Redmond Simonsen

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In His Own Words:
The Early History of Modern Wargaming and the Avalon HIll
Game Company

by Charles S. Roberts

Also read the Founding Father article.

 

 

The Charles S. Roberts Awards Museum

1977 Hall of Fame winner

Redmond A. Simonsen

1942-2005 Requiescat in pace (may he rest in peace)

Our View is Better Because We Stood on the Shoulders of a Giant: Redmond A. Simonsen

By Alan Emrich and Rodger B. MacGowan

With great thanks to Redmond’s family and the wargaming hobby community who helped contribute their research to this article

"That is sad news [the death of Redmond Simonsen]. Redmond had a talent that he developed and used... No other graphic artist has had as much impact on the way wargames look, and work. A one-of-a-kind guy if there ever was one." - James F. Dunnigan

Redmond A. Simonsen during the glory days of SPI.There is no doubt that our wargaming hobby is a better place for the contributions made to it by Redmond A. Simonsen. During a time period of both growth and constant changes within our hobby, society, and the world, Redmond Simonsen strode upon our stage with a flinty vision of good taste and style that helped to set game industry standards that still impact our hobby to this day. He was a wellspring of determination and energy. Redmond was always working and pressing to make ours a better and more exciting hobby that was reaching out to a larger audience. Dynamic, talented and organized, friendly visionaries are a blessing to any organization, but we were luckiest of all to have Redmond Simonsen assume his great role when wargaming most needed him.

 The Prologue

Redmond on NYC

Redmond once told me the New York City he grew up in was radically different from the one I knew during the 80s when I lived there.

Redmond was born and raised in the same apartment he lived in all his life until he moved to Texas. He stated that when he was younger, New York wasn't "dangerous" at all, indicating that they never even locked their apartment when going out, and that this was common for all residents, at least in their uptown neighborhood.

Murders and "crime" were also not the constant concern they have become. Muggings were very rare and Officer Clancy was still on the corner with his number 12 shoe telling bums to "move along."

Redmond said the big change began in the early 60s with the massive influx of drugs on the streets. 

Kevin Wilkins

He was never “Red,” but always “Redmond;” neither would he tell what the “A” in his full name, Redmond A. Simonsen, stood for (and while many made guesses, Redmond would never confirm or deny their validity). Now we know.

On Thursday, 18 June 1942, Winston Churchill had just arrived in Washington DC to confer face-to-face for the third time with Franklin Roosevelt regarding a second front after a 27-hour nonstop flight from Scotland. In Russia, the German 11th Army broke through the North Bay defenses around Sevastopol, while in Moscow the Supreme Soviet ratified the mutual assistance treaty with Britain. Rommel’s Afrika Korps was chasing the British 8th Army eastward and began its second siege to Tobruk on this day.

It was also on that fateful Thursday during the height of World War II that Redmond Aksel Simonsen was born in Manhattan to his Norwegian-American parents.

Of his youth, we know little. However, Redmond grew up to serve in the United States Air Force. He went on to earn a bachelors degree in fine arts from the Cooper Union in 1964. (Cooper Union is a uniquely New York institution with a huge endowment, so it charges no tuition, but entry is very competitive and graduates often state that getting into the school was harder than any job interview they ever faced.) Subsequently, he worked as a graphic designer of book jackets (including for Is Paris Burning?), album covers (for London Records) and advertisements for various firms. Redmond was also a lifelong photographer and had sold photos to Time, Newsweek and The New York Times.

The Gaming Industry: Enter Redmond Simonsen

Our story begins in 1966 with the founding of the publication that would bring Redmond Simonsen to our hobby, Strategy & Tactics magazine. During those years of wargaming hobby growth, a United States Air Force staff sergeant, Christopher Wagner, while based in Japan, launched his quarterly publication, Strategy & Tactics magazine. This journal’s mission was to serve as an alternative to The Avalon Hill Game Company’s house organ, The General and brought more depth, substance, and a fresh perspective to the hobby.

Redmond A. Simonsen from an SPI group photo circa 1981.In its third year of publication, Redmond Simonsen began working with Chris Wagner to professionalize the magazine, but the fates had already decided: Strategy & Tactics was floundering (being unable to get much over 1,000 subscribers), and its owner/publisher/editor began to search for a new owner – someone who would assume its current subscription liability. Chris contacted James F. Dunnigan, who had written for the magazine previously and was interested in seeing more of his own wargame designs see the light of publication. Dunnigan agreed to take over the publication of Strategy & Tactics magazine, seeing it as a vehicle for launching and advertising his test series of experimental games that he and some friends had been working on (the Avalon Hill General accepted no outside advertising). In the middle of 1969, for the princely sum of $1, S&T magazine was sold by Wagner to Dunnigan and a new era in the wargaming hobby had begun. Dunnigan found himself in the magazine publishing business in addition to his real desire to publish games.

S&T magazine shifted its operations to New York, which brought graphics ace Redmond Simonsen back into the picture…

“I knew that the magazine, and the games, needed a professional look. Simonsen was a native New Yorker, and a wargamer in addition to being a highly talented artist. So I made him an offer he couldn't refuse: half the business (we later shared some of this with some of the original staff). And together we proceeded to do the deed.” – James F. Dunnigan. The Complete Wargames Handbook

The Ghost of S&T Present

Initially considered a temporary venture by both Dunnigan and Simonsen, Strategy & Tactics magazine, through different owners (TSR, Inc., 3W, and now Decision Games) continues to publish fine content and games under editor Joe Miranda and publisher Christopher Cummins.

 

Simonsen reluctantly agreed and, after a rocky start with its initial New York produced issues, Strategy & Tactics magazine was transformed into the format that it largely maintains to this day: that of a military history magazine with a simulation game in each issue. These early, ragged-edged issues of S&T combined Jim Dunnigan’s early game designs and Redmond Simonsen’s graphics style that, combined, brought fresh air to a hobby that was growing stale under Avalon Hill’s lumbering (one might say “slumbering”) giant shadow. Suddenly, hobbyists found that the number of new games they could select from for purchase each year had doubled in the early 1970s. The team of Dunnigan and Simonsen, for they were very much a team at this point, changed the hobby forever and the pace of its growth and outreach began to noticeably quicken.

