Octopus's Garden

Issue Fifty-Nine

21st January 2006

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HELLO, good evening and welcome to Octopus’s Garden, the subzeen with its very own tedious hobby history article. It’s a subzeen to Jim Burgess’ The Abbysinian Prince. Produced by Peter Sullivan, peter@burdonvale.co.uk. It's available on the web at http://www.burdonvale.co.uk/octopus/index.html.

300 issues? That's Not Too Many.

This issue of Octopus's Garden rides with the special celebratory issue 300 of The Abyssinian Prince. I had all sorts of ideas, honest I did. The most grandiose was a mega-article giving the definitive history of my own postal games fanzeen, C'est Magnifique, which ran for 142 issues from 1985 to 1994. (Neither I nor Jim do things by halves, as you may have gathered.) The link being that Octopus's Garden was originally started up as a sub-zeen here to finish off the international games that were still running when CMag folded. Of course, this could well have filled up Jim's target of 100 pages for this issue pretty much all by itself, if I'd actually managed to produce it. But, needless to say, I never got a round tuit. Maybe I'll still get it written up and spread it over the next n issues.

However, all is not lost. (Or not all is lost – I can never work out which of those is actually the more logical statement.) In the process of my first trawl through the medium-sized filing box that contains my file copies of most of the 142 issues, I uncovered an article from C'est Magnifique #88, dated August 1990, in which I did a rare full-page editorial inspired by the just-announced fold of Vienna.

Actually, it's not until I actually went back and looked at my own back issues that I realise how few formal articles I used to write. Most of the non-games content was "sweepies" (hobby news and zeen reviews) and lettercol. And what articles I did do were mainly about electoral politics - and nothing dates quite so much as by-election predictions fifteen years after the event. Especially incorrect ones.

It might seem somewhat eccentric to celebrate the 300th issue of The Abyssinian Prince by talking about another, long-dead, fanzeen. But both TAP and Vienna manage(d) to pull of the trick – which all truly great postal games fanzeens manage – of being ostensibly about games but in actuality being about having fun. And both were at least nominally three-weekly (as was C'est Magnifique) and managed to honour this more in the observance than in the breech. And, whilst the slightly older generation of postal games fans usually hold up NMR! as the best British zeen never to actually win the UK Zine Poll, I (as one of the class of '85) would give this title without question to Vienna. So, without further ado (given that I've already managed over a whole page worth of ado, in line with official Arnie Katz ado guidelines), I present:

Goodnight, Vienna.

Those of us who like to humour the old lags of the hobby have become used to conversations in which they regale us with tales of the great zeens of yore. Names such as Ethil the Frog, Dolchstoß Mk 1, and 1901 and all that are mentioned. Bliss it was, it seems, in that dawn to be alive.

But those of us who joined the bobby in the middle 1980s are now beginning to achieve old lag status ourselves. And when we have the expectant novices gathered around us, we shall have our own "great ones" to talk about.

One of *our* great ones will undoubtedly be Vienna.

I first saw Vienna at issue eight, when it was already a large, mimeo production, with much of the character it was to keep for the rest of its life. Having just started my own three-weekly zeen, I was not averse to keeping an eye on the 'competition.'

Vienna's origins lie in a small ad in White Dwarf for a game of postal Diplomacy. This lead to a series of game report sheets entitled Fin de Sicle, which, as Richard Egan became aware of a wider Diplomacy hobby, turned into a fully-fledged zeen.

By the end of 1985, the zeen's status was already assured. It had become a vast production, with a large number of outside g.m.s. Despite this, it maintained a speedy turnaround and three-weekly deadlines. There were also many articles on the strategy and tactics of the game, and new Diplomacy variants.

The Gridiron league started up at around this time as well. Originally a simple United variant, this was developed over several seasons into a complex play-by-play simulation run on computer. This also lead to the touch Football games at Manorcon, which were the scene of much (basically good-natured) rivalry between the Vienna Vikings and the Trog Celtic Wargoddesses over several years.

Over the next few years, the zeen continued to grow, based on the tremendous enthusiasm of the 'Viennamob,' the hard core of players and g.m.s who helped Richard with games, chat and production. This could easily have lead to a cliquish production, but for the most part the zeen always seemed inviting for newcomers, who were soon made to feel part of the scene.

Part of this camaraderie came from the Viennameets, held in various locations around the country (I can remember Bristol, London, Oxford and Watford, and have probably missed a couple).

When I "folded" CMag for the first time, Vienna was well into its thirties. Whilst it was still a mammoth production, it looked as if it could continue indefinitely in the same vein for as long as the interest was there.

On returning to the mainstream last summer ((1989)), I resumed my trade with the zeen. By now, it had changed into a slimmer A5 photocopied booklet format, and was much thinner on games. However, the reader enthusiasm still seemed high, and there were still a large number of outside g.m.s of proven reliability.

Over the last year, there has been a lot of comment to the effect that Vienna is "no longer what it used to be." Which has tended to obscure the fact that it was still one of the best zeens in the hobby; always regular, and with a thriving lettercolumn and Diplomacy articles.

After getting through a rough spell earlier this year, the zeen looked as if it could be set for another long stretch. However, by now other external commitments were coming to feature much more in the lives of some of the leading participants. This provided the final impetus towards a fold.

So far, I haven't mentioned Richard Egan's name much. Which is odd. After all, despite the fact that the zeen was always a group effort (Vienna came as close to being an APA as anything else in the hobby at times), the zeen reflected his personality very strongly.

The Egan/Vienna ethos was that the hobby was a fun place to be. It was about playing games, writing letters and having fun. Hobby politics, real life disputes or anything else which might prevent someone else having fun were out. Each issue of Vienna was a madcap dance through Richard's favourite hobby topics – plus anything else anyone wanted to raise.

In the end, the enthusiasm has run out for Richard, and he will be leaving us in order to concentrate more on making music videos and running Gridiron. As someone who has been privileged to count Richard as a friend for the past five years, I will miss Vienna muchly.

Live long and prosper, RME.

And I didn't even mention the Vienna Christmas tape, the Lewis/Nelson feud, the detatchable back page, Sequences, the Isiah game, Chaos II, the waterpistol firing squad, paintball or the multiple marks of Downfall...

And there's more...

A couple of notes, written from a 2006 peerispective. Firsty, note that this article was written in the days when White Dwarf featured heavily on fantasy role playing games and (to a lesser extent) board games. Instead of being what it was the last time I bothered to look at a copy – pretty much just a Games Workshop advertorial publication for Warhammer figures. O Tempora, O Mores.

As far as the the Vienna vs. TROG touch Football matches are concerned, I believe that one of my lesser claims to hobby fame is being the only person who has played for both sides, having played for TROG the first year and Vienna the second. My main contribution in the second match as I recall was to give away an inordinate number of holding penalties (playing nose tackle) trying to stop the TROG captain and star running back Pete Tulk.

Although Vienna did indeed fold in 1990, Richard Egan was back almost immediately with a new zeen called Lies, Damned Lies and Diplomacy (more usually referred to as Lies, etc.), co-edited with Bill O'Neill and Richard Jackson. And the Gridiron league continued to run unabated for many more years. (There is a very subtle accidental pun here, but I can't be bothered to remove it.)

And, having ostentatiously not mentioned various things back in 1990, I'll throw a few notes in this time about them:

That was Octopus's Garden #59, a Startling Press production.

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