As has become tradition on Christmas Eve, Gavin Syme at Alternative Armies submits himself to the annual grilling.
Q: Hello Gavin, Orcs in the Webbe would like to thank you once again for agreeing to this interview. As in previous years could you explain for any who aren't aware of who you are, what you do and who you do it for?
A: Hello there again Craig. Thanks for asking me! I am the creative manager of Alternative Armies which includes 15mm.co.uk and also 'Painted Miniature' as well. I have held this post since 2003 and now at the end of my ninth year at the helm of some of the gaming worlds most loved titles. My role in the company involves many aspects but as a whole it’s the creation, implementation and release of all the books and miniatures that we make. This can include working with artists and designers, writers and type setters along with graphics and even production staff too. I take the raw ideas (many of which come from your readers and the Notables Yahoo Group) and shape them into concepts which can then be turned into new miniatures and new publications. I am the fellow with the brick in a sock whirling over his head to encourage the troops as it were.
I have designed a number of game systems some of them being Flintloque 3rd edition, MOTH, USE ME, Typhon, Erin and so on. Some on my own and others with talented fellows like Alex Draper, Bob Minadeo, Mike White, Steve Hazuka, Alex Self and Kurt Benson. I am the fellow responsible for the ongoing development of the World of Valon. I suppose that makes me Mr Flintloque. I also provide a good amount of content for Barking Irons Online for all the games. Oh, and I am the guy who makes sure the Notables get their questions answered and that all the email we get on gaming matters is also answered even if it takes me a few days to do it!
Alternative Armies is one of the most unique miniature gaming companies in the world. It encompasses many different game systems, scales of miniatures and activities in the realm of little metal men. It also owns the successful brands 15mm.co.uk and Painted Miniature. We have fans all over the globe who will tell you that we are a small and honest company who provide an excellent service with a smile. A Scottish company near the sea, in a little town called Girvan, where we all live (sometimes we go to the beach... when its not frozen over!). And of course we are creators of the World of Valon; origin of Black Powder Fantasy gaming and home of Flintloque the Skirmish.
Q: 2012 has been a good year for Flintloque miniatures but sadly there was no new book for the Flintloque game system. Was a decision made to focus on other games during 2012?
A: Yes it has been a good year for miniatures in the 'World of Valon' range for Flintloque and Slaughterloo. New Todoroni of the Big and the Undead variety, Trolkin, Elvish Ladies, Burrovians and of course the mighty Sharkes Chosen boxed set which I love! All of these were the result of wargamers requests I should add. I pay a lot of attention to the fan base for the games. In terms of publications yes I made a conscious choice not to layout and publish a Flintloque book this year. If you look back at the interview from last year in 2001 I said that I would but I totally underestimated the boom in 15mm science fiction and also for USEME as a series. I want to do the Flintloque books justice, they are very much a labour of love for me, so I decided not to rush it and leave it for next year. All the new miniatures keep players happy.
One side topic here is that while we did not release a new book for Flintloque we did get reprints on two of them and actually ran out of 5026 Death in the Snow at one point due to demand. Each of these reprints did require some work on my part but of course players did not see this.
Q: Back in 2008 you published the introduction to the Kooruna campaign in the Notables Magazine and then in 2009 interview you mentioned it would be coming out as a campaign book around the same time as Bier & Bones. Will we see this released in 2013?
A: Yes you will. I have it mainly done actually and it's sat that way for more than a year. As I said the last year has been very hectic and I chose to delay it. It's a bit of an joke in the office actually since I will not let anyone see it! Retreat to Kooruna (RTK) is not like any of the four existing Flintloque books as it is a 'campaign book' not a 'game book'. Many have said to me that Flintloque books are unlike other wargame books in that they read and re-read them many times and I want this to continue with RTK to make it a constant and prized companion. It will have a dozen linked scenarios, character profiles, unique mechanics, create your sections and trace it through and much more. Also it will have solo play rules as this is something many have asked for. It will be worth the wait.
Q: What of the "Blood on the Sand" on "Deserters and Scum" titles for Flintloque 3rd edition?
