Judges Guild & after by Bill Owen

On the 4th of July, 1976, I was age 21, and with Bob Bledsaw, age 32, we officially started Judges Guild. We had a rollicking ride getting the business going but after 2 years of fantasy business adventures, it was apparent that something about our direction had to change. Therein hangs the tale. And I cap off that tale of a wild “what if” scenario in my latest, third edition of JG history (below the Certificate of Authenticity pictured) …published in 2014, 38 years later.

The featured image at the top shows our progression from a roll-the-ink-on sign for the ICD Print Shop, to the little flier I took to Gen Con ’76 where I sold City State maps (though only the one pictured was hand colored this way) and cover of the latest Judges Guild history book, Judges Guild’s Bob & Bill: A Cautionary Tale.

When I left the Judges Guild partnership in 1978, I stayed at the fringes of JG for awhile while running a more general-interest game company called Game Design. I published a travel-related game called Going Places which sold about 5,000 copies to dozens of travel agents that what used as Christmas gifts to their clients.

On hearing that famous English wargamer, Donald Featherstone, died in September 2013, I remember how we were fascinated by their more genteel approach to miniature wargames (around 1971). I think that Don was the inspiration of a fake “gum card” that a friend drew up which was mocking our current game club’s disorganization.

By 1979, I then went back into the travel business full-time with my family (I had always been minimal part time). I then sold Franklin Travel’s 3 offices in Decatur, Springfield & Champaign, Illinois in 2003 to Rio Grande Travel Centers Inc. From 2007 I started a tour company focused on local group tours only and software to help agents, banks, churches etc. build and publish their tours. The software was built in India by 2009 and I have used it to grow my business for over 5 years.

In December 2009, we sold the covered shopping mall that was Judges Guild’s first public location from 1976-1978 and our various travel businesses’ location from 1968-2009. Demolished October 2014, building no longer exists at 304 S Franklin St, Decatur IL and its “City State” decor has been swept away. Continuing as an independent contractor with Rio Grande, as of 2009 I also work through Atlas Travel and is located in the back of their office (see address at lower left) and successor to local tour group planning business, Tour Group Planners. November 12, 2011, my wife and I moved to Belize where I telecommuted and continued to arrange tours and design fliers and web pages for tour leaders for the business Tour Group LLC. This long-distance work continues in the Southern Cone and is made feasible by my TourGroupPro software.

Military history tours I have designed over a dozen including:

  1. 1991’s MILLENNIUM OF MAYHEM tour with James F Dunnigan, Al Nofi, Bob Bledsaw, me and eleven intrepid wargamers. This was Bob’s first flight in an airplane and he was very nervous flying up to Chicago on American Eagle. But after playing a game of Bulge at the American Airlines Executive Lounge (rented to assemble the “troops” and give them refreshments), Bob had regained his naturally charming demeanor and was chatting up stewardesses across the Atlantic.
  2. 1997 Tanks For The Memories, which had only four gamers including a certain Irish guy named Nick who got to operate a real tank, a Chieftain for the first time …at top speed into a mud puddle (or pond really). Our British host did tell Mitch, Mark and me we might get a mite bit muddy! I think Nick wanted to get muddy as a curtain of mud flooded into his open driver’s hatch.
  3. 2003 WARGAME YOUR WAY ACROSS EUROPE, which started out at Arturo’s wonderful wargame club in Rome.
  4. 2010’s European TOUR OF BATTLE hosted by Al Nofi & Francis.
  5. Michael’s 21eme French Line Infantry Napoleonic Re-enactor tours to Austerlitz and Jena/Auerstadt and Waterloo!
  6. July 15-22, 2011 was the Civil War Train #1, the sesquicentennial of the war’s start with military historian, Al Nofi, in vintage 1950’s train cars to Civil War battlefields out east (sold out with 45 people in 5 cars).
  7. A 2nd Civil War trip went in September 2012 via Vicksburg, New Orleans, Atlanta, Chickamauga and Washington DC–a big triangular loop. 
  8. 2013 renamed Private Train, we added the Revolutionary War and Williamsburg, Gettysburg, Antietam and Washington DC.
  9. Another Private Train in 2014 to Boston, Washington DC & Philadelphia.
  10. 2015
  11. 2017 we visited the Alamo in San Antonio and New Orleans.

