Avalon Hill was started in 1954 by Charles S. Roberts under the name of "The Avalon Game Company", a reference to the nearby town of Avalon, Maryland, for the publication of his game Tactics, considered the first of a new type of board game, the wargame. Following the success of Tactics, Roberts changed the name upon incorporation from "The Avalon Game Company" to "Avalon Hill" in 1958 because of an argument with another company. The number of games released per year was erratic until 1964 as the company released anywhere from 1 to 7 games.5-8
The first game published by the company under the name of "Avalon Hill" was the second edition of Tactics, titled Tactics II, published in 1958. AH published two other games that year, Gettysburg and the railroad game Dispatcher.
In 1959, Roberts moved Avalon into an office space on Gay Street in Baltimore and took on its first outside designed game, Verdict, by two corporate lawyers. After another office move, in 000000001960-08-01-0000August 1960 Thomas N. Shaw, a high school friend of Roberts, was hired to design games.6
In 1960, Avalon published the first mostly dice-less sports game in Football Strategy designed by Thomas N. Shaw which was followed by two sister games, Baseball Strategy and Basketball Strategy. Of this sports strategy line, the football and baseball versions were previously privately published by Shaw in 1959.7 With a recession occurring, debt began to pile up starting in 1961.
Avalon launched a pre-school children's line in 1963 with four games, Imagination, What Time Is It?, Doll House and Trucks, Trains, Boats & Planes, which flopped. Roberts gave up and planned to file bankruptcy on 000000001963-12-13-0000December 13, 1963.p7 Instead his creditors, Monarch Office Services and J.E. Smith & Co. interceded and took over. Monarch had printed all but the boxes, which were done by J.E. Smith. The company was reorganized by retaining only one staff member, Shaw, moved, cut costs and appointed J.E. Sparling as president.p7,8 In 1964, AH set a two-game per year release schedule.5-8
Avalon Hill published Blitzkrieg in 1965. This game was an abstract combat game, featuring two sides (red and blue) and some neutral countries. Many rules variants were created for Blitzkrieg. The company also published simulations of actual battles and campaigns, such as Midway, Afrika Korps, and The Battle of the Bulge.
Avalon Hill published PanzerBlitz in 1970, designed for the company by Jim Dunnigan's Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) on a royalty basis from SPI's Tac Force 3 game.p9
Monarch bought out J.E. Smith & Co., Avalon Hill's co-owner, on 000000001971-11-30-0000November 30, 1971. Thus the company became a division of a renamed Monarch Office Services, Monarch Avalon.p10
The company acquired several successful games including Acquire and TwixT from the purchase of 3M Games in 000000001976-02-01-0000February 1976.p5,12 Sports Illustrated (SI) line of sports games were purchased in 000000001976-12-01-0000December 1976. Both lines increased the retail outlets that would take AH games. The Aladdin Industries game line was another acquisition in 000000001977-03-01-0000March 1977. With the SI line, the company started a sports game division in 000000001977-05-01-0000May 1977 with Bruce Milligan hired to head the division and launch All Star Replay sport games magazine. While from the 3M line, Facts in Five became its top selling game.p5,12
During the 1970s, the company's golden years, Avalon Hill published a number of popular games such as Outdoor Survival, Panzer Blitz, Squad Leader, and the Statis Pro sports line.
Avalon Hill also purchased many games from smaller companies and republished them. Heritage Models sold AH its Battleline Publications in 000000001979-10-01-0000October 1979.p5,15 Much of Battleline line, including Wooden Ships and Iron Men and Machiavelli (a variant of Diplomacy set in Renaissance Italy), was republished by Avalon Hill, along with the popular Diplomacy. AH also acquired Jedko Games' The Russian Campaign and War at Sea, and Hartland Trefoil's Civilization. 1830 was developed by Avalon Hill, but based on Francis Tresham's 1829.
The company entered the role-playing game market by publishing Powers and Perils in 1983 and Lords of Creation in 1984. The licenses to RuneQuest and the board games White Bear & Red Moon (republished as Dragon Pass) and Elric, were acquired in a complex agreement in 1983 with Chaosium, and Avalon Hill published the 3rd Edition in 1984. None of these role-playing games achieved the popularity of the long-established competitor, Dungeons & Dragons.
