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An Open Letter to GMT Games

Mark Buetow
United States
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Combat Commander Archivist
Move! Advance! Fire! Rout! Recover! Artillery Denied! Artillery Request! Command Confusion...say what?!
Dear GMT Games,

There are many great game companies out there who produce a quality product and have good customer service. Yet consistently, in my experience, you guys (and gals) repeatedly exceed my expectations in every aspect of the business. Let me highlight a few of these areas in which I continue to be impressed and thankful for your hard work.

First, a little (OK, more) Background Than You Probably Wanted.

I played some wargames and other big titles back in the 80s in the old Avalon Hill days. Things like Tactics II, Up Front, and Magic Realm. Now, with the more complicated games, I didn't really have a good partner. My younger brother suffered me to set the games up and move the pieces around but I never really understood the games well or got to play them much. You can imagine the gleam in my eyes at the age of twelve when I received Axis & Allies as a Christmas gift! But as I headed into High School and beyond, I didn't really do much gaming. Regrettably, I sold or traded much of my collection.

From 2000-2005, I began getting into some gaming again, with my daughters. Such titles as Labyrinth, Sky Runner, and Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie became staples. There was a bit of Magic: The Gathering and lots of Chess as I studied the game and ran the Chess Club at my daughters' school. Alas, they began to grow away from being too interested in the more strategic (or, perhaps more accurately the more "battle oriented") games.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit. While we lost a lot of our personal possessions, games were not on the list. We were able to keep most of them. At a time in my life in which I was uncertain what the future held, gaming became much more important. Living with my parents, I found a local game shop in Louisville that had a great selection of titles like Puerto Rico and Ingenious which we enjoyed. Since I had access to my historical and military minded younger brother, I began to try out some games that were meatier and battle-oriented: Hammer of the Scots, Liberty: The American Revolution 1775-83 and then Memoir '44. Being a fan of WWII action, I didn't feel like Memoir was what I wanted. I was looking for something more engaging. I gave Lock 'n Load: Band of Heroes a shot but that didn't click well either.

Then, at some point in those post-hurricane months, I managed to find my way to Consimworld and get wind of a game that was on the books to be printed soon. That game was Combat Commander: Europe. I read voraciously about the game and preordered. Around that time I received a new call as pastor of my current congregation. We found a house quickly and before we moved in , CC:E arrived. There, sitting on my air mattress in an empty house, I cracked the box, punched the counters and read the rules. I was hooked. But who to play with? I got a few games in with two of my younger brothers, but it wasn't their cup of tea.

I think it was here on the 'Geek that Gap10 (Gerry) sent me a note. He was a CC player. He lives in St. Louis which is just under two hours away and he invited me over to play CC. Several times I made the trip over to play CC. Great fun. He's a good wargamer so he challenged me to improve! We still get together as we're able and are good friends.

After a year or so, I became good friends with Marcuswoot who also (conveniently) was just then retiring. Turns out he was an avid wargamer back in the day and his son loves the genre too. His daughter enjoys a wide variety of games and we all began gaming almost every weekend. The first game we sat down to enjoy was Napoleon's Triumph, a game I enjoy but is not one of his favorites. At some point, eager to give CC:E a whirl we sat down and played that. Now, with nearly 200 games under our belts (and his son and daughter too), there is no question that our favorite game hands down is Combat Commander. We've even had Gerry over for mini four-player tournaments!

But wait! They made more stuff. Combat Commander: Mediterranean, Combat Commander: Battle Pack #1 – Paratroopers, and so on. It was great to play these new scenarios with Gerry and to run through whole battlepacks full of battles with Marc and his son Risdon. And GMT just keeps cranking it out! But you know how it goes: When you Preorder from GMT, you get a discount at the end of the year. More games to by. Marc and I share an interest in Age of sail naval actions. Flying Colors was a must buy. And so it goes as I continue to add more GMT titles to my collection than any other publisher.

So enough autobiography! I write all that simply to let you know that after a lifetime of game meandering, I've come to a place where enjoyment and contentment of gaming are fueled most especially by GMT's great product line. So on to my glowing praise of your company!

