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Valhalla of Games

When we formed Avalanche Press in 1994, we never really thought through what we would do with game titles that sold out. There was some vague notion that this would eventually happen, but running out of the stacks and stacks of those first two games seemed a time that would never come.

Here are the honored games of our past, that have performed with honor and been retired.

Great War at Sea/Second World War at Sea: Cone of Fire
This was a grand experiment: a game including maps and pieces for both Great War at Sea and Second World War at Sea games within the same box. In one way I guess it succeeded – we sold them all. But we won’t be repeating this in the future.

Cone of Fire covered South America with three full-sized maps – one for the Southern Cone, one for the Rio de la Plata estuary region off Argentina and the third for the southern coast of Brazil centered on Rio de Janeiro. They overlap to let you sail all along the coastline. I was never really satisfied with Cone of Fire; while the 42 scenarios are a good set and individually are fun to play, it had the potential to be far more interesting. We may return to South America in the future, but will do so with two or more completely new games, each from just one of the game series.

Panzer Grenadier: White Eagles
I’d wanted to do a game on the Polish Campaign of 1939 from the moment I first designed the Panzer Grenadier game system, but didn’t see how we could sell 3,000 copies of a boxed game on a subject like that. When we started publishing book supplements, those seemed a feasible means to get that project into print. So when I designed our Road to Berlin boxed game, I designed the maps to also support the supplement that became White Eagles.

I was pretty pleased with the 40 scenarios and the playing pieces, and consider White Eagles one of the better books we published (if I had to it do over, though, I’d have skipped the clunky-looking unit organization diagrams). When we finally got rid of the 5,000-pound albatross that was our in-house printing machine, White Eagles became a problem child. It had 76 pages, which is an odd number for standard printing methods. It needed to be 64 pages, and it turned out that the files were laid out by a former employee in such a way that we’d have to start from scratch to cut it down to 64. That did not seem like a good investment of resources for an older product on the back end of its shelf life, and so we’ve retired White Eagles.

Great War at Sea: Sea of Troubles
When the first edition of U.S. Navy Plan Red sold out, we were left with thousands of counter sheets but no more boxes or maps (the economies of scale on old-style die-cut counters yields much greater savings than on boxes, maps or booklets). Not wanting to throw them out nor pay to store them when they had no purpose, I crafted a book of new scenarios moving the setting to the Caribbean map from U.S. Navy Plan Gold. The Americans and British are still going at it, but this time farther to the south.

Sea of Troubles went out of production for the same reason as White Eagles: it was an odd-sized book that would need to be laid out all over again to print on a standard press. At roughly the same time, we’d developed our black box technology to allow older games like Plan Red to come back into print without committing to printing thousands of units, so the stockpile of pieces had another use.

Sea of Troubles pre-dates Jim “Captain Terror” Stear’s takeover as naval games developer, and so it lacks the coherent story line that marks our more recent offerings. There might be a few scenarios worth salvaging for a new book – I haven’t studied them very carefully – but we won’t be reprinting Sea of Troubles.

SWWAS: Strait of Magellan
I wrote this 10-scenario supplement to pull ships and aircraft from other Second World War at Sea games onto the maps from Cone of Fire. And so the Japanese and the Germans attack the namesake Strait, while the Americans and British join the locals to defend it.

Lacking Stear steering, it also lacks coherence – the individual scenarios are pretty good, but there’s no real connection between most of them. With Cone of Fire also entering Valhalla, I don’t see this one ever rising again.

Great War at Sea: Reichsmarine
Reichsmarine was a downloadable-only product, a format we stopped producing in 2011 (I think) and abandoned completely in October 2013 following a bizarre blackmail attempt. It included the older ships of the German High Seas Fleet in the colors of the Weimar Republic’s Reichsmarine, and the newer ones in Royal Navy colors. And there were 10 fairly disjointed scenarios for their use. As another pre-Stear production, it had no story arc whatsoever.

I don’t see us ever creating a new version of Reichsmarine, so I guess it’ll just be an odd collectors’ item, as long as you leave the counters unpunched.

