Against the Odds is a Wargaming periodical that releases every quarter. As the sister company of Turning Point Simulations, it was no surprise that they put out top quality historical simulations, as well as larger annual editions and some big-box games. The Editor, Andy Nunez, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us in order to shed some light on what it is to be so involved in a wargame publication. So, as they say, without further ado:
Alexander: Hi Andy, introduce yourself to our readers. Who is Andy Nunez? Is being the Editor of Against The Odds Magazine a fulltime career? What’s your favourite place to visit?
Andy: Well, I’m just an everyday guy who got hooked on wargames in 1975 while I was in college. Kriegspiel and Panzer Leader were my gateway drugs. I graduated in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science in Art. I playtested five major games of the 1980s and 90s, including Guns of August, Fire in the East, Scorched Earth, War for the Union and the Struggle for Europe Trilogy. My last playtest work was on Waterloo: Fate of France. My work for Clash of Arms got me some attention by LPS Inc. and I began as a columnist with ATO number 1, worked on filler items, then took over editorship of ATO with issue 5 when the former editor’s real life interfered. Sad to say, none of us at ATO do this for a living. I hold down a full time job as part of the faceless bureaucracy of the State of Maryland, where I have been toiling for the Department of Human Resources since 1991. Along the way I authored seven books and co-authored two more. My pinnacle was being picked up by Osprey Publishing to do a book in their Campaign Series on Spotsylvania and the Wilderness, allowing me to write about my boyhood heroes and one of my favorite places to visit, the Fredericksburg Virginia area. It is humbling to walk on verdant fields where thousands of men fought and died, and stand where some of America’s greatest military minds wrestled with decisions that would alter the course of history. The book was a win-win for me all around.
Alexander: What does a day in the life of a war-game magazine Editor look like?
Andy: Well, it can be incredibly dull at times when nothing is going on. The games drive the magazine and while I can usually arrange the articles well in advance, nothing may happen for weeks on my end, then suddenly, the game is done and its time to assemble the magazine. Things become very frenetic then, as emails and proofs fly back and forth between me, Mark Mahaffey, Lembit Tohver and our proofer Jack Beckman. I assign Terry Leeds what I want to see in maps, he turns them in. Once approved, they go to Mark to render in the magazine. Mark is so amazing. He can take a throwaway sentence from one of my articles and make a neat graphic out of it. For example, I wrote the lead article for These Brave Fellows, about Mortier’s stand at Durenstein. I likened Kutusov’s leaders to a hand of cards, Ace, King, etc. Well, Mark ran with that and put their portraits on the a card graphic to go with the article. Lembit, as our developer, has an uncanny grasp of gaming nuance. He sees a situation that sounds good but looks rough in a design and smooths it out until the full effect is realized. Having seen him do a couple of my designs now, it’s like starting with a cubist and ending up with a Michaelangelo. I am so lucky to be working with such talent. The other part of my day (or week, depending on volume) is spent discussing things with our columnists, designers, and folks who want to submit an article. Our columnists, John Prados, Ed Heinsman, J. D. Webster and John Burtt need no introduction to long time gamers.
Alexander: What exactly goes into the production of one of your issues? How many people work on it, and how far in advance are you working on upcoming issues?
Andy: I introduced our main staff in the last question, so let’s break it down. First, the game for the issue is picked. I query the designer to give him first crack at the main article. If he declines, then I farm it out, but that’s rare. Usually, the designers write excellent articles and give insights into what drives their designs. Next, I look at the situation and determine an elite unit to spotlight for my column. In almost 50 issues, I only repeated the unit once, and that was the US Marines, once for Vietnam and once for World War II. After that, I alert our colunmists about the game topic and discuss their column contents. Ed Heinsman has the biggest task because his column is all analytical, comparing the game situation to others in history. Once I have the main article in hand, I assign Terry Leeds to do no less than three maps for the main article and give him the topic for each map and dig up some references for him. It’s important to proof his maps to make sure the spellings match the game map. Then, I pick the articles that make up the remainder of my page allotment, allowing for the game rules and charts, and start working on each article in turn. 90% of all articles turned in need very little work, but occasionally some folks are great designers, but have trouble expressing themselves in print. Once I have edited all the pieces, they go to Jack who proofs them and then returns them to me for a last run-through. Once I am done, they are batched to Mark to render the issue once he is done with the game graphics and Jack has proofed the rules and charts. He’ll show us some mockups and then an initial proof that we all examine and comment on, I make the final decisions on the final proofing comments and when I sign off on it, Mark finishes it and uploads it to the printers. Once at the printers, the various parts are produced and shipped to our main office in Pennsylvania where the magazine and game parts are assembled, packaged and shipped all over the world.
