The nature of CRASH Christmas issue covers was established, but this year Oliver had a problem; CDS had been promised a cover based around their Brian Clough's Football Fortunes. He resolved it by setting loads of Olibugs round a table playing the board/computer game, while Clough, dressed as Santa Claus, peered on. It was unusual because it was entirely monochrome - but this suited Oliver, who had three other covers to do at the same time. Yet the vigorous line drawing makes its own impact, and it remains one of the best-taken risks in his CRASH career.
CRASH readers got their first chance to see Newsfield's biggest gamble to date with a free 80-page issue of LM. There was also an article inside CRASH showing a picture of the LM editorial team taken at the London office (LM had two offices!). I wasn't present, which was just as well, because the picture was very dark. A staggering 296,000 copies of LM Issue Zero were printed, and the investment then, and in later months, would very nearly cripple the company.
Where to hold the Christmas 'do' was settled by booking Ludlow's biggest disco (out of two), the Starline Club. In the event, some 150 people turned up, some software houses travelling right across the country to be there. It pleased us a lot that they made the effort.
Yet another new face turned up in the art department, that of Markie Kendrick, who applied for the job because he knew the magazines and had once even drawn a Sabreman cartoon strip. Markie was a good find, quick at layout and fast on the draw - it was his comic inventiveness that led to King Grub in LM (and later in CRASH).
The games were less exciting, though Realtime gave us their very best Smash yet in Starglider - good on the 48K version, extraordinary on the 128K - for Rainbird, and Rainbird also received Derek's accolade for their Jewels Of Darkness compilation of Level 9's older adventures. But Derek was less than pleased with the 'Class Of '86' overall, thinking it a generally lacklustre year for adventures games.
Design Design had been busy; two for Piranha included the Smashed 3-D Dracula story Nosferatu and the less than Smashed 2000AD licence Rogue Trooper; and then there was Domark's Kat Trap. At last the Genesis comp had given birth. It was a bit hard for the CRASH reviewers because they were all aware of the danger of bias, or at least being accused of it, so extra care was taken: however, Kat Trap still did well at 84%.
The remaining Smashes went to CRL for Pete Cooke's stunning follow-up to Tau Ceti, Academy, and to veterans Microsphere for their brilliant detective arcade adventure Contact Sam Cruise.
The big fun event for all the magazines was the Reviewers' Challenge, which starred Gary Penn and Julian Rignall representing ZZAP!, Richard Eddy and Massimo Valducci representing AMTIX! and Ben Stone and Mike 'Skippy' Dunn representing CRASH. Massimo was a young man from Shrewsbury who had been given a job earlier as a trainee subeditor, but had drifted into the role of AMTIX! reviewer. His Italian good looks made him popular with the female members of Newsfield staff, and their bets were on him to win. Everyone else's were on Julian Rignall as supposedly the company's ace arcadester, but in the event it was Ben Stone who won for CRASH... much to his surprise.
Just before the Christmas rush really began, the magazines got themselves a real live subeditor in mad Irishman Ciarán Brennan (a sub's job is to go through articles checking the spelling, grammar and sense of the piece, rewriting if necessary). During the early days much fun was made of typographical errors in CRASH (though they were as apparent in other magazines). Now there was no excuse...