Great War at Sea: Cruiser Warfare
Cruiser Warfare was an unusual game in the Great War at Sea series, with a world-wide area map rather than the operational maps used in every other game. It also had the game rules included in the scenario book rather than the standard series rulebook that every other Great War at Sea game carries, since the operational rules from that book were not used, only the battle rules.

The game was popular, but I was never really satisfied with it from the box cover and map art through the relatively large amount of errata it generated compared to our other games. We’ll likely issue a totally new game on the same topic at some point.

Panzer Grenadier: Beyond Normandy
Beyond Normandy was the first game we produced in the Far East, and if I’d had any sense it would have been the last. The game was delayed in printing and finally ready to leave just in time for the Chinese New Year. So it sat for an extra six weeks before departing. Then it was shipped to Long Beach, California instead of Norfolk, Virginia as specified; it sat for an extra six weeks waiting for its ship to unload (Long Beach was badly clogged) and then two more travelling across the country by truck. No one remembers when a game is late, at least among the consumers (they most definitely rage, but then they forget), but the delays caused all sorts of serious financial distress for the company. When it arrived, we found the playing pieces had been die-cut with enormous force, far more than is required to cut chipboard. They actually look good, but came out very, very thin from the smashing.

The game itself is one of the handful in the Panzer Grenadier line that does not use the standard geomorphic mapboards, but rather “actual terrain” maps that show the area around Hill 112 in Normandy. None of the games that use this “historical” approach have come close to the sales of their generic sisters. So when we ran out of one of the sheets of ultra-thin pieces, it seemed better to just retire the game rather than go through an extensive reprint.

Great War at Sea: Black Waters
This book existed solely to make use of the pieces from the old U.S. Navy Plan Black boxed game (see below); we had probably 1,000 to 1,200 sheets left over when that game went out of print. Using our current technology we could have just brought the game back with a new box wrap and a cardstock map, and made it look much better while doing so, but we didn’t have that option at the time and so I wrote a book instead. It wasn’t a bad book, though not as focused as some of our later efforts. When the supply of extra pieces ran out, it was time to retire the book.

Panzer Grenadier: March on Leningrad
Panzer Grenadier: Siege of Leningrad
These were a pair of “zippies,” as the then-sales manager dubbed the line – comb-bound booklets containing 10 Panzer Grenadier scenarios each. These were both designed by Mike Perryman, and they’re good scenarios. But the presentation is no longer acceptable with the physical upgrades we’re giving to our line of games, so in October 2013 we retired all of the “zippies.” Placed alongside our other products, they’re just not very attractive and look like they were printed on the office printer and bound in the back room. Because they were.

Napoleonic Battles: Austerlitz
There aren’t that many games I wish we’d never published, but Austerlitz is one of them. It came from a great designer and it’s a very good game for what it is: Rob Markham took on a difficult job and he delivered. But the map art was poor and I should never have sent it to press; the pieces were pretty but hard to use. It did have a very nice box. Napoleonic wargames as a sales category are about as dead as their namesake, so I don’t see us returning to them.

Second World War at Sea:
Leyte Gulf

It was the largest game we've ever made, with 630 double-sized ship counters and 1,540 standard-sized pieces plus three maps and acres of charts. It began life as part of our now-defunct Classic Wargames program, and was enough of an event to merit its own Ode as its stockpile dwindled.

While we like to keep our naval games in print, we've had to say goodbye to Leyte Gulf. Giant wargames are even more difficult to fit into the new-model Avalanche Press, where a roster of 15 employees apiece has given way to one of just two.

Panzer Grenadier: Airborne (boxed edition)
This game had the unfortunate release date of Sept. 11, 2001. Intended as an introductory game for the Panzer Grenadier series, it wasn't really that so much as just a small game in the Panzer Grenadier series. It was much smaller than the first two (both now out of print) so that helped it some on that front as it had a low price, but it did not show off Panzer Grenadier the way we really needed it to.

Even so, it retired as one of our all-time best-sellers, and we did sell a lot of them in several iterations. The first edition had a hard-mounted game board and an unattractive olive-drab box. The next version had the same unattractive box, but a lightweight game board like those in our current Panzer Grenadier games. And then finally we sold it in an unattractive light green box with the lightweight board.

