Friday, July 10, 2009

Amazing Garbage

I don’t like this cover.

There’re a number of reasons why. I think it’s too slick. I think it calls to mind Rifts more than The World of Synnibarr. I'm not even sure the game is worthy of a new edition cover.

Mainly, though, it’s because it’s not the cover I had on MY copy, a cover that fit so well with the game itself. I tried in vain to find an image of the old cover on-line with no luck. Since I no longer own the game, I’ll try my best to describe what I remember.

A winged, angelic woman in tall boots, skimpy hot pants, and an Olivia Newton John headband with a fantasy sword and ray pistol stands over the fallen bodies of several lion-headed humanoids, also with ray guns. The landscape is barren, red-brown rock perhaps what you’d expect the surface of Mars to be like. Cartoony, over-the-top, scifi-fantasy combat monsters. On Mars.

I’m not going to bother reviewing the game. There are plenty of opinions floating around the web. Some (few) people enjoy it. Others (me) find it to be an unrepentant piece of garbage.

What’s interesting is why I ever bought it in the first place. I met the designer when he was first pushing this game.

At least, I think it was Raven…I don’t remember him telling me his name, though, so perhaps it was a buddy who was helping to market Synnibarr. Anyway, here’s the story:

I’m from Seattle. I was born in Seattle (NW Hospital), grew up here, went to college here, got married here, work downtown, and own a house in Greenwood.

For whatever reason, Seattle appears to have a pretty substantial gamer community. I don’t know why, exactly. We tend to be fairly edu-ma-cated. We have a lot of transplants, including many folks from the mid-west. It tends to rain frequently (making Boy Scout camping miserable, but indoor gaming fun).

Wizards of the Coast and “Magic the Obsession” started around here. The cool-but-kinda-clunky HEX is one of the more recent “big package” RPGs to come out of here.

Anyway (the story)…I was taking the #7 bus home from high school once upon a time when I encountered a young man with sandy colored hair and blue jeans that introduced me to his newly designed game. I myself may have been reading an RPG on the bus which prompted him to talk about his game. He seemed very mellow and “normal” as he introduced me to some of the basic concepts and a huge blue, three ringed binder with the manuscript.

I don’t actually remember much of his pitch except perhaps that it promised…well, you know, all the things promised on the blurb of the book. In fact, he may still have been in the process of designing it.

It was with some surprise that I actually found The World of Synnibarr in my game shop some time later.

I can’t remember the name of the place…Games and Gizmos, maybe? Whatever its name, it used to be down on The Ave, just north of 45th in the University District. Later, it was bought out by Wizards of the Coast, who even later purchased the whole retail space to put up their giant flagship Seattle store/gaming center…which closed up years ago and has since reverted to normal retail, albeit sans any game store. F’ing WotC.

Anyhoo, the original published version of his game consisted of two or three of these large, blue binders stacked on a game table. The cover had a black imprint of a dragon-looking creature...the same image that was present on the back of the "angel cover" edition. I don’t remember if there were interior illustrations or not.

To me, I was amazed. Not at the size or the quality or the scope of the game/rules…I was amazed that I had met an honest-to-goodness, self-published game designer! For all I knew, this guy would be the next Gary Gygax! And I had met him! And here was his game, that he’d showed me on the bus, and he had did what he had said he was going to do…packaged it and was now selling it.

Remember, this back before the internet or pdfs, folks…we’re talking 1990 or thereabouts.

I didn’t buy the game then (the little money I had for games was either taken up acquiring the new Vampire or Rifts line, both of which I collected diligently while in high school). But sometime years later I found the first slickly published copy of The World of Synnibarr (with the angel cover) and remembering the guy and his blue binder game, decided I owed it to myself to finally pick it up now that I had the opportunity and the ready cash.

I was, of course, disappointed.

Over the years, I have collected many games and only a few have been “sold back” to the used game shop. The World of Synnibarr was one of them. But today, right now, I wish I hadn’t. Not because I want to read it for a laugh (as some people do), and definitely not because I want to play it (as only crazy people do).

I should have kept the damn thing for inspiration. One guy personally designed HIS grand opus and sold it…sold it successfully enough to merit at least three different editions that I’ve seen, including the current incarnation. Sold it despite being near universally derided by designer peers and gamers alike. Sold it without selling out to Hasbro.

That’s a goddamn worthy accomplishment people.
If I can find an "angel cover" edition in the used section of my game shop, I'll re-buy it again...if only I could get an autographed copy!


  1. Here's the cover you described.

    1. @ Tim:

      That's it! That's my baby! Thanks!
      ; )