Eveland/​Kahan/​Drake/​Phinney email, 2011

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?

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *
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.

* * * * *
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.

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