A: Crack of the whip! No rest for the wicked indeed! These two are in the planning stage and very much on the list after Retreat to Kooruna is complete. I have hundreds of emails and posts in a file asking for each of them. Briefly, "Blood on the Sand" is the game book which concerns itself with desert warfare, the Otharmann Empyre and its war with the Dark Czar and the Ferach Empire too. "Deserters and Scum "is also a game book that focuses on the non-regular armies of Valon such as the private army of Obidiah, the mercenaries of Urop and Pirates plus it looks at places where these rogues hang out. It might also have special rules for bad behaviour!
It is very much my intention to stick to the original plan that I outlined nearly five years ago for Flintloque. Third edition is the final incarnation of the game mechanics and with that totally in place now I want to broaden and deepen the World of Valon for a long, long time to come with these titles.
Q: I gave you a year off last year but as time passes I must once again mention what you once called your own albatross, Bedlum. Will we see the game released or has it been laid to rest alongside Frontear?
A: What can I say, Coleridge was spot on with his Ancient Mariner; it is my own albatross. Bedlum will be done! It was discussed again during the summer of this year and some work done on it mainly in the physical setting for the game on a wargames table. Next year I will look at it again and I hold to what I said. Once I think its time you are more than welcome to get in on the creation process for the book and so on Craig.
Frontear is under a grave stone just now but it might not stay that way. It's fairly common knowledge that Frontear is not my favourite title but suggestions for what to do with it include updated it to a third edition style new book or to narrow its focus to either just the Wylde West of the War of Eighteen Bells. You yourself suggested that perhaps 'micro titles' would be a way to reinvent Frontear. Micro titles which would focus on rules and background along with miniatures for a specific setting in Amerka along with conversion notes for existing Flintloque miniatures and terrain ideas with of course scenarios too. I like this idea a lot but I will say that I don't have much enthusiasm to get more miniatures designed for the setting. Those who want to know more about this are welcome to contact Alternative Armies and ask me directly.
Q: The new Slaughterloo book, 'Redux' is coming out in January. Whilst many, including myself, are looking forward to getting hold of a big thick single book version of Slaughterloo 2 in a shiny new format, can you explain why it's not the new version '3' that you were working on quite publicly through the Notables Yahoo Group during the year?
A: Slaughterloo like no man waits for time. Alex Draper and I have been batting theory and ideas back and forth and have come up with six (yes six) central theories for major changes to the Slaughterloo rules. On top of this more ideas for changing or removing the cards system or even the Form Roll. Some of these have been tested but no choices have been made and I do not want to rush Alex or myself on a new edition. A third edition would be a final one as with Flintloque. The print run of the three book boxed set of S2 looked like it was going to run out and it did way before we were ready. So a choice was needed, another run or a new format. I chose the new format as I felt that since 2006 we have moved on and it better suited the market and players of the game.
Coded 5030 Slaughterloo the new 'redux' version is the same as the boxed set except that it contains all the contents of the three books in one plus about five percent new material. It does not come with sets of cards or templates or counters but these will be given away freely as downloads on the Alternative Armies website and Barking Irons Online. This was the price to have a single bound book, no pull outs or separate sheets, and I also thought that since downloads are so easy now that photocopying from a book was redundant. The pages would be better used for a new in depth battle scenario in the book. So really you actually get even more for your money with the redux. I cannot stress this enough, it is the same game, still Slaughterloo 2nd edition but now all in one book.
Work will continue for a third edition of Slaughterloo but I expect the new form of the current edition to remain in play for quite a while.
Q: Will 2013 see any of your Flintloque range being released as PDF Downloads? You have mentioned how keen you are on this method and it's being used for MOTH and for USEME among others.
A: I do like PDF titles but not for all of our game systems. Each system has a different audience and while few might give this a lot of thought, I have. Players of science fiction games tend to be more up to date in real world technology than those who are into historical wargames. The demand for PDF paid versions of USEME was intense but when a survey was taken four months ago of Flintloque customers who had bought one or more of the books it was apparent that most wanted the book in print only and those who wanted a PDF would only want to pay a few pounds for it rather than the larger price tag for the printed book. Also the sales of USEME sci-fi and modern titles as downloads really outnumber the ones for historical settings. Lastly Flintloque customers said they liked to get miniatures with their book(s) via our website or in stores so there was no need for a virtual title there. This might change but for now no plans for Flintloque as a paid for download.
