every issue.
If you remember the old magazine fondly, the new edition will retain the portion of the original formula that makes sense, but provide more content and higher quality. If you don’t remember the original edition . . . well, you still get all of the delicious nutrition, but without any of the nostalgia.
There are still a hundred things that can go awry with our plan, but if we can stay on course, you should see our Kickstarter program before the end of the year.
100 pages a month? That’s a lot of pages to fill. 80 pages of fiction and 20 pages of “OSS Nonsense?” Did I get that right? So is it.. what.. a gaming magazine with a LOT of fiction included, or a SF magazine with a tiny bit of game content??
Oh well, count me in as one of those people with “fond memories of the original magazine”. When the inevitable Kickstarter is announced, I’ll be in on this one.
This little snippet has inspired me.. I might do an issue by issue review, like I did with Metagaming, here in this blog. Especially now that it’s archived on Archive.org.