Why do I like OGRE and GEV?
Let's start at the beginning which, generally, is the best place to start when telling any story. Try back when I was 11 years old (1980), my parents sent me off to an Episcopal Church Summer camp ("Bratton Green" outside of Jackson, MS) for a week and I was bored out of my mind with camp songs and other good little camper activities. Being somewhat more advanced mentally than my age would let on, I happened to have the good fortune of running into Greg Day, a highly evolved human being similar in intellectual advancement to myself. Greg was in the same boat as I was, bored out of his mind for five days of youthful camp silliness that was entertaining only to children half as mentally developed as we were. Luckily, Greg had brought with him a wonderful little hobby item he had just bought on the way to camp; a "Micro Game" from a company called Metagaming, in Austin TX. The game was called "OGRE" and for the next five days of Summer camp, Greg Day and I took turns trying to kill that lumbering behemoth, trying to save our Command Post, and making up new rules. Long into the night I sat under the covers of my bunk bed, flashlight in hand, long after the 'lights out' command was given, doodling sketches of new units, drawing OGREs, nuclear mushroom clouds, power suited infantry, armored hovercraft and coming up with new rules and optional ways of playing the game. In the classic realm of mind candy, "OGRE" was a tasty treat indeed.
Greg and I kept in touch for about a year after summer camp and we were always talking about OGRE, the little Micro-Game (Micro-Game #1, I believe). I purchased my own copy (cut the yard to get my allowance, then rode my 10 speed bike down to the local hobby shop 7 miles away to be able to pick up the $2.95 (at that time) Micro Game). I introduced my close circle of friends to the game and it was an instant success. A few years later, I purchased the editions that came in the black plastic case. My friends rapidly got hooked on OGRE, and later GEV and Shockwave, and all the optional rules and variant units that we thought up to go with these games.
There were other Micro-Games that I owned and played; Melee, Wizard, Ice War, Sticks and Stones, Warp War, Invasion Of The Air Eaters, Holy War, Black Hole, Rivets, Starleader Assault, Helltank, Helltank Destroyer and a host of others (still looking for a copy of CHITIN ...). Micro-Games, I think, were probably the intellectual equivalent of a game cartridge for your home video game system, small enough to fit in your back pocket or in a backpack but large enough to require your imagination and your brain to be used. I still have most of these Micro-Games, complete. They were that good, good enough to keep for over two decades. But not one of those Micro-Games came as close to wasting so many after-school afternoons or filling so much spare space in spiral bound notebooks (long before word processors were a household item) as the games presented to us by Steve Jackson and his vision of the 21st century tactical nuclear battlefield.
Six different copies of OGRE and GEV quickly expanded to fill an old, unused ping pong table! The early '80's were a time when hex sheets were readily available at the local hobby shop (and copies could be made at our parents' offices on their photocopiers) and the idea of an allowance pool caught on. Soon we all contributed a pack of OGRE / GEV sized hex sheets to the communal effort. People would bring in photocopies of the counter sheets on heavy card stock and there would be an hour, more or less, of group scissor action as we added the spare counters to our collection. Counters were divided by unit type and nationality, stored in Ziploc bags in old shoe boxes and later Tupperware containers and plastic tackle boxes (the kind you could subdivide into different compartments). The Summer of 1981 was memorable... through our collective efforts and the contribution of some of the more talented artists in the group, we had produced an amazing ping-pong table sized combat map full of marshes, swamps, cities, craters, nuked ruins, rivers, lakes, beaches, ocean gulfs, mountains, roads and highways, all hand drawn and hand colored. We used thin balsa wood rods, the kind that you buy in bulk at a hobby shop for your RC airplane hobby, and we stood around the table, each with our own copy of a CRT and our favorite dice, using the balsa wood rods to move counters that we couldn't reach on the table, all like some generals holed up in an underground bunker. One guy spray painted his balsa wood rod and that was it, we all had a different color rod to point at units and used a small piece of doubled over tape on one end to "collect" expired units without disturbing other units or to retrieve units in order to flip them over from active to disabled status and back again when required. One player went so far as to show up wearing a black beret and another a German officer's hat and trench coat (artifacts on loan from his grandfather). The stage was set, alliances were made (and broken) and the drama was ever present.
I think the dimensions of the map were like 8 feet by 6 feet (2.5m by 2m) and it trailed off some on the edges (which led to some creative youthful experiments in the use of foul language when someone, in a momentary lack of caution, accidentally bumped a protruding edge and caused the hundred plus counters to shift randomly). All in all, it was an incredible group effort that led to many long Summer days that year. If a GEV, following the added road bonus, stayed on the main road that led from the long end of the map to the other long end of the map, it would take the speeding GEV fifteen turns to clear the board using double movement and road bonus. Our giant OGRE map lasted three months of intensive gaming, until the Cocker Spaniel of the guy who owned the ping pong table decided to jump up on the table one night and... well, dogs will be dogs and that was pretty much the end of the Mother of all OGRE maps.
After SHOCKWAVE was released, it seemed that Steve Jackson Games forgot about OGRE and GEV. There was a long drought of OGRE related goodness from SJG and with it came a decline in our own gaming. No new supplements were introduced and SJG started on new projects such as GURPS and ILLUMINATI as we moved from OGRE and GEV to CAR WARS (and CW's various supplements) and then on to real cars and girls. The rumble of the OGRE and the scream of the GEV lift fans grew to a distant tremor and a barely heard whistle as our teenage years came on strong. Fast girls, fast times, fast cars and fast motorcycles replaced fast raids against choice military targets and we never put another group effort together like we did that first time oh so long ago. Time, like any army, marches on.
