Saturday, May 09, 2009

Avalon Hill and the World at War

In 8th grade I fell totally and completely into the role of geek and egghead. I hung around with the weirdo’s in my class, I read books even more than before if that’s possible, and I began playing extraordinarily complicated board games. Principal among these were the games put out by Avalon Hill.

These games were simulations of historical battles (with one exception) such as D-Day, the battle for North Africa (Afrika Korps), Guadalcanal, and the Battle of the Bulge among many. You used small cardboard squares that represented some military unit such as a brigade or a division and moved them on a hexagonal grid superimposed on the map of the battle in question. Each game had slightly different rules to address geographic and supply issues but once you learned one the others were easy to master.

Battles were fought and won with the roll of a die using a chart to determine the outcome.

A single game might take a week or more to play and this, along with the complexity of the games and their attempt to simulate reality made them geek heaven. We would play for hours and hours. Pale, pasty, greasy haired eggheads sitting around a card table discussing the arcane realities of battles that were twenty years old. Could the New Jersey beat the Bismarck? Should you play 1914 using the original line of march or choose your own innovative strategy? And then there was Blitzkrieg which wasn’t an historical battle but an attempt to simulate a wide ranging war across a modern Europe using today’s weaponry.

That meant atom bombs were on the table. Of course the game ended way to quickly if you used the nuclear option.

This was not a recipe for socialization. We learned no people skills other than how to trick people into doing something they shouldn’t by lying. No girls played these games. No athletes played these games. No greasers played these games. Just kids with good grades and few friends who had nothing better to do than sit around for hours playing at war. Frittering away our adolescence. Squandering our youth. Behaving like any other kid with a Play Station or an Xbox blasting away at aliens. Had we an Xbox we would never have picked up those cardboard squares but geeks use whatever is at hand to hide from the world and for us it was games of war played out with cardboard squares moving across a colored board.


Jim Maddox said...

It all began with Tactics II. The first board game that gave us a sense of warfare without the hassle of chess. Then came Gettysburg and Afrika Korps and all the rest. Steve Kay had them first, and he and I spent many evenings and weekends moving those blue and pink cardboard squares across the battlefield. It was an obsession, and it was a magnificent one.

Jim Maddox said...

I believe we spent just as much time playing Risk, Stratego and Monopoly. Later on it was Pinochle. It's just that the Avalon Hill games were just way too cool.