Tom Wham's Gangsters Title Page Art"Famous game designer" Tom Wham developed Tom Wham's Gangsters: The Game of Disorganized Crime for over 23 years before it was ever published.
Gangsters is a humorous spoof of Monopoly where players roll and move around the board pressing businesses for protection money, bootlegging, robbing banks, selling narcotics, etc. Wham originally developed the game in 1960 for his high school friends and named it "Gunzos."
"I was in high school and I had this regular group of friends I used to play games with. They helped me come up with a lot of the names."* Tom WhamWham spent the early 60s submitting designs to different game companies and getting rejection letters in return. "Gunzos" went through numerous revisions as Wham spent four years serving in the US Navy but soon went on the back burner. In 1972, he got a job at Panzerfaust (a.k.a. Campaign) magazine and penned a set of Civil War naval miniature rules with Don Lowry. Wham joined TSR as employee number thirteen in May 1977 where he soon went to work illustrating the AD&D Monster Manual with his future brother-in-law, David A. Trampier.
Wham designed and illustrated numerous fun, innovative board games that TSR published, mostly in Dragon magazine. This was the era of Snit Smashing, Snit's Revenge, The Awful Green Things from Outer Space, Runngus' Game, Search for the Emperor's Treasure, Planet Busters, Icebergs, File 13 and King of the Tabletop.
To stay afloat between game sales, TSR paid Wham "advances against future purchases."** The early 80s brought big changes to the company and they were more interested in needlepoint than paying his salary. Sometime around 1983, TSR cut off his advances. Wham had to diversify, working with several companies to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, Dragon magazine editor Gary Lee "Jake" Jaquet left TSR Periodicals in late 1982 to found his own magazine (much like his former boss Tim Kask did in 1980). Jaquet's Gameplay magazine launched with the February 1983 issue marking its premier. Gameplay served as a resource for all gamers, covering card games, war games, board games and RPGs alike. This high-quality publication would only last for fourteen glorious issues.
Jaquet needed good games to publish in Gameplay and was well familiar with Wham's talents from their days at Dragon. Jaquet's team saw Gangsters (no longer called Gunzos) in prototype form in 1983 with play money from The Game of Life and Risk pieces used to track cronies. They liked it and asked Wham to modify the game for publication in a magazine. A deal was struck and Jaquet sent Features Editor Pamela O'Neill to Wham's home for a feature interview to go with the game.
Tom readied the game for publication and illustrated the game board and components. Dave Trampier illustrated the title page art (below) but Tom hadn't seen him for at least a year. The image is not dated but Tom states, "Dave and I last communicated in 1982." I believe Dave was already married to Tom's sister, Nina P. Wham by this time.
At any rate, the game saw print in issue #11 dated January 1984.
|Tom Wham's Gangsters Title Page. Art by David A. Trampier.|
I can't help but notice the similarities to another Trampier illustration:
|Emirikol the Chaotic from 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. Art by David A. Trampier.|
Maybe it is just coincidence. Maybe it is also coincidence that soon after Tom and Dave saw each other for the last time, O'Neill spied a strange note tacked onto Tom's bulletin board. There, among a rejection slip and an assortment of Tom's cartoons was a message from a friend:
Stopped by. Didn't want to wake you. You'll never see me again.***
* Pamela O'Neill, "Crystal Publications Interoffice Memo: Information Gathered on Game Designer Tom Wham for Possible Gameplay Feature," Gameplay no. 11 (1984): 26
** Ibid.: 24
*** Ibid.: 26