J.D. Eveland, Jim Kahan, Dan Drake, Thomas Phinney
Edited email discussion Jan 28-30, Mar 14-15, 2011
Phinney: Can y’all list the other major players of the game from the early 60s? Of those people, who contributed significantly to the (unwritten) rules?
Kahan: Major players were, clearly, JD (’64), Alan Arey (’65), and Jim Trosper (’65). Others who played more than casually included yours truly, Ron Hanks (’64), Tony Wannier (’66?), Peter Clark (’67), Lynne O’Connor (’67). Strangely enough, I don’t remember Dan as a heavy user.
Rules-makers were JD, Alan, Jim T, and Dan. The rest of us played along, with the proviso that “playing along” had a rules component. We were philosophers, in Norman Dalkey’s sense that “Philosophy is a game, the objective of which is the discovery of its own rules.” (Bet you didn’t know that one, JD!)
Eveland: A few more players—as I recall, Nick Tidemann (’64) played at least one term (Fall ’62, I believe); others included Emerson Mitchell (“the patron of ‘Merthyr Tydfil’“, on whom I perpetrated the aforementioned shipping-bomb plot) for at least that term and I think part of another, and Heather Rohde, Peter Clark’s girlfriend, who became one of the rather few quite good female players during ’63-64, starting out under Peter’s patronage but quickly striking out on her own. There were several others who moved in and out, but I think that basically covers the major ones.
Kahan: It’s T. Nicolaus “Nick” Tideman, and he went on to become a pretty well-known economist. David Casseres (’65) played briefly. Jay Rosenberg (’63) observed intently and may have even been responsible for some of what you call “rules,” but he never actively played. Although Al Wood (’64) was involved in the pre-Empire games and may have played one of the early ones on the planet Earth, he was never a Winch player, instead becoming more deeply involved in his highly successful philosophy career and the gorgeous and enchanting Rega Clark Wood (’66). Al Wood (’64) should not be confused with Al Wood (’66), who was involved with one of Rega’s almost equally gorgeous and enchanting roommates, Sandy Seinfeld (’66). Both were roommates of my own one-semester girlfriend Melissa Brisley Mickey (’66).
Drake: I think he did. His fame in the game-playing world is from his game of Scribble in ’62; it is sad to think that no trace of the game is likely to survive. Not that that decreases the probability of its ever being played, of course.
Didn’t Joe Weissman play at one time? Or was he only a kibitzer?
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Phinney: Did the original map use hexes (hexagons), or offset squares? Was there a switch while you were there?
Kahan: Very first [non-Earth] map used offset squares. I believe that was spring ’62. The next map (that would be fall ’62) was hexes.
Eveland: the VERY first games (emulating the original game design) were played on a square grid, but this rapidly became unsatisfactory since it distorted move distances. (It was during one of these first games when, while playing Sweden, I first introduced the idea of varying backstories for countries by proclaiming that Sweden was now officially an Anarchy, under the absolute rule of the Anarch.
Kahan: I believe that I may have started that one, claiming that Anarchy was my favorite form of government, but only if I were the Anarch.
The move from maps of this world to others was triggered to some extent, as I comment in my oral history, by undesirable consequences of the mal-distribution of resources on this planet. I have generalized this to an explanation of the origin of American exceptionalism.
Drake: I recall a new map layout I made one summer, with resource squares carefully calculated to reflect actual production in the real world. Oklahoma was of real international importance. Somebody, no doubt you, said the game should be called CIA, as it was based on production as it happened to be, not resources. That layout didn’t last long.
Eveland: The offset squares were an experiment to try to achieve the effect of hex movement without the major effort involved in actually drawing hexes. If I’m not mistaken, the hex grid was actually drawn on a plastic overlay that could be placed on an assortment of maps. Toward the last couple of games I played in, a great deal of information was actually directly entered onto the plastic using various colors of wax pencils, most of which I had appropriated from the lab supplies cabinet at the School of Public Health at the U of Mich., where I worked summers all through school.
Kahan: e.g. oil pipelines, power grids. My own memory is that the grid was drawn on the map, but the plastic overlay was clear. But I would defer to JD if he believed strongly otherwise.
