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The Alternative Armies Christmas Interview 2010

An Interview by Craig Andrews

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As has become tradition on Christmas Eve, Gavin Syme at Alternative Armies submits himself to the annual grilling.

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Note: Pictures coming back soon... - Craig, Ed.

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 and what you do?

A: Hello there Craig. Thanks for asking me again. Has it really been a year already? I suppose so and its been a busy one for us with challenges and lots of fun along the way too. By way of letting all your readers know who I am I would say this. I am the creative manager of Alternative Armies which also includes 15mm.co.uk as well. I have held this post since 2003 and now at the end of my seventh year at the helm of some of the gaming worlds most loved titles the job I do is more exciting than ever. 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 whip overseeing the galley slaves as we row ever faster onward if you will.

Since last year Alternative Armies has attended its annual show, Salute 2010 in London, thanks to all who came along to see us and we have made some new releases. The biggest World of Valon releases came at the start of the year with 5026 Flintloque – Death in the Snow and then in the spring with 5027 Grapeshotte 3rd edition also for Flintloque 3rd edition. These two books completed the 3rd edition updates of the original three books that made up Flintloque to begin with. This took the game back to its roots and also massively expanded the gaming opportunities for players wanting to use Artillery and the Undead in their skirmishes.

In terms of World of Valon miniature releases it’s been a good and varied year too. Among others 2010 saw the expansion of the Very Limited Edition range with VLE07 through to VLE10 covering Dark Elf Artists, Foul Mouth Freddie, Orc Chaplain and of course Uncle Rogipoos himself of Notables fame. Limited Editions were not left out with the emergence of a new talent at Alternative Armies namely Rob Alderman taking the bull by the horns and sculpting up not only the Baron Petrochemicoli and Blucky O’Hare but other miniatures too. On general release we had Todoroni Guard back in April along with a new artillery piece, a Mortar set for Grapeshotte and Slaughterloo. This autumn we brought out a brand new engineers set for the Dogmen of Ostaria, looking forward to next year. Also the Baron Von Rotte came along as will his own Line Infantry during December and into next year.

Elsewhere at Alternative Armies the re-release of our classic and well regarded 28mm High Fantasy range has begun from this summer with Undead, Goblins, Dogmen, Mountain Orcs and more all gracing our release schedules once more. All this was on the back of the re-issue of DarkeStorme the Skirmish in a handy A5 format with new artwork by Andy Gorman (he has a new baby girl too so congratulations to him from all of us). We plan on expanding this in 2011 with the Dracci, children of the Dragons plus Humans and more monsters too. All suitable for any game system but ideal for DarkeStorme.

The Ion Age, home of Firefight 2.0 has not had as much activity as I would have liked but the reasons for this will become clear later in this interview. More miniatures re-released and missions published for Firefight supported a small but growing fan base of players for the game. In 2011 we will do more for the game including another game set ‘Killing Rooms’ plus miniatures and free content to download or read online.

All the action is not only at Alternative Armies though, its been a big year for 15mm.co.uk our sister brand. My involvement there has led to many new codes in the HOF 15mm Science Fiction range including new packs for the Octopods and the release of almost a third of the range as single miniatures for tailored purchase. The re-issuing of the Tabletop Miniatures ranges for Fantasy and Historical figures continued this year leading to a dozen more packs in the TTF range and the entire 15mm American Civil War range being put out as single miniatures too in early November. But the biggest event of the year in 15mm scale terms for more has been the USE ME game system. The first book UM001 Science Fiction was released in September to a frankly awesome reception all over the world with independent reviews and online sources raving about it. If you are interested check it out on 15mm.co.uk in the USE ME section.

As you can see we have all been busy and its not just down to me but the whole team here, so thanks to them for their efforts too.

Q: After the succesfull release of Flintloque 3rd Edition in 2009 this year we have seen the release of both Death in The Snow and Grapeshotte. How were they received by Flintloque gamers ?

Flintloque really is going from strength to strength. As a game it still has one of the most original and fun concepts in Wargaming at its heart after all you simply cannot beat an Orc wearing a red coat and carrying a musket can you! The game has been around for fifteen years now and it’s been growing all that time. The third edition, which we spoke about last year in detail, was the result of several years of playing, testing and feedback from the loyal community that has played the game all this time. The feedback was also the reason for the new versions of Death in the Snow and Grapeshotte too.

