Tuesday, August 27, 2019

RIP Rick Loomis

It was only a few weeks ago that  game industry mainstays Bill Jafee, James Mathe , Lee Garvin and Steve Creech passed away. Saturday brought notice that Rick Loomis, owner of Flying Buffalo Games and publisher of the Tunnels and Trolls RPG and Nuclear War card game, passed away after a lengthy struggle with lymphatic  cancer. Loomis’ position (much of the following information comes from Rick’s Wikipedia page) as a major figure in the gaming industry dates back to 1970 when, while serving at Fort Shafter in Hawaii, he picked up a copy of Avalon Hill’s Gettysburg. Finding himself fascinated by the game, he soon developed his own game, Nuclear Destruction, one of the earliest, if not the earliest boardgames to feature hidden movement. Offering to moderate play by mail games of Nuclear Destruction with fellow soldiers, he soon had  some 200 servicemen signed up to play, leading  Loomis to ask friend and fellow soldier Steve MacGregor to write a computer program to moderate play. When this proved successful, Loomis and MacGregor founded Flying Buffalo Inc. in 1972, to run play by mail games as a for-profit operation, making Loomis, as far as he knew, the first person to ever purchase a computer solely for gaming.  While focusing on play by mail games at the time, Loomis also acquired the rights to Nuclear War, which (I remember owning a white boxed copy of the game back in the early 1990s) became one of the company’s best selling products, with multiple expansions, including a randomized set of 40 cards released during the first TCG craze in 1995.

In 1975, Ken St. Andre approached Loomis with the new RPG he had developed:  Tunnels and Trolls. RPGs were still very new then, with Dungeons and Dragons the only published one. While the rules for D&D fell under copyright protection, the concept of roleplaying was not and Tunnels and Trolls, or T&T as players soon shortened it to, approached the genre with a much looser feel and more clearly written rules, making it the second published RPG. Loomis took 40 copies of the game to the Origins Game Fair and sold every copy, leading him to acquire the rights to T&T and bring a second edition of the game out under the FBI imprint. Loomis then wrote Buffalo Castle using the T&T rules, arguably the first solo RPG adventure, even pre-dating the “Choose your own Adventure” books . FBI’s newsletter SuperNova contained some of artist  Liz Danforth’s first work in the gaming field (FBI printed three magazines over time. The third, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, is still one of my favorites). In 1981, Loomis published  the first of the Grimtooth’s Traps books, one of the first RPG sourcebooks not tied to a specific system (although Judges’ Guild predated the release of the Grimtooth books, its early supplements were all tied to specific RPG systems such as D&D and RuneQuest).

In 1978, the Association of Game Manufacturers formed, soon renamed the Game Manufacturers Association, nee GAMA, and elected Rick temporary president and treasurer. He went on to serve as GAMA President for a number of terms, then moving to the President-Emeritus position, regularly attending board meetings. Loomis and Flying Buffalo were fixtures at both national and regional gaming conventions, setting up for decades in dealer and exhibit halls at Origins, GenCon, Eisen Game Fair and the GAMA Trade Show to name a few. After I got to know Rick, I learned we shared a fondness for Diet Mountain Dew, so if I knew he would have a booth at a convention , I made it a point to always bring in a couple of twelve packs of Diet Dew and drop them off at his booth.
Even with his veteran’s benefits, the family’s medical bills will run in the tens of thousands. If you are of a mind, you can contribute to the Go Fund Me campaign or purchase a Catalyst Bundle of Holding .

During the decades he spent in the industry, I never heard him speak a bad word about anyone and never heard anyone say anything negative about him. Thanks for everything Rick. The world is a better place because you were in it.

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