After leaving JG, the only Fantasy Role Playing product that I published with Bob was the Treasury of Archaic Names in 1979 which I wrote, typed, cut and paste together all by myself and at least had enough staying power to warrant a reprinting and face lift in 1991. I also promised Bob that he would have right of first refusal on my Battling Brigades of Civil War or Great Battles of Civil War (I kept changing the name). Unfortunately, I could never quite get it finished enough to suit me… even though it’s 98% typeset and ready to upload! This miniatures ruleset was remarkable at the time (1976) because it presumed a figure scale of around 100-125 men each so each 5-figure stand is a regiment. I now prefer Frank Chadwick’s new Volley & Bayonet (2nd edition called Road to Glory) as each stand is a brigade… even bigger battles, faster.

The ACW ruleset is also relevant to JG because it was the “cover” we used when we called TSR to ask if we could come up and see them in June1976! For some reason, that I cannot remember now, we didn’t want to just come out and say “we want to do play aids for D&D”. And once we got there Dave Arneson said, “Sure go ahead, no one will buy them any way.”(!!)


The Certificate of Authenticity (above) was to describe the original City State map that Bob drew in 1976 for our Initial Package. It was originally called No Name City, Middle Earth before he came up with the Invincible Overlord and City State story. This map was found in the rafters of the Franklin Mall where we had our first office/store and was a blueprint test where I was trying to figure out how to copy the the full-color map in the one color (which was impossible since the colors were reproduced in different densities as black, muddy gray or disappeared). The map is currently (2017) still available at www.nobleknight.com full-sized (36×44″) with the certificate.

April 19, 2008, my buddy, Bob, died. On November 2, 2008, I released a 16,000-word, full-color history booklet of Judges Guild and my early game days plus my later time with Bob. It has 132 pictures (selling 75 copies by 11/21/08, then 85 copes as of 5/4/09). On Acaeum’s JG page, Jeff G. gave this feedback 11/24/08, “Just read mine, great book about the early days. Very easy to read. I really liked it. Thanks for sharing Bill :)”

Written over 6 years, the JG history is currently in 3 editions in numerous Print On Demand and e-formats from Kindle to Koffee Table:

  • Lulu, 2008 1st edition, Hardcover 8.5×11″ Print 36 pages: $39.95 16,000 words, 132 pictures.
  • Lulu, Softcover 8.5×11″ Print 36 pages: $29.95 “
  • Lulu, ” Download 8.5×11 PDF 36 pages: $15.00 “
  • Lulu, 2011 2nd edition, large-format ‘coffee table’ edition that is a expanded 2nd version of the above 36-page edition: Hardcover and BIG 13×11″ print 80 premium-quality color pages: $149.95 expanded edition now with over 25,000 words and hundreds of pictures including scans of one-of-a-kind items. Most of the original 132 pictures/scans are enlarged in size. 2.11 pounds of awesomeness. Really nice but expensive because they make one up each time you, Royal Person demand your Royal Printer, Lulu Lackey, to Print On Command.
  • There was a pdf version of the coffee table book but lulu seemed to have problems with such a giant file (over 100 megabytes) so it’s missing now. If interested, you can email me at bill game.fan.org about it.
  • Kindle, NEW October 12, 2014 e-book’ edition, this is a THIRD edition that incorporates all of the previous two editions with 11 extra pages of 10,000 more words, plus extra photos and unique art so equivalent to 91 pages (give or take a few cubits). Since very few people bought the much-expanded second edition, this allows you to catch up …sort of like our original Guildmember Ketchup Sub! Gentle Judges, please note: while all of Tegel Manor’s original full-color 17×22 has been presented “tiled” as 6 Kindle pictures, I elected to not include every square inch of the original City State “No-Name City” map as there’s a lot on that rough map was not marked then (or ever). Key sections like the “Plaza of Profuse” are shown. If you are uncertain of whether it’s worth the modest handful of copper pieces, please click on Free Preview option. Buy before the price increase! Right now, only the City State Cognoscenti know about this edition! The problem with Kindle is that the bigger your file, the more expensive it costs because Amazon charges me to download each megabyte to you which in turns makes me raise the price of the e-book. So I decided that since the focus of the 2011 coffee-table edition was premium quality, the focus of Kindle was to be “thrifty”. Besides Kindle at best isn’t big enough to present large maps well and the devices’ screen resolution are so diverse and some very limiting. However, the pictures (which are in color if you have a color Kindle or Kindle reader on iPad or iPhone for example) in this edition are much better than older Kindle books where the photos were awful. To achieve this thrifty price, photos are grouped like the “plates” of 19th-century book. Obviously with so many different devices one couldn’t keep each single photo and its caption on the same screen reliably anyway so this seems like the best balance of trade-offs.
  • Printed, 3rd edition NEW NOVEMBER 2, 2014 nearly identical to the Kindle edition above. Text is virtually the same but I have added some extra photo/scan pages (Bob’s Diplomacy variant, per-item wholesale sales figures). The photos are black and white because color photos adds a lot of cost. At $12, this is the lowest price of all the printed versions and the most complete and up-to-date. The main advantage of the earlier versions is that the photos are larger and in color.