“In late 1970, Simonsen and Dunnigan incorporated as Simulation Publications [SPI]. Via a program of advertising, S&Ts circulation began to build and sales of SPI games to its readers began to take on serious proportions. By 1972, SPI was growing exponentially and became a substantial competitor to Avalon Hill, which until SPI’s advent had been the only ship in a very calm sea.” – Redmond A. Simonsen; Napoleon at Waterloo, 2nd Edition, December 1979. 

The Simonsen Way: Graphics & Physical Systems

“During these first three years at SPI (1969-1972), Redmond Simonsen further refined the standards for editing and designing game components. Simonsen also had a flair for editing and this, combined with his artistic skills, created a system for presenting games that has never been surpassed and is still widely imitated.” – Greg Costikyan

Much of what follows about Redmond’s philosophy on various aspects of game making are in his own words; this is indicated in this article by the use of Ariel font (if it’s in this font, it’s Redmond speaking to you). Sources include his chapters in Wargame Design (Hippocrene Books, 1977), various MOVES magazine editorials, plus interviews and other odd bits of writing. Now, let me turn it over to Redmond himself on the subject of Graphics & Physical Systems:

One of the least discussed and least understood aspects of conflict simulation design is, ironically, that which is most obvious: the graphics and physical systems that make a game a reality in the hands and eyes of the gamer. In fact, the better the graphic design, the more likely it will not be noticed. Since, in game design, the overriding mission of the graphic designer is to communicate the substance of the game to the user, heavy-handed or flashy images that call attention to themselves (rather than their message) are actually detrimental. The type in which this book is set is a simple example of this: each letter is well designed and crafted — and yet, when strung into organized arrangements (i.e., words) the individual letters become invisible. If the typeface was eccentric or exotic in design it would be hard to read and would detract from the message rather than convey it.

Graphics Design
as a Military Metaphor

The challenge to the graphic designer is clear: make the information the player uses clear, organized, accessible, and pleasing to look at for long periods of time.

To use a military metaphor, the player is an unspecialized demolitions man defusing a complex bomb and receiving instructions on how to do so via a radio. The game is the bomb, the game designer is on the other end of the radio and the artwork is the radio.

If the radio is faulty, the unclear signal may break the concentration of the demolitions man (with unpleasant results). Now the qualities of a good radio are fairly obvious: good signal-to-noise ratio; adequate range; reliability; and good design of human factors (ease of handling, etc.).

Metaphorically, these qualities translate fairly well into the qualities of good graphic design in games — what is not so clear, however, is exactly what constitutes a good signal-to-noise ratio in graphics or just what value to place on “reliability” (which translates as consistency of format). And although the gamer is not vaporized when faulty graphics causes him to “detonate” the game he’s playing, the fact that it has indeed turned out to be a “bomb” is certainly unpleasant.

Virtually every gamer has had the experience of struggling through what might be an otherwise good game, hampered by the fact that the organization and design of the components prevents him from easily understanding what he is about — and thereby losing concentration and interest in the game.

Redmond A. Simonsen

Aside from the practical matters of production and technique, much of what I’ll be presenting is naturally my own personal “doctrine” developed over the past twelve years (seven of which I’ve spent working on conflict simulation design). Since there is no “one-true-way” in matters of art, my graphic philosophy would doubtless be challenged by other artists and/or gamers. I would like to point out (at the risk of sounding elitist) that that which is super­ficially eye-catching may in the final analysis, not be the best solution for a game/graphics problem — and many non-artists have difficulty in separating that which looks good from that which works well. The two are not mutually exclusive — but neither are they necessarily mutually inclusive. Readers familiar with my work are aware that I am an advocate of form-following-function and will accept my statement that the graphic “philosophy” expounded here is not a mere rationalization of an artist’s quirk of style, but rather a sincere explanation of a point of view developed and put into practice over a number of years.

More than almost any other type of game, simulations are enormous information processing and learning problems. Even the simplest game requires the player to manipulate dozens of discrete pieces (units) in hundreds of possible cell locations (typically hexagonal); sort out thousands of relevant and irrelevant relationships; and arrive at a coherent plan of action (a move) several times in the course of the play of that game. It is a testament to the power of the human mind that anyone can begin to play such complex systems let alone do it well. The average gamer may have several dozen game titles in his library, each of which differs from the other — yet miraculously he can sit down on any given night and (with perhaps a glance or two at the rules) play a creditable game.

? “Put as much as possible on the map.” – Dictum, Redmond A. Simonsen

It is sometimes difficult to separate poor (or good) graphic design factors from poor (or good) game design factors. There is a great deal of feedback between the two. Of course, no matter how good the graphics and physical system, they cannot turn a weak game design into a strong one (although they can sometimes cosmetically hide an inadequate game design, at least for a while). But the reverse is possible: bad graphics and poor physical systems can ruin a good game.

Defining “Physical Systems” in Wargame Design

War in Europe front coverI should perhaps explain what I mean by the term “physical system”. The term is really my personal jargon for the graphic engineering of game elements. The more graphic engineering the artist can build into the game equipment and rules, the easier and more enjoyable becomes the play of the game.

Examples of this are: the Production Spiral used in SPI’s War in Europe game system; Turn-Record Tracks with built in information on special events; Phase Records that are themselves diagrams of a complex sequence of play (such as in SPI’s Fast Carriers); game maps with the set-up printed directly on them; integrated combat results tables (with terrain effects built in). A good physical system is characterized by its organization of game information to such an extent that the presentation actually accomplishes some of the “work” of using the raw information. It is possible (and often is the case) that a game is well-designed graphically, but no serious attempt at physical system design is evident.

Game Maps

? Regardless of how simple the game might be, however, there are some elements of decora­tion that I am dogmatically opposed to. First on my list of such elements is the placement on maps of extensive terrain that has no effect on play whatsoever. Second on the list are orders of battle that go strictly by historical designation without giv­ing the player the option to ignore the designa­tion and set up the game and the reinforcements purely by unit type and value.” –Redmond A. Simonsen

Decoration Versus Design

The best possible combination is a well-designed physical system which has an overlay of just the right amount of mood enhancing decoration.

Usually, the more complex the game system, the less decorated it should be. When counters carry several different values and symbols; when the terrain is highly varied, when the mechanics of play are very involved, it is then that decorative effects should be kept to the bare minimum.

It could almost be stated as a quasi-mathematical theorem: decoration varies inversely with complexity. As you might expect, it could also be said that the amount of graphic engineering required varies directly with the complexity of the game-system.