The game had 165 pieces, but uniquely for the Panzer Grenadier series, that included all of the required markers (it didn't include the generic marker sheet that all other series games receive). Most of the scenarios took place during the airborne landings behind the Normandy beaches in June 1944.

The scenarios changed with the box change, and we replaced the four original scenarios that used pieces from other games with four new ones that, like the other 16, only called for parts already in the box. There is a sharp division among players over this policy: some want to be able to mix their pieces between games and have more scenarios, but others insist that even one scenario out of 50 requiring pieces from another product yields an "incomplete game." Wailing and pants-soiling ensues. And so we have chosen to enforce the Fulda Rule, that every boxed game must be fully playable only with pieces within its box. And then we sell the "crossover" scenarios separately.

We eventually re-issued most of the scenarios, along with the map (we had a huge supply of them) in a book edition.

America Triumphant
This game has a fine system, one we've used since in Alsace 1945, Red God of War, Bitter Victory, Campaign for Italy and probably many more to come. It sold out in 2006, with a large print run, so it was very successful. It needs to return to the lineup with new counter artwork, and improved map and a better name. It had a really stupid name, but a very fine price which no doubt aided sales and it's been called the best-playing game of the Battle of the Bulge.

Imperium Third Millennium
Our first space combat game, Imperium was a licensed version of Marc Miller’s 1977 classic published by GDW. We went a little overboard with it (see the “Tale of Obsession”) but it sold very well and deserves its place in our hall of honor. Since it was a licensed product, it won’t be reprinted.

Red Steel: Clash of Armor at Kishinev
Red Steel might have been the best hard-core wargame design we’ve published but its unusual topic doomed it to average sales. The Romanian assault on Bessarabia may be legendary in Romania, but doesn’t resonate much in the United States or even Western Europe. It is one of my favorite game designs, and even spawned two stillborn sequels: one smaller one on the Falciu Bridgehead, one larger one on the siege of Odessa. Those would have been fun to design and publish, but less fun to have to try to sell.

Napoleon in the Desert
This was a game I’d wanted to design for a long time, though I don;t know why. It was built around the Battle of the Pyramids, and included several other clashes between the French and the Turks and/or Egyptian Mamelukes plus the 1785 Battle of Cairo between the Turks and Mamelukes (not something you’ll find in just any wargame!).

Invasion of Italy
Our very first game, Invasion of Italy was a fairly intense simulation of the Allied landings at Salerno in September 1943. We tried to send it off in truly spectacular fashion, by giving the final 300 copies a true Viking Funeral. We were ready with the permit, and had plans for a picture gallery on the website of a couple hundred ugly brown boxes going up in flames. The customers confounded us by snapping them up instead to save them from a fiery end. I was truly disappointed. They’re probably pretty happy: it was a surprisingly good game for a first effort and held up as a design (though not graphically) for its entire 12-year existence.

Second World War at Sea: Distant Oceans
The book supplement gave new scenarios for all of the games then in print in the series, but concentrated on what was then the newest title, Bomb Alley. It has background articles on Italian carrier programs, the German helicopter carrier and the Royal Yugoslav Navy. And scenarios for Eastern Fleet, SOPAC and Midway for good measure. It lacked good focus and had its additional pieces printed on the back cover, a very poor substitute for actual physical ones. This book will never see a reprint.


Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Black
Plan Orange (see below) was a very successful game for us, and so in 1999 we made plans to release a companion game at the same time as Great War at Sea: 1904 (also seen below). Plan Black was initially offered only directly to consumers from Avalanche Press, but heavy retail demand eventually made us change those terms. Once it sold out we re-packaged the pieces in the Black Waters book (see above).

The game focuses on German and American plans to fight a naval war in the Caribbean Sea in the early 1920s, presuming a German victory in the Great War. Each side’s plans more or less mirrored the other’s, and that made for a very nice set of scenarios. While it’s been called an “alternate history” game, I’ve never thought of it that way since it’s based on actual war plans. It is filled with ship designs that were never launched, for both sides.

Panzer Grenadier: Tank Battles
Tank Battles represented a step in the evolution of our current supplement line. It did not have its own die-cut and mounted playing pieces, instead relying on cut-and-paste pieces printed on the back cover.

