Gaming Timeline:  1980-1984

This five year period began with a game that simulates the spread of civilization and ended with one based on a war that almost ended civilization as we know it.  In between, there were plenty of other notable titles, including one that was one of the greatest gaming fads of all time.  It was a good time to be a gamer, but for many of these, it helped if you had a lot of free time to spare!

Civilization (1980)

For the serious gamer, Civilization has to be considered the dominant game of the eighties.  Once again, Francis Tresham was able to create a game which launched an entire genre:  in this case, the “Civ game”.  Civ was first released by Tresham’s own company, Hartland Trefoil, in 1980 and then, with improved graphics, by Avalon Hill the following year.  It was the AH version that really solidified its status as one of the all-time great gaming creations.

Civ’s innovations were many.  It is widely considered the first game to incorporate a tech tree.  Its focus on cities was historically accurate and set the standard for such games.  Its trading system, which incorporated numerous commodities and calamities, was unique and the inclusion of such a boisterous and interactive activity in a heavy strategy game greatly increased the title’s appeal.  More than anything, though, it was the game’s incredible scope—which traced the spread of real-life civilizations from 8000 BC to 250 BC—that was so audacious and attractive.  It took the gaming world by storm and, even though its huge duration limits how often it gets played, it still has many fans to this day.

I was no different than the other gamers of the day.  Despite its 8 hour duration, Civ was a staple of our gaming life and got steady play throughout most of the decade.  Even though I found the design to be fascinating—it included so many disparate elements, and yet it worked!—there were aspects of it that rubbed me the wrong way.  The difficulty in catching up, the unfairness of the calamities, and the imbalance of the starting positions were all minor annoyances.  More than anything, I eventually found the game didn’t deliver quite enough to justify its huge time investment.  I still admire the game tremendously, but it’s really been 30 years since I had any interest in playing it.

For me one of the great gaming experiences is a seven or so player game of Civilization, it has been too long since I have played.  I must have first played Civilization when it was newish. It should be treated as an all-day game.  Make civilisations, not war!  Over the years I have played Civilization, Advanced Civilization and Mega Civilization and from memory I preferred the slightly more cut-throat Civilization to Advanced Civilization..

When I saw Mega-Civ was being released I was sorely tempted, but couldn’t really justify the few hundred dollars on a game that I was unlikely to get on the table.  A friend however, did make the investment and invited me to his annual Mega-Civ day (upgraded from a Civilization day), but unfortunately for the first two invitations I had unavoidable clashes.  I did manage to get to the third session I was invited to in 2019.  Unfortunately the next one has not yet occurred due to the pandemic.  It was a great day, but I will admit to being very tired the next day.

Honestly I don’t really understand the quest for Civ-light games, the whole point of Civilization to me is that it is a big, long and immersive experience and Civilization does it so well.

When we reach a post pandemic state, I must try and get a game in at least once a year or so.

I never played Civ, and I don’t think I ever played Advanced Civ on an actual board but it was one of the first digital boardgames I bought and a friend and I played several games hotseat against computer opponents.  I could see what all the fuss was about.  I love tech trees and this has them in spades.  Too bad trading with the computer just isn’t the same as with a “live” person.  The computer was decent (not game-breaking) just not impressive.
   Matt C.

Civilization is the game that launched multiple huffy exits from day-long gaming events, as players realized they had traded unwisely and doomed their game… or bought from the tech tree unwisely and (say it with me) doomed their game… or had the misfortune of being close to a civ with a more skilled player and (all together now) doomed their game. It’s a classic and I’m glad I played it enough to say I don’t need to ever play it again.
   Mark Jackson

I was fortunate to know Francis well and played the unprinted hand drawn game with him at his home. It was tremendous, exciting and I’d agree with Larry that the trading system was an excellent one. I’ve played many times, though not for some years. However, I’d still play it today even though it is a lengthy game. A 10/10 game for me.
   Alan How

Can’t Stop (1980)
In 1980, Parker Brothers released a new game from famed designer Sid Sackson.  It not only featured a catchy title—Can’t Stop is the perfect name for a push-your-luck game—but an iconic design as well, with the spaces famously arranged on a red, stop sign-shaped board.  The game sold well, but all of that didn’t stop Parker from ceasing production on it, and much of the rest of their board game line, a few years later (they were convinced that the future of gaming was in handheld electronic games—oops!).  Thankfully, Can’t Stop was well regarded enough that other publishers have released versions of it over the years and for much of the last four decades, some version of it has usually been available for sale.

