about the universe forum commander Shop Now Commanders Circle
Product List FAQs home Links Contact Us

Saturday, September 08, 2007

And on this day, everything changed

Forty-one years ago today, 8 September 1966, the first episode of STAR TREK appeared on television. Funny how everything changed in that moment.

Star Trek changed the world. It inspired cell phones and made computers a comfortable part of everyday life. It showed us a world where the military could do a lot of good for the nation, at a time when the military was almost despised. In its own way, Star Trek taught us that there were stranger things out there than people who had a different skin color, and that we humans had better stick together and then, collectively, open our minds.

Star Trek died after two years and got a third season only because, for the first time in television history, a wave of mail convinced the network (if only for one brief year) that network executives knew a lot less about what people wanted to watch than they thought they did. And when those network executives had their way a year later and buried Star Trek forever, they found out again that they were wrong and that the people watching television would bloody well decide what was going to be on the air. Star Trek refused to die. It was the most popular "afternoon rerun" and became the staple of college campuses (the people who most watched TV at that time, people who had money to spend). Because of the fanbase demand for Star Trek, you saw a torrent of "alternative ways to get the content to the viewer" including comics, paperbacks, and cartoons. The fact that you have 100 cable channels to pick from today is due, in no small part, to the fact that Star Trek showed that you could find a way to serve the market without letting the big networks tell you what you were allowed to present.

And of course, Star Trek certainly changed my life. I had been a wargamer for about three years by that point (I first played D-Day in 1963) and began to wonder if there might be a game. I read (and didn't much care for) Zocchi's Star Fleet Battle Manual when it came out. And of course, one day in 1975, I was playing Jutland while watching Star Trek reruns and (grabbing some graph paper left over from my homework at engineering school) invented Star Fleet Battles.

Like the original, SFB became a game that would not die (even before it was published in 1979). My gaming group was so enthralled with it, that whenever we got together to play AH or SPI games, somebody inevitably asked "where is that star trek thing you did?" and we played that instead. I did a dozen versions over those four years, and nobody minded much that the rules were mostly in my head (even after we published it, the rules were still mostly in my head). When JagdPanther (the WW2 wargame magazine I ran) was a running business with an office and a whopping $100 in mail order sales every week, any time in the office not actually working on games like "Poland-1939" and "Anvil-Dragoon" and "March on India" and "Airborne" was spent playing SFB using a set of hand-typed and photocopied rules (with two separate lists of typed rules changes, one matching the green marks in the original, and the other matching the magenta marks) and photocopies of SSDs. The gang thought it was a major improvement when I started using a ruler to draw straight lines on the graph paper, and rolled the graph paper through a typewriter to put labels on the boxes.

Then there was the day when Lou Zocchi, who did the first Trek game (which I didn't like) was so impressed with SFB that he gave me the phone number for the guy who gave us our first license.

SFB died and came back to life more times than I can remember, just like Star Trek itself. When my original TFG partner and I split up the company, he found he couldn't keep in business without SFB sales (even if it meant dealing with me) and I found I couldn't get anybody else to print it. When he sold out and the new owners decided to drop SFB, they found out they had nothing else anybody wanted and had to bring SFB back. And when another set of new TFG owners went broke, the wholesalers screamed for me to "save it" from the wreckage. And, two years ago, SFB was reborn again (without actually dying) as Federation Commander.