Unexpected gaming finds: a journey into the dark heart of Cyborg Commando

There are few things more fun than browsing through a big used game collection at a hobby store—you never know what you’re going to find.

There’s a comic store near my house that has a selection of used games. I usually don’t pay it too much attention when I visit the store, since I’ve combed through the used section in the past and already snatched up the stuff that interests me. But for the last year or two, I’ve been tempted by, of all things… (drum roll, please) this:

Cyborg Commando boxed set

That is, of course, a copy of Cyborg Commando, a Gary Gygax creation and one of the worst games ever published, if internet scuttlebutt is to be believed. Every few months I would stop by this store, see that slightly battered game box on the shelf (for just a few measly bucks!), and after a fierce internal debate, I’d successfully make my saving throw vs. Buy More Games I’ll Probably Never Play.

But recently, in a moment of weakness, I decided that I just had to have this artifact of gaming history. It’s by Gary Gygax, for crying out loud! How bad can it possibly be? (Pretty bad, actually; but that’s a story for another day.)

So I picked it up, trundled home with my prize, and retreated into the basement, after a brief exchange with my wife:

Me: I stopped by the comic store and picked up this game!
Wife: Cool—what is it?
Me (excitedly): It’s called Cyborg Commando. It’s widely considered one of the worst roleplaying games ever published!
Wife:

Safely downstairs, I prised open the box. The old-papery smell of a dusty TSR-era boxed set filled the air:

Inside the Cyborg Commando boxed set.

Two rulebooks, some sort of short adventure-looking booklet, and some dice. A little on the meager side, but this is gaming history I’m experiencing, so that’s OK. But wait! What’s this on the inside cover?

Signed Cyborg Commando rulebook

Unless I’m mistaken, those are the signatures of Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer themselves! (Too bad the owner of this boxed set didn’t get Kim Mohan’s signature as well, for completeness’ sake; alas.) The writing in the top left (in what looks like Gygax’s handwriting) says “At Gencon XX, 1987.” Gencon 1987 was the same year Cyborg Commando was released, so the publisher may have been selling signed copies at their booth at the convention.

What a cool surprise! It actually is a piece of gaming history. It’s not as cool as having an actual vintage D&D book signed by Gygax, but it somehow feels even nerdier, which is good. I also suspect there’s no shortage of signed Gygax books out there, given his decades-long involvement in the hobby—but this is the only Gygax signature in my collection, so it’s pretty special. I may never play this game, but it sits proudly atop my gaming bookshelf.

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2 Comments

  1. Jon says:

    Awesome find! Getting a signed copy of a RPG is too geeky/cool.

    My first reaction to seeing that hilariously awful box art was laughter. My second reaction was to realize that it would be entirely appropriate for the game I’m currently playing, Fallout 3. Guess a cyborg with guns fighting bugs in the ruins of DC will always be a good idea for gaming!

  2. Andy says:

    Thanks, Jon! Yes, the box art seems to suggest (after the initial laughter it inspires) that Cyborg Commando might work well as a sort of over-the-top, gonzo Gamma World type game. Unfortunately, once you start reading the rules, it quickly becomes apparent that the authors are, in fact, taking this Very Seriously and don’t play up the obvious goofy post-apoc angle at all. There’s a lot of Gygaxian lecturing about “realism,” which is just hard to stomach in a game with that cover art.

    Still, I’ve thought about running a one-shot of it for kicks… but if I’m going to play that sort of game, I might as well dig out Gamma World (or Mutant Future) which at least has a sense of humor about itself….

    Oh, and after some digging around, I learned that there are actual published adventure modules for Cyborg Commando! Must… resist….

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