Helena-area resident Uwe Eickert often has to explain why he develops military strategy board games based on historical battles.
“It’s funny, because I go to a lot of these conventions and a lot of military people come up to me and say, ‘We love your training games. It’s great. How do you do it? What branch of the military were you in?’
“I go, ‘I was never in any branch of the military’ and they go, ‘How do you do this then?’ and I go, ‘I’m German,’ and they look at me and go, ‘Oh, OK,’ Everybody thinks just because your German you know military strategy.”
|Helena resident Uwe Eichert develope military strategy
board games based on historical battles for his company
Academy Games. (Press phot by Ken Grosjean)
Eickert, a dual German-American citizen, founded Academy Games, a game publishing company, 4½ years ago. His company has won historical board game of the year awards twice for its Conflict of Heroes series.
Last fall, Academy Games published “Strike of the Eagle — The Polish/Soviet War of 1920.”
“It covers a very important and pivotal time in European history where Bolshevism almost spread into Germany and France. Only the Polish defeat of the Soviets hindered this. The game is bringing a lot of awareness to this little known but highly important war. It is turning into a best seller and is up for Historical Game of the Year for 2011,” Eickert said.
“We also published 'Price of Honour — The German Invasion of Poland 1939'. Again, we teach players step by step what happened in this campaign, dispelling a lot of myths, including the Polish cavalry charging German tanks.”
There are World War II battles, the Battle of Guadalcanal, a Gettysburg Civil War series, even modern day battles reflecting today’s struggles in Afghanistan.
“It shows how tactics have changed and that’s why the games are so popular because it teaches you that,” Eichert said. “In reality, all fighting tactics (in Afghanistan) are going back to World War II techniques, because we’re stuck going house-to-house, small unit tactics.
“It isn’t like in the 80s and 90s where we just went in bombed everybody and nobody cared. Now we have the Internet and we have to worry about what people think, so we have to be very careful. So, these tactics teach people how to set up firing lanes, how to keep reserves, how to go for certain objectives.”
Academy Games is now shipping “1812 — The Invasion of Canada” and “Strike of the Eagle: 1920 Polish/Soviet War.” Eickert’s company is taking pre-orders for: “Awakening the Bear, 2nd Edition,” which is a winner of the Historical Game of the Year.
‘Grown like gangbusters’
Eickert was born at Fort Dix because his father, a German engineer, was under the auspices of the American military.
“When my father came over to play jazz, he was pulled into the American military just because they saw him as an engineer and they pulled him in to work on the MX missile design,” Eickert said. “We’re all German, but they were taking in Germans and putting them on missile design.”
Eichert’s family owned the Eickert Scissors manufacturing company in Fremont, which closed its plant just before he began developing the games. Eickert sys it was "purchased because of our market share leadership and profitability. A few years later, Jarden moved the operations to their McMinnville, Tennessee facilities where the business is still in existence."
He was working as vice president of engineering for a $5 billion company, and then began tinkering with the idea of creating a historical board game.
“It was just to fill in my time between I left the engineering company I was working for, so those four months gave me time,” Eickert said. “I published a game, it got good distributors, it became the best-selling historical game that year, and I thought there was something to that. I won all the awards and it’s been great ever since. “
The board games are the most popular, but he is also developing software versions being published by Matrix.
“A computer game is good, but hands-on touch is a different teaching method and that’s why the military likes it. You do both,” Eichert said.
Games are sold around the world, including at historical sites along the east coast. Games are also sold at specialty toy stores, including Glass City Games in Toledo, or at Academy-Games.com.
“This is a family game. This is a very simple game,” Eickert said. “This is made for families, children. It almost looks like Risk, but it isn’t. People set up their units on the board, and everybody has their own little deck of cards, and when it’s your turn you have to play a card.
“We’ve grown like gangbusters. We started four-and-a-half years ago — now we have roughly about $800,000 in sales, which isn’t bad, for a one-man operation,” Eickert continued.
The games are being published in multiple languages, including Chinese, Mandarin, German, French, Spanish, Russian, English, and Portuguese.
Even though the games reflect real historical battles from across the globe, the participants are able to change the outcome of the battle, depending on who wins. Every player takes a side — America, Germany, Russia, whatever.
He has historians and military experts from across the globe designing the games, artwork is done in Hawaii, and the games are manufactured in Germany. He has experts living in downtown Athens, Greece; Crete; Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), Russia; and Poland.
“In every country I’ve got people working with us,” Eickert said. “I can show you the Gettysburg map — incredible. That is done by an artist in Sweden and most of my World War II stuff for Europe is done by an expert in England.”
The games are stored in a warehouse in Fremont, Ohio, but the whole operation is run out of his rural home, located between Helena and Lindsey.
His customers go beyond families. The games are popular with the U.S. military for tactical purposes and teaching.
“It teaches you tactics, and that’s why it’s good training for the military,” Eickert said. “A lot of the young kids now, they join the military, and they are really good as first-person shooters, but all of a sudden they become lieutenants. All of a sudden now they are not in charge of just a squad, but a platoon. Most of them have no idea how to do it.”
A game that is focused around The Battle of Lake Erie and the War of 1812 is sold at Fort Meigs as well as forts along the Canadian-American border.
“This game was so popular in its pre-ordering phase that our French version was sold out months before it was even printed. So, all of our French copies are gone, our English copies are selling well worldwide — surprisingly well even in England. France loves it because they remember the war because they had a big part in it,” Eickert said.
The 1812 board games’ map, which is printed on a special German-developed processed that prevents the board from warping, shows Canada from Montreal to Detroit and also includes Toledo and Northwest Ohio.
For more information, call 419-637-5144 or visit www.Academy-Games.com