RIP: Rick Loomis, Founder of Flying Buffalo, Inc.

Buffalo has never been a huge player in the board/RPG industry, but they’ve been around for a very long time and there was one place where they absolutely ruled: play-by-mail (PBM) games. Rick was a pioneer when he started running games while in the Army from shoeboxes in the barracks! After he left the Army, he found a programmer, Steve McGregor (also deceased) who coded them for a Raytheon computer with magnetic core memory and punched tape storage!

The initial games were Battle Plan and Star Web, conquer the earth and conquer the universe, respectively. A financial simulator (conquer Wall Street?) came later, then microcomputers came along and bred Heroic Fantasy, Star Lord – with a color map! (took bloody forever to print!), Galactic Conflict, and a conquer medieval England game whose name eludes me for the moment.

All these games were computer moderated. Every turn you would receive a printout of your position. You fill out your order sheet and send it in. They’re all typed in, and the program would resolve actions in specific sequences, game-dependent. No bias. New printouts generated and mailed, later emailed.

VERY popular with overseas military!

There were other companies in this space, but Buffalo was best! And they bought out a couple of competitors, and still run some PBM games, though I suspect they’re play-by-email. When Steve started coding on the micros, he had the foresight to write in UCSD Pascal using their bootable P-System OS that will run on anything, so some of this code is over 30 years old and runs just fine on contemporary hardware! Which is a good thing since Steve passed away some 15+ years ago.

Flying Buffalo also was a pioneer in fantasy role-playing games. They launched one of the early competitors to Dungeons and Dragons, Tunnels & Trolls, by Ken St. Andre – who is still alive. The beautiful thing about T&T is that it uses ONLY six-sided dice – none of this polyhedral nonsense. Much quicker and easier to play! And T&T HAS HOBBITS, NOT HALFLINGS! Tolkien’s people were able to cow Gygax and company, but when they went after KSA and Buffalo, they produced prior art that predated JRR and showed where he got the name Hobbit from, and they went away quietly!

Tunnels & Trolls is alive and well, having recently gone through a major revision and Kickstarter.

Side by side with T&T, Flying Buffalo produced many solo dungeons, letting you have choose your own adventures when you couldn’t get a group together. These were my first fantasy RPG experience before I graduated high school back in the ’70s, and I loved it. I subscribed to their house publication, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, waiting for the next solo to come out and snarfing it up ASAP.

Then I became mobile, started taking college classes, and found out that Buffalo was about 10 minutes away from my school! I started hanging out there, typing away on my TRS-80 Model 100, either doing some programming or working on homework or maybe writing some character background for a role-playing game. Rick saw me and offered me a job.

And that’s how I started working for a game company.

I don’t remember how long I worked there, probably just a couple of years. Initially I did what I was hired for: enter addresses into the Commercial Mailing List. Rick attended LOTS of game conventions. Not just Origins and GenCon, but all of the LA game cons (there were three Gateway cons at the time), San Jose, all over the place. Basically he was gone pretty much every weekend during the spring and summer. At these conventions he’d collect names and addresses of people who wanted to receive gaming information in the mail – yes, people opting-in to be spammed. Then a game company would approach Rick and say ‘I need a thousand addresses in the south east.’ We would figure out the zip codes, print up the labels, and mail them to the customer. And Rick would collect some cash.

Rick also always went to Essen in Germany, which is a game con that I <i>really</i> want to attend some year. I went to a lot of the Gateway cons with him, helping him run the booth. He was one of the founders of GAMA, the Game Manufacturer’s Association, and served as president for a number of years.

I also processed PBM games, unloaded trucks, helped in the game store, stuffed game turns into envelopes and ran them through the postage meter, basically the same stuff that everyone else did. And on the nights and weekends we would play games until all hours, sometimes literally until the sun came up!

And eventually I left. But I never stopped associating with Flying Buffalo. I made many literally life-long friendships there. I’ve lost contact with several, and this is the fourth death of a Buffalo, and it was the Buffalo Prime.

Rick was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year. As he was a veteran, the VA covered a lot, but not all of the bills. He was put on an experimental treatment plan and seemed to be responding well to it. Most recently he was in a recovery facility and there was optimism that he would be able to return home. Earlier this week a GoFundMe was established to raise $20,000 to cover medical bills beyond what the VA would cover.

That amount was raised in a little over 24 hours.

Steve Crompton, the staff artist for Buffalo, took his laptop to the facility where Rick was and read him the comments and encouragements that people posted, and it seemed to hearten him. I hope he appreciated mine: I chipped in $25 and also posted it to my High Altitude Game Design blog which feeds my Twitter feed. But pancreatic cancer is a bitch, and it got him in the end. Rick passed away yesterday just hours before his birthday today.

He is survived by two sisters. The donation drive currently stands at a little under $40,000, so the medical debt is cleared and the sisters will be able to pay for a decent burial. Rick had been planning to sell Flying Buffalo to a company, I don’t know who, so I have no idea what those plans are or what will become of it.

GoFundMe drive to help Rick Loomis, founder of Flying Buffalo

Rick was smitten (smoted?) with cancer and even though he is an army veteran, the bills have piled up to over $20,000 and he needs help.

