Jim Owczarski, 13 December 2021
I wish I could even pretend to remember 1978 as well as I should like. Looking back on the grainy pictures I took with my 110 Instamatic – you know, the one with the cube flash on the top – there are people I can no longer identify, places I do not remember visiting, and clothes I am truly thankful I do not recall wearing.
But I remember Styx.
I particularly remember Pieces of Eight. Songs from their multi-platinum sequel to The Grand Illusion were ubiquitous. Their Top 40 rotation was the heaviest imaginable and many of us knew every song note for note. What is more, those of us who frequented roller rinks – I will not be judged – can still call to mind memories of heavily-waxed hardwood floors, embarrassing attempts to make turns at speed, and the perils of trying to skate backwards when the opening notes of “Renegade” come on the radio. They were everything and everywhere; one of the biggest bands in the business.
And then it sort of ended 1 2.
I say “sort of” because it is not as if they have vanished. Dennis DeYoung left, sure, but the rest soldiered on and a quick look at Spotify will tell you they have released a fair amount of music since. I have no idea what the quality of their releases has been, my interests having long since moved on, but they are certainly a going concern. My wife, just a couple years ago, told me about the “after concert” they played following a minor league hockey game held where she works and she said they a fine job, though their keyboardist performing on a rotating stage for no apparent reason was a bit odd. And now, it would seem, they have joined with fellow “classic” luminaries REO Speedwagon and Loverboy for a nostalgia tour. Styx, then, has never ended — I can imagine a loyal, aging few screaming “STYX NEVER DIES!” – but they have never been what they were in that summer 43 years ago.
This all came to mind when Bruce Geryk posted this article and asked for comment
It is a genius piece of ludographical archaeology. His specific question, a worthy one, was whether the predictions the author made 23 years ago still have merit, but it crystallized for me what I think about the future of hex-and-counter wargaming, viz.: we are all Styx fans now.
Once, as the article points out, we were the world of wargaming and even boardgaming. After all, what does “The Dice Tower’s Top Ten Boardgames of 1978” look like? We were experimenters; risk takers. The market space was always small, sure, but Avalon Hill, S.P.I., Victory, &c., were very special creators and we who considered purchasing the Strategy & Tactics lifetime subscription never thought it would end.
Tommy Shaw has helped me understand that these statements, and the debate it triggers, miss the mark. Old school wargames are humming along quite nicely.
The fall of all this is, of course, an old story. The coming of “cards and clicks”, the rise of PC and console gaming, the advent of the hobby boardgame business, is a tale often told. Every couple years it seems we join Jim Dunnigan, as he does in the article, in proclaiming the death of the hex-and-counter wargame. Tommy Shaw has helped me understand that these statements, and the debate it triggers, miss the mark. Old school wargames are humming along quite nicely. We have new technology, new outlets, and new financing models. We have companies that use all these to cater to our interests and we have resources sufficient to keep them afloat, if not awash in champagne and caviar. We are not “Puppet Show and Spinal Tap”,
We are, however, Styx, Loverboy, and REO Speedwagon on a triple bill. Someone, after all, is still buying their albums and paying cut rates for their concert tickets. Some might even buy a T-shirt as a novelty gift — size XXL. Still, one radio station in town plays what we like and even they seem likely to be taken over by talk or sports at some point in the future. And those concerts are no longer filling stadiums but back lots at country fairs. Yes, our children will find some of our music interesting, and some will even obsess as we have, but most will not. The young ones’ devices are big enough to hold volumes of music so there will be a space for fondly-remembered classics, but, when we pass, our albums and games will be culled, a few kept, and most sold. Eventually, given time, they will be memories and little more.
Take a moment to visit GMT Games’ Best Sellers page. Of the top 15 games, how many are hex-and-counter?
Is this such a terrible fate? Mozart is an immortal, most would say. Yet how many can name more than ten of his pieces after hearing them? I look with astonishment at any who do not know the canon of Frank Zappa, and yet the number of those who do shrinks and the number of those who do not increases each day. And Styx, well, their place will be smaller; much smaller. Take a moment to visit GMT Games’ Best Sellers page. Of the top 15 games, how many are hex-and-counter? Hint: one. Harold Buchanan, Volko Ruhnke, and other luminaries urge us to listen to new music, and some of it is quite good. Their way is gentler, more engaging; some of it even has sheeples and toy wooden ships. I have no idea whether this will preserve a form of wargaming to another generation. I am certain, however, it is not the music I heard when first I fell in love.
Many of us, then, will listen to what we choose, play what we remember, and will smile very warmly, indeed, when a young person pulls out a worn album or a detergent box scuffed at the corners, and finds what is inside to be very good indeed. In this way, which is real enough, wargaming as we knew it can never die.
Oh Mama, I’m in fear for my life
From the long arm of the law,
Lawman has put an end to my running
And I’m so far from my home…
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2 thoughts on “We Are All Styx Fans”
In 1978 I had just learned there were such things as wargames, and was feeling my way around – IIRC my first three were Tactics II (Avalon Hill), Bundeswehr (SPI) and Olympica (Metagaming).
In 1998 (the year of that linked article), I was still just a few years into designing my own and had completed a dozen designs. Only two of them (three if you count a staggered-square map one) were hex-map designs; the others were variously point-to-point, area-movement or even dispensed with a map entirely.
But I designed what I did because I was ready to start creating games on the kinds of conflicts I wanted to play, because almost no one else had bothered… but I was only ready to do that with any confidence because I had been listening to that local AM radio station for 20 years, and thought I had learned the notes.
As I get older I keep combing through my collection for things to trade or sell because I know I won’t get around to playing it myself, and would like to give it a different home (where it might or might not get played). But I hang on to my old SPI and Metagaming stuff (and a few AH titles) from that general period of time (up to 1982 or so), partly because of nostalgia but also because, as Jim notes, a lot of it was darn experimental and didn’t care much whether it was a commercial success.
(sorry though, the only Styx tune I can recall is “Mr. Roboto”)