Even with all the wonderful games that Sackson gave us over his magnificent career, I truly believe that Can’t Stop is one of his best designs—maybe even his best.  That’s a pretty bold statement, but hear me out.  For me, Can’t Stop is not only the greatest dice game ever created, it is far and away the best push-your-luck game ever designed.  Most P-Y-L games give you a straightforward decision of whether to cut bait or to try one more time, but there’s quite a lot to consider in Can’t Stop—how far you’ve advanced, how your opponents are doing, the columns you’ve chosen, how close you are to completing a column, and so on.  On top of that, the game only takes 5 minutes to explain, but still features interesting decisions, constant action, and quite a bit of skill.  Most of all, it’s tremendously fun to play; not only for the participants, but for the kibitzers as well.  (My games of Can’t Stop routinely gather a crowd and people love to second guess the active player’s choices.)

I’ve literally played hundreds of games of Can’t Stop and I still love it.  To me, it’s the ideal tournament game at a con, since games are so quick, but skillful play is still rewarded (although good luck with the dice is mighty helpful).  I’ve even won the annual Can’t Stop tournament at the Gathering of Friends twice, including one memorable duel with Tom Lehmann in which I went from nothing to the top of the column on the 11’s to win, since I obviously couldn’t stop (Tom would have won easily if I had).  I love complex games, but my admiration for a simple, unique, and innovative title like Can’t Stop is immense.  As long as I have the strength to roll them bones, I assume it’ll continue to be a game I can’t stop playing!

I came very late to this game, i.e. probably a quarter of a century after its release.  For what seems such a simple concept, there is so much to it.  Definitely one of the best push your luck games for me.

Years ago, I explained this game to my boys by saying you can’t stop rolling, it’s even in the name of the game.  They took it to heart and beat me soundly far too frequently.  It is my current go-to game when I try to introduce friends to online boardgaming, it’s a perfect lightweight game that can be played on turn-based delays.  Almost no rules explanation, so everyone can pick up and play.  Trying to do game explanations online is hard…
   Matt C.

Larry is correct – this (not Acquire) is Sid Sackson’s masterpiece. I also have won the Gathering of Friends Can’t Stop tournament… also against Tom Lehmann. It’s a small, small world.
    Mark Jackson

Car Wars (1980)
Car Wars is a light wargame simulating duels between weaponized cars.  It was designed by Chad Irby and Steve Jackson and published by Jackson’s company.  At the time it was published, I felt it came out of the massive popularity of the Mad Max films, but the rules say it was inspired by a short story by Alan Dean Foster, “Why Johnny Can’t Speed”.  The system was quite popular for a decade or so and inspired multiple editions and expansions and even a video game and RPG.

The game has many similarities to Star Fleet Battles (released the previous year) in that players control units (cars, trucks, and motorcycles) and move them in a 10 phase system.  Speed 10 meant you moved every phase while speed 5 moved every other one.  Most attacks were limited to once per round, though.  While faster cars moved more frequently, there was still a limited number of maneuvers that could safely be attempted.  Thus you could move more frequently, but had better stick to moving in a straight line. The system emphasized building out custom cars.  Every car was limited in space for systems, weight of systems, and overall cost.  Most competitions limited the overall cost so players would try to optimize their weight and space to stay within that limit.  Common game types included racing and arena combat.  Some players set up the game as an ongoing tournament, using winnings to improve their cars and personnel.  Expansions included adding stats for Trucks, street and arena maps, and a quarterly magazine (Autoduel Quarterly.)  Autoduel Champions introduced flying units and superheroes, with rules for adding Car Wars to your Champions RPG as well as superhero rules for adding to your Car Wars games.  In 1985, a Second, Deluxe Edition was released. It was mostly a clean-up of the original rules, and combined the previously released material. Later in this edition, Boat Wars released and received about as much acclaim as you would expect.  

