Illuminati, Nuclear War, and Family Business are all "beer and pretzels" games. They aren't generally taken seriously, they're great for times when brain power is ebbing, and lend themselves to a jocular atmosphere with drink flowing and plenty of snacks handy. While not the oldest of the genre, one of the best is undoubtedly Wiz-War (reviewed in TGR 1.1). An unpredictable, often silly game of maze navigation, treasure acquisition and magical combat, Wiz-War has gathered a loyal cult following. Chessex recently published the new sixth edition of the game, and a new second expansion set is now available from the game's author. That man is Tom Jolly of Jolly Games, and Tom recently took time out from his schedule to answer some questions for The Game Report.
TGR: Tell me something about yourself: age, education, occupation, etc.
TJ: Okay, I'm 39, have a BS in Electronics, and an MS in Astronautical Engineering. I work at Lockheed Tech. Ops. Corp at Vandenberg on Titan IV launch support. Besides games, I also like comics and physics, which is an odd combination, but it works out. Married with kids, so that takes up a lot of time, too, but I make time for designing games. Somehow.
TGR: How long have you been interested in games? What kind of games do you most enjoy playing?
TJ: I've played games all my life, but didn't get involved with RPG stuff until around '78, with D&D and The Fantasy Trip (for those who remember Steve Jackson's first RPG), and got exposed to a lot of other games in the Cal Poly gaming club (Society of Wizards and Warriors, believe it or not). As for my favorite games (besides Wiz-War, of course), I rate Cosmic Encounter highly, and enjoy GURPS, Go, Combots, Qubic, Car Wars, D&D, Pinochle, Magic, Risk...well actually, just about anything at least once. I tend to avoid wargame stuff mostly because I don't like reading a lot of rules.
TGR: How long have you been designing games?
TJ: I think Wiz-War was the first one, around 1980. It went to a number of publishers (Eon, Midkemia, Steve Jackson, Mayfair) and got rejected before I finally decided to print it myself.
TGR: What's the story behind the creation of Wiz-War?
TJ: That's a rather long story, but I'll try to abbreviate it. The first version was due to a "great idea" that I shared with some friends, and we sat around and came up with a lot of spells written on little cards. The first board was 12x12, one piece, and the object was to run around to 8 Oracles, in order, and you could collect 2 new spells at each Oracle. To say the least, it wasn't ideal. The present form was a slow evolution. In 1985, I hand-silkscreened 100 boards for the "first print run", then had cards printed up (100 decks), and tried selling the game in baggies at a small San Luis Obispo con. Even with really bad graphics, the game did fairly well, so I was encouraged to go from really bad graphics to mediocre graphics and a boxed edition. That first run was for 1000 units.
TGR: Why did you decide to publish and market the game yourself? Many people would be daunted by the investment, risk, and effort involved. What led you to overcome these factors?
TJ: Many of the people that rejected it as it went from company to company said very nice things about it even though they said it wasn't their style. The initial risk (what with doing the hand-work) was very little, about $200, the feedback from that run giving incentive to do a real print run. The boxes were the only severe cost on the next run, at about $1000, while the other components I could afford to do shorter runs on (like the cards), so I didn't have more than about $2000 into it on the first print. Plus, all the graphics were free (since I did 'em). I knew the game was good and I wanted it on the market. That's what made me persevere.
TGR: What were the biggest obstacles?
TJ: Money. Distribution. The usual ones.
TGR: What were the greatest rewards?
TJ: Letters from people telling me they enjoyed Wiz-War (usually accompanied by lots of questions about the rules). There is no greater reward than hearing that someone has enjoyed something you've created.
TGR: Were you surprised by its cult popularity?
TJ: I still wonder about this "cult" thing. I think it isn't cult popularity as it is just not particularly well- known yet. There seems to be continuous growth in its sales, so word of mouth is getting it out of cult status. I think it achieved this status BECAUSE of the slow growth...I never advertised it, I just let the popularity grow based on word-of-mouth sales. It worked and is still working surprisingly well. I get more and more inquiries from outside the US. Even sent copies to Tasmania and McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. Internet gossip has done well for sales, too.
TGR: How did you hook up with Chessex [the current publisher of Wiz-War]?
TJ: Ran into them at Dundracon. At the time I was distributing through Berkeley Games, which Don Reents owned. He was talking about setting up some manufacturing stuff with Chessex, which he also owned, and offered to pick up Wiz-War. We talked, and 2 years later he picked it up, then later picked up the Expansion #1, and has yet to buy Expansion #2.
TGR: How much time does Jolly Games take up?
TJ: Lots. I probably spend 15-20 hours a week on it outside my regular job. But I really enjoy it, too. Nothing quite as thrilling as designing a game and finding out it's fun. Boy, I've designed some dogs, too. Maybe 20 games all in all, with only 6 or 7 mostly debugged and playable.
TGR: Can we look forward to future Wiz-War expansions? If so, when and what?
TJ: Good question. I'm getting a little burned out on it, but I've also got a file full of new spells that folks keep sending as suggestions, and I've always wanted to do little "Encounter Rooms" for Wiz-War, which you could patch into the existing boards. Even wrote up rules for it. If Expansion #3 happens, though, it will be at least a year before I put it out.
TGR: What other future offerings can we look forward to?
TJ: Hopefully quite a few. I've got 3 or 4 I'm actively working on, and I'm going to be rather vague on all of them for the obvious reason (gamer paranoia). There's a space-trader-warfare game (you've seen lots of those, this one is Way different), a super-heroes card/board game with a somewhat Wiz-Warish flavor to it, an asteroid miner card game (maybe a board game...I've designed both), a game called RATS (remember Ben?), a game that combines fantasy or combat RPG's with gambling (TSR hates the concept), and Primrose Path, a unique strategy game that (maybe) Wizards of the Coast will pick up. Oh yeah...TRAPS...a card/board game...the title is rather self-explanatory.