Flying Buffalo is a fantasy/sci fi game company that started the play-by-mail
gaming industry. Play-by-mail existed before Flying Buffalo but it was generally played between individual. People would take out ads in hobby magazines like Avalon Hill
's The General
saying they were looking for opponents. In 1970, Flying Buffalo's founder Rick Loomis realized he could act as a game master and host larger games. Loomis had an accounting degree from Arizona State University
so he was ideally suited for a game that required a lot of pencil pushing and form processing.
Loomis, who played a lot of PBM while serving in the military, created a game called Nuclear Destruction
, a game of nuclear war between nations, and sent flyers to people looking for PBM partners in the pages of The General
. Loomis's flyer advertised his game and his services. Loomis offered to send them the rule book for free. If they wanted to play, moves cost ten cents (well, 18 cents if you include what it cost to purchase a first class stamp at the time).
In a short amount of time, Loomis had 200 players. The paper work became more than he could manage alone. Loomis got his friend Steve MacGregor to rent time on a CDC 3300
computer and write a program to handle turn processing. Loomis incorporated in 1972 and purchased his own Raytheon 704 minicomputer
for about $30,000. Personal computer ownership in 1972 was nearly unheard of. And the idea that someone would own a computer solely to play games
was incredulous. When Loomis tried to take out an ad in the pages of the The General
, promoting computer-processed PBM, Avalon Hill refused to run the ad until Loomis could establish that the owner of the computer (presumably a university or the Navy) was letting him conduct private business on said hardware.
In 1975 Loomis took a survey of his players and discovered a lot wanted some kind of science fiction themed PBM game. Loomis created a game of stellar exploration, combat, and empire building. He asked his employee Russ Beland what would be a good name for the game. Beland thought "a game about star exploration and wars? Call it Star Wars
." (This was 2 years before the George Lucas
movie and no one had ever heard the title before.) Loomis thought the name was okay but that didn't hint at the exploration and resource management facet so he called it "Starweb
". Loomis to this day wonders what would have happened if they had gone with Star Wars
. After operating in the game sphere for a couple years before the release of the movie, would he have been sued? Would Lucas have quietly paid him to drop the name? Whatever the case, Star Wars
was a boon to his business as it drove people to sci fi gaming and he saw his Starweb
rosters expand after the movie release.
In the late '70s Flying Buffalo branched out into traditional play-by-sitting-around-a-table-with-humans role playing games. It's best known RPG is Tunnels & Trolls
. Tunnels & Trolls
got its start when an employee named Ken St Andre was assigned to come up with a way to play D&D via mail. St Andre sat down with the rules and couldn't figure them out so he wrote up rules for Tunnels & Trolls
. Loomis thought his game was pretty dumb. The spell names were some of the stupidest in the history of gaming like "Hidey Hole" and "Take That You Fiend!". He decided to bring a handful of copies to sell at Origins
, thinking he would sell only a couple. The game proved to be a hit and he sold every copy with people wanting more. Gamers, a lonely bunch, really dug the game's strong solo play elements. Tunnels & Trolls
was strong in that area because the game had been designed with a rigid play-by-mail goal in mind.
Loomis also branched out into board games. He found it weird setting up booth at gaming conventions with nothing to sell other than future fun by mail. He created a board game version of his nuclear war
game. It did not prove to be popular. People kept asking him, however, if this was the nuclear war card game they remembered playing from a few years back. Loomis remembered playing the card game as well but had not seen it in years. What he found intriguing was people all made the same comment that they played the game until the cards wore out. Loomis decided any game with that sort of appeal he wanted to sell. He found a set of rules for the game and the author's name was "Douglas Malewicki". He had no idea how to get in contact with the author so he took out an ad in several gaming magazines saying Douglas Malewicki should get in contact with him. Someone tipped him off that there was a Douglas Malewicki in LA. Loomis called him and got his answering machine. He realized he had the right guy when he got his answering machine and the message was done in a Dracula
voice asking for the caller to leave his name, number, and blood type.
Flying Buffalo is currently based in Scottsdale, Arizona
. Loomis' company employs nine people.