Avalon Hill Talks About Magic Realm
Notes on the game from the pages of THE GENERAL magazine compiled by Jay Richardson
Comments by Jay Richardson are in cyan
Prior to the arrival of the Internet, just about the only place to find information about Magic Realm was in the pages of the Avalon Hill GENERAL, a bimonthly magazine published for over 30 years by AH. This document is a chronological collection of every significant mention of Magic Realm in the pages of the GENERAL, with links provided to each of the major articles.
Also included are a few notes concerning designer Richard Hamblen’s career at Avalon Hill that might be of interest to his fans.
Vol 12 No 3 Sep-Oct 1975
First listing of “R. Hamblen” as a member of the editorial staff.
Vol 12 No 6 Mar-Apr 1976
First articles by Richard Hamblen: co-author of an analysis of the Chancellorsville game, and commentator on a replay of Wooden Ships & Iron Men.
Vol 13 No 1 May-Jun 1976
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 55 written by editor Donald Greenwood
Early indications are that 1976 has brought an acceleration to the already hectic new game pace. We now have more titles under active development than at any other time during our history. To help out with our increased workload we’ve added another full time developer in the form of A. Richard Hamblen, an inveterate wargame designer and player of long standing. Among other things, Richard brings us an immense amount of expertise on the American Civil War and a reputation as a top flight game player. You’ve already sampled his literary skills in Vol. 12, No. 6 of the GENERAL and we expect you’ll be even more pleased with his prowess at game design and development.
Hamblen may well design AH’s first attempt at one of the “giant” or “monster” games which have proven so popular recently. Although untitled at present, the game will be a strategic portrayal of the entire American Civil War utilizing eight 22″ x 28″ mapboards. The game will have approximately 2,000 unit counters but will feature low piece density. Political and logistic considerations will limit the action to bursts of furious intensity rather than prolonged attrition. The game will subdivide into six separate games, each recreating a separate theatre or campaign. Although we have not completed our pricing studies yet the game will probably command a price in the neighborhood of $50. The separate boxed sub-game versions will be available at regular prices. Completion is scheduled for the summer of 1977.
This game was never designed, or even mentioned again in the GENERAL.
Vol 13 No 2 Jul-Aug 1976
Once again it is time to consult you–our audience–as to what you would like to see in the year ahead from Avalon Hill in the way of game designs…
OLDE EARTH–A game of wizardry and monsters which allows you to replay the adventures of your favorite sword and sorcery books. Play runs the gamut from ordinary swordsmen to magic users, monsters, and hidden passages.
Vol 14 No 6 Mar-Apr 1978
Origins ’78: Official Avalon Hill Memorial Commemorative Souvenir Softball Program and New Games Preview Guide
RICH HAMBLEN with “Witness” sketch, front & side views
5’11” 210 lbs. – Bats Right – Throws Right
Used sparingly since the manslaughter indictment, Hamblen feels he will be okay emotionally for the great game at ORIGINS. Understandably, Hamblen has been overwrought ever since a line drive off his lethal bat smashed in the face of a third baseman–and he was only bunting at the time. By channeling this sometimes uncontrollable strength in a more productive manner, Manager Shaw feels that Hamblen holds the key to Avalon’s attack. Also to the men’s room, which means he pretty much dictates what Avalon’s new games will be. Hamblen has been a key figure in the design of many of Avalon’s more successful games; he figured in the final development of Arab-Israeli Wars. Gunslinger, Magic Realm, and Trireme are his, as is the very popular Victory in the Pacific, designed, he says . . “almost as quickly as I get once around the bases.”
Look for these new games at the Avalon Hill booth
The Magic Realm is a strange world of magic and mighty warriors. The players play the parts of doughty warriors, skillful magicians and strange supernatural beings, all searching for adventure in a very strange land of magic, curses and monsters. Each player has his own particular skills and abilities to help him on his quest, from the strength and ferocity of a Viking Berserker to the delicate, subtle curses of a Druid priest. And as the players seek their desires, the magic realm slowly darkens and changes as different enchantments blossom and spread. Forest trails twist out of shape and mysterious caverns suddenly gape, and magic cities twinkle into existence behind the wayfarers. A unique game-system recaptures the feel of a magic world and of the strange and powerful folk and creatures that inhabit it.
The Magic Realm is a role-playing game for one, two or more players; it’s a fun game for solitaire play or for a group to play. A unique game system creates some very strange personal characteristics for the players, and an even stranger mapboard for them to move along. You’re going to have to see this game to believe it.
Vol 15 No 1 May-Jun 1978
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 67
GUNSLINGER, on the other hand, has been shelved temporarily in favor of MAGIC REALM–a fantasy offering with the largest art budget an AH game has ever enjoyed. The rising interest in fantasy which has given such priority to MAGIC REALM may also mean that TRIREME will be delayed until the fall.
Vol 15 No 2 Jul-Aug 1978
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 68
MAGIC REALM pulled a disappearing act on us when designer Rich Hamblen fell ill in late June. We did display the artwork for the game at ORIGINS and hope to conduct a mini-playtest session at GENCON. If all goes well, the game should be available by mail before Christmas, and in the retail pipeline shortly thereafter. We spent a small fortune on artwork for this rascal and have decided against releasing it until we’ve tested it more thoroughly. Just how much we’ve spent on the artwork will become obvious when you see the $15.00 price tag. Ah, inflation . . . will you ever end?
TRIREME fell victim to the fantasy craze. Despite being all but ready for a by-mail playtest, the game was shelved in favor of work on MAGIC REALM. When progress will resume is open to conjecture, but surely not before MAGIC REALM is completed, and not prior to 1979, in any case. GUNSLINGER, incidentally, has an identical status, being another of Rich Hamblen’s designs.
Vol 15 No 4 Nov-Dec 1978
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 70
MAGIC REALM is in the playtest stage, with the main emphasis right now on streamlining and fine-tuning the various parts of the game system so the players spend the maximum amount of time making decisions and playing the game. The players should be able to have all kinds of different adventures within a reasonable amount of time, as they try to deal with the dangers and opportunities in the Magic Realm, so in the playtest we’re tinkering with the existing game system in order to extract all the waste motion. Specifically, combat has been made short and decisive, magic has been made more potent by pulling out weak spells and replacing them with more varied and important spells, and the threats to the player-characters have been grouped into more threatening groups–that incidentally offer more alluring rewards.
Vol 15 No 5 Jan-Feb 1979
On the brighter side, however, we hope to be able to advertise the availability of both MAGIC REALM and BISMARCK in the next issue. Those who want to get an early jump on their competition and order them sight unseen may do so by sending us $15 for MAGIC REALM and/or $12 for BISMARCK. Please don’t expect delivery before mid-March at the earliest.
Vol 15 No 6 Mar-Apr 1979
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 72
The game advertised in this issue is now available and not just a figment of someone’s hopeful promised deadline.
The last statement is a prelude to what you won’t find advertised in this issue. Yes, MAGIC REALM is once again among the missing, having missed its umpteenth consecutive deadline. This game has been a considerable embarrassment to us–having supposed to have made its debut at ORIGINS 78, then GEN CON, then Christmas, then the Hobby Show, then last month . . . Back at ORIGINS 78 we broke from a long-standing policy of not accepting pre-publication orders with good intentions of filling advance orders for this game and BISMARCK last fall. It is now almost a full year after our first optimistic deadline and a production model dragon has yet to be slain. This misrepresentation, albeit unintentional, to our loyal customers of promised delivery times should be a source of considerable shame to our R&D Department and will hopefully result in a cessation of any advance publication offers in the future. I’m beyond making promises for MAGIC REALM at this point, but hopefully, GOOD LORD WILLING, it will be done by ORIGINS 79.
Why have such seemingly interminable delays come about? Obviously, the fault is primarily that of the R&D Department, although such unpredictable factors as staff health and the blizzard of ’79 played a part. Basically, however, in the case of MAGIC REALM the problem can be summed up as teething problems with a completely new and novel game system, complicated by a “chrome” fetish by the designer who lost sight of his original parameters and constantly built on to the existing system in an effort to out-D&D D&D. I can sympathize with the latter course having come down that road myself the past two years with the SL gamettes. Hopefully, these delays will result in a better final product and, in the long run, that is to everyone’s advantage.
Vol 16 No 1 May-Jun 1979
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 73
MAGIC REALM (yes, it’s actually done!) is a role playing game with a great deal of complexity fed to you in bits via Programmed Instruction. It is not for the casual player. The full scale version makes SQUAD LEADER look like checkers in comparison. If you are a D&D enthusiast who thrives on endless game systems, you’ll love MAGIC REALM.
full page ad
The MAGIC REALM is a land that contains the ruins of a fabulous civilization, lost in the wilds at the edge of the world. A few humans cluster at lonely dwellings where once mighty empires held sway, and barbarian horsemen trot fearfully past unseen vaults and jewel-encrusted altars hidden in the tangle and brush. Off among the ruins there are dark places where swarms of monsters dwell, gargantuan flying bats, tribes of marching goblins and Dragons watching over their treasure troves.
