Exhibit / December 7, 2017
Avalon Hill, known for historical wargames like Blitzkrieg (1965) and PanzerBlitz (1970) at this point, released the Witchcraft Ritual Kit and Black Magic Ritual Kit on the heels of The Exorcist, the occult blockbuster that saw demon “Captain Howdy” enter the material world (and eventually a 12-year-old girl) via a Parker Brothers Oija Board. What makes these “kits” interesting is that they’re allegedly not games—occult-themed tabletop games were commonplace by 1970—but how-to guides allowing participants “to conjure any spirit” and “grant the secrets of love, health and happiness… known to those who practice witchcraft, the world’s oldest religion.” Each kit comes with a board containing symbols of “ceremonial magic,” as well as a “Basic Ritual Procedures and Incantations” (Black Magic) and “Manual of Interpretation” (Witchcraft) instead of traditional instructions.
The cover art on both boxes is clearly meant to excite the chief demographic that wandered the hobby shops of the era—adolescent boys and young men, whose fantasies of “swinging covens” were popularized by writers cashing in on both the sexual revolution and the younger generation’s rediscovery and refashioning of witchcraft during the 1960s. While the Black Magic kit makes no mention of sex apart from the suggestive cover, the Witchcraft set can be used “to find love,” and is “Recommended only for adult participation!”
1974 also saw the introduction of another tabletop experience with occult overtones: Dungeons & Dragons. The first commercial role-playing game, D&D allowed players to assume the roles of fighting-men, magic-users, and clerics, all of whom adventured throughout an imaginary world alive with sorcery, astral planes, psychic powers, and arcane monsters. Wargames and strategy games based on historical events—D&D had been based on 1971’s Chainmail, a medieval wargame—immediately gave way to a more spontaneous and speculative genre still dominant more than 40 years later: fantasy role-playing games.