The Alternative Armies Christmas Interview 2013
An Interview by Craig Andrews
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 once again Craig. Thanks for asking me back! I am the creative manager of Alternative Armies 15mm.co.uk and The Ion Age. I have held this post since 2003 and now at the end of my tenth year at the tiller. 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 Rock and The Hard Place both.
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 am the guy who makes sure the Notables get their questions answered and that all the emails we get on gaming matters are 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 other brands which work well alongside it. 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...it even got to 20c during August this year!). And of course we are creators of the World of Valon; origin of Black Powder Fantasy gaming and home of Flintloque the Skirmish.
Q: The previous year has seen a significant number of changes for Alternative Armies, most notably the focus since the summer on the new vision of The Ion Age. What led to this decision?
A: This year has been a big one behind the scenes of the company and for Alternative Armies the details of which I will not bore your readers with since they are not gaming related. The real world meant a lot of work that was not on gaming such as the planning of new websites for the company to come online in the first quarter of 2014. I did all of this during the winter and spring and we slowed down releases during it. 2012 was such a successful year especially for 15mm.co.uk that we needed a breather! That and the fact that my vision for The Ion Age needed time to get ready using the first six months of this year. A lot of this was planned but it took longer than we thought.
Technical and real world aside I decided to lift up The Ion Age because I had been doing Flintloque almost constantly since 2008 and wanted a change. Everyone will understand that but the question is how do you make a change while being the same person doing the same thing? The answer is that you change focus and do what many people have asked you for. You do a living science fiction universe that has been resting since the 1990's and was actually my own first taste of wargaming some twenty years ago.
Q: 2013 saw the retiring of Barking Irons Online and the launch of a new style of website for the company - theionage.com - fusing a content portal with a blog and online store. What was the reasoning for this and how has the new site worked out?
A: The world is changing and has changed a lot in the last three years especially. As I have said this happened for me and the company this year in the real world but also in the virtual world too. Our technology and our websites along with Barking Irons Online were fine for when they were created but it was time to move on. Personally I don't like Facebook and Twitter, or as I prefer to call them 'time killers'. Nothing against them for those that want them but I dread the idea of actually having to have live conversations with our fans and customers. I spent two hours a day on email personally, it would be more and it would be dispersed across the day with these platforms. I would get nothing done and people would be mad with me for it! So what would replace the existing but allow the same fun, same information with a nicer look and smoother function. The answer is in The Ion Age with its blog. You can get what you want, you can read about it, you can follow it, you can ask questions and its all there on the screen. It lets me do more with the same time spent and its simple to use. As you know Craig your new and excellent vision of OITW does the same thing. BIO had some great times and we will have more great times in the future.
Q: Will we see a rules book release to go with the new 15mm Ion Age miniatures?
A: Oh, yes. Certainly. If I can direct your readers to The Ion Age Blog at this post where they can read about and then read back through the playtesting for Patrol Angis. Patrol Angis is a skirmish level rules system based on a brand new rules engine I wrote which was tested by two dozen talented wargamers. It was a great six week experience and in 2014 you and your readers will see the results in book form.
Q: Why release another 15mm rule set? What of HOFFT and the USEME Series?
A: I love to write fiction and wargame rules. Its true that Alternative Armies publishes more books than many other much larger companies in this industry but as to why and what of I will say the following. Why. Well every rules set has a different focus. Patrol Angis is not grid based or generic like HOFFT and its more complex and single aimed than a USEME Title. I asked customers if they wanted an Ion Age rule system and almost all said yes even though most of them already owned several books by me which could be made to fit the miniatures. You also asked me this in the last question, its what wargamers want. What Of. We currently have seven manuscripts for USEME covering a number of genres, three of them are confirmed for publication 2014 so the series continues to grow and at this moment we have sold more than three and a half thousand copies across the titles. I will say I have not done much with HOFFT since last winter but I lost my local gaming buddy and other things took my attention. The print run is some eighty percent gone though so it might well end up OOP soon.
Q: What are the USEME booklets planned? As each one adds a selection of new rules will you be compiling them all into one master volume?
