Friday, February 17, 2017

What Monster Have I Created?

My learning this week is that I shouldn’t have offered to give this game away.

If you are an old school board war gamer, you will remember that Avalon Hill did a card game based on its popular WW2 game of infantry combat, Squad Leader.   It was notorious for the ridiculously handsome, almost angelic SS guy on the cover.  I’m surprised that image has not been resurrected by the Alt-RIght.    The bits below, including AH’s Pacific War expansion, Banzai!, was gifted to me by an Army friend of mine.  I tried playing it a few times solitaire, and it didn’t really seem that much fun.

This week I offered the game up on a Facebook group called Wargamer Pay It Forward.  The deal is that members can place dibs on games they want, and if they win one, they have to offer a game in return.  It’s a great system.  I had won a copy of GMT’s Labyrinth, a game on the US War on Terror against international jihadism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.   It seems like a good trade to me, as I like contemporary games and am a fan of the thoughtful work done by Ruhnke and his sometime collaborator,  Brian Train.

However, I wasn’t prepared for the 90+ claimants that have put in their dibs for Upfront!  I am fully expecting the number of entrants will top one hundred by the deadline of noon tomorrow.  Yikes.  I think I’ve found a robust random number generator that will do the job, but it will be a big job.  I suppose I could write the names on slips of papers and let Stanley the Cat draw one.  I’ve done it here before.





  1. Look on the bright side - at least you've got rid of that bl**dy awful game! I never warmed to the Squid Loader series in any of it's incarnations. But that's just me.

  2. I've used random dot org in the past for prize draws on my blog, must the same as you'll be doing with this. Might be worth a look if it's not the one you are considering.

    In my experience the most awkward bit will be making a list of all the claimants _ I don't think there's any easy way to copy and past their names from FB into a spreadsheet.

  3. I suppose its not on to break it up and send everyone a piece.....

  4. Padre,

    You may not have read the story about That Cover... in case you haven't Rodger Macgowan relates it one more time in this post on Consimworld in 2010 ( :

    Hi Randy,

    OK, to set the stage, I had been working for The Avalon Hill Game Company (Baltimore, MD) for quite a few years (about 10 years). My AH artwork for "The Russian Campaign", "Guns of August", "Fury in the West", "Flat Top", "Civilization", "PanzerGruppe Guderian", “PanzerArmee Afrika”, “PanzerKrieg”, the "Squad Leader/ASL" series, and more had proven to be very popular.

    Don Greenwood and Tom Shaw (both VPs at AH) were my main contacts at AH. Don approached me one day with the then "secret game project" -- to be called "Up Front!", a "Squad Leader" based card game. Don wanted me to do ALL the artwork for the game, and the graphic design as well (logo, etc.), and I was more than interested in doing so. We discussed all the details.

    The first thing I did was design the title logo for the game using a U.S. bayonet design incorporated into the lettering/title of the game. Of course, I based the bayonet and the rifle on the U.S. Army’s M1. My title logo design was retained and used on all the game cards and everywhere else on the game components where appropriate.

    Since the game was entitled "Up Front" my first thoughts were of the U.S. Army in WWII and the Bill Maudlin (Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist) WWII cartoon series about ‘Willie and Joe’ in the “Stars and Stripes” newspaper. BTW Randy, are you related to Bill Maudlin (spelling difference)?

    I then started work on the "Up Front" cover art and illustration. I designed a battle scene of U.S. Army soldiers, in combat, fighting through mixed terrain with a small French village in the background. There were explosions and smoke in the air. The perspective of the cover art was from that of a typical U.S. soldier as you see troops to the the right and left of you advancing and in front is your squad leader waving the unit forward – I thought this design captured the drama of the subject just right. I then quickly sent my art proof to Don Greenwood.

    There was a long silence (very long indeed). This was before email, faxes, and the like – our communication was all done via the post office or over the telephone. I waited to hear from Don. Then I finally received a call from him. Don said that the reaction to my “Up Front” cover design "proof" was very positive around the AH offices, they liked it, BUT it wasn’t exactly what they wanted. I then asked him what was wrong, what did they want? Don said, that “they said”, “…Germans sell, we want Germans on the Up Front cover…”

    (continued in part II)

  5. Part II

    It took me some time to calm down from this experience. I thought about it. I slept on it. I was not a happy camper. I knew my original “Up Front” cover depicting U.S. Army soldiers in combat would work and I felt it would be well received by the players. But they wanted Germans. I said to myself, “OK you want Germans, I’ll give you Germans.” From this came the “Up Front” that we all know today.

    By the way, when I sent in the final cover painting for “Up Front” with the central German “SS” soldier the guys at AH loved it. There were no negative comments or reactions to the coverart from AH at all. They couldn’t praise it enough, they said it was “great” and they were happy with the final results. They said it would sell.

    Later, when there were some people who complained about the “SS guy” on the cover, AH blamed everything on “the artist” and said they (AH) were innocent, they accepted none of the blame or criticism. They took no responsibility.

    In conclusion, for your information, the central figure, the “SS guy” was based on a Third Reich painting I saw in a German book I bought in Europe in the 1970’s. The book was full of Third Reich artwork that had survived the war in some hidden vault in Europe. The author was given access to the art and printed examples from this collection in the book – that is where the Up Front “SS guy” came from, from the secret vaults of the Third Reich.

    Hope you found this ancient history story of interest.


    P.S. For those interested, please feel free to visit the "RBM Art Gallery" at the link below for samples, and background stories, of my 10 year career at Avalon Hill in the 1970's and 80's. I hope you enjoy the art exhibit, thank you – Rodger

    IN ADDITION – To see a close example of what I was planning for the original "Up Front" cover, please see the packaging for our "Combat Commander EUROPE" game (GMT Games, 2nd Printing). That cover is close to my original "rough sketch" sent to Avalon Hill almost 30 years ago and rejected – RBM

  6. Good trade Padre- Labyrinth is one of my favourite board games.



  7. Does SS sell better than Wehrmacht, I wonder? But I can understand AH's original point of view, particularly if they were looking to the international market. But ducking out from under the criticism in respect of the SS guy is a bit gutless.

    I quite liked the Squad Leader board game on short (i.e. brief) acquaintance, and even tried (equally briefly) developing a similar sort of game with miniatures. As it transpires there is a miniatures version of Squad Leader. Oddly enough it doesn't seem to be played on a hex or any other grid.

  8. Up Front is a bit of a holy grail among board gamers. A superb game for it's time, but has aged a bit in the interim.

  9. I picked up Up Front and its two supplements right around the time AH disappeared (1998ish) and played it a few times and it was ok. Finally sold it at the Hotlead B&B a couple of years ago for what I think was a pretty fair price for the bundle (less than what I paid a decade ago) and about 10 minutes after the B&B open I saw the bundle tucked under someone's arm. Besides trying to free up shelf space, GMT's Combat Commander and my WWII miniatures gaming projects give me what I need now.

    Chris from Peterborough


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