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Avalon Hill was a game company that specialized in wargames and strategic board games. Their logo contained their initials "AH", and it was often referred to by this abbreviation. It also published the occasional miniature wargaming rules, role-playing game, and had a popular line of sports simulations. It is now a division of the game company Wizards of the Coast, which is itself a subsidiary of Hasbro.

History

Founder: Charles Roberts

The company was started in 1954 by Charles S. Roberts under the name of "The Avalon Game Company" for the publication of his game Tactics, considered the first commercial wargame.[1] Following the success of Tactics Roberts changed the name "The Avalon Game Company" to "Avalon Hill" in 1958,[1] name kept by the company until it folded in 1998. The first game published by the company under the name of "Avalon Hill" was the second edition of Tactics, titled Tactics II and also published in 1958.[2] Between 1958 and 1963 Avalon Hill published eighteen different games, only nine of them being wargames: Gettysburg, Tactics II, U-Boat, Chancellorsville, D-Day, Civil War, Waterloo, Bismarck and Stalingrad.[3] Roberts named the company after the town where he was living at that time: Avalon, in Maryland, even if in later years, during the sixties, the company moved to Baltimore, also in Maryland. With Tactics, Roberts created a new type of board game based on scenarios that simulated military forces, strategies, and tactics. This sort of game was relatively well known, as H. G. Wells had written a set of rules called Little Wars early in the 20th Century, but they had used miniature figures and modeled 3D-terrain, like that later found in model railroading, and the situations represented were small-scale skirmishes between handfuls of soldiers.

Avalon Hill pioneered many of the concepts of modern recreational wargaming. These include elements such as the use of a hexagonal grid (aka hexgrid) overlaid on a flat folding board, zones of control (ZOC), stacking of multiple units at a location, an odds-based combat results table (CRT), terrain effects on movement, troop strength, morale, and board games based upon historical events. Complex games could and did take days or even weeks, and AH set up a system for people to play games by mail.[4]

Monarch Avalon Printing

Avalon Hill became a subsidiary of Monarch Avalon Printing in 1962, (as a way of repaying debts incurred by Roberts). Monarch then ran it for the next 36 years.

Avalon Hill published Panzerblitz in 1970, designed for the company by a young Jim Dunnigan. The game was a departure from wargames to that point in time by being a tactical-level game with a multiple-scenario format and isomorphic mapboards. Dunnigan went on to run what was to become their biggest competitor: Simulations Publications, Inc. One offering was Blitzkrieg. This game was more of an abstract training game featuring two sides, red and blue, and some neutral countries. Many rule variants were created for Blitzkrieg. Other well-regarded games published were simulations of actual battles and campaigns, such as Midway, Afrika Korps, and The Battle of the Bulge.

Later very popular games emerged from the initial Classics: 1914, Anzio, 1776, Jutland, Third Reich, Panzer Blitz, Kingmaker, Napoleon (blocks!); Victory in the Pacific (an advanced or enlarged War at Sea); the Russian Front which used a very attractive map with attractive counters, sound rules and a novel in-hex combat system; Republic of Rome, Age of Renaissance; Storm over Arnhem, Turning Point Stalingrad, Up-Front (card driven game); Raid on St. Nazaire, Princess Ryan's Star Marines with stunning playing cards; Successors of Alexander the Great; London is Burning and a beautiful designes card driven game: Atlantic Storm. Parallel to these series a special Smithsonian Series was born: Gettysburg, Mustangs, Bulge, Midway, Guadalcanal, D-day

While wargames were always what Avalon Hill was best known for, Roberts had founded it as a company for adult, (that is, thinking) games. His own favorite game that he designed during his time with the company was Management.[5] Through much of its history, wargames were only about half of the Avalon Hill line. In fact, the two best-selling titles in AH's history were Outdoor Survival and the trivia game Facts in Five. The non-wargame side of the line picked up several good titles such as Acquire and Twixt from the purchase of 3M's line of games in 1976. During the 1970s, Avalon Hill published a number of tabletop sports simulations, culminating in the popular Statis Pro line in 1978, which was based on the statistics of actual players. Updated sets of cards were made available every year until 1992, by which time sports computer and video games were dominating the market.

