Designing Cedar Mountain

by David Bush, 6/27/2007

End of Turn 2, Cedar Mountain  


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During the 1970s, Jim Simon, Tony Williams, and I all were US Army Reserve officers working for CIA as (civilian) Soviet military analysts. We all were military history buffs and wargamers too, having started on AH in the 60's, then graduated to SPI, D&D, space gaming, and computer gaming. The original TSS was one of our favorites of all time. We even played a demo game of it for CIA's Historical Wargaming Club in 1977.

The three of us met Jim Dunnigan and Rich Berg at Origins 76 in Baltimore, where we also participated in a TSS demo game. A few years later, (1979) Jim Simon invited Dunnigan and Mark Herman to visit CIA's Office of Strategic Research and Jim, Tony, and I became unpaid consultants and playtesters for Nato Division Commander. (Jim and I actually wrote the intelligence and electronic warfare rules for that game, and Jim designed one of the scenarios.)

At Origins in Philidelphia that year, Dunnigan commissioned our group to develop one of the GBACW games. The stipulation was that it had to use the standard rules, fit on one map sheet, and have a single counter sheet. Jim Simon wanted to do Pea Ridge, but that was already spoken for. I suggested Cedar Mountain because we all were fans of Stonewall (Kernstown), and Cedar Mountain would offer a rematch of Jackson vs Banks with their roles reversed. Our original title was not Prelude to Bull Run, but Sequal to Stonewall. Jim and I also were reading and rereading Lee's Lieutenants and Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy at the time, so we both were familiar with the Battle of Cedar Mountain.

Dunnigan and Berg sent us draft copies of the rules for Bloody April and we got to work on the game in early 1980. Jim and I visited the battlefield near Culpepper to check out the terrain. I'm an artillerist so I was especially interested in choosing a battle that offered good fields of fire. I was deeply impressed with the tabletop nature of the high terrain near the wheat field and how it dominated the valley below.

I designed the map and the special rules, Jim did the order of battle (except for the artillery, which I did), and Tony (the most lawyerly of the three) represented us to SPI and prepared everything for publication. We submitted our design in the late summer of 1980, and then pretty much didn't hear anything for several months.

This was a troubled time at SPI. Jim Dunnigan had just been forced out and Eric Smith had taken over the GBACW project from Rich Berg. Dunnigan apparently told his successors little or nothing about us and any verbal agreements he had made, which caused a few problems. Eric Smith was not enthusiastic about Cedar Mountain, considering it a minor battle; but he was under the impression that SPI had already paid us for it (which they had not) so he went ahead and finished it anyway.

A number of changes had to be made since we had designed it to the older rules set and map format. Eric changed the map (somewhat), and the starting locations and victory conditions (a lot). He felt that these latter changes were necessary to give the Union players incentives to attack. I think his changes were largely successful, but they are a bit different than what we designed and playtested.

Cedar Mountain was finally published in mid-1981, about a year after we sent it in. It was nominated for a Charles Roberts Award for best pre-20th Century Wargame at Origins the following year, but lost out to A House Divided. Jim, Tony, and I received the princely sum of $800 for the design, in return for which we assigned exclusive rights to the game to SPI.

I think it was Eric Smith's lack of interest in the title that prevented it initially from being sold in a boxed version. Then, as you know, SPI went bankrupt four months later and the title was passed to TSR and eventually others. To my knowledge, no one from any of those companies has ever contacted the three of us to ask about Cedar Mountain since then.

Jim, Tony, and I all have retired from the CIA within the past few years. Jim left as Associate Deputy Director of Central Intelligence in 2003. He now works as a security consultant for Microsoft. Tony Williams lives in Carlyle, Pennsylvania, where he was on the faculty of the Army War College for several years. I still teach Indications and Warning to new CIA employees as an independent consultant. I live in Northern Virginia.

                     ---David Bush, 6/27/07