Flying Buffalo is one of the oldest game companies in continuous existence, producing Tunnels & Trolls and all of its spin-off solo dungeons, Nuclear War and its two sequels, the recently republished Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, Death Dice, and just so much good stuff.  He is one of the founders of the Game Manufacturers Association and served as their President for an insane number of years.  He was an icon at a crazy number of conventions, frequently on the road throughout the spring and summer more than he was at home!

I am proud to have worked at Flying Buffalo, Rick asked me if I wanted a job when he saw me programming away on my TRS-80 Model 100, probably either doing some coding in BASIC or writing a paper for my psych class – the school that I was attending was only about 5 miles away.  And that was my first IT job!

It was also my introduction into learning that gaming is so much more, and ultimately led me to getting in to game design, which really opens your mind in to doing so much more.

The GoFundMe is seeking $20,000 to help Rick and his sisters with his bills.  It started a day ago and is already over 75% of the way there!  The outpouring of love for Rick and Buffalo has been truly amazing.  Even five or ten bucks would be appreciated.  You don’t need an account on GoFundMe, but you do need a credit or debit card.

GoFundMe Campaign Link

Flying Buffalo’s Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes is being funded for reissue on Kickstarter!

To further age myself, I remember helping unload the truck when the first print run of this game arrived at Flying Buffalo when we were located at the 52nd Street location in Tempe!

This game by Michael Stackpole has been inert for a long time, it’s nice to see it get a refresh.  It was one of the earliest contemporary adventure games, coming out around the same time as Hero’s Danger International and Justice, Inc. – of course TSR’s Top Secret preceding everybody having come out around 1980.  MSPE is based on Flying Buffalo’s Tunnels & Trolls mechanics and introduced a skills system to the T&T oeuvre.  One feature that I particularly liked was a formula that allowed you to create your own firearms: you could look up a particular weapon from a Shooter’s Bible or gun magazine, find out the cartridge specifications, plug them into the formula, get the stats and you’re off to the show.

We spent a lot of time playing this game, one of my favorite characters came straight from Monty Python: Inspector Dimm of Scotland Yard, a detective on assignment in America.  He carried a Charter Arms .44 Special.  We got in a big fight with a tremendous number of goons, I shot someone, rolled hit location: groin.  Shot someone else, rolled hit location: groin.  All of the goons instantly surrendered.

This release will include material from the 1986 Sleuth Productions edition, several corrections, new material, and updated artwork.  $6 will get you the PDF, $18 a print edition and PDF, $25 a print copy signed by Mike Stackpole and the PDF, and the crew is currently researching whether a hardback edition can be done!

The Kickstarter reached fully funded status today,which is awesome!  And as of this posting, the campaign will be running for another 16 days, so plenty of time to get your order in, but no time to dawdle!  One excellent supplement, Stormhaven, is available directly from Flying Buffalo as well as the two Mugshots books and the solo adventure, The Adventures of the Jade Jaguar, here.

Yet another Flash Point Kickstarter, with very little time to participate for very little money!

This one, called Tragic Events, does not include a map.  It eliminates the hot spot counters, which some people find confusing.  Personally I have no problem with it, but that’s just me.  It adds a sort-of fate deck of cards to add a more chaotic nature to the fire.  I find that kind of terrifying.  Very nasty stuff happens in that deck!  It will be quite interesting to see how game play changes when it arrives.

The Kickstarter is running for another 32 hours, and only $20 will get you the whole shebang — the deck of cards and ALL of the bonus levels!  Bonuses include many extra cards, three additional firefighter figures, some additional roles, all sorts of goodness.  They’ve worked very hard to increase bonus tiers as the money has flooded in.  One that they didn’t anticipate was heavy demand for the Second Story expansion, which recently went out of print and has been added as an additional purchase level

Personally, I’m not a fan of the role-based figures where you put a colored disk on the base to show who is playing which figure.  I think the entire color of the figure showing who is what is easier to work with, but that’s just me.

And there are rumors of a new map….

Upcoming Arizona Game Conventions – late 2017, early 2018

Rincon is returning to Tucson September 29 to October 1, 2017 at the Sheraton Hotel.  I’ve attended this convention a few times and always had lots of fun.  Definitely recommended.  The Tucson people have a YUUUUGE gaming library that you can borrow from, and tons of good eats to be had in the area.

A new to me event is Crit Hit AZ, a group that runs a (the?) game room at Phoenix ComicCon.  They run multiple events throughout the year, such as a day to support the Souljourner Center, a domestic violence service organization.  Their most recent convention was in July at the Phoenix Airport Hilton, I would expect similar timing and possibly the same location for 2018.  Like MaricopaCon, they fund their convention via Kickstarter and that will kick off sometime in January 2018.

We have the Arizona Game Fair on February 9-11 at the Mesa Convention Center.  Admission for all three days in advance, if their prices from last year hold steady, looks like $30 for adults.  Their web site is in transition and has some info for last year still up and no info for this year up yet, I’m sure that will be changing soon.  But you can sign up for their mailing list, so that’s worthwhile if you’re in a position to attend.  I’ve heard no reports, good or bad, as to how their event was this year.