A: The legend of the Uber USEME book lives on! I will say again that I have no plans for a master volume. Following up on being asked this before I did a survey of customers who had bought one or more titles in the series and another for customers who had not bought any. Both groups said they would rather buy just the titles they were keen on and not touch a title with more than that in it. The price point was a key factor too, pocket sized and cheap to get. I can tell you that we have USEME Prohibition Gangsters in the works along with USEME Valiesk (a setting for UM004 Modern Warfare) and USEME Alien Safari at near release stage. They will remain there until the company begins the expansion of the series during 2014.
Q: Do you have plans to expand the 28mm Ion Age miniatures range (used in Firefight 2.0 and MOTH) as you have massively with the 15mm Ion Age range?
A: Yes I do. Not at the same pace or regularity as the 15mm scale miniatures though. The Ion Age range in 28mm is massive and we will be adding characters and also female troops and selected packs to pick up parts of the range which wargamers have asked for. Here is a picture of the 28mm scale version of Balthazar and Jerome (IAF005 in 15mm scale) sculpted by Sam Croes for example. Look for these in 2014.
Q: Will you be launching another Ion Age 28mm science fiction ruleset? Will it be the Firefight 2.0 Redux you mentioned in last years interview or did that become Patrol Angis?
A: Nothing to do with Patrol Angis on this front, it was written for 15mm off the bat. I have no confirmed plans for Firefight 2.0 Redux for 2014 but that does not mean I will not do it just not in the first quarter of the year. We currently have MOTH which works well and wargamers like too. I suspect that another Flintloque book will be the 28mm title for 2014.
Q: Are there any HOF, HOT or SHM releases planned on 15mm.co.uk for 2014?
A: Yes indeed there are. We released a few codes in autumn and winter such as the HOT94 Jabberwock and HOT93 Hooded Executioners and this festive season's goodies like Evil Snowmen (I know, bonkers eh!) and The Flower of Evil too. In 2014 we will expand on these and 15mm.co.uk will have more of a focus on 15mm Fantasy too. We will have more HOF codes and expansions to favourites as well. SHM will expand starting in January with Eli Arndt's Prang but I can only release what I get there since it is new designers and submission based. I can also say that I plan on bringing some out of print titles back to printed life. I am always open to requests but currently there are a dozen packs in the works.
Q: This year saw the company get into resin casting as well as white metal. You have used this technology to produce some excellent 15mm modular terrain for The Ion Age and also Laserburn. Are there plans to do more and or release 28mm versions of any of these?
A: As I said when the interview began this year has been one of big structural change for the company and high quality grey tone resin production was one of the biggest changes. I can tell you that its a very different animal to white metal and that is for sure! It has allowed us to move into new markets and offer more products too. The IAF015 Hab Dome on The Ion Age was our first resin item and it did really well in its first month and more additions for it are out now and to come soon too. But where the resin has made a big difference is in Laserburn and its vehicle range. We have been putting vehicles such as the V106 Law Officer Air Raft into resin and this has given them a whole new life. We currently have no plans for 28mm resin vehicles as this is much further down the curve. We will get to it but there is enough in 15mm to keep us busy for 2014.
Q: It’s been the quietest year for a long time for Flintloque, since it’s 3rd edition in 2009. What are your plans for it in 2014? What are we going to see?
A: I began the year with the bumper two hundred page 5030 Slaughterloo book which is the biggest book in terms of page and word count Alternative Armies has ever produced. Its still on the new release page of the current Alternative Armies website and that is telling for me. Flintloque has had a very quiet year with a few releases across the year but no new book and its the book that the fan base wants. Really I just did not have time and also last winter the motivation either. I am only human after all (even if Miniature Wargames Magazine called me the 'hardest working man in wargaming' once!) and I write virtually all of the content a wee rest was well earned. Releases are beginning again now and 2014 will see more action for The World of Valon and Flintloque / Slaughterloo as well. I have two plans for 2014 and that is firstly to bring terrain the market for the games and also to finally get my manuscript for Retreat to Kooruna into print. Yes, I first mentioned and began writing that title in 2008 before 3rd edition but the time is now right for it. I intend to chart its progress through the new Alternative Armies blog. One book a year. There will be some miniatures too such as more Trolkin as sculpted by Rob Alderman.
