3/29/13

Five for Friday 14: My Favorite Avalon Hill Wargames

This post is a sequel of sorts for my post, Five for Friday 13: Favorite Non-RPG Games.

Chess and Stratego are my favorite two player strategy games. However, I have a deep and abiding affection for the Avalon Hill games that I played as a high school goof before that fateful day I cracked open the Holmes D&D box. Once we started playing Dungeons & Dragons, we never looked back. However, back in the 1970s, Avalon Hill games reigned supreme. Growing up in a rural area and being in high school meant that I didn't have ready access to many opponents. I did have a cousin and two other friends who would occasionally play AH games. Later, the four of us would comprise my first D&D gaming group.

Here, in alphabetical order, were my favorite Avalon Hill games:
  • Panzer Leader & PanzerBlitz: These two games utilized very similar mechanics. PanzerBlitz was released first, focusing on the World War 2's Eastern Front. I mainly played Panzer Leader, which was a small unit tactical game that simulated combat and tactics on the Western Front. These two games were innovative in a number of regards, but the big RPG connection is that these two games pioneered the use of isomorphic mapboards that are now staples of dungeon fans everywhere.
  • Rise and Decline of the Third Reich: The grand strategy game of World War 2. This game takes into account economies, economic development versus armament production; international logistics, strategic bombing, naval activity, alliances, and, of course, combat. There are a lot of moving parts here but it is a fun, playable game due to the ingenius game design that involves a high level of abstraction and a thoughtful combination of differing game mechanics. I think this game, as different as it is from early editions of D&D, allowed us to quickly grasp the abstract concepts of hit points, armor class, and the Vancian magic system.
  • Russian Campaign: I bought this game right after it came out in 1976. It is my favorite wargame, hands down. The rules for "double impulse" allowed for a nice simulation of mass breakthroughs and encirclements that were bread and butter strategies on World War 2's Eastern Front.
  • Starship Troopers: I was a science fiction fan before I was a gamer, so I was excited to find out that Avalong Hill had released a game of one of my favorite sci-fi novels. I still think it is the best sci-fi game around and wish I owned it.
  • Tobruk: I only had a chance to play this once and I never owned it. I had borrowed the game friend, so it true gamer fashion, had read the rules multiple times. The game was released in 1975 and simulated combat in North Africa, circa 1942. It utilized even small units (infantry platoon and individual vehicles/artillery) than the PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader (company level) and I often think about this game while playing GURPS. Not that there is similarity in mechanics, but GURPS feels like Tobruk to me for some reason--lots of cool tactics and a simple mechanics to support them.
Avalon Hill produced hundreds of games during the heyday of board-based wargames. When I look at the list of games, there are a number of games I wish I had a chance to play, including: 1776, Afrika Korps, Jutland, and Midway.

5 comments:

  1. Rise & Decline was insane but so much fun.

    What do you think of the various computer games modeled after those board games -- Hearts of Iron, World at War, Panzer General II, etc.?

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    1. Panzer General and Allied General were two of my favorite games from the era, and I'll occasionally download copies of them along with the DosBox software needed to run them, and play through a little PG to wile away the time.

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  2. Panzer Leader was a huge favorite of mine. I played a lot of Afrika Korps (my first wargame) too. I also got a lot of mileage out of the original Squad Leader, and the AH Card Game Up Front (the re-release of the latter is another Kickstarter I've jumped on recently). I used to like their solo games too. I played a lot of B-17 at one point, and Patton's Best.

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    1. Man, we played the daylights out of Up Front back in the day. I didn't know there was a modernized version in the works...

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  3. I think we were a little too young to really grok Panzer Leader and Panzer Blitz when we encountered them. They were just the right sort of games to fit in our wheelhouse, but we didn't have the cognitive wherewithal to understand the mechanics, and the one friend who thought he did combined the two games together (physically) which led to even further confusion.

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