Q. What was your personal favourite miniature release from this year?
A: Hummm... tough one. Can I have two answers on this one please! In terms of Alternative Armies my favourite has to be 5109 Sharkes Chosen which is a fantastic set of miniatures replacing the vintage original Sharke and his Rifleorcs with new versions of them plus new Rifleorc characters and mounted versions of Sharke, Harpy, Wogan and Major Piecrust. Endless uses and chock full of character for scenarios a plenty (including this years advent scenarios "Sharke's Mirror" and "Sharke's Aquila" here on OITW - Craig). You can download the four page insert for the miniatures for the 5109 page on the Alternative Armies website.
For 15mm.co.uk I have a real soft spot for the HOF76 Corporate Ashigaru, its not the most recent release but its kept my imagination and I hope to expand them in the range next year. Gary Mitchell, late of Miniature Wargames Magazine, said to me at Salute 2012 that the Corporate Ashigaru were one of the best packs of his campaign year; I agree.
Q. Rumour has it that Typhon and Erin will be updated and re-released?
A: Rumours are sometimes based in fact (not like that one about me never sleeping... I am only human!) and this one is spot on. The current print runs of both these games are near their end and it seems there is demand for Greek Myth and Celtic Myth a plenty out there in the wargaming world. So taking both of them and expanding, updating and so on before re-releasing is on the cards. I personally think that these two might be done in print and as paid for downloads too. Each of them is unique and it would be interesting to see if print matched downloads in sales... come into my lab!
Q: Talking of PDFs, USEME has gone from strength to strength this year receiving several new titles a support book and an all-in-one-box starter set. What does 2013 hold for it? Will we see Alien Safari released? Are you tempted to release a 'complete' rulebook with high gloss finish, potentially hardback with the rules from compatible system all merged together?
A: USEME has been a monster hit for me and for 15mm.co.uk with thousands of copies sold and magazine and online reviews and coverage. This year we did get three more titles out; Cyberpunk, Eldritch Horror and the Support Pack plus the complete starter set Danger on Outpost 32. This was not as many as I would have liked, not based on sales but more on the dedicated work done by O.G.Joel, Bob McAlister and others on titles which are now near publication... I just want to see more USEME titles out in the world!
These new titles will be out next year of course along with more starter sets including The Ziggurat of Clem IV. I can say that the next two titles not penned by myself concern a campaign setting for USEME Modern Warfare and another rules title about 1930's Gangsters in the USA. Alien Safari will be released and is sitting about finished in my computer. I have blog posts and an article for Barking Irons ready for it explaining the idea behind it, playing and a scenario too. As for a complete book with a high gloss finish, hardback and all system merged...no. I asked about on this and there is little appetite for a simple game like USEME over many diverse settings in an expensive format. But one thing did come from that research, an idea I call 'UBER USEME'. This was a suggestion by a number of wargamers who play USEME for a bigger book based on UM001 15mm Science Fiction with more optional rules and background for the HOF universe including races like Zidhe, Octopods, Greys and so on. It would have a much larger page count but a good price for what it would be. Like HOF Fire-Team in an A5 format.
Q: And following up on that, your 15mm range of science fiction has grown exponentially, will we continue to see this growth next year?
A: It has indeed and yes it will continue to do so in 2013. The rage for 15mm science fiction continues to grow and does not seem to have peaked at all. I will give some hints. The first new HOF release will feature in an offer on Dropship Horizon blog today! This pack is tied to HOF Fire-Team and is a generic Human Medical Team with medics and a floating stretcher with bearers. On top of that I can say there are many SHM designs in the pipe from new talents and also favourites like Eli Ardnt and Fjodin. Plus HOF will see an entire Human army released by the time of Salute, more Jetbikes for races like the Octopods and also the Human Cultists and...well I will just say Retained Knights for now. Its gonna be awesome when the HOF range breaches the one hundred code mark.
Here is a sneak peek at Eli Arndt's 2013 design for the 'Razak' which will be in the SHM Range and also HOF86 Human Medical Team. Enjoy!
Q: How do people go about approaching you with ideas/sculpts for inclusion in the SHM Range?
