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For many years there was an amateur UK board-games magazine that set itself above other UK games magazines by giving long, drawn-out but explicit opinions of games; this magazine or 'zine as they were then known in the industry, was Mike Siggins'  "SUMO". 
It found a niche in the market and to many games players it became their bible and their belief; if Mike Siggins didn't like a game then it was almost certainly crap. I used to read SUMO and it was bigger and thus supposedly better than my own mimeographed effort SEWARS, later to become Games Gazette. I found the reviews so long that by the time I had reached the end of one, sometimes 4, 5 or more pages (A5) in length with very few illustrations, just block-wall to wall text, I felt that I had already played the game. To have a game reviewed in SUMO was indeed to have it placed in front of an eager, fledgling, growing, UK board gaming public.

With this knowledge in mind I sent MS a copy of my game 'Eurohit' for review. Now this was self-published, way before Kickstarter had been thought of, and it suffered from the printer trying to help out with the cost by printing on pulp board, leaving serrated edges, creating his own brown diamonds card backs (which made your eyes go spotty when you looked at it) and mis-cutting some of the cards so that part of the text was missing. I told MS all of this and said I had no problems in him writing this into the review - the quality was very poor I accepted that, but wanted him to see past that to the actual game play. I still have the memory of Mr Siggins writing a long tirade about how bad 'EuroHit' was, a whole page of text about it's poor quality etc etc. If you read his 'review' you could tell that it was one of the worst games ever. Now as a designer, and in this case having spent months sorting out the 144 cards per game by hand - the printer had arranged it so that the cards were on as less number of plates as possible - I was disappointed with the end product, but I had told MS all of this. 

As I read his review the worse it got, this really was the game from Hell. Right up until the last line or two when he wrote that the game was so bad that he had never even played it. Right then my admiration and reverence of Mike Siggins as a reviewer dissipated. If he could crucify a game for being awful and then say he hadn't played it what kind of reviewer was he ? A pretty poor one. At that moment I disbelieved every review of his I had read and couldn't bring myself to read another. If he could be that much of an A-Hole then his opinion had no place in my way of thinking. The idea of 'EuroHit' was to have fun and hopefully make the cost back over time (which it did) not make a profit and so it was priced accordingly. At GenCon Camber Sands we had a 'EuroHit' competition where all the players thoroughly enjoyed it, so much so that many of them played games of it several times over the weekend. It was good enough for Avalon Hill to decide to publish a full bookshelf version of it, even though whoever took it under their wing at AH made an absolute pig's ear of it, now if MS had reviewed that edition I would have agreed with him. A couple of things came out of 'EuroHit' for me. The first was that I wanted some control over any games I had published in the future by another company - this isn't as easy to get as you may think - but also that I would play all and every game to the best of my ability before reviewing it and not judge it simply on its quality of components or grammar (though I do think these are important) especially when the publisher has gone to great pains to ensure I know the current state in production of the game I am reviewing.

Anyway, yes I still feel a pang of disappointment whenever I see 'EuroHit' on my shelf (and regret when I see 'Assassin' in a game store), and yes although a long time has slipped past it still brings up the memory of that one huge pile of BS that Mr Siggins wrote in SUMO, and so when I see his name associated with anything I have to think twice, maybe thrice. Luckily SUMO went the way of most amateur magazines, though a lot quicker than Games Gazette (which lasted 32 years as a paper mag) and COUNTER rose from its ashes. Many of the names associated with COUNTER were names I had heard of, or of people I had met, and they were sensible, fair-minded individuals, with an eye for a good game. I used to meet several of them at Spiel, Essen, and have chats there, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing with what either of us (COUNTER or GG) had written but always in a manner that gamers generally have - one of friendliness and respect for each other's opinions. I used to read COUNTER and in GG I used to freely advertise COUNTER because it was a good magazine. Then COUNTER disappeared, not sure when exactly but Games Gazette stayed as a paper magazine until 2012 when it went over to the format it is now, no longer an actual magazine but a free website of News and Reviews and it has grown many times in readership and has new content added every day, something a bi-monthly (or quarterly) magazine couldn't achieve.

So after that SUMO style introduction, lots of text, some substance, and a lot of waffle, I reach the reason for this page (which you could have done quicker had you first clicked on the screenshot above and visited the SPIRIT's own website).

From the ashes of SUMO and COUNTER comes the new online publication THE SPIRIT. From the pages I have read, and which you can read to - go on click on the screenie - the reviews are more succinct, less highbrow and more in common with the short punchy reviews for which magazines like Games Gazette (and online like GGO) are renown. Players want to know what the game is about, maybe who designed it, how many players and their ages, the length of playing a game (some SUMO reviews took longer to read than the reviewed game took to play- or it seemed that way) and what the main mechanic is. Throw in some chat about the illustrations, add some screenshots or photographs and the reader knows more about the game than the box art and back-of-box blurb tells them, and it is written in a friendly manner that doesn't preach at them or suppose that they are sheep to be lead by a self-proclaimed games-Guru.

The SPIRIT is free for the first few issues, my understanding is that this is still in the discussion period, and is then likely to charge an annual fee. There is no reason that The SPIRIT shouldn't succeed, they have a lot of writers with years of experience in gaming, but at 86 pages an issue I am wondering how often it is going to be available. The days of a quarterly magazine are done in my opinion such that it is. I work every day on GGO (it's Sunday morning as I write this) to try to keep it as up to date as I can, at least with the News items. Three month old News is not much use to anyone so I imagine that there will be very little by way of news in The SPIRIT and more in the way of reviews and advertising. If they can make it a Monthly magazine I honestly believe it will gain momentum early on and become very successful, but if it falls back on Quarterly or even Bi-Monthly editions then I think the readership will mostly be the old-faithful that have grown up with COUNTER.

As owner of GGO I know the costs to keep a website running - it is more than most people might think but a lot less than a paper magazine where postal charges kill any chance of success now. Just look at all the Future Publishing magazines that have come and gone over the last few years - the shops sell mainly life-style magazines and a few console based mags that offer free games or films via the DVD media and even in Games Stores you are hard pressed to find a popular, regular paper magazine nowadays - the internet has won out big time.

I sincerely wish the very best for THE SPIRIT and will happily inform GGO readers of when and where the SPIRIT can be obtained, hopefully them gaining new readers and GGO not losing any. I am concerned about a subscription fee for it especially if the aim is to publish a regular 86 page edition in magazine format and not as an ongoing Blog or whatever GGO is best described as - Mike Siggins please don't answer that question 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015