Borealis (Review)

Edited by Ian Harris

by Stephen Agar

I enjoy receiving Borealis as a trade.  When you receive a zine you receive a slice of the personality of the person publishing it.  In some cases you will only perceive a part of the editor which is quite distinct from his/her’s everyday personality, a zine caricature which has as much to do with the real editor as Mr Hyde does to Mr Jekyll.  Sometimes the editor deliberately limits the amount of themselves which comes through the zine due to uncharacteristic (for this hobby) modesty or shyness.  Borealis is none of these.  If you read Borealis you do get a picture of what Ian is really like – an all-round nice bloke with a witty turn of phrase. 

The appearance of Borealis is distinctive.  Although there are many zines which have adopted an A5 reduced photocopying booklet format with a coloured cover, Borealis manages to capture a shambolic appearance that none of the others can quite equal.  The whole zine give the impression that it has been typed up on lots of bits of paper and then cut up and arranged on single sheets on the kitchen table.  Which of course it has.  But therein lies some genuine charm – publishing a zine is an amateur affair and each editor soon develops a methodology of his own, fake professionalism is more often than not a product of computer software these days rather than anything else.  It is far harder to produce a zine using cut and paste techniques (and I mean scissors, glue and sno-pake – not DTP jargon), then just sitting down and bashing it out on Word Perfect like I do. 

Things can go wrong with old-fashioned methods – Ian coloured in lots of small paper circles produced by using a hole punch so that he could stick them on his drawing of a backgammon board to represent the counters.  Unfortunately the glue was not strong enough and two of them dropped off!  I wonder how many of the payers will notice.  Still, anyone who has put together a zine in the old-fashioned way can immediately appreciate the fact that Borealis is a labour of love.   

As I have just mentioned postal Backgammon it must be obvious that Borealis is not a purist zine.  At the moment Ian also runs games of Sopwith, Golden Strider and Okey Dokey Diplomacy (?), with lots of variants on offer.  Ian’s weak spot is turnaround and frequency, Borealis does not run like a German railway timetable.  However, you pay your money and make your choice – provided a clockwork zine schedule is not a priority you may succumb to Borealis. 

One regular feature in Borealis worthy of comment is the Toolbox section, where subscribers discuss ideas for new variants and games, though it does suffer from the virtual impossibility of thinking up Diplomacy rule variants that have not already been thought up before. 

At the moment Borealis does have a relatively small circulation (36 after 8 issues), though this is set to rocket with the future acquisition of Ac-Mong.  I suppose if I was 100% honest, I do have some doubts about the forthcoming merger if only because the tone of the two zines is so totally different.  Still, let’s wait and see how things develop. 

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 4