The book lacked a tight focus; most of the book is devoted to new scenarios for Eastern Front and the long out-of-print Heroes of the Soviet Union. It also has historical pieces on the Austrian Army of 1938 and German helicopter development.

Red Parachutes
Brian Knipple designed Red Parachutes at my request as the follow-up to Invasion of Italy. He had several other games set in the Italian theater (the Anzio landings, the Canadian battles around Ortona, every Allied army taking a crack at Monte Cassino) but I felt it best that the series next move to the Eastern Front. I don’t think that was necessarily a bad decision, but perhaps we should have built a following by producing related games. Given that we’ve sold them all or I wouldn’t be writing this, I guess it wasn’t a bad choice after all.

As a game, Red Parachutes is old-style wargaming at its finest. Brian is an outstanding designer of hard-core wargames, and this one shows why. Whole rifle divisions disappear in a single turn, nails are bitten, sweat is shed, the outcome is constantly in doubt. It was always a fairly expensive game, and we produced a whole lot of them. I remember stacking cartons of this game in my attic during the company’s earliest days; seemed like they’d last forever.

Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Orange
The third game in this long-standing series, U.S. Navy Plan Orange won the 1998 Origins Award as Best Historical Wargame. It’s based not on an actual war, but on the actual war plans of the United States and Japan for a naval war in 1930. Each side has a collection of warships available at the time, plus some of those cancelled by the Washington Naval Treaties of 1922. Plan Orange also introduced rules for aircraft into the series, which became the basis for Second World War at Sea, and was noted for its American aircraft-carrying zeppelins.

Plan Orange went through three printings, and also appeared in a Japanese-language edition.

Blood on the Snow
Though we’re noted for our naval games, for a few years in the early days this one was our best-selling wargame (though it does not touch the numbers of some titles that came later). A small game covering the epic battle of Suomussalmi in 1939-1940 between the Finns and Soviets, it included a motorized Soviet brass band unit. Blood on the Snow was a very popular player’s game that we might need to re-issue someday; the title's literary reference was wasted on everyone but William Sariego. But it has to get a better map; I've seen uglier ones but thankfully usually in games we didn't publish.

MacArthur’s Return
Our second game ever, this one lasted 11 years before the last copy went out the door. It also appeared in a Japanese edition.

The subject is the 1944 American invasion of Leyte in the Philippines, site of Douglas MacArthur's famous “I have returned” landing. It’s a tense game; despite overwhelming American firepower, the Japanese player can use the jungles to advantage, make kamikaze attacks, and has a small parachute unit that can land behind American lines.

We did better game pieces here than in our first effort, but they don’t hold up against more recent work. They were also made with recycled cardboard that resembles pressed nuclear waste. The map was by Mark Simonitch, no doubt one of the last ruby-film creations ever published. The box art is fairly dreadful; one of my most joyous moments at Avalanche Press came when we sold thousands of sets of components to a Japanese partner and I got to jump up and down on the excess boxes.

What made MacArthur a winner was the outstanding game system; Brian Knipple designed it but I used it myself in several other games. Each turn, the American and Japanese players each select several “impulse chits” detailing what their units can do. “Full” is the best, and lets units operate fully. They can also “Move” or “Attack,” or pick a “Half” chit which allows a limited combination of the two.

The catch is that the Americans have more and better chits, reflecting their superior supply and command arrangements. The players draw these chits several times to make up a turn (the number of these "impulses" varies with the weather), and it's possible that one side (usually the Americans) will get to operate several times while the other only goes once. It’s an excellent means to model asymmetric capabilities, and we’ll no doubt use it in many more games in the future.

Survival of the Witless
Knowledge is Nothing. Tenure is Everything.

Our hottest-selling game was this card game of the tenure process. It’s a brutal game, where the most common card is “ass-kissing” (to simulate the most common action in academia). Three to eight players try to collect enough writing cards and a contract to finish their book, and enough influence with committee members to win a tenure decision.

Design of the game helped defuse a lot of pent-up rage, after I was released from my teaching post for winning a teaching award. Yes, you read that right. It made the other professors unhappy, my department chairman informed me, to have an untenured colleague publicly elevated in such a fashion. He was sure I’d understand. He would later be forcibly retired and now works as ... wait for it ... an adjunct. Perhaps there is a just God.