Later editions attempted to streamline the game, placing more and more past material into a “deluxe” rulebook.  Changes included reducing the total number of phases for a faster game, and upsizing the scale so that Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars could be used.  The line ended in 2002 with the 5th edition which reduced the rules down to a few sets of booklets containing the complete rules (now 3 phases) and just a few pre-constructed cars.  There were no (official) construction rules and the 4th edition was eventually re-released.  2020 saw a Kickstarter for a new edition which garnered $650,000 from about 4000 backers.

I bought Car Wars when it was first released, but never managed to get it played.  It had more appeal to me than standard war games, but not enough to get it to the table.

This may be the game I played the most in my teenage years.  It definitely consumed the most time.  I found the game hanging in the little black box games that Steve Jackson Games was putting out.  They were within the meager price range of my paper route money so it was an easy decision to pick up the game, then the expansion(s), then subscribe to the magazine, etc…  I have nearly a complete set (I’m missing issue #1 of the Autoduel Quarterly magazine) of Car Wars stuff.  The game simply captured my imagination and I liked reading all the “fluff” material involved.  I would sit in my room, pursuing the Uncle Albert’s Auto Stop & Gunnery Shop 2035 Catalog and then head into our den to design and build cars on our IBM PC using software I wrote in BASIC.  My program would even print them out nicely on our dot-matrix printer.  Thinking back, had I known how to do distribution, I might have been able to make a nice amount of cash selling the program…  In all, Car Wars probably captured more of my attention and time than any other game in my high school years.  It was only eclipsed in time played by our copy of 1st edition Axis and Allies.  College kept me from 3rd and 4th edition, but when I gave 5th edition a try I found it to be far too watered down to be fun – despite the change to Hot Wheels size.  I suspect the lack of custom-built cars was its greatest fault.   I’m saddened as I didn’t see the Car Wars KS go by, I might have bought into that one for nostalgia alone.
    Matt C.

We played a decent amount of Car Wars back in the day – but it shares another thing in common with Star Fleet Battles… the real fun was designing your starship/killer car over actually playing out the game.
    Mark Jackson

I played this quite a bit back when it was relatively new, the base game and had an expansion or three from memory.  It was fun if you were into that sort of thing, but I do remember a four or five player game we were playing and realising that we had been playing for 2-3 hours and around 30 seconds had passed in terms of game time!  I did see the Car Wars KS, I think it was a stretch goal in the Ogre Designer’s edition – but I passed on the opportunity although I was a little bit tempted.  Another game that probably fits in my “teenage boy” category, which was definitely when I played it the most :-)

Titan (1980)

Titan is a fantasy-themed wargame designed by James McAllister and David Trampier (Trampier was also an artist who created some of the best known illustrations associated with the early versions of D&D.)  It was originally self-published, but was picked up by Avalon Hill two years later.  It’s a monster game (in more ways than one), in which you recruit creatures to join your forces on the master board and conduct battles on separate tactical boards (a different kind for each of the game’s 11 types of terrain), using buckets o’ dice.  Players’ monsters were kept in stacks on the board with a marker on top to hide the stack’s composition.  One roll of a die determined the distance for all stacks’ movement and the board was set up in designated loops such that most movement choices revolved around whether to move, or not.  A series of poor movement rolls in the endgame could be a significant (but not overwhelming) disadvantage. Growth in the game relied on recruitment – when a stack could gain new units only if it already contained the prerequisite units in that land type.  Stacks had a maximum capacity and would then split in half after recruiting enough workers.  Thus, recruitment required revealing some of the units in a stack but they could then be “hidden” again after a stack split.  Since stacks never recombined, finding which stack contained your opponent’s avatar is a key part of endgame play. The mechanics are unique and the game requires a great deal of skill and experience to play well.  However, forces are moved using dice, the game can run exceedingly long, and it features player elimination.  It’s very much a game of its time, but is also, despite what might be considered flaws today, an unquestioned classic.  I think it’s safe to say there’s never really been another boardgame remotely like Titan.