Drake: I’m sure that’s right. In fact, my impression is that the overlays came into it after my time; i.e., in fall of ’63.
Eveland: We also took to using cardboard egg cartons liberated from the Commons trash as repositories for collections of pieces that were too numerous to be placed on the physical map; this became particularly relevant when we allowed each city “square” (the terminology I always used, being contrarian) to be considered as consisting of nine sub-squares, with different kinds of facilities consuming different amounts of space.
Kahan: In case this wasn’t mentioned, there were over 10,000 actual physical pieces that could be brought into play. Needed some place to put them, because even with the large map, there wasn’t enough room.
Phinney: In this thread, Jim mentions the first map being in the spring of 1962. I had thought Empire got started at Reed in the fall of 1960? Am I confused or mistaken?
Kahan: Confused, but not mistaken. Both are correct. The first Empire games used a mercator projection map of our planet. The first artificial world using the Winch social room table as a base was later.
Eveland: The first abstract map was used in the spring of 1962, Up until then, starting in Fall 1960, play was made on a standard Earth world map (Mercator projection, which of course meant that Sweden, one of the six original positions, was represented on the map in “square” units as several times the area of Tanganyika, one of the others — true whether the squares were plain or offset.) I believe that the offset squares were introduced no later than the fall of 1961, and perhaps as early as the spring of that year. The first abstract map, which did use offset squares, was drawn by Jim Trosper over Xmas break 1961-62, and put into service the first week after return in January 1962 (its preparation had been negotiated previous to the break.) That was the point at which, in addition to the new topography, the first half-production and double-production squares were introduced, as well as new resources: rubber and aluminium.
As part of that map, Jim drew for himself a country that was essentially a representation of Middle-Earth, as paraphrased from Tolkien’s maps in the overleaves to The Lord of the Rings. That was basically his reward for having put in all the time on the map; the rest of us got pot-luck.
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Eveland: I’m surprised that the question of the 1700th Impossible Dragon has not arisen thus far (it’s plainly visible in the map picture). This was originally acquired by me at Cost Plus in San Francisco on a trip down there sometime in the spring of ’62. The designation and naming of the creature was directly taken by me from an entry in Ambrose Bierce’s “Devil’s Dictionary”, a copy of which I’d acquired back in high school and dearly loved. The specific citation can be found in Google Books.
The Dragon was used to indicate the player who was next supposed to be be moving his/her turn; when one finished one’s own turn, one was supposed to move the Dragon into the country of the next player in succession. The Dragon was considered to have a certain quality of what would later be called “magic realism”; that is, he could under certain circumstances be interpreted as having an actual physical presence on he map, as well as his arbitrary timekeeping function. Players were expected to attend to their turns fairly rapidly, and thus it was considered to be good manners to check in at Winch at least once or twice a day to see if the Dragon had progressed around to your country. If you were running a Balkanized domain, you were expected to identify in advance the order in which each mini-state would move within your overall turn; this occasionally became significant, particularly during the invasion of Christobilt (home of the famous Mad Raphet) bu a succession of its neighbors.
BTW, the idea of balkanization first came to me in a dream, from which I woke up with the curious phrase, “We must blow up the Dadvanna!” ringing in my ears. I remembered nothing more from the dream except that the Dadvanna was some form of assembly that needed blowing up. That in turn led more or less directly to the instantiation of a place in which said blowing-up might be undertaken on a somewhat less literal level.
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Kahan: Another piece of trivia. At least during the early 1960s, we were conscious and somewhat prideful of the fact that nobody had ever dropped out of Reed while playing Empire. And this was when the overall attrition rate was about 70%. True, some players (e.g., the oft-mentioned Peter Clark) attrited, but this was after he had given up playing Empire.
Drake: Umm, yes, my doing my thesis late (and a bad job) is not really attributable to Empire, but to a more general educational failure mode that I was in around that time.
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Phinney: [mention in passing of cabinet and pieces]
Kahan: Box and a small fraction of the pieces were discovered by me in the ARG [Association of Reed Gamers] room in Kerr basement in early 2009, and JD gifted them to the Reed archives that June (along with his whistle, but that’s a different story). The table from Winch social room still resides in said ARG room.