Into this MAGIC REALM come sixteen adventurers, drawn by the tales of treasure and magical power waiting to be found amidst the crumbling ruins. Soldiers and mighty warriors are among them–great armored Knights, a famous Captain, an Amazon, a doughty Dwarf and a brawny Berserker. Elusive and crafty adventurers are here as well: Swordsman, Elf and skilled Woods Girl. Druid, Wizard, Pilgrim, Witch, Sorceror, Magician and a Witch King have come to rediscover lost magical arts.
Now YOU can be one of these sixteen adventurers into the MAGIC REALM, seeking treasure, knowledge and renown in an alien land of magic and monsters. Crossing mountain ranges or venturing into networks of caves you can meet or avoid monsters as you find fabulous treasure troves. You can deal with native humans, trading and hiring, doing errands for gold or leading military campaigns against other groups. You select the objectives that you are seeking in the MAGIC REALM, and you choose the strategy you will follow to obtain those objectives.
YOU will fight your battles blow by blow, selecting the speed, force and direction of your attack and your maneuver to avoid enemy attacks. Individual duels and great melees with monsters and natives are possible, with blows striking armor, helmets, breast plates and shields and magical Spells being Cast in the midst of combat.
Treasures, weapons, armor, horses and Spells can be found or bought to enhance your ability to fight or to move and find the objectives you need to win the game. More items are included than are needed to win the game or are ever found during play, so the players never know what they might find or what their opponents might be carrying.
Each game the treasures, treasure troves, natives, monsters and the mapboard itself are set up randomly, so each game the players have a new MAGIC REALM to search and discover. Treasures and treasure troves are hidden and must be found; monsters and natives appear and march around the board unpredictably, seeking the adventurers who are wandering through the MAGIC REALM. With an initial setup that varies enormously from game to game and randomly appearing monsters, natives and treasures, MAGIC REALM is full of surprises each time it is played. It is filled with opportunities and dangers that shift and change every game.
The rules of MAGIC REALM are divided into seven parts (or ENCOUNTERS) that can be played as separate games and that gradually introduce all of the components and rules in the game. As the players become familiar with the rules and components in each ENCOUNTER they can progress to the next ENCOUNTER, until they are playing the complete game.
MAGIC REALM is a game for any number of players. One player can set it up and try to discover it himself, or many players can each take an adventurer and cooperate and/or compete in the game. Be wary if you play alone, however, for the MAGIC REALM is a dangerous place.
Vol 16 No 3 Sep-Oct 1979
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 75
Now that the MAGIC REALM odyssey is over, Richard Hamblen can return to work on his TRIREME and GUNSLINGER designs.
This installment of the Philosophy wouldn’t be complete without a few words on the missing MAGIC REALM feature. We’ll make it as few as possible. Put simply, the article was plagued by the same problems which delayed the game past one promised deadline after another. In an attempt to right all the game’s minor problems, the designer is hoping to provide us with a super comprehensive feature which will address all the questions you may have on the game system. Therefore, we just pushed it back an issue and will try again next time.
Vol 16 No 4 Nov-Dec 1979
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 76
Closer to home, this issue contains the long awaited MAGIC REALM feature. Universally praised for its innovations and cursed for its rules, MAGIC REALM owners should spend some time with this issue. If nothing else, the question and answer insert should help you comprehend the rules more easily. We’ll eventually have a revised rulebook available for the game but for the time being this issue should be a big help.
Contest No. 92
It is the Combat Portion of the day in a game of MAGIC REALM and four characters–the White Knight, Black Knight, Berserker and Swordsman–are battling a Tremendous Troll, a Tremendous Dragon, one goblin with a spear, one goblin with a sword, one Rogue with a bow and the ‘B5’ Bashkar without a horse (assume the Rogues are battling all of the characters). The question is: how can the characters coordinate their plays to kill all of the monsters and Rogues without having any of the characters killed in the process?
THE SITUATION: The characters have all of their listed fourth- stage equipment and counters (no Spells) and nothing else. It is the start of the first Round of Combat and all of their weapons are unready. The Berserker is not Berserk.
OPTIONAL RULES: Optional rules 2.1 Weapon Times, 2.3 Armor bonus, 2.6 Weapon Length, 3.1 Armored Monsters and 3.2 Heads and Clubs are all in effect.
THE PROBLEM: Specify each character’s play for the first Round on the chart below, and we will assume you know the continuation that will eventually kill all of the monsters. You must specify the attackers each character takes onto his sheet, the FIGHT counter he plays and the direction he plays it in and the MOVE counter he plays and the direction he plays it in; you must also specify where the Black Knight plays his shield.
LUCK: Always assume the worst possible die rolls when assigning attacking non-characters to their directions, when rolling for changing tactics and when rolling for the archer’s MISSILE attack. Exception: You may assume that sometime during the first five Rounds of Combat the Troll will CHARGE/THRUST, but you do not know exactly when (hint: this is so you can eventually match directions with him).
Tables of Seasons
READER BUYER’S GUIDE
TITLE: Magic Realm ($15.00)
SUBJECT: Multi-Player Fantasy Role Playing Game
The 45th game to undergo analysis in the RBG, MAGIC REALM rated surprisingly low in most categories. The cumulative rating of 3.54 put it a dismal 41st on the overall chart.
The biggest factor in the lackluster showing was the 5.29 rating for Ease of Understanding, the second worst rating ever in this category (1914 still at the absolute bottom). It can only be hoped that the second edition rulebook will improve this deplorable situation. The 4.42 rating for Completeness of Rules seems to back this up.
The Realism rating of 4.06 is probably due to a contradiction in terms, since fantasy and realism are simply redundant entities. Assuming that most GENERAL readers are predominantly wargamers and not fantasy buffs accounts for many of the low ratings, especially in this category. Other poor ratings were for Physical Quality 2.74, Components 3.13, Excitement Level 3.39, and Overall Value 3.26. The Components rating was surprising since so much time and effort was put in on the artwork. The Excitement rating may also be attributed to wargamers reviewing a fantasy game.
Good ratings were garnered for the mapboard 2.81, although this was expected to be higher especially in view of the innovative double printed hexagon tiles which served as the mapboard. Play Balance 2.80 is not really indicative of the game, where balance is completely in relation to playing ability, making for a perfectly balanced game between equal opponents.
Playing time will vary depending on the encounter being played, the number of players, and the victory conditions, but the 19.9 figure is about right for an average 4-player game using most of the rules from all seven encounters.
2.74 Physical Quality
5.29 Ease of Understanding
4.42 Completeness of Rules
2.80 Play Balance
3.39 Excitement Level
3.26 Overall Value
3 hours, 20 minutes Game Length
Vol 16 No 5 Jan-Feb 1980
Staff Briefing: An Interview with Richard Hamblen by Alan R. Moon
photo Avalon Hill Swallows Richard Hamblen – Pitcher
A. R. Hamblen Born: 2/2/45, Albuquerque, MN
Started Wargaming: 1958
PBM Experience: No
First Wargame: Tactics II
Favorite Wargame: Russian Campaign
Favorite Non-Wargame: Bridge
Outside Interests: science fiction, mystery, history, writing, sports
Employed by AH: 1976
AH Designs: Victory in the Pacific, Magic Realm
AH Developments: Arab Israeli Wars, Collector, Rail Baron
Awards: 1978 CR Best Strategic Game–Victory in the Pacific
Little did I know when Alan Moon hired on as my assistant that I was getting the new Rona Barrett of the wargame scene. Alan strikes me as typical of the new breed of gamer who is a jack of all games and master of none. He flirts from one newly published game to another, proclaiming them good or bad after a single reading of the rules, and actually plays only a small percentage of his purchases. Indeed, I suspect that he and others of his ilk are responsible for the daily bread of more than a few game companies who depend heavily on the collector’s impulse for their livelihood. It should not be surprising then that Alan’s forte lies not in the area of specific game analyses, but rather in the recently chic realm of “soft” or “people” oriented journalism. His attempts at satire in ‘THE ASYLUM,’ both good (Moratorium) and not so good (Der Fuhrer), have no doubt given the reader an inkling of his own approach to the hobby. Therefore you can join me in mock amazement at the start of yet another regular feature in which we parade our cast of unseemly characters before you one at a time in the months to come. Alan, you see, feels that you folks are interested in what people who work on games for a living think about games and gamers. He sure is. In fact, he’s the downright nosiest guy I’ve ever come across. Alan has other interests though including long distance running. That’s fortunate because when he unveiled his plans for this interview column our entire staff took off for parts unknown whimpering and hollering for all they were worth. Richard Hamblen is our first ‘celebrity’ only because he proved to be the slowest runner. As was the case with the ‘THE ASYLUM’ the survival of this column will depend largely on your reactions to it. Drop us a line and let us know what you think about the column and perhaps pose a few questions of your own to Rona, err Alan, for his next victim. Excuse me, I have to run now.
