Age of Reason (Review)

Edited by Andrew Moss and Garry Lea 

by Stephen Agar

At first glance Age Of Reason does look different to most other Diplomacy zines; in terms of appearance and format only the Small Furry Creatures Press and Electric Monk come close.  A4 booklet (A3 folded in half, but unfortunately not stapled) and DTP presentation.  Andrew and Garry are proud of the zine’s appearance, though occasionally I do think they can make the zine a little fussy through over-use of the technology. 

When you delve deeper into Age Of Reason you find that despite the occasional dodgy grammar it is innovative as far as the content is concerned.  Alongside the usual letters column, hobby news and Diplomacy articles, there is a regular fake “news” cover story developed from some dramatic event or other from one of the Diplomacy games they are running, eg. Russia moves to Silesia in S01.  Andrew then writes the cover story in a fake newspaper style describing how the incompetence of the German army has allowed thousands or Russian troops to cross over the border etc.  This is all very well if you don’t mind someone commenting on your games (and I for one don’t mind at all, and I was the Germany in question), but some players would be very unhappy.  My problem with this regular feature is that I no longer find it entertaining.  The usual story is someone has stabbed or has not stabbed someone else, so however talented Andrew may be when it comes to inventing news columns, there is not much scope for real invention or humour. Once you have told a similar story over and over again, the joke does wear a little thin. 

Another innovation in Age Of Reason is the fact that Andrew bases Diplomacy strategy articles on the events occurring in the Diplomacy games he is currently running.  Thus, if you play in Age Of Reason your every move could be commented on in a serious examination of your game (as opposed to the frivolous cover story referred to above).  This wouldn’t bother me either, but would it bother you?  I sympathise over the desire to write Diplomacy strategy articles.  I foolishly included a strategy article in issue 1 and have had to keep writing them due to public demand (I kid you not).  Like Spring Offensive, Age Of Reason has a high proportion of newcomers to the hobby who have not seen it all before and do find such articles interesting. 

Though it is true that Andrew has recruited many newcomers to the hobby due to advertisements in wargames magazines, do not believe the circulation figure printed on the front page of Age of Reason.  Garry Lea’s idea of a circulation figure is how many copies he prints, not how many paying subscribers he has.  The real circulation figure for Age Of Reason is just under 100, but given that Andrew only has a handful of trades, that is really a very high figure by today’s standards.  Andrew has worked hard to increase Age Of Reason’s circulation and the consequent meteoric rise may surprise many editors given Age Of Reason’s disappointing 33rd out of 34 in the Zine Poll. 

The most recent Mission From God rather misleadingly compared Age of Reason to Smodnoc.  This comparison is all the more puzzling given that Smodnoc is a multi-games zine in the finest tradition of Chimaera, while Age of Reason is an unabashed Diplomacy purist zine, which is only now opening lists for Diplomacy variants almost a year after the zine started publication.  If you want to play Railway Rivals, Sopwith or even postal Snakes & Ladders, this is not the zine for you. 

Age of Reason does have some very good qualities in that it is reliable and offers a first class service to players.  These days, that is a virtue not to be sniffed at.  It is, slowly but surely, maturing into a more interesting zine because it is developing a character.  Until recently, Andrew and Garry were almost anonymous souls whose personality you could only guess at.  Now that they are putting more of themselves into the zine, Age of Reason is becoming more interesting. 

Although I think I have struck up a reasonably good friendship with Andrew, this review would not be honest if I did not say what I do not like about Age Of Reason.  First and foremost, I do not like zines that relegate their games into extra photocopied sheets taking them out of the zine proper, even if Andrew does print a quick summary of what is happening in the zine one move in arrears.  Games are the reason why zines exist, if the games are not in the zine then why bother, you might a well just circulate the photocopied sheets and have done with it.  It is difficult as a player to identify with a zine if your game is not physically in it.  I didn’t like it when Dolchstoß went down this route in the 70’s and I still don’t like it.  It is not a pleasant sensation to open a zine and have lots of pieces of paper fall out of it (no doubt the promised variant sub-zine will mean even more bits of paper – sigh).  The last issue of Age Of Reason even included a model form for players to write their orders on.  This is bureaucratic madness and I will not use it on principle (even if I could understand it). 

I also don’t like the various attempts to initiate discussion on politics or current events just for the sake of it.  Rather than write political editorials of some length or using their Soapbox column to goad their readers into responding, I think more subtle methods for encouraging feedback are often more successful.  If the political comment from Garry came across as being deeply felt rather than contrived I would be more sympathetic. 

Finally, I didn’t like the ‘O’level history articles, but they appear to have disappeared anyway. 

Anyway, by whatever standards it is reasonable to use, Age Of Reason is getting better all the time, even if moaning minnies like me would prefer it if they edited their content more severely to make space for all their Diplomacy games.  Age Of Reason appears to be running no less than 11 regular games and a variant, which is larger than most.  With the promised variant sub-zine things will get bigger still. 

Now, Andrew Moss is a nice guy.  Everyone says so, so it must be true.  Even I think that he is a nice guy.  Garry Lea is also quite nice.  Age Of Reason is a nice zine.  Really nice.  Then why has Age Of Reason received such a lukewarm response from the hobby in general?  Puzzles me. 

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 3