Any such statements must always be qualified with the comment that there are no hard and fast rules in art. There will always be exceptional cases and mitigating circumstances. Even the borderline between practical and decorative graphic elements can sometimes become fuzzy.

Redmond A. Simonsen

A final sketch of the map is prepared for submission to the Art Department and the graphic designer and the game developer discuss the requirements of the game as they have grown and changed in the course of develop­ment. The graphic designer will “interrogate” the game developer and designer as to what fea­tures of the game can be built into the map in order to facilitate play.

This process is referred to as “interrogation” only half in jest: many times a developer or designer is so close to the design that he cannot imagine the need for var­ious graphic aids to be incorporated into the game-map system. The graphic designer (who should of course be basically familiar with the game) can often draw out of the developer/de­signer important pieces of information that can be successfully integrated into the map design. What follows is a partial list of such questions:

1. Can the basic set-up be printed on the map using unit-pictures or codes?

2. Can the victory conditions be expressed on the map by coding the cities or sites that may be the objectives?

3. Would it be useful to code entry and exit hexes or reinforcement sites?

4. Are there any seasonal/weather changes that can be displayed on the map without interfering with the basic terrain?

5. Are there any rules, other than victory con­ditions, that make some terrain feature or site important enough to warrant a graphic emphasis?

6. If the game involves the production of units, are there any values or devices that can be built into the map to aid the player?

7. If the sketch map indicates more than one terrain feature in a hex, which takes precedence (and can the map be rationalized so that there is only one feature per hex)?

8. Are there any superfluous terrain features on the map or are there any redundant fea­tures that can be eliminated to clarify the actual, operative terrain analysis?

9. What are the effects of the various features? Is there a natural hierarchy that can be expressed graphically?

10. Are there any games in print which use a similar or identical terrain system? How well does that prior system serve the present need?

Other questions will suggest themselves in specific design situations — there is no magic formula for creating a map that is not only pleasant to look at but which, more importantly, serves and supports the game system.

The graphic designer has available to him a range of choices as to how to convey a given type of terrain or map element. These divide into categories which I’ll now list in order of their recognition value (i.e., the ease with which the average person senses the presence and meaning of the graphic element).

1. Color and tone

2. Shape and pattern

3. Symbol

4. Typography and outline

5. Position

Redmond A. SimonsenShapes are allied to patterns and texture as carriers of information. The organic, puffy edge of a patch of forest clues the eye very quickly. The splashy form of slopes and ridges and the irregularity of land masses are other examples of how the shape of large terrain features help to identify them for the gamer. Symbols can be thought of as smaller, more organized shapes. In game map design, symbols are most often used to characterize a “point” feature — something that resides in a single hex or location. Such things as cities, resource centers, industrial sites, forts, railheads, airfields, and ports are examples of terrain features that can successfully be represented by the use of symbols.

Game Map Symbology

Symbols are usually pictographic, i.e., they actually look like stylized versions of the feature they represent — or they are simple drawings of objects associated with the feature being represented — for example, a resource center might be represented with a pick and shovel symbol. Non-pictographic symbols are used when the feature being represented has no obvious object with which it is well associated or when the number of other symbols on the map calls for the use of abstract symbols to avoid confusion. Stars, for example, might be used to denote capital cities or arrows to indicate invasion hexes.

A sample map section from Sixth Fleet.

By changing the color and/or size of the symbols, more variations can be achieved if truly necessary. Symbols can be combined with each other to form ideographs that convey more complex messages than any one symbol could. For example, a map shows three types of installations (ports, fortifications, and airfields) each of which must be characterized as being “major” or “minor” and also be identifiable as to which player possesses them originally. One could use twelve different symbols, but a better solution is to use a symbol in a circle to indicate a “major” installation and a different color to show ownership. This way by using only one more symbol (in conjunction with three basic installation symbols) and one color change one creates a simple system that is easy for the player to remember and easy for the eye to spot on the map.

When designing symbols to be used on maps, some basic considerations must be kept in mind:

Redmond Simonsen
On Map Symbols

When using symbols, the designer must remain conscious of the fact that too many symbols, or symbols that lack recognition value, may actually confuse the player rather than convey the information.

Moreover, symbols suffer from their trait of being obscured by the counters occupying the hexes containing the site being symbolized. This, incidentally, is an im­portant consideration regardless of terrain treatment — how much will the counters affect the visibility of the playing surface?

One solution (which I often use) is to fill the hex with the feature so that even when it’s occupied, the terrain is still visible around the edges of the playing pieces. This gives the map a somewhat more abstract appearance — but I feel that the sacrifice of naturalism is worth the additional utility gained by this technique.

Redmond A. Simonsen

1. The number of different symbols should be kept to a functional minimum. Don’t make arbitrary distinctions between items that, in the game, are treated identically. For example, if all fuel resource sites are operatively the same, don’t show petroleum sites as little oil wells and coal sites as little picks and shovels. Instead, use a common symbol that evokes the “fuel” concept rather than the irrelevant fuel type.

2. To be effective, symbols must be simple and well designed. A complex, cluttered symbol does not contribute to player information retrieval. Most symbols are best treated in silhouette form.

3. The symbol should be evocative of the basic concept of the thing for which it stands. The test of a good symbol is how well it is understood without recourse to a key or legend. Whenever the artist is doubtful of the recognition value of his symbology he should show them to an associate without telling him what mean, and ask that person to quickly interpret the symbology.

4. The symbol should reproduce well in the map environment. Even if the symbol is effective in isolation, unless it works in the context of the map, it can be a bad symbol. Also, when several symbols are used, they must all work well together. They should have a consistency of style and approach that makes them into a total system.

The “perfect” game map surface would combine the characteristics of both mounted and unmounted maps: it would be rigid; one I continuous piece without splits; fold to compact size yet opens perfectly flat; have a homogenous cross-section; and be truly durable. As yet there no such perfect surface that can be made cheaply enough to be commercially viable. There is some promise though in the new plastic laminates that are coming into the stream as replacements for paper in certain applications. Until some designer (I hope it is I) comes up a better solution, the gamer will have to cope with the less than perfect surface for this all-important component.

The designer should never lose sight of the fact that most gamers are deeply influenced by the game map: a good map goes a long way towards creating a positive impression of the game. Since the map is the most constantly used component, it should be the most effective in doing its job of providing the basic environment for the game.