Q: The greatly anticipated HOF Fire Team was released this year. How was it received? Do you have any plans to expand it?
A: HOF Fire-Team was indeed released this year and it went down very well among 15mm science fiction players. I was not surprised at this as Bob Minadeo who wrote the mechanics, adapting them from Firefight 2.0, did a grand job. The game is fast, furious and almost as nerve tingling as Firefight but with a lot more miniatures possible on the grids. I chose to release the book itself plus three tile sets and a starter bundle all in the first month so that HOFFT was properly established as I knew I would not return to releases for it directly in 2012. But I did produce some other material for it.
Over on Barking Irons Online there are free files for download plus several starter scenarios which I used for playtesting and then adapted for players use. I have to mention Dropship Horizon blog here and Chris Knowles who has been very supportive. Dropship Horizon agreed to letting 15mm.co.uk use its name for the 'Dropship Horizon Bundle' for HOFFT and its been the biggest seller for the system (it has the book, all the tile sets plus two free packs of HOF Zidhe miniatures) and on top of that he also published some posts promoting the game from an independent angle and its features.Dropship Horizon blog is a great benefit for the whole 15mm sci-fi industry and with Chris involved I am sure it will continue to be so.
I have an expansion for HOFFT in development for 2013. Its the forth tile set, but its more than just that. Edward Jackson and I have worked out a set of tiles with the theme 'Assault the Block' that is internal buildings of an office variety with furniture, stairs, elevators and so on. It will not only fit seamlessly with the existing sets and allow expanded games but it will also come with it's own expansion rules and scenarios using JUST the new set. Based on how well this works out I might do more soon after it with other themes building up a 'city' for HOFFT.
Q: What of MOTH? Last year you mentioned a second book with advanced rules and vehicles along with a possible third book covering the Khanate Empire. We've seen 'micro' releases, the Ion Age handbook and the Khanate Primer, will you be expanding on this range next year?
A: Kurt Benson and I have worked out the mechanics for vehicles and artillery in MOTH and those files are sitting ready so yes there will be a second book covering all of this. Once the rotation has come around again (I needs must work in rotation on titles so that there are releases across all the systems) then the Khanate title will be considered. MOTH is a great game which works well and captures the vicious combat of Firefight but on an open table. Praise has come for its Elan system (expanded from USEME) along with its simple but elegant squad assembly and splitting mechanic and its 'degrade' mechanic for shooting through cover. I cannot give an exact season for the release of the second book but Barking Irons will feature information as it comes.
Just like I did with HOFFT and Slaughterloo I 'plugged the gap' with smaller releases for MOTH. For MOTH this was different to the free files for HOFFT and a Redux for S2 and it did take the form of 'micro PDF paid for' titles like the Ion Age Catalogue and the Khanate Primer. Both of these included not only pictures of all the miniatures in the huge 28mm Ion Age range but game information and scenario. Sure the Khanate Primer was a tease but hey it did introduce them, a setting for them, their structure and weapons plus MOTH and FF2.0 stats for game use.
So expansion is coming for MOTH in the future.
Q: As MOTH is based on the USEME format, have you considered releasing conversion notes for the USEME rulesets extra rules? This could expand the MOTH game greatly?
A: A little bit of this and a little bit of that. MOTH is based on USEME but is a very different D10 animal to its D6 originator; more complex and squad focused rather than battle focused. I have suggestions, comments, begging and more from players who are asking either for a USEME Ion Age booklet or a MOTH Galaxy book. This would either introduce the Ion Age setting to the generic USEME universe or introduce all of the different HOF and other races to the unique Ion Age universe. Demand will be the deciding factor in this and I am well aware that either way wargamers will moan if I did one and not the other. I would be happy to pen either or both of these and have outline plans for the two. Of the two I think that USEME Ion Age is more likely.
One thing to mention that came up from MOTH players is that I would NOT mix the official Ion Age background with a title like 'MOTH Galaxy'. It would be made clear that the title is all about using the game mechanics and your miniatures if you wish from the Ion Age with any other race or setting. Separate but working together. I am not considering making 28mm versions of the races in the HOF range!