Both The New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education profiled the game, and that sparked huge sales through non-game channels. The chairman of the blue-ribbon panel reviewing the tenure system in Massachusetts bought two dozen and handed them out to the panelists, instructing them to play it. Several universities adopted it as part of their graduate student orientation, to display what sort of life they might expect after receiving their doctorates. And at least one case of adultery was exposed through play of the “Seduction” cards.

Second World War at Sea: SOPAC
With the success of Great War at Sea, we looked to branch out into World War II. The first release in this line, SOPAC, came out in late 2000 after serious production delays. It had hard-mounted game boards, and covered naval and air action in the Solomon Islands.

SOPAC proved very popular and spawned a whole new series. Fans loved it, except for the one guy who sent me hate mail for years because he believed someone promised him a 780-turn campaign game scenario.

We’d like to eventually replace SOPAC with a new game featuring a full-sized map like the other games in the series that will overlap those from Strike South. And we’d include new game pieces to extend the scenarios into the 1943 actions in the Solomons.

Panzer Grenadier:
Heroes of the Soviet Union

Our other flagship product line, Panzer Grenadier, also debuted in 2000. The first volume sold out in 2003 and was replaced by Eastern Front. The second game in the series, Heroes of the Soviet Union, was a compromise product from the start and I was never really satisfied with it. A shortage of art resources led to its limitation to one countersheet, and that with very few new counter images. We gave it two mounted gameboards.

Given those limitations, Brian Knipple came up with quite a good package of scenarios. But when the game was gone, we decided not to reprint it.

Black Flags
This was one of our finest d20 roleplaying supplements. When it was named a finalist for an Origins Award for best artwork, one of the other nominees cried in frustration. "Have you seen the cover?" he gasped. "It has a girl pirate . . . a naked girl pirate!" He was, of course, Canadian.

Behind the cover lurked a pretty damned fine pirate role-playing game. The book sold out in less than six months, and Black Flags remains one of our best product concepts.

Twilight of Atlantis
Another excellent Lorenzo Sperlonga cover, with etraordinary detail (every one of those leaves has a unique vein structure) this time gracing Jim Li’s take on Atlantean culture. The Atlanteans are way more than human, and pretty near immortal, though they have bitter enemies in the evil cat-people of Mu. And then there's the issue of keeping their island-continent from sinking. If that happens, then they have a problem. It’s a very fine supplement, and it sold out pretty quickly.

 

Ragnarok
Ragnarok was an Origins Award finalist for artwork, for layout, and as a supplement. William Sariego, designer of our Western Desert Force boardgame, wrote this one. It has a great system for playing minor Norse gods, and runic magic. We liked it so much that when it sold out, we produced an expanded version as Viking Age. The cover made us notorious; a retail store chain ordered up hundreds of store posters, then decided it was too hot to handle. An RPG review mag ran it on their cover, but added on some extra bands to hide that deadly underboob.

Greenland Saga
My personal favorite among the d20 line, this was a sourcebook on the fringe of the Norse world, the isolated colony of Greenland. It also had an adventure where our heroes try to find why the dysfunctional, inbred, jealous and petty inhabitants of the frozen wasteland keep disappearing. In other words, it was an allegory for the wargame industry.

It was actually a good adventure, an Origins Award finalist, and it sold out fairly quickly. It appeared in German and Italian editions as well.

I, Mordred
An outside submission, this came in needing extensive surgery from our line manager, John R. Phythyon Jr. The book contains a well-drawn description of Camelot’s faded glory, and has d20 stats for all of the tale’s well-known characters. The centerpiece is John Phythyon’s adventure, which looks at the Arthurian legend from the title character's perspective.

The cover is by Terry Moore Strickland, as we experimented with some beefcake rather than cheesecake. Quite the handsome model.

Noble Knights
This was a pet project of our then-sales manager and never quite seemed to take clear shape. It’s not a settings book, but neither is it the useful rules supplement it probably should have been.

Noble Knights is probably our weakest d20 supplement. As originally planned this should have been a supplement to a Crusades sourcebook, and the utter depravity of these religious wars would have handled the demands for noble actions. In that combination the book would have been quite useful. It does have a great cover.

