Smodnoc (Review)

Edited by Toby Harris

by Stephen Agar

This is a difficult zine to sort out because it is difficult to work out which part of it is which.  The format is A5 reduced photocopying on aesthetically interesting lime-green and pink paper, issue 40 going to 56 pages.  However, a plethora of sub-zines means that there is a variety of type styles and type sizes.  As a guideline, in terms of quantity (taking into account margins and typesize) 3 pages of Smodnoc = 1 page of Spring Offensive. 

I welcome Toby’s practice of incorporating all sub-zines into a single booklet, it may be a devil for a newcomer to work out what is what, but at least it means that the zine as a whole has some sort of identity.  A glance through Smodnoc No.40 reveals that Toby is carrying no less than 7 sub-zines namely: 

Novelty (Punters, Designer Dice, Mornington Crescent, United – 4 pages all games reports)
Mappa Mundi Plc (1830, 1853, Mercator – 6 pages, 4 pages games reports)
Chess (Chess and El Gordo – 2 pages both game reports)
The Blue Nose Special (Railway Rivals, Fictionary Dictionary – 4 pages, 2 pages game reports)
Black Jelly Babies (Gunboat Diplomacy, £5 Puzzle – 5 pages, 4 pages games reports)
The Amnesia Express (4 pages, no games running yet)
Tobold The Ivishtable (sic) (Sopwith – 4 pages, 3 games reports) 

Right.  So let us subtract all the above from Smodnoc to work out the Toby Harris content.  I reckon that that must mean that Toby is running Stratego, Cluedo, Fair Means Or Foul, Hare & Tortoise, Othello, £10 Puzzle, 8 Regular Diplomacy games and 2 variants – 26 pages in total being 14 game reports, 3 pages of zine admin and 9 pages of chat and news. 

Now it may appear to be pretty silly to start a zine review with a quantitative (as opposed to a qualitative) analysis of Smodnoc.  However, I wanted you to understand the flavour of this zine and an analysis of the contents seemed the best way to do it.  There is no point in describing a zine as just multi-games and leaving it at that. 

Toby must be a master of organisation to keep on top of this zine, the headaches of relying on others to produce copy on time etc. and then assemble it must be considerable.  The sub-zine editors can each just type out a page of edit-woffle and a few game reports and leave it a that whereas Toby has to provide enough non-games material to keep the interest of the general subscriber or trader.  Toby even has four different coloured stickers indicating your credit status and whether or not you have a gamestart that issue!  Smodnoc is without doubt a formidable administrative achievement. 

I have no wish to start a debate on the merits of various games when played postally – live and let live and all that.  The subject has been done to death over the years anyway.  Personally, I would only play a game postally if (a) there were practical reasons preventing me from playing it face-to-face, (b) there was an element of player interaction to justify playing a game over a year instead of an hour and (c) there was absolutely no GM interference at all in the substance of the game – I hate a chance element in a game being replicated by the GM (Eg. the GM threw a six and therefore I lose etc. – how do I know the GM really threw a six?  How do I know that the GM bothered to throw a dice at all?).  However, I am obviously a killjoy and should not be taken seriously.  I do find it puzzling that many of the non-Diplomacy games carried in Smodnoc are often simple games, whereas I would have expected the postal games hobby to be mainly concerned with comlex games for which it is difficult to find opponents. 

If you want to play any of the above games then Smodnoc must be the zine for you.  Even if your interest is just Diplomacy, Smodnoc does offer a reliable and efficient service, albeit running to five week deadlines, although unless you are of a multi-games disposition much of the zine will be of little interest.  If you are a Diplomacy player who is also into Hare & Tortoise, 1830, Railway Rivals and Soccer simulations then Smodnoc is a must. 

All Diplomacy games and variants carry a picture of the Diplomacy board at the relevant moment, which is usually readable.  I do find some of Toby’s abbreviations in his Diplomacy game reports to be a little misleading – for example if I see F(Nwy) S Russian F(GOB)-Swe in a game report I would tend to assume that Russia did not actually order F(GOB)-Swe.  Not so.  The dashed underline apparently means that the support was cut.  However, when Toby really is faced with the situation of one player supporting another player’s non-existent moves he also uses a dashed underline and then puts “((no such order))” in brackets.  In my book a cut support is a failed move and should be underlined.  Dashed underlines should be reserved for illegal or impossible moves.  I also found his use of “S” to means “stands” a bit puzzling at first – “A(Den) S   ” looks like an unfinished order to me.  Many other zines use “Std.” to avoid such ambiguity.  Still, this really is nit-picking – as long as the players understand what is going on, that is all that matters. 

Smodnoc has waiting lists open for:  

Cluedo, Hare & Tortoise, Fair Means Or Foul, 1830, 1853, Acquire, Railway Rivals, Fictionary Dictionary, Sopwith, United, Mornington Crescent, Designer Dice, Nosh, Punters, Splash, Civilisation, Shogi, Gunboat Diplomacy and regular Diplomacy. 

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 1