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The Fall of Avalon Hill (1998) (earthlink.net)
60 points by shawndumas on Aug 30, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments

It's interesting how this article thinks it's inevitable that wargames have had their day in the sun and will now die away almost completely, when in fact the wargame world is far stronger and the games far more interesting now than back in 1998.

Someone with more experience on the business side can explain it better than me, I'm sure, but the shift from catalog sales to pre-orders saved the industry. Instead of printing up 10,000 copies of Spices of the World and hoping they sell out, now the publishers have cash money in hand and know that they'll (probably) make a profit once the printing presses start up.

For anyone interested in what it's like to run one of these small pre-order-based publishers, I recommend Bruce Geryk's interview with the owner of Legion Games on 3ma: https://www.idlethumbs.net/3ma/episodes/legion-wargames

Yep, GMT Games's P500 is just better than the old wargaming business model, and there are plenty of other companies, like Victory Point Games. It may be that a rising tide lifts all boats.

Board games have exploded in recent years, but like abstract strategy games, wargames are no longer the center of the boardgaming world. I think board games have expanded so much because designers and publishers have introduced new games and gaming styles that expanded the market. There are still the same thousands of people playing chess or Gipf, and the same thousands playing hex-and-counter wargames, but there are also thousands of people playing CCGs and thousands playing eurogames and thousands playing cooperative games. There are some really cosmopolitan board gamers, but there is a large group of people who would like to play Pandemic but abhor the direct confrontation of hex-and-counter wargames and abstract strategy. Some of the most successful games are those that appeal to multiple groups, like Twilight Struggle or Legendary.

Of course, that's a re-definition of terms as well: back when Charles Roberts started Avalon Hill or Gary Gygax &c. started TSR, there wasn't really a "boardgaming world"—boardgaming was just getting itself organized; there were wargamers and miniature games, but the eurogame was just a gleam in Sid Sackson's eye.

This article's postmortem is almost comical in hindsight, but it looks like the core of the analysis is from 1998, when boardgaming was in a very different place.

It's definitely true that wargaming is stronger than it was in 1998, but it's still not a shadow of what it was in the 60s. Wargaming, as far as I know, has had a greying problem for a long time. Light Weuros are attracting some crossover boardgamers, but I'm not seeing those people moving into the historical simulations of actual wargaming.

I love Sakigahara, the COINs and most of the Mark Herman games, but I'm not moving any farther in that direction.

I dunno, I've been reading the book Playing at the World [0], and while in the 1960s, wargames and miniatures were at the center of hobby gaming, it seems to have more of a small-but-passionate fanbase. There was one major company that went bankrupt, and lots of small, transient publishers, gaming groups, and fanzines, mostly going into and out of business after a couple of issues.

Wargames got so baroque, I find it hard to believe very many people playing the 60+ hour campaign of Terrible Swift Sword. Although probably thousands of people have played Pandemic: Legacy, which itself will look strange in 30 years.

[0] https://playingattheworld.blogspot.com/

> It's interesting how this article thinks it's inevitable that wargames have had their day in the sun and will now die away almost completely, when in fact the wargame world is far stronger and the games far more interesting now than back in 1998.

There's a kind of inverse hype cycle whenever a newer, better version of something comes out. In the late '90s no-one dared make a 2D videogame, because 3D was the future. Then we saw which things 3D did well and which it didn't, and have a new appreciation for what 2D games can do, and we've seen a resurgence in recent years.

This is, of course, ancient news. If anyone misses the old wargames, I invite you to come to Board Game Geek (aka BGG) [1] and check out the scene. While they cover a lot more than wargames, the wargame community tends to be very active. War games are alive and well, though perhaps a niche hobby. The companies mentioned in the article are still alive and well, in particular, Multi Man Publishing continues to publish games for the Advanced Squad Leader rule set, however irregularly [2]. [1] https://www.boardgamegeek.com/wargames [2] http://www.multimanpublishing.com/Products/tabid/58/Category...

I wasn't old enough to appreciate Squad Leader at the time. The difficulty rating was 8 out of 10. And my friends kept buying the expansions which made it worse.

Yet I went ahead and bought Magic Realm which was a 9 and never completed a game.

I hear you. I avoided Squad Leader and ASL when I first learned of them, partly because I was led to believe they were very complex, unnecessarily so. However later as an adult I took a closer look, especially after MMP won the license and produced the Starter Kit series. And I was amazed at how simple the rules were, the core of them, the main spine. So many common patterns and elements that made it easier to understand and make predictions.

