A Gamer Looks at the Fresno Wargaming Association by Len Krol
I was at my friendly gaming store when I saw something I never knew existed. It was issue #5 of the Wargamers journal by the Fresno Wargaming Association. I never knew they put out more than two issues. When I sent in my money for a subscription, it was returned to me. I presumed that they went out of business. A lot of wargaming businesses went under quickly in those days.
The Fresno Wargaming Association was started by Mike Crane and Terry Strum after they left GMT games. They were the M and the T in the title of GMT games. While at GMT they designed games such as Silver Bayonet, Operation Shoestring, and Air Bridge to Victory. These are games that I have played many times. FGA was noted for their superior art and graphics. It is only recently that I feel that the rest of the industry has caught up with them.
Issue #5 dealt with the with FGA controversy. For you young people that never heard of this, or you older people who have forgotten this. In Fire and Movement #78, FGA was accused plagiarizing, copyright violations and other foul deeds.
It seemed to all start when people at Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) seem to feel that the Fresno people copied their Operation Crusader game. Talking to Richard Berg, they learned that FGA copied the complete order of battle for their Shiloh battle from him. Proof of this was that FGA copied the name of one of the Brigadier generals who was fictitious. Then like little tattle tales, GDW told others. First they told Clash of Arms games that FGA stole their ad copy for their battle of Leipzig game. They told TSR and Decision games that FGA were plagiarizing games they had the publishing rights to. Is there no end to the villainy of FGA? As an example of this, Fire & Movement magazine (#78) showed two maps, one from an SPI strategic game about the American Civil War and an FGA game about the American Civil War. The surprise is that the Mississippi River on both maps flows in the same direction! Imagine that!
FGA defended themselves. Game systems cannot be copywrited. Furthermore, they stated that their version of Operation Crusader is an improvement over the GDW game. If you had the GDW game, you would still get your money’s worth with the FGA version. Secondly all ad copy about a battle will sound about the same. You also cannot copyright the features on a map. An accurate map will have the river flowing the same way and cities in the right places. FGA also noted that no one is suing them.
This controversy seems so childish now. Maybe FGA rejected a game that Richard Berg proposed, so he vowed vengeance. Roger McGowan was the publisher of Fire & Movement magazine. He was also one of the top cover artists in the hobby at this time. Was he so jealous of the quality of FGA’s artwork that he felt that they had to be destroyed? What was GDW smoking that they were so worried about competition from FGA that they had to attack them?
This is not the first time Berg used a fictitious name in a game. In the Conquistador game he had a French explorer named “Persone.” This was for game balance. Otherwise the French would not have an explorer at during the early turns of the game. For the Shiloh, there was a Brigadier General whose name was unknown. Berg used the name of his psychiatrist. If he had acknowledged this, there would have been no problem.
I am not sure if this was happening before or after Berg had turned in his law license. Berg was a criminal lawyer. This is a world into itself. Criminal lawyers know less about copyrights than your average person. GDW should have consulted other lawyers for advice before making accusations.
I have played Pacific War Battles, Volume 1. This includes the battle of Tarawa and the battle of Saipan. I was excited because this was the first time I could fight these battles. This was a time when every second wargane was about panzers on the Steppes. I wanted to fight in the Pacific. Saipan was a replay of the system they used for Operation Watchtower. I had no problem playing the game. The other was about the battle of Tarawa. This was a two map game and I liked the maps. This was the debut of what they called the simple tactical system. It truly was. It showed how the island of Tarawa was taken with utmost savagery.
I also have Brother against Brother, Eagle and the Sun, And Defiant Holland. I have not played these because their value would decrease if the counters are punched out.
I am not sure what happed to Mike Crane and Terry Sturm. They might have suffered the fait of many wargame designers. That is they found a better paying job. Crane and Strum did seem to have an attitude, so maybe they were disliked by other game manufacturers. As a gamer you did not care about this. The games were all that mattered. The graphics were superior to what was published then. All game companies have problems with their rule sets at the beginning, but they learn. All businesses are fragile in their first year of existence. Problems that they could easily weather after a few years of existence can destroy a new business. I always felt that FGA was driven out of business. This deprived gamers of some good games. FGA had such potential.
