A Love Letter to SPI Tabletop Wargames

Most tabletop wargamers of a certain age life have had the past pleasure of encountering and playing a Simulations Publications, Inc (SPI) board game. With its Strategy & Tactics magazine, SPI drove a lot of board wargaming industry growth in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Sadly, the SPI company ran out of cash in 1982 and its brand was taken over by its largest investor TSR.

As I recently came to understand, Jim Dunnigan, the founder of SPI, became involved in the wargaming business through early contributions to Avalon Hill. He contributed articles to the AH publication The General.

One of those articles criticized the lack of historical accuracy in AH 1965 game, The Battle of the Bulge. You see, Dunnigan was a Korea War veteran and probably had a perspective other designers didn’t have.

The head of Avalon Hill at the time, Thomas Shaw, asked Dunnigan to ‘back up his words’ and design his own wargame. The resulting product was Jutland, which Avalon Hill published in 1967.

The Birth of SPI

After a few more contributions to AH, Dunnigan bought the independent wargame magazine, Strategy & Tactics, and created Simulations Publications, Inc. The magazine became a favorite for their fans because it included a playable game in each edition. The feedback that they received from readers of their magazine proved invaluable at understanding the board and tabletop wargames that their audience wanted.

Leipzig wargame cover art
SPI’s Leipzig wargame cover art

Many historical periods were covered in their catalog of games. Many titles covered Ancient Battles, the American Civil War, the Napoleonics War, and especially the 20th Century Wars. Many of you will remember the games like Leipzig packaged in the slender plastic counter organizer with the folder heavy cover weight map.

The Death of SPI

It’s amazing to realize that several games that we published or republished, like Napoleon’s Last Battles, were published after TSR had taken position of SPI property. But, they did not push much out after that.

It is understood that many of the SPI game design talent moved to their rival, Avalon Hill. Even the magazine, Strategy & Tactics, stopped publishing in the late 80’s.

Decisiongames.com now has the rights to most of SPI’s games.

The Re-Birth of SPI Games

If any reader is a Tabletop Simulator owner (available on Steampowered.com), you are in luck.

Within the Workshop of the Tabletop Simulator game, one very prolific SPI fan, who goes by the name of hjess60, has created nearly 99 games on the platform… many of them SPI games.

So, for the many of us, who love the old board games, they can be played again. This creator has volunteered his time to replicate the maps of these games, the counters, and the original rules, so that in this virtual wargaming world, the games can be played again.

And what is great about this, is there are many wargamers that can see and play these games for the very first time.

As an old grognard, I re-enjoy some of these old SPI games and salute you, hjess60, for bringing them back to life.

What was your favorite SPI game?

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