Game Counters

Sample counters from Sixth Fleet.

The Hexagon Counter Myth

It might be useful to shatter a myth that some gamers put faith in — and that is the supposed “ideal” nature of hexagonal shaped counters on a hexagonal grid map.

There are a number of flaws in hexagonal counter concept:

1) A hexagon shape affords much less useable space for images on the counter.

2) Hexagonal counters are actually harder to handle and stack on the map.

3) Hexagonal counters so fill the hex they occupy that it’s hard to tell what kind of terrain is in that hex; and

4) A hexagonal die [to cut the counters] is very difficult to construct accurately — which is responsible for even greater irregularity than normal.

Redmond Simonsen

Given the limits of the process, the graphic designer must strive to produce the most useful counter image. Counters should be designed with an information hierarchy in mind. This is simply a categorization of items to be displayed on the counter according to their relative impor­tance:

1. Who owns the counter?

2. What type of counter is it?

3. What is the primary value(s) of the counter?

4. What historical or functional information not included in the above categories is necessary for the play of the game?

5. What historical information not included in the categories above is desirable to display on the counter even though the information is not functionally necessary?

 Another basic question that the designer must answer is: what is the information load of the counter and is it appropriate to the game system? Traditionally, the designer attempts to put as much useful information as possible on the counter face. It may be possible, however, to eliminate some information as redundant. It may also be possible — and desirable in specific games — to pull the information from the counter and place it on a data sheet separate from the playing pieces.

As a general rule, the more tactical the game, the more information will be displayed on counter; the more strategic, the less information. If, however, a game becomes very tactical an information threshold is passed which demands that data be removed from the counter (as in the example of the air games [where much is done on a player’s “control panel” that is separate from the game’s counters]). One might say that the extremes in scale result in very simple counters and the middlegrounds produce most variation and problems.

The Simonsen Way: Rules & The Case System

? I am something of a fanatic about rules systems and proper explanation and organization.” –Redmond A. Simonsen

Redmond A. Simonsen from an SPI group photo circa 1976.“The current system of writing game rules was developed by Redmond Simonsen (my partner at SPI) in 1970. The system underwent a fairly major revision in 1979 and saw more revisions during the 1980s, especially by Bob Ryer and Mark Herman at Victory Games.

This system of writing rules became known as the case system in which each of the major rules is initially stated rather briefly and in general terms. Then it is described in more detail and finally a series of ‘cases’ is given. These cases are usually one or two sentence affairs, each describing a specific element of the rule. Take, for example, the rule in the Drive on Metz on the movement of units. The general rule simply states that each unit has a movement allowance number printed on it which represents the basic number of hexes a unit may move in a single Movement Phase. Each player moves only his own units during the Movement Phase of his Player Turn (as outlined in the sequence of play).” – Jim Dunnigan, The Complete Wargames Handbook

Why the Case System?

The rules to Drive on Metz [the game included with this book] follow a rather strict format. This is done for a reason in fact, for a number of very important reasons.

The most important reason for having formats for the rules is that it makes it easier for the gamer to, first, learn the game and, second, to reference a particular aspect of the game rules while playing the game.

James F. Dunnigan
The Complete Wargames Handbook

SPI’s rules are distinctly an SPI product — the typical set of non-SPI rules are rambling, conversationally written and weak on organization. Some people like such rules — I don’t.

I’m supported in my feelings by most gamers. A recent survey showed that SPI rules provide better and more accessible information on how the game is meant to be played. The same survey showed that although SPI’s legalistic rules style may draw some cheap shots from those that are not up to such rigorous organization, the average gamer wants the rules to be precise, exhaustively detailed, and unambiguous.

Let’s face it: rules are not exactly light reading — the number of concepts and procedures to be explained in detail can hardly be dealt with in a few easy paragraphs of colloquial English. The closest analog to a set of rules would be a set of computer program instructions.

Such comparisons inevitably draw knee-jerk negative reactions from certain people who equate technology and organization with dehumanization and sterility. What such people fail to see is that such systems are enabling devices — and are not the thing itself — the thing is the actual play of the game. The rules are means to an end — and they must be highly organized and efficient means to serve the complexity of wargame play.

One of the minor criticisms I’ve heard about SPI rules is that there are few light touches of humor to be found in them. To my mind this is all to the good. Rules are documents — to be referred to time and again. Have you ever read a joke more than once and laughed? And to be quite frank, most of the people (at SPI and elsewhere) that write rules are not what you would call great sophisticated wits. The high-school level humor that some­times finds its way into their rules writing is nothing to be savored. Rules writing is inescapably technical writing — not literature. Its object is unequivocal communication — not entertainment. The entertaining part is supposed to be the play of the game.

Simonsen on Game Errata

Starforce Rules

Relating it to StarForce, one of the things I realized as I was midway into it, it was a very different kind of game for a wargamer, or for anybody. It was a game that had a lot of inherent complexity in the system and so I felt that it was a real pressure on me to make the rules as explicit — as all encompassing — as possible. That's one of the reasons why I went to the glossary, introducing each of the two main sections of the rules

Apparently, it's worked pretty effectively, because we've gotten very few questions on StarForce. Usually a new game, particularly if it's complicated, you get a pretty juicy wave of question letters in the first few months. StarForce has gotten less than half of the number we usually get... and the rules are twenty-four pages long.

The rules themselves are divided into two parts. The Standard Strategic Game and the Tactical Advanced Game. The main body of the rules in the Standard Strategic Game are no more than eight pages in terms of real rules and, once you grasp the three-dimensionality of the map, you've got the Standard Game knocked.

Redmond Simonsen

With all the testing, proof-reading, and evaluation that SPI rules undergo in their life history, there are few extant rules booklets that don’t still carry mistakes, inconsistencies, and omissions. SPI’s policy of issuing errata after their rules are published has brought criticism from some quarters — particularly invidious are the thinly veiled gibes of competing companies that do not admit their mistakes and continue to make their customers suffer with error ridden rules until they get around to publishing a second edition of the game.

One must be honest about the limitations of the rules generation process — to create flawless rules on the first go round is virtually impossible unless the game is so simple as to be irrelevant. Beyond simple typos and plain oversight, there will always be the possibility of alternate interpretation of given statements — because the player is not a computer: he’s a thinking human who brings his own background and mindset to the reading of the rules.

