ICD, “Middle Earth”: Judges Guild’s precursors

This is about Judges Guild’s precursors and documents the early days of US wargaming: our local club fanzines, ICD News & A-Elim, 1970-1974 powered by teenage energy and an abundant lack of wisdom and Bob Bledsaw’s Middle Earth D&D Campaign 1974-1976. ICD ran officially from 1968-2011 and was variously known at Illinois Central Dictatorship, I Command Decision and I, Bill Owen, Eel Deuce showing that in the local butchering of Il Duce. Various groups like SIC, Strategic Infiltration Command (Craig Fogle), and Springfield Tactical Society (the bring of GRT/Tractics to Decatur, Doug Cragoe and the master of infantry, Jim Kronenburg) allied with the overall wagaming effort. Although Craig’s SIC was a school graphic design project (with a sly use of the latin adverb to hint at the real goal: making fake IDs for alcohol purchases):


So then after these upstanding citizens, I meet Bob Bledsaw who borrowed my copy of D&D (for good) and Craig (as Beorn now instead of skulking SIC agent) along with others. After selling much on eBay between about 2007-2011, I tended to keep these unique wargaming “treasures” along with just a few boardgames and part of my miniatures.

In July 2013 I decided to sell the last of my early wargaming one-of-kind items and rare issues that may have only had a circulation of 2-12 copies. From 1968 to 1974 we produced irregular (sometimes weekly, monthly and later very occasionally) newsletters for the ICD wargame club. They were called A-Elim (multi-page ‘zines), ICD News and Jungle Eskimo. I can’t remember what was the inspiration for that latter name was other than a bizarre sense of humor; maybe the post-high school gamers’ interests were blowing hot or cold!

We started out with Avalon Hill board games as our focus from 1968-1970, adding miniature games as our primary obsession from 1970-1974 then D&D about 90% of the time from 1974-1976. We did play a few boardgames and miniature games (Tractics or Civil War ruleset I’d made up before JG) to give Bob a break from the seemingly non-stop D&D campaign he judged. We really liked Diplomacy, Kingmaker, Invasion America and later Barbarian Kings and Hitler’s War. Each of these were good with multiple players and during the D&D days we often could assemble 4-7 guys. I wrote up a history of the early days of wargaming and my part in Judges Guild available here.

While I sold off most of my boardgames and D&D items from 2006-2011 on eBay, I kept the following items because I thought they would not be of interest to anyone and the pure sentimental value to me.

It has occurred to me that they do tell a story of the early days of wargaming in the USA and the evolution of our graphic and printing skills. Plus a lot of sophomoric writing. I realize that these documents’ condition might further degrade while in my care. That’s because of where I live in Central America: hot, humid, hurricanes and insects [Belize 2011-2013; update: then moved to Uruguay]. Indeed about 4 photographs have gotten messed up and some others are either darkening or lightening. So I realized that it’s time to move it all along.

Here’s the overview of most of the items (larger maps are shown further down on this page). All items will be auctioned on eBay as one lot. This will be announced in the Bill Owen Q&A section of the JG subweb of www.acaeum.com.

A mulligan’s mixture from left, my self-portrait, a thermo-fax edition of the A-Elim, Going Places the travel game after JG, the pink flier we put up in London game clubs to alert people to come and visit S&T notables, Dunnigan & Nofi and JG’s Bledsaw in 1991, ICD News published after Bob had bought the Sunnyside School location… jumping over the middle …lower left, the photo album of 50 ICD miniature wargame scenarios, the half-sheet first newsletter of A-Elim in 1968 to lower right the 1979 ICD “bomb” logo on red that produced the following name tag.


Below is a scan of our ICD Wargame Club newsletter from when I was 16. It was when I went from giving away content to for-profit publishing with the investment of $10 from the Minister of Armor, Doug Cragoe, from Springfield IL. You can see how low a wattage this newsletter is! But then I was an age 13-17 boardgamer and miniature gamer through most of the ICD News & A-Elim period. As my teacher said about us kids: “Sharp enough to stick in the ground and green enough to grow.”

Then came the more graphically pleasing and ironic issues of Jungle Eskimo which was after high school but before D&D. The wargame scene in Decatur was at a low ebb then from 1972-1974 but the publication made its biggest impact by connecting with David Petrowski and thus Bob Bledsaw. Then came D&D (ages 18-19) when most of our club activity was nearly all D&D (and for which Bob got the plaque with holy Italian Chickenbone in honor of his meritorious judging of Middle Earth. Most of that material is already in collectors’ hands from my ages 20-23 and can be seen at excellent sites like Acaeum. I had sold my half of Judges Guild then in the spring of 1978.

What makes these interesting to me is: what we thought was significant and the graphic improvements (including color and complete games during the Hectograph gelatin period) …there’s a straight line through all of this that it did not occur to me to include in either of the histories because I thought of it as pretty blah. But with perspective, I would never have had the confidence to partner with Bob on JG if it weren’t for these developments. Putting out these homely newsletters and trying various printing technologies was my basic training… and a lot of hard lessons.

Notice how we numbered all the pages we produced; the above being 42.