I take a personal interest in Flintloque that some have said borders on the insane, after all its been a part of my life for longer than my own wife and children have been. In a way I see it as my offspring which need to be encouraged to grow and looked after too. To that end I read every single email, message, letter and recount every phone call that comes to us about the game. I keep a lot of notes and look for the patterns of what the players want from the game. This made last year and this year a bit of a nervous time for me as a new edition of a game is always a tricky time.

I need not have worried though as the new edition was well received by the existing players and new players too. Working with Mike White gave me a unique perspective from the British / European side and the North American side for what players wanted in their games now. Now its a truly fluid and easy system that rewards tactics and is more rewarding than simply encouraging the purchase of a ‘super charged’ character who would win any scenario for you.

The feedback grew and grew at the start of this year as we put the Witchlands and Undead back into the mix, thanks in a way to the Notables Yahoo Group community who tested out the superb DREAD system for the Zombies that makes the Undead a whole heap more fun to play than before. Grapeshotte was to me inspired (many let me know they also thought so too but not in such words!) and its action system allowing the loading of an artillery piece of any size using any number of crew based on their troop type (Gunners are best naturally!) and experience level was a vast improvement especially since anything from a 2lb Grasshopper Gun up to a vast siege gun such as the ‘Maid of Avilla’ had to be covered by the mechanics. Grapeshotte enthralled too with its massive word count allowing more detail than ever before to be included. I remember what you said to me Craig that you took it about with you and were reading it for weeks!

5025 War in Catalucia, the first book in the third edition, is now well into its second print run and 5026 Death in the Snow is nearing the end of its first run so the sales are very good for us and I am happy with them. It benefits any Flintloque player to own each of the new books. They are excellent reads and superb value for money.

Q: Last year you talked about the Bier & Bones game book and The Retreat to Kooruna campaign book for Flintloque 3rd edition. When can we expect them ?

Ah you and your razor sharp memory… I don’t like being held to account over what I say! Only kidding, sure thing, lets talk about these two books.

When the original three books were out for 3rd edition (War in Catalucia, Death in the Snow and Grapeshotte) I decided to offer a choice to the Flintloque community. Which title would they like to see next? I intentionally limited it to a handful of titles which were all equally valid to be the first ‘original’ title for Flintloque. Bier & Bones won and Retreat to Kooruna came second. As a result these were chosen as the next two books for the game.

5028 Flintloque 3rd edition - Bier & Bones is coming out early in 2011. This title is a game book with full Flintloque rules and background with army lists and characters for the Central Uropean theatre of the Mordredian Wars. The Ostarian Empire, the Dwarves of Krautia, the Rabbits of Burrovia and many more. The most detail EVER printed on these nations. By the time your readers see this interview on the 24th of December details of a super pre-release offer will be online at Alternative Armies. Trust me on this, you will not want to miss this offer!

5029 Flintloque 3rd edition – Retreat to Kooruna will be out at Salute 2011. Yes, it’s a Salute time release worldwide. I like to hand out new books in person to our gamers! It is the first campaign book for Flintloque 3rd edition. A campaign book will require one of the game books for Flintloque to make us of if you wish to play out the scenarios the book contains. A series of linked scenarios set in a campaign arc that be played in order or on their own with other players or using the solo play rules. Also included are Special Characters, fiction, background and more. It’s a real treat which is a great read and will keep you playing for months as well.

Q: After these two excellent titles what is planned next for the World of Valon ? Is Blood on the Sand still on the cards ?

Well we will be into the Summer of 2011 by that time and I will have hopefully thawed out by then!

I must point out that all of these titles are in the planning stage and subject to change and cancellation without notice etc, etc. With that out of the way I can say that Edward Jackson, Valon artist extraordinaire, and I have been laying the ground work for another Flintloque Campaign Book based around the famous Siege of Gibraltar in the late 18th century. These historical events can be turned into something special for the game with an emphasis on garrisons and sieges which will put the rules in Grapeshotte to the test. I would expect to say more on this after Salute 2011.

Aside from this project we do plan on another title in 2011 too for Flintloque. Its not been finalised as yet as to which one it will be but I have been counting the votes and so far the Otharmann Empyre expansion Blood on the Sand is front runner with the Deserters, Mercenaries and Scum book coming in second. Further down the list comes in campaign books for the Witchlands and elsewhere.