    NOTE: For the 1st & 2nd editions, Lulu provides occasional discount codes (like to celebrate World Egg Day) on their main site… use them on check-out to max out savings. See all items on my master page: http://www.lulu.com/gamedesign
This wargame map was the first game I made and printed in quantity, Cauldron Duel, World War II in North Afrika, where I drew every hexagon and designed start to finish, in 1970 at age 15!

In summer 2008, Bob Sr. & I added some JG items now that Bob Jr. has continued the joint venture that his dad and I went in on: www.cafepress.com/judgesguild …namely a full-color classic Tegel Manor map; actually THE original Tegel Manor 17×22″ handmade by Bob Sr. map that he used in our middle-earth based campaign from 1974. Plus some memorial items about Bob that is raising money for the Decatur Area Arts Council.

My biggest game project ever was my (10) 23×35″ Normandy maps (the largest version being 60 square feet of detailed colored maps in 4 different hex scales so hundreds of square feet of maps) which I made for our Command Decision “Test of Battle” games. This took 7 years because of the burn-out associated with using primitive software (1997 Illustrator didn’t even have “layers” which I had to jury-rig by tediously grouping like items) and the fact that this was a typical unreimbursed gamer project. Anyway, I have since seen what people can do with Campaign Cartographer fairly “quickly” (okay, 10 hours per map instead of 30 hours!) Campaign Cartographer may not be good enough to go to offset printing with with (but I would like to hear from someone who has) but amazingly nice for at-home use and perhaps the extra tweaks needed would not take so much longer. I may have to try this product some day. You can see a picture of the whole map series here.

I made play aids for a company-per-stand game called Great Battles of World War II updated with a new D20 high-rolls best approach in August, 2013.

I made a Game Reference Chart at CD:TOB which comes as a part of the robo-chartmaker (unit stats charts) that Matthew in England designed. I designed the symbol art for CD:TOB’s order cubes. CD accessories here.

Redrew a giant (33×44″) boardgame map in 2008 for the publisher of a Battle for Berlin wargame (at right) in Illustrator when the original artist seems to have made it in Photoshop and then enlarged it (causing it to look fuzzy). Bob seemed shocked that I asked the publisher for 50% down before I drew the map.

Made a General Quarters version 3 turn gauge for their WWI naval edition, Fleet Action Imminent with other naval play aids here.

So I have had fun helping out at the fringes of the wargame hobby and no more investing and risk.

Starting around the mid-2006, under the eBay moniker GameDesign4u until November 2011 and then the final dribs and drabs September 2013 (with 536, 100% satisfied customers) sold off my gigantic game collection, the “White Fang Vault” containing hundreds of games and hundreds more magazines and play aid from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s (Bob used to call it the “greatest game collection known to western man”) to fund my travel industry software since I am rather risk averse and prefer not to borrow money. I am still in the travel industry which I returned to full time shortly after Bob and I ended our partnership in the spring of 1978.

Some of the stuff I have sold on eBay brought over $1000. Like at left, the replica German Schmeisser SMG (I got from Bob via $50 credit towards my royalty payment); went for about $1400. A copy of Chainmail ruleset (not shown here) originally paid $4 in about 1971, sold for $1900. At right, not a $1000+ item but sold some JG records to David Witts like the oldest known accounting that re-established timing of when we went to TSR for license permission in July 1976.

You can see some of the unique items that various JG fans worldwide have bought and uploaded at www.tomeoftreasures.com and www.acaeum.com …the latter has placed a “Bill Owen Q&A “topic if you have questions about olden JG items, go to www.acaeum.com/forum/about7116.html. An abridged version of my JG history I wrote a 1,500 word article) is found in the 11/19/08 edition of Fight On! I was interviewed for a podcast by the Save Or Die folks in January 2011. My next project: after my container arrives, to set up a game table here in Belize. It arrived 12/31/11 but my office was chaos until March 2012 so the game table is finally “up”. First games by July 2012, one of Bob’s favorite and mine, Hitler’s War and General Quarters 3 naval miniatures of the Battle of the River Plate. Games are slow to kindle as work refuses to dwindle. Very happy I have work though!

Did big guy miss his saving throw picking up the big die?

