Friday, March 27, 2009

Game Store Exotica

In 1982, game products weren't exactly easy to find in Harford County, Maryland. I had three basic outlets:

  • The toystore down by the mall, where a number of TSR modules were desultorily stuffed into a cardboard box next to the Empire Strikes Back action figures; there was also a fair selection of Avalon Hill games on the back row next to the bicycles.
  • The Walden Bookstore at the mall, which had a somewhat larger selection of modules in the sci-fi section shuffled randomly among the Starlog books and ElfQuest graphic novels.
  • The Little Professor Bookstore across the street at the lesser, open air mall, which had a few battered copies of 0eD&D booklets that never sold, and was the only store in town to carry Dragon magazine.
Bottom line, my gaming universe was pretty much limited to TSR's product and the occasional Wizard's War and Squad Leader box.

Except on that rare occasion when some family outing chanced to take us to the Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore—and the What's Your Game store. In its heyday, this store was a curious blend of upscale traditional games—deluxe Chess, Othello, and Backgammon sets made of wood, brass, and marble—and grungy RPG supplements and the odd Cerebus comic.

This was my chance to embrace the exotic games I saw only in the ads of Dragon, and I gotta say I relished the prospect with the delight Ralphie Parker reserved for his official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle. There they were, arrayed in their wire frame comic book rack: the Thieves Guild supplements, the Encyclopedia Harnicas, the Call of Cthulhu and Traveller modules—and the rows and rows of garish Judges Guild books.

I always blew my allowance on these trips, carefully poring over my options to determine which two or three items I would favor with my limited purse. In one trip I took home the Thieves Guild Special #1 Prince of Thieves, the Book of Treasure Maps II, and the GenCon IX Dungeon. A swag pile like that earned bragging rights amongst my school mates for a few weeks at least, and then there was the pleasure of thumbing through their pages again and again, imagining the possibilities and fitting bits into the homebrew campaign ceaselessly percolating in my mind. (Such is the inner life of the proto-game designer).

In retrospect, some of these game products were great, and some, to put it kindly, were not. This all came to mind as I began assembling and reviewing game products that might support the upcoming campaign. I'll be reviewing some of them in the coming weeks, beginning with Corsairs of Tallibar by Judges Guild. A towering icon of gaming history or early 80s RPG pulp? Stay tuned for my verdict...

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