As always and ever if anyone reading this has a strong opinion on what they would like us to do then contact me through Alternative Armies and tell me. If you don’t I will not know.

I am leaving design time free in the company for other projects too. I will tell you a bit about then turn in response to the next few questions.

Q: Will Frontear the Skirmish be updated for 3rd Edition rules?

Currently we have no plans to further expand Frontear the Skirmish. I will make a choice on this once the current print run is expended for the game. It has a small following which is not very vocal. It seems to me at present the time is better used elsewhere.

Having said that about Frontear though, with enough interest I am open to discussions in 2011 about the possibility of another ‘Amerkan’ book and miniatures being released in the future. Gettisbork anyone!

Q: I have heard that the current run of Slaughterloo in the boxed edition is nearing its end. Will there be new edition of Slaughterloo in 2011?

Where do you hear these things! I am beginning to think you have my office bugged!

It is true that we are nearing the end of the run for the boxed edition of Slaughterloo 2nd edition and it’s also true that Sloo master Alex Draper and I have spoken about a new format for the Napoleonique Game of Fantasy Mass Battle. These discussions along with alterations and so on to the rules will be going on until the spring when we plan to put it forward to the Notables for a public chat on the game. Be assured Slaughterloo will not disappear, but as to what it will look like next year…well all I can say is that Mr Jackson has prepared some excellent new artwork for its cover!

Q: For those who may not have read the last two years interviews, could you tell us a little about Bedlum ? There are now quite a few miniatures released for it. As you know I am a fan of this project but another year has passed and nothing more has been heard, and it was not offered to Notables as a possible next book on the 2010 poll run on your Yahoo Group. Will we see it released ?

Those who have read Coleridge and know the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner will know of my own albatross which is Bedlum in this case. I know you love the idea of a Londinium theatrical skirmish game set in the same world as Flintloque, I do too. I really love it which is why you and I have been speaking about it for half a decade now.

Bedlum take the action to the streets and away from the battlefield. I have reams of notes and concept sketches for the game. Elton Waters and I have spoken about it many, many times and discussed the mechanics and the characters. I have dripped miniatures onto the market and of course the mighty 5107 box set for the Londinium Coach as well (as you can use this in Flintloque, see Grapeshotte for the rules) in the last two years to test the waters. There has been no further advancement on this project this year.

Eventually I will do Bedlum… really I will. I want to... its the fault of all your readers… they won’t let me sleep!

Q: Moving on to another of Alternative Armies other game systems. In 2009 we saw the company expand it's product range by releasing Firefight 2.0 with it's expandable battlepack system. Last year you said that IAG001 - The Killing Streets was the first of the sets for the game. What up next for release for Firefight?

The Ion Age is the title for everything science fiction at Alternative Armies, this includes Firefight 2.0 the new edition of the superb game which we released way back in 1991 which returned new and improved in 2009. The science fiction part of the company has taken a backseat in 2010 while we focused on Flintloque in the first have of the year and on 15mm.co.uk in the second half. But it will be back in 2011 and here is how that will happen.

Next year I intend to re-release all of the original human miniatures which are loved by thousands of gamers worldwide which means there will be more than one hundred miniatures, all available as single figures, supporting the Ion Age games. On top of this there will be at least one more Firefight 2.0 title which will be IAG003 ‘Room by Room’ which will take the tile based D6 action off the streets and into the homes and businesses of the far future. Through walls, up stair wells, elevator shafts, doors and more. It also sees the super heavy Desteria Knights make their first appearance as the Prydian Civil War rages on.

We will also support Firefight with free online content including some superb missions and fiction written by fan Gregory Rumbles from the USA. More on that nearer the time.

Q: In the middle of the year there was a lot of discussion and online playtesting of a 15mm version of Firefight 2.0 called HOF Fire-Team. Can you tell us what is going on with the game and if it will have the same background and setting as its 28mm scale brother.

Working closely with Bob Minadeo, making up the same team that brought out Firefight 2.0, we developed the possibility of a 15mm scale game based on the same unique game engine. The development of HOF stemmed from this and Bob came up with a really remarkable way to ‘scale up’ from single characters to ‘fire-teams’ of four or more with no added complexity. Added to this the central concept of ‘Tech Level’ allowed the fielding of everything from a rabble with clubs to super advanced space aliens with plasma weapons and such. Once we had done some internal testing I decided to give a draft to the gamers to play with on a HOF Yahoo Group. This went down really with more then five hundred people taking the document and hundreds of comments and results.