Q: Talking of the Ion Age brings me to Firefight 2.0. I know (although others may not) that work was started on a smoother and different version with additional rules (including the inside buildings rules and tiles - some of which I'm pretty sure we saw released in 15mm form for HOFFT). Will we see this project continued?
A: Yes, those grids for HOFFT were transposed from FF2.0 files for use in 15mm scale and Edward Jackson's excellent 2D artwork did feature too. There is a big project planned between myself and several others for the venerable Firefight but it will not see the light of day in 2013. I can say that it will be a very different and 'upgunned' edition of Firefight which will be the definitive version and include a lot more than outside and inside buildings. Zero G, Underwater, Vacuum, a much bigger scope, vehicles and more... but I need to hush down now before I say too much. Ask me again next year!
Q: Barking Irons has drifted a little during the year with less than desired amounts of new content appearing, what are your plans for it in 2013?
A: Yes Craig I think we both get a pat on the back an a slow clap for this one. Barking Irons Online (BIO) is a solid idea and it gets a lot of views. Most of the time when I look at it there are thirty to fifty other users there too. I think BIO has done extremely well on the 'News and Tattle' front and has kept all the fans of Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk up to date on releases and updates. But yes its been a hectic year for us both and the ball was dropped on the new content aspect. There have been some solid weeks but on the whole is has lacked.
I know that you have plans to increase content in 2013, as I do too so we will work out something that wargamers will love and will turn Barking Irons Online back into the virtual gaming magazine that both of us wanted. A rotating attention to all the systems on the site by me for one a week is totally possible and asking for more contributors too such as Alastair McBeath's tokens and templates for USEME these were great to quote an example. When content builds up we could do a PDF compilation for free download in a magazine format too. I could organise a competition as well. There are lots of ways to expand and improve. Keeping all the official content for the games such as Flintloque and MOTH there makes sense.
In 2013 Barking Irons Online will be expanding and fighting its corner well. Feedback from its readers is always good and several thousand a month can't be wrong.
Q: Will you be attending Salute 2013? How did things go in 2012? You ran a participation game featuring Sharke, Trolka, Trolkin and the Gingerbread Set, how was it received ? Will you be doing something similar this year? Are you planning on attending any of the other shows?
A: Yes we will be attending Salute 2013 and we will be on our usual large stand and we will have a demo game of a new system not yet released but more on that nearer the time. This year's show was good, it was tougher than the year before though and the traders I spoke to beneath their bluster saw their takings down on previous years. We did well enough but the big surprise for the day was Painted Miniatures range of pro-painted 28mm miniatures from Alternative Armies, we saw off literally hundreds of them at a few pounds each including three entire MOTH Platoons and a load of high fantasy. The Flintloque regulars were there and many enjoyed the Sharkes Gingerbread demo (you can see images online plus a video interview with me on Rob Alderman's Voodoo Ork channel on Youtube). The game ran three times and was well received. I really enjoy doing the demo games myself if it's a system I helped create. Playing with gamers at a convention is a unique experience. Tony Harwood is a star for giving me the actual scratch built Gingerbread House he made, it was the centre piece and featured in print in a couple of magazines too. The new Sharkes Chosen set was a good seller and as always it was great to meet and greet old and new friends on the day. We will not be attending other UK shows in 2013 but we will possibly pop up further afield.
Q. Your own blog has a lot of interesting material on it. How do you find time to write new product and also blog?
A: Thanks! I try hard to blog when I can and my efforts are split over two places. My own life and work can be seen on www.gavinsyme.co.uk where I talk about everything for gaming concepts to review and family too. All of my personal wargaming efforts are on blogger at tabletopwargamer.blogspot.co.uk and I often tie in postings there with article on Barking Irons and of course OITW too.
Finding the time can be tricky but it makes me happy and it makes me approachable too which is important. My domain is a lot more accessible than a Facebook or Twitter account and I get a several emails a week from wargamers and other people relating to what I have posted. I tend to blog a couple of times a week and I use time between working on other larger things to do the postings. Next year there will be postings on new games, on starter sets, on miniatures and more on my places upon the web.