I only played this behemoth once, with two friends in the late 80’s.  I was eliminated quickly, but to be honest, I enjoyed watching the other two battle things out more than I did playing myself (since, unlike me, they actually knew what they were doing).  My kibitzing gave me an appreciation for the intricacies of the design, but it also made it clear that this was very much not a game for me.  Still, I’m glad I had at least a brief exposure to it.

I’ve played one in-person game of this and similar to Larry, I was eliminated in the earlier rounds.  Yet another attestation that there was some meaty strategy here beyond the roll of the dice.  Since recruitment was the heart of the game, and that depended greatly on the type of hex landed on, the luck of the dice was definitely a factor. I’ve passed the point where I have the time for this length of a game (I bought a used copy and then it passed out of my collection, never played) but I did enjoy a few months tinkering around with a digital adaptation of the game (look for it under Titan HD on app stores.)
   Matt C

Trivial Pursuit (1981)
Trivial Pursuit is one of the biggest success stories in the history of gaming.  To date, it has sold over 100 million games.  Selchow and Righter was the first major publisher to license it and during its first year, they sold a staggering total of 20,000,000 copies of TP.  By 1986, it was estimated that one in four households owned a copy of the game.  It was everywhere you looked and if you dined at a friend’s house in the 80’s, the odds were that you’d be playing Trivial Pursuit after the meal.  It played a big role in changing people’s minds that board games weren’t just for kids and that there was a sizable market for adult-themed designs.

The game was the brainchild of a couple of Canadian newspapermen named Scott Abbott and Chris Haney.  Supposedly, they decided to create a new game over a few beers and it only took them a couple of hours to come up with the framework of the design.  But that’s really not too surprising, since the game’s concept was pretty, well, trivial—it was the questions that made it what it was and those took much longer to compile.

Trivial Pursuit stormed the hobby as few games ever had.  The timing was perfect, as many families had grown tired of video games and people loved showing off their knowledge of useless facts.  There was an eventual backlash, as the game’s ubiquitous nature made quite a few folks feel stupid for not possessing such dubious knowledge, but by then, there was a version of TP to cover just about every category of trivia.  I was actually a fan of the original game, as I loved being challenged about the classic categories.  On everything, that is, except geography, which was my Achilles heel, so my friends always forced me to answer the dreaded blue questions!  But I probably had more fun playing TP than any other trivia game that’s come down the pike since then and it was a staple of my casual play for the entire decade of the 80’s.

So incredibly popular at the time and still lives on in various forms to the current day.  Off the top of my head, probably one of the early mass market party games that really took off (happy to be corrected on this).  It is interesting occasionally going back to this and finding how some of the cards, particularly the sports ones, have become dated.

Uggh, I’ve been labeled smart in the past, but conjuring up this kind of data is not my forte.  I could do OK in the Science category and sometimes History but I had to just keep waiting for a softball question in the other fields in order to get another pie piece.  It was interesting watching it as a drinking game in our college dorm.  It was always a race between one friend who was excellent at trivia vs another who was far too good at holding his liquor…
   Matt C.

Dark Tower (1981)
Dark Tower was one of the earliest of the electronic assisted boardgames.  This was done through the tower itself, which was a battery operated central unit with a digital display that was also capable of showing a number of results.  Players moved through spaces on the board, which included bazaars, sanctuaries, and tombs.  The tower would then resolve what happened in those spaces, which would help or hinder the player.  Players needed to collect three keys and then win the final battle in order to claim victory.

Last year, Return to Dark Tower was released.  The massively updated game was designed by Rob Daviau and Isaac Childres (of Gloomhaven fame) and the initial ratings are extremely high.

I never played the original but the Kickstarter sounded like it would be fun to play with my boys.  It requires an app to play but I have no problem with that and think it actually adds to our enjoyment.  There’s a bit more theme there, it runs the tower via Bluetooth, and streamlines setup and gameplay by tracking quite a number of things.  There’s a lot of variety to be had in the box (different starting quests, different final bosses, etc…) and our entire family (including my wife) has enjoyed playing the game together.
   Matt C.

