Avalanche Press - a record of futility
Chris Farrell
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Cupertino
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I've said that Columbia is the highest-quality game maker this side of alea. This would be the other end of the scale.

A couple years back, I bought a copy of Panzer Grenedier from Avalanche Press. I like WWII games, the scale (platoons) is great and is a gaping hole in the wargaming repetoire. I read through the rules, played a perfunctory game, and was appalled - it seemed like it was just lightly warmed-over PanzerLeader, which on balance doesn't cut it today.

It turned out I may have been wrong on that one, Panzer Grenedier does have a nice simplicity (although there are at least half a dozen pointless rules I would have cut out), and the impulse system makes it a little less of the boring I go-you go. This has caused me to consider doing some re-evaluation.

That said, I was not wrong on Airlines, Airlines 2, Imperium 3k, Winter Fury, Scotland the Brave, or Third Reich, just to mention a few truly jaw-droppingly bad games Avalanche Press has published. Never mind their d20 RPG supplements, whose covers are too offensive for me to even consider purchasing, even had I any interest in them in the first place.

Anyway, now that I've determined Panzer Grenedier isn't awful, and may in fact be a welcome addition to my game collection (if not exactly an often-played one), I've been intruiged (shudder) by a few other games of theirs, mainly Soldier Kings, Grenada, and SOPAC. Given their appalling track record however, I can't bring myself to check any of them out without a strong recommendation.

So ... here is Avalanche's record of futility. Do any of these games not suck? Please feel free to defend them, if you dare. Cruising over to FineGames I see they still have quite a few games in the pipeline ... any good ones?
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1. Board Game: Airlines [Average Rating:4.62 Overall Rank:15079]
Chris Farrell
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This was the very first game from Avalanche that I played - Kim and I got a demo of it at Origins '98 I believe it was - and man was it a doozy. This is a horrible train wreck of a game, mind-numbingly boring, tedious, and thoroughly pedestrian. Very little control, virtual no tactics and certainly no strategy, you are essentially completely at the mercy of the cards you draw. Beautiful components, but if you want to take advantage of them you'll have to design your own game. Oh yeah, and bears absolutely no resemblance to the airline industry. It boggles the mind that they did a *sequel* to this game. With a lot of these bad games it's a bit hard to tell, but Airlines is certainly on the short list for "worst game I've ever played".
 
