Monday, June 28, 2010

My own, my precious

I've written before about my love affair with the Wargames West catalog. Lacking older mentors, that publication was very much my introduction to the wider world of the gaming hobby. By the time the catalog ceased publication, I'd largely shifted to the Internet and magazines for my hobby-related reading, but for some time now I've wished for an old copy of the catalog - my personal stash long ago met a dark fate in the back of my closet somewhere, crushed beneath the weight of other neglected ephemera. Having a physical copy of something that played such a formative role in my interest in gaming, something to supplement and confirm all the memories, just seemed appropriate somehow. I guess I really am getting older...

Recently, I did an idle Google search and found a copy listed for sale at a very reasonable price. I immediately paid up, and within a couple days had the hardcopy clutched in my sweaty hands. Boy, you want to talk about nostalgia rushes? Yikes. In spades, friends, in spades.

It helps tremendously that this particular catalog is from Spring 1991, making it undoubtedly a sibling of a catalog I actually did receive and pore over when it was new. In fact, a distant memory, long forgotten, came burbling up through the mists of time as I stared at the cover:


See that Tome of Magic blurb? I got this catalog when I was in 7th grade; I hadn't started actually playing games yet, but I was one of a couple kids I knew who sort of "played around" with RPGs. I remember showing the catalog to one of these friends while waiting for a class to start, and the kid intoning in solemn tones, "Oh man, check that out - Tomb of Magic."

I'm not sure I knew what exactly a "tome" was at the time, but I remember sort of inwardly rolling my eyes that the guy had misread it as "tomb." I was a grammar snob even then, I guess.

At any rate, soon after receiving this catalog my family relocated to California and I found myself even more isolated from other gamers. It took me over a year to find someone else at my new school who was interested in getting into gaming (that's L.A. for ya). In the meantime, the Wargames West catalog was my portal and my lifeline to gaming. Flipping through the pages was a reminder of the great service that catalog did me. Ah, I remember that order form well.


Pretty much every product got some kind of write-up. It was like having an enthusiastic employee give you a tour of the store. Much of it was, I imagine, boilerplate lifted from the back covers and retailer's catalogs, but the Wargames West staff was never afraid to recommend a personal favorite. I owe my introduction to Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. solely to the catalog's Highly Recommended!!! endorsement.


The catalog is also a fascinating time capsule of the hobby at a particular moment in time. Chaosium, poised on the brink of sliding into mediocrity, is still at this time at the height of its powers. Check out this listing from the catalog's "On The Horizon" section:

May: Dreamlands (reprint)
June: Orient Express
July: Savage Mountains [one of my favorite Pendragon supplements]
August: Sorcerers of Pan Tang
September: Kingsport

Wow! And on the two-page spread pictured above in addition to R. Talsorian, you can also see Rifts, which was at the time brand-spanking-new. Imagine - the avid Rifts fan in Spring 1991 had only the core rulebook and Sourcebook One from among which to choose. Mind blowing! Also interesting is the blurb for Rifts, which features some background information that I believe was dropped from the "official" narrative pretty quickly:

Dark forces, bent upon discovering secrets of which man had only begun to become aware, conspired to plunge the world into an age of fire and madness. Billions of people died in what will become known as the Six Waves...

Dark conspiracies? Six Waves? Now, I never read any of the "Chaos Earth" books, but that's certainly nothing I remember from the core rulebook or any other sourcebook I read, for that matter.

It's also funny to come across product listings for games that I used to have an eye on, thinking, "Maybe I'll pick that up next time..." - and to realize that "next time" never came, and these games are all long out of print and only available on eBay for exorbitant prices.


Ah well.

The last nostalgia blast came at the end of the catalog as I got into the miniatures section. See, it wasn't just RPGs listed, but, well, everything the store offered. That included dice, cards, boardgames, cool gaming gewgaws like the "Timetracker" (another one I always intended to order and never got around to) - and, of course, miniatures:


Even at the time, I found the half-tone newsprint images of the minis woefully lacking. It is sort of ironic, however, that in this day and age of digital photography and idiot-proof website construction that many (most?) miniatures retailers can't be bothered to feature a photo of every single miniature they have for sale, as the Wargames West folks did.

Yessir, things sure have gone downhill since the halcyon days of the early Nineties. Morals and values have crumbled, folks don't go out of their way to be of service, you kids get off my lawn, etc. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some more reminiscent page-flipping to do.
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