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Table of Contents
from The Avalon Hill Company History, 1980
[transcriber’s note: I have attempted to copy the text of this document verbatim, including punctuation and capitalization. Game names are as they were recorded in the company history document. Additional information is available in each entry’s “Community Wiki” section. Date shown in parentheses is original publication date, per Avalon Hill]
Any attempt to chronicle the efforts of THE GENERAL (see The General Index) during its first 16 years is intrinsically tied to the output of the Avalon Hill Game Company itself in that the magazine exists solely to analyze its games. Therefore, a brief but comprehensive history of the company is presented here as an interesting, and hopefully useful, aid to the collector of AH games and hobby trivia.
Commercial board wargames originated in 1952 with the publication of TACTICS by Charles S. Roberts. Avalon Hill did not exist then, but this event constituted the sowing of the initial seed. Roberts sold the game on a mail order basis from his home address at 305 Gun Road in Baltimore for the next six years. Primitive by almost anyone's current standards, it was nonetheless the birth of the hobby we know today. Published by the "Avalon Game Company"--a nom de plume Roberts used for his non-incorporated cottage industry, Tactics was, of course, the forerunner of Tactics II which most hobby followers mistakenly credit as the first commercial wargame. "Avalon" was decided upon simply because Roberts lived in a section of Baltimore referred to by that name. Later, in 1958 when Roberts incorporated the name was lengthened for aesthetic purposes to "Avalon Hill"--the "hill" owing its inspiration to the fact that 305 Gun Road was not only located in Avalon, but was also atop a hill.
Although officially incorporated as the Avalon Hill Company, and now being run as a fulltime enterprise, Roberts continued to operate out of his home. Nevertheless, three games were published and the foundation of a "line" of games had been established.
Having survived its initial baptism by fire in the business community the company moved out of Roberts' home and into a commercial site at 7 South Gay St. in Baltimore. It now started to attract attention and began to branch out, and although still in its embryonic stages was able to publish its first game by an outside designer as two lawyers, who also happened to be the corporate attorneys, designed--what else--a lawyer game.
The company moved again in 1960; this time to 209 E. Fayette St. in Baltimore. More importantly, it also got new blood into the creative end of things when a fellow by the name of Thomas N. Shaw was hired away from a local advertising agency to join the company in August. Shaw, a high school acquaintance of Roberts, was just starting what has become the longest standing term of employment with a wargame company--the only such company then in existence. Coincidence or not, the company's new game production increased the following year from one game to seven.
The company moved again, this time to an industrial park at 6720 White Stone Rd. in Baltimore. It also flexed its corporate muscle by doubling the size of the line with seven new releases, including some which would lay the foundation for the "classics" which exist to this day. The hexagon was here to stay. Never again would square grids be given more than passing attention in future land battle game designs.
When Tom Shaw came aboard the previous year he had already ventured into the realm of game publishing. Back in 1959 he had designed and marketed two sports games which he sold in mailing tubes on a private label basis. A deal was soon struck, the games were boxed, and Avalon Hill had an instant sports line which remains in modified form to this day.
1963 was notable primarily for Avalon Hill’s futile venture into children’s games. A “line” of four boxed games for pre-schoolers was designed by Tom Shaw and priced between 98 cents and $2.98. With such great titles as IMAGINATION, WHAT TIME IS IT, DOLL HOUSE, and TRUCKS, TRAINS, BOATS, & PLANES how could they miss? It may have had something to do with the fact that pre-schoolers couldn’t read the instructions. IMAGINATION was actually revised in 1969 and repriced at $3.98 but bombed again proving that all the revision in the world can’t save a bad idea.
In 1964, Roberts finally gave up the struggle of trying to make a go of a pioneering adult strategy game company and was about to throw in the towel. Plans were made to declare bankruptcy on Friday, Dec. 13, 1963, but the company was saved at the eleventh hour by its creditors: J.E. Smith Co. and Monarch Office Services. Monarch had handled all of Robert’s printing previously, and Smith had done the boxes and assembly. The company was reorganized and cut expenses to the bone. J.E. Sparling was the new president and the corporate offices were once again moved; this time to 210 W. 28th St. in Baltimore. It is this address which graces the cover of the very first issue of THE GENERAL. Only Shaw remained from the original personnel. Despite such major problems the company immediately settled down into the two-game-a-year format that was to characterize it for the next eight years. Despite the reorganization, 1964 saw the introduction of a couple pretty fair titles still with us today.
