Wargame company collapses are nothing new to most boardgamers, having become almost the norm since 1980. An early version of this scenario can be found in the story of the Simulations Design Corporation of San Diego. SDC started when Simpulations Publications, Inc. had just begun impacting the wargaming scene, with the Dunnigan version of Strategy & Tactics reaching a circulation of 3500. This was a major improvement over the Christopher Wagner years but not really enough to establish SPI as a permanent insitution.
The Start (1971-1973)
Dana Lombardy originally founded SDC in 1971 to publish his Dunkerque-1940 game. Kevin Zucker, according to his account in Moves 19, then persuaded Lombardy to publish Conflict magazine also. Conflict would offer high-quality graphics, color, and mounted die-cut counters. Since S&T used none of these at the time, SDC had a decent chance to compete successfully with SPI. Besides Lombardy and Zucker, wargame and military history luminaries such as Alvin Coox, Jack Greene, J.E. Pournelle, and Lou Zocchi became involved with the company.
SDC announced its existence with a back cover advertisement in S&T 31 (March 1972). The ad offered Dunkerque-1940, made no mention of Conflict, and duly noted that SDC had no connection to SPI despite the similarity in names. Other early advertising efforts generated only about 400 Conflict subscribers in a period when S&T was surging to 10,000. In effect, the SDC challenge was over before it even began.
Conflict 1 and 2 went out in 1972, but high production costs and low circulation wreaked financial havoc on SDC quickly. Even Dunkerque, the raison d'etre for the company's existence, hurt SDC when manufacturing problems pushed its production costs beyond the $8 retail price. To make things worse, Moves 5 (October 1972) reported that SDC was bankrupt. The next issue retracted this statement with the welcome news that the company was still in business. Further clarification came when S&T 36 printed a letter from SDC management. They attributed Conflict's delays to limited advertising ($700 worth. SPI was spending thousands at this point), cash flow problems (solved by new investors), and personnel troubles (Zucker had left after issue #2). More to the point, the letter announced that Conflict 3 and Dunkerque had been shipped. These types of problems would plague SDC throughout its history.
The Middle Years (1973-1975)
SDC survived this period with Conflicts 1-3 selling out completely, the publication of numbers 4-6 in 1973, and 7 in 1974, but finances never really improved. Publication delays kept potential subscribers and advertisers away in droves, and issue 6 was actually held hostage by SDC's printer until payment was received. Zucker's 1975 article estimated that 5000 Conflict subscribers would generate $50,000 in income, but each issue cost $9000 to produce. Thus, fulfilling a six-issue subscription would cost SDC $54,000. In addition, Conflict probably never even reached the 5000-subscriber level. S&T reported that SDC sold 7800 games in fiscal year 1972-73 for $23,000 in revenues, and 10,400 games in 1973-74 generating $32,000.
With advertising revenues questionable, SDC tried to ally with other small publishers. They imported John Edwards' African and Russian Campaign games for starters. In 1974, SDC announced its association with John Hill's Conflict Game Company. Hill's games carried the SDC logo and were advertised in Conflict and the company's literature. He also designed two games for the magazine. This SPI/S&T arrangement could have worked well for both parties, but apparently CGC got nothing but grief as irritated Conflict customers complained to Hill. Eventually, Hill sold CGC to Game Designers' Workshop in January 1975. GDW then routinely denied any GDW/CGC connection to SDC or Conflict.
SDC may have been the third-largest wargame company in 1974, but it was fading fast. It first announced that Conflict was switching to a quarterly schedule, and then suspended publication for at least two years. Bushwhacker 6 (July 1975) reported rumors that GDW would acquire Conflict, but this never materialized.
The End (1975-1978)
If nothing else, the SDC crowd was resilient. Having dropped Conflict, the company announced that it would continue to publish wargames and offer a publications line consisting of Special Studies (contemporary military affairs), Historical Studies, and Technical Studies. SDC could now produce more elaborate versions of Conflict's articles and games without dealing with the magazine's financial, scheduling, and page limitations. Subscribers received credit slips for the unused part of their subscriptions. It should be noted that a financially-stressed SDC at least made an effort to make good on its obligations to its readers, a course of action eschewed by the wealthier TSR when it took over SPI.
