Tuesday, May 16, 2006
The Game Cabinet
Those of you coming late into the online board gaming scene will likely never have heard of The Game Cabinet, which was the major source for online board game information, along with The Game Report and rec.games.board, until Board Game Geek began.
I began playing OKBridge as early as 1993, commenting on rec.games.board.ce as early as 1994, and reading and commenting about both D&D and Magic throughout the 1990's on both newsgroups and mailing lists.
It never occurred to me to look at general board game sites until I hit upon the mention of Settlers of Catan in some Magic newsgroup at the tail end of the 90's. I acquired Settlers, and then a year later Cities and Knights, but I didn't hit the real sites for online board gaming until about 2002, by which time BGG was already a force.
There were still many links to the Game Cabinet around at that time, even though it had stopped around 2000. Owing to the long tail of time of the internet, the entire run of TGC is still available online. It contains many reviews, rules translations, original games, and commentaries, and so on. There are some nice gems still hidden in there.
The first two issues included the complete rules to Waving Hands, and a complete initial rules set for Nomic.
Mike Siggins reviewed Settlers, and decided that it probably didn't have much lasting power. He posited that some variants may be in the works which could help it out.
46 online game stores are listed on their links page as of Sept, 2000 (see bottom of page); only 21 still exist in some form, today. Note at the top of the page where the new site Board Game Geek is described as "the Gaming Dumpster on steroids with a self-image problem". I'm assuming that was meant to be facetious. Or a compliment.
While many people contributed content, the contributors page lists ten major contributors. Are they still active in games and on the net? I did some research to find out.
The three major players appear to have been:
Ken Tidwell, who was the major force behind the site. He still goes to game conventions, but doesn't have much online presence, otherwise.
Stuart Dagger, BGG. A co-editor, is now the editor of Counter Magazine, an IGA member and contributor to Board Game News.
Mike Siggins, BGG. Is active on BGG, a co-founder of IGA, and has a website (under maintenance). Mark Jackson interviewed him on Board Games To Go. He also contributes to Wargames Illustrated and is designing and developing games.
Additional regular contributors who are still active online in games:
Kurt Adam, BGG. Co-force behind Hangman Games.
Brian Bankler, BGG. Blog writer for Tao of Gaming.
Piet Notebaert, BGG. Maintains a huge real world game library in Belgium.
The remaining four:
Martin Higham, BGG. Blog writer for Ocasta, which has very little game content. He says that many of his play group sessions include playtesting games for Reiner Knizia, which is why he doesn't write about them online.
Peter Wotruba is registered on BGG, as is Tim Trant BGG, but I didn't find much else about them. Tim still goes to game cons.
Catherine Soubeyrand had written a series of articles about ancient games for the Game Cabinet, but doesn't appear to still be involved in gaming.
The Game Cabinet ended around 2000, with the rise of BGG and The Games Journal. The Games Journal stopped in 2005 with the rise of game blogs and podcasts.
Update: Some Q&A with Ken:
1. Aside from The Game Report and rec.board.games, what else was online during the nineties?
Ken: I believe Pagat had his card game site up.
2. Why did you stop the Game Cabinet, and what made you "drop offline" with regards to gaming since?
Ken: Startups and babies! I haven't even had time to play games, much less write about them. Alan Moon once opined that the typical fanzine editor lasts 3 to 5 years. I've continued to watch and I think he might be right. The time may have lengthened a bit because of the ease of publishing via the net but burnout looms large, in any case.
3. Was it worth it? Did you live for it, or was it more trouble than it was worth?
Ken: All of the above. I don't think I ever lived for it (you learn not to ever do that when you do what I do for a living) but I did enjoy it immensely. It immersed me in the world of gaming, it contributed to bringing German games to our doorsteps, and it allowed me to participate in the birth of the Web - the Game Cabinet is amongst the first 1000 web sites in the world. (For comparison, 17.5 million sites were ADDED in 2005...) All around, I had a good time being the editor for The Game Cabinet.