Thursday, March 06, 2008

Finally, A Great War

I used to subscribe to Command Magazine back in the day. I was a grad student and the price seemed a bit high considering that this was well before the days of GMT's P500, but it was fun to get a completely new game in every issue, even if you occasionally got a game like Chaco that was more logistics exercise than combat. After being a subscriber for four years, I let my sub expire after issue 28, just in time to miss the high water mark in their publishing history, Ted Raicer's The Great War in Europe. Command went downhill soon after that, the nadir being a chess variant that caused many to pull their subs and the magazine to fold, but had my timing been just a little better I would have gotten one of the great magazine games of all time.

Fast forward to 2007, when GMT finally publishes the reprint of GWiE (along with it's sister game, also published in Command, The Great War in the Near East, in the box). What would seem to be a relatively easy task, republishing a game, became a nightmare for GMT when the developer disappeared (which also happened with their game Zero!), no electronic versions (or, apparently, unpunched) versions of the game were available, resulting in what seemed to be an inexcusable number of mistakes.

Ted himself exacerbated the situation by going on ConSimWorld and chastising the wargaming community by sounding remarkably like my father - "In my day, we didn't have Living Rules. You made replacement counters and got on with it. If the rules didn't work, you made up your own. You walked to the gaming store in a blizzard, 15 miles uphill each direction." Note - Not an actual quote from Ted, but he did say pretty much everything but the last sentence in one form or another. To his credit, with a game with this many counters you would expect a certain number of errors - it happens all the time. What made the errors so unpalatable was that GMT had delayed the game to add in a countersheet of corrected counters for the ones spread out all over the original countersheets. Many of the unfixed errors were cosmetic - few of us care much that the 3rd Greek Corps was actually the 36th, although I recall a certain Bill Ramsay complaining early and often that Paths of Glory was ruined for him and his friends because the aerial map Mark Simonitch used for that game had post-land reclamation coastline for Holland, a country that did not participate in WWI. I think he also called PoG "Candyland" at some point.

Anyway, one can hardly blame GMT for being embarrassed as well as really wanting to get this one right. And earlier this week, they more or less did it. They sent out a countersheet and a page of instructions (a very wise move) along with their P500 orders for their most recent games (and, I'm guessing, to everyone else who asked or had P500'd GWiE). The countersheet contained something like 80 replacement counters. That's right, 80. I have not done the math, but by my reckoning about 60% of those counters had actual game-related issues - incorrect values on the counters, starting codes, theater restrictions, or unit types. These were big issues in a game with no OOB sheets (there is a counter appearance manifest in the rules, but it is several pages long), and in some cases (like where the Provisional Government sides of Russian counters were missing) the problem became much more complicated.

So did GMT get it right? Almost completely. I have two *very* minor nits about what they did, although I also understand to some extent one of them. Perhaps the more confusing is that there was a Russian unit, SV, that had a different Russian unit, POV, printed on it's back originally. The new unit had the correct back, but the instructions were very confusing as to what to do with the old counter. Apparently, the old counter is still supposed to be used under some circumstances, at least the POV side. What I don't get is why they didn't just print a new POV counter on the countersheet - it's not like they had something like 60 blanks. Oh, they did. I may have misunderstood this issue, and admit to not having researched it, but it seems like this particular issue was one of those "we'll figure it out later' things that got kludged at the last minute.

The nit that I do to some extent understand is why they didn't take the time to add in old counter fixes for other GMT games. You have 50 slots for extra counters, why not put any errata counters for games published in the past two years on there as well? GMT usually provides these counters with their in-house magazine, C3i, but not everyone who buys GMT games buys C3i. Many, but not everyone. I could see GMT having to ship twice as many of these countersheets to customers who hadn't bought GWiE but wanted the corrected counters. I can also see that GMT just wanted this whole mess behind them. Here they have a very highly anticipated reprint coming out more than 10 years after the original, and it suffers from production issues that make the company look like it's run by the Bush administration. I'd want to be very sure that every problem I knew of was resolved, even the dumb "we used a black circle around the starting code instead of a blue one" issue resolved too, and I'd probably be so focused on that that it wouldn't occur to me that there could be some added value to the customer.

But really, both of those issues are so teeny as to only warrant a brief grumbling from this retired engineer who is always looking for ways to improve processes, so none of this should be taken so much as criticism as much as lessons learned. Despite Ted "Old Man" Raicer's grumblings about we as a hobby should shut up and buy the games as published, I for one am delighted that GMT *does* have such a strong commitment to customer satisfaction. While this game got bobbled pretty badly (and repeatedly, looking a bit like Reggie Bush having trouble holding onto the ball as he ran down the field with no one around him), they've done right by their customers. It is no surprise that my collection of wargames dating from 1990 contains as many GMT games as everything else combined (only the pre-1998 AH stock is bigger), and a very big part of that is the dedication to the hobby shown by every single member of that company, from Gene's constant presence at WBC asking me about how I liked their games and what they should publish next, to efforts like this.

Gentlefolk of GMT, there is a reason that I have more than 20 games on your P500 list preordered, and it isn't because I'm interested in convoy operations in the North Atlantic during WW2. It's because I trust you to, almost always and certainly more often than your competition, to deliver the game by hook or by crook, and - perhaps most importantly - to take responsibility for your work in a way that personal experience has shown is increasingly rare in our short-term and profit driven world.

Gentlefolk of GMT, I salute you.


Dismal Numbers said...

I agree, GMT always puts out a solid product. I also subscribed to Command magazine which was also a quality product for quite a while. I got later than you did but before the wheels totally came off. Only Ty would put a Kirk Douglas counter in a game, the flipped version was even funnier.

Mike said...

Hear, hear! On the rare occasion I've had an issue with a GMT game they have more than met my expectations for a satisfactory outcome.

Eric said...

They sent the corrections to every owner of GWiED on record.

This means that if you received the game through other means (like on eBay as I did, or from your FLGS) then you'll need to contact them to receive the replacements.

Of course, for the 11 or so wargamers who haven't tuned in to the internet yet, I'm not entirely sure HOW they'll figure out the replacements are available...