Most of the apparent complexity only comes from the fact that there are lots of exceptional situations, edge cases, special predicaments, where ASL does have some rule that lets it be handled and reflected within the mechanics in a way that makes sense in terms of strategic impact. So many things turn into simple D6 or 2D6 roll +/- modifiers, or table column shifts. And when you roll you always want to roll low, the lower the better. And even then the gameplay might seem highly ordered and turn-based, at first glance, it's truly all about trying to simulate the messy real-time, interleaved, fog-of-war nature of real battle. Many rules and elements are about injecting the chrome of war, of history, the superficial feel, but in reality it very often chooses to bias on the side of making it a more fun game, a simple game.

I think the Starter Kit series was a brilliant move because it helped to introduce players to that stripped down, central core, the heart of the full rules set. Buy and try SK1, and play a scenario and you won't be disappointed, likely hooked instead. Then you can incrementally widen your rules set and play elements by trying SK2, SK3, etc. and then the full rules binder and modules.

I've never seen a WW2 era game with as much modularity and infinite replayability as modern ASL. It's a bit like the LEGO of WW2 games. No gamer should miss getting a taste.

I hear you about Magic Realm too!

Squad Leader was complicated but it also was incredibly innovative. There wasn't another board game that showed how tanks, artillery, infantry, machine guns and leaders really worked on the battlefield in that era.

SL could show you how a well led and well equipped company of German soldiers could hold a village against a less well equipped and well led battalion of Russians, as often happened. Games before this just abstracted out historical differences in the performance of armies. For example, in Third Reich a Germany Infantry division has a higher attack value than a Russian one. Squad Leader explained the historical differences.

I think I have all the AH Squad Leader expansions, and never finished a game. Precious few started, too. Baggies and baggies full of pieces. I will probably ebay them.

The first AH game I got was Luftwaffe. And at the time I thought Monopoly was a time sink...

I played a lot of Squad Leader back in the day, but never took the leap to ASL.

These games seem so perfect for online play. Both because you don't need to meet up in a physical place, and because the computer can know and execute all the rules so I don't have to.

Does anything like that exist? I've tried to look, but not found anything.

Systems like Cyberboard and Vassal (which started as Virtual Advanced Squad Leader) were created specifically to allow playing board wargames via email. But to keep them generic enough to work with any game (and to avoid lawsuits), they do not implement the rules. They let you set up and save the state of the game, log dice rolls, playback opponent actions, etc., but it's up to you to remember and enforce the rules.

Combat Mission was a PC game similar in feel to Squad Leader. You check status of units, issue orders, then the game plays out a short burst of activity in real time before it halts for you to review and issue new orders. The original is old now, but dirt-cheap on GOG. (There are sequels, but they have DRM.)

You might like browsing places like Matrix Games, Slitherine, or HPS Simulations. They have tons of wargames, some of which have the boardgame or miniatures feel. Some computer games go so overboard on details or micromanagement as to have a totally different feel from boardgames, but others are close enough.

It's older, and not a direct port of the rules, but Combat Mission was a rad game that scratched that same itch. (There's a whole series now, but I only ever played the first.)

The Close Combat series is similar in that it attempts to be a realistic depiction of WWII company level engagements. CC is real-time though, not turn-based, although I see that as an advantage.

All my old Squad Leader buddies live on the other side of the planet (I emigrated), so turn based is essential to me.

It's kind of interesting how things build on off of others, and yet diverge wildly. Wargaming minis spawned D&D. And while the spell mechanics of MtG were inspired by Cosmic Encounter, the combat is familiar to D&D players, and caught on like wildfire among the RPG community.

And MtG in turn has inspired a number of games, beyond simple CCG clones. MtG booster pack drafting inspired 7 Wonders and a number of similar games. Deck customization aspects inspired Dominion and countless other Deck Builder games. The whole CCG aftermarket trading / tournament scene inspired a game called Millenium Blades.

If we have played better games, it is because we stand on the shoulders of hill giants.

It's boggling how much video games in general owe to D&D, and how little most videogamers are aware of it.

This is a great example of how intellectual property supports and hampers innovation. Board games can be protected by trademark, copyright and patents; patenting game used to be very common (I have a copy of Camelot from 1932 with the patent notice prominently displayed).

But these days board game publishers generally don't bother with patents. Dominion could certainly have patented its gameplay; but it wasn't, and so we have dozens and dozens of deckbuilding games pushing forward all kinds of innovations in game design.

What amazed me was the overlap between serious tournament MtG players and professional poker players. A lot of the mechanics are more transferable than one would initially think.

