Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Exclusive Interview with George Dew of Dark City Games!

Jeffro: First off… thanks for joining Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog for a chat. It’s a pleasure to have you here. So tell me… what was gaming like before you discovered microgames?

George: We played the old, old version of Chainmail to simulate character combat, since it was the only thing out there at the time. When Melee and Wizard came out, eveyone just LOVED it. My brother actually went to a tournament to play. Unfortunately, his character was quickly dispatched by a pole-arm charge attack.

Jeffro: Did you run any actual campaigns with Melee and Wizard back then…?

George: Of course we did! We were in high school, so we had time and available friends. The tragedy of adult life here in the US is that we get separated from our childhood friends. And then, we get so wrapped up in work and earning a living, that we lose track of what made us happy when we were kids. We all still have that kid inside of us, though some of us gradually kill it off….

Jeffro: Did TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons, Gamma World, Boot Hill, and Star Frontiers ever seriously threaten the place of The Fantasy Trip among your friends’ scene or did you stay pretty loyal to microgames over the years?

George: I shouldn’t admit this, but we never got into those other games. Melee and Wizard were so simple and elegant to play, that we never really had the need. And then the Microquests came out, and it kept us constantly waiting for the next game. Thinking back, this was perhaps a reaction to an unpleasant gaming experience. My brother and I used to play the old Avalon Hill wargames. He once got me to play Third Reich. Every time I’d touch a piece, I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, because there was a rule precluding it. That very quickly dissuaded me from playing games that were heavy on the rules. Years later, when I was in the Navy, I discovered the Conan series for GURPS. I played those three or four books over and over, but it was only solitaire. I wasn’t really in a group of sailors where gaming was popular.

Jeffro: Did you have any tricks for making the combats fun to play out well when you played them solitaire? It seems like there’s be a real temptation to play the bad guys dumb or even skip getting the hex maps out altogether.

George: Isn’t that the case? First of all, since I cheat when I play against the computer in Starcraft, I guess I can cheat when I play solo programmed adventures too. However, when playing solitaire, what I used to use is the following rules: Unless an enemy can get to him in the next turn, archers shoot for wizards first, then archers, then the closest enemy. Melee armed warriors protect their wizards and archers first unless faced with an enemy that will get to them in the next turn… in which case they attack that enemy.

Jeffro: Advanced Wizard, Advanced Melee, and In the Labyrinth look like some of the coolest gaming products ever made. Can you recommend those, or did your group tend to stick more with the original microgames?

George: We loved those three books. There was a huge amount of source material in them as well as the additional rules. There were only two complaints that I had about the The Fantasy Trip rules, though. Those complaints were the way that they handled dodging and grappling. And that’s the major departure that our Legends series has made from the ealier rules

When we were kids, we used to play swingball. We’d take a pair of knee-high athletic socks, something very prevelant in the 1970’s, roll one sock up and stick it in the other sock. You’d then grab the sock at the top, with the rolled-up sock at the bottom. Thus, you have a soft equivalent of a chain mace, or chain morning star. We’d then proceed to whack the heck out of each other. We fashioned shields and learned the limitations of shields against impact weapons. (It’s interesting just how much a sock can hurt.) Anyway, our first-hand experiences with swing ball formed the basis for the dodge rules that we use in Legends of the Ancient World.

As for grappling, I’ve done wrestling, Judo, and am now a certified Gracie Jiu-Jitsu instructor. The grappling experiences that I’ve had in these martial arts has formed the bases for the grappling rules in Legends. (By the way, be sure to download the current version!)

Jeffro: Any chance of Dark City Games ever super-sizing Legends of the Ancient World… or maybe combine space opera, western, and fantasy into a generic rules-light role playing game?

George: We have been working on an expanded set for a while. The problem is that you want to incorporate people’s suggestions, but you don’t want to do what Squad Leader did when it kept piling up the rules, and eventually transitioned from Squad Leader to Rules Leader. No matter what, we will keep play fluid and interesting. However, I believe that what we have is going to be pretty darn good, and I think it will make a lot of people happy.

Jeffro: Okay… I have to ask. Howard Thompson. He’s before my time, so I really want to hear about him from someone that was there at the beginning. Is he half as cool as I think he is?

A lot of the really old folks see Steve Jackson as the genius behind The Fantasy Trip. However, when you look into the details of the split, and the subsequent GURPS that Steve Jackson put out, you have to give more creedence to Howard Thompson’s side of the story. Howard said in a letter that he wanted to keep The Fantasy Trip simple. Steve Jackson wanted to give The Fantasy Trip more meat and details. Though I take my hat off to Steve Jackson, I have to say that for me, simplicity works better, and plays faster than a system that has a much greater depth, but is less playable. So in my book, Howard Thompson is a star! I doubt he’ll re-emerge, though there’s always the myth that he might resurface.

Jeffro: Last question here…. What other microgames can you recommend? Which of the Dark City Games products do you think are best to start with?

George: I would recommend ALL the Microquests from Metagaming, though I like some more than others. There aren’t that many, so if you can find them on eBay, they’re a nice addition to the library. As for Dark City Games, the best one to start with for fantasy is probably Island of Lost Spells. I’m not saying that because I wrote it, but because over time, it’s been our bestseller. If you’re interested in Science Fiction, then Void Station 57 is the best place to start. My favorite, though, is Crown of Kings, by my brother Warren. He wrote it in 1980, hoping to sell it to Metagaming. However, Metagaming folded, and Crown of Kings never saw the light of day until we published it in 2005.

George Dew is the founder of Dark City Games.

3 responses to “Exclusive Interview with George Dew of Dark City Games!

  1. Pingback: The Fantasy Trip articles in The Space Gamer #27-31 « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

  2. Pingback: Promoting My Readers’ Work | According To Hoyt

  3. Pingback: My Son’s First Total Party Kill « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

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