The history of Decision Games begins with Doc before Doc was “Doc.” Like many fellow gamers, he got his start early on. Growing up playing classic games like chess, checkers, Monopoly, Risk, and other family games until that 1967 Christmas break his brother brought home three Avalon Hill games (Battle of the Bulge, Blitzkrieg, and Midway) from college and introduced him to wargames. Soon, he was buying and playing wargames on a regular basis, reading the history behind the games, and developing a passion for the hobby. By the mid-70’s, he was attending local conventions and soon was organizing tournaments at game conventions. During college, he joined the STRATEGICON conventions and club meetings, helped them locate a regular venue for meetings, and eventually helped Alan Emrich, et al incorporate the STRAEGICON game conventions and form Diverse Talents, Inc. At DTI, he lent his nascent business and personnel skills and learned along with everyone else there the basics of game company organization, creating material for game magazines, learning the back end of editing and publishing magazines and games that would later lead him to form his own game company. In 1986, he finished his doctoral studies in clinical psychology and accepted an internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and a commission in the US Army, fulfilling a goal established back in high school to serve in the military. This forced a departure from DTI and the business side of gaming, but soon he would be back.
Even while putting in the crazy long internship hours, Doc managed to keep a finger in the hobby business by joining 3W as an assistant editor. By lucky circumstances, after finishing his internship and officer basic course, he was assigned as the division psychologist for the 7th Infantry Division (Light) in Ft. Ord, CA. This happened to be the closest possible assignment to 3W. This led to Doc becoming more involved in 3W just as 3W acquired Strategy & Tactics from TSR and merged The Wargamer into S&T. Doc and Keith Poulter started Wargamer, Volume 2 which was a cross between a game review magazine like Fire & Movement and game analysis and support like MOVES. Shortly after moving 3W acquired DTI. After helping manage an ORIGINS convention in Los Angeles, Keith decided to spin off the non-game magazines and the conventions to Doc who started Cummins Enterprises by publishing first Wargamer, Volume 2, then a revived MOVES magazine, and then folding Wargamer into Fire & Movement. Along the way, Doc had collected hundreds of wargames and started buying and selling games as well through Christopher’s Corner (which would later become Desert Fox Games).
Early history (1988-1991)
The early years (1988-1991) included Callie’s start in magazine layout and Joseph Miranda joining as Fire & Movement’s editor. Son Chris (aka C2, now DG’s inventory specialist and regular on the conventions trail) was born. Jeff Albanese managed the STRATEGICON conventions. Those early years were just the three of us in a home office – Joseph writing and editing, Callie doing layout, Doc managing the writers and the bills on weekends and between deployments and field exercises. In those early years, we did all the packing and shipping ourselves so every few weeks we laid out the boxes that came from the magazine printer on the floor in a long line across most of the house and collated each issue into envelopes and sorted the envelopes into zip code order to prepare the mailing.
The purchase of Strategy & Tactics and SPI titles (1992-1994)
In 1991, 3W’s Keith Poulter and Doc struck a deal for the purchase of Strategy & Tactics. Joseph Miranda took the helm as editor. Doc realized the game company needed a lot more of his time and mustered out of the Army. Still wanting to continue his psychology career as well as be closer to the Los Angeles area STRATEGICON conventions, he took a part-time program manager/associate professor position at Chapman University’s Palmdale, CA academic center and moved family and game company to Lancaster, CA. To accelerate the pay-off for S&T and focus the company on being a game manufacturer, the conventions were sold to a local Los Angeles area retailer. In early 1993, Decision Games was incorporated.
Larry Baggett, an associate publisher/partner came on board with an interest in seeing DG publish new games in the SPI folio/quadri-game style. This led to the publication of DG’s first boxed game, Battles of the Ancient World, in 1993. Two more would follow in 1994: Seven Days Battles, and Napleon’s First Battles.
Also in 1993, TSR approached Doc about purchasing the SPI titles (3W had acquired the S&T titles and sold them to Excalibre Games before the sale of S&T magazine to DG). To finalize the SPI deal, Doc traveled to TSR HQ in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in the dead of winter (it hit minus 20-something degrees the first night) and signed off on the deal. Suddenly, DG was in possession of the SPI trademark and logo, hundreds of sought after SPI titles to republish in addition to publishing Strategy & Tactics, the hobby flagship. What could go wrong?
Retail game market collapse (1995-1997)
With all those titles, DG immediately went about publishing a whole line of boxed games that included some new titles and some SPI updates and several popular SPI titles were farmed out to outside developers. Most of the games published were in the quadri-game format: four scenarios with a common system. Unfortunately, events in the gaming hobby were about to dash the expansion plans and turn the next few years into a struggle for survival.
Boxed games published: Empires at War, The ’45, The Forgotten War, Alamo, Napoleon’s Last Battles, Rebels & Redcoats I & II, Emperor’s First Battles, 30 Years War Battles, and Over The Top.
In the mid-1990’s, the new collectable card genre grew into the primary source of sales for the majority of retail game stores and many brand new stores came into the market on this wave. A bubble developed as retailers placed higher and higher initial orders for these games and card manufacturers demanded greater guarantees. Eventually this bubble burst and hundreds of stores went out of business. This triggered the immediate loss of revenue when retailers and distributors went out of business with unpaid invoices and then a significant decrease in retailer/distributor orders as the remaining retail game market did not pick up much of the wargame market share. This significantly shook up the wargame companies who had relied on the ability to sell a breakeven quantity of games to distributors and retailers to cover initial printing costs. For Decision Games, like several other wargame companies, the cuts were severe and it was a tough time for about two years. Fulfillment and production staff were cut back, Doc picked up more work in psychology and a move was made to Ridgecrest/China Lake where he began working with a public health contractor for county and federal clients. For DG he developed a new plan – break into the much larger magazine market.
