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- Preserving Virtual Worlds
- Research and Publication
It's been a few months, but the collection spotlight is now back. I'm starting off with a large scoop of photos and a mild sprinkling of historical...sprinkles. Think of it as a scrumptious classic game sundae. Today's focus is the cover art of Avalon-Hill's Microcomputer Games Division, though I promise the art and games are more intriguing than their publisher's bland name.
Charles S. Roberts founded Avalon-Hill in 1958 as a production vehicle for his new war game Tactics. The notion of a strategic, adult board game was relatively alien at the time and many hobbyists were still busy building model trains and miniatures. Within a decade early success gave way to financial difficulties and in 1968 Avalon-Hill became a new property of Monarch Publications, Inc. War games maintained a decent popularity throughout their first two decades, and while mildly threatened by the rise of fantasy and sci-fi games (Dungeons & Dragons for one) in the 1970s they only began to wane with the rise of personal computer games. There's a good deal more to that era's history, but I'm primarily concerned with Avalon-Hill's release of board-game to computer game ports, so more on Avalon-Hill's corporate woes later.
In 1980 an issue of Avalon-Hill's magazine/bugle "The General" announced the release of four titles from their new Microcomputer Games Division (creatively apt brand name). In development "for 2 1/2 years" the initial titles featured what became the division's signature box style, large, illustrated and be-swooshed. The uniformity of the boxes provides a nice moment of calm in the otherwise harried world of game archiving.
Now although Avalon-Hill produced a good deal of computer games, with a few exceptions, none of them were partially successful or particularly noteworthy. Legionnaire, by Chris Crawford, was the first major computer game to occupy a classical world (more information here) and a rather violent cover.
Many of the early covers had a very limited color palette, were washed out, quad-tonal, a little putrid and absolutely beautiful. The only example from the first batch of titles is B-1 Nuclear Bomber shown below. Another fantastically pre-apocalyptic title, Nukewar, used a similar palette (and no, it is sadly not pictured).
Some covers lacked a certain visual oomph or artistic competency, but still managed to portray the most vital information required before a purchase. For instance, Space Station Zulu's cover subtly conveys the message, "there is a computer game inside this box, it has aliens in it, some of them have big, big knives and dislike the non-knived." Now the game has absolutely nothing to do with that concept, it's just what the box seems to say and I love it.
Avalon-Hill's literature emphasized the adult nature of their games, a statement likely tied to their earlier need to separate war games from simple children's board games. A number of their titles dealt with more serious issues, war (obviously), stock trading, and business management (a popular board game title, Acquire, is summarized in the images above). Many of the war games mirrored their physical counter parts though the representation remained very primitive. The range of games covered numerous topics and allowed the company to expand quite rapidly on the idea front, like this plethora of sci-fi titles.
Somehow, the amateurish nature of the art makes it that much more endearing. The cover designs all seem to overshadow and cast aside each game's potential graphical banality. Voyager I is an extreme example of this shoddy artistry. Just remember that the game may have been incredibly entertaining (at least one hopes).
I have not yet been able to play any of these games, but it's surprising that no one remembers Avalon-Hill's computer games. They produced scores of titles for personal computers at a time when many competitors lacked similar resources, brand recognition and game design experience. The boxes physical presence in the collection initially led me to investigate this company, the large boxes and full cover art intimidated other items in the collection, seeming to lessen their impact and bring the Microcomputer Games boxes to the fore. We have almost every title from this company in the collection and the rest of this post will highlight the covers that caught my interest for whatever reason. I'll put any relevant commentary with each image, there are simply too many to organize right now.
Avalon-Hill is now a property of Wizards of the Coast which itself is owned by Hasbro. The Microcomputer Games Division did not last past the mid-1980s. I haven't come across any title more recent than 1984 or so, and there is no history or mention of its closure readily available on the Internet. If you find more info, please comment :).
Possibly the best cover, just a little too absurd. The self-fulfilling definition of a "good game" is a nice touch.