May 24, 2024

#TBT ~ The General Magazine Special Edition, 1988

RockyMountainNavy, 14 March 2024

In 1988 the Avalon Hill Company was riding high. Wargames were popular and the decision was made to release a special edition of The General magazine at Origins ’88. This special 64-page edition was designed to showcase Avalon Hill wargames and boardgames. Looking back this Throwback Thursday, for me the issue evokes feelings of nostalgia, boredom, and some rueful thoughts.

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Looking back at the 1988 Special Edition of The General magazine brings back nostalgic feelings. Several of the articles, like “Fighterspeak” I had seen before as I was an avid player of Flight Leader (1986).

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I was also excited for newer games like Tac Air (1987) which I eventually acquired. Looking over the one page ad, what strikes me is how the advertisement was much more a capsule summary of the game rather than slick marketing. Lessons for today?


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Other articles, like “The Evolution of Strategy” and “Simulating the Art of War,” I probably skimmed over back in the day. Rereading them now I am reminded at how prescient wargamers can be. A few of the words in “The Evolution of Strategy” are as applicable today as they were back then:

“As the wargame industry churns out more and even more titles, players seem to be increasingly seduced by novelty. New, innovative games appear, only to be replaced on the shelves and gaming tables by the latest fad. The veteran wargame that can successfully compete against the fresh product is increasingly rare.”


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Wargamers of that day also seemed more accepting of, uh, imperfection. Take the words of Jerry Pournelle in the article “Simulating the Art of War” which starts out with, “WATERLOO [Waterloo, 1962] is the most frustrating game Avalon Hill ever published.” After a discussion of what really happened at Waterloo, Pournelle pronounces, “None of this is possible in the game.” Yet, the author doesn’t give up. Instead they write:

“You cannot maneuver during the battle as the game is now structured. Intelligence is perfect, orders never miscarry, there is no delay between intent and actuality. In most every respect WATERLOO is unsatisfactory.”

“Yet. Somehow. Despite using an inappropriate combat results table, despite everything else, there is a flavor to WATERLOO that makes it one of my favorite games. It is, as I said, frustrating. I keep thinking that it could be one of the finest of all AH games, if only…”


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Not all the Avalon Hill boardgames and wargames from those days were my cup of tea. Through the years my tastes have changed, but I admit that Kremlin, new to Avalon Hill in 1988, was of no interest to me. Today, however, The Dietz Foundation has a new edition available for sale. Color me interested, comrade.


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(Will Regimental Commander Brant cut this next part or just censor the picture?) Wargaming has long been accused of being a “Boys Club.” In more recent days there have been many efforts to welcome women into the hobby. We have come a long way since Avalon Hill—in their Special Edition of The General—advertised for a very non-wargame product that while likely intended to entertain the boys illustrates just how far the hobby has come, and still has to go. While the artwork for the “G.I. Jane Calendar,” is a bit risqué we can still try to make the best of the situation by noting that at least it’s not AI. The cringe-worthy line, “When people mention the Battle of the Bulge, they’ll be speaking of the G.I. Jane Calendar” unfortunately cannot be unread. This ad certainly will not be getting any Votes for Women. Rueful wargame memories, to be sure. This ad doesn’t need a throw back, but something more like a throw out…

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(ed note: no reason to censor this as it was a product of its time; let’s just do better going forward)


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