Avalon Hill became an early publisher of computer games in 1980 with its video game division Microcomputer Games, Inc., adapting some of its boardgame titles to various computer platforms (TRS-80, Vic-20, Commodore 64, Apple II, etc.) on several data formats (cassette tape and 5¼" disk). Sales of these products were decent, but the only outstanding success was Achtung Spitfire!, published relatively late in the company history.
Gulf Strike was introduced by the company in 000000001983-01-01-00001983 and was based on the Iran–Iraq War then updated after the cease-fire in 1988. AH published The Dr. Ruth Game in 000000001985-01-01-00001985 which sold initially well then dropped off.
Facing an economic downturn in 1990 and a three year period of losses, Monarch Avalon closed its New York office, sold its toy division and reduced inventory. AH also published its timely game expansion, Desert Shield, that sold out in weeks after its 000000001990-10-01-0000October 1990 release such that a second print run hit the market in 000000001990-12-01-0000December 1990. In 1991, Hobbycraft Canada was sharing office space with Monarch Avalon.
AvalonCon World Boardgaming Championships was first held by AH in 1991.
AH reentered the computer game market in 1994 with a good review of "Flight Commander 2". The company added Pogs to it game line up in 1995. In 1995, Monarch Avalon placed Avalon Hill up for sale but it was later withdrawn.
Monarch sold Avalon Hill to Hasbro Games on August 4, 1998 for $6 million. Hasbro, largely seeking a computer gaming software company and known games to convert to interactive computer games per an Arcadia Investment Corp. investment analyst, purchased the rights to the Avalon Hill trademarks, copyrights, inventory, tooling and divisions, Avalon Hill Software and Victory Games. Avalon Hill Games, Inc. was incorporated by Hasbro on 000000001998-03-02-0000March 2, 1998.
Avalon was transferred to the control of Wizards of the Coast, another Hasbro subsidiary, in 2004.
Hasbro has released new titles under the Avalon Hill name, and added the Avalon Hill name to older games such as Axis and Allies that were not originally made by Avalon Hill. The games published under Hasbro ownership have been targeted for a wider general audience, and are less hobbyist-oriented.
The rights to many of Avalon Hill's more complex games have been licensed or sold to other game publishers, or have reverted to their original owners and been republished by other companies:Multi-Man Publishing acquired a license to Advanced Squad Leader and the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War series, and has since published new materials for these. (It also had the rights to Up Front for many years, but never released a new version of the game.)
Valley Games published new versions of Titan, Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage, and Republic of Rome.
GMT Games published new editions of Avalon Hill's early card-driven wargames We the People (retitled Washington's War), Successors, and For the People, and a descendant of Advanced Third Reich/Empire of the Rising Sun named A World at War.
Mayfair Games now has the rights to 1830 (one of several 18XX games they publish).
In 1982 Avalon Hill hired some of the design staff from Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) after that company was purchased by TSR, Inc, and formed them into a subsidiary company, Victory Games. SPI had specialized in wargames that were more complex and realistic simulations than those that Avalon Hill published. It also published games more frequently than Avalon Hill, which stayed with its two-a-year schedule of releases long after SPI began publishing boxed games monthly and as inserts via the magazine Strategy & Tactics. When Victory Games released a line of SPI-style games, it met with critical and commercial acclaim. As staff members gradually departed Victory Games for other companies, they were not replaced with new hires. The subsidiary was disbanded in 1989, though existing Victory Games designs were published under that imprint in subsequent years.
Avalon Hill also had its own house organ which promoted sale and play of its games, The General Magazine, which was published regularly between 1964 and 1998. The magazine offered a wide array of features, including articles on both strategies of play and tactics for specific situations, historical analyses, semi-regular features devoted to individual games, columns on sports and computer games by AH, listings of vendors and opponents, answers to questions on game rules, ratings for both games and players, discount coupons for mail orders, and insider information on future AH projects.
In early 1984, on the occasion of the release of third edition RuneQuest, Avalon Hill included in all RuneQuest boxes a single advertising flyer (see image, right) announcing the launch of HEROES, its own role-playing magazine. HEROES ran for ten issues from 1984 to 1986 and had the main purpose to promote all four of Avalon Hill's role-playing games: James Bond 007, Lords of Creation, Powers and Perils, and RuneQuest.
Avalon Hill moved its corporate offices to 4517 Harford Road in Baltimore in the 1960s, while maintaining a second address on Read Street, where play-testing was conducted and inventory maintained.