My favorite fantasy (regarding rules) is to have a master file of hex-grid wargame rules that would cover every possible situation that could occur in a game. These master cases would be precisely and lucidly written and organized into a data retrieval / word processing system so that entire blocks of rules could be called up electronically by keying in a string of code numbers.

The developer would then add whatever minimal necessary names and dates and the whole body of rules would be automatically typeset. Every case would have a master reference number and a computer program would make sure that every case number that needed cross-indexing would get it.

I’m actually pursuing this fantasy to some degree — I’ve started to write trial master cases onto the diskettes of SPI’s typesetting device (which is a small computer itself). Any reader familiar with word processing and computer text-editing, however, will be aware of the tall order my fantasy makes. I estimate that it would take about six man months to develop a workable basis for such a complexly interrelated group of statements and then about a man year to actually write and de-bug the statements. Even this may be optimistic, since I’ve only nibbled at the edges of the problem.

It would be a boon to editors and gamers alike to have such a system working for them. The clarity and preciseness of the rules would take a quantum leap forward and the flexibility of development in game systems would increase mightily. Game testing could proceed with more finished sets of rules. Annoying minor typos could be forever banished. Laborious typeset­ting tasks and long production times could be reduced. Ah, the millennium would arrive for rules compulsives such as I. 

The Simonsen Way: Playing Aids & Tables

When I first began designing wargames, not much had been done in the way of systematizing the interface between the rules and the actual play of the game. Before I became professionally involved, one of my hobbies was to take an existing game and build a graphic system for it. Eventually, as you might guess, this hobby became a business — and here I am.

The Dallas Game

According to Redmond Simonsen, the Creative Director of SPI, the game of Dallas was developed by James F. Dunnigan and published in 1980.

The game is a playing card and role-playing game based on the TV soap opera. The boxed set includes cut-apart cards for major characters from the series, along with a 16 page instruction book, 16 page book of characters, and a 16 page "Scriptwriter's Guide." Character attributes include power, persuasion, coercion, seduction, investigation, and luck.

Simonsen, writing on the Web in 1988, indicated that SPI published two runs of Dallas for a total of 80,000 copies. He stated that that was 79,999 too many - and contributed somewhat to the bankruptcy of SPI in 1981.

 

I’ve always considered myself to be more technologically oriented than most artists and I suppose this inclination shows in my work. Games are after all, paper machines. With proper engineering they should reduce the amount of work that the player must perform. Deciding how much to support the play of the game must be based upon the complexity of the game, benefit of the system, the effort required to execute the system and its commercial feasibility.

? “Wargames are a paper time machine.” – Redmond A. Simonsen

When a designer attempts to aid the player by providing him with a graphic device, of any sort, he must be careful that the neat little system he comes up with doesn’t actually add complexity to the game system. Things to be avoided are:

1. Excessive use of abbreviations

2. Too many markers operating on a single register (sometimes a pencil and paper is better)

3. Systems that are so cramped by lack of space that they become difficult to use

4. Systems that are larger than the playing map or that take longer to set up than the game itself, and

5. Any system that takes longer to operate than the maneuver portion of the game-turn.

There is no easy formula for developing graphic systems that aid play. Most of the really good ones are stunningly obvious — once you see them in operation. Much of the success one will have depends upon being able to project oneself into the position of the player who will have to deal with the finished game. Whenever possible, the graphic designer should actually play the final version of the game using the test components. Unfortunately, this is sometimes diffi­cult to do since games take a lot of time to learn and play — and the artist doesn’t have a lot of time in a commercial environment.

The Simonsen Way: Magazine Editor

Here is a sample editorial, written by Redmond Simonsen, from the issue of Moves pictured (#30).

Opening Moves

Professional Games, Semi-Professional Games, and Amateur Games: 

Do You Know, One When You See One?

Moves magazine #30 featured Redmond on the cover playing Napoleon at Waterloo against the readership.In the past few years there's been an almost exponential growth in the number of game titles available. This is partly to the credit (or blame) of SPI and its flagship magazine S&T: an audience was coalesced out of chaos and advertising dollars spent by SPI drew new gamers into the hobby. Adventurous souls out in Game-land said, “If those fools in New York can do it, why not me?" and proceeded to found Practically Instant Games Incorporated. Since there's a hard core (corps?) of game people that buy virtually everything that even resembles a wargame, most of these fledgling companies were (and are) able to sell anywhere from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand of their titles. Some of these game companies matured into serious entities (such as GDW) and began to produce games that had a certain consistency of professional content. No problem. But... many others did (and still do) produce and market, willy-nilly, a spread of games that are (to be kind) uneven in quality. This creates (a) a consumer problem, and (b) a problem in characterization. The consumer problem is obvious.

Sam Niceguy sees an ad in a fanzine and sends in his N dollars to get what sounds like the answer to his gaming prayers. Time passes and he gets twenty-seven pages of badly mimeographed copy and a set of counters that don't seem like they're meant to be punched out except by fist. Has Sam been stung? What should he have reasonably expected? It's hard to say definitively – but he probably has been at least misled, regardless of the good intentions of the sellers.

Let's say Sam reads S&T, MOVES, Battlefield, Fire & Movement, and three or four fanzines (remember, he's hard core). Should these magazines have warned Sam about what a turkey he was buying? Even simpler, should the magazines have characterized Game X as being an amateur game, a semi-pro game, or a professional effort?

One gets into something of a conflict of interest problem when (for example) in MOVES one says that X game is amateurish. With all mustered objectivity granted me or any other contributor to MOVES, the simple fact that such a characterization appears in a magazine published by a company that publishes games leads to, at least, raised eyebrows of skepticism. What one requires then is a relatively hard set of objective standards whereby one could fairly characterize a game as being pro, semi-pro, or amateur. This has nothing to do with how much fun a game might be or how good a simulation it is – it's strictly concerned with the degree of professionalism with which the game design and its physical components are executed.

I don't have a complete answer, but I'd like to begin to address this problem.

Some Guidelines for Determining a Professional Conflict Simulation Game

1. In the strictest sense of the word, "professional" can only be applied to a game that is produced with the intention of making a reasonable profit and thereby standing the test of the marketplace. By contrast, it would be possible to produce a game of "professional" quality on a vanity basis which would not be subject to such a pragmatic test. When someone indulges himself by such vanity publishing, one must apply a more colloquial use of the term “professional."