>Even wargamers would be hard pressed to name more than a few AH computer products, and nothing ever came close to impacting the general public like SimCity or Quake.

I think he is selling Avalon Hill a little short. As a gamer in the 80s I remember Avalon Hill very fondly. This was especially true in the early 80s when games were few and far between. I spent many hours tediously loading B-1 Nuclear Bomber on my tape cassette drive. They certainly never had a huge impact on the general public like SimCity but they were very well-appreciated and well-regarded in the Gaming community. To this day I still occasionally load up Guderian on the emulator, which remains an extremely challenging game even given the limits of AI in 1986.

Third Reich PC was one of those games that was years late (due to rewrites and so forth, came out almost half a decade after Advanced Third Reich and years after several competing PC games, and seemed archaic when it was released) and had an annoying UI, but it worked. And considering the complexity level of that game, it's really amazing that anyone could create a working PC version.

RuneQuest was hands-down my favourite pencil-and-paper gaming system ever; one thing I think it suffered from was that the world of Glorantha, while very much true to Bronze Age mythos, was a conceptual reach for people used to thinking of D&D's action-movie worldview.

+1 .. RuneQuest was great. The only rival for my affections at the time were Chaosium games.

Then this [0] (from 6/15) might interest you:

We have pressed the reset button...

In 1975 Chaosium started out as a quirky boutique game company. We were all about creativity, artistry and craftsmanship. With every game we provided you with new realms of imagination and entertainment. Over the last few years we forgot that, and lost our way.

The Great Old Ones have Returned…

Greg Stafford, founder of Chaosium and creative force during its heyday, is now President. Sandy Petersen, world renowned game designer who brought Cthulhu into the light three decades ago, has rejoined the team as well.

Greg says: "Chaosium is part of my legacy. My intent is to restore it to its rightful place in the world of gaming. Something we can all take pride in, and something that fans will look forward to.Where 'what’s next?' is answered with 'I can’t wait'."

The Stars are Right…

Sandy says: "I am excited to return to active participation in the Call of Cthulhu line, and I’m eagerly looking forward to working directly with Greg again. We are Chaosium's original team from the 1980s. My first focus is going to be the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition Kickstarter campaign."

Our main plan is simple (but will be a lot of work):

Quickly sift and sort through the current company problems

Immediately ship the remaining Horror on the Orient Express backer rewards

Focus on the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition Kickstarter backer rewards

Return to regularly making awesome new games.

We offer new hope, and ask only for your patience."

Please visit Chaosium.com for regular news and updates. Contact us with questions, kudos, curses, or kindness. We are listening, and we will respond.

Greg Stafford, President and CEO of Chaosium Inc.

I’m puttin' the band back together.


And, if you really like RuneQuest's world of Glorantha, you might enjoy this [0] Kickstarter (active for 18 more days) for a boardgame w/great minis a la Cthulhu Wars (by the same guy):

Designed by Sandy Petersen and based on the mythic cult universe of Glorantha, The Gods War is a fast moving strategy game set in a universe on the brink of disaster. In The Gods War, you take the part of powerful elemental factions, battling to determine the fate of the cosmos. The Gods War has been in development for more than three years. It is highly asymmetric featuring wildly different factions. You’ll fight over territory, perform miracles, and command monsters and gods. You can storm the gates of heaven itself, or watch the world collapse into the Chaos Rift.


As someone who owns everything Cthulhu Wars (CW) I can support that suggestion. I know nothing about the Glorantha universe and will back it for the 450$ tier. CW is gorgeous (amazing production those miniatures are the best board game pieces I have ever used) and the game play is great while keeping the game time reasonable (if you're experienced you can pump out a 4-5 player game in 90 minutes). I also met Sandy at the Spiel in Essen and he's a very cool dude :)

RuneQuest was great. Always saw a big RuneQuest influence in GURPS.

Well, maybe a little, but the real influence on GURPS was Metagaming's "The Fantasy Trip" (aka Melee/Wizard) -- not surprising because Steve Jackson (the US one, not the UK one) was the main designer of both "The Fantasy Trip" and GURPS.

I've been reading the fantastic "Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming" (https://mitpress.mit.edu/zones-control) recently.

Good stuff on everything from modeling counter-insurgencies in games to a history of Amarillo Design Bureau, who acquired the rights to Star Trek TOS in 1981. When nobody cared.. In perpetuity.. And have been creating an alternate canon for one of the world's most popular franchises since.

I had a few Avalon Hill games when I was growing up, but none of my friends wanted to play them, and I was terrible at finding new friends.