AM: First Richard, why don’t you give us some of the basic facts about your AH background, your present duties, and what you did before coming to AH?
RH: To handle your question in chronological order, before I came to AH I was a computer programmer of the scientific variety. I worked on programs dealing with earth satellite modeling. At AH my responsibilities are to design games, do some game evaluation and development, and to write occasional articles for THE GENERAL on various topics.
AM: What games have you worked on for AH?
RH: Let’s take them in the order they were published. I helped with the montage and some other work on STARSHIP TROOPERS, sort of as an assistant to the designer. I was the final developer on ARAB-ISRAELI WARS. I did the development on the antique collecting game we have called COLLECTOR, which you may never have heard of, which is a shame because it is a damn fine little multi-player game. Short and simple but extremely challenging. A good ‘party’ game. I did the updated revisions of the rules for THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN and the development for RAIL BARON. I designed VICTORY IN THE PACIFIC which was based on the WAR AT SEA system. Most recently I assisted with the development of WIZARD’S QUEST and then designed MAGIC REALM.
AM: It might be worthwhile to digress a little here and have you explain the difference between a designer and a developer.
RH: The designer starts with nothing and creates the game and all its concepts himself, except for those he steals, of course. The developer takes a game that has been designed by someone else, a game that has already been published or is in more or less publishable form and refines it, although this can sometimes be a lengthy procedure.
AM: Which do you think is harder; designing or developing? Are there different problems involved in each?
RH: Designing is unquestionably harder because it involves an entire extra dimension of creativity and problem solving. A game consists of game systems that have been polished and refined to create the desired effects; recreating the historical period, illustrating the decisions the commanders faced, etc. A designer faces the problem of coming up with these systems. This involves defining what needs to be presented, searching out the systems that will present what needs to be presented, and putting them together so they work. It is very easy for a designer to make a mistake in this process. The developer, on the other hand, starts with a game that works to some degree. The game system and subject matter have already been integrated successfully (at least partially, or why would he be working on the game at all?). The developer needs only to polish the game and make it work better. In practice, however, the games that are developed at AH usually go through a lot of redesign and a developer winds up doing a fair amount of design work too.
AM: What are you working on now?
RH: At present, I am putting most of my effort into GUNSLINGER, a role-playing game of the old west. As a game, it is half way between the history of the period and the way the period is represented in books and films. I am also working on the second edition of the MAGIC REALM rulebook and evaluating TRIREME. Since we acquired Battleline I have been looking at their TRIREME to see how much development it will need for conversion to the AH line.
AM: We all know AH’s somewhat dubious record with deadlines, but when can we expect to see the three things you’ve mentioned: GUNSLINGER, the MAGIC REALM rulebook, and TRIREME?
RH: To take the easiest one first, TRIREME will depend entirely on how the game mechanics interact and so can’t be predicted right now. GUNSLINGER should be ready for Origins and the MAGIC REALM rulebook should be ready sometime this Spring.
AM: Are you definitely going to use parts or most of the Battleline TRIREME and drop the idea of doing your own game, or is there still a chance you will go with your own ideas and throw out the Battleline game altogether?
RH: It’s too early to say right now. We would like to use the Battleline version, but like I said, that depends on how the game interacts. At the time we acquired the Battleline version, I already had a game designed which had certain advantages over the Battleline system. The question is whether the Battleline system has advantages, enough advantages, over the system I was working on to make it worthwhile keeping. I can’t give you a definite answer at the moment.
AM: Would you give us a little overview of what you’re doing with GUNSLINGER?
RH: What I’m working with is the tactical gunfight system, trying to find the best of three alternative ways of approaching the same subject. I’ve got a basic system down and a method of hit determination. I’m trying to come up with a method of implementing this into the game as a whole in the way that will be the least expensive, the most enjoyable, and the easiest for the players.
AM: Will the game be tactical, strategic, or both?
RH: It will be primarily tactical. The strategic element will be reflected in the effects of one game on the next, one game to another. Hexes are six feet across so you can see that the game will really represent only one town, and a fairly small one at that.
AM: Will there be historical characters and/or characters from movies, or will the system be strictly a design-your-own gunfighter?
RH: All three. The game is based on the popular perception of the cowboy, i.e., what you get from books and films. This makes a difference in things like the probabilities of getting hits, etc. Thus, a lot of the more famous characters from novels and films will be present, though thinly disguised. In addition, historical characters will be represented with modifications for lowering the hit probability to reasonable levels. Of course, it is always possible for the players to design their own cowboys and have them interact in the game. The guidelines, the rules, will provide the way to do this and not destroy the game’s playability.
AM: What types of games do you like?
RH: Peculiarly enough, my favorite kind of games are old classic type games. Not necessarily the old classics that spring to mind like STALINGRAD and D-DAY, although I do like both of those games, but clean-playing strategic or operational level games that you can play in three or four hours. Games that are a good test of skill and foresight.
AM: Can you give us some specific titles?
RH: The one that comes quickest to mind is THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN which I enjoy enormously. The latest edition of D-DAY, although the rules are historically inaccurate in such things as the counter mix, is very enjoyable along the same lines. One of our latest games, WAR AND PEACE, also looks like a winner along these lines, and I’m very happy about that.
AM: As a game player in general, what is it about a game that specifically appeals to you?
RH: There are three things I like to look for. First, there is the tactical interaction of the game. I like a game where it is possible to do something tactically that is locally significant, to a degree controllable although partially random (the good old die roll), and requires some thought and foresight about its effects in the game. The second thing I like to see is a strategic dimension where the individual tactical actions have to be assembled in some form to lead to a final result. In THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN, for example, you might want to follow an attrition policy so the individual tactics you use will be attrition oriented, but the must be implemented constantly across the board over a period of time before they become effective. The third thing I like to see is a certain amount of historical authenticity. In particular, I like to see the game recreate the kind of decisions that were faced at the time the event was taking place. This goes somewhat deeper than recreating the combat strengths of the units, although I like to see that too. It’s more a question of how the game interacts. For example, if supply was an important consideration in the campaign I would like to see a supply problem in the game that limits play but can be overcome by foresight the same way it happened in history. One final note; I like to see a game convey some information. In one form or another, just being able to see the forces available, how they interact, where they are located, or even just the location of important places on the mapboard is something I get enjoyment out of. The historical appearance of the units in the game, the order of battle, interests me by itself.
AM: Where does play balance enter into this?
RH: Oh yes, let’s not forget play balance. Both (or all) of the players in a game should be able to affect the tactical outcomes and the strategic direction of the game, and both players should have an equal chance of winning. This ensures that the game is interesting and challenging for both players. I also prefer a game that is a test of offensive and defensive skills for both players; both players having to attack and defend successfully to win. I like this attacking/defending quality extended as far as possible into the game. THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN is a good example of a game that requires good offensive and good defensive play from both players throughout the game. The extinct GUADALCANAL is an unfortunate example of a game that suffers because one of the players, the Japanese side, is totally overwhelmed late in the game almost regardless of how well he has done earlier. Assigning victory points to define a winner in an unbalanced situation is not very satisfactory to me.
AM: So, let’s make it perfectly clear, are you a playability or a realism freak?
RH: Both. A game has got to be playable enough so you can appreciate the interactions that simulate the history. At the same time, though, the history should be present.
AM: Does a game that has this perfect blend of playability and realism really exist?
RH: Not perfect. Historical details are always multitudinous and diverse, while playability always stems from simplicity, so they are conflicting aims. Any game is a compromise of the two. Some of one is sacrificed for some of the other. Therefore, since the history is imperfect and the playability is imperfect, the result can hardly be perfect. About the best a game can do is maximize its blend of history and playability through efficiency and clarity in its concepts and execution. Games that do this could be termed successes and there are a number of such games; THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN and DIPLOMACY, for example.
AM: Do you have a favorite historical period?
RH: Yes, the Civil War.
AM: Is this also your favorite historical period in games?
RH: No. There are very few good games out on the Civil War and none that I find completely satisfying, except of course, my own home grown designs. As far as successful games that are out I think WWII is my favorite period. I am interested in the subject and there are a lot of good games on it.
AM: You’ve mentioned several games you like already. How do these games fit into your idea of what a good game should be?
RH: THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN is a good game because it offers you alternative strategies that you can pursue using a multitude of tactics. At the same time, the initial setup, the mapboard orientation, and the mechanics of the game recreate a good deal of the feel and information of the period. WAR AND PEACE has a nice little system that requires a certain amount of foresight to implement and you find yourself being led into patterns that are surprisingly similar to history. The mapboard, counters, and rules are also a good source of information on the period. In D- DAY, the supply restrictions and the limitations of the invasions convey a lot of information and lead to interesting situations in the game. D-DAY 77, like its predecessor suffers from poor historicity in the makeup of the combat units and the simplification of the mapboard. Those are the negative points in an otherwise enjoyable game.
