All the recent fuss over The Kingkiller Chronicles TV adaptation has reminded me just what it takes to really break into public consciousness in this industry. I’m glad quality fantasy like A Game of Thrones and The Name of the Wind has been catapulted into the big leagues… especially since I know that most fantasy novels on sale this month will vanish from shelves long before the end of the year.
It takes a really exceptional property to endure without some kind of media tie-in. Fantasy like Michael Moorcock’s Elric, for example — still extremely popular among Black Gate readers, at least, despite the fact that the character first appeared, in the short story “The Dreaming City,” over 52 years ago.
Of course, just because Elric hasn’t been made into a Peter Jackson trilogy doesn’t mean he’s been completely ignored. Maybe there hasn’t been a Hasbro action figure or Saturday morning cartoon or feature film — but who needs all that stuff when you can play a board game from Avalon Hill, publishers of Magic Realm and Titan?
Avalon Hill’s Elric Young Kingdoms Adventure Game — man, that’s a mouthful of a title — was a deluxe board game published in 1984 and, to be honest with you, it wasn’t all that popular out of the gate. It was a re-packaging of Chaosium’s 1977 Elric: Battle at the End of Time, designed by Charlie Krank and Greg Stafford.
Avalon Hill had had some success re-publishing a handful of Chaosium’s products, especially Dragon Pass (1981), one of the most popular fantasy board games ever made, and I always kinda figured Chaosium threw in Elric as part of a package deal.
In any case, Avalon Hill made a good show of it, replacing Chaosium’s notoriously flimsy components — especially their paper maps and thin counters — with their own hard-stock folding maps and firm counters. The rather dense rules, however (which The Space Gamer called “nearly indecipherable”) survived.
Co-designer Greg Stafford addressed some of the criticisms directed towards the game in his article “Short history of the Chaosium Elric game“:
I’d been a fan of Michael Moorcock’s Elric since I first read some of the stories in 1966. When I was doing board games I thought that an homage to the series would be fun. The colorful setting and characters are the focus of the game, alongside the great war that is essential to the epic.
The balance of Law and Chaos added a factor unseen in other board games, and I liked the combination of personalities and armies. I know that a lot of people just hated the personality pictures where you stack the units with leaders, but I rather liked them. They matched the unit counters on the board. The REAL trouble with them, for me, was they took up so much room!
And once again, William Church made a gorgeous map.
That might be a generous description of Church’s map. It’s certainly colorful and reflective (more or less) of the geography Moorcock created, but it looks more like a Risk map than the gorgeous fantasy landscape of something like SPI’s Sword & Sorcery.
Over its lifetime, Elric has received a 5.51 (out of 10) ranking at Board Game Geek, which puts it below average. It’s not one of the most successful fantasy board games to come out of Avalon Hill (or Chaosium), but it certainly has its champions, especially among die-hard Elric fans.
Avalon Hill described it as an “Adventure Game” in the title, but it’s not what we refer to as an adventure game these days. Don’t expect to be tromping through a dungeon or making skill checks, for example — it’s much more of a wargame, and each player commands one or more of the Young Kingdoms, struggling to bring the world to heel and seize the Throne of Dominion.
The Avalon Hill version included a 16-page rules booklet, a mounted and folding mapboard, and 320 counters on four sheets. Here’s the rather evocative text on the back of the box:
For millenia, the eldritch race of Melnibone has dominated and ruled the world. Since first the Gods forced them into the world, they have wielded dominion with their bloody might and mystic power.
Now, with the inexorable passage of time, Melnibone’s grasp is the soft touch of the forgetful elder. Now is the time for the Young Kingdoms. In the dotage of Melnibone, they must rise and assert their dominance over the realms of creation . With vigor and skill, they must bring fire and sword to the fabled halls of Melnibone, sleeping behind the five-portalled Dragon Gate that is their sanctuary.
But this arcane gate is not faced lightly. Only Elric, King and Prince of Melnibone, fated Kinslayer and wielder of the dark blade Storm-bringer can solve its mystery. To assure victory, Melnibone must fall. To take Melnibone, the unpredictable powers of Elric, Prince of the Royal Line of Melnibone, must be dared.
Elric is a fascinating challenge for one to four players. Each Player commands one or more Young Kingdoms in a desperate struggle to assert their mastery over the world of Elric. Each must search for the bloody ring of victory through war and through facing the mystic challenges of this hoaryland. In all-out conflict, they must carefully maintain the Balance or they will precipitate the end of all existence through the actions that they alone control.
The Throne of Dominion stands vacant. You are challenged, nay dared, to march forth, face eternity and conquer all that stands before you. To the victor falls rightful claim to the powers and dominion of Melnibone, to the vanquished, only foul slavery and death can be expected.
Elric is based on the classic works of Michael Moorcock, who authorized the creation of this game. Avalon Hill is proud to present this exciting saga as a game for all to enjoy.
A lot of popular fantasy board games from this era command high prices on the collector’s market. This isn’t one of them. Its original cover price was around $20; I purchased a shrinkwrapped copy on eBay this month for $4.76.
Elric remained a hot property in the role-playing arena, however, and over the decades Chaosium launched several successful RPGs based on Moorcock’s creation, including Stormbringer (1981), which went through five editions, the latest in 2001. Legendary editor Lynn Willis kept interest high with a diverse range of supplements, including Melnibone, Fate of Fools, Bronze Grimoire, Atlas of the Young Kingdoms, Seas of Fate, and The Unknown East.
There was a d20 edition of the core rules from Chaosium, Dragon Lords of Melnibone, also in 2001.
There’s a complete catalog of Elric’s various game adaptations — over two dozen at last count, including supplements — at Wayne’s Books. It’s worth browsing just to see the marvelous cover art.
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