As of April 2013,I have made up a “Trainer Wheels” version of GQ3 naval ruleset that I will see if the publisher will like to utilize now that I have tested it again with a local chess fan. Oh the ODGW rep thought it wasn’t necessary. That’s the problem with people who already know the rules: they forget how much work it is to learn it especially without someone to teach you! Then in October 2014, played the General Quarters 3 game again with 4 guys in Uruguay who had never played a wargame before. They liked it, including the bit of role playing I put into it. Sold all my oldest ICD materials for $980 on eBay; the buyer featured one of those items in a You Tube video about 12 Treasures of the History of D&D in January 2014. Looked to see if a few of the ICD original members have anything that they saved, so far 2 said no, 1 maybe and having reached the only other I think might.

Have three more ideas for projects that I will report on at the Acaeum forum if they get anywhere. Stay tuned! In the meantime, help Bob and me out by buying even more vintage JG swag. Some of the items go fully towards the memorial for Bob at the Decatur Area Arts Council. The rest goes to defraying part of the cost of this underwhelming domain. “Published” a free e-book on how to sculpt and paint terrain boards for tiny miniatures’ games …and posted a page featuring pictures of author, Bruce Wiegle’s, beautiful terrain boards.

As of August 2013, I played Great Battles of World War II ruleset again (really good game that I had ditched prematurely), finished a free e-book about the after-action report and had hoped to play the game again in September before the Tower of the Elephant relocated via windwalker spell or Pegasus (which was not disclosed in 2013; always best to keep Sauron guessing).

As of November 2013, we have moved to Uruguay and as of February 2014, living in the campo just 4 miles from the Rio de la Plata, the widest estuary or really an inland sea where the German pocket battleship, Graf Spee, made its last voyage into Montevideo after fighting 3 British cruisers, 75 years ago December 13, 2014. While I did not pull off a 75th anniversary game on the anniversary, I have taught the General Quarters 3 rules to 10 people so far and 3 more on deck. We have had 4 re-fights of the Graf Spee battle and about to proceed to Denmark Straits and Narvik. We have also lived in Atlantida, Bello Horizonte, Villa Argentina (each of these just a couple blocks from the beach) and finally moving to another area of the campo in June 7, 2015. We are now about 20 minutes from the beach and living on olive grove of about 3300 young trees.

As of October 2014, having had fun reading Kindle books on a new iPhone, I decided to produce a 3rd edition of the Judges Guid’s Bob & Bill: A Cautionary Tale (Amazon link found above in the numbered section). Once I got into the project I realized that I had everything I needed without hiring someone from O-Desk. A big help came from advice and support from Doug & Susan here on the Gold Coast of Uruguay who run a publishing business with… and it was her Kindle memoir, The Lullaby Illusion A Journey of Awakening, as the real-life wife of a “CIA agent” in war-torn 1974 Cyprus (was he or wasn’t he?) that I devoured and got me thinking, maybe I could do this! Thanks Doug & Susan!

Future projects: I have gotten the go-ahead to Kindlize the war memoir of Rupert Macpherson’s From Tot To Trooper and in discussion with another author about his WWII history. In the meantime, I have other game projects that I am working on will breathlessly report on their glacial progress here. So all that plus watering trees, my tour group design and software should keep me busy for a while.

May 2017 updates:

In 2016, I provided some unique material for the Judges Guild Deluxe Collector’s Edition, Volume 1 by Goodman Games. I drew a map of Suite 12, the JG’s combined store, shipping department and publishing operation at the Franklin Mall (with the infamous artwork-destroying “Rain Zone” marked) and wrote a dust jacket bio about my buddy, Bob. This giant edition was a reprint of several JG favorites like Tegel Manor, Fortress Badabaskor & Citadel of Fire plus Judges Guild Journals. Goodman’s staff meticulously scanned and digitally restored these items presenting them in a 232-page, huge 12×18″ hardcover book which includes full-sized 17×22″ gate-fold maps including the original Tegel Manor map that Bob used in his 1974-1976 campaign.

The Goodman Games edition also has a correction to the Wikipedia account about Bob and JG. I was there. Yes, I made the corrections several times in Wiki but unknown Wiki editors kept changing it back to the incorrect versions of the facts based on books that were written without ever getting the story directly from this horse’s mouth, that is, me. I got tired of having my corrections changed back so I wrote this.

I got into a Two Hours Wargame World War II skirmish game Nuts! My buddy, Mark and I played that overlooking the Atlantic Ocean January 2017 with my newly painted 1:76 scale Germans and British troops for France ’40.

I had lots of trouble with Google’s Blogspot. So since early May 2017, I have been transferring over all the g-design.us gaming sites to this WordPress version of Wargame Campaign. I may not be as flashy as other bloggers but this free thing is light years ahead of where we were in 1976 with Selectric type balls, offset printing and the US Postal Service dispersing our Judges Guild subscription around the world.


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