Formats - Game Boxes and Mounted Maps 

Tracing the Evolution of SPI Game Formats

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Chapter 6 - Experiments - Boxes and Mounted Maps

With the addition of color, and the huge increase in games created per year, SPI faced the next big challenge: could they make larger inroads on the retail market? While the flatpack had greatly improved things, there was still the ideal, the dream, the "great white:" to create a breakthrough game that could reach beyond the simulation/wargame market. Such a game could fuel the SPI coffers for decades, and remove the constant struggle between expenses and income. It was a worthwhile goal, and they knew they had the talent to achieve it.

But all mass market games shared one trait - they were all on mounted maps.

Plus, while their market share was nearly equal that of Avalon Hill, they did it with many times the games. The desire to reach the numbers that Panzerblitz netted was certainly possible - after all, they had created the game, and designed the packaging. But it was also the perfect example of the difference - though the games might be similar, no SPI game had the quality of packaging that Panzerblitz enjoyed. Owning the printing company had its advantages, and AH made the most of them.

So, in the fall of 1975, now with color maps as well as great games, SPI focused their skills to explore the nature of better packaging at a price they could afford, and to achieving a deeper retail exposure. The path led them to experiment with mounted maps.

Announced: Strategy & Tactics 53, Moves

November/ December 1975

S&T 53, buried at the jump point on page 18, Outgoing Moves column:

"ln the spirit of trying anything once, we will quite likely sell the Russian Civil War (the first of our Power Politics Series) in a different format. This will include a mounted board. plus an increased use of color. It will also employ larger counters. These measures will necessitate an increase in price, probably to $11 or $12. It will be in the nature of an experiment."

S&T 54, January/February of 1976, again in the Outgoing Moves column:

Two months later, the fuller expansion of the project is laid out: We are no longer speaking of one game, but many!

"In April of this year, we will release twelve games in a bookcase format with mounted maps. The reasons why we are doing this is partially to experiment with selling this type of game packaging in the types of retail outlets where we have not (generally speaking) previously sold our games."

SPI Catalog (Dec 75 / Jan 76 ?)

This catalog, boasts of "over 100 titles from Simulations Publications' complete line of Simulation Series Games, Quadrigames, and Folio Series Games." It goes on to tell us that SSG's and Quads are "attractively packaged using a specially designed, compartmented plastic tray" (the flatpack) or are also available at a reduced price without packaging. (The Z-Pack.)  

But there is a new addition to the list! "Available April, 76":

Designer Editions Collector Editions
Foxbat & Phantom Battle for Germany
Mech War '77 Oil War
Sinai Chickamauga
Sniper! Golan
StarForce Okinawa
World War Three Battle of Nations

"Coming in April '76, a selected group of SSG's and Folios will be presented as Designer Edition Games, and Collector's Edition Games - each in a 9" x 12" x 2" hard box with a compartmented plastic tray and game maps mounted on fully wrapped, hard boards."

This same catalog tells us The Russian Civil War will be available in June, with no mention of the mounted maps!

S&T 55, March/April of 1976:

We get the text heavy advertisement for Russian Civil War, stating it is part of the Designer Edition series(!), with mounted three color mapboards. Release date is set as May 28, 1976. Price will be $12. 

S&T 57, July/August of 1976:

By July of 1976, it appears the hard box / mounted mapboard format experiment for SPI is available - and more games are being added! This time, we get this half column ad (Shown on the right.)

Note the list has grown! Suddenly, there are 2 additional Designer Edition games and 1 added Collector's Edition. And big news - the new Invasion: America is one of the additions!

S&T 58, September/ October of 1976:

S&T 58 ads will preview After the Holocaust, again with 'mounted mapboard' and touted in the ad as as one of the 'Power Politics Series.' It is said to be available by October 31, 1976, and is the followup to the first mounted mapboard game, The Russian Civil War. These two, along with The Plot to Assassinate Hitler will be the entire run of the Power Politics Series. (The irony - in the July of 1979- January 1980 catalog, the only game available with a mounted map is After the Holocaust.)

