The View From the Bunker – I still love Strategy and Tactics Magazine!

By Jeff Ward 13 May 2015 0

Lately, we’ve been discussing just where PC wargaming might be going, but as much as I’m looking forward to carefully chronicling that inevitably interesting evolution, it’s good to know that some things never change. 

To that end, and much like it was back in 1973, yesterday, I dutifully headed out to the mailbox only to break out in the biggest of grins after seeing familiar pale yellow envelope. Strategy and Tactics number 293 had arrived! 

What that meant was, book and column writing be damned! Sort of some sort of natural disaster, an alien invasion, or my wife calling me for the fifth time, I was gonna carefully pull out the game, run my fingers over the counters, glance through instructions, and then page through the magazine itself. 

Though I haven’t played a board game in over two decades, I wouldn’t subscribe to anything else but the S&T game edition. And after that initial once over, I carefully slide the gaming contents into a plastic bag where they will remain intact and undisturbed, until a time when…I’m really not sure! 

But it was different back in ’73! 

Since neither my high school friend Tony nor I could come up with the cash, we pooled our meager funds to get one subscription. And it worked out pretty well! We’d share the magazine and, at that point in time, he was my only gaming opponent. 

We couldn’t wait for issue number 41 to arrive and, when it did, we played the crap out of Kampfpanzer. After all, Chicago winters don’t really offer any respite. 

With only Avalon Hill games as a benchmark, we were amazed and intrigued by a tactical title that covered pre and early World War II armored battles. (And a game that had a paper map!) It was no longer just the Germans, Russians, British, Japanese and Americans. This offering included Spanish, Finnish, Polish, and Czech forces too. 

It was also SPI’s first attempt at plotted simultaneous movement which really threw us for a loop at first, but then turned out to be quite cool in the end – as long as there weren’t too many units to contend with. 

But the best thing about it was, as long as we paid that annual bill, the games just kept comin’! The East is Red, Civil War 1861-65, Tank!, Operation Olympic (a true solitaire game!), Combined Arms etc… For the final three years of high school careers, we were utterly enraptured in wargaming nirvana. 

I’m still kicking myself for failing to hold on to all those old S&T issues, but the relentless passage of time has a way of shifting our interests and priorities. 

Then, a little less than a year ago, while searching for something on eBay, I came across an old S&T issue and, on a whim, I availed myself of a Google search and voila! They were still printing copies. 

So I quickly signed up. Despite changing hands a number of times since those early days, the magazine is as good as it ever was! I’ve always admired their capacity to thoroughly research a subject and then tell the story in a succinct, but compelling manner. 

The topics have always been fascinating and the writing has always been superb (a real sticking point for me), but the best part of the magazine has always been the battle maps and informational insets. And the current issue was no different. 

I’ve already been over that pre and post Waterloo conflict cartography more times than I can count, but I still get the biggest kick out of reviewing the maneuvers that lead up to that iconic battle. Nobody does that like S&T. 

So I thought, “What the heck! Why not give them a call,” and sure enough, I ended up speaking with Editor Chris Perello. 

“We are the longest running military history magazine,” he said, “And we’re coming up on issue 300. Military history is a constant with continued interest at every age level. That interest may wax and wane, but now our younger readers want to learn more about the modern conflicts.” 

Then I asked Chris how they’d managed to make through multiple ownership changes while still seeming to survive the current print media downturn. 

“There’s always enough interest to keep the magazine going,” he said, “People have been predicting the death of the print media for a while, but the truth is, we’re printing more books than ever.” 

“The digital revolution has actually helped us,” he added, “Our production costs have never been lower so even if there’s a bump in the road, we will still be able to make a profit.” 

When I mentioned how the magazine managed to hit on a winning formula early on and perhaps S&T ascribed to the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” methodology, Chris said, “Exactly! That’s a very big part of it. Of course, we’ve made physical improvements over the years, but we believe in a strong central narrative. And if there are interesting details or tangents – put ‘em in a sidebar. And you can’t understand military history without maps.” 

In response to my admission that I never play the game, Chris said, “The games, for most readers, are not to be played. They’re there to provide an understanding of the history. We approach the writing differently when we’re also designing a game because the mechanics of those games are an important research tool. I don’t think you have to play the games to appreciate the magazine.” 

And the game firmly ensconced within issue 293 is called 1066: The Year of Three Battles. It covers the Battles of Fulford, Stamford Bridge, and Hastings. I’m really looking forward to reading the associated article as well because 1066 certainly was a busy year in British history. 

When you consider the prices attached to some of the board games advertised within its hallowed pages (Yikes!), the fact that a game issue of Strategy and Tactics costs around 25 to 30 bucks has to be one of the best bleepin’ deals on the planet. 

In fact, it’s just about time for me to renew for another year. 

For those of you who, like me, were actually alive back then, aside from that consistent futility known as the Chicago Cubs, there aren’t many things we’ve been able to count on since 1967. But Strategy and Tactic magazine is certainly one of ‘em. Carry on boys! 

 

 

Jeff Ward is a free-lance writer, radio show host, and former opinion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times Media Group. He got hooked on wargames immediately after he picked up that copy of Avalon Hill’s Midway from Hobbymodels in Evanston, Illinois in 1970. You can reach Jeff at jeffnward@comcast.net.

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