And I assume that MaricopaCon will be returning in early August 2018.

Speaking of MaricopaCon, that’s what I’m attending right now.  Thus far I’ve gotten in three games that are new to me (Colt Express, Kittens in a Blender, and Boss Monster) and seen several friends that I pretty much only get to see at game conventions.  So fun is being had.  MaricopaCon, as stated above, is funded via Kickstarter in January/February and chances are very low that any memberships will be available at the door.  This is my second year attending, and this year I got to haul my wife to it.

Last year a friend of mine had purchased an extra ticket for someone who was unable to attend, so I got in for free.  This year I purchased three memberships and was able to give one to a friend of mine who is celebrating his birthday this week, so I got to pay it forward and that was cool.  I’m hoping that he, and some other local friends of mine, will actually buy memberships next year so more of my gaming companions will be there to share the insanity.

A Flying Buffalo Bundle!

I shouldn’t buy this as I’ve been unemployed for a year, but I’m going to.  Bundle of Holding is offering a Flying Buffalo/Catalyst Bundle consisting of: Grimtooth’s Traps 1-4, CityBooks 1-7, Treasure Vault, and Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes (MSPE) AND the MSPE scenario module Adventure of the Jade Jaguar!

This is special to me because I remember the day that the truck with MSPE arrived and helping to unload it when Flying Buffalo was at its 52nd Street location in Tempe!  Fun times.  Lousy pay, but that’s the way the industry was.  Pretty much still is.  But there’s another thing that’s special to me: there’s a lot of my material in some of those books.  While I have hard copies of those books, they are Somewhere, and there’s no easy way for me to lay hands on them.  By getting PDFs of them, at least I can browse them when I want to spend some time strolling down Memory Lane.

To be honest, MSPE isn’t that great of a game, but lots of fond memories playing it over the years.  And with some work to reduce the lethality, it can be quite usable.

What I’ve listed is a combination of both Bundles which is a total of about $20.  The Bundle is available for another 13 days.

Interested in creating computer games? Have we got books for you!

Humble Bundle is selling 17 ebooks worth almost $500 on programming and game design on multiple platforms for the stunning price of $15.  Technologies include: Android, Swift, Unity3D, RPGMaker, Java in LibGDX, and HTML5!  As usual, they’re available in epub, Kindle, and PDF formats and are not encumbered with DRM, something that cannot be said for most computer games. 🙂

Unfortunately, the bundle goes away in about 35 hours from this post.  Sorry for the lateness of this notification, December has been a pretty rough month.  For that matter, the second half of the year has been rough, but that’s the way things go sometimes.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and here’s to a better ’17!  Let’s make gaming great again! 🙂

Have a spare €250 (plus airfare?)

Yesterday, Robin Laws posted about a gaming event in Germany called The Kraken at Schloss Neuhausen (NE of Berlin) in October.  Three days with meals included for €250 or so!  That is a heck of a deal.  And the panels are mostly in English.

Of course, flying to and from, if you’re not already in the area, isn’t exactly chump change.  But Germany in October?!  Man, I’d love to be there.

Humble Science Fiction Book Bundle

This is a heck of a package that is heavy on the classics: Roger Zelazny, George R.R. Martin’s Wildcards, Alfred Bester, Isaac Asimov! In the case of Zelazny, it has both short story collections and the third series of Amber books that were written by John Gregor Betancourt, which I haven’t read. I started reading Zelazny’ The Last Defender of Camelot, and I’m so happy that I did because I had forgotten what an incredible wordsmith that he was. I was re-reading his Amber series last year and I honestly don’t think that it represents his best work, but people will like what they will like.

(personally I copy them in to Dropbox and can load and read them from my desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet)

The bundle is available for both Kindle and ePub formats, is DRM-free, and is available for the next eleven days, so basically through the end of the month. The charities for this bundle help support SFWA’s The Givers Fund, the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital’s Extra Life fund. Currently the highest tier for all the books is only $15.

Bundle of Game Design books!

This bundle is more oriented towards video games, which is fine, it’s just not my particular field of interest (at the moment).  But it does contain one excellent book that is within my interests: Mike Selinker’s Kobald Guide To Board Game Design.  This is a book of essays by well-known game designers, such as Selinker himself, James Ernest (Cheapass Games), Richard Garfield (Magic the Gathering), Jeff Tidball (Pieces of Eight, Cthulhu 500), Matt Forbeck (Marvel Heroes Battle Dice, Brave New World and Lord of the Rings RPGs), Lisa Steenson (Lords of Vegas, Key Largo, Pirates of the Spanish Main), Andrew Looney (Fluxx, et al), and many others.  LOTS of good information on many aspects of board game design, including what makes a good gateway game, how lessons from film making can help design games, personal reflections on trials and tribulations, observations about how to build prototypes, etc.  I thought Andrew Looney’s flowchart on how he creates games was an excellent reflection on a good methodology.  He also suggests using lab books for jotting notes and observations.  It was quite interesting to learn that not only is his background in computer programming, but that some of his code is on the Hubble Space Telescope.  That is quite awesome.

Available for the next 18 days.

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