Before 1964 was over, Monarch Office Services had moved to their current address of 4517 Harford Rd., and Avalon Hill’s corporate offices went with them. In the past 16 years 4517 Harford Rd. has become as recognizable an address to wargamers as 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. is to observers of the American political scene. General McAuliffe joined Rear Admiral Wade McClusky (see [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._Wade_McClusky,_Jr. link] to form the much ballyhooed (at the time) AH Advisory Staff.
By now, Tom Shaw’s role of “developer” in the design of new games—heretofore that of a glorified art director executing the actual artwork for the new games—was lessened even more as the commercial artists at Monarch assumed those duties. The developer concept was still in the embryo stages and bore faint resemblance to the far more detailed workload assumed by a modern day developer. In 1966, AH unveiled its first genuine sales hit, but it wasn’t a wargame.
Another figure entered the scene in 1967. James Dunnigan designed his first commercial boardgame. He was to use the experience as a springboard to launch a company of his own which would eventually give AH its first serious competitor for the still very limited wargame audience.
The company took another chance in 1968, gambling on the marketability of two religious games: YEAR OF THE LORD and JOURNEYS OF ST. PAUL by Rev. Eugene Dougherty. If anything, the experiment was an even more dismal failure than the children’s games of 1963 had been. After three years, the remaining stock was virtually given away to local clergymen on the condition that they come to haul them away in lots of 500 or more. On the credit side, the company’s sole wargame offering set sales records for a new title up to that date.
1969 marked the third consecutive year in which AH introduced only one new wargame. The small, but hungry, wargame audience was thirsting for more and AH’s limited publishing schedule was tempting others to try their hand.
There were two wargame offerings in 1970 and what a contrast they were! PANZERBLITZ took the little hobby of wargaming by storm and was an instant hit of heretofore unheard of proportions. More importantly, it had staying power. Still going strong more than ten years later as the 12th best selling wargame in the 1980 line, PANZERBLITZ is the only wargame to have sold more than 200,000 copies (depending, of course, on one’s definition of wargame). KRIEGSPIEL, on the other hand, was a dismal failure from the wargamer’s viewpoint. It was a constant target of derisive critics, but nevertheless sold well on the charisma of the title alone.
This was the year of AH’s rebirth—not so much because of the games it put out—but because of the inner restructure of the company itself. Heretofore, the company had been under the combined management of two prior creditors with differing notions of how the company should operate. On Nov. 30th, Monarch Services acquired complete ownership of AH and the company commenced what was to slowly become a much more aggressive pursuit of the wargame industry under new President A. Eric Dott. Monarch continued to print the games and Dott founded his own box company for packaging and assembly. AH was on the road to controlling its own destiny for the first time with all production facilities under control of one central management. Old warhorse Tom Shaw was made Executive Vice President and became the principal charter of the company’s day to day affairs.
By this time AH management realized it could no longer depend on outside sources to design its games and started to rebuild the R&D staff which it had gone without since Roberts’ exit. Don Greenwood was hired in May to take over The GENERAL and Randall Reed came aboard a few months later to become the first full time designer in the history of the company. Heretofore, personnel such as Shaw, INVALID OBJECT ID=7095, type=person, etc. were either part-time, or had to divide their time among everything from marketing to mail order shipping. It was the start of the long road back to in-house design self-sufficiency.
1973 saw the first AH in-house wargame design of any repute since the original days of the Roberts’ classics. There would be many more.
If AH was reborn as a company in 1971 in terms of its corporate structure, it was truly reborn in the eyes of the public in 1974 when its dynamic duo of Greenwood & Reed combined to put out eight wargames. While three of these (ANZIO, CHANCELLORVILLE, & JUTLAND) were remakes of older titles the average wargamer sat up and took notice nonetheless. While this relative flood of new wargame titles was well received, the company was also taking a flyer on an offbeat project of their own. Top management decided to leave the realm of games and produce a couple of do-it-yourself kits entitled BLACK MAGIC & WITCHCRAFT. Bold experiments are often doomed to dismal failure. These certainly were, but The GENERAL did expand to 36 pages and wargamers were regaining their faith in good ol’ AH.