I’ve written extensively (on my personal blog – about my mediocre experience with the original game (which was likely a revelation when it was released)… and about my wonderful experience with the rebooted Return to Dark Tower (right here on the OG – Suffice it to say, the original game inspired an amazing new version that will be on my top ten list for 2022 and is likely to be my most played game of 2022 as well.
    Mark Jackson

Empire Builder; Creation of Crayon Rail Games (1982)

In 1981, Mayfair Games was founded by Darwin Bromley.  The reason for forming the company was to publish a game that Bromley and Bill Fawcett had designed called Empire Builder.  Empire Builder was the first of what would become known as Crayon Rail games, which are pick-up-and-deliver designs in which the players create tracks by using crayons of their color to draw on the mapboard.  These became very popular and were the principal boardgames sold by Mayfair for many years.  (Earlier games, like David Watts’ Railway Rivals and Dampfross—the 1984 SdJ winner—also used markers to draw on the board, but their gameplay was different and they were never referred to as Crayon Rail games during their heyday.)

The only Crayon Rail game I ever played was Iron Dragon, a fantasy-themed example of the genre.  I was not a fan and only played it the one time, but several of my friends adored these games and played them all the time.

I am not sure if I have played Empire Builder, although I have played a few different crayon rail games over the years.  I would certainly say thank you to Empire Builder for creating the genre.

Survive! (1982)
Survive! was a Parker Brothers game in which the players try to get their villagers off of the doomed island of Atlantis before it sinks into the sea.  The island crumbles one hex at a time, plunging any hapless villagers on it into the briny waters.  Villagers can swim, ride dolphins, or use ships in order to maneuver to safety on one of the corners of the board.  But they have to avoid hungry sharks and sea serpents in order to, well, survive.  The player with the most villagers in one piece at the end of the game wins.

Thanks to its highly interactive and boisterous gameplay, as well as its attractive theme, the game was a sizeable hit for Parker and did even better in its many subsequent re-releases.  Waddingtons, Hasbro, and Stronghold Games came out with updated versions, and most of them had considerably improved components.  The game was eventually retitled Escape from Atlantis.  Survive! was designed by a fellow named Julian Courtland-Smith; his only other published game was the similarly apocalyptic Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs.

For some reason, I knew nothing about this title until Stronghold released its 30th anniversary edition.  I played it for the first time soon after this version came out and quite enjoyed it, in a beer ‘n’ pretzels kind of way.  However, I haven’t played it since then, so it clearly didn’t make too much of an impression.

With the right crowd, the crazy cutthroat silliness of Survive/Escape from Atlantis is great fun… and the family Englestein did a nice job of re-imagining Survive as a sci-fi game with Survive: Space Attack a few years back.
    Mark Jackson

Illuminati (1982)
Steve Jackson is known for games with a whimsical bent and Illuminati certainly qualifies.  Each player represents a mythical, shadowy, and all-powerful group like the Servants of Cthulhu or the Bavarian Illuminati itself.  The game’s entertaining central concept is that, under the aegis of these groups, various well known organizations control other organizations—so, for example, the CIA might control the Boy Scouts (or vice versa!) and the IRS might control Trekkies.  Each organization is represented by a small card and the ones each player controls are arranged in a power structure, with adjacency showing control and money allocated to each card.  You can use each card’s strength and its money to try to control other cards, or to attack portions of an opponent’s power structure.  It was definitely fiddly and games weren’t short, but it was cheeky and innovative and, even 40 years after its debut, I don’t think I’ve played anything else quite like it.  This got a reasonable amount of play in my group during the 80’s and was well liked.

Eventually, the base system begat other games, including several expansions, a collectible card game (Illuminati: New World Order), and even a Play-by-mail design.  It was one of the leading titles in the Steve Jackson Games catalog for an extended period of time.

I played this quite a lot in my Uni days and probably a bit after. The original microgame version where if somebody sneezed half the money would blow away!  Conceptually I thought it was a great game, although it probably fell into what my personal categorisation would describe as a “teenage boy” game, i.e. it could go a bit long for what it was, but nobody really cared.