The new SDC struggled on through 1977, reprinting two magazine games, publishing two more games, and releasing three publications. It also announced the forthcoming publication of Kesselschlacht, a company-level Stalingrad game. SDC even used the cover of the never-published Conflict 8 to wrap a twenty-page catalog. Only five pages of this were devoted to SDC products, with the rest being used by an assortment of small game and miniatures companies, wargaming periodicals, military history journals and organizations, and memorabilia vendors. In effect, the catalog was an advertising cooperative.
None of these ideas worked. Sales in 1975-76 fell to 3941 games ($15,000 in revenues), then to 2043 ($16,100) in 1976-77. S&T did not publish figures for 1974-75 but they were probably not much higher than the 1975-76 figures. Kesselschlacht never appeared under SDC auspices and other projects vanished.
SDC news disappeared from the wargaming press after 1977, and even S&T's exhaustive gossip section did not note its passing. The company closed for good in 1978, with its staff and games drifting elsewhere. Overall, it was a company with many good ideas, but not enough money to implement them.
Lombardy is now at the L2 Design Group, which offers Streets of Stalingrad, 3rd edition (the latest incarnation of Kesselschlacht) and plans to reprint some other SDC titles.
SDC PUBLISHING HISTORY
Issue 1 (1972)
Guerre a Outrance. France 1940 tactical. Lombardy
"1940: Campaign in France--The Armored Forces." Lombardy
"Japanese Navy at Guadacanal, 1942." Zucker
"Diplomacy Cookbook." Walker
Issue 2 (1972)
"The Fall of New France." Wagner
"Napoleon in Egypt."
"The Dynamic Mode in Information and Game Theory."
"Diplomacy Cookbook." Walker
Issue 3 (1972)
Assassin!. time-travel game. Macintyre, Goodrich, Gaines
"Weserubung." Norway 1940. Gennette
"Airborne History and Development." Ramirez
"Anatomy of a Failure." Russia in East Prussia, 1914. Freimark
"The Limits of Simulation." Pournelle
Issue 4 (1973)
NORAD. hypothetical 1960s Soviet nuclear bomber attack on the US. Lombardy
NORAD variants and notes
"Zombie!" Assassin! variant
"Soviet Air Power." Erickson
"The Confederate Navy, 1861-1865." Mauzey
"French Armored Divisions, 1940." Lombardy
"Simulation Games: A Possible Key to Less Destructive Times." Chandler
Issue 5 (1973)
Khalkin-Gol. Lombardy, Ramsey
BEF variant for France, 1940
"Nomohan: The Forgotten War of 1939." Coox
"Xenophon: The Amateur General." Pournelle
"Foreign Military Publications." Parham
"The BEF." Pournelle
"The State of the Art." Greene
Issue 6 (1973)
Dien Bien Phu. Hail
Battle for Hue. Hill
"Siege at Dien Bien Phu." Parham
"Tet Offensive, 1968." Hill
"Sand Gets in Your Eyes." North African campagin game reviews. Greene
"The State of the Art." Greene, Greene
"Would You Buy a New Movie on This Man?" review of "Hitler: The Last Ten Days"
Issue 7 (1974)
Rifle-Musket. Civil War tactical. McDonald
The Alamo!. Barna
"Rifle-Musket: American Firepower and Tactics, 1861-1865." McDonald, Praeder, Bianchi-Rossi
"Campaign for Forts Henry and Donelson." Cooling
"NumbersNumbersNumbersNumbers." (sic) a survey of several designers
"Pointing the Way." Civil War game review essay. Greene
"San Diego Aerospace Museum."
Issue 8 (scheduled for 1974)
never printed. cover used as a catalog cover. expanded versions of the Cromwell game and Hussite Wars article issued separately.
Issue 9 (scheduled for 1975)
never printed. cover image used for brochure cover. Jerusalem! game and Middle Eastern articles issued separately.