Alexander: Your publication, Against The Odds, has been around a long time. Tell us a little but about what sets it apart from other magazines in the industry?
Andy: Yes, it’s hard to believe we are coming up on 50 regular issues, plus the Campaign Studies and Annuals. I can remember drafting my column for issue 4 while listening to the Bush-Gore election turmoil. How we differ, and why people sat up and took notice is our gestalt, our “broad perspective” as our sub-heading says. We don’t redo the classic battles unless there is a new twist or angle we can show. The majority of our games were on subjects not done by the mainstream publishers, certainly my three designs were not. We like to look behind the straight historical narrative that you can pick up in a newsstand magazine. Our readers are intelligent, discerning gamers who like nuts and bolts, numbers and facts. They want more than a story, they want to know why things happened and how events can be modelled, not just by our games, but by any game, as I show in my column. We do compare and contrast articles on occasion that takes a situation, then looks at various games that model that situation and how close they come to modelling history. Our approach has won us a fair number of awards, and ironically, energized our competition.
Alexander: Since your inaugural issue in 2002, what are some of the best/worst developments you’ve seen in the war gaming hobby?
Andy: The graying of our hobby is the trending development. I went to the World Boardgame Championships ten years in a row, from 2005 to 2015. People I saw and interacted with were passionate and friendly, always engaging us in debate or just pleasant conversation. We all aged, and some I saw with canes, and then some in scooters. I had good conversations with Craig Taylor and John Hill, and now they are gone. Alongside this was a rise in Euro type games, which brought in crowds of young folk, male and female, but I could see by the booth traffic what each generation was interested in. People have been predicting the death of the hobby as long as I have been involved in it, but it refuses to die. When I started with ATO, our competition was Strategy and Tactics. MMP and GMT had their house organs but they weren’t playing at our level. It’s gratifying to see that since we arose, many more magazines-with-a-game inside have come along, and they have stepped up their abilities in response to what we were doing. So, while our demographics seem to trend downward, the hobby is still pumping out lots of games and I don’t see that as a bad thing at all. We have survived the rise of Dungeons and Dragons, Computer games, collectible card games and Euros. I suppose the next challenge will be Virtual Reality.
Alexander: For budding writers and game designers out there, what is some advice you can give in order to help make the best possible contributions and submissions to Against the Odds?
Andy: For designers, look for something different. Our games show that one side or the other is in for a rough time, hence our title. Put together a clean playtest kit, try to test our your game before submission and your chances improve dramatically. As for writers, I try to look for pieces of 3000 words or less unless its a main article. If you want to write a long piece, be prepared to wait until I find space in an Annual. That’s the biggest gripe I get: When is my article going to see print? I plead for patience and offer them an out if they want to sell it elsewhere. I have some dedicated folks that like to write for us, and it makes my job easier. As for what to write, our guidelines are on the website. Remember, our readers like analysis and data, not just a straight article they can get at a magazine rack at Walmart. They’re not casual readers. They expect more.
For those interested submissions can be made by following this link: Against the Odds Magazine Submissions
Alexander: What has been your most proud moment as Editor over the years?
Andy: As Editor, it was a spate of Charles S. Roberts awards we won as best magazine some five years in a row, and several of our games have won awards as well. Our success was a curse, in a way, because our competition rose to the challenge, but we don’t give up easy. I think its a testament, though, that through good and bad economies, we are still moving forward with some very exciting titles in the future.
Alexander: What is your favourite war game, and why?
Andy: The wargame I have played more than any other has been the GDW edition of La Bataille de la Moscowa. I learned it around 1980, fell in love with it, and would happily play either side. After that it would probably be the 1943 campaign scenario of Struggle for Europe, the most balanced monster game I have ever played. My guilty pleasure game is SPI’s Invasion America. I like playing the South American Union.
Alexander: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, shining a light on the inner workings of Against the Odds. Is there anyone you’d like to publically mention or thank for their contributions or services rendered?
Andy: Were I to start, I wouldn’t know where to stop, but I feel lucky to be working with such a talented and driven group of individuals who give it 100% and don’t take shortcuts, even with deadlines looming. They’re all Aces in my book. Thanks for putting up with my rambling!
Check out Against the Odds magazine here, where they are always running great deals on subscriptions, or single issue purchases, as well as bundles of their games.