I’ll second the “teenage boy” game category, although I played it just as much (if not more) in college. I had the original and expansion(s?) and it was well-played amongst friends in my dorm.  Popular enough that we skipped dinner one time to drive to the local mall and pick up another copy. The most catchy aspect of the game is for any player to be able to spend money to affect the game rolls of any other player.  Combine this with any and all forms of negotiation, and devious planning and backstabbing come into play.  Clearly, it is in your interest to simply give me a dollar now, or I might be “forced” to play three dollars against your upcoming roll. Later editions were not as fun (ie. freewheeling) as the first and I wouldn’t touch the CCG with a 10 foot pole (and I’m not as anti-CCG as most…)
    Matt C

I played both the original (Fraser is correct about sneezes… or even someone opening a door too forcefully) and the CCG (which wasn’t as much of a money sink once it died and we could pick up boosters for a buck each). More recent plays show the clunkiness in the system – but Matt is correct that negotiation & back-stabbing is what made this game sing.
   Mark Jackson

Talisman (1983)

Some games are polarizing due to their nature and some are just victims of their own popularity.  Talisman is an example of the latter case.  This roll and move fantasy-themed game was the creation of a gentleman named Robert Harris.  Each player played a RPG-ish character with some beginning skills and attributes.  The board consisted of three concentric regions and when you rolled your die, you could move in either direction (due to the state of game design, even as late as the 80’s, this was considered quite innovative!).  Depending on where you landed and what cards you drew, you could gain or lose abilities, due to encounters with mystical creatures.  As you became more powerful, you moved into the middle region, and then, eventually, to the central one, where you could hurl death spells at your opponents.  The game ended when there was only one surviving player.

Even though the game had a high luck factor, could run quite long, and included player elimination, there were also enough interesting features to make it an enjoyable and innovative family game.  The problem for some was that it was so successful that it was hard to avoid and many an experienced gamer grew sick of it.  Adding to this was the fact that over a dozen expansions were created for it and piling them on just added more time to the game’s duration.  Talisman was a huge seller for Games Workshop and, later on, for Fantasy Flight, so it obviously struck a chord with much of the population.  For many, however, it became the game they loved to hate.

I suspect my experience with the game was typical.  I picked up a copy soon after its release (just about every gamer did) and my group and I played it a reasonable amount over the next year, before moving on to more sophisticated fare.  However, the game got a new lease on life when my wife and I moved to a condo in the late 90’s and the family above us had a 12 year old boy.  He loved playing games and he and I became fast friends.  But, somewhat to my dismay, the game he loved the best was Talisman.  Actually, the only problem I had playing it with him was that, like many youngsters his age, he was more interested in making his character as powerful as possible, rather than in winning the damn game.  So our games could last an interminable period of time.  His enthusiasm made it fun for me for a while, but it started to get old.  After about a year, his family moved away and I was sorry to see them go, as I enjoyed his company.  But, I must admit, I didn’t miss those games of Talisman!

For about 15 years, Talisman was our go-to fantasy game…both the original Games Workshop edition and the massive 3rd edition (including the dragon miniature on top of the tower). It has long since been eclipsed by later editions of the game (which offer more control of movement and combat) and better takes on the same kind of genre (like Runebound, Prophecy, and Mage Knight)…but for a few shining years, playing a 3-4 hour game of Talisman in my living room floor happened on a regular basis.
    Mark Jackson

In the mid-80s there was often a Friday night game of Talisman’s at a friend’s house, and much like Mark’s experience, it was 3-4 hours played on the living room floor.  A slight issue was that I worked Friday night and Saturday morning in those days!  A good fun game, but boy, the end game could drag on a lot!

Scotland Yard (1983)
Scotland Yard was one of the major mass market hits of the early 80’s and is still well remembered today.  One of the players is the sinister Mr. X, a fugitive being chased by the other players, who are cooperating as detectives.  The board shows a map of London, with numerous taxi, bus, and underground routes displayed.  Mr. X’s location is hidden most of the time, but he does have to show himself periodically and must always say what sort of vehicle he uses to move each turn.  The detectives win if one of them moves onto the same space as Mr. X; the criminal player wins if he avoids capture.

