Simulations Publications, Inc.
 

Simulations Publications, Inc., (SPI) was formed in 1969 by James F. Dunnigan, as an entity to oversee the publication of Strategy & Tactics, which Dunnigan purchased from Chris Wagner for the price of one dollar. Dunnigan and SPI quickly became established as more than just a magazine, however, and began producing wargames for both separate sale as well as the revolutionary step of including them in the magazine for subscribers. SPI aggressively entered a market dominated to that point in time by The Avalon Hill Game Company and adopted many other business concepts and practices in addition to its ambitious production schedule. SPI embarked on expensive advertising campaigns, for example purchasing full-page ads in Scientific American, and producing give-away copies of wargames for subscribers and visitors to trade shows (Napoleon at Waterloo went out to subscribers to S&T, while Strike Force One was produced specifically as an introductory game). S&T quickly acquired a much larger subscriber base than The General, though it was admitted that the magazine ran at a financial loss, though it was able to claim the cost of the wargames it produced as advertising costs.

Founded: 1969
Produced: ►Tactical Wargames
►Role Playing Game
Demise: 1982

 

S&T evolved into a military history magazine, and in 1972 a second magazine was started. Moves became a house organ for the SPI line of games, with an emphasis on variants, game design and analysis.

 


Advertisement from Strategy & Tactics #18, the first issue printed under James F. Dunnigan. "Poultron Press" later became SPI.

 

Tactical Games and Test Games

 

SPI pioneered tactical games, producing Tac Game 3, the very first commercially produced tactical level board wargame, and followed it with several other titles. They printed a set of miniatures rules in S&T, T-34, and were the first to introduce a squad-based tactical wargame in Grunt, which was also the first of the SPI magazine games to include die-cut counters. Early games were low in physical quality, particularly in comparison to Avalon Hill titles. Tac Game 3, for example, featured hand-drawn counters and a monochrome map. Rules for many early titles came printed on large fold-out sheets, and a variety of (often unwieldy) containers were pressed into service in the early years of SPI's existence, the most enduring being the flat counter trays with clear tops that are most familiar to collectors today.

 

Two series of games ran concurrently early in SPI's history. Test Series Games were an early form of what we call "beta-testing" today. In exchange for the promise of a steady flow of new games to play, SPI offered - for sale - low-quality test games in order to receive feedback prior to revising and offering them for mass distribution.

 

At the same time, a series of "Tactical Games" was planned. Tac Game 3 became PanzerBlitz, the rights for which were sold to Avalon Hill. Most were set outside the 20th Century era. Tac Game 1 became Combat Command.

 

 

Innovations and Demise

 

SPI pioneered the use of user feedback in their magazines, and the use of market research, collated by computer, permitted them access to information that in theory gave them great power to make sage business decisions. The wargaming market grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s, but increasing financial difficulties led SPI to bankruptcy in 1982, and its assets were acquired by TSR.

 

The transition from SPI to TSR was not without complications; Fire & Movement followed the story. Robert J. Johannes, of the law firm Michael, Best & Friedrich, wrote to the magazine to clarify some of  what happened:

For your information, and that of your readers, TSR loaned approximately one-half million dollars to SPI. The loans were secured and collateralized by substantially all of the assets of SPI. When SPI defaulted on repayment of the loans, TSR, in its capacity as a secured creditor, foreclosed its loans and realized upon the collateral in satisfaction and discharge of the SPI debt. TSR thereby acquired assets of SPI. TSR did not, however, acquire SPI's debts and liabilities, nor did TSR assume such. TSR did not acquire SPI as a going business.

 

However, because of ... the words "sale," "acquisition" and "buyer" (in an article in F&M) your readers may be misled into believing that TSR did acquire SPI as a going concern and, albeit incorrectly, may infer that TSR acquired and became liable for SPI's liabilities. Nothing could be further from the truth...1

A large number of SPI staff went on to form Victory Games under the auspices of Avalon Hill, but only a few titles were published by either TSR and VG in the 1980s as the board game market declined.

The events that have led to the formation of Victory Games are legion, and many viewpoints of those events have already emerged. Perhaps it would be helpful...to learn the personal viewpoint of the Victory Games staff...

 

Throughout the autumn of 1981, the design staff and SPI in general seemed to be chugging along at a fairly happy pace, despite news that the Christmas buying season had been less than kind to our marketing projections. By December, the outflow of product had slowed somewhat, as printers and other vendors began to hold jobs for "ransom" until due payments were received. Such "hostage" situations were considered mildly disruptive, but their occurrence was not viewed with alarm. SPI's history for the previous year or two had been checkered with such events; we had learned to live with cash-flow problems on a week-to-week basis.

 

The difficulties that gradually accumulated during this period....can be generally indicated in a few key areas. Out-of-stock games failed to return to stock, and thus orders went unfulfilled. Mechanicals for numerous projects piled up...Maintenance service for such critical equipment as photocopies and typesetting machines became increasingly difficult to procure...Unpaid bills mounted, occasioning even a legendary threat against the life of one financial staff member.

 

...December 30 (1981) was the date ever to be known as Black Wednesday. On this day, the creative staff was unexpectedly called into President Chris Wagner's office. At that time, we were informed that throughout the company, department heads were conducting simultaneous meetings.2

Tactical Games Published by SPI
(envelope/boxed titles - for magazine titles, see S&T)

Year Title Type
1969 Tactical Game 3 Board
1971 Grunt Board
1972 Combat Command Board
1972 Red Star/White Star Board
1972 Soldiers: Tactical Combat in 1914-15 Board
1973 Desert War Board
1973 KampfPanzer Board
1973 Sniper! Board
1974 Panzer'44 Board
1974 Tank! Board
1974 Search & Destroy Board
1974 Patrol! Board
1974 Tank! Expansion Game Rules Board
1975 MechWar '77 Board
1975 Strike Force 1 Board
1976 Firefight Board
1977 Raid! Board
1977 October War Board
1979 Commando Role Playing Game
1979 Mech War 2 Board
1979 Paratroop Board
1979 City Fight Board
1979 Panzer Battles Board

Notes

  1. "Bits and Pieces: The SPI Story Unfolds" Fire & Movement Magazine, No. 29, Sep-Oct 1982

  2. Ibid, a reprint of a letter signed by Mark Herman, John H. Butterfield, Eric Lee Smith, Gerry Klug, Jerry Glichenshouse, Trish Butterfield, Ted Koller and Bob Ryer

 

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