In the summer of 2001 I bought a copy of This Blessed Plot at a village fête for 20p, never suspecting that the hefty tome was destined to sit unfinished on my bookshelf for the next twelve years. My failure to get any further than chapter 3 - 'Russell Bretherton' - I've always blamed on Hugo Young, Russell Bretherton, or Tim Stone (Perhaps I'm not as interested in Britain's troubled relationship with Europe as I thought I was). A recent forum comment from the boss of the World's busiest computer wargame publisher suggests another possible cause. Perhaps the book was simply too cheap.
Over on the Matrix messageboards Iain McNeil, the man indirectly responsible for more than 50% of the wargames released on PC last year, has been attempting to justify Slitherine Group's (Slitherine Group = Slitherine + Matrix Games) plump prices, slim sale reductions, and unusual approach to back-catalogue. His logic is eye-catching.
You can read the full six-page thread here - a thread sparked by Slitherine's decision to relaunch the less-than-fresh Pride of Nations at a £21.59 price point. The Slitherine position seems to boils down to...
Our games cost a pretty penny because...
- They're 'niche'.
- If we don't charge what we charge, devs go hungry/bust and the games don't get made.
- “When you sell something for a low price people don't value it. If the price is higher they value it more and tend to get more enjoyment from it... ”
We don't engage in periodic Steam-style price-slashing because...
- “The sales you have been trained to expect only benefit the store selling them as they vie for market share. They do not benefit the publisher or developer and the industry press is finally realising that and there is the start of a move away from these sales. We never believed in them and are being proved right.”
And we don't usually do demos because...
- “One of the things we have found is that demos for these huge games don't work well. ”
As Slitherine are in possession of 13 years of stance-confirming sales data they “can't share” and appear to be doing fairly well with their current business model, I'm not sure there's much point in me grumbling about the fact that pickled prices, no demos and a faintly hypocritical approach to outlets like Steam might be bad for wargaming in the long run. Rather than spray paint day-glo circles around possible flaws in Iain's arguments, I'm going to do something far more constructive with the remainder of this column.
Slitherine, in my pocket I've got a wad of £100 notes thicker than Tiger tank armour (front, lower hull), a gaggle of eager new customers, and a fistful of inestimable goodwill (plus a penknife, catapult, compass, box of matches, banger (firework not pork), vole's skull, lump of putty, cable tie, and a Minic model of HMS Daring, natch). In return for a laughably small investment of time and money on your part, all can be yours (except the penknife, catapult, compass, box of matches, banger (firework not pork), vole's skull, lump of putty, cable tie, and the Minic model of HMS Daring).
All you have to do to secure this no-strings windfall is put the following £10 Battle Bundles in the window of your pricey online boutique.
Simple. The work of a day or two. Worried about damage to future sales? Don't be. The days when the military fossils marshalled below leapt off shelves are long gone. Concerned that folk won't get to hear about this admirable initiative? Fear not, myself and, hopefully, many of my wargaming-loving peers will be publicising these bundles tirelessly over the next few weeks. Wondering how you can possibly repay this act of Jennings-style helpfulness? Cease your wondering. Knowing that 15 crusty-but-reasonably-trusty conflict curios are back in circulation is reward enough. Heritage wargames should be played not hoarded.
Battle Bundle #1 - The 'Tin Win' Pack
Tin Soldiers Julius Caesar (2005)
Current Matrix price: £67.16
Any good: I don't think I've ever played the Tin Soldiers series but I do like the look of those miniatures-style pieces and remember Flash of Steel's Troy Goodfellow talking fondly of them. Spartan is quirky and slightly Civ-ish - Slitherine at their most uninhibited.
Battle Bundle #2 - The 'Fulda Bursting' Pack
Flashpoint Germany (2005)
Norm Koger's The Operational Art of War III (1998-2006)
Close Combat Modern Tactics (2007)
Current Matrix price: £88.76
You're pulling my Leclerc MBT: I'm not
Is the title pun absolutely necessary: No
Any good: CCMT lacks the strat map campaign layer of Matrix's later Close Combat projects but has Atomic's blood in its vein so shouldn't disappoint. Norm Koger's Art of War and Flashpoint Germany are as old-fashioned as smallpox but that doesn't mean you won't warm to their Cold War charms eventually.
Battle Bundle #3 - The 'Operation Overawed' Pack
Battles In Normandy (2004)
Carriers At War (2007)
John Tiller's Campaign Series (1999-2007)
Current Matrix price: £113.96
That's preposterous: You're not wrong
Any good: There's nothing 'niche' about this likeable trio except their current prices. An essential purchase.
Battle Bundle #4 - The 'Scars & Stripes' Pack
Birth of America 2 (2008)
John Tiller's Battleground Civil War (1995-2007)
Current Matrix price: £83.96
Any good: I can't think of a better way of wallowing in 18th and 19th Century US history. Except Scourge of War and Sid Meier's Gettysburg! obviously.
Battle Pack #5 - The 'Waterloodicrously Good Deal' Pack
Napoleon In Italy (2007)
John Tiller's Battleground Napoleonic Wars (1996-2007)
Napoleon's Campaigns (2007)
Current Matrix price: £74.83
That title stinks: Affirmative
You realise you may have just forfeited your RPS pun licence: In a way it's a relief
Any good: As with many of the games in these bundles, the interfaces and graphics aren't brilliant. However, there's enough strategic solidity beyond, to make the fust and frustration endurable.
The Flare Path Foxer
This bucolic Norman acre isn't nearly as bucolic as it first appears. Nestling under 24 of those daisy-dotted hexes are German anti-personnel mines. FP has managed to wring some information out of an SS Sturmscharführer who was in the area when it was sown. Can you use the clues to work out the location of the devices?
According to the Sturmscharführer...
- All 24 mines were sown in 'open' hexes (none were sown in road, river, woods, rocks, bridge or house hexes)
- None of the mines share a hex.
Of the 8 Bouncing Betties...
- 2 are next to rocky hexes.
- 3 are next to road hexes.
- 4 are next to no mined hexes.
Of the 8 Schu-mines...
- 2 are next to wooded hexes.
- 2 are next to no terrain features (road, river, woods, rocks, bridge or house)
- All are 3 or more hexes from other Schu-mines.
- None share a hex column. (Hex columns are A, B, C etc)
Of the 8 Glasmines...
- 1 is next to a wooded hex.
- 1 is on an edge.
- All are next to other Glasmines.
- None are next to rocky hexes.