A Look at what Happened to the Postal Games Hobby in 1982

by Mike Benyon

In a sense 1982 was quite an average year in the history of the postal games hobby. Several zines folded, and a similar number of zines were started up. Many players dropped out of the hobby, while many new players joined it. However, the hobby that enters 1983 is significantly different to the one that entered 1982…


January started the year off badly with news of the folds of Voice in the Wilderness and Duel Purpose. Both of these were highly popular zines and news of their departure form the scene came as quite a surprise, especially in the case of Voice. However, both editors were praised for the responsible manner in which they handed their games over to other zines. January also saw the birth of the “Rusty Bolts” awards, which were announced by Ken Bain in NMR!, and included such interesting categories as “The Chris Tringham Upstart of the Year Award,” the “Peter Doubleday Award for the Least Welcome New Subscriber” and the “John Piggott Award for the Most Bigoted Editor.” Pete Birks announced the results of his record poll in Greatest Hits, with “Vienna” by Ultravox being voted as 1981’s top single and “Face Value” from Phil Collins the top album.


February was also a bad month for the hobby, with the announcement of three more folds, though two of these were not entirely unexpected. The major fold of the month was that of Filibuster, which came both as a surprise and a disappointment. However, once again its editors were praised for the highly responsible manner in which the games were re-housed, this time to Geoff Challinger’s Home of the Brave. The two folds which came as less of a surprise were Stephen Addison’s Sodd’s Law and Steve Plater’s The Orient Express. Richard Gooch also expressed his disgust that the MidCon Committee had established themselves as the hobby hierarchy and that there was no chance that anyone else would hold a major convention in the future. This was a potentially explosive issue but fortunately little else was said after Richard’s initial outburst and a reply from Pete Birks in Greatest Hits. Ken Bain also announced the results of the Rusty Bolts with, most notably, Terry Hill voted as Least Welcome Subscriber, Simon Billenness voted as Upstart of the Year and Richard Scott voted as Most Unpleasantly Bigoted Editor.


March saw a considerable lull in hobby activity, with little to report on. However, it did see the introduction of two new publications Stick the Knife In and Twenty Years On. Stick was notable for the fact that it was produced by fifteen year old Nigel McCabe whose command of the English language was not exactly impeccable. Not surprisingly it did not receive a particularly good welcome. Twenty Years On was produced by Upstart of the Year, Simon Billenness, and was to replace Compendium as the magazine listing all zines that run games by post. March also saw the first criticism of RYODA in NMR


April was another quiet month, though it did see the birth of Zine to be Believed from Nick Kinzett and Shaun Derrick. This zine was established to re-house the Sodd’s Law games, and deservedly gained a warm welcome into the hobby. April also saw Toucon, an event organised by Peter Calcraft, and incorporating the Universities Diplomacy Tournament, which was established as an annual event to complement the National Diplomacy Championship held at MidCon in the winter.


In May the first issue of En Gardian from Richard Clyne appeared, which despite an appalling sense of layout, showed quite a bit of promise. This was also the month when Don’t Shoot Me re-emerged after a five month break. This came as quite a shock to the rest of the hobby, even though its editor had promised all along that the zine would be back. The most notable occurrence in May, though, was John Marsden’s attack on zines containing bad language, which sparked off a major row with a certain degree of offence being taken by both sides of the debate. The argument much resembled the usual chatzine versus gameszine debate, with the likes of David Watts and John Marsden trying to argue that bad language should be kept out of zines, while the likes of Pete Tamlyn and Glover Rogerson replying in no uncertain terms that they would print whatever they wanted in their zines. Poor old Marsden then took offence in customary fashion by almost folding, and then saying that he would no longer print news on hobby matters.


In June Richard Hucknall announced that he was running down Fall of Eagles, which while not being particularly surprising, was a disappointment. However, Mike Sharpe redressed the balance rather by producing the first issue of Panzerkreuser. This was of particular interest to me, being that Mike joined the hobby through the CGS, and played one of his first games in DSM. The language debate continued with almost all editors getting in on the act.


July was a big month in the hobby with the results of the Zine Poll. It had seemed almost inevitable that Greatest Hits would make it three in a row, but it was Ode that emerged as a clear winner to the apparent surprise of all and sundry. Greatest Hits was second, Fall of Eagles third, The Acolyte fourth and NMR! fifth. Despite being ineligible for the poll, DSM was placed twenty-ninth equal, just three places from the bottom. The other big news was the resurrection of Mad Policy, which had folded about five years before, o issue 73. Richard Walkerdine’s return was greeted with deserving glee. July saw the return to the fold of Shellshock and Megalomania. Chris Tringham announced in Meg that he would print an issue as and when he felt he had anything to say. Obviously Mr. Tringham felt little need to say anything of significance in the last year.