AM: In our discussion of playability and realism, have we kind of summarized your basic design philosophy, or is there something else you’d like to add or explain further?
RH: The only thing we haven’t really mentioned is my love of innovation. Both as a designer and as a player, I like to see new ideas used skillfully. Particularly when they reflect formerly unappreciated aspects of history or gaming. 1776 is a good example–the tactics and strategy that are forced on the revolutionary player in dealing with a superior British battle capability.
AM: Where do you think wargaming as a hobby is headed in the 80s?
RH: Diversification. We’re getting such a multitude of products both in this company and amongst our competitors that it’s becoming impossible to even know all of the games on the market–let alone know them in a competitive sense. As a result I would expect to see a reorganization in the hobby with more emphasis on designing games that are aimed at a particular part of the gaming population. More attention being paid to publishing games that appeal to people with a definite taste. A diversification and a stratification of the field.
AM: Where does Richard Hamblen, the designer and developer, fit into this?
RH: I hope to continue designing games and carving out a niche in the segment of gaming I find interesting.
AM: Do you have a free hand concerning what you work on at AH?
RH: Not a totally free hand, no. But, by the same token, I am not totally limited either. It’s really a question of being constrained by market considerations, what people are interested in, and by the other people who make the decisions in the company. I suppose you might say I have a limited amount of freedom.
AM: Getting into another field, what’s your feeling about fantasy and science fiction games in the hobby today?
RH: I think there’s a real problem with games capturing the elements that make fantasy literature so enjoyable. There are some attempts that seem nice, but they are really not very satisfying. There are some attempts that capture the flair of fantasy literature but they have the problem of not being enjoyable as games. At the opposite extreme, there are some fine fantasy games that don’t really capture the spirit of fantasy literature. It’s a real problem that has not been solved in the field as yet.
AM: So do you think a good fantasy game or science fiction game is more likely to come from literature than it is from nothing, that is, without a literary source?
RH: I think that fantasy and science fiction can be treated separately. As far as fantasy goes, I don’t think you’ll ever see a game that’s based on an existing work that is going to be completely satisfying. The closest that you might come is with a Tolkien-like world where he defines an entire world, enabling the players to have a lot of adventures within that world. A simple adventure narrative or a limited description of a world does not have the flexibility to create a game that is both enjoyable and faithful to the literature on which it is based. Science fiction, on the other hand, makes a policy of defining complete worlds, that are off-shoots of our world. As a result, you usually have a complete universe assumed in a book and you can just do a game about that universe. I find science fiction games much more satisfying than fantasy games. The final solution, especially with fantasy, might be to have one person write a book and design a game on the same subject.
AM: What are your impressions of MAGIC REALM, six months after its release?
RH: As far as the elements of the design are concerned, I’m happy with everything except the combat system, which I think is merely adequate. I’m not satisfied with the rulebook and we are redoing it.
AM: What parts of MAGIC REALM do you think are particularly innovative?
RH: The isomorphic hex tiles and the detailed combat system.
AM: Are these the parts you consider the best parts of MAGIC REALM?
RH: The hex tiles, yes. The combat system can be improved and simplified, though I still like the scale and approach. The artwork, ambience, and overall game mechanics also seem to work well. The players are offered a wide range of fantasy adventures from which to choose and this is the essential part of the game.
AM: Can we expect to see more MAGIC REALM in 1980?
RH: As far as THE GENERAL is concerned, as long as we don’t receive too many threatening letters, we’ll probably see some MAGIC REALM material. As far as expansion kits, ala SQUAD LEADER, it’s far too early to tell. I would like to do some, to polish up the system as it is now, but as to what we will actually do I can only repeat that we are constrained by market considerations and what people think of the game.
AM: How did you get involved with MAGIC REALM in the first place?
RH: Fantasy became a very big part of the gaming industry recently, primarily due to the success of D&D, and we wanted to do a fantasy game to get into this market. I was the only one at AH who was well read in fantasy.
AM: How do you think MAGIC REALM, particularly some of the problems you’ve had with it, has influenced your design philosophy or how you will work on games from now on?
RH: Simplify… simplify… simplify.
AM: Do you enjoy playing fantasy games, and if so, can you give us some specific titles?
RH: About the only one is WIZARD’S QUEST and that not so much because it is a fantasy game as that it is a fast, fun, beer and pretzels game that you can play with a wide range of opponents. I should add though, that I do enjoy playing MAGIC REALM.
AM: Do you enjoy playing other games you’ve worked on?
RH: The only other real design I have is VICTORY IN THE PACIFIC and I do enjoy that. Of the other games I’ve worked on, I enjoy them but don’t get much chance to play them.
AM: How much time do you spend off work in hobby related matters or playing games for pleasure?
RH: As much as I can squeeze out. It varies quite a bit with my schedule.
AM: Do you enjoy non-wargame, non-fantasy games?
RH: Generally, yes, but not as much as I enjoy wargames. I go through cycles. I don’t know how you’d classify GO, but I enjoy that. I also enjoy chess, bridge, FACTS IN FIVE, and BUSINESS STRATEGY.
AM: Are there any special moments that stand out in your mind about working for AH; any special triumphs?
RH: It was surprising, amusing, and gratifying when VICTORY IN THE PACIFIC won the Charlie Award for best strategic game, but actually I find it more gratifying and enjoyable when we get letters from appreciative customers. Customers who have bought and enjoyed games I’ve worked on. I like to see people enjoy themselves.
AM: Any regrets?
RH: Professionally, I regret all of the things that I have later thought of a better way to do.
Letters to the Editor . . .
response to a letter
We have no plans to replace our wargaming emphasis with a Johnny-come-lately attempt to cover the recent sf/fantasy craze in a big way. Yet, there is no denying the place in the AH line of such games as MAGIC REALM and DUNE. As such, they deserve coverage in the same manner as a SQUAD LEADER or ANZIO. Many of our readers enjoy both the fantasy/sf games and the more traditional military wargames.
Contest 92 Solution
The solution to Contest No. 92 was as follows:
Character: White Knight Attackers: archer Target: Troll Attack: Fight T6* in Thrust Maneuver: none
Character: Berserker Attackers: goblin, goblin Target: Dragon Attack: Fight T5* any dir. Maneuver: Move H5* in Duck
Character: Swordsman Attackers: Troll, Bashkar Target: Bashkar Attack: Fight L4 in Thrust Maneuver: Move L2** in Charge
Character: Black Knight Attackers: Dragon Target: archer Attack: Fight M3** any dir. Maneuver: Move H6 any dir.
The Black Knight’s Shield can be put in any direction.
The Berserker will place the goblins in separate boxes so that only one of them can match his direction and hit him, destroying his helmet.
The archer is the most dangerous opponent, since when he attacks he will always attack first and will always kill any unarmored target (assuming maximum damage on the MISSILE TABLE). Therefore he must always be assigned to attack an armored target and a FIGHT with a speed of ‘3’ must attack him, to ensure that if he does get a hit he will not survive until the next Round. This forces the Black Knight to attack him on the first Round, since the Swordsman’s attack time is automatically ‘4’ due to his weapon time on the first Round.
Assuming the worst placement each turn, the Tremendous Dragon will land a Tremendous blow each Round with no damage to himself, so he must be dispatched as soon as possible; this requires a Tremendous strength FIGHT and an attack speed of ‘5’ or less, and only the Berserker can make such an attack (the White Knight is limited to a speed of ‘6’ because of the Great Sword’s Weapon time when unready). Since the Dragon’s head will attack before the Berserker’s Great Axe (greater weapon length on the first Round), the Dragon must be assigned to a character who can survive the inevitable Tremendous damage–which means the Dragon must be assigned to the other armored character.
The Troll threatens to hit, flip and kill quickly on the following Round. He has minimum weapon length and will attack last on the first Round, so all that is needed is to ensure that he cannot hit without being hit himself. It takes a ‘T’ FIGHT and a heavy weapon to kill him, so the White Knight must attack him with a speed of ‘6’ with a THRUST in case this is the turn the Troll charges. Then the Troll must be assigned to attack a character who cannot be undercut; since all of the other characters have played at least one FIGHT asterisk they cannot avoid the undercut, so the Troll must be assigned to attack the Swordsman. The Swordsman must CHARGE to ensure that the Troll cannot match directions without being struck by the White Knight’s attack.
The next most dangerous attack is the Bashkar ‘B5’, who can inflict Heavy damage with a speed of ‘3’ as long as he misses armor. Since the armored characters can lose their armor and this speed automatically undercuts anyone but the Swordsman, he too must be assigned to the Swordsman; the Swordsman must attack him with a THRUST while he charges with a speed of ‘2’, so he ensures he cannot be undercut and he guarantees the first kill in case the leader matches directions.
