Posted by: markfender | August 13, 2014

Wargames West

Does anyone else remember Wargames West?

ww3Wargames West used to be the way you found out what games existed. Their quarterly catalogs contained descriptions of every product, pictures of every miniature, and was just a cornucopia of weird game concepts that you’d never see at your friendly local gaming store (assuming you had one of those). In our pathetic town, Wargames West was the only source of games.

These catalogs were weirdly inspirational. Despite never witnessing many of these games in the flesh, reading the descriptions was endlessly fascinating. When I was working on a sci-fi game once, I did all my “research” by reading the Wargames West catalog and writing down every cool sounding weapon name mentioned in the odd descriptions of Renegade Legion and Star Fleet Battles supplements (This is what we were reduced to in the bad ol’ days before the internet).

The apparent importance of the Wargames West catalog in my life was ably demonstrated by the need to continually order stuff from them, just so I’d continue to get the catalog. For a thirteen-year-old kid without a credit card, it was always a challenge to manage this. But I did manage to keep the Wargames West catalog coming for many years, it’s newsprint pages showing entire worlds that I would never participate in.

The internet eventually removed the need for the catalog and other distributors overtook the business, closing Wargames West’s doors forever. And I certainly don’t want to return to that being the only source of gaming “news,” but, in some strange way, this catalog was probably more influential in my life than some of the games I actually played. Just discovering possibilities (without the inevitable disappointment brought on by ’80s production) was more insightful than witnessing those possibilities in reality. I bet you there’s a game out there that I have fond memories of, just based on the description in Wargames West’s catalog, having never seen that book in person. I can’t think of an example, but I wouldn’t put it pass me.


  1. I used to work at Wargames West from 1991 thru 1996. Managed some of those catalogs that you received, in fact. Glad you enjoyed them!

  2. Thanks for this article.

    I feel the same way. I never played Shadow run for instance, but I have fond memories of the game! I really miss that catalog. It was a mini-internet, printed for me with only my interests.

  3. I just pulled a few of these old catalogs out of a box. Great memories.

  4. Only just saw this today. I was the person behind all the early catalogs in the 1980s, and while I could not tell if the one pictured was one of mine (I suspect it wasn’t), I recognized a lot of the graphic style that I introduced. I won’t go into my experiences with the company, but I do appreciate the kind words. The tricky parts for me were writing descriptions of RPG modules that weren’t spoilers, and how to describe the umpteenth game about commonly gamed situations like the Bulge or Barbarossa. I remember the folks at Iron Crown Enterprises telling me they liked my descriptions because they were better than theirs; I replied that I had only based it on their own information! I was even plagiarized by competitors (but Lou Zocchi, whom I had known since Origins I, had my official blessing to do so). Oh, and I played the games, too. (To prove I am who I say I am, in one of the earliest editions there is some fine print to the effect of: “Blame Phil for any mistakes.”)

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