Beyond just the 3M games, Avalon Hill also purchased many games from smaller companies and republished them. Much of Battleline Publications line, including Wooden Ships and Iron Men and the Diplomacy variant based on Renaissance Italy, Machiavelli was republished by Avalon Hill, along w/ the popular Diplomacy. AH also acquired Jedko Games' The Russian Campaign and War at Sea, and Hartland Trefoil's Civilization. 1830 was developed by Avalon Hill, but based on Francis Tresham's 1829.

Additionally, the company entered the role-playing game market by publishing Lords of Creation and Powers and Perils, both in 1983. The license to RuneQuest was acquired in a complex agreement with Chaosium, and Avalon Hill published the 3rd Edition in 1984.[6] But nothing came close to the popularity of long-established Dungeons & Dragons.

Avalon Hill was also an early publisher of computer games starting in 1980. Adapting some of its boardgame titles to various platforms (TRS-80, Vic-20, Commodore 64, Apple II, etc.), and formats (cassette tape and 5¼" disk). There were occasional successes, but nothing that was noticed by the computer game industry as a whole until relatively late in its life with such titles as Achtung Spitfire!.

Hasbro

After some costly legal missteps in 1997 and 1998, Monarch ended its direct participation in the games industry, disbanding Avalon Hill in the summer of 1998. Hasbro Games purchased the rights to the Avalon Hill titles and back inventory and the name "Avalon Hill" for $6 million, and published a select number of Avalon Hill games while several individual titles were licensed to interested publishers. The popular long-time game series Advanced Squad Leader was licensed to Multi-Man Publishing.

Hasbro has also released new titles under the Avalon Hill name, also adding the Avalon Hill name to older games such as Axis & Allies that were not originally made by Avalon Hill. The games published under Hasbro ownership have been targeted for a wider general audience, and are less hobbyist-oriented than had been published previously.

When Avalon Hill folded, much of their intellectual property did not go to Hasbro, which allowed the Canadian company Valley Games to reprint the AH title Titan in 2008.

Victory Games

In 1982 Avalon Hill hired some of the design staff from Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), which had just been bought by TSR, Inc, and formed them into a subsidiary company, Victory Games. SPI had generally specialized in wargames that were more complex and attempted to be more exacting simulations than what Avalon Hill published. It also published games more frequently than staid Avalon Hill, which stayed with its two-a-year schedule of releases for a long time, even after SPI published games monthly in its house magazine Strategy & Tactics, as well as stand-alone games. When Victory Games released a line of SPI-style games, it met with critical and commercial acclaim. However, the staff members gradually departed Victory Games for other companies, and were not replaced with new hires. The remnants disbanded in 1989, though existing Victory Games designs were published under that imprint in subsequent years.[7]

The General Magazine

Avalon Hill also had its own house organ which promoted sale and play of its games, The General Magazine, which was published regularly between 1964 and 1998. The magazine offered a wide array of features, including articles on both strategies of play and tactics for specific situations, historical analyses, semi-regular features devoted to individual games, columns on sports and computer games by AH, listings of vendors and opponents, answers to questions on game rules, ratings for both games and players, discount coupons for mail orders, and insider information on future AH projects.

The HEROES Magazine

In early 1984, on the occasion of the release of third edition RuneQuest, Avalon Hill included in all RuneQuest boxes a single advertising flyer (see image, right) announcing the launch of HEROES, its own role-playing magazine. HEROES ran for ten issues from 1984 to 1986[8] and had the main purpose to promote all four of Avalon Hill's role-playing games: James Bond 007, Lords of Creation, Powers and Perils, and RuneQuest.

Location

Avalon Hill moved its corporate offices to 4517 Harford Road in Baltimore in the 1960s, while maintaining a second address on Read Street, where play-testing was conducted and inventory maintained.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Tactics description page on Boardgamegeek.com, boardgame-specialized website
  2. Tactics II description page on Boardgamegeek.com, boardgame-specialized website
  3. History of Wargames, from The Complete Wargames Handbook, authored by game designer James F. Dunnigan in 1997
  4. [1]
  5. Charles S. Roberts: The Founding Father from the CSR Awards site, retrieved 10/30/06.
  6. RuneQuest article in the RPG Encyclopedia website
  7. The Complete Wargames Handbook Chapter 5: History of Wargames - Into the 1980s
  8. HEROES review from Shannon Appelcline's website

External links

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