The goblins are left over and cannot be prevented from attacking, so they must be assigned to a target that can survive their attack. The Black Knight cannot play better than a MOVE ‘6’ since he must play two FIGHT asterisks, so they cannot attack him (they would undercut him after his armor was destroyed by the Dragon). Similarly they cannot attack the White Knight, whose armor stands to be destroyed. They cannot attack the Swordsman because they cannot be prevented from matching directions. Thus they must attack the Berserker–the only armored character they cannot undercut–and they must be separated so only one can hit by matching directions, and the Berserker must Duck so that the one who matches will destroy only his helmet.
At the end of the first Round the Dragon at least will be gone. On subsequent Rounds the Black Knight will continue to attack the archer, the archer will continue to attack the White Knight, the White Knight will continue to attack the Troll and Troll will continue to attack the Swordsman until the archer stays dark side up, destroys the White Knight’s armor and is killed. Meanwhile, the goblins attack the Black Knight, who is protected by his shield (or his armor, depending on what the Dragon’s head destroyed) on the second Round; the Swordsman uses his alerted weapon to kill the Bashkar. On the third Round the Berserker and Swordsman protect the Black Knight, who is now shieldless, by attacking in the same direction that he maneuvers with attacks that will get the first kill; on the fourth Round the Swordsman kills a goblin, etc. Eventually the goblins will be gone and the Beserker, Swordsman and Black Knight will attack the archer from three directions, killing him. As long as the White Knight keeps thrusting, eventually the Troll will charge, ending the problem.
Vol 16 No 6 Mar-Apr 1980
Just Another Pretty Face: The “Opponents Wanted” Survey Revisited
Although I am not certain they really classify as wargames per se, I have extended the chart to include MAGIC REALM and FEUDAL.
What will the future bring? … MAGIC REALM will certainly show its true colors and rise to the upper half of the chart and perhaps even to the society of the gods of the top ten.
Letters to the Editor . . .
Finally, I would like to lend support to MAGIC REALM. In the months since I bought it, it has become one of my favorite games, and I feel that the rating it received was greatly undeserved. For my part, I think it is excellent in all respects, even considering the ambiguousness of its rules, and greatly appreciate and applaud your efforts toward new areas of wargaming.
Bob Hinkle, Litchfield Park, AZ
Dear Mr. Greenwood:
First, I must preface my letter with the following remarks. Avalon Hill is in my opinion a quality company with an excellent reputation. I have purchased a large quantity of games released by Avalon Hill and will continue to do so. Therefore, please understand the opinions reflected in this letter are to be considered as constructive criticism and not a personal vindictive attack on you or Avalon Hill.
A company has an obligation to the consumer. A product released for use by the public should be a tested product. By doing so, the company builds a “track record” in which the consuming public trusts. It also protects the company from releasing an inferior product to the public. To release an untested product could be, and is considered in most quarters, ethically and morally wrong.
A case in point is MAGIC REALM. I purchased the game when it was first released. The rules were baffling, ambiguous and too long. The game concepts looked to be interesting and fun. After a couple of weeks, I gave up. I wrote letters to you and Mr. Hamblen stating my displeasure with the game as sold. Mr. Hamblen did respond, a fact I deeply appreciated. However, the problems with MAGIC REALM remained.
Imagine my surprise when in Vol. 16, No. 4 of THE GENERAL the admission was made that MAGIC REALM was released without “blind” playtests. I no longer thought that it was just me! I realized that my trust, for that particular game was broken. I had purchased a product in which I was to be a tester.
I am not, and you should not have been, surprised at the poor showing by MAGIC REALM on the RBG Rating Chart. My first glance on the chart was to the 45th slot. I personally thought the Ease of Understanding and Completeness of Rules ratings were high for the game. These two areas should have the worst rating possible.
I suppose the point of this letter is a recommendation. That recommendation is that the supervisory personnel of Avalon Hill insist that all products must undergo the usual development, which includes playtesting before release. I believe the majority of the consuming public would happily wait for the release of a proven quality product rather than be disappointed with the premature release of an inferior product.
The game has the potential to be a great one. Hope is here that the new rules will bring this potential to ripe fruit. However, the underlying issue is one of consumer protection. Never take the public for granted.
John Duchon, Marlborough, CT
Never let it be said that I only print complimentary letters. I won’t defend our stance here because I tend to agree with you. The circumstances, however, should be made known. It is important to distinguish between an untested product and one which is untested only at the consumer level. MAGIC REALM was tested. It is not boxed game theory straight from the designer’s head. The problem is that it was the game system which was tested and not the rules. As the game system evolved, it was tested in ‘live’ tests conducted by the designer who acted as a sort of gamesmaster and explained the rules as he went along. This is ok as far as designing systems goes, but is woefully inadequate in terms of game development because the rules as written receive no baptism of fire at all. Normally, once a game system has evolved, we then proceed to a ‘blind’ playtest for the fine tuning. Unfortunately, in the case of MAGIC REALM the designer became so hopelessly behind his own time schedules that the by-mail testing was dispensed with, not because the game was late–but because we had taken pre-publication orders for the game over a year earlier. The continual “next month” promises for MAGIC REALM became a very real embarrassment to the company and hopefully has taught management a lesson about pre-publication offers. To be fair, however, the blame for the lack of a by-mail playtest and the correspondingly poor rules clarity of MAGIC REALM must rest with the designer whose health problems and faulty concept of time led management into making the unfortunate decision to make a pre-publication release. In short, the “deadlines” under which the designer worked were self-imposed. All AH designers and developers are encouraged to use blind playtests. Failure to do so is a matter of personal choice by individual members of the staff.
Vol. 16, No. 4 had an overall rating of 3.23 making it the 4th most favorably received issue of the preceding six. This non- committal response to our first fantasy feature issue probably means that the war gamers who rated the issue very poorly and those who like fantasy (and were in the majority of respondents due to the nature of the puzzle) probably negated each other’s biased votes. The best individual article was, as expected, Richard Hamblen’s feature “Magical Mystery Tour” which topped his own supplementary article in second place.
Your contest editor would like to apologize for any confusion he might have caused with his comments about the Bashkar in last issue’s solution to Contest No. 92–and he would like to know where he got the idea that the ‘B5’ Bashkar had an ‘M3*’ attack on the reverse side. Fortunately, the weakness of the Bashkar merely means that the contest is easier to solve; all entries were checked for validity, and the first ten correct answers, picked at random, were those of: D. Del Grande, Greenbrae, CA; R. Pennington, Zanesville, OH; A. Van Zante, Pella, IA; T. Prokott, Maplewood, MN; C. Farnum, Holt, MI; B. Hinkle, Litchfield Park, AZ; J. Doughan, Franklin Lakes, NJ; K. Chase, Shrewsbury, MA; and J. Purvis, Memphis, TN.
The most popular errors involved the following points: an ‘M5’ move is not strong enough to move the Black Knight while he is wearing armor (an ‘H’ move is needed). If there is a time number on a weapon then that weapon time is used instead of the number on the FIGHT counter (remember, the Weapon Times Optional rule was being used). Weapon Length means that the archer will always attack first and the Dragon Head will attack before the Berserker’s Axe–so the Dragon Head will always get in one attack.
Some final notes: the Troll is supposed to be armored, but this was indicated only in the MAGIC REALM issue of the GENERAL (it was not in the rulebook), so no entries were invalidated on this account; this made the contest even easier to solve. The most notable change that the Bashkar’s weakness and the Troll’s unarmored status made as far as solving the puzzle was that the Swordsman and Black Knight could attack the archer together, forcing him to attack in the Shield’s direction or be killed, which leaves the Black Knight with the ability to make a fast MOVE to evade being undercut by any of the other attacks–so there are a large number of solutions built around having the archer and Dragon head (or some goblin) attack the Black Knight from the same box. Undoubtedly the most novel solution seen was to have the Swordsman be attacked by every attacker except the archer (who attack the White Knight and is attacked by the Black Knight with FIGHT M3); thereafter the Berserker can stand off the goblins, the Black Knight keeps swinging at the archer and the White Knight eventually gets the Troll (the Bashkar is free to keep beating futilely at somebody’s armor), and after the Troll is gone the three characters have plenty of armor to survive while ganging up on one of the lighter enemies after another (first the archer, then the two goblins, and finally the Bashkar).
Vol 17 No 1 May-Jun 1980
Letters to the Editor . . .
I am a believer of ‘less is best’. The glut of games on the market (and out in my garage) is something of a concern. That’s why I plead with you not to release games that are not finished. In this time of ever increasing inflation and tight money I think it is certainly cheaper for you (and less bothersome to me) not to have to release ‘revised’ rulebooks and errata by the ream. This I think you have done on the whole. However, there have been some notable exceptions. MAGIC REALM probably received more hype than any game for a long time. Yet, no sooner was it released than you announced plans for a revised rulebook. While AH has been very good about providing updated and second editions at no cost, one must realize the excitement of a new game is lost when incomplete rules are issued. I would rather have to deal with the larger price tag and get it right the first time.
