Leyte Gulf: This is the End
By Mike Bennighof, president, 119694_avalanche Press
When a game goes out of print, I’m never sure whether to be sad it’s gone, or proud that we made a product successful enough to sell out. On the one hand, enough people liked it for us to sell every one of them, but on the other, we don’t have it to sell any more — and when that happens, we’re sure to get several dozen of what the VP here calls “butbutbut” e-mails. The “But I meant to buy it, you’re SURE there’s not one hidden away somewhere?” notes. And I’ll wish we could take their money, even though I know they wouldn’t write or call if the game was actually in stock.
Over time we’ve sent quite a few games to Valhalla, our hall of the fallen heroes. A couple, like the misbegotten Airlines2, are not listed as they were unworthy and can rot in Game Hell.
It wasn’t a particularly good decision to publish some of those games. “Many wonder," I read on the Internet the other day, "why this man is allowed to run a company." Count me among them. Sometimes, I wonder what insanity drove me to make certain decisions running 119694_avalanche Press. The worst ones, I know exactly why and we've excised the causes with fire and sword. That leaves the ones that are just puzzling. Some of them, like the decision to make Leyte Gulf, turned out OK, though I kinda wish we’d make five or six normal-sized games instead. I’m not sure that the diversion of effort into this project isn’t still felt in our slow production years later.
Some five years ago now, I hit on the notion of turning the large number of half-finished and/or proposed game designs we had infesting file drawers and hard drives into cash. Callie Cummins at Decision Games had shared with me the results of their own line of very large games, and the profit margins were, I have to admit, extremely enticing. So I decided we'd do our own very large games, have customers make purchase pledges to see which game proposal "won" the competition, and publish the game only when guaranteed a profit.
From the start, we knew the "winner" of the competition would be Second World War at Sea: Leyte Gulf. But that was OK, even though it meant the game would get only a limited print run. It would be very large and therefore very expensive, and unlike some of the other large games we proposed at the same time it could not be split into smaller games. If Leyte Gulf were to exist at all, it would have to exist on a grand scale.
Brian Knipple designed the scenarios, which were themselves on a grand scale — with hundreds of ships and hundreds of aircraft counters involved. They're not exactly what I would have done myself — I prefer to keep aircraft allotments random, to prevent players from reacting to information their historical counterparts would not have had. There are some reasonably sized ones in there, but the "main event" scenarios — the battles of Leyte Gulf and the Philippine Sea — are pretty tough to play with just two players and move much more slowly than any others in the series thanks to the huge volume of aerial operations to resolve.
Leyte Gulf is the physically largest game we've ever published or are likely to ever publish, but that's only part of the story. Second World War at Sea series games are very graphics-intensive, between their maps, playing pieces and ship data sheets. We began work on Leyte Gulf soon after announcing it — since we knew it would be published regardless of the "results" — and its creation consumed the entire work output of artists' tenures at 119694_avalanche Press. To my best recollection, three employees worked on the counter art, two on the ship data and one on the maps, with only one of those six still remaining employed here by the time we actually released the game.
As a print job, it was gigantic and ended up going to press in stages. Fortunately it was printed in the Far East, where the more modern technology available to printers allows counter sheets to be printed in any combination and at differing quantities. Therefore we were able to place most of the aircraft counters on one sheet, and just make three times as many of that one as we did of the others. There were seven other sheets of playing pieces, including row after row of transports and American destroyer escorts.
All of that gaming goodness went into a double-sized boxed, roughly 19 by 12 inches "face size" by 2 inches deep. It does make for an impressive package but those large boxes are hard to handle — they don't go through the shrink-wrap tunnel easily (and really have to be hand-sealed, with a heat gun, which is time- and -labor intensive). When they're shipped out, they have to go in specially sized mailing cartons as they don't fit our standard ones. I don't like them, and we won't use that size ever again.
But it does look really, really good on a game shelf.
It's also filled with paper. Assembling the last 100 or so once we'd moved into our new, permanent home was an exercise in watching our voracious printernator consume case after case of raw material. And the largest components — the 64-page ship data book and 80-page scenario book — weren't even made on-site. Leyte Gulf also has has scads of organization charts, weather charts and such things.
Then there are three large maps, all by Terry Moore Strickland. Terry’s moved on to a very successful gallery career, though she very generously took a break from her own work last week to help us with technical issues needed to finish off the maps for 1940: The Fall of France. Two of them are also used in Second World War at Sea: Strike South.
As a publisher, I’m extraordinarily proud of this product. It’s a fine memorial to the Second World War at Sea game series, and I know it’s given a lot of people a lot of enjoyment. It’s a very satisfying accomplishment.
As of this writing (Aug. 6, 2009), there are six copies of Leyte Gulf on the shelf out in the warehouse. They could all be gone by tomorrow morning; they could last another week or two — these things are impossible to predict. But already, even before it’s sold out, we’ve had a number of gamers ask, “Are you going to reprint it? When?”
I doubt it. The back storage area of the warehouse is still fairly unorganized from our Virginia-to-Alabama move, as we’ve concentrated on assembling parts into usable games. But it looks to me like there are no more than 200 of any countersheet other than the aircraft sheet. That doesn’t match the Virginia inventory reports — I’d always intended to lay in a supply of counters for a later reprint and expected to find more of them. It is, however, consistent from sheet to sheet, which strongly implies that there’s not going to be a miraculous discovery. If they ever existed, they’re probably rotting in a Tidewater landfill now, as a new tenant occupied our old site last week.
That means a reprint would require more counters — 10 sheets’ worth, or more than one American-sized print run. Two hundred is just not enough to justify a fresh set of boxes, and I really want to retire the double-sized box. I don’t see us finding the cash and time to squeeze in one and a half full-sized print runs of counters just to bring an old game back into print. Leyte Gulf, the game, was an artifact of a vanished age, of cheap Chinese printing and even cheaper ocean transport. Both are gone now, likely forever, and Leyte Gulf with them.
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