(Editor's Note: Back in the mid 1980s, Steve Jackson Games was easily my favorite game company. Almost everything they produced I enjoyed, from Car Wars to Illuminati to Ogre. Their whole design philosophy coincided with my personal tastes very nicely and I knew that I was likely to enjoy anything they released. Further to this they also published their own magazine; The Space Gamer. While it did contain many articles about their own products it was by no means limited to this. I learned about many of my early favorites through the pages of TSG. Cosmic Encounter, Nuclear War and Junta to name just a few. In many ways I consider it the 1980s version of Counter or The Game Report and was invaluable to my hobby. Years later I foolishly sold off my collection of ratty, well thumbed copies. Even though I find today's games to be generally superior to what was available back then I found that I regretted that decision. I suppose that much of that can be attributed to nostalgia but in any case I soon embarked on a mission to reacquire the magazines. In doing so I discovered that Joe Scoleri (aka The Maverick) had compiled an exhaustive index for not only The Space Gamer but several other magazines of the era. This was a perfect complement to my collection and I had no hesitation in ordering a copy. I may not use it that often but it's an incredible time-saver when I do.)
Back when I was designing the Space and Fantasy Gamer's Guide, I had considered including some notes explaining how the project came about. Months later, as the Guide was nearing completion, fatigue and other factors helped convince me that it wasn't really necessary to add a few more pages to my "510 page monster."
Evidently this omission was noted by Greg Aleknevicus who invited me to write this "making of" piece for The Games Journal. Having recovered from Guide burnout long ago, I am glad to be able to share some of the "how's and why's" behind the Guide. Before I get to those though, a brief description of the Guide is in order.
What is the Space and Fantasy Gamer's Guide?
The Guide is an index to six gaming magazines. It lists every game-related article published between 1975 and 1990 in the magazines Ares, Fantasy Gamer, Interplay, Nexus, Space Gamer, and The VIP of Gaming. The common thread between these magazines was their focus on science-fiction/fantasy boardgaming and role-playing.
The Guide was self-published as a limited, signed and numbered edition in January 1999. It is an 8.5"x11" spiral bound softcover book slightly over 500 pages long.
Why did you put together a crazy project like that?
There are two things which led to the creation of the Guide. One served as inspiration, the other as motivation.
The inspiration came from Danny Holte's Wargamer's Reference Guide (WRG) which he released in 1997. The WRG is a 225 page index covering 13 wargaming magazines. It is an indispensable tool for finding articles related to wargames. However, the last thing on my mind when I received the WRG was "Hey, I should put together a crazy project like that!"
My motivation to put together the Space and Fantasy Gamer's Guide stemmed from a set of Space Gamer magazines I had acquired a few years earlier. I was regularly flipping through them looking for articles I remembered seeing. All too often I would end up going through several issues before finding what I was looking for.
I tried a couple of quick fixes before I got the idea to do the Guide. First, I checked online and found what purported to be a Space Gamer index. This ended up being just a list of reviews. So I started working on a summary index which focused on MicroGame titles. But even with my rudimentary index at hand, I was still shuffling through issues looking for stuff I had read before.
At some point (I can't recall the exact moment when insanity overcame me) I put two and two together: There wasn't a satisfactory Space Gamer index out there... the Wargamer's Reference Guide sure was a handy resource... hey, I should put together a crazy project like that!
How was the Guide created?
Gathering the Data
|The Space Gamer #48 - February, 1982|
The first thing I did was plan. I decided that I wanted to create a comprehensive resource, but I also wanted it to be easy and convenient to use. The latter factors were particularly important because I knew I would frequently be relying on the Guide myself. With these considerations in mind, I narrowed down the magazines I wanted to include, thought about what data I should index, and decided on a rough format.
My second step was to solicit input from fellow gamers. I passed around a rough sketch of what I had planned and asked for suggestions. While I didn't receive a great deal of commentary, I did end up with some very helpful insights.
One of the best suggestions came from Gary Stagliano. He urged me to present the data in a "catalog style" format rather than just setting it out in rows and columns like the Wargamer's Reference Guide did. He eventually convinced me it was the right way to go, and I revised my plans accordingly. Without Gary's sage advice, the Guide would not be nearly as convenient to use. Hopefully he'll forgive me for forgetting to list him on the Acknowledgments page!
Once I had firmed up my plans, the real work started: data entry. The Guide is based on a page-by-page analysis of each magazine. I knew that if I merely recorded the table of contents for each issue, I would be overlooking a lot of important material. However, the page-by-page method meant I needed to have a copy of every magazine to be indexed.
It was here that Quincey Koziol provided invaluable support by loaning me dozens of magazines from his personal collection. I should note that since he is on opposite side of the country from me, Quincey went above and beyond the call of duty by entrusting his magazines to two trips with the U.S. postal service! I really hated to send back issue #1 of the Space Gamer after I was done with it. On the other hand, now that I know what's in it, I know that I won't pay the "going rate" for it.
The Format of the Guide
The bulk of the Guide is devoted to an index of game related articles organized by game name. In other words, you can look up The Creature that Ate Sheboygan and locate reviews, variants, and scenarios for the game. To facilitate this process, the articles listed with each game are subdivided by type. Special topic headings are included for articles related to Designers, Magazines, Miniatures, Miscellaneous, Publishers, and RPG Supplements.
Each article listing includes several pieces of information. Typically these would be title, author, magazine issue, page number, and comments. Further, every article is classified by type using one or more of 26 different categories (such as Strategy, Analysis, Review, Variant, etc.)
The Guide opens with a publishing history for each magazine. In addition to full issue lists, the history sections include information such as cover price, regular columns, issue length, publishers, and editors.
There are several appendices, two of which are particularly useful for reference purposes. An Author Index is included to help you find magazines containing articles by a specific author. There is also a descriptive index of the 27 Magazine Games published in the magazines covered by the Guide. The other appendices index Book Reviews, Movie Reviews, Play-By-Mail Games, and Video/Computer Games.
From Diskette to Printed Page
I will spare you the gory details of printing the Guide (the most egregious having to do with the bill... and then there was the "first printing" that went back because the printer screwed it up.) However, there are two physical aspects of the Guide worthy of note.
The first is the spiral wire binding. This was an important part of my quest for convenience. Having experienced frustration with other small press style bindings (the ones with pages that get stuck at the spine or those that won't lie open flat), I felt the spiral wire binding was the best option. Whether you are at a computer or in front of the table, it is easy to page through the Guide and to get it to stay open to the page you need.
The second notable feature is the handy reference card in a storage pocket at the back of the book. Truthfully, this is a bug instead of a feature. In spite of all the work, planning, and proofing, somehow I forgot to list the article subject abbreviations in the book! (On the other hand, nobody has contacted me regarding missing or incorrectly listed articles...)
My kudos to Ron Shirtz, who was able to make up for my lack of artistic skills by putting together an attention getting cover. Ron is also responsible for the title being "The Maverick's" Guide, but then he didn't have to twist my arm too hard to convince me I should put my e-mail handle on the cover.
Occasionally someone will ask me when I am going to do "Volume II" of the Guide and whether it will feature their favorite gaming magazine. I often reply (half-jokingly) that I don't want to think about a Volume II until the first volume is sold out.
I do have my sights set on doing a Volume II some day. Perhaps it could cover Journal of the Travellers Aid Society, Challenge, and The Dragon. In fact, I just purchased a large lot of early White Dwarf magazines... I've been taking a look at some of the online indexes and haven't found one that I'm satisfied with...
Maybe I should be glad the first volume hasn't sold out yet—I'm not in any hurry to put together another crazy project like that!
- Joseph Scoleri III