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.
What’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.
From ancient wars to modern day’s bouts,
Armchair Dragoons chart routes & scout,
In each game they unearth,
History’s lessons and mirth,
Their passion for gaming, there’s no doubt.