Roll the Bones with Games Quarterly

Games Quarterly is a print magazine covering a variety of non-electronic games; from RPGs to board games to collectable games to war games, if you’ve ever picked up a pair of six-siders, this magazine has something for you.

The magazine’s content is diverse as its subject matter. It includes the expected industry news and interviews with game designers, but also columns and scenarios for many of the genres it covers. Game Quarterly’s ads–many of which are for games I’d never heard of before–are almost reason enough to pick up the magazine in and of themselves.

The issue I read–Fall 2004–includes a scenario (complete with additional playing pieces) for Settlers of Catan, an interview with game designer Stuart Kaplan of U.S. Game Systems, a column on “The Forge” indie RPG Web site by Peter Atkinson (yes, that Pete Atkinson) and a smattering of other columns and news (including one column, called “Common Wisdom”, in which author Jeff Tidball offers tips and tricks for improving your game, such as using a paper clip to track your characters vital statistics).

I was pleased with the magazine’s content — it approaches the hobby from the level of the fan/enthusiast, and the love that the writers and editors have for the game is self-evident. I wasn’t interested in everything the magazine had to offer (The “WWE Raw Deal Tournament Kit” is something I’ll never buy or play) but there’s enough different content to keep me satisfied. It’s just how the content was presented that drove me nuts.

Design Flaws

Unfortunately the layout and design of the Games Quarterly falls far below the benchmarks of mainstream magazines (or even established gaming mags like Dragon or Dungeon).

The magazine doesn’t appear to have any hard-and-fast design rules. Headline fonts and sizes vary dramatically from article to article, and there are few visual clues to distinguish the magazine’s different kinds of content. At a glance, there’s very little to separate a review from a column, or a column from a news item. That’s bad for the full-page articles, but its worse when two articles end up on the same page, and all that separates the two stories are a logo, some boxed text, and a little black dotted line.

Pull quotes styles differ radically from section to section; some have a two-color drop shadow (i.e. red text with a dark black shadow on yellow back ground, then black, with no shadow and an orange crescent surrounding the text). The magazine makes frequent use of lightly screened background images, once again without any real rhyme or reason for doing so.

There’s little structure to the layout of the magazine’s editorial content. The Settlers of Catan scenario, for example, is preceded by an overview of new game mechanics introduced in WizKid’s HeroClix: Mutant Mayhem expansion and an industry “how to” article about the importance of having an index in your product. The thing that kills me is that there is more than enough content for the magazine to be able to group it by type (i.e. “industry news”, then “columns”, then “design and interviews”, and finally “scenarios”) The end result of this editorial cacophony is a disjointed editorial product could use a redesign and a strict style guide.

The content itself though, is solid. The articles were fast and enjoyable reads, and I learned a lot about the industry and individual games by reading it. The content’s enough to make this magazine required reading for anyone thinking of getting in to the business.

Fortunately, readers can try the magazine before buying it; each issue is being posted to the Web as PDF files. That’s a great promotional tool that I wish other magazines would use; even if only one or two issues a year end up on the Web, that’s still enough for would-be readers to decide if the magazine is worth picking up. Check out the latest issue of Games Quarterly here.

Final Analysis

Games Quarterly is a young magazine with enjoyable content but poor layout and visual design. Its flaws won’t prevent readers from enjoying it, but they do prevent the magazine from rising to the level of its more established peers. The magazine covers a wide number of gaming niches, many of which get little to no coverage in the gaming press, and that alone makes it worth checking out. But if they want to win my loyalty, they need to bring some order to the visual chaos.

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