Michael Kennedy, Azusa, CA
Vol 17 No 2 Jul-Aug 1980
1979 AVALON HILL BEST SELLERS
As is our recent custom, we proudly present the sales rankings for the Avalon Hill game line based on totals for our 1979 Fiscal Year which began May ’79 and ended April ’80. Titles indicated by an asterisk indicate that they were not available during the full fiscal year due to recent introduction.
1. Facts in Five
2. Magic Realm*
3. Squad Leader
4. Major League Baseball
5. Outdoor Survival
6. Book of Lists
7. Wizards Quest*
9. Cross of Iron
10. Panzer Leader
12. Crescendo of Doom*
13. Football Strategy
15. Third Reich
17. Tactics II
Vol 17 No 3 Sep-Oct 1980
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 81
MAGIC REALM RULEBOOK REWRITE
The combat rules–the heart of the problem–have been rewritten, and I am now simplifying the rest. A variety of the charts to cross-index spells and other rules have been designed, and of course all of the material from the GENERAL article in Vol. 16, No. 4 is also ready. Generally the game will be the same except that it will be explained in better fashion; a few changes will be made in accord with some excellent suggestions that have come in from all of you out there. This project will pick up speed immediately when GUNSLINGER goes into mail playtest.
. . . Richard Hamblen
Vol 17 No 4 Nov-Dec 1980
Letters to the Editor . . .
As for MAGIC REALM, perhaps the most complex game I own, I tend to agree that it has its failings but I point out enthusiastically that it has its merits as well. I am in favor of seeing more MAGIC REALM both in the GENERAL and in the form of expansion kits. Expansion kits would fulfill a need not fulfilled by “The Expanded Realm” (Vol. 16, No. 4)–to me, merely expanding the game by adding identical components from other game sets has somewhat of a “contrived” feel. But the rest of the MAGIC REALM material in that issue was quite useful and well done.
Bill Hecker, Leominster, MA
Vol 17 No 5 Jan-Feb 1981
Avalon Hill was once again well represented in the 5th Annual Game Awards voting by the readers of the British publication GAMES & PUZZLES with no less than six titles in the 20 game list. For the second year in a row KINGMAKER & DIPLOMACY finished one- two in the poll; the latter actually finishing in a virtual tie for second with TSR’s DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. Other AH titles in the Top Twenty were: ACQUIRE (9th), MAGIC REALM (12th), SPEED CIRCUIT (19th), and THIRD REICH (20th).
Vol 17 No 6 Mar-Apr 1981
SO THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING
Titles Listed: 200 Total Responses: 1201
1. Squad Leader (AH) 12.07
2. The Russian Campaign (AH) 4.93
3. Third Reich (AH) 4.29
4. Victory in the Pacific (AH) 2.93
5. War & Peace (AH) 2.71
6. Cross of Iron (AH) 2.57
7. Crescendo of Doom (AH) 2.57
8. Fortress Europa (AH) 2.57
9. Panzerblitz (AH) 2.29
10. Dungeons & Dragons (TSR) 2.00
11. Panzer Leader (AH) 2.00
12. Afrika Korps (AH) 1.86
13. War At Sea (AH) 1.43
14. Magic Realm (AH) 1.36
15. Stalingrad (AH) 1.21
16. Midway (AH) 1.21
17. Kingmaker (AH) 1.14
18. Wooden Ships & Iron Men (AH) 1.00
19. Starship Troopers (AH) 1.00
20. Dune (AH) 1.00
The popularity ratio of each title is derived by dividing the number of votes by the number of votes received by the 20th place entry. Ties in rank are resolved in favor of the older title.
Vol 18 No 1 May-Jun 1981
Opponents Wanted Survey III
ASSAULT ON CRETE, BISMARCK, MAGIC REALM, FEUDAL, and 1776 registered notable gains this time around.
MR Overall Rank: 32 Prior Rank: 45 Total Requests: 42
The last of the notable gainers, MAGIC REALM, deserves a little more discussion, as it bears upon an unfortunate circumstance: the division of gamers over fantasy and science fiction games. Mr. Davis predicted the MR would rise into the top half of the chart and possibly into the top ten. Its failure to do so was almost certainly due to the bias of the GENERAL’s readership against SF and fantasy, which has prevented any such game from making any showing, except for SST, which is a very conventional design, in spite of its subject. Features on such games provoke a great deal of negative response. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see RAIL BARON covered in the GENERAL, but I do feel that basically combat-oriented games like MR belong, and would like to be able to read about them.
Vol 18 No 2 Jul-Aug 1981
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 86
The initial rewrite of the MAGIC REALM rules has travelled strange paths. Many people have offered some intriguing suggestions for improving the game, so rather than simply rewriting the rules as we planned last summer, we are reorganizing and adding to the presentation. With the gunfighters fading into the sunset at last, we should start a playtest of the new MAGIC REALM rules sometime this summer (yes, we will playtest the second edition rules). Players who are familiar with the existing rules will find the overall game unchanged, with some very nice changes to the details of play here and there. The delay comes from these changes and the reorganization in the presentation.
. . . Richard Hamblen
Design Analysis: The Third THIRD REICH
If a poll were ever to be taken in the category “Most Mystifying Rules of an Avalon Hill Game” THIRD REICH would surely be on the ballot, in the company of the original ANZIO, 1914, and (judging solely from RBG ratings) GETTYSBURG ’77 and MAGIC REALM. I would not want to call a winner.
Vol 18 No 3 Sep-Oct 1981
SO THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING
Titles Listed: 145 Total Responses: 821
1. Squad Leader (AH) 8.6
2. Third Reich (AH) 5.6
3. TRC (AH) 4.2
4. COD (AH) 3.7
5. Guns of August (AH) 3.5
6. COI (AH) 2.9
7. D&D (TSR) 2.8
8. War & Peace (AH) 2.8
9. VITP (AH) 2.5
10. FE (AH) 2.5
11. Magic Realm (AH) 1.9
12. Afrika Korps (AH) 1.8
13. War At Sea (AH) 1.7
14. Panzer Leader (AH) 1.3
15. WS&IM (AH) 1.3
16. Midway (AH) 1.2
17. CM (AH) 1.2
18. Stalingrad (AH) 1.1
19. Panzerblitz (AH) 1.1
20. Kingmaker (AH) 1.0
The most impressive gains were made by GUNS OF AUGUST which was just getting into wide circulation at this time, and by MAGIC REALM which has been habitually just missing the Top 20 list in the past. The sudden vault to the middle of the chart for the latter is unexplainable…
With the removal of several older games, Magic Realm moves to the very bottom of the Reader Buyer’s Guide rating chart: game number 50 out of 50.
Vol 18 No 4 Nov-Dec 1981
SO THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING
Titles Listed: 121 Total Responses: 461
1. Squad Leader (AH) 6.8
2. Air Force (AH) 4.8
3. TRC (AH) 4.0
4. VITP (AH) 3.7
5. Third Reich (AH) 3.2
6. War At Sea (AH) 2.3
7. D&D (TSR) 2.2
8. COI (AH) 2.2
9. CM (AH) 2.2
10. Panzerblitz (AH) 1.8
11. WS&IM (AH) 1.8
12. COD (AH) 1.8
13. FE (AH) 1.8
14. Midway (AH) 1.7
15. Kingmaker (AH) 1.7
16. Guns of August (AH) 1.3
17. Afrika Korps (AH) 1.2
18. Submarine (AH) 1.2
19. Magic Realm (AH) 1.2
20. Stalingrad (AH) 1.0
Vol 18 No 5 Jan-Feb 1982
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 89
The first MAGIC REALM rule modifications are in playtest and the results are being put into the next version of the rulebook, which will then be sent out for the next playtest. The changes include several improvements that have been suggested over the years, as well as rewriting and reorganization to improve the rules presentation.
Letters to the Editor . . .
I was very pleased with the appearance of MAGIC REALM on the gaming market and jubilant when the game made the lead article in the Volume 16, Number 4 issue of THE GENERAL. However, I am now becoming increasingly disappointed with your treatment of the fantasy market. It seems that you are reluctant to further pursue it. In the year-and-one-half since the publication of “The Magical Mystery Tour” in December 1979, only two fantasy articles have been printed in THE GENERAL. I exclude anything on DUNE since it is really a science fiction game, and I also exclude WIZARD’S QUEST since it is a simplistic family game. Even then, a reader quoted in Volume 16, Number 5 laments the multitude of fantasy articles. Come off it, GENERAL readers! Avalon Hill has barely given fantasy game articles room the breathe in its magazine.
More evidence of Avalon Hill’s fear of fantasy can be seen in the lack of progress on MAGIC REALM. Why are there no new tiles? Why are there no rule changes? It has been some time since the game came out, but there has been no effort to improve it.
I suppose the answer to such questions is money. Maybe Avalon Hill is afraid that fantasy games aren’t popular enough. But how can this feeling be justified when even in THE GENERAL’s own listings, DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS rates eighth in popularity? How can Avalon Hill be sure that fantasy won’t sell if they refuse to market it?
