Civil War games become big business

January 07, 1991|By New York Times News Service

The climactic battle for the Shenandoah Valley, General Pickett's headlong charge at Gettysburg and the first and second battles of Manassas are the stuff Richard Berg has fashioned a business from.

Mr. Berg, 47, a former New York City criminal defense lawyer, is the inventor of more than a dozen Civil War games designed to give Civil War buffs an opportunity to change history.

"I think of the games as paper time machines that re-create the Civil War," Mr. Berg said.

"We give players the battlefield, the soldiers and the basic rules. Then it's up to them to do what they will with them. For instance, take Gettysburg; if General Lee had not stopped early on July 1, because his troops were tired, even though he had a couple of hours of daylight left, the outcome of the battle and the Civil War might have been very different. You can see it on the board."

Explaining that Union forces had not yet established a defensive position that fateful day, on Cemetery Ridge and Culps Hill, Mr. Berg pointed out, had Lee kept going, the Union troops might have been forced to withdraw.

Several editions of his game on Gettysburg, Terrible Swift Sword, have been strong sellers and one has been voted Best Game of the Year by the game industry.

"More than 50,000 people have bought the games to see if they can do better than General Lee," Mr. Berg said. "A third edition is in the works now."

Although there has been heightened general interest in the Civil War, thanks to recent television programs, Mr. Berg said Americans have always been fascinated by the conflict.

"It's a war that has always attracted a large number of history buffs. They support three hefty magazines published solely on the Civil War."

Mr. Berg, who ranks himself as an ardent Civil War buff who is familiar with every regiment Lee had in battle, also designs games on other subjects, such as his "Lord of the Rings" games and sports games.

"Almost any event lends itself to a game," he said, "I've designed crisis-management games, and now we're working on one that is a reflection of the times. Business is the theme, and each player is out of work and trying to get another job."

The games, which retail in the $35 to $50 range, are distributed to hobby shops.

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