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Speculators Lose, Gamers Win with New Printing of ‘Crude: The Oil Game’

by Michael Barnes (11/14/12).

The front of the original 1974 edition of Crude: The Oil Game. The bookcase-style packaging was common for early hobby games.

The back of Crude. Originally a self-published title released in 1974, its rarity made it worth some $400 to $500.

A common theme in board game collecting is that games come in and out of print, and that no longer available gem that was once a “holy grail” game commanding hundreds of dollars is suddenly available again in a new edition. Of course, that usually means the bottom falls out in aftermarket pricing. The latest game that nobody ever expected to see reprinted to be reprinted is Crude: The Oil Game, releasing this week in a new, updated version from Stronghold Games.

Originally a self-published title released in 1974, the rarity and extreme value ($400-$500) of this game has come to a sudden and screeching—but also welcome—halt.

The story of Crude is an interesting one, from a collector’s perspective—chiefly because the game is actually best-known in an unauthorized version available in Europe during the late 1980s. Most folks aware of the game’s existence know it best as McMulti, the title the German publisher Hexagames stuck on it. Actual copies of the original ’74 edition—with the proper title—have always been extremely scarce, largely owing to the fact that it was printed and assembled in such small quantities by the designer himself, the late James St. Laurent.

St. Laurent estimated that fewer than 3,000 copies were made. I’ve never even seen the original version, which featured cardboard chits and paper money. But even the more common editions of McMulti, which had chunky plastic pieces to represent the player’s oil-producing and refining facilities, were known to be highly valuable among collectors. The going rate seemed to be $200 to $300 up until 2011, when the reprint was announced.

The second German edition of McMulti, an unauthorized copy of Crude, came in a square box, whereas the first edition was in a long box with more artwork.

Pictured here are the components for this unauthorized reprint, which were a substantial upgrade from the original game.

So McMulti—more so than Crude—became something of a cult item, much sought-after and spoken of in hushed tones among hobbyists. Part of the reason for this is that the game developed a degree of game-player and collector notoriety in the 1990s. During this period, German and European board game designs were starting to make their way to American hobbyists due in no small part to the Internet. When Settlers of Catan hit in 1995 and became a runaway smash, many recognized that game as having some similarities to some of the more innovative and groundbreaking mechanics in Crude/McMulti. Game players who were able to find and play a copy appreciated how the game felt ahead of its time and, in fact, likely influenced the Eurogames movement.

The new edition was overseen by St. Laurent himself until his untimely passing in 2011. By all accounts, he was a gentleman and a pleasure to work with, largely unaware of the influence and impact his game had on hobby games. All of the currency in the game bears his portrait, in tribute to this unsung hero of board game design. He never had another published game, and Crude remains his legacy. Ironically, St. Laurent credits McMulti with keeping interest in the game alive for all of these years, even though he was never paid one cent for the copies that Hexagames sold. It was always assumed that Hexagames had his royalties in escrow—but it was also assumed for all of these years that St. Laurent had vanished or even died.

The market may have crashed on its collector’s value, but Crude’s stock can only go up among gaming enthusiasts. It’s a simple economic game wherein the players are tasked with turning $200 million into $750 million by buying and selling both crude and gasoline barrels to foreign, domestic market. Each player has a six-by-six grid upon which they can place purchased assets that produce crude or convert crude to gas, allow sales of gasoline to the consumer market or prospect for new oil wells.

The box of the 2012 edition of Crude. The release of this reprint sent values of the original plummeting.

Crude 2012’s contents. It still kind of looks like a 1970s game, which I appreciate.

On each turn, a player rolls two dice and that provides a set of coordinates indicating which squares in their grid are activated. It’s a neat twist that the player to the left and right also get to activate their corresponding squares. There are also random events to contend with that provide a degree of thematic narrative and the effects of a constantly changing economic climate have to be considered. Strategy is rich, the tactics compelling. It’s a classic business game featuring low complexity but rewarding gameplay.

Playing the new version of Crude is a revelation. It’s a stunning, ahead-of-its-time design that could have changed gaming if it had been more widely available in the ’70s. But its influence is still felt today among many economic and resource management games, and it stands as missing link between the abstract strategy games of the 1960s and 1970s with the more thematic, simulationist games of later eras.

Speculators might be disheartened watching the values of previous editions plummet, but anyone interested in playing an important and still relevant game design should be thrilled with Stronghold Games’ efforts in getting this obscure game back into circulation.

Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.


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