In August the results of the Gladys Awards were announced. Most notably, Greatest Hits won the Best Zine category – Ode wasn’t even nominated!; Richard Hucknall was voted the best Diplomacy GM, Pete Tamlyn the best Non-Diplomacy GM, DibDibDib the best letter column and Ode was voted best for hobby news. Geoff Challinger was rather confused that Home of the Brave won both the Most Improved Zine and the Best New Zine categories, though he was no doubt rather pleased at the same time. Finally, Fall of Eagles was voted Best Diplomacy Zine, The Acolyte Best Games Zine, and Ripping Yarns Best Looking Zine. August was also notable for a staggering sixty page issue 100 of Greatest Hits with many articles reproduced from zines throughout the 1970’s, but also much original stuff from the irrepressible Birks. It also contained the results of his all-time zine poll, with John Piggott’s Ethil the Frog just pipping Dolchstoss, with Birks’s own Greatest Hits in third place.


September saw the first “general release” issue from Dave Thomas, who had made a name for himself in 1981 by achieving 0 as Austria on both days of that year’s National Diplomacy Championship, and still only came two-thirds of the way down in the official ratings thanks to Paul Simpkins’s scoring system. Church Mouse has since established itself as a popular zine. However, this was offset by the shock news of the fold of Snorwood Gazette, Keith Loveys much under-rated gameszine. Keith Loveys decided that he simply did not have the time to produce an efficient monthly games service, though he has continued to run most of the games that he was actually running in SG. Colin Bruce finally handed over his post as editor of Puppet Theatre News to Gary Piper, who also took the opportunity to re-name the zine The Road Goes Ever On. September also saw the start of the Novice Package debate, with Martin “Printer Chappie” Le Fevre of RYODA proposing to advertise the zines he printed in libraries and other public places in the North East and also in The Gamer. There was also a scathing attack on the Novice Package itself from Malcolm Smith, who was so disgusted with the contents that he said he planned to publish his own version.


The Novice Package debate continued. Simon Billenness wrote a very forthright letter to NMR! Stating what he thought was wrong with the package, and Malcolm Smith did much the same. It was made clear by both that they thought Diplomacy took up far too much of the package, and that other popular games should be given a far greater coverage. The whole question of whether this is the postal games or the postal Diplomacy hobby came to the fore again. October saw first issues of Foiled Again from Alec Winton and Take That You Fiend from Kevin Warne and John Harrington.


In November the second MidCon to be held at the Royal Angus Hotel in Birmingham was held, together with the National Diplomacy Championship. It was generally agreed that this was an overwhelming success, and I, for one, enjoyed the event even more than last year. The National Diplomacy Championships were won by an unknown 17 year-old, Nick Carter, who had just started his first postal game in Mad Policy. The MidCon quiz was won by the Blackmail team of Mike Woodhouse, Colin Gamble and Richard Walkerdine, while Paul Simpkins won the Les Pimley award for services to the hobby. MidCon also saw the conclusion of the Novice Package debate with Paul Simpkins handing the job over to John Wilman (editor) and Martin Le Fevre (printer). Paul will, however, continue to send out packages until the present batch runs out.


And so to the last month of the year. Three new zines were born, all of which look like a welcome addition to the hobby. Lokasenna is the zine of Brian Dolton, who has for a long time produced a FRP zine called Death’s Dance Taken Slowly. Certa Cito from John Chisholm is notable for the fact that it is intended to be a three-week deadline zine, while War and Peace from Derek Caws is far more in the traditional purist Diplomacy line. This month also saw the eventual departure of Stick The Knife In, which was admirably rescued by Martin Le Fevre and Willy Haughan under the banner of a relaunched Howay the Lads. Willy thus follows Richard Walkerdine by becoming the second old-time editor to re-start in 1982. Finally, Peter Northcott announced the results of a rather disappointing Player Poll, which suffered from the fact that only 22 people voted, and only four actually voted for the winner, Mike Close.

And so, to general impressions of the year. I can’t help thinking that despite all the arguments, folds and new zines, that this has been a rather quiet year in the hobby. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I get the impression that there is nobody in the hobby with “big” ideas, with the result that the hobby has tended to drift in no particular fashion. I am not saying that this is a bad thing; in fact in many ways it is good that we don’t have a Richard Sharp to lead us all by the collar. But in a sense it does disappoint me that there doesn’t seem to be a focal point in the hobby.

Reprinted from Don’t Shoot Me No.10