I wonder why the Book Fair doesn’t get more Avalon Hill games. Maybe it’s a cultural thing: our chief audience doesn’t seem terribly math-oriented.
Avalon Hill games come to the Book Fair in two varieties. There is the opened but completely unused variety. Someone was given the game, considered the rules and the thousands of pieces and set it away until it could be quietly given away. And there is the loved and used variety, in which all the little cardboard squares have been punched out and used until the square edges are getting worn. These are often accompanied by sheets of paper on which computations have been made, and plans sketched.
We have just been given Bismarck, a naval strategy game based on the World War II ship and not on the turn of the century general (although there are other games with him in them.) I have not yet counted the pieces. (The little cardboard squares, which have to be detached one at a time, have a name, but I forget what it is: pips, chits, chads, what have you.) These games, produced from 1954 to 1998, were largely strategic war games, involving placing a thousand soldiers here, a hundred soldiers there, the heavy artillery along here. Mathematics and chance were used to determine the outcome of melees and battles. Before Dungeons and Dragons came along, they were the game geek’s dream: games too complex foroutsiders to comprehend.
(I did know a few people for whom this was not complicated enough: they would set up four or five AH games simultaneously, so they could conduct a war simultaneously on land, at sea, and in the air on several different fronts. One person liked to mix things up, so the Red Baron flew a Messerschmitt against Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. I don’t know how this came out; he may still be figuring out all the rules.)
From another company—the Scrabble folks, in fact—we have been given another game with an incredible set of rules. This is the semi-classic detective game Mr. Ree (say it out load and wait for the laugh.) Mr. Ree is very similar to Clue: your characters exist in a mansion with several rooms, and there are little metal weapons which play a part in the story. (One of the most popular facets of the game is that the figures for each character are hollow, so the weapons can be dropped inside.)
Two things separate Mr. Ree from Clue. There are lots and lots of cards which change hands at regular intervals. Some have a bearing on the mystery while others are mere decoys. The other is that the murder takes place during gameplay. One of the players must slip another player the card stating “I just murdered you” in such a quiet way that not only do the other players and the detective not notice it but the victim also doesn’t know who slipped that card into the pile.
I checked reviews online: some people figure it out and play fanatically while others just nod and set the game away. THIS one has certainly been played. The board is missing, as are all the little weapons. I haven’t checked, but I bet the card that says “Go Anywhere You Like” is also gone. At my house, we would have found that card WAY too useful to restrict to one game. (Consider Candyland, for example.)
People have questioned the selling of jigsaw puzzles and board games at a BOOK fair, but both of these games do offer plenty of reading. In fact, reading the rules may be as far as you get with them.