If you've been reading The Games Journal since 2002, you may remember my articles on Milton Bradley's Gamemaster Series and a follow up article which was titled: Heirs of the Gamemaster Series, Part I. Such a title begs a Part II, which I promised "next month" at the end of Part I. However (as is painfully obvious), Part II has been late in coming (the story, should you care: I was working on Part II when I was downsized and so spent my extra time and energy on the job hunt. I was able to find another job, but the article got left behind). At any rate, here is the other "heir" of the Gamemaster Series.
Eagle Games is an Illinois publisher that seems to have the Gamemaster Series line in mind. There's an excellent interview with Eagle's president and founder Glenn Drover by Ray Smith in the archives of this site, done just as Eagle was launching. My concern in this article, is to examine what I believe is a close connection between this contemporary company and the Gamemaster Series. Just look at Eagle Games' concept and mission, as taken from the "About Us" page on their website at www.eaglegames.net:
"Eagle Games' core product line is made up of historical strategy games aimed at transporting players back in time, and allowing them to recreate or change the key events of the past."
Certainly lots of wargame companies have similar missions, so it's how Eagle Games goes about fulfilling this mission that will seem familiar. Warfare is conducted on a grand scale on chunky pieces of land (no hexes), big and beautiful gameboards, hundreds of detailed plastic miniatures and fairly straightforward rules that get you up and playing—the hallmarks of the Gamemaster Series games! Certainly anyone aware of the Gamemaster Series line will see how Eagle Games has picked up the baton, so to speak. I was curious to see how familiar Glenn Drover was with the line and to what degree he sensed his company was continuing what Milton Bradley had done. The following is a transcript of our August, 2002 interview:
Rob Burns: What's your experience with the Gamemaster Series games? If there's one in particular that you like, what makes it special to you?
Glenn Drover: My first experience with the GameMaster series was with Axis & Allies and Conquest of the Empire. Some friends of mine in college owned these games and I was able to play them a few times. The play sessions were fast, fun, and had a great flavor of history. Since I was a history major (as well as a wargamer), these games really appealed to me. And the toy soldiers were a huge bonus! I had been playing with toy soldiers since I was five, giving them up reluctantly when I started getting interested in girls. These games legitimized my guilty pleasure. Since then, I've never looked back and collect toy soldiers to this day.
The Game Master series also reminded me of the American Heritage series from the 70s. When I was very young, I owned and played Skirmish, Battle Cry, Dogfight, and Broadside. These games were my first wargames and had a lot to do with stoking the fire of my passion for history.
My favorite Gamemaster game is Conquest of the Empire. The Roman empire is such an interesting era; the antique-style map was beautifully rendered; and the pieces were the best in the series. Although the catapults were a bit too powerful, I also liked the simple and elegant game mechanics. I've always like empire building games.
How do you feel that the Eagle Games games stand in relation to the Gamemaster Series games? Your Basic Rules sets tend to be reminiscent of Risk, the Advanced Rules add "old Avalon Hill" or SPI-like detail, but the complexity of the Standard Rules sets seem to be about the same level of complexity as the Gamemaster Series. Is this accurate? What do you find interesting about the Gamemaster Series' production or development?
Your analogy is right on! My hope was to be able to create one game that would appeal to all three audiences (The Risk crowd, fans of the Game Master series, and hard-core wargamers). I also wanted to offer gamers who were not already fans of games like these the ability to learn the game easily and then grow with the system; adding new rules as they were ready. The three rule sets, many scenarios, and different ways to play our games also give the consumer a lot of bang for the buck.
The Eagle Games games seem to be filling a void that Milton Bradley didn't get to in the 1980s. What do I mean? I remember seeing a card in some of the Gamemaster Series games, asking in which time period I would want another game to be set. Some of these options are ones they never did, but Eagle Games has; American civil war, Napoleonic wars and the American revolution. Has this been intentional on your part, to make games for the time periods Milton Bradley didn't do?
After the Game Master series, I waited for Milton Bradley (or anyone else) to come out with games like Axis & Allies, but in different time periods. Every time I went into a game or hobby store, I eagerly looked through the shelves, but was always disappointed. Finally, I decided that if no one else was going to do it, I would give it a try. I created some preliminary designs and began doing market research. After I had finished the first business plan and began working on the project full-time, I went into a game store in Chicago and found Axis & Allies: Europe! Apparently someone else was going to do it. Funny how great ideas seem to surface simultaneously.
I see Eagle Games as an heir to the great legacy of all of these games. I truly hope that we can measure up. My fondest desire is that 20 or 30 years from now, friends will be reminiscing about our games and how much fun they had playing them when they were young.
There you have it; Eagle Games is quite consciously carrying on the legacy of the Gamemaster Series. Mr. Drover is even completing the work Milton Bradley hoped to do (if the response card I found in Fortress America is any guide). I would argue that Eagle Games has done Milton Bradley one better—the inclusion of three rulesets. They've realized that wargamers come in all flavors:
- the Risk-ophiles,
- fans of "light" wargames with lots of plastic pieces like Hasbro's History of the World,
- SPI and old Avalon Hill grognards who like detail and realism.
The Gamemaster Series was the next step in wargaming for many a Risk player, but some gamers want even greater complexity. Mr. Drover is well aware of these varying needs and that some serious strategy gamers aren't even aware they might like boardgames—because they're computer strategy gamers who think board games are limited to titles such as Monopoly or Life. If Glenn can open up that market, he will not only help his fledgling company but the entire strategy game community.
Since our August, 2002 interview, Eagle Games has continued publishing these types of games but has also made some forays into other genres as well: Odds'R (a party game), Lord of the Rings (a children's game) and Age of Mythology (a "Euro" style game that combines city-building with combat). I first played this last game at the Chicago International Toy and Game Fair in September 2003; I was so impressed that I promptly ordered a copy (it was still at the printers during the convention). It'll be interesting to see if Eagle Games decides to produce similar games. It was also great to talk to Glenn at CHITAG and hear it first hand that they would be re-publishing Conquest of the Empire! In fact, Glenn told me he'd be leaving the event early to pick up Larry Harris (the games' designer) from the airport. As Conquest of the Empire is still my favorite of the series, I could barely contain my excitement. Glenn even suggested I send him the house rules I'd developed as he was eager to talk to Larry and see how it could be improved.
So, Eagle is branching out with a greater variety of titles, while still continuing with the light, "big box" wargames. Great components, light strategy, mass-market appeal and a theme featuring combat on a grand scale—this is Eagle's approach. A similar approach to what Hasbro is doing with its new Avalon Hill division, just as Milton Bradley did with its Gamemaster Series. When Axis & Allies first hit the mainstream toy and hobby stores, it was novel—an expensive game loaded with hundreds of miniatures and promising "high adventure". It worked, and as a result we have game companies both large and small competing to entice Gamemaster fans with products that provide the same experience those games provided. In the case of Eagle Games, we have a company that hopes not only to be an heir, but the crown prince and immediate successor. They're new enough that they're still "feeling their way", but Glenn strikes me as ambitious, knows the kind of games he likes to play, and strives to meet the expectations of the hobby game community.
- Rob Burns