John OwenUnited States
"John Bohrer then took my game away and bashed it into a proper rail game."
The rules were written by John Bohrer and are therefore copyright Winsome.
I'm not qualified to make any judgment on any of the legalities on all that has led up to the present AoS reprint. I've been following the back-and-forth for longer than 10 years now. All that means is that I'm less sure of who is right and who is wrong than ever in the past. It's a mess. It seems as if all parties have behaved badly.
My personal position is that Wallace admits that Bohrer took his design (at his direction) and made it a different, better game. Hamilton (who was the other half of Warfrog at the time) admits that the rules copyright belongs to Winsome (as is clear on original box and rules, so cannot be denied). If this were work for hire as Wallace and Hamilton insist it was, then why in the name of everything cardboard would the rules as written be allowed to be exclusively in Bohrer's name and not copyright Wallace or copyright Warfrog? Why is there a clear statement at the end of the rules that the rules are copyrighted by Bohrer? Copyright means that this individual HAS THE RIGHT TO MAKE COPIES AND LICENSE COPIES TO OTHERS. My understanding is that rules are the only things that can be copyrighted in game design. If Bohrer owns the rules copyright, he effectively owns the design. This fact, coupled with the clear fact that (for whatever reason, good or bad,) Warfrog did indeed slap a statement on the original box declaring license and copyright belonging to Winsome, is enough to make me feel no remorse in purchasing this new edition of AoS. Without any signed contracts between Wallace and Bohrer detailing who owns what, it seems like the public record made by Warfrog's own game box and rules testifies against their own position, whether they are in the right or not.
It should be noted that Bohrer explicitly names Wallace as designer at the end of the rules. I don't think that has ever been in dispute. My understanding is that Bohrer, right or wrong, as developer with copyright, believes that he can license these rules, and that he has always offered to pay Wallace. Based on the copyright and licensing statements, I'm inclined to side with Bohrer (and yes, I've read the claims that these were done "as a favor," etc., and that's probably true, but, if true, it was an incredibly stupid favor). My further understanding is that Wallace does not want any royalty payments from Bohrer or EGG because he believes that they don't have the right to print the game at all without his permission. Maybe so, I don't know. All I know is that it makes for a strange situation in which one company is trying to publish a game that I love while the designer is trying to stop this game from being published. The designer is happy with his re-designs (Steam, Railways) and no longer wants anything to do with the original rules-as-written design. As a fan of the original game and not the re-designs, I feel like I have to stand firmly on the side of those who want to reprint the original game, the version of the game that I feel strongly should NEVER go out of print.
What is important to me in any artistic medium is the text. I'm all for authors and editors getting paid, but what I really care about is the survival of texts that I love. I love reading Gawain and the Green Knight. I don't care that I don't know who wrote it. I don't care that I don't know the names of the guys (and maybe gals) who added to the history and development of chess. I don't know who first thought up the core idea behind Hnefatafl. I don't know anything about the first person who placed a stone on a grid. 1,000 years from now, I hope that the names Wallace and Bohrer are remembered in board game history classes (in the session on the importance of carefully worded contracts!). More importantly, I hope that the rules of Age of Steam are still remembered and that a physical copy of the game can be easily printed out at the corner print-on-demand board game kiosk (one can dream).
I'm a pink box owner. I never felt the need to buy the last 3e reprint, as I considered it a downgrade. This new version, however, is lovely, and is the Age of Steam reprint that so many of us have been waiting many years for. It's sad that all of this nastiness around it exists.
There is bad blood all around. I wish that all involved could be at peace.
I guess that my only purpose in writing all of this was to maybe help those few persons who have been on the fence about whether or not they should back this new edition of this great game. I would encourage these persons to do so with a clear conscience.
I fully expect some backlash. So be it. I guess I should add that I'm a big Wallace fan. I just played Wildlands last week and it knocked me out by what a fun design it was. I was a Treefrog subscriber back in the day. I used to seriously tell people that Wallace was my favorite designer. I tried to get my wife to name one of our daughters Martin. I've never met Wallace, but I've had brief positive email interactions with him. I've had no interactions with Bohrer and have only played a very small handful of Winsome games. If anything, my overall sympathies lay with Wallace. It's just that in this instance, I find myself leaning toward Bohrer's case, and I definitely find myself in support of any original Age of Steam reprint, especially one as well done as this one is.
But now I will tell the lineage and the names of the heroes, and of the long sea-paths and the deeds
Just another bgg blog about playing games.
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