Conflict also included book and game reviews, bibliographies, wargame news, cartoons, and a lively letters column. Proposed reprints of numbers 1-3 were never done. Panzerfaust reprinted some Conflict articles later.
Dunkerque-1940 (1972). Lombardy. bookcase box
Jerusalem! (1975). Hill. originally scheduled for Conflict 9. Mayfair Games did a second edition in 1982. Task Force Games had announced that they would pulish it in 1981, but this never came off.
Cromwell (1976). Lombardy. originally scheduled for Conflict 8.
Khalkin-Gol (1977). Lombardy, Ramsey. 2nd edition of Conflict 5 game.
Battle for Hue (1977). Hill. 2nd edition of issue 6 game. Mayfair released it as Hue in 1982
The last four games were issued as Pouch Games (ziplock in other words) with numbers corresponding to the Conflict issues in which they appeared or were slated to appear. For example, Cromwell was listed as Pouch Game #8.
Dien Bien Phu was sold to Flying Buffalo who reissued it in 1977.
NORAD was not reprinted by SDC, but they still had copies of Conflict 4 for sale until the end. It was reprinted by Harry Mishler in 1977.
Al Macintyre sold copies of Assassin independently after 1978.
Kesselschlacht saw print as Streets of Stalingrad in 1980 with Phoenix Games.
Besides Kesselschlacht, SDC sometimes announced future projects in their literature or magazine. Proposed games included The Knights Move (convoy warfare), Loophole (economic and business game with an emphasis on avoiding taxes), Parlement (reprint of the Charles Wells game on political parties and coalition politics), and Sinai (battalion-level 1967 war).
The L2 Design Group occasionally announces plans to reprint some SDC titles. Check their ConsimWorld discussion board for updates.
Conflict Game Company
The following CGC products appeared with the SDC logo:
GDW released second editions of all of these. The Conflict/GDW line later included The Fall of Tobruk, Iliad, and Yalu. Kasserine Pass was redesigned as Bloody Kasserine and released with the compatible Race to Tunis in 1992.
Arab-Israeli Armor, 1973. Conflict Special Study #1. 32 pages.
Hammer of God: The Yom Kippur War: October, 1973. Conflict Special Study #2. 68 pages.
Jan Zizka and the Hussite Wars, 1419-1434. Conflict Historical Study #1. 32 pages.
The Spanish Blue Division. Conflict Historical Study #2. 32 pages. never published
Sd Kfz 135/1. Lorraine AFV booklet. RECON Publishing product. reprint of a British manual
No Technical Studies were ever announced or issued. They had been planned for 1978.
Besides its publishing division, SDC offered a variety of artwork, game design equipment, and products from other publishers.
4 Civil War drawings
World War II Tank ID Sheets. reprinted from a German manual
Marder II Poster
Game Design Equipment
Game Designer's Kit. never issued
plastic unit bags, 20-sided dice, hex sheets, blank die-cut counter sheets were available from SDC
Other Companies' products
SDC imported Jedko's African Campaign and Russian Campaign
The company also carried Flying Buffalo, Gamma Two, Imperial, and Zocchi products from time to time.
Kevin Zucker, "Cliff Hanging by Subscription," Moves #19 (February/March 1975):25, 29; is an invaluable account of SDC's early years. It should be required reading for anyone thinking of doing wargaming as a business.
SDC received frequent mention in S&T, Moves, The Avalon Hill General, and Military Affairs. Information can also be found in SDC, Flying Buffalo, GDW, JagdPanther, and Zocchi materials, and in Panzerfaust and Pimper's. Wargame review magazines occasionally cover older games and sometimes SDC and CGC game reviews can be found.
MagWeb carries html versions of SDC's magazines and studies. They still attract a decent readership, a tribute to the magazine's quality.
The original version of this article appeared in the Strategist 28 (April 1998):1, 6-7, as "The Rise and Fall of SDC." The Strategist is the newsletter of the Strategy Gaming Society.
Peter L. de Rosa
AGR TITLE PAGE
The Fall of Avalon Hill by Peter L. de Rosa
JagdPanther Publications: A Game Inventory by Peter L. de Rosa
AGR HOME PAGE