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2. Board Game: Imperium: 3rd Millennium [Average Rating:5.22 Overall Rank:14432]
Chris Farrell
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Another game to have the distinction of being on that dubious list, Imperium 3k gets bonus points for being a horrendous game based on an original that was quite good! The original GDW Imperium is a classic, clever, well-designed, clean, and playable; a game I'd easily rate at least a 7. The Avalanche re-rerelease is a hideous train wreck of a game, overwrought, ponderous, and mindless. I will rarely give up on a game outright, but we played through less than half a war in some 3.5 hours and gave up in despair. This game has so many flaws it's impossible to list them here - I have some comments in the game entry here where I start to scratch the surface, check them out. One specific thing that bears mention, Avalanche has a reputation for flashy, good-looking maps & counters, but in reality once you play with them you often realise that they are unusable. Imperium 3k is certainly the height of flashy, completely unusable graphics, the likes of which has not been seen since Fresno Gaming Associates ran their scam on the wargaming community.
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3. Board Game: Rome At War I: Hannibal at Bay [Average Rating:5.47 Overall Rank:12958]
Chris Farrell
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One of the interesting things about today's gaming press is how few negative reviews you see. While I generally sympathise with this approach, given that time is short and there are plenty of good games to spend time on, the art of the amusing, scathingly negative review has been lost, and I find I miss the humor. Anyway, one of the better periodicals for wargamers is Paper Wars, and the only review I ever recall reading in the couple years I subscribed that was remotely negative was for this game, which they rather thoroghly panned (although admittedly in an almost apologetic, not very amusing way). And yes, they did review Airlines above in the same time frame, and even that got at least a lukewarm positive review. Anyway, given I haven't heard *anything* good about this game, I haven't been able to bring myself to check it out even given my tremendous fondness for the Roman period and a lack of anything good in this period & scale.
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4. Board Game: Panzer Grenadier: Arctic Front [Average Rating:6.70 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.70 Unranked]
Chris Farrell
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Artic Front is actually a Panzer Grenedier expansion, but the game I want to comment on is Winter Fury, which isn't in the database. Winter Fury has the distinction of having the most astounding production flaw I have ever seen in a game - once you open up the box, you realise that the mapsheet *does not fit*! They've sort of scruched it up to get it into the box, resulting in a map thit is curled (and, it should be mentioned, was pretty ugly before this debacle). Not only that, but a rather important activation table - without which the game is unplayable - is not included. After this humiliation, I couldn't bring myself to play it, although it seemed like it might be OK and the Winter War is an interesting subject. It used the activation chit model popular in Avalanch Press' games, somthing of which I am not entirely enamored at the tactical level.
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5. Board Game: Great War at Sea: The Mediterranean [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:3951]
Chris Farrell
United States
Cupertino
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The Great War at Sea series is, I gather, Avalanche Press' most popular games. I must confess to not having played it, but several good friends whose judgement I trust have and reported it tedious, dice-heavy, and unrealistic. They had no desire to play it again, and so I have avoided it.
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6. Board Game: Desperados [Average Rating:5.55 Overall Rank:12298]
Chris Farrell
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By this time I was conciously avoiding Avalache Press' games, so I never played this and nobody in any of the gaming groups I frequent ever suggested it. Not, I am told, Knizia's best design.
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7. Board Game: John Prados' Third Reich [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:4786] [Average Rating:6.39 Unranked]
Chris Farrell
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To be honest, I have no idea why I bought this game. Third Reich was okay for the 80s, A3R did very little for me in the 90s, and I bought it after having already been burned multiple times by Avalanche. This is another in the line of wargames I have bought, read the rules, not played, and sold. I have a hard time taking seriously any non-trivially complex WWII game that involves the Russian Front and has no rules for mud, abstractly or otherwise. The original 3R economic rules were also a joke, and it's one of the few things that was left entirely intact. In fairness, it did appear that there was some good stuff in here (I liked the rules for offensives and buying impulse chits), but I heard after I sold it that there were massive rules problems once you sat down and actually tried to play. Although the consimworld folks can be a little nuts about these things. Another game with a pretty-at-10ft kind of a map that isn't very useable.
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8. Board Game: Res Publica [Average Rating:5.95 Overall Rank:4204]
Chris Farrell
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Cupertino
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I've never played Digging, but Res Publica has the dubious distinction of being the worst Knizia game I've ever played (I played the Queen incarnation). Far too easy to get behind early through simple bad luck, and then much too hard to get back in it. The trading also doesn't seem to quite work. Unclear to me why Avalanche would choose to reprint this one.
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9. Board Game: Panzer Grenadier: The East Front [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:5389]
Chris Farrell
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And then, of course, this game. Although I've gone back to it and been intruiged, this is still a game that is not without issues. The OOB covers only 1941 through Spring 1942, and is unreasonably limited (the top-of-the-line included German MBT is a PzIII sporting a 5.0cm gun). The boards, while hard-mounted, are not exactly eye-catching. The counters are colorful and have nice illustrations, but are busy and numbers often don't stand out. There are a few too many rules. Still, though, the scale is right, the rules are still reasonable comparatively, there are plenty of scenarios, and the multiple games in the series means the learning investment will be well-spent. However, the boxes are awfully pricey for what you get (PG has 4 mapboards & 2 unit countersheets - for some $60), and it seems only Fine Games still has the various games at any kind of discount.
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10. Board Game: Panzer Grenadier: Airborne [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:8564]
Chris Farrell
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One of many expansions for PG, this one is interesting because it's a standalone, smaller, cheap(er) introduction to PG. Interestingly, exactly the same subject material and role as ASL's Paratrooper. A few trivially small scenarios that don't excite me.
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11. Board Game: Panzer Grenadier: Afrika Korps [Average Rating:6.32 Overall Rank:5688]
Chris Farrell
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Panzer Grenedier in the desert, this one intruiges me because Mauro de Vita is listed as a designer in the database. Mauro is by all counts a smart guy, and has some access to awesome historical data, BUT, I understand he has a tendancy to, ah, somewhat overstate historical Italian capabilities. My understanding is that it was his research on The Gamer's OCS Sicily that lead to the ludicrously over-powered Italian air force in that game (in fairness, this leads to a much more interesting air game than a rational historical interpretation would, but if you play the Allies and expect to sweep the Axis from the skies as happened historically, it'll be like ramming into a brick wall - due to the Italian contribution, the Axis equal or exceed the Allied air in quality and quantity in virtually every department, and they are the only ones likely to do any sweeping). Now, this is all hearsay at some level, except that I have played the Allies in Sicily, but these things pique my curiosity.
 
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12. Board Game: Soldier Kings [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:5003]
Chris Farrell
United States
Cupertino
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This is the first of the games that I don't own, have never seen, but have some good buzz and are interesting to me. I see there is a new game in the pipeline set in India with the same, or at least a similar, system. Any comments?
 