The background and setting of HOF Fire-Team is quite a bit more fluid that that of Firefight 2.0 as with the ‘tech level’ rules you can choose your forces from a very wide scope. The book manuscript itself contains three settings for example from the HOF miniature range. These are the Ion Age which takes the troops and setting of Firefight and makes it 15mm scale, Megopolis which is a near future crowded earth with huge cities and cyborgs and such and lastly the Galactic Empire setting which allows Grey Aliens and others to act out battles of the far future.

The manuscript of the book is pretty much finished and awaits a confirmed release timetable. I cannot assure you when this will be but I do think it most likely to be in 2011.

Q: Your most recent rule set from 15mm.co.uk is ‘USE ME’. This game seems to have been very well received by players and by online bloggers too. Can you tell us a little about it and what the future holds for it?

USE ME stands for ‘Ultra Simple Engine for Miniature Engagements’ and it does exactly that. You can find out all about its mechanics and get links to reviews from here so I will use this time to tell you about the future and where it came from originally.

As some of you will know I worked with the very talented Alex Self a few years ago to bring his manuscript for Alien Squad Leader 2.0, or ASQL2.0 as well call it, to the gaming market with 15mm.co.uk. ASQL is a superb game and very rewarding to play but it came along to me at a time when we were working on our own engine ‘inhouse’ for the same genre and scale. Out of dedication to ASQL I put it in the drawer and only brought it out every now and again to tinker with it. Then after these years had passed I was asked by some fans of 15mm science fiction if we would release another game aimed purely at a ‘beer and pretzels’ time span. My draft engine sparked their interest and when it was suggested we make it pocket sized (A6 format) we had a green light.

USE ME 15mm Science Fiction allows you to play with any sci-fi miniatures and vehicles on any terrain with anything from five characters a side to ten or more squads a side, so hundred of miniatures if you like. I am proud of it and very pleased with the reaction it has got. And it;s this reaction that has led me, over the last two months, to take the engine of USE ME and alter it for other settings.

Yes, that’s right there will be other versions of the USE ME game. The first ones are coming this winter. Here are their covers:

The next title in the series is USE ME 15mm Fantasy. This is a rapid departure to the concept of the science fiction engine of that version. Few game systems have ever managed to combine a ‘skirmish’ mechanic for characters with a ‘battle’ mechanic of ranks of soldiers. I think that this game manages it allowing fantasy players to do anything from three or four adventurers against a monster for five minutes of fun to an hour and a half with two dozen units per side. I will not go into a lot of detail here, all of that will be on the 15mm.co.uk website at the time, but sufficient to say that using the same engine with the addition of a ‘three to one’ mechanic tied to ‘formation three leaders’ makes all this possible. The ethos of the game is the same though, it’s simple, fast, fun and for tactics over rules heavy approaches.

Working with an excellent gamer by the name of Omer Golan-Joel we have developed a version of USE ME for World War Two wargaming in 15mm to 20mm scale. I have no personal experience of WW2 gaming but Omer does and he has done a great job altering and adding to the engine to suite the 1930’s to 1940’s nature of war. I have played some games of this version from Stalingrad’s streets to the Normandy Landings (even the Spanish Civil War) and it works really well. Personally I do not like very complex gaming systems and prefer tactical rules that reward gaming skill; this title will suit WW2 players that want to play in an hour or so and want results.

The USE ME Fantasy and USE ME WW2 will be out across this winter. After this we plan on releasing a USE ME Modern Warfare version for conflict from 2000 onwards and also an American Civil War version to allow skirmishes and battles between the states.

Q: Now moving more to Alternative Armies in general. In the past AA has published several magazines, Orcs in the Hills and Locke and Load. This year saw the launch of your new in-house magazine, Barking Irons. What made you experiment again with magazine publishing? Also in conjunction with the Barking Irons Magazine you set up a dedicated blog, the first one for the company. Why do this and do gamers like it?

Alternative Armies has always supported its game systems with ‘paper’ or the written word for resources. This is especially true of Flintloque, it’s a game that lends itself to narrative and story telling naturally as it is so rich and deep in its setting. Since I have been involved with the company I have always looked to the office walls and the history of this great enterprise and seen the Orcs in the Hills magazine and Loque & Load. It was always going to happen that after a gap of five years we would make another try at periodical publishing and we did with Barking Irons.