There’s a number of reasons why Scotland Yard was such a notable game.  It was one of the first German games to be picked up for sale by non-German publishers.  A product of the in-house Ravensburger design team (it’s credited to 6(!) separate designers), it was an immediate hit and selected as the 1983 SdJ winner.  In the U.S., it was licensed to Milton Bradley, who sold it with no mention of its German roots.  It continued to sell very well in the States.

Mechanically, it was one of the first of the one-versus-many designs and an early semi-cooperative game.  The deductive element that was used to track Mr. X was unique and was appealing to both family gamers and more seasoned gamers.

I have not played this enough, my main recollection is that if I am playing with Melissa I should play wearing reflective sunglasses so that she does not use where I am looking on the board against me.  :-)

First Essen Game Fair (1983)
In 1981, a newspaper editor and publishing executive named Friedhelm Merz founded the German gaming magazine Spielbox.  Two years later, he and his editor, Reiner Mueller, decided to organize a gaming event for their readers.  To their surprise, 700 people registered.  They searched around for a location to handle such a large group, and settled on an adult education center in Essen.  This was the first Essen Game Fair and 5000 visitors showed up that first year.  It continued to grow and today it is the largest such event in the world.  After Merz passed away in 1996, his stepdaughter Dominique Metzler took over and she has overseen the running of the Fair ever since.

Essen and the advent of the SdJ awards are considered to be two of the catalysts for the growth of gaming in Germany.  Essen is one of the magical locations in our hobby and many gamers make the pilgrimage to visit it every year.

Another thing that I came quite late to.  My first visit was in 2009—it really is a very long way from Australia, in my defence.  If you go to conventions just to play games, then Essen is probably not for you, but I found it to be an amazing experience, helped by the fact Melissa had gone the year before.  Meeting people who I had previously only known on-line or catching up with people I had met previously somewhere else in the world.  So, so, so much stuff!  On that first visit we got to go in the two days before Essen officially opened and yet I was still discovering new things on the last day.

I am not sure when I will get there again, but I do look forward to that day.

I bless the day that they decided to put on Essen. Current visitors will be around the 200,000 mark this coming year. I have been going every year since 2006 and I always make a point of playing at least 3 games per day at the fair itself. This is partly because it’s much nicer to get taught a game by an expert than to have to learn it yourself later! Definitely enhanced these days by the many people I meet there every year.  Such a fun experience, and one I hope to never stop participating in!

Warhammer (1983)
Warhammer is a set of rules for tabletop miniature wargaming.  It was the first commercial wargame designed to use proprietary models, which was clearly a boon for its publisher Games Workshop.  The game specialized in large-scale battles.  It was GW’s biggest seller for many years and there were no fewer than 8 editions of the game from its debut, up until 2010.  It also spawned a version of the system set in a distant, dystopian future, which was called Warhammer 40K; that game is the most popular miniatures wargame in the world.  These two products were the principal catalysts in making Games Workshop the largest hobby miniatures company in the world.

Axis & Allies (1984)

Sometime in 1996, Axis & Allies became the best selling physical wargame in history, surpassing the title that had held that distinction for decades, Panzerblitz.  As of today, it has sold almost 2 million copies, an extraordinary number.  Clearly, this has been an extremely popular game for a very long time.

It all began during the late seventies.  Larry Harris, an American Vietnam veteran, designed a light wargame covering the entire WWII theater that was originally called 1942.  A local game store published the first version of the game in 1981.  Three years later, Milton Bradley republished it in an extremely attractive format that included a huge board and small plastic minis for the units—soldiers, tanks, ships, planes, and the like.  The excellent gameplay and the wonderful toy-like appearance of the game made it an instant hit.

A&A was actually one of three Harris wargames that Milton Bradley released at the same time, which they called the Gamemaster Series.  The other two were a Roman Empire-themed game called Conquest of the Empire (the original, pre-MB title was VI Caesars) and a 2-player pirates vs. Spanish galleon design called Broadsides & Boarding Parties.  A couple of years later, two other titles were added to the series, both created by MB executive Mike Gray:  Fortress America and Shogun (aka Samurai Sword, aka Ikusa).  Broadsides was something of a flop, but the other four games in the series were big sellers.  But the unquestioned star of the series was Axis & Allies and Harris has created 10 or so standalone spinoffs of the game over the years.