Curt Evans, Northport, AL
I can assure that Avalon Hill has no fear of fantasy insofar as sales is concerned. In fact, management is going slightly buggy over the relative lack of fantasy production from our R&D department. The real reason for a lack of fantasy board games or FRP systems is simply a lack of interest in that subject matter among the majority of our in-house designers. Avalon Hill never assigns a game subject to a designer against his will and given the relative lack of interest in this subject matter among our staff we are restricted for the most part to outside submissions such as WIZARD’S QUEST and AMOEBA WARS which although not extremely complicated, are fine games. In regards to the lack of additional tiles for MAGIC REALM, one needs only scan the current RBG chart in this issue to find that game’s position at the very bottom of our popularity charts to explain the lack of additional components for this game. Apparently, relatively few people share your opinion of the merits of this game in its present form. A badly needed revision of the rules may yet salvage MAGIC REALM, but until that occurs it is unlikely there will be any plans to augment the game with additional playing pieces. As for THE GENERAL, the bulk of our readership is quite obviously interested primarily in wargames and therefore the majority of our article coverage will lie in that direction with only occasional material on our fantasy games.
This letter and response touches upon an interesting paradox: Magic Realm made the best-seller list only in its first year of availability, and according to the RBG charts it was the least popular of all Avalon Hill games… yet it repeatedly showed up in the top 20 lists of “So That’s What You’ve Been Playing” — and this was the much-maligned first edition!
Vol 18 No 6 Mar-Apr 1982
SO THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING
Titles Listed: 101 Total Responses: 429
1. Squad Leader (AH) 4.1
2. TRC (AH) 3.4
3. Third Reich (AH) 3.0
4. D&D (TSR) 2.7
5. Cross of Iron (AH) 2.4
6. COD (AH) 2.3
7. Bulge (AH) 2.1
8. Flat Top (AH) 2.1
9. VITP (AH) 2.0
10. Guns of August (AH) 1.9
11. WS&IM (AH) 1.9
12. Gladiator (AH) 1.5
13. War & Peace (AH) 1.5
14. War At Sea (AH) 1.4
15. FE (AH) 1.3
16. Magic Realm (AH) 1.3
17. Afrika Korps (AH) 1.3
18. Kingmaker (AH) 1.1
19. Panzer Leader (AH) 1.1
20. Midway (AH) 1.0
Vol 19 No 1 May-Jun 1982
SO THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING
Titles Listed: 121 Total Responses: 645
1. Third Reich (AH) 13.9
2. Squad Leader (AH) 9.6
3. TRC (AH) 3.9
4. COD (AH) 3.7
5. Cross of Iron (AH) 3.6
6. D&D (TSR) 3.1
7. VITP (AH) 2.7
8. War & Peace (AH) 2.6
9. SOA (AH) 2.4
10. Bulge (AH) 2.4
11. Guns of August (AH) 2.4
12. Midway (AH) 2.1
13. Panzer Leader (AH) 2.0
14. War At Sea (AH) 1.7
15. Afrika Korps (AH) 1.4
16. Fortress Europe (AH) 1.4
17. PanzerBlitz (AH) 1.4
18. WS&IM (AH) 1.3
19. Magic Realm (AH) 1.2
20. Flat Top (AH) 1.0
Vol 19 No 3 Sep-Oct 1982
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 93
Creation of the MAGIC REALM revision playtest kits is hanging fire due to the press of other projects around here. The kits will be ready as soon as the resources to create them become available. No major problems are anticipated once we reach playtest, since the revisions have been analyzed and talked to death (but then, you never know…).
Vol 20 No 2 Jul-Aug 1983
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 98 written by editor Rex A. Martin
The response to our effort to rate the “adventure” games in our line of titles was less than overwhelming–but more than expected. When concluded, 274 response sheets had been accumulated for our survey (which represents about 1.23% of the total readership base).
Components 2. Magic Realm
Authenticity 7. Magic Realm
16. Magic Realm
3.42 Overall Value
2.72 Player’s Aids
6.01 Completeness of Rules
2.94 Excitement Level
3.15 Play Balance
109 Number of Responses 39.7% Percentage of Total
These ratings also indicate to our developers a number of weak points in certain titles now undergoing revision; with effort concentrated on these points, their work with STARSHIP TROOPERS and MAGIC REALM now has direction.
Vol 20 No 3 Sep-Oct 1983
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 99
The MAGIC REALM second edition rulebook should be ready to playtest around the early part of October, and should be released next March (1984). It features rules in English (how about that!) and some improvements in search procedures, combat and victory conditions. It also features a number of charts and tables for quick reference.
Vol 20 No 4 (1983) issues no longer carry a cover date
SO THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING
Titles Listed: 84 Total Responses: 473
1. Titan (AH) 4.3
2. Squad Leader (AH) 3.4
3. Third Reich (AH) 3.0
4. G.I. (AH) 2.3
5. Civilization (AH) 1.8
6. Cross of Iron (AH) 1.7
7. Russian Campaign (AH) 1.5
8. Gunslinger (AH) 1.4
9. Up Front (AH) 1.4
10. Flat Top (AH) 1.3
11. VITP (AH) 1.3
12. Diplomacy (AH) 1.2
13. COD (AH) 1.2
14. Panzer Leader (AH) 1.2
15. Kingmaker (AH) 1.1
16. Magic Realm (AH) 1.1
17. WS&IM (AH) 1.1
18. Afrika Korps (AH) 1.0
19. Storm Over Arnhem (AH) 1.0
20. War & Peace (AH) 1.0
Vol 20 No 5 (1984)
Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 101
“Fantasy games such as WIZARD’S QUEST and MAGIC REALM are very hard to solitaire satisfactorily; besides, who would care to?”
Anonymous reader comment from a discussion of solitaire gaming
As the old chestnut goes, “Well, We’ve some bad news and some good news for you.” First the bad news — Richard Hamblen, long a stable and brilliant fixture of the Avalon Hill design staff, has resigned for reasons of health. Richard will be relocating to his home state of Maine to seek relief from a chronic condition he suffers. However, he has agreed to continue to labor, on a free- lance basis, for AH. Thus, the readers can still expect to see many meticulous and challenging games from this doyen of the design staff. All here wish to thank Richard for his patience, his insightful wit, and his willingness to extend his help and opinions on all Avalon Hill efforts. We can but wish him all the best, and be thankful that he will continue to favor us with (hopefully) frequent and lengthy visits.
Vol 21 No 5 (1985)
Vol 22 No 1 (1985)
Letters to the Editor . . .
In an unrelated comment about the last issue, I was impressed by the bravery of Mr. Martin in placing a MAGIC REALM and a RAIL BARON article in the same issue. No doubt you’ll get lots of complaints about wasting space that could have been used for war games. Personally, I like to see such articles occasionally.
Indeed, I liked the MAGIC REALM article so much I almost got out my copy of the game. But sanity prevailed. Any word on a new rulebook for MR? I’ve never seen a game with such potential; and I’ve never seen a worse set of rules.
Steve Llewellyn, Fredericton, New Brunswick
I am informed that the new rulebook for MAGIC REALM should be finished by the end of the summer and offered for sale in the autumn of this year. Richard Hamblen has spared no effort at making it as unambiguous and straightforward as possible. This should make MR once again one of the premier fantasy games on the market.
Vol 23 No 4 (1987)
MAGIC REALM 2nd Edition
Welcome to the MAGIC REALM. Released from bondage at last is the legendary, lost Second Edition of the MAGIC REALM rules. MAGIC REALM is one of the most popular fantasy games ever released by The Avalon Hill Game Company, with sales continuing strong even seven years after it first appeared on store shelves to befuddle players. Among the ruins of a magical kingdom have come a colorful cast of characters seeking riches and fame; as a player, you take the role of one of these. The premise remains the same, but the latest edition brings a wealth of detail to this classic.
Richard Hamblen, designer of MAGIC REALM, labored over a year to produce this new 80-page rulebook. Graced with a plethora of examples of play, it has tamed this unruly monster, making the complexity of strategy found in the game readily available to all. Five pages of charts at the end of the new rulebook speed play. Lavish use of color is used to highlight important sequences and rules sections. All important elements of the game are listed in groups, giving information on advantages and disadvantages: characters, weapons, monsters, natives, treasures, spells, and so forth. New rules allow solitaire play, sudden death victory conditions for those wishing a shorter game, the play of multiple characters by one player, even the combining of two or more copies of the game to expand the size and ferocity of the realm, Optional and Advanced rule sections allow for even more layers of complexity to be added, making MAGIC REALM the most “realistic” of fantasy boardgames.
