The Game Wizards

Written by Douglas Niles

The chance to design the TOP SECRET/S.I. game was a marvelous opportunity, but a mixed blessing. Revise a game that has been around almost as long as the hobby itself, with a significant – if not large – following of devoted gamers, and the potential for trouble becomes real.

Well, I can breathe again. Thanks to all of you who wrote to tell us (Warren Spector, the game’s editor and developer, and myself) how much you like the new game. The letters have been running 5 to 1 in favor of the redesign.

An occasional voice of dissent calls for a return to the traditional values of the original TOP SECRET game. These criticisms can be grouped into two basic categories: those who miss the painstaking attention to detail in the original game, and those who object to our tampering with a “classic.”

Indeed, TOP SECRET is about as much of a classic as our industry has to offer. If it’s any consolation, we didn’t undertake the revision lightly. We considered a partial revision of the rules, a redesign of select systems, and a “from the ground up” approach – releasing an essentially new game that would (we hoped) appeal to the fans of the original game. You, the players, were willing to give the redesign a chance. As a result, the game is a success, and the majority of gamers (if the mail is any indication) are happy.

The hard-core level of realism inherent in the original TOP SECRET game is something we have not forgotten. However, there is almost a direct correlation between the level of detail presented in a game system and the amount of time needed to resolve a given gaming situation. A game system that is built around only a few game mechanics (such as the TOP SECRET/S.I. game’s Attribute Check) can absorb more detail without a great effect upon playability. Therefore, some of the new accessories will include great amounts of detail. Merle Rasmussen’s The G4 File: Guns, Gadgets, and Getaway Gear is one of these, providing information about a wealth of espionage and adventuring equipment – far more things than could possibly have been covered in the boxed game itself.

Other accessories, such as the High Stakes Gamble accessory pack, will introduce more advanced rules for certain game functions. High Stakes Gamble greatly expands the vehicle rules for the new game, giving specific damage locations for vehicles, new maneuvers, and procedures for a number of special situations. Boats, aircraft, and motorcycles are differentiated more completely than was possible in the TOP SECRET/S.I. game box.

Our attention now turns to supporting the TOP SECRET/S.I. game, and I think you’ll find that we are doing this diligently. One of the problems with the old game was the infrequent publication schedule of support product. We are determined to prevent this problem from affecting TOP SECRET/S.I. games.

But we’re not just producing support material! We are talking about alternate campaign possibilities such as 1930s pulp or near-future super-agent adventures. In addition, you will be able to draw upon a wealth of background material for our “official” campaign, pitting the Orion Foundation against the nefarious activities of the Web. We will publish source books detailing the conflicts between these two agencies, as well as settings for Orion Foundation offices and modules.

Neither are we neglecting the real-world aspect of the game. One of our first supplements, the Covert Operations Source Book by John Prados (a noted game designer and writer), details the histories of the KGB and CIA, then provides the reader with dozens of authentic case histories involving the rivalry between these two agencies. This book is a must for the player who wants his campaign to reflect the realities of international espionage.

A number of people have sent in the boxed-game membership cards, and the real “Orion Foundation” is growing faster than we anticipated. By the time you read this, those of you who have signed up should have received your first official newsletter. As you’ll see, our plans take us into 1990 and beyond. You can rest assured that the TOP SECRET/S.I. game will receive support for years to come!

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