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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!
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.
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.