WAR IS a way of life for the inhabitants of a little building in downtown Baltimore. They man the command post for the Avalon Hill Game Company, which started the war game boom in 1958 with Gettysburg, and still dominates the exploding market.
Of course, they've got more than war on their minds, having also discovered in the mid-'70s, that anything in this world -- or out of it -- can be turned into a game. Now Avalon Hill produces more than 150 complex, cerebral, meticulously researched games as diverse as the WWII tactical exercise Panzergruppe Guderian, the sci-fi simulation Amoeba Wars, the tricky politics of Diplomacy (a favorite with Capitol Hill and embassy staffs), and this year's smash hit, Dr. Ruth's Game of Good Sex -- and does $10 million in international business annually.
Avalon Hill's bloodless wars have done so well, in fact, that the company now employs a staff of 18 full-time game designers in Baltimore and New York, and freelancers are constantly submitting their homemade inventions, in hopes of coming up with next year's monster game.
Avalon Hill was founded by Charles Roberts, creator of the war games Gettysburg and Tactics, who decided that the big game companies were ignoring adult fantasies. Roberts now sells real estate in Baltimore, and Avalon Hill's president is Eric Dott, who says he doesn't play games himself. That doesn't prevent him from waxing effusive about them. Right now, he's excited about his son's prowess on Spitfire 40, a soon-to-be- released, computer-driven realistic flight simulator.
Like other game manufacturers, Dott says, he watched board games take a nosedive in the early '80s. "We really got clobbered when those stupid video games came out," he says. "Everyone stopped buying games and started buying those little cartridges. But after a while, people started realizing those games were all the same, and our games offered endless variety."
You can write for the Avalon Hill catalogue at 4517 Harford Road, Baltimore MD 21214, or call 301/254-5300.
On the other side of the game board is Silver Spring's Baron- Scott Enterprises, which had one of last year's best-selling games with Sexual Trivia.
Now Baron-Scott has come up with a new game called Desperately Seeking, in which players shake out dice with words and attempt to assemble the longest and wackiest personal ad in a given amount of time.
"We began with a game called Dirty Words," says co- founder Scott Robinson, who, with partner Baron Taylor, created the company in 1977. Since then, Dirty Words has sold 11/2 million sets.
"Like all our novelty games, Dirty Words started as a joke -- we had 'real jobs' at the time," Robinson says. "We were playing Scrabble one night -- you know how people play dirty word Scrabble sometimes -- and we got the idea for dirty word cubes. We took it to a trade show in Washington and it became a smash hit."
Baron-Scott hit the novelty game market again with Sexual Trivia, in June 1984, and its "spinoff," Sexual Trivia toilet paper, is so popular that Robinson says they are back-ordered by 20,000 rolls.
Desperately Seeking (just released, with toilet paper on the way) has been timed for Valentine's Day and aimed at the potential market of 60 million singles, many of whom are interested in personal ads. "What we are is a trendy company," Robinson says. "We have to look ahead and see what's coming and be there when it hits." Next up for Baron-Scott: Body Tag.
For information on availability of Baron-Scott games, call 301/587-2444. -- Joe Brown.