If you are a publisher, you might want to think about republishing some FGA games. Even better, call Mike and Terry up and ask them if they have any new game ideas.
Meanwhile, I am looking at my pile of FGA games and wonder which to play next.
Buy Fresno Gaming Association products with this paid link: https://amzn.to/3qejQYv
Thanks for the trip down memory lane Len. Your article on the FGA was good and you should do more like this, I always liked your style and now that I have a voice, since you’ve been on camera more, it makes these articles richer to me. Thanks Len and Dave for the passion I love every minute of it.
Great article. Please take a look at the “FGA’s name of game” FB pages. EatS has the most traffic.
Was this article truly written in 2021? I saw this yesterday, and today is 1 Apr 21. But this is no April Fool’s joke: my name is Mike Crane. Yes, *that* Mike Crane. And God help me, but I am replying… I’d like to get into contact with the author of this piece, if for no other reason, to say “thank you.” I also have a few copies of some of the games named (mint and signed, if desired, but only by me) as well as mint copies of the old magazine. And yes: I have at least one unfulfilled game design left in the tank… Another gamble: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hi Mike. I will forward your email address to Len Krol who wrote the article.
Thanks. Is there a link where I can PM you?
Yes, use this link: https://centurionsreview.com/pages/contact/
Have you ever wondered what there might have been if FGA was still around?
In Boardgame Journal #2, there were three ads for several games. These were also in #3.
The Struggle of Nations. Napoleon at Leipzig. October 14-19, 1813. Funny, Leipzig was misspelled! There wasn’t much difference in artwork except the color change between the Purple/Brown to Magenta/Brown country. A quick Google of 27th cavalry at Leipzig says they are French.
Europe at War. The Crusade in Europe 1934 to 1948. #2 has all Army units in the artwork, while #3 goes with aircraft and ships. #4 shows Crete with an amphibious invasion happening.
Watch on the Rhine. Three Battles for the Ardennes; The Battle of the Bulge, The Race to the Meuse, and the Battle of the Frontiers. It’s a black and white ad in #2 showing the map and units, and then color in #3 with only the units. #4 shows a color map with counters.
And a Second Edition of Operation Crusader with the normal counter artwork. I could really use that about now. I’m having problems figuring out what is what with the German artwork. #4 has a great map with counter layout in it.
#5 Lists Upgrade Counters for both GRD’s Fire in the East/Scorched Earth, and AH’s Advanced Third Reich. It also has ads for three games for AH’s Advanced Squad Leader. Cassino, Manila, and Verdun! An ASL WWI module?
Also in #5 are three games listed in an ad: Gazala, Charge of the Light Brigade, and Remagen. Remagen made it out before the end. So, the question is, where are the files for the other games not produced? Are they still on 5 1/4” floppies?
Dummy names are an old trick to protect copyright. Map publishers (are there any left?) include fictitious streets to catch out copyists. I once had a law article plagiarized, and the plagiarist went ballistic when we told him that we knew not only that he had copied the article but that he had done it by dictation. The giveaway was that the case discussed in the article involved a fax. The plagiarised version referred to a “facts”. 😉
Another even funnier example of FGA copying everything without putting thought into it – “Brother Against Brother”, used the same map from War Between the States, but they misunderstood or mis-copied the symbolism. So everywhere in the original game that was a Confederate Road became exactly ported over as a Confederate Rail in the FGA version.
Oh, and thanks for the interesting article!
Ah, Operation Crusader.
The game that was published with a glaring and huge hole in the rules – you could take replacements, but there was no way to place them on the map. Somehow that made it through playtesting, and a customer online asking them the question (not sure if it was CSW, BGG, or elsewhere) had to show them how he thought they should do it, because they couldn’t even figure it out!