Thursday 13 November 2014

The Fantastic World of Puffin Kingdom 1984

There's nuffin like a puffin.

Back, back through the dusty nostalgic mists of wibbly wobbly timey wimey. I don't normally go in for personal reminisces, but for some reason...

Books for Keeps announced: The Fantastic World of Puffin Kingdom and there will be plenty of Dungeons and Dragons-type activity at Chelsea Town Hall, 23 April-5 May (1984). And indeed there was, as I recall... NOW TURN OVER.

The outside looked something like this. the 80s had color but we couldn't afford any |via

1. Inside the Chelsea Old Town Hall, which was much smaller on the inside than it appeared on the outside, there were three main areas to which the Fighting Fantasy Puffineers attention was drawn to.

You can visit:
Island of the Lizard King (turn to 17) or Deathtrap Dungeon (turn to 230). or The Computer Area, (Turn to 97) returning here after each exciting adventure. Once you've visited all the areas, it's time to go home. (turn to 400)

hmm. needs moar paper mache

17. The Island of the Lizard King - where a giant purple-blue paper mache over chicken wire LIZARD KING head (complete with giant twisted tin-foil GONCHONG) glared out across the exhibition hall from above a raised stage like some grinning prehistoric A-level art project. Below this monumental edifice a rather strained dude in a bad BARBARIAN outfit, complete with horned helmet and furry boots, was forced to mock swordfight with over-eager children hopped up on a diet of Space Raiders and Quatro.  The guy was probably from Treasure Trap (the premier LARP club at the time), more than likely it seemed like a good idea, a few quid for essentially doing your hobby. Then, the barely supervised psychotic yelling D&D fanatics from class 3H arrived. My memory is hazy, but I think the phrase "one at a time, one at a..." was vaguely heard under a mass of pummelling. If by chance you are that guy, and you're reading this, I owe you a pint.

abandon hope all ye who...

230. The Deathtrap Dungeon - My all time favourite gamebook was represented by what amounted to a few bits of black painted cardboard with cut-out drawings of GHOSTS and skulls stuck on it. No I was not impressed, but its seclusion made for a good hiding place for doing the illicit things the average 10 year old gets up to (like swapping Star Wars stickers and rolling up fags D&D characters). If Island of the Lizard King was some over-enthusiastic A Level art project homage to Ian McCaig's epic cover, combined with an open invitation for children to inflict random violence on someone dressed as a cartoon viking, Deathtrap Dungeon was the remedial O'level stream (this was pre GCSEs of course) lead by a teacher who had lost all hope and hadn't even looked at the the book and an invitation to petty criminality. Actually, do you know the sort of bad haunted-house artwork that serial killers on the telly do in their basements to show how mad they are? it was like that.

probably the first time I ever looked at a screen and
uttered the geek mantra of "the book was much better".

97. The Computer Area - which had a massive queue, and if I recall correctly bunch of Commodore 64s running Warlock of Firetop Mountain on it (what? that was nothing like the book!) and maybe the Forest of Doom, I dunno. the queue was massive, and it probably cost 50p a go or something. Of course, having spent all my cash on junk food, I returned home on the school coach without so much as a puffin edition of Watership Down, the Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen or Charlotte Sometimes. Don't worry, Puffin, I do now, it might have taken 30 years, but the marketing effort eventually paid off. Oh, wait, I bought them second hand, never mind. Turn to 400.

400. And that was that, home to Findus Crispy pancakes for tea, Peter Davidson as Doctor Who on the telly and the vague threat of complete annihilation by thermonuclear war hovering over everything. Ahh, happy days.

23. Chelsea Town Hall as a venue was well known to British Grognards for holding the 1977 Games Day - Chelsea looms as a kind of recurring nexus point in the psychogeography of British Gaming, probably because it was cheap and not overly large. Next years Puffin Carnival also promised guest appearances by Steve & Ian, which would have been something, but our class didn't go to that. Not sure why, maybe the lynching of the viking guy incident had some knock-on effect. Unlike Games Workshops Games Days, such events seem to have had zero coverage in White Dwarf or even Warlock. There was possibly a preview in Puffin Post Spring 1984, which is apparently not documented on the internet anywhere.

No, Books for Keeps, That's not Fighting Fantasy, that's Lone Wolf, that is.
391. Lone Wolf - After posting the Books for Keeps cover it would be remis of me to not mentioning that Greywood publishing are running a Kickstarter for Gary Chalks  Lone Wolf - The Board Game a board / card-miniatures game with a distinctly old school feel, not least because it is full of amazing imagery by Gary, but has a combat system that isn't designed for the "add it up on your fingers" crowd. By the way, that issue of Books for Keeps has an article "Orcs in the Classroom" encouraging FF and RPGs to be used in schools, well worth a read for gamer-parents and gamer-teachers.

Monday 3 November 2014

Retropocalypse Now

It's rare that wargaming makes the headlines, and even rarer when it isn't poking fun at middle aged men and their little toys, but regarding serious games - those used in governement, the military and big business to explore 'what if' scenarios to help guide policy and strategic decision making.

The BBC 'broke' the story  The nuclear attack on the UK that never happened 

The National Archives release documents from 1982 revealing a serious wargame exercise undertaken by local government ministers about post-nuclear-holocaust Yorkshire, with the rather optimistically entitled Exercise REGENERATE - unfortunately not digitised online. Predictably the BBC use the piece mostly to promote their (admittedly quite excellent grim dark 1980s post-nuclear TV series Threads - see Newsnight report from 1984
However the 'rest of the media' pick up on one sensationalist tangent:
Its also interesting to note these other pieces are just repeating what Auntie Beeb says and not based on any original research - copies from the National Archives cost at least £1.30 per page, one assumes online journalists all on zero-hours contracts and paid 5p per word, so fact checking and research is out of budget. But in all honestly, isn't "the psychos will take over" that what Lord of the Flies, Day of the Triffids, 28 Days Later and a whole raft of post-apocalyptic media say anyway? Without the system of authority, we shall descend into savagery - so behave and do as your told.

"The history of the world is the history of the triumph of the heartless over the mindless."

Having seen the BBC article I dropped a tweet to wargames historian and serious games expert John Curry, of and it's accompanying blog here (the report of the Matrix game running an ISIS scenario is particularly interesting). Whilst admitting having a book on some Nuclear Wargames (probably not of the Matthew Broderick kind) in the pipeline, John indicates probably won't be for a while, which is a shame because I'd rather like my 1980s Apocalypse game sooner rather than later. Of course, I could go for it myself, but am afraid I'd end up putting rules for radioactive biker mutants and psychoactive snack-foods in there.

A game scenario of Exercise Square Leg would certainly be interesting, as indeed would Exercise Hard Rock which was abandoned as local councils refused to play the 'nuclear war is something we should plan for' game which they saw as being part of central government legitimising the potential use of nuclear weapons.

CND's propoesed SquareLeg Campaign map. via

Gameswise how Exercise Regenerate was supposed to work, but I imagine it was a strategic/tactical level RPG where the players inevitably represented local government officials having to deal with a traumatised and decimated populations food and law and order requirements. What is interesting is how these games took on political dimensions beyond the scenario themselves, feeding into wider social discourse.

See also Armageddon 1981 for earlier musings on the perennial theme.