Gaming with Avalon Hill

The Avalon Hill Company

Adult games played on a board? Regrettably, no, I am not speaking of an interesting combination of planking and porn; however, the visual has now afforded me at least three new hub ideas. Four if I am able to somehow factor in this (even newer) new ostrich craze as well...But I digress. This is a love story.A love story about the first meeting between myself and a lifelong passion: Strategic Board Games from the Avalon Hills Game Company.

Class Action Against Greyhound?

It was an epic journey by Greyhound bus from Chicago to New York in the spring of 1971, I, a young lad, was in the company of my sister and mother. They were both older than me. I was a precocious child who tended toward vomiting on long bus rides, a skill I willingly demonstrated each summer when both my sisters and I trekked to Michigan for our annual summer visits with our divorced father and his other wife. Again, I digress but I believe it important to establish my street-creds in this regard.

(In my defense, they did allow smoking on the Greyhound Lines back then and I don’t believe my 8-year old olfactory processes were up for the challenge. In short, it was nasty. To my mind’s eye, large swaths of the Midwest have been reduced to images of floating bluish smoke and the steel sphere of the toilet from which I could see parts of an axle and what was probably the I-80 interstate flashing below me. (I seem to recall smelling gasoline as well.)


Arriving in The Big Apple

This trip was going to be different. As I recall the details…and I really don’t (I was eight) but for real cheap we were tortured for an indeterminate amount of time on the bus, were dropped off somewhere in downtown New York City, allowed free reign in that mighty citadel of capitalism for 16-hours before re-embarking on the smoking silver tube of death for the ride home.

In order to dispel any notions that we were some sort of rubes who had landed, Jules Verne-like, on some mythic shore, let me say this: Well, first I will say this: You would need to disregard the fact that I bore (at the time) a disturbingly close resemblance to an 8-year old version of Woody Allan (but more gawky) and my sweater smelled somewhat sour—you know—from the vomit. No my friends, we were no rubes. We were Chicago-ans. America’s Second City. (circa 1971), tallest building in the world (circa 1971), home of the Chicago White Sox, third tallest building in the world, and…deep-pan pizza. In short, we came not to be impressed.

Our whirl wind tour included stops at a bagel place, the U.N. building, Rockefeller Center, some other places, and finally F.A.O. Schwartz. The biggest toy store this 8-year old had ever seen. Somewhere between the ground floor and the roof (I remember being on an escalator just prior to the fated meeting), was a cellophane wrapped blue and grey box, perhaps, 24X24X2 inches in size. I sort of stepped, rolled off the escalator rail (as eight-year olds tend to do), and was riveted by the title which stood on an end-cap only ten feet away and only hinted at the martial glory stored within, GETTYSBURG!

Gettysburg (1964) by Avalon Hill
Gettysburg (1964) by Avalon Hill

My life is finally complete

In a trance I shuffled towards the display, reaching out, running my fingers reverently across the silhouetted image of a 12-pound Napoleon cannon, which reposed under the plastic cellophane, safe from the ravages of my grubby eight-year old fingers. In my imagination, the Encyclopedia Britannica articles I had been poring over, 'The American Civil War', jumped to life! With the contents of this box, I knew I would bend that stubborn Longstreet to my will and carry the field on the second day of battle! I believe I started to sweat.

I began to assemble my argument. My mom had said I could have one reasonable item from this store.(I was unclear to her meaning but suspected that the rather nebulous term “reasonable” could prove my undoing in the matter). Stumbling towards my mom, arms outstretched, dirty fingers plaintively grasping the box, sweating, smelling of sweater vomit…really…how could she resist? She cast a skeptical eye on the package while noting the age requirements (I believe 12 was recommended) and the listed number of game pieces that were inevitably going to break her vacuum at some point in the future.

“Are you sure,” she questions, “Wouldn’t you rather have that tank over there?”

“Mother, do I look like a rube to you? That Tank is for kids…this is Gettysburg!” I asserted in such a tone which, I hoped would underscore, my earnestness in the matter. It also afforded me a unique opportunity to utilize my favorite word at that time…rube.

“Well ok, but you can’t open it until we get home.” She moved off to see if my sister had made her “reasonable” selection.

My eight-year old mind raged at the shear injustice! Not until we got home? Didn't she understand how important it was that I see what was inside right then?? How could such a thing come to pass??? Needless to say the rest of the trip was a blur. The Rockettes performed admirably, I’m sure, but how could one concentrate with the smell of potential cardboard cordite in the air? But who knew? I was unable to open it…there might be real cordite in there! I remember the bus ride home. Lot’s of vomiting and lots of clutching that blue and grey box for all I was worth. That’s all I remember.