This was the year that the hobby started to become an industry. Heretofore, little game companies came and went, but had little contact with each other. Certain companies were openly critical of their competitors in print. But the birth of ORIGINS, a national gaming convention initiated by Avalon Hill, brought the various companies under one roof where personal contacts could be made for the first time. It would ultimately lead to the acceptance of the wargaming hobby as an industry unto itself. 1975 was also the year that Mick Uhl joined the now steadily growing design staff.
From a batting average viewpoint 1976 was the year AH went 6 for 6. If there was any doubt that Avalon Hill was producing “state of the art” games, it disappeared after the second ORIGINS convention in Baltimore. Richard Hamblen joined the design staff that summer.
1977 was the “Year of the Acquisition” for AH. In ’77 AH put its acquisitions of the previous year to work. In May of ’76 Avalon Hill purchased the entire line of 3M Games—the company which had pioneered bookcase packaging in the adult game industry. Six months later the company also acquired the Sports Illustrated line of games. Both acquisitions opened many marketing doors for AH and resulted in wargames receiving increased exposure in retail outlets which had shunned them previously. Although games from both lines were immediately sold from existing stocks of the original publisher, it was not until 1977 that the games started to become available in AH packaging and with occasional redesign efforts by the AH staff. The lesser titles were weeded out as existing inventories ran out. The realistic sales limits of wargames soon became painfully evident as FACTS IN FIVE climbed to the top of the AH sales pyramid. Due to their limited interest to the average GENERAL reader these games are summarized only briefly below as to extent of AH involvement and year in which discontinued (if any).
The Sports Illustrated acquisition was every bit as successful. Although the games themselves needed work, the combination of AH design expertise and SI advertising clout let to a very successful sports line which remains one of the fastest growing divisions of Avalon Hill. N/A came aboard in May to head this division and edit a sister publication dedicated to AH sports games: ALL STAR REPLAY.
Rounding out all of this activity, yet another game line was acquired in February: Aladdin Games. These were abstract or educational games which had very limited marketing success and, for the most part, were soon dropped from the line.
Wargames were not taking a back seat to all this as ORIGINS III unveiled three new titles, two of which won Charlies [Charles Roberts Awards]. The SQUAD LEADER phenomenon appears at this writing to be the second coming of tactical games and threatens to make people forget about PANZERBLITZ as the measuring stick of tactical games.
Acquisitions with no detailed writeup:
By this time AH was really picking up corporate steam. The design offices had moved from an old warehouse to their present location at 900 St. Paul St. & 20 E. Read St. and yet another fulltime designer was brought aboard in the person of Frank Davis. Unfortunately, his first project proved to be more than he could handle and after two years of laboring with Larry Pinsky’s THE RISING SUN he was reassigned to other work. Determined not to release another KRIEGSPIEL, AH has kept TRS in limbo ever since in an effort to refine it to an acceptable level. This problem signaled a slow down in the AH R&D program despite its biggest staff ever at a time when the hobby was literally bursting with releases from new companies.
Acquisition was also a key word in 1979 as AH took over its first wargame company with the purchase of the old Battleline series of games from Heritage Models. AH sold existing inventory of several titles. At this writing, this revision process is only beginning and probably will not be culminated until late ’81.
1979 was also the year AH finally turned its head to fantasy—somewhat at the expense of the more traditional historical wargame production. The constantly growing AH staff added Alan R. Moon as a game developer and assistant editor for THE GENERAL and N/A as a staff graphics man.
Which brings us to the present [at time of writing]. Kevin Zucker is the seemingly annual addition to our R&D team. The age of electronics is upon us as evidenced by the humble beginnings of MICROCOMPUTER GAMES, a division of Avalon Hill offering software game programs for the TRS-80, APPLE, and PET home computers. As these are not board games, nor technically speaking AH games, they are not listed here other than mentioning that the company made its debut at ORIGINS ’80 with five programs available for $15 apiece. Whatever else 1980 holds for AH it has already resulted in two widely divergent firsts. The appearance of THE LONGEST DAY as AH’s first (and probably last) monster game with a $65 price tag is in sharp contrast to the appearance of smaller low price point ($8) games in gamete boxes such as CIRCUS MAXIMUS.
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