2. The game should be an independent entity, i.e., it should not be merely an add-on variant kit for an existing game.

3. The design and the rules of the game must have that minimum degree of clarity and coherence that enables the average gamer to actually play it without resorting to a great deal of filling-in-the-blanks. The mark of an amateur game, in this respect, would be the omission of a major sub-system that is implied but not explicitly described.

4. The game must be physically complete. The user should not be required to fabricate or supply major, unique components. Trivial components (such as dice, scratch paper, ordinary pencils, etc.) are items that are permissibly user-supplied.

5. Components must be professionally printed (via offset, letterpress, gravure, silk-screen or any combination of these processes). Mimeographed, xeroxed, spirit duplicated, or similar copy methods are excluded. Hand-finished components are a matter of judgment, although by and large they should be excluded unless executed with extraordinary craft.

6. Rules and other literature should be typeset or be extremely clean reproduction of typewritten material. Any resort to typewritten matter should be considered prejudicial.

7. The game should pass the "man-from-Mars" test; i.e., shown to an intelligent non-gamer, it should be worthy of being thought of as a professional effort in content and appearance.

The foregoing is, of course, an incomplete set of criteria. I'd appreciate hearing your views on what constitutes a professional game: perhaps we can together initiate some movement towards a basic standard in this somewhat whacky "industry."

One Graphics Guru to Another

Redmond was my friend as well. When I started my first magazine, Fire & Movement back in the mid-1970s, Redmond advised me and assisted me on various levels with that project.

We stayed in close contact during the years he was in the game hobby. I interviewed him in F&M #7 and he interviewed me in MOVES #59. We worked together on a number of different projects.

Rodger B. MacGowan

Speaking of professionalism, there's a "new boy" in Wargaming School that can deservedly be so characterized. I speak of the magazine Fire & Movement, edited and art-directed by

Rodger MacGowan (a long-distance friend of mine). It just shows you what a peachy guy I am to plug a rival magazine in MOVES (or what a dummy I am). Nevertheless, information can be had by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to [old address deleted]:

Mention that you heard of F&M in MOVES (please). F&M is into its fourth issue and has definitely proven itself to be of professional caliber. Similar to MOVES in general content, it's a 48-page bimonthly that goes for $1.50 a sample issue or $8 per year. I would suggest you at least try a sample. And, no, I own no stock in F&M; I just like it.

-RAS

Here is a sample editorial, written by Redmond Simonsen, from the issue #56.

Opening Moves

There's been a great deal of yap and flap in the past several months over how our hobby is being "taken over by fantasy role-playing and science fiction gaming" Old-line military gamers see a multi-colored flood of dragon titled boxes inundating themselves and driving out their cherished historical games. Simulationists cringe at the gee-whiz science fiction games starwarring their way into the hearts of thousands of players. The end is near, say the historical wargamers. Wrap your Dictionary of Battles in an oilskin and head for the hills, historical gaming is finished.

To this spate of hysterical hyperbole we must award the order of Baloney with Horsepuckey clusters.

Historical gaming is as vigorous today as it ever was. More historical games are being sold now than ever before. Designs are more sophisticated, titles more diversified, gamers more knowledgeable and discriminating – in short, the hobby has matured. It has matured to the point where it's fathered a new hobby.

SPI's Universe game, graphic systems courtesy of Redmond Simonsen.Fantasy and science fiction gaming.

Wargaming experienced exponential growth in the early 1970’s when SPI came into being and opened up the hobby by vigorously advertising its magazine S&T and producing a cornucopia load of new games. Other companies came into being and began to slake the seemingly unquenchable thirst for military simulations. Some of the product was of dubious quality and scholarship – but so what, things were better than ever and couldn't stop. Right? Wrong!

There are only a limited, reachable number of guys in this great land who are interested in history; interested in games: and literate enough to read the kind of rules simulations require (even simple simulations).

There are, however, an additional number of guys that are literate, interested in games... ah... but not really interested in history or simulation. They do like fantasy and/or science fiction. They have much in common with traditional wargamers... except an interest in real history. Now that games are being offered to this new market, it's exploding into the same sort of exponential growth in the 80's as did wargaming in the 70's. It's not replacing it; it's racing it. Sure, there are gamers who give up on history and pledge allegiance to fantasy or science fiction (and there's a sizable overlapping minority that play all sorts of games).

In a year or two, fantasy role-playing and science fiction gaming will exhibit the same signs of maturation and lessening of growth that wargaming now shows. So, not to worry, wargamers. The new game areas are not displacing the older ones; rather they are enlarging the total population of gainers.

-Redmond

A great piece of hobby introspection could be found in Redmond’s editor from Moves #41.

Opening Moves 

Where Does it All End?

Thoughts on the Boundary Lines of the Hobby

SPI's game After the Holocaust.Wargaming shares a problem with Science Fiction – made all the more interesting by virtue of the fact that it shares a great number of its adherents with Science Fiction. Thai problem is one of definition. We can all agree that many wargames are indeed wargames and belong in our hobby. There are several games, however, that give one pause. For example, is Diplomacy a wargame or, in fact, even a simulation game? After the Holocaust is a simulation, but it really isn't a wargame. Does it matter, you might (justifiably) ask? Not at all, I'd answer, if one is asking from the point of view of simply playing games that one likes. It does, however, matter a great deal if one wishes to have a serious discussion about conflict simulations, or more specifically aim a magazine at wargamers or fairly describe a game in advertising or set up award categories or have a serious discussion of the field.

What are some of the marks of distinction about our type of game (meaning one which we would know to be a wargame) and other similar games that are nonetheless beyond the pale of our hobby? I offer here some non-scientific parameters: for determining a game to be a wargame (or more generally, a conflict simulation).

1. A level of complexity and detail far beyond that of ordinary parlor games. We all nod our heads at the statement that a wargame is a complex beast, but rarely do we seriously appreciate how complex. This level of complexity is at once both the bane and the charm of most wargames. It restricts the entry of new players (and therefore both limits the growth of companies like SPI and makes the wargamer a member of a somewhat exclusive club). And don't you feel just a little smug when some otherwise intelligent friend shakes his head in bewildered amazement at the difficulty level of wargames?

Redmond Ensconced

It seems that Redmond would often ensconce himself for hours in his office, which overlooked the corner of 23rd Street and Park Avenue South. He was especially prone to do this on Friday evenings, when we held open play testing, and the office was full of dribbling idiots volunteer playtesters.