Q: Do you have plans for any Flintloque and Slaughterloo releases using the new resin?
A: Yes, yes there are plans! The miniature range is huge. As I have said before its one of the biggest in the world in 28mm scale. I know it better than anyone and even I forget bits of it exist. I tend to check the requests customers and fans make for Flintloque and what features a lot is 'why can't we have buildings specially for the games in the style of the miniatures?'. Now that we have resin its a realistic goal to do this. It is also something that can be used by all fans of the game to change their gaming tables. The 59007 Cryptmass House was a lot of work and a technical challenge but we got it right and its the seasonal promotion but its a special and its the beginning of a range. In 2014 we will have more buildings which will be in two different scales relative to the miniatures. I mean by this that the smaller scale will be fitted to Alternative Armies Goblins and Dwarves, the bigger ones to Elves and Orcs. Why? Well its taking the diversity of the game world into account. Of course Goblin Villages are smaller than Dark Elf ones. We begin next year with the Al-Garvey Goblin House. We will aim to outfit your Flintloque and Slaughterloo games with terrain to be proud of. We have some interesting new techniques and technology which will all add to this endeavour.
Q: The Typhon demo was well received at Salute, are there any plans to produce a new edition of it or Erin celtic myth in print or PDF in 2014?
A: Thanks Craig. I had a good time at Salute back in April (yes, time flies eh!) and Typhon always gets a great lot of feedback at demo games since its a very visual wargame with a great narrative. Currently I have a little idea in my head that if time allows and if I can get it together I might do an expanded book in print for Typhon with new material and also more miniatures but no promises or such as I think it will not happen. I have no plans as such for Erin. If either title goes OOP then I might consider it becoming a paid for PDF download.
Q: Speaking of Salute, will you be in attendance again in 2014? What game will you be demoing?
A: Yes. I will be at Salute 2014. The trade stand will be entirely Ion Age as that is the theme we are planning. I will of course have a box under the counter of all the latest Flintloque releases for fans to get on the day though. There are currently no plans for a demo game next year...yes, no demo game. Unless something changes there will not be one. We need everyone on the stand and I can't do a demo justice while also serving the public (this year proved that, you did a run of the demo of Typhon for me in the afternoon if you recall!). I do hope that there are more actual trade stands next year at the show as I did find it weird that some chose to promote their Kickstarter on the big customer facing selling day of the year in the UK.
Q: What was your personal favourite miniature release from this year?
A: For me it was IAF005 Balthazar and Jerome in 15mm for The Ion Age in August. They are super miniatures sure, detailed characters certainly, but they were the launch code for the new website and brand. It gave me the same feeling that UM001 USEME 15mm Science Fiction and 5025 War in Catalucia did. This is a fantastic industry and its the most creative in the world. Every day is new.
Q: Have you any thoughts regarding the rest of the Industry in 2013?
A: I don't think its fair for me to comment on the industry and other brands in the industry.
Q: Is it true that you now have more than a couple of hundred wargamers asking when Alien Squad Leader (ASQL 2.0) will be back in print? Is it going to be?
A: Where do you hear these things...eyes and ears everywhere! Yes, its is the case. ASQL went out of print (OOP) a year ago and since then we have been gathering emails and such from customers and those interested in another run of the book. Its got to the point now that I am seriously considering another print run. No electronic version though as I also have ideas for expanding the armies we can supply for it too and this would most likely be a bundle offer upon release. New HOF codes... I can see it now... perhaps more Alien Greys.
Q: As usual with my final question do you have any final thoughts for OITW's readers ?
A: I am very happy with my role and the company. Its fast, fluid and it keeps on changing. I work with a great and now larger team and it makes me smile even after a decade when customers compliment our and my work. It means more management responsibility but I am sparing with the whip. Changes made by the company and myself should lead to more time for creative work this coming year.
I want to finish by once again thanking you for asking me to contribute to the advent calendar and for our annual interview. I want to say that unlike most of the wargamers who are fans of OITW I know just how hard you work for the website. 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 2014!
An Orcs in the Webbe Exclusive!
The above interview was first published on Christmas Eve 2013.