Sopwith - The Boardgame

by Tom Tweedy 

Due to being thrust unceremoniously into what I'd always supposed to be a purist mag for Diplomacy, Spring Offensive, I've been asked by Steve to write a short introduction to this game to give future (prospective?) players some idea of what the game is all about. I say unceremoniously because this is the third time my games ('Tomcat' and 'Intruder') have been 'chucked out' and re-housed. (I take the time here to thank Steve for his care in re-housing a poor orphaned GM.) John Miller's wry comment when handing me his latest orders was, which will be the next zine to fall to the 'Curse of the Tweedys'. Well Steve's editorial escapades have weathered worse things than the likes of me before - though many years ago now, his student persona for one! 

Now, on to the game... 

Mainly, the name 'Sopwith' speaks for itself. It's a loosely (very loosely) First World War flight sim boardgame for six players based on dog-fighting bi-planes. I first introduced it to the Play-by-Mail Diplomacy hobby in August 1980 in sub-zine to Clive Booth's infamous Chimaera, the very first multi-game PBM zine. (In those days all the hobby zines were purist Diplomacy.) The original boardgame was played by everyone placing their counters in the relevant slots on their own panels, and disclosing the panels simultaneously after it was agreed each person's moves had been done. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Moves along with the shooting were worked out and damage and shot counters along the edge of the board were adjusted accordingly. After that the six clouds were moved (decided by a die roll) and that was basically all a full Turn consisted of - it was EASY. So much so, it was a cinch to devise postal rules and open it up to the hobby. 

Of course the game doesn't sound so exciting here, but the point was, from a player's point of view it was easy to play and easy to send moves in (subscribers felt they were contributing to their favourite zine even if they said or did nothing else). And from the GM's point of view it was a dream to adjudicate (well, easier than Diplomacy anyhow), and it filled the zine up with another six bodies. The game, if you'll excuse the pun, just took off. To date, 232 'T' numbers have been issued to 232 games, and according to my database, to date 483 different contenders have taken part. Not bad for a simple little boardgame. 

Unfortunately, the actual original boardgame cannot be had anymore (unless you advertise for a second hand one) as the game went out of print because it was originally aimed at the wargaming aficionados. It flopped because these hardened veterans thought the game was just too simple. They were right, it was! So, when I was editor of Dib Dib Dib I bought up all the last copies off the shelves and sold them on a first-come-first-served bases to my subscribers. When the inventor of the game found out the game was taking off in the postal hobby he tried reintroducing it again as a boardgame. Unfortunately it turned out to be a disappointing failure as he thought to change the game by introducing robots and other silly extras. It was definitely NOT the same game. 

Thankfully you don't need to buy the boardgame to play it by post. I've uploaded the postal rules to Steve, which should appear alongside this. The rules explain the game much better than I could here. And to help the players (who receive a copy of them on starting) they'll also get printouts of the actual board each Turn. There, you can't have a game fairer than that, now can you?

Postal Sopwith Rules by Tom Tweedy

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 35


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