The Pope is Dead – or – a #wargame Grognard has made his final muster. Richard H Berg (1943-2019)

THE WARGAMING WORLD HAS LOST A GIANT OF A MAN. But even from beyond the grave, he still manages to teach me something.

Wargame designer Richard H. Berg passed away on 26 July. Mr. Berg was an important member of the wargame community before even I got into gaming in 1979. Mr. Berg was a prolific game designer; a quick search of BGG reveals he is listed as a “designer” on nearly 200 titles.

As much as I knew about Mr. Berg, I actually own very few of his games. Maybe this is because he focused more on the ancient or medieval and middle ages periods. That said, he won early popularity for his American Civil War games; another time period I avoided in the 1980’s in favor or the modern era.

When I heard of Mr. Berg’s death one of the things I did was check my BGG collection to see what titles of his I own. I only own six.

My Richard Berg game collection

My most highly rated game from Mr. Berg is from a recent issue of C3i Magazine. The Battle of Wakefield: Yorkshire, England 30 December 1460 was my introduction to the Men in Iron-series of games. I liked it although this era is not my usual cup of tea.

A poorly rated game I own is Battle for North Africa: War in the Desert, 1940-1942 (GMT Games, 1996). Amazingly, the game is still for sale on the GMT website! Here is my comment about the game I wrote somewhere around 2006 when I first rated the game on BGG:

Covers the entire NA Campaign…but the rules are challenging. Must be a real Grognard and a Richard Berg fan to get through this one.

Rereading my comment, I asked myself if I was being unfair to Mr. Berg. So, with some trepidation, I pulled Battle of North Africa (BNA) out and took a look at it. Immediately, I was confused. Reading the back of the box the publisher’s blurb was nothing I remembered:

Battle for North Africa takes GMT’s Gameplayer Series into the modern era, allowing players to fight one of the hobby’s favorite campaigns with a totally new and fresh approach that emphasizes ease of play. The randomized features of the innovative Activation Marker system allow gamers to combine logistics, command and use of reserves into one, simple mechanic; one that still provides a maximum amount of uncertainty, tension and fun. The scale of BNA also allows players to recreate the sweeping maneuvers of the desert war with scenarios that can be played in one sitting or that cover the entire two years of fighting.

Battle for North Africa, back of the box

After reading the blurb I just had to look at the rulebook. All 20 pages of it. As I looked at it, I had a nagging feeling I had seen this before. So I pulled out Ted S. Raicer’s The Dark Sands: War in North Africa, 1940-42 (GMT Games, 2018), my “other” chit-pull mechanic North Africa Campaign wargame. The similarities are most striking:

  • Both use a chit-pull mechanic
  • Both have a unit scale of Battalion to Division
  • Ground scale in BNA is 8.5 miles per hex; TDS uses two map scales ranging from 4.5 to 9 miles per hex
  • Game turns in BNA are monthly; TDS turns are 1-2 months
  • Both games use the concept of assets to attach support to fighting formations.

The major rules difference between BNA and TDS is the concept of Resources in BNA. In BNA, Resource Points (RPs), “…cover a variety of actions: supply, construction, air support, refitting troops, anything that requires an influx and use of men and materiel” (9.1 Resource Points). In TDS logistics is abstracted into the chit system.

With my interest now totally piqued, I just had to play a scenario. The one-map Rommel Arrives scenario stood out because it, “…lasts 3 turns and can be finished in about 2-3 hours.” So I gave it a shot. My game of BNA ended up taking closer to 4.5 hours as I was learning the game system (the errata from BGG was also helpful). It was not too hard; my recent infatuation with chit-pull games in general, and TDS in particular put me ahead on the learning curve. Looking back to my original comment, what I discovered was:

  • “Covers the entire NA campaign….” Yes, it certainly can.
  • “…but the rules are challenging.” Uh…not really.
  • “Must be a real Grognard and Richard Berg fan to get through this one.” GMT made it clear in the introduction that, “…the emphasis is on accessibility and playability, with as much historical flavor as we can muster. Given choice between playability and historiticity, we have tended to err on the side of the former.”

So, does Battle for North Africa really deserve a 5.0 (Mediocre – Take it or leave it) rating from me. Certainly not.

The passing of Richard Berg, however sad, has brought joy to my life. I think Mr. Berg is smiling in heaven when he sees that his game from nearly 20 years ago can make someone think. Even one of his lesser titles, Battle for North Africa, still brings learning and wonderment to this little man.

That is the mark of a giant. RIP, Mr. Berg.

4 comments

  1. The only Berg games I know for sure I own (without double checking) are War of the Ring, several of the GBoH games that are credited to Berg/ Herman, and the Chickamauga West End Games release from many years ago (which is actually pretty good). He did a lot of games on esoteric subjects, which I do appreciate, but often they weren’t subjects that interested me personally.

    Never met the man, but growing up in the ’70s and early ’80s and playing wargames like it was my job I certainly knew his name. Like many of those ‘names’ back then, he seemed like sort of distant god, so it was funny when I discovered the Consimworld forums in the later ’90s and saw Berg as well as many of these other figures posting, and often as not, bickering, on the internet.

    When he was doing ‘professional’ writing (such as his ‘Berg’s Review of Games’), you could easily see how amusing and talented he was in that field. It’s also evident in his side notes in some of his rulebooks.

    He was a big part of SPI, and a big part of modern wargaming, and I’m really sad to know he’s not around, even if I didn’t play all that many of his games.

  2. I didn’t know much about Richard Berg. I’m not a wargamer. But I sell wargames, and given how so many of them coming through the shop over the years had Richard Berg’s name on them… I knew he had a huge influence on wargaming.

  3. I own only three by Berg: Conquistador, Manchu, War of the Ring. But I am generally not interested in the historical periods he designed for.
    I did sit and try to chat with him for a few minutes at a Consimworld Expo, quite some time ago.
    He seemed bored; don’t know if it was more me or the show around us.

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