The Game Master Catalog (1980)

OK, now, this is the stuff. The Game Master Catalog came out at the end of 1980 and it is just, wow. This is one of those slick business to business catalogs meant for distributors and store buyers, but it is wild just how many light years this thing is ahead of the industry it is repping in terms of like, everything. Design, language, total presentation. It is hilarious to see Judges Guild books, with their newsprint paper stock, in these glossy product photos. Everywhere you flip, you can see the catalog makers trying to elevate the products their hawking, but the clash between their slickness and the RPG industry’s DIY vibe is just thunderous. I love it.

Unlike the company catalogs, this one gives us a glimpse of the industry as a whole. Wargames and their accessories still dominate. General interest board games are pretty pathetic. There is an acknowledgment of the market potential for videogames and other electronic doo-dads, but the offerings are still slim. Despite all that, RPGs are front and center — Boynton and Associates certainly knew what hobby was on the rise (hobbies were Boynton’s thing, apparently, I’ve seen similar niche catalogs from them for dolls and doll house furniture).

It’s a great moment in time, too, because it doesn’t last at all. RPGs just don’t benefit from this sort of catalog, but it is so so wonderful that they tried! Those title page photos, my god! This is easily the biggest, most luxurious RPG catalog I’ve encountered, and I have not been able to find any other installments, which is a bummer. I reckon for the time it was likely the most complete picture of the industry available.

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