Q. What are your own wargaming plans for 2013?
A: Well I am working up a Flintloque force with the end result being a Slaughterloo army. So far I have a personalised unit of Korsucan Rangers and a personalised unit of Joccian Hussars. My plan is to add Orc Line (The 50th Foote packs are rather tasty!) for an infantry core and also some artillery too. Makes for a Grand Alliance varied force for skirmish and a whole division for battles. I have a regular opponent in Eve Hallow who lives locally to me and he is collecting Ferach Elves and Undead too.
Aside from Flintloque I have a sizeable Ion Age 28mm force for the White Hawks which will see some action and I want to do more HOFFT and USEME with my Retained Knights and Asgard 15mm too. If you read about me on TTWG blog then you will know that after my illness a few years back I sold off my entire collection (heartbreaking but needs must as they say) and began this year from scratch. I will be trying again to make terrain boards... after my Martian landscape epic fail. All of this will be online on my blogger blog.
Q. Eve Hallow is a name that has been associated a lot with you this year especially on TTWG blog and on the websites too. Who is he?
A: He is a lord of the night and denizen of the deep crypt! Well that is his persona anyway but really he is a top guy who lives near me as I have said and is a keen figure painter and wargamer. He is my regular wargame opponent and when I saw how good he was at painting miniatures I offered him the chance to paint the master patterns for some new releases which are now appearing on 15mm.co.uk and also Alternative Armies for next year. He is a talented fellow and we will be working on larger projects for 2013 and 2014 too. You can see his work in wargaming matters over on his blog at evehallowminiatures.blogspot.co.uk
Most recently he painted the Razak and Medical Team which you I referred to earlier as well as the whole Star Viking range too on 15mm.co.uk. He has also tried his hand at some excellent 28mm Retained Knights in unique uniforms one of which you can see below and he has sculpted a Jelly Cube in 15mm for SHM as well which will be out next year.
Q. Lastly there is a bit of tattle that you will be working with Elton Waters on Podo next year. Is this accurate?
A: Well it is true that Elton and I have plans for a Valonian sports miniature game and Podo is its name. A fast and frantic game on a grass pitch with Goblins riding Dodos and wielding long handled mallets all in the pursuit of a little ball. There is some excellent concept art for it by Edward Jackson and I have a working rules engine but its a long way off ready. Podo began in the pages of the Notables Newspaper and I have a couple of hundred requests for it to be made into a boxed game. Well, we will see if 2013 is the year for it. I personally like the idea of it and think that a self contained sports game tied to Flintloque would be great. Ain't I busy enough?
Q: And with another year of designing, writing and gaming under your belt do you have any final thoughts for OITW's readers ?
A: Its been a fast, fast year for sure. Only seemed like a few weeks to me. I was very busy and I lost my paternal grandmother was well which was a blow. Overall I am very happy with 2012 and my work within the company and outside it despite the ongoing recession. Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk held their own and in some ways AA's little brother overshadowed it this year as it was a huge campaign season for 15mm science fiction. We had some people leave and we had a few new people join us and they have settled in well. We released new titles like HOFFT and USEME and we released more than a hundred poses of 28mm and double that in 15mm scale; SHM doubled in size. A quick mention of Painted Miniature brand too, those ladies have done a good job getting their pro-painted wares out to wargamers this year too. We are growing and succeeding where other brands have fallen back. I am always at it and this shows. I am surprised how much I have done when I look back at it. Indeed its a bit of joke among the people here that the Darker Horizons column in Miniature Wargames magazine said of me in April of this year that I was 'one of the hardest working people in the industry'... ah shucks... its makes me blush. But I know all of you out there appreciate it.
I have solid plans for the next two years which have been agreed and will begin publicly by the spring of 2013. You will see exciting things to come and things that I have never done before too. New game systems, new miniatures, new content. All of this will feature on Barking Irons so you will not miss it.
I want to finish by again thanking you for asking me to contribute to the advent calendar and for our now almost legendary annual interview. I want to say that unlike most of the wargamers who are fans of OITW I know just how hard you work and what effort it took to update and redesign the website into what it is now. The new layout is better and stronger than the old one and OITW continues to be a great read and place to browse for all Flintloque and alternate fantasy fans. Well done Craig!
Here is to 2013!
An Orcs in the Webbe Exclusive!
The above interview was first published on Christmas Eve 2012.