But at the same time, an issue is mentioned and dismissed in the Outgoing Mail column:

"The first series of mounted game boards SPI released developed some problems in the production models in regard to the big wrinkle along the seams. This wrinkle was not present in the pre-production models that we evaluated. As soon as we discovered the problem, we changed the manufacturing system to the more familiar 'cut used by Avalon Hill in their mounted boards. In other words, the wrinkle problem has been solved."

Not everyone will agree with that assessment in later years.

SPI Catalog (November 1976?) :

This catalog, inserted with the S&T 59, adds a "Special Hardbox Game" to the list - Napoleon's Last Battles.

Designer Editions Collector Editions
Foxbat & Phantom Battle for Germany
Mech War '77 Oil War
Sinai Chickamauga
Sniper! Golan
StarForce Okinawa
World War Three Battle of Nations
Invasion: America (no tray) Arnhem

As of this point, the project becomes almost invisible. The following ad, which also shows us the new additions to the series, is published on the INSERT of the magazine!

This is at a time of high production for SPI: Terrible Swift Sword has started selling. And further monsters are in production!  Links - Bestsellers, 1976  Bestsellers, 1977

We also see that the Arnhem quad game is renamed and reboxed to capitalize on the new movie A Bridge Too Far.  As this small simulation is one of the great quad folio games, it is a perfect addition to the Collector's Editions for the mounted mapboard effort.

There are also additions to the Designer's Editions.

Below: Finally, we get some pictures! (Click to see the picture enlarged.)

On the Designer's Edition, we see the numbers double from the proposed six games. Panzergruppe Guderian, Invasion: America, Napoleon's Last Battles, BattleFleet Mars, and Sorcerer are added.

The January to June of 1978 catalog  bringing the total mounted map games for SPI to 22 games!

SPI Catalog (Published Nov/Dec 1977, as the date is listed as January to June, 1978) :

This catalog shows us the final list of games:  

Designer Editions Collector Editions Power Politics Games
Battlefleet Mars (no tray) Battle for Germany After the Holocaust
Foxbat & Phantom Oil War Plot to Assassinate Hitler
Invasion: America (no tray) Chickamauga Russian Civil War
Mech War '77 Golan  
Napoleon's Last Battles (no tray) Okinawa  
Panzergruppe Guderian Battle of Nations  
Sinai Arnhem  
War of the Ring (no tray)    
World War Three    

SPI Catalog July to December 1978:

The list remains the same. However, the experiment has proven its point, and a month later, we see this notice.

In S&T 69, published July/August of 1978, in the GOSSIP section:

In second to last paragraph: “Speaking of packaging changes, SPI will now be using its 9 x 12 x 2 hardbox packaging as its standard package replacing the plastic box on all new games. Atlantic Wall will be the first game in the “new“ packaging."

But the new games will NOT have mounted maps!

The plastic box referred to above is the SPI flatpack. Atlantic Wall will actually be in the 9 x 12 x 4 box. Great War in the East, advertised for release in September of '78, may well be the first game to ONLY be available in a hard box, as opposed to flatpack.  Descent on Crete appears to be the final game published only in flatpack.

Final steps:

The January to July 1979 Catalog remains as above.

But the July 1979 to January 1980 catalog drops the "Special Edition Games" list.

The item in the Packaging section tells us:
"Note that After the Holocaust is the only game currently available with a mounted map."

The reality of SPI packaging changes had caught up with them. The Boxed games were successful - but the mounted maps were not worth the extra cost.

But it is worth considering these games.

Of those 22 SPI games published with mounted maps, most are very good. Some, like Panzergruppe Guderian, War of the Ring, Invasion: America, Napoleon's Last Battles, Arnhem, Chickamauga, and Battle for Germany will stand the test of time to be considered among the top 5% of all the games published by SPI. 

Not a bad legacy for SPI! (Click the thumbnails below to see a larger version of the picture.)



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