by Fred C. Davis
From time to time, newer players ask “Where do the numbers come from?” for Variant games. The short answer is, “From the ‘Miller No. Custodian,” but that’s only part of the story. In the Beginning, every variant had its own designator. The late Don Miller began this system by assigning a lower case letter to every game; thus, the very first game classified, a 3 x 3 Team game, Turkey omitted, became “a”. This was then added to the end of a Boardman-type number to indicate a specific game (e.g. 69AGb). This system began to break down after the number of known variants passed the 150 mark, because nobody could remember what the letters stood for.
During 1980 it was agreed that a new system was needed and several variant buffs worked on coming up with a system under which the games would be classified into different categories. In the end it boiled down to a choice between a system developed by Greg Costikyan and that developed by Rod Walker when he took over the North American Variant Bank around 1980. The first letter of each game’s designator represents the Major category. The second letter is the sub-category.
Within each sub-category, each game is numbered in accordance with the order in which it is received in the Bank. This does not necessarily match the order in which a game was designed or published. The final number for each game simply indicates how many players are in it. So, if the first major category is “A” for Ancient Period, and the first sub-category under Ancient is “b” for Britain, the first game in the Ancient Britain sub-category is “ab01/O7” (Invasion 44BC, a 7-player game – printed in this issue just for the hell of it!). The last two numbers do not have to be shown when identifying a game. Because Rod Walker was publishing a zine called ARDA for the NAVB, and used some issues of the zine to print the Bank’s Catalogue, there was a tendency to call the designators “Arda Numbers” although in fact they are just the NAVB Catalogue Numbers (or CN).
The way things are supposed to work is as follows. The Miller No. Custodian is kept abreast of all of the new games added to the Bank. If he receives a request for a specific number for a new game which is not in the NAVB, he sends a copy to the Bank’s Custodian for proper classification. This is why a copy of every new design should be sent to the Bank. Other variant banks in the UK, Germany, etc. also collect new designs in their areas, and pass them on to the NAVB for classification. The NAVB also mails new designs to the other banks. Thus, everyone uses the same system.
Many designs, such as Youngstown, Mercator and Downfall have had many, many versions, often designed by different people. The Bank tries to issue a new Mark No. for each version. Occasionally, the revision will be so minor that the symbol “R”, for “Revised,” will be added to the previous mark, instead of using a new Roman number. Frequently, the first version of a game will be a draft, which was found to have several flaws. The higher mark Nos. will usually be better designs. In Youngstown, however, Mark IV and Mark VI were found to be the best for ten players. Subsequent versions merely added more or different Powers, ending up with a global version called Youngstown XII.
Some categories are very broad, such as “D”, Africa, and “E”, Asia & Middle East, since there are few designs in those areas. Others are quite restricted. There are four different Major categories for Europe, for instance, based on different time periods, since Europe is still the most popular scenario. Most Fantasy games are listed under “F,” but Tolkien designs are so common that it has its own Major category, “T”. The NAVB Custodian is authorised to establish new categories as needed. Usually, this is done after consultation with the MNC and other Bank Custodians.
(Reprinted from Bushwacker No.185 – May 1987)