Avalon Hill 3rd Edition cover
Avalon Hill 3rd Edition cover

The Gaming Life

The joys of the game were presented to me upon arrival to our three story walk-up apartment on Chicago’s north-west side. I ripped the package open to display the nearly 80 card board counters which represented the massed forces of General George Mead’s 90,000 troops fighting under the Army of the Potomac and the 75,000 men of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, The huge folding map, the indecipherable instruction booklet, the dice all splayed about the dining room table was the beginning of what became a long time passion. I believe I successfully played my first game, using the rules, when I was in my twelfth year. Over the years I assembled a mighty collection of Avalon Hill titles that invariably addressed my historical interests from the wars of antiquity to a gutsy defense of Western Europe by NATO forces

Well eventually, I met a girl (which is surprising considering the amount of time I spent playing war games), I kicked my unfortunate bus riding vomit habits (I stopped taking the bus) and the long stored games were eventually lost to attrition. While cleaning the garage the other day I happened upon one of those old titles, “The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich,” and a rush of old memories came back as if stored in the baggage compartment of an old Greyhound bus.

Requiem for a Love Affair

A Google search revealed that the storied company of Avalon Hill did not do well in the toy manufacturing mergers of the 1970s and 80s and the advent of computer games destroyed any remnants of a fan base beginning in the 1990s. It now appears to be a wholly owned subsidiary of Wizards of the Coast which, in turn, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hasbro, Inc and confines itself to releasing versions and scenarios of “Axis and Allies”. It’s a shame. I closed my computer. It was like finding an old girlfriend on Facebook whose current reality serves to sully long held treasured memories.

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Comments 10 comments

attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi TS, only an ex-eight-year-old boy can truly comprehend the enormity of such a life-changing discovery. Your description of the event is mind-blowing, also the amount of dashes i am managing to insert into this sentence is too. But i also have a habit of digressing. I remember pleading with my dad for a fort, where i could re-en-act, (oops here i go again) the battle of the little-big-horn, (darn it). Those plastic indians really got savaged, good and proper and helped to make me the well adjusted fruit-cake i am now. Oh well must-dash. Cheers.

ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada Author

Was that Fort Apache??

attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

No, it was fought in a patch'a ground, behind the saloon.

ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada Author

Very nice! I am certainly glad we have become acquainted ( you go by Attempted or do you prefer Humor?). I have found that if it wasn't for digression...I would never see any new places.

Ardie profile image

Ardie 5 years ago from Neverland

This is a colorful and sweet memory from your childhood that comes full circle to your adulthood with the joy of remembering the games that sustained your interest for so long!

ThoughtSandwiches profile image

ThoughtSandwiches 5 years ago from Reno, Nevada Author

ahhh Ardie...

I have to wonder how you found this dusty chestnut to pull out!?! I'm glad I was able to share a small slice of that childhood. As I are from Ohio, huh? I apologize for the mess I made on your roads as the bus headed to New York!

Always wonderful chatting with you!


Swisstoons profile image

Swisstoons 2 years ago from Michigan

Gettysburg was the very first Avalon Hill game I played. Tactics II (as far as I know, there never was a Tactics I) was the second. This was followed by Battle of the Bulge..and finally Afrika Korps. Only one of my friends shared my love of wargaming. As I recall, the time estimated (in the rule books) to complete a game was something like three hours. Our games would last longer than the actual historic battles...mainly because we would spend hours arguing over the interpretation of the rules!

Gart Williams profile image

Gart Williams 2 years ago from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

There was a game called Tactics, it was invented by Charles Swan Roberts, the founder of Avalon Hill. He produced it in 1954, sold some copies but replaced it in '58 with Tactics II. It was revised in '62 and again in '73. The company went out of business in '97

Swisstoons profile image

Swisstoons 2 years ago from Michigan

Gart Williams...Aha, so there was a Tactics I, afterall. My edition of II featured squares. I'm guessing the '62 and '73 edition both featured hexes. There's a computer game by Norm Koger call The Operational Art of War which is very similar to the AH games, using the same hexes format and unit design...with a couple hundred historic scenarios. It'splayable against both human opponents and a fairly sophisticated AI.

Gart Williams profile image

Gart Williams 2 years ago from Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

Tactics was a primitive version of Tactics II. Tactics was re- issued as an anniversary edition for Avalon Hill's 25th but they "inversed" the colors on the box. Tactics II continued the same square system but in '58 used round HQ counters and numbers that read "1ARM" for 1st Armored, "1INF" for 1st Infantry division. In '62 they dropped the numbers and used German Army symbols that were later adapted by NATO to signify Armored, Infantry, etc. In '73 the re-issue still used squares but changed some rules to "limit" certain offensive capabilities. In my opinion, not as good as the '58 edition.

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