Is SJG banking on nostalgia…?


So, who am I to judge about nostalgia, I backed Melee and Wizard on a Kickstarter, right?  Yet.. in the recent Kickstarter update for the Fantasy Trip Kickstarter, I noticed this at the very end of the post:

More Pocket Box Games

With most of The Fantasy Trip under control (Ben and I are still working on the Companion; I have a stack of magazines I’m taking to the office today), we’re directing some of our energy to the upcoming Pocket Box project. For those of you who have missed out on the news, we’ve been working closely with the factory to test scan classic Pocket Box games and determine the viability of reproducing those classic games.

The Old Pocket Boxes for OGRE and GEV from the early 80s.. fun, durable (except for the hinged box close tab) and you could put it in your pocket, more or less.

All of the tests have gone better than expected, and with the new Pocket Box tooling almost complete, we’re starting to design a Pocket Box project that will launch on Kickstarter in January. This project will be specifically to create games as reproductions and not as new editions. These will be classic Steve Jackson Games titles of the eighties, including Car Wars, Ogre, and Illuminati . . . all in the Pocket Box format that made them smash hits back in the eighties!

These reproductions will be near-identical to the originals, with the only significant change the details of the plastic Pocket Box. Everything else — from covers to maps to counters you have to cut out yourself — will be near-exact reprints of the original games. (For collectors, we will note “2019 Reproduction” on the materials, to set these apart from the originals.)

We have the rough plan in place, but we would love to hear from you: Which Pocket Box game do you most want to see included as part of this project? You can leave a comment here, or you can engage in this discussion at BGG. Regardless of where you make your request, please let us know the game(s) you want to see included in this project.

Ad for old pocket box release for NECROMANCER,originally a magazine game published in the Space Gamer. 

(grey background: Quote from recent Kickstarter announcement for The Fantasy Trip)

Now, back in their day the pocket boxes were pretty great.  About the size of a slim paperback, the box contained a map, strip cut counters and a small rulebook for a single game– or expansion for a game, in the case of Illuminati, OGRE and especially Car Wars.  Eventually, just about every microgame from Steve Jackson games got published in a pocket box.  In 1982, the pocket box was a nice market discriminator in the small but lively microgame market.  Unlike Metagaming’s offerings, the SJG pocket box didn’t self destruct right after buying.  All of them had a similar look and feel and all of them were roughly in the same price range.   They stack on shelves and can fit in student backpacks.  They were my initial introduction to the classic titles of Illuminati, Car Wars and OGRE/GEV, and they got some hard use.  I still have my OGRE and GEV pocket boxes, although the game has seen many different repackagings over the years.  Illuminati, I also had that in pocket box, which was the initial publishing format– the base game and two expansions were pretty much all one needed to have a good time.  Car Wars was pretty much the same.  The base game had plenty of play– and only Sunday Drivers and the Arena expansions were needed to expand that game world– despite years and years of expansions being cranked out by SJG.  We essentially played the base premise of Car Wars so much, we got bored and stopped. 

 I guess that’s why I’m.. I don’t know..  a little wary? of this concept.  Back in 1982, these games had no competitors.  They were unique and groundbreaking.. then.  In 2018, I’m not sure I want to play state of the art games from 1982 any more.  Some of these designs were hugely entertaining back in the 80s.. but now play at a glacial pace by modern standards (Illuminati, I’m looking at  you, kid).  Car Wars?  Why would I want to play Car Wars these days when I have Gaslands (and, I say modestly, my own White Line Fever), both of which play ten times faster and more chaotically than Car Wars’ micromanaging style mechanics? Illuminati, which I have always liked, takes about six hours to play all the way to the end, when  you have a group of 4 our more players.  Do I have that kind of time any more?  Not really.

Back in 2012 I was seriously pursuing the idea of porting SJG’s Battlesuit directly to the miniatures realm.  It seemed like a good candidate, with the man to man scale, SF setting and tie in to the OGREverse.  Then I took a look at the game mechanics for the first time in 20 years.  Whoa… shooting at someone in flight was akin to “fly ten feet.. do an activation check, fire at target, target checks ECP and countermeasures.. then flies another ten feet.. where you check again…” Hrmmm yeah.  You keep that. 

Some direct reprints of yesteryear aren’t going to be nearly as popular as the recent OGRE DELUXE (which was a runaway success) because they weren’t that well designed in the first place.  They were great for the 80s but, recent experience has demonstrated that when Steve Jackson reprints one of the classics, he does it with slavish regard to the source material being intact (like Ogre, like the Fantasy Trip..).  One of the big reasons I wasn’t even tempted to jump into OGRE DELUXE was I already HAD it.. in a pocket box.  Nothing was added that I didn’t already own in some fashion.  As I’ve pondered before, I think the big market for these deluxe reprints are old guys like me with nostalgic stars in our eyes.   For classic game designs, this is great. For kinda sorta mediocre game designs, ehhhhh not so much. 

Last word: I don’t want to come off as inordinately negative here.  I really have enjoyed SJG’s output and appreciate the old classic games.  I’m just surprised, with SJG making such serious bank with Kickstarter (and they have), that they never seem to examine old designs with an eye to improving mechanics for a modern audience.  There is nothing sacrosanct about outdated game design.

One comment

  1. And I wonder what the prices will be. $3.95 was pretty cheap even 40 years ago, so taking a chance on a game was not all that critical. I can’t imagine the price these days will be anything comparable. But what do I know?

    Chris J.

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