There are fantasy games, and there are sci-fi games, and there are horror games, and there are cyberpunk games. And then there are those weird games that don't seem to fit in anywhere, the ones nobody talks about any more, the ones that have all but vanished over time. The Forgotten Games.
The wonderful, horrible thing about the role-playing game market is that there are so many games out there. Anyone with a few hundred dollars and some friends in the industry can get their idea into print format (even if it means running down to Kinko's on an odd Saturday afternoon to run off a few dozen copies on 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper.
Making things even better (and worse) is the fact that anyone with a personal computer and a modem can publish their own website now, putting up their own rulesets, adventures and game systems.
The end result is that you get thousands and thousands of games that have been released since the 1970s, all of which fall into four categories. I'll skip the fourth category here because it's called "Home Rules", that game you played because your cousin Ralph had a spare hour and he got this cool idea for this place with these elves that one time. That said, here is how I see it breaking down:
Category 1: The winners. These typically have a name on them like "TSR (or now, Wizards of the Coast)" or "White Wolf". They're the ones everyone and their brother owns, the kind you'll find at garage sales selling for 25 cents a decade after their release. I don't even need to mention their names here. They're the ones you already know about. Dungeons and Dragons. Vampire. Werewolf. And so on.
Category 2: The "runners-up." You've heard of them, probably played them, but maybe you don't actually own a copy. These are usually the ones published by the "second tier" companies, second not in quality but in mere market saturation. FASA, R. Talsorian, Palladium, Steve Jackson. Games like Shadowrun, Battletech, Cyberpunk, Rifts, GURPS. And so on.
Category 3: The "also-rans". The ones everyone forgot. You've probably played them, and if you haven't then you know someone who did. You've probably at least heard the name, or know who the publisher was, or recall seeing the cover one time. These have been published by everyone in the field, including companies like TSR and White Wolf.
These are also the ones which will be the topic of this column.
There are dozens and dozens of "forgotten games" that have come and gone like tumbleweeds through the desert, but I've chosen 10 gems from 1975 to 1994, games you may or may not remember, but games which nevertheless made their mark on the gaming industry on one way or another.
- Boot Hill, 1975
- Gamma World, 1978
- Villains & Vigilantes, 1979
- Top Secret, 1980
- Star Frontiers, 1983
- Toon, 1984
- NightLife, 1990
- Torg, 1992
- Hol, 1993
- Tales From the Floating Vagabond, 1994
Three from the '70s, three from the '80s, and four from the '90s. A pretty good balance. But there's no real need to go chronologically here -- I'd much rather get a feel for what YOU want to know more about. So let's hear it for your favorite forgotten game, whether it's on this list or not. Let the world know what's stashed underneath your bed in that cardboard box. The one your mother never found when she put stuff out for the garage sale.