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Vintage Treasures: Avalon Hill’s Elric Young Kingdoms Adventure Game

Monday, July 22nd, 2013 | Posted by John ONeill

Elric Avalon Hill-smallAll 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.

Elric box contents

Elric box contents. Click for bigger version

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.

Stormbringer-smallElric was never a big hit, and this was the last edition of the board game.

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.

Our most recent coverage of Avalon Hill fantasy games includes:

The Secret Supplement: Greyhawk, Gygax, and Outdoor Survival (1972)
Magic Realm (1979)
Titan (1982)
Elric Young Kingdoms Adventure Game (1984)
Dark Emperor (1985)

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures articles here.

16 Comments »

  1. > It was a re-packaging of Chaosium’s 1997 Elric: Battle at the End of Time, designed by Charlie Krank and Greg Stafford.

    I think you meant 1977.

    Now to find a copy of the Bronze Grimoire for myself!

    Comment by JLB - July 22, 2013 3:58 pm

  2. > I think you meant 1977.

    I think you’re right.

    Thanks for the catch! I’ve corrected it.

    > Now to find a copy of the Bronze Grimoire for myself!

    I keep meaning to read that one… it looks terrific. I never played the ELRIC RPG, but I always got a kick out of reading the supplements. Some wonderfully imaginative magic and story hooks.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 22, 2013 4:25 pm

  3. Did you ever play this? Is it any good?

    Comment by Oliver.Klages - July 22, 2013 4:40 pm

  4. Oliver,

    I played a lot more DUNE and OGRE than I did of Avalon Hill’s big fantasy games. Looking over the components and rules last night, a lof of it looked very familiar, but I can’t remember ever completing a game.

    One thing I was surprised about was the 16-page rulebook. That’s a miracle of concise design. My sons recently asked me to GM a session of BLACK CRUSADE, the Warhammer 40K RPG, and just to prep for the game requires reading the 356-page rulebook. 356 pages! By contrast, 16 pages looks like a design of elegant simplicty.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 22, 2013 4:58 pm

  5. Just one quibble. As a BGG member and someone who owns no small number of games, but who rates too few, I’d like to say that your characterization of 5.51 as “below average” is incorrect from an aesthetic point of view. It may be correct statistically, which is to say that the bell curve average of all games on BGG might be higher, but the rating system has descriptors.

    A 5 is an average game and a 6 is an okay game – a game that might be played sporadically – and falling between them is no crisis.

    I haven’t played ELRIC, so I cannot comment on whether this is a correct rating in my mind or not. I can say that STORMBRINGER – as written by Ken St. Andre – was the game that introduced me to the Basic Roleplaying Game system. I love that game and its various incarnations. I have a copy of many of the editions the game went through and am particularly fond of my Games Workshop hardcover (same goes for my copy of the GW edition of Call of Cthulhu).

    Based on this article’s revelation of how inexpensive your copy of ELRIC was though, I’ll be jumping to find a copy. Though I will note that Michael Moorcock was quoted in Kobold Quarterly #5 as saying that he never received any royalties from his Chaosium agreement and it wasn’t until his involvement with Mongoose that he saw any money (http://www.advanceddungeonsandparenting.com/2010/07/mongoose-publishing-releasing-classic.html).

    Comment by ChristianLindke - July 22, 2013 9:54 pm

  6. Hi Christian,

    Perhaps you’re right. A 5.51 isn’t really below average, given how the ranking system works.

    As far as collectability is concerned, ELRIC is really a forgotten title. It’s not played the same way DRAGON PASS, DUNE or THE MERCHANT OF VENUS are, for example.

    Still, all that really means is that it’s very affordable. The game has its fans, and for them the low cost is a real plus. Check it out, and let us know what you think!

    Comment by John ONeill - July 22, 2013 10:31 pm

  7. DRAGON PASS has been a next to impossible – at an affordable price – acquisition for me. I got a Reston Press copy of Runequest for a bargain but have yet to find DRAGON PASS at a reasonable price. My copy of DUNE otoh is well loved. I got it when it came out and eventually learned to play it.

    Comment by ChristianLindke - July 23, 2013 12:07 am

  8. I know what you mean. I bought the original Chaosium edition, and years later thought it might be a good idea to upgrade to the Avalon Hill version, just to get the more sturdy maps…. Carumba! That was an expensive upgrade.

    I keep an eye on prices on eBay and the like, and it never seems to come down much below $80 – $120 for a copy in decent condition.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 23, 2013 12:42 am

  9. Ah, Avalon Hill. That brings back some early-80s memories. I never played the Elric game, but I had a bunch of AH role playing and related games back in the day. Tom Moldvay’s “Lords of Creation” was always one of my AH favorites, a little goofy but ahead of its time, in my opinion. And I played “Gunslinger.” Don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone else who played Gunslinger.

    John, now you’re getting me in a collecting mood. I might have to start scrounging through eBay for some old AH games.

    Comment by Ty Johnston - July 23, 2013 12:25 pm

  10. Ty,

    I’ve got a copy of Gunslinger on the shelf. It cost me a pretty penny to get. My favorite old AH game – just for nostalgia sake – is their game Gladiator.

    Comment by ChristianLindke - July 23, 2013 7:44 pm

  11. > Tom Moldvay’s “Lords of Creation” was always one of my AH favorites, a little goofy but ahead of its time, in my opinion.

    I remember that one! I never played it, but I always wondered about it. Time traveling, alternate history role playing, as I recall. Yeah, ahead of its time.

    > And I played “Gunslinger.” Don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone else who played Gunslinger.

    Oh, I knew some people who played GUNSLINGER. I always WANTED to play. That was the trouble with those old board games… finding someone to play with!

    > John, now you’re getting me in a collecting mood. I might have to start scrounging through eBay for some old AH games.

    Just flipping through them has brought back a flood of memories. I still can’t find people to play with… but even that’s just like the old days!

    Comment by John ONeill - July 23, 2013 11:22 pm

  12. > My favorite old AH game – just for nostalgia sake – is their game Gladiator.

    I remember GLADIATOR! It always looked mindboggling complex to me. That’s one of the reasons I was so delighted when I found Metagaming’s MELEE… it was like buying a budget version of GLADIATOR.

    Comment by John ONeill - July 23, 2013 11:24 pm

  13. GLADIATOR is only needlessly complex when gladiators collide. When that happens the caluculations never stop. The secret and simultaneous movement otoh is fantastic.

    Comment by ChristianLindke - July 24, 2013 12:37 am

  14. […] Elric had a more direct influence in other aspects of fantasy gaming of course, as we recently examined in our Vintage Treasures article on Avalon Hill’s Elric Young Kingdoms Adventure Game. […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » Andre Norton, Michael Moorcock and Appendix N: Advanced Readings in D&D - September 24, 2013 2:21 pm

  15. […] another copy, and put that one in the Cave of Wonders, next to Dragon Pass, Dark Emperor, Wizards, Elric, Magic Realm, and other Avalon Hill fantasy […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » New Treasures: Titan - November 12, 2013 6:01 pm

  16. […] World, Ringworld, RuneQuest, Borderlands, Pavis, Big Rubble, Questworld, Stormbringer Companion, Elric, Shadows of Yog-Sothoth, Masks of Nyarlathotep, Cthulhu by Gaslight, Dreamlands, Horror on the […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » R.I.P. Lynn Willis, Game Designer Extraordinaire - December 18, 2013 12:50 pm


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