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13. Board Game: Second World War at Sea: SOPAC [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:5092]
Chris Farrell
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Has this game got anything over AH's Smithsonian series Guadalcanal? It seems carrier battles are notoriously hard to do in any format other than double-blind. At that complexity level, I can't imagine Guadalcanal could be improved on that much.
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14. Board Game: Granada: The Fall of Moslem Spain [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:10681]
Chris Farrell
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This game has been popping in stores that only carry eurogames (Avalanche Press seems to have superior distribution clout in terms of getting games into stores), and I wonder if it's any good? Again, there is some positive buzz, but again given my experience I need some backup to even consider checking it out.
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15. Board Game: Survival of the Witless [Average Rating:4.41 Overall Rank:14873]
Randy Cox
United States
Clemson
South Carolina
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I, too, fell for an Avalanche Press game once. I thought Airlines sounded neat, but learned from others just what a stinker it is. Then, somehow, I lost my senses and decided to take a chance on Survival of the Witless, which is a one-joke game about college professors attempting to attain tenure. Yeah, I know, I should have known better. Our group played once and I'm glad that's over now.
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16. Board Game: Panzer Grenadier: Battle of the Bulge [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:4175]
Skip Franklin
United States
Oklahoma City
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Being a Bulgenard (lived in the area for 2 years then nearby for 2 years later on), I couldn't help but buy this one. Mistake.

A LocalWarBud and I played for about 4 hours in a scenario causing 3 casualties (1 unit lost, two flipped over). During most of play we were toe-to-toe slugging it out with little effect.
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17. Board Game: Rome at War II: Fading Legions [Average Rating:6.05 Overall Rank:8996]
Jens Hoppe
Denmark
Frederiksberg
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Played this for the first time recently. I too am generally more than a bit wary when it comes to Avalanche Press, but my first try of Fading Legions actually left me positively surprised.

The game is not brilliant or particularly innovative but it (or rather, most of it) works fine. Comparing it with the "other" recent, ancient tactical system, GMT's Great Battles of History, the Rome at War system is simpler and quite a bit less fiddly. Where GBoH is overloaded with nitty rules and chrome, RaW seems to get 90% of the work done with a minimum of rules. The design is actually rather elegant!

Using a minimum of rules to implement it, the RaW rules cover;

* multi-tiered command control (ie. overall commander -> formation leader -> units)

* unit type differentiation, for instance: Units are rated for combat strength and morale. Cav type units can charge (and be counter-charged) and most types get double combat strength when charging. Cavalry doesn't like elephants. Phalanxes don't turn easily. Various light types of units have missile capability. Facing rules are implemented, but *only* where absolutely necessary, in fact only heavy inf types of units have facing.

Aspects of the game I were less impressed with include

* Wristage. In the true Avalanche tradition, you roll lots and lots of dice during a game. Not only do defenders have to make a morale check whenever attacked but units attack (and defend) using buckets o' dice, ie. by rolling as many dice as their combat strength.

* The rules leave a bit to be desired in the clarity department, but it's no show-stopper.

* No charts at all. On the surface not a bad thing, but the game could benefit from a couple of player aid charts, if nothing else to have the various modifiers etc. listed in one place.

* Whereas GBoH scenarios are designed to end quickly, ie. one side loses when it has lost 25% of its units, it seems RaW scenarios go on for much longer. Much, much longer, actually! Unless overruled by a scenario special rule, a fight continues until a side has lost its last heavy inf unit, and only at THAT POINT does that side *start* to rout! I am not saying the GBoH approach is perfect; often battles seem to end just as they are getting started, but RaW's opposite approach is ridiculous! Where's the fun (for either player) spending an hour or more mopping up the sorry remnants of an obviously broken enemy?

* The maps, while functional, are about the most ugly and boring I have ever seen. Who would have thought Avalanche could lower the bar set in the first volume in the series?

But all in all, I had fun playing Fading Legions and look forward to trying it again.
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18. Board Game: Rome At War III: Queen of the Celts [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:8122]
Elijah Lau
Singapore
Singapore
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Interesting how Avalanche Press can argue that it is historical to portray Boudicca as half-naked when none of the contemporary historical sources describe her as such, even as they describe her warriors as such.
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19. Board Game: Alsace 1945 [Average Rating:5.78 Overall Rank:10793]
Elijah Lau
Singapore
Singapore
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This was the first game I played under AP's "Games You Can Play" series. If this is it, I don't know what they'd consider games that are unplayable. The rules were simple but the game play was incredibly tedious. Just the introductory scenario of a one-week campaign, with its already simplified rules, took us more than an hour. The full campaign would have taken about 7 hours to play and frankly, we weren't insane enough to try. Also, the scenario objective was about capturing towns but there are no control markers to note which towns belong to whom - very annoying.
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