Avalon Hill is a game company that specializes in wargames and strategic board games. Its logo contains its initials "AH", and the company is often referred to by this abbreviation. It has 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.
Avalon Hill was started in 1952 by Charles S. Roberts under the name of "The Avalon Game Company" for the publication of his game Tactics, considered the first commercial wargame. Following the success of Tactics, Roberts changed the name "The Avalon Game Company" to "Avalon Hill" in 1958, literally because his house was on a hill in the Avalon neighborhood of Baltimore. This was the 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. Between 1958 and 1963, Avalon Hill published many different games, many of them being wargames: Gettysburg, Tactics II, U-Boat, Chancellorsville, D-Day, Civil War, Waterloo, Bismarck and Stalingrad. Roberts named the company after the town where he was living at that time: Avalon, in Maryland. In the 1960s, 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 it 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.
Monarch Avalon Printing
In 1962 Avalon Hill was sold to Monarch Services, a company owned by Eric Dott (as a way of repaying debts incurred by Roberts to Dott). Avalon Hill became then a subsidiary of a new Monarch Services division, Monarch Avalon Printing, although the 'Avalon Hill' brand and logo continued to be used in the products' boxes and manuals. Monarch managed Avalon Hill for the next 36 years.
Avalon Hill published Blitzkrieg in 1965. This game was an abstract combat game, featuring two sides (red and blue) and some neutral countries. Many rules variants were created for Blitzkrieg. The company also published simulations of actual battles and campaigns, such as Midway, Afrika Korps, and The Battle of the Bulge.
Later games included 1914, Anzio, 1776, Jutland, Luftwaffe, Third Reich, Panzer Blitz, Kingmaker, Napoleon, Victory in the Pacific, The Russian Front, Republic of Rome, Age of Renaissance, Storm Over Arnhem, Turning Point Stalingrad, Up-Front (a card game), Raid on St. Nazaire, Successors of Alexander the Great, London is Burning and Atlantic Storm.
Avalon Hill published PanzerBlitz in 1970, designed for the company by a young Jim Dunnigan. Panzerblitz was a departure from contemporary wargames in that it was a tactical game involving a sequence of scenarios played on isomorphic mapboards. Dunnigan later established the company that would become Avalon Hill's biggest competitor, Simulations Publications, Inc.
Although wargames were always Avalon Hill's best-known products, Roberts had established it as a company for adult-oriented "thinking" games of any kind. His favorite among the games that he designed was Management. Through much of its history, wargames made up only about half of the Avalon Hill product line. The company's two best-selling titles were Outdoor Survival and the trivia game Facts in Five. The company acquired several successful games including 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.
Avalon Hill also purchased many games from smaller companies and republished them. Much of Battleline Publications line, including Wooden Ships and Iron Men and Machiavelli (a variant of Diplomacy set in Renaissance Italy), was republished by Avalon Hill, along with 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.
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. None of these role-playing games achieved the popularity of the long-established competitor, Dungeons & Dragons.
Avalon Hill became an early publisher of computer games in 1980 with its video game division Microcomputer Games, Inc., adapting some of its boardgame titles to various computer platforms (TRS-80, Vic-20, Commodore 64, Apple II, etc.) on several data formats (cassette tape and 5¼" disk). Sales of these products were decent, but the only outstanding success was Achtung Spitfire!, published relatively late in the company history.
After some costly legal missteps in 1997 and 1998, Monarch sold Avalon Hill to Hasbro Games in the summer of 1998. Hasbro, largely seeking the computerization rights to the game Diplomacy, purchased the rights to the Avalon Hill titles and back inventory and the company name for $6 million.
Hasbro has released new titles under the Avalon Hill name, and added the Avalon Hill name to older games such as Axis and 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.
The rights to many of Avalon Hill's more complex games have been licensed or sold to other game publishers, or have reverted to their original owners and been republished by other companies:
- Multi-Man Publishing acquired the rights to Advanced Squad Leader and the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series, and has since published new materials for these. (It also had the rights to Up Front for many years, but never released a new version of the game.)
- Valley Games published new versions of Titan, Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage, and Republic of Rome.
- GMT Games published new editions of Avalon Hill's early card-driven wargames We the People (retitled Washington's War), Successors, and For the People, and a descendant of Advanced Third Reich/Empire of the Rising Sun named A World at War.
- Mayfair Games now has the rights to 1830 (one of several 18XX games they publish).
In 1982 Avalon Hill hired some of the design staff from Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) after that company was purchased by TSR, Inc, and formed them into a subsidiary company, Victory Games. SPI had specialized in wargames that were more complex and realistic simulations than those that Avalon Hill published. It also published games more frequently than Avalon Hill, which stayed with its two-a-year schedule of releases long after SPI began publishing boxed games monthly and as inserts via the magazine Strategy & Tactics. When Victory Games released a line of SPI-style games, it met with critical and commercial acclaim. As staff members gradually departed Victory Games for other companies, they were not replaced with new hires. The subsidiary was disbanded in 1989, though existing Victory Games designs were published under that imprint in subsequent years.
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.
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 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.
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.
- The General Index and Company History
- Tactics II description page on Boardgamegeek.com, boardgame-specialized website
- History of Wargames, from The Complete Wargames Handbook, authored by game designer James F. Dunnigan in 1997
- Rienzi, Greg (May 2009). "Baltimore Observed: Encounter". The Urbanite Magazine. Urbanite Baltimore. Archived from the original on 8 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-11.
- Charles S. Roberts: The Founding Father from the CSR Awards site, retrieved 10/30/06.
- RuneQuest article in the RPG Encyclopedia website
- Wilson, Johnny L. (November 1991). "A History of Computer Games". Computer Gaming World. p. 10. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
- The Complete Wargames Handbook Chapter 5: History of Wargames - Into the 1980s
- HEROES review from Shannon Appelcline's website
- The Avalon Hill Home Page at www.wizards.com
- Web-Grognard's list of AH games
- The Fall of Avalon Hill from GIS.net