OGRE and its various accessories became a cherished memory, the close knit group of friends who met every afternoon after elementary school to play OGRE and GEV slowly dwindled one by one, some moved away to different states, others lost interest, others went off to school and came back changed, others left the game permanently, until only I was left, with my yellowed and much tattered copy of THE OGRE BOOK (first edition), my copies of OGRE and GEV in their black plastic cases, lots of spare counters, original maps neatly folded and put away, and a lot of good, fun memories. OGRE became something to talk about in my later teenage years, every now and then I would run into someone who had played the game, or knew of it, but no one had heard of any new supplements or products for the game. The few chances that I had to introduce new players to the game quickly made OGRE / GEV converts who in turn set off on long Grail-like quests to find copies of the long out of print game.
Sometime in the early '90's, there was a brief resurrection in the genre when the OGRE miniatures rules appeared. Truth be known, I was never really attracted to the OM scene, namely because, for me, OGRE was pure in its original content and packaging. It's hard to be a "micro-game" when you have to transport 50 painstakingly painted and fragile miniatures to and fro, you lose a lot of what made OGRE special in the first place, a game on the go that you could take with you anywhere. OGRE, in its original format, was something that you could throw in your backpack with your school books and maybe meet in the lounge, between classes, to have a quick game. It was like chess or checkers, only with a story and far more interesting playing pieces. If you ran out of time to play, that wasn't a problem because you could just fold up the map with the counters still on it, tuck it in the storage box, drop in the rule book, pocket your pair of dice and head off for class. Not so with the line of OGRE miniatures which tended to stay at one person's house and live on high shelves away from small pets and younger siblings when not in active use.
For me (and a lot of other OGRE players whom I have talked to over the years), OGRE Miniatures just wasn't the same as the OGRE cardboard chit game. OGRE was great, because it was fast, simple, inexpensive, and wide open to both speculation and variation. OGRE was best because it was a tabletop game in the strictest sense. You could grab your copy of OGRE or GEV, clear off the coffee table, and spend the next hour brooding over your units in the same way you see old men stare at a checker board in the city park on a sunny weekend. You could get lost in a little box, in a barely 16 page front and back rule book that was 3/4 the size of your average paper back book. It looked more like a set of instructions that would come with a new VCR rather than one of the most addictive and thought provoking war games of all time.
Fast forward to sometime in 1999 ... I was also on a CON drought, having not been in the mood or desire to visit any local sci-fi conventions. Somehow, I got talked into going to the New Orleans Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival (NOSF3), an utterly forgettable experience, to be sure, due primarily because it seemed to be put on by rank amateurs who didn't have the first clue about how to host a sci-fi convention.
But there was ONE highlight to that whole sordid morass ... I met Steve Jackson, face to face and one to one.
There was a big SJGames booth set up in the dealer's room, and there was this guy who, if I remembered correctly, kind of looked like what I knew Steve Jackson looked like. I thought he was just another dealer. Jeans, T-shirt, dealer pass clipped on, etc. It was just him, no one else and he was frantically setting up a booth of all SJGames material. I kept looking at the material, and then I realized it was all SJGames material. Nothing else. I looked up as this man came around the outside of the booth with a cardboard box full of GURPS supplements and started to assemble a hand made display. It kind of looked like Steve Jackson... So I took a chance...
"Excuse me. Are you Steve Jackson?" I asked nonchalantly.
"That's me." the man said, looking up from his work at the question.
And just like that ... No haughtiness. No condescension, no arrogance.
Steve Jackson fit my image of him to a 'T'. A gamer who had done well but despite all the success he was still a gamer at heart. He wasn't an empty suit, he wasn't a figurehead with no teeth. He was just the kind of person I had always imagined. Polite, willing to talk while he set up his booth ... and always full of energy, like another product was going to spontaneously explode out of his mind. When I extended my hand and offered a "Thank You" he offered his hand in return and asked simply "For what?"
"OGRE." I said.
His smile was worth that one word and we talked for a few minutes while he set up his wares. I explained how much fun time and fond memories OGRE had given to me in my youth. Steve said that he ran into people who stilled played OGRE or GEV. He had a few ideas and products, but he didn't mention anything new supporting the original game. After ten minutes, far more than I ever thought I would spend talking to the creator of OGRE, (but that's the kind of person Steve is) I shook his hand again, thanking him once more, and leaving with a feeling that I had just met one of the neatest people in the world.
And you know what? I had.
So its come full circle now. As of this writing, the latest re-releases of the OGRE and GEV line include the original two games now packaged and boxed as one set. There is the SHOCKWAVE supplement, a supplement that contains additional maps and rules, a re-release of the OGRE BOOK (second edition now with added material not found in the first edition) and of course, GURPS(tm) OGRE for those who want to roleplay in the world of The Last War.
Thank you, Steve Jackson, for the many years of fond memories, for sparking my imagination, for the countless hours of tactical war gaming and for the ideas and technology that you have shared with the rest of us. With this site, I hope to spread some of the same fun and memories that you and your games / work have given to me over the years. I hope that those who journey to this site will leave wanting to play OGRE and GEV and that those who once played will again look for their copies of these games, dust them off and try one more time to take out that CP or that OGRE for old time's sake.
Here's to fond memories past, many more fond memories to come, and to all the MIA and KIA members of the group that I used to belong to oh so long ago.
circa 1999 A.D.