We wanted to publish a smaller page count magazine packed with content that gamers could go back to again and again and I think that I managed that and certainly the feedback and phone calls we got confirmed this from more than two dozen gamers that I spoke to myself on this. I have been a fan of the mighty 2000AD comic for many years, since I were a napper myself, so I chose the same paper format and weight. This also went down well with gamers and allowed us to offer a greatly reduced postage charge on magazine only orders.

I decided to set up the Barking Irons blog for a few different reasons but the main one was to bring regular news to our fans. This might sound strange if we were doing a magazine too but it is not really. The magazine was for content, scenarios and so on, that would not go out of date and would remain valid for years and years. The blog was for news that might only be current for a few days or at most weeks. The two arms of this work well together and allow us flexibility in approach in this digital age.

I do have some sad news though and though I have known it for some weeks now (longer by the time you read this) I have to announce that there will be no more Barking Irons magazine and the blog will be cancelled as well. While the magazine has now stopped, the blog will continue for at least the festive season of 2010. Why is this you ask? Let me tell you.

Barking Irons was well received by gamers and sold well enough to cover its costs and even turn a small profit as well. We had hoped with all the apparent enthusiasm that the magazine would have sold more, especially to those who buy our other books and know they are excellent value for money. However its production and posting did place a strain on us. This strain was across the whole company and threatened to prevent us from publishing other works that our customers were and are demanding such as more Ion Age and Valon books. We decided with this in mind to halt the experiment and go with a second plan.

Many are leaving the printed medium behind in terms of magazines especially in the 15mm market with titles covering science fiction and other genres; especially in the last twelve months. I believe this may well be the way forward for publications which specialise in short articles, news features, release information and product pictures. I don’t think it’s the way forward for main game books and longer items of fiction and scenarios. Almost all of our customers, in a November random questionnaire, wish us to continue with books for Flintloque, Slaughterloo, Firefight etc. Essentially its seems that people wish to pay for and keep printed material that they will game with and read time and time again but they want their news and shorter fiction right now and they don’t really wish to fork out cash for it.

So the answer seems to be to continue with more and more titles in print to buy for gamers to use and collect but also to create something online where all the news, reviews, short articles and more can be placed very regularly for free viewing and download. I have spoken to a dozen close friends and colleagues on this from several angles and they agree it’s the way forward. To this end in the first quarter of 2011 - Barking Irons the online Magazine will be going live. It will begin with a selection of classic articles from our free files plus content originally destined for the print magazine issue three and four. I will give more information nearer the time.

So it’s sad in a way that the days of smaller run printed magazines seem to be ending and that the blogger site will be coming down but it’s also exciting as well. This online portal will be THE place for all things topical at Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk

Q: On a slightly different topic. Quite a few game publishers are now offering watermarked PDF versions of their games. Is this something you're going to do at Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk ?

This is something that is a modern phenomena among wargame and roleplay companies and it makes sense with the lowering cost and increasing ability of technology and the speed of internet connections now. Even five years ago it would have been impossible to do a lot that is now becoming the normal course for some companies. Will we do doing it too...

In reference to the answer on the last question I would have to say no. We are not getting into ‘pay to download’ PDF’s at this time. For us it will be either a printed book or free content online. This is a good business model and avoids many of the potential pitfalls that have occurred to other companies who sell downloads. But as usual with us we will keep the technology and market under review.

Well thanks Gavin for taking the time to speak to us and for answering my questions. Same time next year?

It’s been my pleasure to speak to OITW once again and most certainly you can ring my bell next year too.

Merry Christmas Everyone…even the Emperor Mordred…ruddy tyrant!

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Webmaster's Notes

I would like to thank Gavin and all those at Alternative Armies for continuing to support Orcs in the Webbe and I know I'm not alone in looking forward to the developments in the world of Valon and beyond over the next year.

An Orcs in the Webbe Exclusive! The above interview was first published on Christmas Eve 2010.

It was absent for several years due to a prior regeneration of the website not transferring everything over correctly, the wrong has now been righted and it returned on the 19th November 2014 as part of Orcs in the Webbe's ongoing Flintloque Archive Project.

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