Subject Matter
GMT has such a variety of themes and historical periods and battles that there is always something to choose from. As a history buff, what can I say? Wargames strike an enjoyment chord of interesting research and action in the game.

GMT and Chad Jensen: A Great Match
I was tempted to make a remark about a "marriage" but I don't want to upset Kai! And I don't want to sound like a gushing fanboi, but if I do, so be it. Chad makes games that are awesome. Simples at that. Of course, lots of people have contributed to the CC line and that says something for GMT as well, since you obviously know how to gather good talent. But when Chad went all "euro" with Dominant Species (and let's face it, it's not THAT "euro!") I actually didn't preorder it. The theme didn't hit me and my vote was for Urban Sprawl. But then I started reading about it and snagged it in the 50% sale. Outstanding game. Then came the nearly three-year anticipated Fighting Formations: Grossdeutschland Motorized Infantry Division. Wow.! Another huge winner. The thing about Chad's games is that they hit a sweet spot of rules-complexity (not difficult but not light either), game-play (the mechanics are always interesting and make for unpredictable and challenging play), subject matter (the guy does his research!), and style (big hexes in CC, rulebooks well-written for learning AND reference, etc.) In my book, taking on Chad's projects now seems like a no-brainer for GMT. As someone said, perhaps you should have a "Designer Auto-order" category!"

Customer Service
Mistakes happen but it's how mistakes are handled that sets a company apart from its competition. The "GMT Office Folks" are so quick to respond and always immediately helpful that I can't but praise them. I know that not every customer is happy and GMT takes it on the nose sometimes in the forums, but that's not been my experience. Ever. Hats off to those ladies who take such good care of us customers!

Community Interaction and Online Presence
This is big. I just don't think you can "hide" in an online world when it is so easy to interact with customers and for customers to interact with publishers (and each other, praising, reviewing, and griping and complaining!) It's surely a difficult thing to put yourself "out there" and while I'm sure you enjoy the praise, and I know you take to heart genuine and constructive criticism, it's gotta be tough to be blasted sometimes by the negative folks. But you guys listen, too and that's important. People recognize that and they appreciate it. Taking a hit on a profit margin to include a mounted board is an example of that kind of response to customer wishes.

But more than that, GMT is a real leader in leveraging the internet for the benefit not just of the company but their customers. PDF copies of the rules and VASSAL modules come to mind as the best examples. While there is always the danger that people would "mooch" such resources, I think (at least I HOPE) that GMT is reaping a good harvest of customer loyalty and repeat business. Now lately, with GMT's presence via Social Media (Facebook and YouTube), you've just added another layer of customer support and service that enhances the upshot of all of this (see below).

Caring for Your Customers
Here I don't mean making sure they get new countersheets if there was a misprint or quickly sending out cards that may have been left out, etc. Here I mean actually CARING. Of all the game companies out there, I don't recall any of them ever telling people, "If you lost your job, we'll GIVE you a couple of games to help out." I don't care who you are, that's just awesome. That shows that there is something running this company besides just profit. Profit is good. I don't know the numbers but I hope that GMT is doing well! But there is more to it than that. I get the impression that you're not at all in it "for the money" but for love of the hobby and it shows in how you run the business. After all, if you guys love the hobby, the people whose hobby is your business will be good customers and that's good for business. Win-win!

Putting it All Together
I suppose it's because of the interaction the internet makes possible but I feel like I know and am friends with many of the GMT folks as well as the community of fans surrounding the games I like. (Even if you never do have a GMT Weekend in Southern Illinois, WE do just about every Saturday!) In short, GMT is like some extended family that is a part of my life. I think you all deserve to know that you have an impact on people. My leisure hours are mostly consumed with gaming and of of those hours and games, the majority of them are GMT games.

Keep up the good work, GMT! Thanks for being great folks, for supporting the hobby and the community and for giving me so many enjoyable hours of entertainment and fun!

Mark Buetow

P.S. I wanted to throw in something about C3i Magazine too because it's such a great resource in promoting your games and supporting them too! (Thanks, Rodger et al!)
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