Best of all, the new rulebook demands no new components to play this game. The second edition rules will henceforth be included in all copies of the game packaged. For those longtime fans of this best of fantasy boardgames, the Second Edition Rulebook for MAGIC REALM is available for $4.00 direct from The Avalon Hill Game Company (4517 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD 21214). As usual, please add 10% for shipping and handling (20% for Canadian orders and 30% for overseas orders); Maryland residents please add 5% state sales tax.
Vol 23 No 6 (1987)
Vol 24 No 5 (1988)
Vol 25 No 1 (1988) The 25th Anniversary Issue
The Editors Speak
Confessions of an ASL Fanatic by Jim Stahler
The tournament was being run by Richard Hamblen, not yet with Avalon Hill. We played a number of the classics to “train” for the tournament, because we would have to answer a lot of questions and adjudicate games not yet complete. We got along very well, and we have been good friends ever since–something else I have Avalon Hill to thank for. (I was even an usher at his wedding.)
My first playtesting experience was for ARAB-ISRAELI WARS, which Richard was developing. My ideas for updating D-DAY found their first audience in Richard, and Richard and I worked closely to develop and playtest them. I have had a hand in playtesting all of Richard’s games, to a greater or lesser extent. Perhaps the strangest experience was with MAGIC REALM. I playtested the game a number of times at Avalon Hill, and every time it was radically different from the time before, and only Richard knew the rules! I couldn’t wait to get my playtest copy of the finished game, so I could find out what the rules were.
full page ad
BEST FANTASY BOARDGAME EVER!
That’s what people are saying about Magic Realm, now that it has the Second Edition Rulebook. Why? Judge for yourself: Magic Realm is a game of fantasy adventuring where the players explore a vast forest that contains the remnants of a lost magical civilization. Hidden in this forest and its caves are ruins that hold treasures with wonderful powers; but monsters guard these ruins and prowl the forest, searching for intruders. The only safe havens are a few scattered dwellings where native humans can offer a little help–for a price. The players start at these dwellings and venture into the wilderness in hope of finding fame and riches.
Unpredictable Game Full of Surprises
Magic Realm creates a complete fantasy world that changes each time the game is played. The players actually start each game by constructing a new Magic Realm: they assemble twenty oversized hexagonal tiles to create a new map; they place markers to secretly define where the treasure sites, human dwellings and monster spoor are located; and they pick cards to secretly define exactly which treasures are at each treasure site and dwelling. This creates a realm so large that the players cannot explore it all in the course of the game, so they cannot predict exactly what monsters, natives and treasures will come into play in any game. And, finally, most of the monsters and natives roam the map; they can emerge from the forest in a variety of locations; once they have appeared they can move around the map; they can even vanish back into the forest and reappear later, and it is impossible to predict exactly when and where they will appear. The result is an extremely unpredictable game full of surprises, that plays differently each time it is played.
Each player takes on the role of one of the sixteen major characters who are represented in detail in the game. Each character has a full range of strengths and weaknesses: he has his own starting equipment, his own special abilities, his own list of natives who are friendly or unfriendly to him, and his own set of “action chits” that define his strength, speed, endurance and magic. In the course of the game he can acquire additional weapons, armor, horses and other equipment. His objective is to accumulate fame, notoriety, wealth, magic and/or legendary treasures during the game; he secretly chooses what he is after before the game begins.
The game includes moving, searching, hiding, caves, mountains, different types of horses, trading with natives, hiring natives, fatigue, resting and combat. The combat rules cover a variety of weapons, armor, horses and spells, and it allows individual combat and mass melees between characters, monsters, natives and hired natives. Combat is treated in detail: the characters choose the speed, strength and direction of each blow and maneuver, and each monster and native changes its blows and maneuvers randomly whenever it fights. The results of combat include wounds, damaged armor and fatigue.
Magic includes five types of magical forces that can be controlled by eight types of spells. Certain characters start with a few spells, and the treasures hidden on the map include spell books, artifacts and ruins that display magical inscriptions or that emanate magical force, and a variety of special devices with special properties. There are spells for flying, seeing into the future, controlling monsters, healing wounds, attacking in battle and much more. Not to mention the monsters and treasure sites that cast spells on the players.
New 2nd Edition Rules… Features Solitaire Play
The Second Edition Rulebook explains the rules in detail, with many examples, diagrams and charts that summarize play. In addition, the rules have been divided into four sections to allow the players to learn one section at a time and play a simplified game each time they finish a section: the first section explains hunting for treasure, the second explains how to fight monsters, the third explains combat between characters and the last explains magic. The old rules are completely rewritten and many new optional rules have been added, including optional rules for playing the game solitaire.
What other boardgame gives you this richness of detail in a game that is new each time you play it? What other boardgame gives you such a complete fantasy world that you can play alone without a gamesmaster?
The best fantasy boardgame ever? It’s worth looking into for yourself!
If you can’t find Magic Realm at your local store, don’t despair… cast an AT&T spell by calling: 1-800-638-9292 to order your copy by direct mail with any major credit card. Magic Realm costs $20.
Vol 25 No 2 (1989)
The Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 128
A discussion of yet another re-rating of the entire game line by the readers; Magic Realm moved up to #31 overall (out of 69), and made the top ten in three individual categories.
Components 7. Magic Realm 2.44
Mapboard 5. Magic Realm 1.91
Counters 10. Magic Realm 2.63
31. Magic Realm
3.29 Overall Value
3.36 Excitement Level
3.73 Play Balance
75 Number of Responses
Only three games were rated as being more complex than Magic Realm: Vietnam 8.60, Third Reich 8.83, and Advanced Squad Leader 9.25
Vol 25 No 4 (1989)
The Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 130
Discussed the results of a reader poll that proposed the addition of several possible regular columns to THE GENERAL; the vote on the idea of a regular column for Magic Realm was Yes: 126, No: 983
Vol 26 No 1 (1990)
The Avalon Hill Philosophy Part 133
MAGIC REALM (1979) drew raves for its design innovations, and remains popular enough to justify publication of a complete revision of its lengthy (80-page) rulebook in 1987.
Vol 26 No 3 (1990)
SO THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING
Titles Listed: 144 Total Responses: 468
1. Advanced SL (AH) 4.7
2. Merchant of Venus (AH) 3.0
3. Third Reich (AH) 2.2
4. Civilization (AH) 2.1
5. TP: Stalingrad (AH) 1.9
6. WS&IM (AH) 1.7
7. Air Force (AH) 1.6
8. Diplomacy (AH) 1.5
9. Kremlin (AH) 1.5
10. Flat Top (AH) 1.4
11. VITP (AH) 1.3
12. 1830 (AH) 1.2
13. Gettysburg ’88 (AH) 1.2
14. Up Front (AH) 1.2
15. Russian Campaign (AH) 1.1
16. Squad Leader (AH) 1.1
17. Kingmaker (AH) 1.0
18. Magic Realm (AH) 1.0
19. Midway (AH) 1.0
20. 1776 (AH) 1.0
Vol 26 No 4 (1990
SO THAT’S WHAT YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING
Titles Listed: 99 Total Responses: 286
1. Advanced SL (AH) 5.4
2. TP: Stalingrad (AH) 4.2
3. Third Reich (AH) 2.5
4. Diplomacy (AH) 2.3
5. Civilization (AH) 2.2
6. Red Barricades (AH) 2.1
7. Squad Leader (AH) 1.9
8. Panzer Leader (AH) 1.8
9. Air Force (AH) 1.6
10. Afrika Korps (AH) 1.5
11. Russian Campaign (AH) 1.5
12. Up Front (AH) 1.4
13. MBT (AH) 1.3
14. Gettysburg ’88 (AH) 1.2
15. PanzerBlitz (AH) 1.2
16. B-17 (AH) 1.1
17. Magic Realm (AH) 1.1
18. VITP (AH) 1.0
19. War & Peace (AH) 1.0
20. WS&IM (AH) 1.0
Vol 29 No 1 (1993)
Editor Don Hawthorne interviews Keith Zabalaoui of Atomic Games.
DH: Will Atomic be doing any conversions of existing Avalon Hill boardgames?
KZ: One of the things we’re excited about is that Jack Dott has told us that we’re free to pretty much run wild with AH’s game library. One of the AH board games I’d very much like to see in a computer version is MAGIC REALM. It takes forever to set up, it’s got klunky rules, yet it’s a great game which I’d love to see done with the sort of animation we’re working into BSL.
Vol 29 No 3 (1994)
I am glad to see that Avalon Hill has teamed up with a great computer games company, Atomic Games. I enjoyed reading the interview with Keith Zabalaoui and was particularly excited by the prospect of seeing MAGIC REALM on a computer. I have several times spent hours setting up this game and preparing myself for play by re-reading the 80-page rulebook only to get killed on turn 2 or 3. If the game was on a computer, I could have played every character a dozen times by now. Instead, I shall probably wait a few months before attempting the game again.
||Mailing envelope for the Avalon Hill GENERAL magazine, circa 1970. The text reads: IT’S HERE! …now let’s see if the “GENERAL” can tell me how to annihilate my opponent.|