Hex grids. Column shifts. Odds ratios. Zones of control.
These are the essential, primordial building blocks of commercial wargaming, invented whole cloth – much like the hobby itself – by Charles S. Roberts and his Avalon Hill Game Company. Many gamers grew up playing the Avalon Hill titles before graduating to more sophisticated simulations.
Since the hobby had already started to collapse when I was born, and had started to rebound and grow in new and interesting directions by the time I was aware that it even existed, I didn’t have that experience. My first wargames weren’t Avalon Hill boxed games or even SPI folios. They were instead whatever I could find online that was free and didn’t look too complicated to print up and assemble.
Which is how I started playing Lou Coatney’s games, where I learned about column shifts, odds ratios, and EZOC – as well as comparatively more rarified concepts like exploitation phases, tracing supply, negation of EZOC by friendly units... the list goes on and on. Mr. Coatney’s designs are old-fashioned in the best sense of the word, using the common language of wargames very expressively, which makes them very easy for a gamer to pick up and play, while remaining quite modern in that they’re very clean and streamlined designs with clever, flavorful chrome rules.
When Mary and I first approached Mr. Coatney about publishing some of his designs in boxed editions, and he was receptive, I started thinking about the box top and what I would want it to convey to potential customers. More-or-less immediately I hit upon the idea of doing an overt homage to the earliest games in the hobby, the old Avalon Hill games.
More specifically, my point of reference was the only old-school Avalon Hill game I owned (having acquired a copy through the invaluable "Wargamer Pay It Forward" Facebook group), D-Day.
While homages abound in advertising and packaging material for film, television, and comics – perhaps especially comics – it isn’t something you see a lot in gaming, and I thought the novelty of an old-fashioned box-top would not only hit some nostalgia buttons, but would convey certain things about the games contained therein: their simplicity, their elegance, the kinds of mechanisms used. Once I had decided on a homage/pastiche, everything came together fairly quickly, with fairly minimal revisions or drafts.
Too many homages are half-assed and get the little things wrong. For example, it seems like once or twice a year some movie or TV show or another has a song-and-dance number that’s clearly meant to evoke classic Hollywood musicals, complete with vibrant Technicolor. But almost invariably they get it all wrong: the framing is awful and constricted, the wrong lens is used, the lighting “off”. It’s someone who is checking items off a list without actually doing the work to pull it off. It’s good enough to fool the casual observers who don’t really like or “get” movie musicals, but it’s bound to rub the rest of us the wrong way. (Compare this to the pitch-perfect details in the recent Coen Brothers film HAIL CAESAR, which gets not only movie musicals, but all the genres lampooned, exactly and precisely and affectionately and hilariously right.) So, the bulk of the work for this cover was just doing my best to get the specific details right - the typeface, the character spacing, the color blocks and spatial ratios - while making very slight changes that also reflect my own sensibility.