I admit that then we were frequently copiers rather than innovators. But sometimes our copies represented steps forward. For example, we pirated Dunnigan’s Crete game and included in an issue of A-Elim (just as his had come out in S&T magazine). But instead of a one color map, ours was made with spray masks and so we had blue seas and brown rough terrain!

And then at age 15, I produced an all new game the Cauldron Duel using offset printing about Rommel’s near capture below Tobruk:


As I remember it, the Cauldron Duel game was included free in this copy of A-Elim (mimicking Dunnigan & Simonsen’s Strategy & Tactics magazine):


Below, I received a printed copy of James Mishler’s Wilderlands of High Adventure (WOHA) map at Bob’s funeral. This is when I met James and friends who had come down from Wisconsin for the funeral. It was a bittersweet appreciation that James had managed to complete what I know Bob had wanted to get done: the expansion of the mapped area of the original JG world. Bob had come to me and wanted a world hex grid… which I produced for him: a 120×120″ grid with 14,400 individually-numbered hex coordinates! As much as I appreciated receiving it, I can’t get over the connection of the map with Bob’s passing so I am selling this with the residue of our club materials that dates back to 1968 that provide a background to the amazing Judges Guild and D&D phenomenon.


If you want to buy the above pdf map of the larger WOHA map that includes the original Wilderlands of High Fantasy area that Bob laid out in 1976, click here.

Also shown below is a giant compilation of the whole WOHF area with tiny hexes. I don’t remember whether this mini-master map was made in the 80’s or more recently (possibly 2000) but it’s impressive… partly because it has hexes and can be used to play the game.


How do you fly your Pegasus along without a hex grid? Bob came to me around 2003 because an artist had redrawn the WOHF area beautifully but without a hex grid! So his challenge to me was to build an appropriate grid. Just slapping a grid over the map wouldn’t cut it. We wanted these larger hexes to relate to a fixed number of the smaller 5-mile hexes and the grid to be legible over a wide variance in color values. You can see the result with 40 mile hexes or 20 mile hexes. Bob Jr. and I continue to maintain this Cafe Press site with a variety of JG swag, giant D-Day/Normandy hex maps and some weird stuff.

With the ease of Desktop Publishing’s amazing tools, it’s hard now for young people to realize how dependent we were on printers as “gatekeepers” to special effects in printing like half-toned hex grids/coordinates. The printers had to double-burn the grid onto the map’s printing plate and the reason they gave for the “high” (in my opinion) cost for this feature was not just the extra time but the possibility of damage to the large halftone screen. One scratch and they’d have to buy another big screen.

Here are some snippets of unique items. Full pages will come with the eBay lot. The first is an update from Bob about our D&D Campaign around 1975:


Here is a system that Bob developed for battles around Dale.


And a hex-based combat system I worked around 1975:


And my “Unified Combat Value” with some additions by Bob in pencil:


I copied off some NPC forms and you can see that Bob did more than write in personalized stats …he drew a nice knight!


And here’s a pricing grid that I made up after leaving JG. It was updated in January 1979, I think for my Treasury of Archaic Names. This is the sort of thing that would be short work with a computer spreadsheet but I think we were just getting into Appleworks spreadsheets later that year or in 1980.


Here below is a Polaroid shot of the core four ICD members in 1972 (Bruce, Bill & the two Marks). I think 3 of us were graduating high school that month. This was in the Cafe Tiffany at the Owen grandparents table in the Franklin Mall, where Judges Guild’s first business office was located in Decatur.


The fact that we kept a fairly complete record of 50+ designed miniatures games is remarkable and for most took a photo (before digital photography, pictures seemed expensive so most games got just one photo), wrote up a synopsis of the game and drew a little map in some cases! But here on the first page of the album, you can see the sort of damage that occurs due to carelessness and neglect. There’s another bad picture too but the rest of the ordinary photos are in good shape (though the color Polaroids tend to darken and B&W lighten).

Notice how we refer to the “Judge” even back in the late 1960’s! And how skinny he is holding his dice cup and rulebook in the Franklin Mall bunker.


I have added several items to the auction “lot” today [14 July 2013] (including old JG aids and collateral). One is the +2 Tiny Staff of Bold Burnishing below. Yes, kids I used to actually apply each letter one at a time with this 5.5″ burnisher. First you line it up carefully straight and true (with the round parts of most letters dropping below the blue guideline which many signmakers in the US and especially Belize don’t get) and then deftly rub the letter off the carrier sheet. It has a patina of grime.


So what did all this ephemera end up getting on eBay? Just under $900. Kind of amazing. While I appreciate the money, the other reason I sold this stuff is that it was just going to get ruined with humidity, mold etc. and in many cases I was able to see some of the items posted on line at sites like www.acaeum.com. This was fun and more handy than looking through a pile of papers in a box. I am very appreciative to various historians of the hobby that have been telling the story of wargaming.

So back to story. After selling my half of JG in 1978, I started Game Design and produced Going Places, a travel game for travel agents to give to their customers as a gift. I sold about 5,000 games and returned to the travel industry.

For more about my connection with JG and afterwards, click here.


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