June 17, 2024

#TBT/Throwback Thursday ~ TAHGC 1990 Best Sellers List

Brant Guillory, 12 October 2023

Once per year, The General used to publish Avalon Hill’s best sellers list.  In the Summer of 1991 (after a delay to digitize their production), TAHGC published v27 #2 of The General, with the 1990 best sellers list, and a comparison to 2 years earlier.

TAHGC Best Sellers 1990What’s interesting is that for one of the ‘flagship’ wargame publishers, there are a lot of non-wargames on this list.  Even generously classifying Diplomacy, and Civilization in the wargaming category, the top 20 is still only 50% wargame, with a number of sports games making up the bulk of the difference.

Possible explanations?  Sports games have always had a lot of attraction to broader audiences – a “gimme” statement in the era of digital gaming but obviously true before then as well.  But even leaving digital gaming aside, there’s no shortage of (1) fantasy sports games that are not real-time twitchfests1, and (2) contemporary tabletop sports games 

Of the wargaming releases, the staying power of long-term games is also remarkable, in that Third Reich (1974) and Squad Leader (1977) are still on the list, along with Civilization (1980) and the latest edition of the venerable Gettysburg (originally 1958).  Even among the non-wargames, Outdoor Survival (1972) and Acquire (1964) have been around for quite a while at this point.

What do we learn from this list?

First, holding up TAHGC as “just” a wargaming company is historically inaccurate.  They had significant sales from non-wargames, and their all-time best sellers list includes 7 non-wargames, including the top 2.

Second, the “cult of the new” didn’t dominate the sales charts.  From 1987-1990, TAHGC released 50 products, including such highly-ranked favorites as Patton’s Best, MBT, Raid on St Nazaire, Tac Air, and a half-dozen or so ASL modules, none of which are on this list.  

Finally, some newer games in the top 10 – Republic of Rome and New World – are undoubtedly historical strategy games, but are unlikely to be described as “wargames” by the CRTs-über-alles wing of grognardom.  Even the venerable TAHGC knew that it was possible to game your way through history without putting holes in every possible target.

  • Did you pick up any of these games between 1988-1991?
  • Did you stick to Avalon Hill’s wargames, or did you also play in AH’s other sandboxes, too?
  • What thoughts do you have about these sales charts, and the games on them?


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In the realm of wargaming they delve,
the Armchair Dragoons, numbering more than twelve;
With dice and with maps,
They recount history’s scraps,
Strategizing the battles they shelve.
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In each game they unearth,
History’s lessons and mirth,
Their passion for gaming, there’s no doubt.


  1. hell, we run our own March Madness pool every Spring

Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

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3 thoughts on “#TBT/Throwback Thursday ~ TAHGC 1990 Best Sellers List

  1. I bought Gettysburg ’88 and Third Reich during that time period (late 1980’s), although I never actually played the latter and eventually sold it. Well actually, I think I also obtained a used copy of Outdoor Survival around that time, and that game didn’t last long with me either.

    I’ve always been perplexed by the history of Outdoor Survival.
    Haphazardly designed, supposedly in just one weekend as the story goes, by the head of Avalon Hill’s main competitor at the time, Jim Dunnigan of SPI, it was one of AH’s crappiest games, yet they distributed it in probably their most publicly visible venue, namely, the stores of the National Park Service. I’ve always wondered how many people were permanently turned off of AH because of this crappy game.
    I’ve always been under the impression that there was considerable goofiness surrounding AH’s business practices over the years, specifically, like no one really took the business too seriously, and this thing with Outdoor Survival always struck me as one of the goofiest.

    Aside from those games, I’ve played Acquire a good number of times, but online, not the AH version. That’s a very good game.
    I owned Diplomacy at one point, the edition with the metal pieces, but it also didn’t last long before I sold it.
    I’ve played one or two games of both Civilization and Rail Baron, and I think they are both unbelievable snore fests. Good grief, I can play four or five games of Ticket To Ride in the time it takes to play one game of Rail Baron, and besides the time factor, the former is a far superior game to the latter.

    AH has pretty much always been a wargame company for me, as most of their non-war games sucked, frankly. Maybe not all, but most.

    As far as the charts go, I think the lack of wargames on the 1990’s list might possibly be a reflection of many wargamers switching over to computer games around that time period. I know I did. Gary Grigsby and SSI were my heroin in those years.

    1. Outdoor Survival was mentioned by name in the original 3 book D&D as a map for outdoor adventures. The sales numbers come from that mention.

  2. Although I wasn’t an active gamer around 1989-90, I think it’s safe to conclude that AH had their limited collection and a set number of fans who engaged with primarily these titles. I think the more serious wargamers would have long before stepped off the reservation and been buying non-AH titles.

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