The start of newsstand sales (1998-2000)
It was not long until Decision Games landed its first newsstand account. Strategy & Tactics began appearing in Barnes & Noble. Borders followed. Other independents joined in. Quickly, the newsstand edition was outselling the game edition. And by the new millennium, newsstand edition sales were double the game edition. Boxed games began being published again and a shift was made to the pledge program as a method to ensure the printing costs were covered. An Internet presence began and a web site was created in 1999.
Boxed games published: Sun Never Sets, War of the Rebellion, Krieg!
The move to Bakersfield (2001-2005)
When Doc moved up to the behavioral health company HQ, the family and business moved again, this time to Bakersfield, CA. DG continued to grow and more boxed games were published including Wacht am Rhein, Highway to the Reich, Empires of the Middle Ages, and War Between the States. Ty Bomba came on board as a full-time magazine game developer. Doc took the opportunity to get into an MBA program where he focused most of the class projects on researching aspects of the publishing business. The final project was a comprehensive business plan for Decision Games to expand the focus on military history magazines in multiple directions.
Multiple magazines and game editions (2006-2009)
The first step was an extensive survey of Strategy & Tactics customer interests for topics for additional military history magazines. We were unclear at the beginning how many magazines we could produce and whether we could produce game editions of each one but we knew we could do more than just S&T and so we asked. What topped that survey was World War II. It took two years to build up the pipeline of articles and games for a second magazine and in 2008 World at War was launched.
While the pipeline was being developed, a national newsstand distributor was located to take magazine sales to the next level. Total magazine print-runs soared to nearly 20,000 copies per issue. World at War was a fantastic success with newsstand sales matching Strategy & Tactics after only 12 months. Plans were immediately set for another magazine and customers choose the Modern era as the next topic. Modern War magazine was the result and it too has had great success in its first year in print. Concurrent with the launch of Modern War, an international effort was launched in newsstand sales development bringing the magazines into Indigo (the Barnes & Noble of Canada) and many new locations worldwide. The issue with North Korea on the cover was selected for a special sales effort and it proved to be very timely!
Boxed games produced: Storm of Steel, Nine Navies War, Luftwaffe, Land without End, China: Middle Kingdom, War in the Pacific, Highway to the Reich, Advanced PTO.
Our Ranks Grow (2010-2012)
With the growth in sales and product lines, it was time to bring in more people to keep the pipelines flowing. In 2010, Eric Harvey and Chris Perello joined the team as game developers and Ty moved to working on magazine editing full-time. On the boxed game side, Decision Games decided to try doing away with boxes and introduced a line of low cost folio games in 2011 and mini-games in 2012. Over 10,000 copies were sold in the first year alone. Eric and Chris designed and developed most of the first wave of folios. Eric worked on the 20th century battles while Chris worked on the pre-20th century. Joseph worked his design magic in creating the first set of mini-games.
Speaking of individuals joining our team, the personnel working behind the scenes has been growing steadily. Lise’ Patterson joined as Magazine Designer in 2011 and is responsible for the design of Modern War and the updating of World at War and Strategy & Tactics to their current perfect-bound formats. Chris Dickson just joined the team in January as our Web Designer and just finished the update of the DG web site in time for our 25th anniversary celebration. Jon Dalton joined in 2012 as our Ad Sales Manager and is busy selling ads as well as managing sales and market development for S&T and DG. Trishia and Paige are our sales and customer support staff. Seth is a recent SW Asia vet and is our Shipping Manager with Stephen as his assistant. Pearl is our collation specialist and Chris is our inventory specialist. We’ll also mention the primary artists that create those wonderful maps and game components: Joe Youst, Larry Hoffman, Brandon Pennington, and Meridian Mapping.
Thank you to all our employees and contractors. This is truly a team effort to create, produce, and distribute each and every product. The creative team has a passion for military history and gaming and works to include new design elements in every game. Every game then gets polished in development and tested and proofed. In this last regard, there is a growing cast of gamers helping out with multiple rounds of proofing every article and issue, and reviewing every game before and after printing as we continue to improve the quality of our products. Thanks to everyone involved!
History in the making: virtual edition and online gaming (2013-2016)
Right now, we are working on creating the next step in the development of our magazines: digital/virtual editions. These virtual editions will contain everything from the print editions plus additional content, interactive features such as animated maps, and linked videos about the article topics as well as editorial and designer video commentary. We’ll premiere virtual editions in 2014.
We’re also bringing the HexWar on-line gaming site into the DG HQ. We intend to continue building up the site content with computer editions of our recent folio and mini-games. We also are creating stand-alone computer editions of our solitaire games (starting with the computer edition of Struggle for the Galactic Empire to be released in June 2013) that will be available via download.
Other projects are in the research and pre-marketing phases. A fourth magazine is being surveyed right now in S&T#281. An on-line survey is determining whether we will proceed with producing enlarged deluxe editions of some of our games. Another 24 folio and mini-games are in development for 2014 and 2015 along with 36 more magazine games. Boxed games are also in the works: Atlantic Wall, D-Day at Tarawa, and D-Day at Peliliu for 2014 with Alamo to Appomattox, Wellington’s Victory, and Free Mars likely for 2015. In 2016, we’ll be publishing the 300th issue of Strategy & Tactics, the 50th issue of World at War, and the 25th issue of Modern War.
It’s been quite a ride getting to our silver 25th anniversary. We’re already charting the next leg as we look ahead to a 50th anniversary in 2028.