One Friday evening, Redmond was noticeably absent from play testing, which elicited some comment.

After a couple of hours, Jim Dunnigan got on the PA and said, in a very loud, Irish-accented voice, “Redmond, we know you're in there. The place is surrounded. Come out with your hands up.”

Jim went on like this for a bit, and then handed the phone to Lenny Glynn, saying “Redmond, if you won't listen to me, will you listen to Father Murphy?”

Lenny got on, and in his best Irish-accent, continued to plead with Redmond to come out. Then he handed the phone to Beth Clifford, saying “Redmond, your mother is here, will you listen to her?”

Beth got on, and in her best Irish-accent said, “Redmond, this is your mother, please come out son!” It went on like this for a while, perhaps a half hour.

Redmond finally did come out, looking torn between being amused and being pissed. For weeks afterward, lines like “Redmond, this is your mother” would occasionally be heard in the office.

Al Nofi

2. Verisimilitude. Wargames seem to be drawn from life. Whether or not they actually are accurate historical simulations, they're usually convincing enough so that we suspend disbelief and participate in them as if they substantially were true-to-life. There is a special sort of atmosphere surrounding simulation games that gives them a convincing gestalt regardless of unconvincing detail. The typical gamer also assumes that the designers know what they're doing – in fact, many a gamer is sure that the designer knows something that a “mere" customer could never know and that this secret knowledge explains the elements in the game that the “ignorant" customer perceives as apparently stupid but which he knows must be representative of some obscure historical truth. The authority of print is immense, and this, plus the mumbo-jumbo that surrounds a lot of simulation games, creates a smokescreen of sophistication that masks treatments which are often simplistic and downright crude.

Many gamers think, for example, that there are rigid scientific means for developing the strengths and values on playing pieces – when, in fact, nothing could be further from the actuality of the process. This is not to say the empirical methods actually used result in false values – it simply means that the systems are personal and very human-dependent; they result in values which are opinions, not scientific conclusions.

3. Predictability of format. Of course everyone can think of exceptions to this generality, but the board games in the genre bear a striking similarity to each other in terms of their basic elements – both systematic and physical. Very few accepted games stray from the hex-map/unit-counter/combat-result-table formulation. I've often thought that this basic conservatism is unhealthy and that companies and gamers alike need new pathways to tread. Nevertheless, we can all spot a wargame from across the room simply by the way it lays on the table.

4. Rationalistic Point of View. In almost all wargames, things happen for "good reason." Even the probabilistic events are just that: expressions of degrees of likelihood – para-scientific result curves. Most games give the impression that events can be reduced to algorithms: work the formula and the results will always fall within the specific range indicated. This very mechanistic point of view is typical of host conflict simulations and of many of the people who play them. The very idea of being able to simulate and recreate history or hypothetical events has its roots in that very narrow aspect of Western culture that concentrates on causality.

The fact that the world view of wargaming is a limited one is not rendered as criticism – it is intended only to provide a context. Some non-simulation games also have this rationalistic point of view, but there are many examples of completely non-rational game structures: most gambling card games (in fact most gambling games, period), many children’s board games, and virtually all sports games. A wargame is a model of another reality; many other types of games are usually their own (often irrational) reality. 

5. Aggression and Struggle. It might seem unnecessary to point out that wargames always deal with attack and defense, but this feature points to one of the blurred areas of the boundary line between conflict simulations and everything else. How much overt aggression (and need it be military) must a wargame portray? What if, for example, a game involved gangsters vying for territory in Prohibition-era Chicago? Is that a "war'' game? If so, how about a conflict simulation of inter-specific evolutionary struggle?

If asked about the necessity of simulated violence in games, most wargamers would indicate that it is not of paramount importance or that it is only a byproduct of the historical situation. But if it were removed, how interested would they be? If people play simulation games primarily for reasons of historical interest, why don't we have a lot more economic, sociological, and cultural simulations? Or if one plays wargames because they are interesting on a pure game or problem solving level, why do the same people have period and scale preferences? In fact, why do such games even need the appearance of historical simulation?

I'm sure some will protest the following statement: Wargames/conflict simulations can be categorized as those games that appeal to the desire to act out a military or para-military power fantasy. If that desire is not served, the game is not a wargame whether or not it deals with war or a military subject. Of course, one of the catches in the above statement is that it is not the only way that wargames can be categorized (but it is one of the most provocative ways!)

To summarize: a wargame is a complex, convincing, rationalistic treatment of military violence presented in stylized and conventional format. I'm sure there are considerations I've overlooked and points over which you wish to debate.

- Redmond

The Simonsen Way: Game Designer

By Greg Costikyan

“Game Designer”

The term “game designer” was coined by Redmond Simonsen at SPI sometime in the early 70s, and was in common use in the hobby games industry (wargames, RPGs, CCGs) before computer games became a commercial market. Before then, game designers were generally called “game inventors” or “game authors”–something still true in Germany, where a game designer is a “spielautor”.

Greg Costikyan

The best graphic designer with whom I have ever worked was Redmond Simonsen, at SPI. All of the games I did with him were genuinely collaborations, even though his name was listed under Graphic and not Game Design.

Most games have a credit for Graphic Design or Art Direction. This usually goes to the company's art director, though an art director will sometimes assign the credit to one of his subordinates. Just as the game designer determines a game's feel, the graphic designer determines its look. He commissions the cover and interior art, designs the package, chooses the typestyle and lay-out, and designs and executes the game – maps, counters, and other components.

The best graphic designers do more; they suggest ways of organizing charts better, of recording information better, of using graphical representations to make the game play more smoothly. The best graphic designer with whom I have ever worked was Redmond Simonsen, at SPI; all of the games I did with him were genuinely collaborations, even though his name was listed under Graphic and not Game Design.

For instance, I designed a little solitaire dungeon-crawling game [Death Maze] in which one drew a map of the dungeon on graph paper. Redmond suggested instead that we print little room and corridor illustrations on cardboard counters, then draw the counters out of a cup to generate the dungeon. The suggestion was simple, graphically appealing – and brilliant. It, more than my contribution, made the game successful.

Into the Sunset

The Competitor

Redmond was especially kind to me as a young guy, and I'm sorry we lost touch over the years.

He was, however, a ferocious competitor over the game board at SPI and never failed to take a snarky pleasure in whupping me repeatedly over Napoleon at Waterloo, which he knew like Bobby Fisher knew Chess. I do recall beating him once… and he took it pretty hard.

