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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.

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 retires 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 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." 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 did provide a little Daily Content for it:

 

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, and may return to the lineup someday but not until it's received new counter artwork.

We gave it a lot of Daily Content:

Links:

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” link below) 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.

As befits a game known for obsessing all who touched it, Imperium generated a great deal of Daily Content:

Links:

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.

Red Steel had some Daily Content support, including a rather lengthy tale of the game’s origins which is only recommended for those who like to see sausage being made.

Links:

Napoleon in the Desert

This was a game I’d wanted to design as soon as we took over the Eagles of the Empire series from GamesUSA. 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!).

We’ve retired Eagles of the Empire, and Napoleon in the Desert had to make way for the new Napoleonic Battles series that debuts in late 2006.

We did place some Daily Content on the site for the game, including a French balloon unit:

Links:

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 content pieces (see the links below) tell all about the game and its origins, for those curious about it.

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.

During the past couple of years that we’ve had Daily Content, this one has generated several pieces:

Links:

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.

This book will never see a reprint; while it has some extra playing pieces (the Yugoslav fleet), these are printed on the back cover, a practive we’ve abandoned. Current and future supplements will have any extra pieces included as inserts of real, die-cut-and-mounted ones just like the pieces in the boxed games.

Winter Fury

This was our sequel to Blood on the Snow (see below), another game set during the Russo-Finnish “Winter War” of 1939-1940. This one covered the twin battles of Tolvajärvi and Ilomantsi, and offered a great challenge for both players.

The map for Blood on the Snow just wasn’t very good; Winter Fury had a much better one though still not as good as we’d like. The biggest problem with the Winter Fury map was its folding. Some brain donor at the firm where it was printed decided “must fit IN the box” meant “same size AS the box” (they’d even been given a sample box just to avoid this problem). And as usually happens in such cases, the map was the last part to arrive and it came substantially later than the other pieces, giving us the choice of “ship it with a bent map” or “wait another six weeks, pay for the box and counters and rules in the interim and miss the summer con season and tell the angry customers they can’t have their game.” I decided to ship it with a bent map so we could be around in the future to make sure it never happened again (now we fold them ourselves and yes it’s just as hard as it sounds).

It’s a fine little game and I’m very proud to have designed it.

Links:

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.

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.

We’re as yet undecided if Plan Black will ever return to the Avalanche Press line-up; if it does, it will be in a very different form since Plan Gold sports a map covering all the area of Plan Black’s and more besides. Cone of Fire will have the Argentine and Brazilian fleets (and much more of each). Just why we put them in Plan Black, I have no idea any more, but there was a reason. The Mexicans just sort of showed up on the counter sheet; the actual Mexican battleship is in Plan Gold.

Links:

Panzer Grenadier: Tank Battles

Tank Battles represented a step in the evolution of our current supplement line. Unlike Sinister Forces, it does 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 the tight focus of Sinister Forces or Jungle Fighting; most of the book is devoted to new scenarios 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.

Parts of it may be revised and re-issued in other supplements in the future, but Tank Battles as it currently exists won’t be reprinted.

During its existence, we did generate some content for Tank Battles:

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.

Red Parachutes marked a definite step forward graphically. Brien Miller’s counters would hold up very well in today’s market; 10 years ago, they were a sensation. The box cover was a step up from the incredibly ugly designs of the first two. The map is very nice; no one ever believes that it’s by the same artist who did Blood on the Snow’s map. I fired the guy not long afterwards for — well, that’s best left between us. But I wouldn’t have minded publishing a few more maps in that style.

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 fondly remember stacking cartons of this game in my attic during the company’s earliest days; seemed like they’d last forever. Red Parachutes takes a place at the fore of the Hall of Fallen Heroes.

Links:

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, and was noted for its American aircraft-carrying zeppelins.

The game began life at the suggestion of Brien Miller, who had drawn a number of the ships needed and wondered if I could design a game around them. He also had the notion that we should sell the game only direct to consumers. And so we did, but later placed it in general distribution.

Plan Orange enters the Hall of the Fallen Heroes as our sixth-best-selling boxed game. It went through three printings, and also appeared in a Japanese-language edition.

Blood on the Snow

Though we’re noted for our naval games, until the release of Third Reich this one was our best-selling wargame (though it does not touch the numbers of Survival of the Witless). A small game covering the epic battle of Suomussalmi in 1939-1940 between the Finns and Soviets, it was a very popular player’s game that we might need to re-issue someday.

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 and it’s the same game engine that drives Tiger of Malaya. 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.

In one of the sick twists that life provides us, one of the students whose evaluations helped win me that award, Shane Ivey, is now the Web editor at Avalanche Press laying out this page. By costing me that job he indirectly led me to this one that in turn led to Shane’s hiring here.

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.

Survival of the Witless was incredibly satisfying. It deserves an honored place in Avalanche Press’ Valhalla.

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 still sends me hate mail because he believes someone promised him a 780-turn campaign game scenario.

Like North Sea, 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 Leyte Gulf. 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, Eastern Front, sold out in 2003 and was replaced by the new Eastern Front Deluxe Edition. That makes Eastern Front ineligible for Valhalla, but the second game in the series, Heroes of the Soviet Union, does deserve a place here.

Heroes 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. We’ll replace it with a new game, one with lots of new toys.

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. Some of the more self-absorbed among game industry “professionals” emptied their spleens and thesaurii in incoherent online rage.

It was pretty funny, to tell the truth.

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. If role-playing ever revives, we have a nice expanded version ready.

Twilight of Atlantis

Another excellent Lorenzo Sperlonga piece, this time gracing Jim Li’s take on Atlantean culture. It’s a very fine supplement, and it sold out in 2004.

Ragnarok

Liz Fulda, these days our marketing director but then working for Diamond Comic Distributors, insisted at the time that Lorenzo based this cover on her. It was an Origins Award finalist for artwork, for layout, and as a supplement.

William Sariego, designer of our Defiant Russia 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 a much expanded version as Viking Age.

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 was great fun skewering inflated egos, rank stupidity and outright criminal behavior; it was greater fun to realize that none of the targets noticed but just about all of the roleplaying professionals got the joke.

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.

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

Noble Knights

This one, by staff writer Ree Soesbee, 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 the weakest supplement we published. 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

Another work by Ree Soesbee, 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 richly deserved the honor. This was one of the best products we’ve done.

Doom of Odin

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

Lorenzo continued his pattern of painting strong women. A few Internet people commented snidely 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 the former sales manager here (especially the snarl) and I could never quite get used to that.

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 to begin with. The background needed even heavier surgery than Nile Empire.

Lorenzo wanted to try another cover with a male lead, and to create 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 actual 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 write.

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

Ree Soesbee 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 Ree quieted those calms with her take on the fantasy religion of the Endless sands.

The original cover painting was somewhat more disturbing, as the standing model (contrary to Internet legend, the model was not Ree herself but the exquisite Veronika Kotjalich once again) was armed with a scimitar and about to lop the head off the reclining woman. Her left hand originally also grasped a thick handful of hair. The fallen woman is an original composition by Lorenzo.

We felt the original went too close to the violence toward women we utterly abhor, and when this was pointed out Lorenzo quickly revised the sketch. Lorenzo might just respect women even more than he loves painting them, and was horrified by the thought that anyone might see the painting in that light.

Aztecs: Empire of the Dying Sun

The text for this one was written by Ree Soesbee, in a straight historical take on the Aztec Empire. It tells of their culture from their own viewpoint, and Ree pulled off the difficult task of putting 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 has a determined following who place it at the top of Lorenzo’s portfolio.