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Richard Berg, Hail and Farewell....

posted Jul 28, 2019, 11:23 AM by Douglas Sun

This blog has been in cold storage for a while now, but there are certain occasions that one cannot let pass without comment. The passing of Richard H. Berg, a Colossus of the gaming hobby, is one of them.

I won’t attempt a grand synthesis of Berg’s career and legacy — things being what they are these days, this is being done piece-by-piece, over social media and discussion forums, by his friends, colleagues and fans. I never had the pleasure of meeting the man, so I know him only through his work. And thus, I don’t have anything particularly unique to share.

But I will say that I appreciated Richard Berg not just as a game designer, but as a tremendously gifted and erudite writer. One can debate whether or not his rules were as clear and precise as they could have been, but there is no doubt in my mind that he made the journey of learning and exploring his games entertaining as none of his peers have ever done. His engagements with Hans Delbruck in the rule books of the early volumes of The Great Battles of History, his argument in the scenario rules for Nagashino in Samurai that Takeda Katusyori was not the hot-headed idiot that Kurosawa depicted in Kagemusha — these remain vivid in my mind despite the fact that has been years since I read them.

As a writer, Berg had a natural style that flowed as smoothly as a good raconteur speaks when he’s telling a story — a rarer gift than one might think. He also had an eye for irony and absurdity, and his writing of history reminded you that the past was just as crazy as the present. He wrote almost all of the historical articles from Strategy & Tactics that I remember as my favorites. In fact, I couldn’t resist using his companion article for Veracruz as a source for an AP History paper on the Mexican-American War; it seemed kind of undignified to use an article from a gaming magazine for a school assignment, but it was as solidly researched as anything and quoting from it was too much fun (I think I got an A-). And as much as Sid Sackson was a respected game reviewer, Berg’s reviews for S&T were a lot more fun to read.

Today, I have to autograph and ship some Kickstarter rewards. But sometimes this week, I will set all aside and break out a Berg game from my collection and solitaire it. Perhaps it will be a battle from somewhere in The Great Battles of History (I have every volume). But more likely, I’ll go back to one of his old SPI games, particularly the ones that he did for S&T. Like Veracruz or The Siege of Constantinople — a game that isn’t regarded as one of his best, but it highlights the quirks and crannies of one of the most remarkable minds to grace our hobby, someone without whom it would be much poorer and duller, someone whose legacy will endure for as long as gamers continue to meet across printed maps and physical pieces. Hail and farewell.