Noble Steeds
This had the potential to be the best book we put out. The real reason we published it was because my daughter, then five years old, wanted to know, “How come you never make books about horses?”

A finalist for the 2002 Origins Award for Best RPG Supplement, Noble Steeds never fulfilled its great promise. At a time when d20 books on stupid topics were appearing almost daily, we had truly filled a useful niche and failed to market the book very well.

Doom of Odin
Doom of Odin was John Phythyon’s follow-up to our very successful Ragnarok book. In the adventure portion, our heroes must solve riddles and rescue a princess from dwarven captivity.

Lorenzo continued his pattern of painting strong women. A few Internet people snarked that our cover Valkyrie is not actually about the loose her arrow as it’s on the wrong side of the bow. But the rest of the staff liked her; she’s a dead ringer for a former employee (especially the snarl).

Nile Empire
For this module, we went back to Egypt’s ancient pantheon of gods and Old Kingdom culture. The book was a difficult project and needed extensive surgery to bring it up to standard.

For the first time, Lorenzo used the model who quickly became our favorite, Veronika Kotjalich. An art gallery owner by day and former Playboy NSS model, Veronika is also capable of a seemingly infinite number of looks. She’s also one of the nicest people we’ve ever worked with.

All For One, One For All
Without question, this was the weakest product in our d20 line. It has extensive rules for sword combat, paramours and other aspects of 17th century life. These are very good; if they weren’t, we wouldn’t have published them in our Black Flags book. The background needed even heavier surgery than Nile Empire.

Lorenzo wanted to try another cover with a male lead, with a sexy cover woman relying more on expression and less on cleavage. It’s a good piece, and the fact that he finished it ahead of deadline is the biggest reason this book wasn’t simply spiked.

Viking Age
Our last d20 book, and felt by many to be our best. Conceived as a companion to Celtic Age, it was also meant to bring the campaign rules of Ragnarok back into print.

Viking Age covered all aspects of Viking society, with great detail on their weapons, ways of war, everyday life, marriage rules, laws and more. There are two systems of magic detailed, including the creepy Norse dream magic. There’s also ritual sex, and that was damned fun to playtest.

Diana Knight, who’s modeled extensively for comics and is the official spokesmodel for the Las Vegas Fetish & Fantasy Ball, is the cover model. Painting is again by Lorenzo Sperlonga.

Vlad, the Impaler
Though Celtic Age won the Origins Award as Best RPG Supplement of 2002, I’ve always been partial to Vlad the Impaler as the best piece in our RPG line. Of course, I wrote it myself, but out of hundreds of publications over the years, this is one of the handful of which I’m most proud. It was very satisfying both as a work of history and as a game book.

The background is disturbing, and it was meant to be. This is the real Vlad the Impaler, and Wallachia was a cruel place. Much of the background was based on Romanian-language sources and a number of primary documents. We received a fair amount of criticism for the unvarnished look at evil, but we never intended the book for children. A finalist for the 2002 Origins Awards in two separate categories, we were pleased that other professionals recognized what we were trying to say.

The front cover, by Lorenzo Sperlonga, is a disturbing piece of evil. The back cover is by Terry Moore Strickland, another disturbing piece as the devil birds of the Balkans, the vukodlak, feast on the dead.

There were also numerous pieces from the Romanian National Museum in Bucharest, images I obtained in the early 1980s. A number of these were destroyed during the 1989 uprising that rid Romania of the modern Vlad, Nicolae Ceausescu. Many have never been published anywhere else.

Endless Sands
Endless Sands veered away somewhat from our historical/mythological bent to pursue an Arab-influenced desert setting. I was concerned that this book hold a respectful view of Islam, and that was handled well with the fantasy religion of the Endless Sands.

The cover painting features the exquisite Veronika Kotjalich as the standing model. The fallen woman is an original composition by Lorenzo.

 

Aztecs: Empire of the Dying Sun
This one was a straight historical take on the Aztec Empire. It tells of their culture from their own viewpoint, and puts human sacrifice into an actual logical context.

The cover model once again is the lovely Veronika. The background might be Lorenzo’s best. I’ve never liked the painting of Veronika as well as some of the others, but it had a determined following who placed it at the top of Lorenzo’s portfolio.