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Rolling for Initiative--The Buffalo Still Flies

Column by Scott Thorne

Published: 12/17/2012 03:28am
Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne looks at long-time game publisher Flying Buffalo.

One game company that we have carried since opening is Flying Buffalo, best known for the Nuclear War card game and the Tunnels & Trolls RPG.  Both have remained staples in the store for over 20 years.  While far from our best selling products, both have earned enough money for us over the decades that they deserve permanent shelf space, Nuclear War moreso than Tunnels & Trolls though.

What brought Flying Buffalo to mind was a recent customer looking for a Christmas present for her 10-year-old son.  He had gotten interested in tabletop RPGs, as opposed to the online type, and she wanted a simple one on which to start him off.  After a little thought, I mentally smacked myself and thought "Duh, Tunnels & Trolls," hands down, the simplest RPG out there, at least, that I know of (there are a couple of others, such as Fairy Tale and Meddling Kids but I am not certain if they remain in print).  Create a character in under five minutes, calculate your adds, grab some dice and there you go.  The fact that the spell names are less than serious ("Take That, You Fiend, Little Feats, Freeze Pleeze") also appeals to beginning gamers.  Within a few minutes, we had T&T wrapped and the customer on her way.

This got me to thinking about Flying Buffalo, what products it carries and especially how it got the name.  I've known Rick Loomis for years and even bring him Diet Mountain Dew at Gen Con on occasion but never had asked from where the name Flying Buffalo came.  This seemed like a good opportunity to ask him some questions, so I did.

Where did you get the name Flying Buffalo?
In 1970, while serving in the US Army, I started running play-by-mail games of Nuclear Destruction for a fee for customers.  I got an army buddy to write a computer program to run the game, and processed the turns at a Control Data computer center across the street from Fort Shafter (in Honolulu).

I had intended to start a stamp and coin shop when I got out of the army, but "Rick's Coins" is so boring, so I made up a silly name.  I was going to have a "Buffalo Nickel" and a "Flying Eagle" (penny? dime? I forget) on the logo.  When the folks at the computer center asked who they should send bills to, I started to tell them to send the bills to "Spec4 Loomis, USASTRATCOM, Communications Center South (etc)," but my programmer, Steve MacGregor, who knew about my coin shop plans said "No, tell them to send the bills to Flying Buffalo, care of Spec4 Loomis, USASTRATCOM...etc."  On a whim, I did just that.  And discovered that when I went to pick up my jobs at the computer center, when I asked for the "Flying Buffalo Job," they never said "I'll have to go see if it is ready" -- they always said, "Oh, yes, it's right here."  A memorable name is very handy!  At any rate, by the time I got out of the Army in 1971, I had over 200 customers playing my games, so I dropped the stamp and coin shop idea and stayed full time on games ever since.

You are best known for Nuclear War and Tunnels & Trolls.  What products do/did you make that you think deserve more attention?
The Lost Worlds Combat picture books are a lot of fun, and should be more popular. I can't figure out why they seem to get ignored.  Also, Dave Arneson wrote a solo adventure for MSPE called Case of the

Pacific Clipper for us.  I personally think it's the best solo adventure we've published, but MSPE never got much attention, so that solo adventure didn't either (it's still in print, by the way.  And don't ask why it didn't get nominated for an Origins Award.  I am still steamed about that over 20 years later!).

You have produced a large catalog of products over the years.  What FBI product would you most like to see back in print?
I've long thought it would be fun to reprint the old Imperialism board game.  It was fun, and had some unique bits.

What are you working on now?
I am working with Ken St Andre, Liz Danforth, Steve Crompton, and Bear Peters on a kickstarter to create a new version of Tunnels & Trolls.  I am working with Jennell Jaquays on a kickstarter for Citybook VIII.  And I am planning to do a kickstarter to create the 2013 Origins Poker Deck.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflct the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
 
Rolling for Initiative--How to Sell Me Your Game (or Your Comic or Anything Else)
Column by Scott Thorne
This week, Thorne describes the process of selling a game (or other product) to a retailer.