So I read the rulebooks for Panzer Blitz and various other WWII games. That might have been more fun than playing the games :-)

> So I read the rulebooks for Panzer Blitz and various other WWII games. That might have been more fun than playing the games :-)

Ha, this was my experience with D&D as well

This was also my experience with D&D. Reading the books is great. Playing the game doesn't work so well.

I wasn't a big fan of the 4th edition pivot to "if we have one goal in printing these, it's that nobody will ever read one of our books for pleasure".

I was fortunate enough to have friends who enjoyed playing them with me. My first was France 1940 followed by 1776, both of which I got at a thrift store after hearing about AH from my pediatrician. I played Squad Leader quite extensively. I owned a few dozen other games but I don't think any got the attention the Squad Leader did.

I had one friend who played consistently. We mostly played Tobruk because it had short scenarios that didn't require you to re-enact the entire desert war in one go.

I always knew it was time to pack up when he wanted to just play the Germans and their freakin' 88mm pak 43's.

I worked at a game store in high school, around 1987 to 1989. This was before Magic: The Gathering was released, which really up-ended the game world. We carried the full contingent of Avalon Hill games, including a big war game selection with a whole library's worth of ASL books. You could always tell the guys who were coming in for Squad Leader stuff. They stood apart from the D&D nerds.

At some point in my tenure there, I traveled up to Baltimore to go to Avalon Hill with my boss. They had some sort of distribution center there, with a lot of miniatures, and I went to pick through their bins of random stuff and select the things that I thought would sell well. It's a great memory.

For any 40-something folks from the Washington DC suburbs out there, the store was Dream Wizards, in Rockville.

I travelled often from D.C. to Dream Wizards in the mid-1980s on the T4 and T6 buses, before I got my driver's license. There was Chimera Books too, just down the road, off Rockville Pike.

Still alive and kicking it seems. http://www.dreamwizards.com/

I have tons of memories of playing Civilization with my brothers. We would leave the game board set up for weeks at a time and play it for a couple hours every day. It's frustrating to know that such a great board game was killed off by a naming conflict.

I'd really love to track down a copy of Advanced Civilizations. I played the computer version many times.

You have two options other than ebay:


A completely recreated version of Advanced Civilization w/fantastic all new art. There are people such as printplayproductions.com [1] who will make one-off copies of prototype games on request from sets of files, but will probably run you in the $150 to $200 range. This is the copy I have.


Currently available in retail boardgaming outlets, very deluxe and very huge. Extreme boardgaming. Retails around $250.


Both of these versions come with all of the expansions and supplementary material, and Mega-Civilization comes with a lot more, driving the maximum player count up to 18(!). Both options are cheaper than trying to accumulate all of the original material on ebay, and the components are nicer.

Just trying to be helpful...

[1] http://www.printplaygames.com/prototypes

Does Mega Civilization change the rules at all other than adding enough materials for more players? Or can you take a subset of the materials and play a game of Advanced Civilization with them?

As much as I enjoy Advanced Civilization, it does take a long time to play; lengthening it even further and getting more people together doesn't really help.

From the photos, it looks like the board is sectional, and you can remove the East in pieces as you reduce the player count. I'm guessing you can play straight Civ and Adv. Civ without any additions with it.

I'm a partisan towards the redesign, probably because I have it (had it made at printplayproductions.) It's really gorgeous and the components are very high quality, and there are no differences in play from the original, other than the errata are fixed. He makes a lot of them, so the turnaround time will probably be negligible. This is how the redesign looks.


I don't see it on the printplayproductions site. Has the setup work already been done, or would someone interested in a copy need to re-make the arrangements?

Email the address at the top of the prototypes page. He can only do it by request as a service to you. He doesn't market any game without an arrangement with the author. He'll probably respond with options. I haven't ordered from him in years, so I don't know how it works of late.

edit: this is how it used to work...


One problem with these games is that getting a group together willing to play these games can be kind of onerous. It's one of the things I try to do at Gencon: there's usually a couple of games scheduled for Advanced Civilization, Die Macher, Dune, Danw Patrol, &c.

It's awful. This thread actually made me decide to try to get a game of Civ some time next month, but if I want to do it, I'd better start recruiting now. I do have one of those vaulted tables, and that helps because you can break up a game like that over two weekends (wargame-style.)

I know the name of Avalon Hill thanks to Advanced Civilizations for MSDOS. Sometimes I keep playing against the AI of this game. Very impressive for a DOS game, as it's hard to win it.

GMT Games has definitely come a long way. And there are many others.

FYI, SPI lives on still in https://www.hexwar.net/

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