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.

Are you Chit’ing me? Making a #wargame solo-friendly with the Chit-Pull Mechanism thanks to @gmtgames, @compassgamesllc, & @RBMStudio1

This weekend I took delivery of designer Ted S. Raicer’s newest title, The Dark Sands: War in North Africa, 1940-42 (GMT Games, 2018). At the same time, I recently had seen a post somewhere in my wargaming Twitter feed that mentioned that chit-pull games were very solo-friendly. As a wargamer that often plays against my arch-nemesis, “Mr. Solo”, so this got me thinking…

…and it’s true. Chit-pull wargames are a game mechanism that can take a two-player or multi-player wargame and help make it solo-friendly.

Long used in the solitaire gaming world (a great example being Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017), the chit-pull mechanism is often used by wargame designers to introduce fog-of-war elements* into a game. The chit-pull “randomizer” can also makes non-solitaire wargames more solo-friendly because the game engine guides the player as to what happens next. Now, don’t take my thinking too far; just because a wargame uses chit-pull does not automatically mean it is solo-friendly, just that it is more likely to be. The interaction of other mechanics might make it impossible to play a game solo. That said, chit-pull could be a good indication that you can play the game against your evil twin alter-ego!

I asked myself why I was so slow to realize the advantages of chit-pull. Looking back in my collection, I actually have several Avalanche Press Chitpull Series games; MacArthur’s Return: Leyte 1944 (1994) and Operational Cannibal (1996). I also have Richard Berg’s Battle for North Africa: War in the Desert 1940-42 (GMT Games, 1996). In my game collection, two of these titles, Cannibal and North Africa, are amongst the lowest-rated games (bottom 15%). On BoardGameGeek, Operation Cannibal has a horrible GeekRating of 4.9. In the case of North Africa, rules issues and missing activation markers(!) made the game hard to play out of the box. I think that subconsciously, even after all these years, I had a bias against chit-pull wargames because I had played a few turkeys.

My anti chit-pull bias is now gone. In 2018 I got purchased four wargames that feature the chit-pull activation mechanic, Battle Hymn Vol 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games), Battle of Issy 1815, A Jours de Gloire Series Game (RBM Studio)Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games), and the aforementioned Dark Sands. In each, the draw of activation chits is used to randomize the activation of units or, in the case of Cataclysm, to conduct national actions. In each the chit-pull mechanism and the fog-of-war element is what makes the games fun and each turn unpredictable.

Chit-pull; it’s a wargamers friend – especially when there is no friend around to play against.


* According to the BoardGameGeek Wiki, The Chit-Pull System is defined as: “Used in war games to address the problem of simulating simultaneous action on the battlefield and issues of command and control. In such a system the current player randomly draws a chit or counter identifying a group of units which may now be moved. Schemes include moving any units commanded by a particular leader, moving units of a particular quality or activating units not for movement but for fighting. This mechanism is often associated with designer Joseph Miranda who has used it in many of his games.”