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Tiny Little Branches: Blitzkrieg!

Blitkrieg! An early experiment in replayability gone horribly right.

Blitkrieg! is an early Avalon Hill game that was released in 1965.  Although Avalon Hill had existed since the late 1940's, they made few games in the years before the hobbyist game genre became popular beginning in the early-mid 1960's.  Before then Avalon Hill games were a rare hobby limited to a very small audience of mostly WWII veterans.  So Blitzkrieg! was one of Avalon Hill's first games released during the very earliest years of the hobbyist game industry expanding beyond the singular phenomenon of Avalon Hill.  It was very popular in it's day, and remained a "hidden gem" of the Avalon Hill lineup and favorite of some gamers until the end of the industry.  Blitzkrieg! is so old, literally from the very first days of the hobbyist game industry, that I can not even find a You Tube video to show this game like I have with all of the others.  Although it has some "flaws" in how the gameplay actually works out in the end, Blitzkrieg! was unique and was the first hobbyist game that attempted to create potentially endless replayability.

The typical "Avalon Hill game" was what would today be called a "tactical RTS game".  The "primary genetic line" of Avalon Hill is the group of games that begins with Tactics and ends with Panzer Blitz/Squad Leader/ASL 50 years later.  These are all tactical level games where counters represent platoons of men, single leaders, or individual pieces of equipment.  Blitzkrieg! uses similar rules and components as these games, but the scale is much different.  The Blitzkrieg! map is an imaginary continent where the hexes represent miles rather than feet.  The units are brigades and divisions, or entire squadrons or wings of planes.  It is a "grand strategy wargame" using the Avalon Hill style of rules and game components.  It is very different from their tactical games, and unique as only a few other strategic level games were ever made in the Avalon Hill style.

Blitzkrieg!'s primary place in the history of games, however, is in how the game begins.  The opening three turns of the game were designed to create a different starting position between the players for every game.  The players control "superpowers" on the east and west ends of the "alternate world" continent.  There are five "minor nations" between them, and the players must "fight the map" to conquer the minor nations over the first three turns of the game.  It is, as far as I am aware, the first game to ever attempt to create "endless replayability" and the first game to have "minor nations".  As concepts, both have gone on to be used successfully in many games over the years.  In Blitzkrieg! it did not function all that well in the end.  While the specific placement of the units would always be a little different by the time the players met, the end result was almost always a front line running from north to south somewhere near the middle of the map.  It wound up playing more like WWI trench warfare once the players actually met each other.  It was still a very fun and interesting game, and the concepts it pioneered were sound and have gone on to become common in modern games.

The idea of "minor nations" was first presented in this game and was one of the primary elements of it that made it so popular for so many years in spite of it's end-game flaws.  Planning which units to use where to "fight the map" and wind up in certain locations when meeting the other player was the most fun part of the game.  The different forces, the classic Avalon Hill "Great Blue" and "Big Red" used in many of their early games that were based on the NATO symbology colors for NATO and Warsaw Pact forces, were not the same.  One player had more marines and landing ability to do end runs on the coast, and this player also had a bay for his marines to cross in taking the minor nations early in the game.  The other player had a superior air force with little beach landing ability.  This, with the design of the map, made for a unique game that was actually more fun planning and fighting the map in the early stages than it was once the players actually met.  There are many valuable lessons that this, one of the very first of the strategy wargames, has to teach and this really is a historically important game for any aspiring game designer to understand for several different reasons. 

And now almost all of these "tiny little branches" have come together to wind up as components of the... drum roll... "Civilization Killer".  These aspects of Blitzkrieg! play a critical role as the foundation of one of the elements which make that game so special.  Much more detailed "Minor Nations" are a fundamental building block of that game, and as a byproduct also give it potentially endless replayabilty.  "Fighting the map" is also a primary element of the "CivKiller".  Like all of the other "tiny little branches" I have been discussing, there is a little bit of Blitzkrieg! in my personal "CivKiller".  This game provides it's most basic foundation, the Milton-Bradley GameMaster Series provides it's easily understood iconic nature, Victory in the Pacific provides the inspiration for how naval and air force activity will be treated uniquely instead of just using the ground combat rules of the game being applied to ships at sea or planes in the sky, and 1830 adds unsurpassed depth to the fundamental basis of the way that the game functions with these minor nations.  Even more depth than a "4X" game, without all of the many disadvantages that 4X games have with regard to being strategy wargames.

Next Week: Victory in the Pacific.  The final contributor to the base game that creates... "The Civilization Killer".

 

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