Wednesday, June 27, 2012
However, I first became acquainted with them long before I started gaming myself because my friend's father and his older brother owned a bunch of them and I remember staring in wonder at them as I looked up at them on the shelf. To a child's eyes, Avalon Hill games looked important and serious, an impression that was probably helped by the fact that so many of them seemed to be based on history, particularly the Civil War and World War II.
Consequently, when I grew older and started playing RPGs, I retained a strange fondness for Avalon Hill games, even though I never really caught the wargaming bug. Still, I bought quite a few of these games, in part, I think, because I saw owning them as a sign that I was now "part of the brotherhood." In retrospect, this mindset looks more than a little foolish, but I was an awkward, bookish teenager without much experience of the wider world, so I hope I can be forgiven my desire to belong to something I perceived not only to exist but to be worth belonging to.
Now, as I said, I was never much of a wargamer; I don't have the patience for it and neither strategy nor tactics come to me naturally. So, when I decided to purchase an Avalon Hill game as a token of my having "leveled up," I inclined toward its fantasy offerings, such as 1982's The Mystic Wood, designed by Terence Peter Donnelly. As I understand it, the Avalon Hill edition was in fact the second edition of the game, the first having been published by a small outfit called Ariel Productions, but I didn't know this at the time. What I did know was that The Mystic Wood was a game about knights going on quests in an enchanted forest and that was good enough to pique my interest.
The two is designed for two to four players, each of whom selects one of five knight characters to play. These knights, one of whom is a woman -- Britomart from Spenser's The Faerie Queene -- each have a quest associated with them, which constitutes their victory condition. So, for example, the knight George needs (obviously) to find and slay the dragon, while Perceval needs to find and leave the forest in possession of the Holy Grail.
The game's "board" consisted of nearly 50 tiles, about half of which represented the titular mystic wood, while the other half represented the "earthly" wood, gates, and a tower. The tiles were placed face down and only revealed as players moved their knights across them. Depending on the type of tile revealed in play, certain things could happen, determined by a draw from a deck of random events. These events include the discovery of useful items, potential companions, and enemies. Items and companions aid you in your quest, while enemies must be defeated. If a knight is himself defeated, he is stripped of all his items (he keeps his companions) and is imprisoned within the Tower tile until he can roll high enough to escape, kind of like the Jail space in Monopoly.
The it's a fairly simple game, The Mystic Wood was actually a lot of fun, so much so that I regret having given away my copy years ago. I suspect my children would enjoy playing it, since it has the right mix of randomness and strategy, combined with an evocative fantasy theme. I fear, though, like most of those long-gone Avalon Hill games, finding an intact copy at a reasonable price will be a worthy quest in itself.