A Brief History of Wargames: Vintage Game Magazines
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
Before the famed Dungeons & Dragons table-top board game had reached American shelves in 1974, historical and fantasy simulation games had already been a thriving and growing industry for centuries...
Early wargame history
The first wargame was invented in Prussia in 1780 by Johann Christian Ludwig Hellwig. Hellwig was a college professor, and taught many aristocrat students destined for military service. That said, while the game attempted to be realistic enough to teach useful lessons in military strategy to future army officers, he also wanted to sell his wargame commercially for recreation. As in chess, Hellwig's game was played on a grid of squares, but it was a much larger grid, and the squares were color-coded to represent different types of terrain. Hellwig's game was a commercial success, and inspired other inventors to develop their own wargames.
Prussian wargaming attracted little attention outside of Prussia until 1870, when Prussia defeated France in the Franco-Prussian War. It then moved worldwide, and many credit Prussia's victory to its wargaming tradition. In 1913, the English writer H. G. Wells developed codified rules for playing with toy soldiers, which he published in a book titled Little Wars (1913). This is widely remembered as the first rulebook for miniature wargaming (for terrestrial armies, at least). In 1956, Tony Bath published what was the first ruleset for a miniature wargame set in the medieval period.
In 1954, American Charles S. Roberts created the first successful commercial board wargame Tactics (1954). What distinguished this game from previous ones is that it was mass-produced and all the necessary materials for play were bundled together in a box. Previous wargames were often just a rulebook and required players to obtain the other materials themselves. The game was played on a prefabricated board with a fixed layout, which is why it was called a board game.
Roberts later founded the Avalon Hill Game Company, the first firm that specialized in commercial wargames. That brings us to 1967 – competition time.
Strategy & Tactics Magazine
Strategy & Tactics got its start in January 1967. Chris Wagner, its original editor, saw his game as a better alternative to Avalon Hill's gaming magazine, The General. Graphic designer Redmond Simonsen was hired to improve the quality of the magazine. When subscriptions stagnated, debts began to accrue, and Jim Dunnigan created Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI) in order to save Strategy & Tactics. When Wagner was having financial difficulties with the magazine he sold Dunnigan the rights for $1.
Dunnigan set up shop in a windowless basement in NYC’s Lower East Side and published his first issue there in September 1969; starting with that issue, every issue included a new wargame. Not only did this represent a break from the cautious policy of Avalon Hill in publishing only 1-2 games per year, but the need for new game designs spurred research into many of the lesser-known corners of military history. Despite diversity in themes, the style of the games was fairly consistent. In addition to games, the magazine featured articles on military history, many of them notable for applying modern quantitative analysis to battles that were traditionally described in a narrative "heroic" style.
S&T now embarked on providing six new games a year, and at a much lower cost per game than was to be found elsewhere, with the magazine itself almost being a bonus, and subscribers got their games delivered right to their homes. S&T's circulation exceeded that of Avalon Hill's The General by the mid 1970s, improving its physical appearance dramatically under the guidance of Redmond Simonsen. As die-cut counters, printed on both sides in full color, became the norm, they were included in the magazine games, as were two color and finally full color maps. As quickly as the game had become successful, financial struggles would force the company to pivot in exciting new ways in the years to come.
Top Row: Typical Game Layout and Included Pieces; Bottom Row: Retro S&T Covers
Ares Magazine and future publications
Due to stagnant subscriptions and internal struggles in the company, in 1980, Strategy & Tactics spun off Ares magazine. The new publication offered games that more or less followed the same structure as the S&T wargames, but focused on science-fiction and fantasy instead. S&T Magazine was eventually sold to 3W, a company which published The Wargamer magazine, a direct competitor. By this time, the days of selling 50,000 copies or more of a title were gone. Publishers became happy to sell 10,000 copies, with 20,000 being considered phenomenal.
In 1991 Strategy & Tactics was sold to Decision Games. In 2003, Decision Games spun off Strategy & Tactics Press as a sister company for magazine and media development. In 2008, World at War magazine was begun which covers World War II. In 2012, Modern War magazine began which covers post-World War II military history. Strategy & Tactics continues to cover all periods in history and so the periods covered may overlap.
As S&T reached its 40th year as a professionally produced magazine, as opposed to a fanzine, it laid claim to being the longest continuously published wargame magazine. Strategy & Tactics won thirteen Charles S. Roberts/Origins Awards between 1974 and 2009, and in 1997 the magazine was inducted into the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame.
Yesterday's News has acquired dozens of 1970s-1980s Strategy and Tactics and Ares editions, complete with game pieces and maps, and ready to be put to action (or to war)! These magazines are filled with history and intricate detailing of famous historical / fantastical battles, the perfect endeavor for a rainy day. You can see the full selection and listing of our available publications on our latest Instagram post and get your pick for $20 per game. Happy gaming!