I first played A&A during the mid-eighties and it’s one of the few wargames I’ve enjoyed.  I find the 2-player game, where you play multiple nations, a bit overwhelming, but playing as just one country in a multiplayer game can be a lot of fun.  I particularly enjoy the fact that there’s a significant economic and force-building aspect to the game.  It’s awfully long and includes a whole bunch of dice rolling, so this is no longer a game I’m willing to play, but I retain some fond memories of extended A&A sessions during the 80s.

Axis & Allies wasn’t the first game in the Milton Bradley Gamemaster series, but it was the one my best friend and I were pumped about heading into our college spring break. He’d driven me to an interview/visit deep in the heart of Texas, and we were headed back to his family home for the week… and while he drove, I read the rules out loud. When we arrived late that night, we decided that we’d just set up the game and see how it looked. Then, we’d just play the first turn to make sure we got the rules right. At 5 a.m. the next morning, our first (of many) A&A battles ended with an Allied victory.

I’ve played it with 5 players, I’ve played it with 2… I’ve even set it up and played out all the positions solo just to see what would happen. It’s a classic in our hobby – though it would be unlikely to end up on my table today, nearly 40 years later.
    Mark Jackson

I love Axis & Allies.  It is such a nice step up from Risk, which I had played a lot in my youth.  Given an allowance per country and then letting me pick my own My family gave the game to my brother and I as a “combined” present while on a Christmas ski trip in Montana.  We took a day of “downtime” to rest from skiing and I roped my brother into playing it with me all day.  (I was far more game-crazy than anyone else in my family.)  Since then (partly as a game reviewer) I’ve tried almost all the versions and alternate settings of the game but the original (or revised original) is still my favorite. While it was unbalancing when present, I definitely miss the  technology/upgrade options missing in the latest versions.  I gave the mammoth (the one spanning two game boxes and taking up a huge table) version a shot only one time when I was an adult and we had to call it a night after only three years. I like to brag that, in college, I once played three games of A&A in one night.  The first was a standard game, the second went quickly, and then I looked another player in the eye and said “come on, when are we going to ever play this thing three times in one night!”  I’m proud to say he conceded the game to me at around 3 or 4 in the morning.

I also bought/was given Shogun which had an interesting bidding mechanism where players bid rice to decide the order of play and I think some of the choices available. I sold the game, but missed it and bought a new copy of Samurai Swords – although I do not recall if I have even played it.  I always wanted to try Fortress America, bought a used copy, then sold it, then bought the Fantasy Flight version later.  I don’t think I have gotten that to the table either.  I think the nostalgia of the series far outranks my financial self-control.
   Matt C.

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3 Responses to Gaming Timeline:  1980-1984

  1. Brian Ryden says:

    Other than Can’t Stop and to a degree Trivial Pursuit (depending on who you are playing with), we had butts of steel back in those days.

    A 4+ hour game just does not go over well anymore unless everyone knows what the game is about and is committed to the experience. I was once asked to join a game of Titan and when I asked about the play time, to get a feel for the players, they stated about 2 hours. I said, “no, thank you”. I told the players in our current game that Titan is a 5+ hour commitment with 2+ new players (I think they were playing 5). One player,who fell for the 2 hour statement, wanted to join up later, after lunch, to play a bunch of stuff asked to be let out of the game and he was told “no, you can’t leave”. They were at 6 hours by then. He should have called the cops as he was being held against his will!

    Sadly/gladly, these days have passed. I think we are all better for it.

  2. The number of times I’ve overheard people trying to sell Titan as “not as long as everyone says” at a convention would make me a rich man. Thankfully, I haven’t fallen for it – but I would have back in the early 80s. :-)

    • Phil Bauer says:

      Titan was the Twilight Imperium of its day, for sure. We played it a lot in college, when money was scarce and free time was plentiful.

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