I had the kind of dice that day which proves it's better to be lucky than smart.

I'll never be able to redress my 1-37 record against Redmond.

Lenny Glynn
Milton
, MA

The Aftermath

I remember that NAW session. Redmond stomped off bellowing and locked himself in his office for hours. It was really funny.

Do you recall the time Jim, You, and Beth Clifford decided to “talk” him out of his office?

Redmond, this is the police, we know you're in there…”

Al Nofi

Redmond Simonsen left SPI when it was acquisition by TSR Hobbies (later TSR, Inc.) in 1983. His story continued, in quieter tones, for several years thereafter.

To begin with, Redmond Simonsen became an early proponent of adapting board games to personal computers, leading the effort to put Jim Dunnigan’s Wreck of the BMS Pandora on the Apple II. Featuring Simonsen graphics, this is one on the first real-time strategy games and considered a classic.

Redmond also co-founded the Ares Development Company with SPI veteran Brad Hessell. The company was to design computer games for Texas Instruments and had a multi-game contract, but TI pulled out of the home computer business in 1984 and that was that. Good bye, New York…

…and hello Richardson, Texas. Simonsen moved to Richardson in 1984, where he helped found Microbotics, who manufactured ancillary parts and boards for Amiga personal computers. Redmond helped design a hardware board to support the Amiga CD32 computer and turn a “game machine into a high-powered multimedia computer system” (Paravision SX-1TM User's Guide 2nd Edition – July 1994; http://cd32.emubase.de/?page=anleitungen/sx1). But the Amiga format did not survive the Great PC Shakeout, and Microbotics closed in 1992.

Mr. Simonsen retired but remained active in computer gaming circles as a network moderator for online games. He spent his time drawing, writing computer programs and science-fiction short stories.

The official strategy guide for Master of Orion: Redmond wrote a section of the appendix.In 1993, Redmond contributed and appendix to Alan Emrich’s opus Master of Orion: The Official Strategy Guide (Prima Publishing, 1993). A great fan of this computer “space opera” game, Redmond contacted the author and volunteered his contribution on a ship naming convention for that game so that players could tell by reading its title what the gist of that ship’s size, technology, and equipment was. Instead of packaging information brilliantly onto counters, now he offered his advice for condensing information into the naming of star ships.

Redmond had been battling severe heart problems in the new millennium. Apparently, he suffered a series of small heart attacks over the few weeks before he died, each of which was too minor to cause serious concern. He had just switched to a new medication and was attributing worsened symptoms to it until on Monday, 9 March 2005, at age 62, he suffered a major attack. He was hospitalized at Baylor Medical Center in Garland, Texas but, by that point, his heart was severely swollen and the doctors estimated only 4% of his heart tissue was healthy.

Redmond circa 2002 at a fine Texas burger establishment.

He is survived by a sister, Lois K. Simonsen Nash of Centennial, Colorado, four nieces and two nephews.

Redmond Simonsen was an avid reader who had a $500 credit at The Book Tree, a used-book store in Richardson. He asked that memorials be made to the Book Tree, 702 University Village Shopping Center, Richardson, Texas 75081. The money will provide books for English as a second language students and children who can't afford books, his family said.

 

 

This is the most recent picture of Redmond Simonsen we could find. Photo credit goes to Kevin Wilkins who snapped this in April, 2002 in Richardson, Texas while Redmond was enjoying dinner with a few old friends.

The Most Notorious Game Review:
Redmond Simonsen on (First Edition) Anzio

If Looks Could Kill Dept.

Redmond Simonsen, a graduate of Cooper Union and an artist and illustrator by profession, has done some recent work on Avalon Hill game packaging. He did not, obviously, have anything to do with Anzio's.

There's one thing every wargamer can do to improve the box-cover art on his copy of Anzio: spray it with three or four coats of white paint and do it over. Don't let the fact that you may not be a professional artist stop you – it didn't stop Avalon Hill.

One of the sure things in life, along with death and taxes, is the sheer mind-bending awfulness of the box-art in question. Avalon Hill has graced its packages with losing designs before this (e.g., PanzerBlitz, Battle of the Bulge) but without a doubt this latest abortion is a shining triumph of vulgarity without peer. Not only are the colors ghastly, the design crude and the treatment heavy-handed, but the "concept" is so irrelevant as to be laughable. Whatever possessed AH to use Mussolini as the primary image will forever be beyond our understanding. (Historical Aside to Avalon Hill: Mussolini was out of power almost two months before the Allies invaded.)

Of course you can't tell a game by its cover, but you can and do sell a game by its cover. AH will never know the full sales potential of this not-so-bad game because its package will be such a negative influence. Accompanying this article is a rough sketch of an alternate cover for ANZIO. It is simply an "off-the-top-of-my-head" idea. But the elements of impact and clean design are there. Wouldn't you rather look at that than at the original Anzio cover every time you take the game out to play? Wouldn't someone new to wargaming rather buy a game that looks like that as opposed to one with a sloppy portrait of Mussolini inanely conforming to a dubious map of Italy? Really!

Alas, once one opens the horrible box all his visual trials are not over! The map board has to have been drawn with only one possible implement: a banana dipped in diesel-oil. French curves, mapping pens and draftsmen's tapes do exist, Avalon Hill! Really! Other hints: select your map and counter colors in a room with the lights on so you'll be able to see that distinguishably different colors are possible with four-color process. Also, when you say "terrain-changes never coincide with hex-sides" let your mapmaker in on it.

Of course, the Order of Appearance cards are visual delights and models of graphic organization (Ho Ho!). After several thousand years of reading left-to-right, Western Man is presented with the Anzio Turn Record Chart (TRC) cleverly designed to read right-to-left just to keep us on our toes – and what history fan wouldn't be charmed by the backward swastikas on said TRC.

We don't actually expect The Avalon Hill Company to commission Andrew Wyeth to execute their box-art or employ professional cartographers for their map-work. We just expect a little sensitivity, a little common-sense, organization and a little taste.

Redmond A. Simonsen

In Memory

A Measure of Respect for Redmond Simonsen: The Strategy Page

OSG Forums Tribute to Redmond Simonsen

A Tribute from Greg Costikyan

A Tribute from David C. Isby

An Ode to Redmond by Eric Lee Smith

The Redmond I Knew by John Prados