Monday, June 16, 2008


I don't remember exactly when Bobby Ward, the kid down the street, introduced my brother and I to Francis Tresham's Civilization, but I caught the boardgaming bug that day and never looked back. By the age of fourteen I had published my first article (a rather presumptuous piece on opening strategies for Civilization) in the Avalon Hill in-house magazine, The General. We'd founded MGC, The Mahaffey Game Company, which failed to produce a single finished game - but saw myriad ideas and components built and thousands of cardboard chits and counters scattered through salvaged post-office paper- boxes in our closet. Our pastor’s son Rob was our only customer, and we his. We faithfully exchanged catalogs of each other’s works, modeled after those gorgeous Avalon Hill flyers, pregnant with possibilities.

There was only one game company in my eyes in those days - Avalon Hill - and I adored it. To this day The General is the only periodical to which I've been a paying subscriber. I purchased or dreamed of purchasing dozens of games. I hauled copies of Mark Herman's Peloponnesian War to show-and-tell to no avail, and spent endless evenings ogling maps and articles. By high school I was bringing Stonewall Jackson's Way to our American Civil War Studies class for everyone to play.

I had an image of what Avalon Hill was. The sacred address at 4517 Hanford Road in Baltimore housed a creative think-tank, a buzzing studio where those great designers and artists gathered together to revel in the joys of collective craftsmanship, days and weeks spent co-creating…

So on a family trip to Washington way back when, I pleaded with my parents to make the 45-minute detour to Baltimore, and giddily anticipated a walk into those hallowed halls. When they acquiesced, what I found was a sparse front-office desk and little else. I suppose this sounds a little silly, but it was one of the disappointments of my life.

I know of nothing I can do anything like creating games save creating films. These are arts that require collaboration and creativity in deep measure. And both industries are strange combinations of plain old commercialism and shocking volunteerism.

To this day I long to work in that kind of environment, where like-minded people come together in a room to create. What greater joy is there? Maybe one day the naïve image I had in my head will be a reality again.

Come 1998, Avalon Hill was sucked up, digested, and excreted from the corporate monstrosity of Hasbro, and an era ended. I’m not bitter, ten years later…

But if you had told me then I would one day be colleagues with some of the colossuses of my childhood, familiar names like Mark Simonitch and Richard Berg, Charlie Kibler and Ed Beach - I would have laughed you out of the room. What a privilege it's been so far.