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The Alternative Armies Christmas Interview 2009

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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Hi Gavin, thanks for agreeing to another yuletide grilling from Orcs in the Webbe. As normal for anyone who isn't in the know could you explain for us who you are, what Alternative Armies is and what exactly is Flintloque?

Hello Craig, thanks again for asking me to give your readers the inside edge on all matters Alternative Armies; I now sit atop your grill! The last year with the company and the coming year and all in between is up for the asking. I recommend that all your fans reading this interview have a look at last years interview to acquaint yourselves with the art of Black Power gaming and what we have been up to until now.

My name is Gavin Syme and I am the creative manager of Alternative Armies and also 15mm.co.uk. I have designed several game systems to date the most recent being Flintloque 3rd Edition (with Mike White) and Firefight 2.0 (with Bob Minadeo). I also am the guy responsible for the ongoing development of the World of Valon. Oh, and the guy who makes sure the Notables get their questions answered and that all the email we get on gaming matters is also answered…we never leave a question behind! (sorry in house joke there!).

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. 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. Alternative Armies is 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.

Flintloque the Skirmish, in essence, is the gaming world's foremost black powder miniatures game aimed at small scale character driven scenarios in 28mm scale. Its a game set in the World of Valon, a fantastical world that is in the throws of the Mordredian Wars, populated by a wide range of fantasy creatures. Some of these creatures will be familiar such as Orcs, Dwarves and Elves, some will not be; such as Todoroni and Burrovians. Each of these nations fields an army of Napoleonique soldiers equipped with muskets (the Flintloque from which the game takes its name), cannon and other black powder weapons along with all the other uniformed troop types of Napoleonique skirmish. The Tyrant Emperor Mordred of the blue jacketed Elves leads the Ferach Empire against the Grand Alliance led by the redcoat Orcs of Albion while another Elvish led army has invaded the realm of the Dark Czar and now fights for its life against greatcoat clad Undead.

Using the Flintloque book and your imagination you create a section of characters chosen from this huge world and then set out to gain promotion and glory for your nation. It is a fantasy game unlike any other where the chainmail and sword of traditional fantasy is replaced by the shako and the musket among creatures, each of whom in their dress and actions throw a nod to our own history and the early nineteenth century.

Q: This year saw the release of the new 3rd Edition of Flintloque with it's new mechanics. How have they been received by new and established players of the game?

Yes indeed in the spring of this year we released the first book of the new 3rd edition of Flintloque the Skirmish. This was 5025 Flintloque 3rd edition – War in Catalucia. The mechanics in the 3rd edition are radically different to those in the previous editions, they were the result of five years of playing, experience and input from thousands of sources. We kept the special feel of the game and the pace, we made no players miniatures redundant (this was number one on players list of requests) and we tuned up the mechanics. I will not go into the mechanics as this is covered elsewhere in more detail and all your readers can get Flintloque Lite, core rules, as a free PDF from the Notables Yahoo Group or email us direct at AA.

How has the new edition been received by players both old and new? This is a good question, I would honestly have to say very well. As you know yourself Craig we increased the page content, we improved the finish of the book and its layout and we increased the word count by more than a third on 2nd edition. The layout of War in Catalucia gave players more information on Wheeling-Turns red coats and the other armies in Catalucia than had ever existed before as well as more background. A new format Section Roster and counters and doing away with the written Turn Sequence sheet all this went down well.

I personally was confident that the 3rd edition would be a success as I listened to the players who knew the game inside out. Those players who have been with us since the start and those players who were among the last to buy the previous edition and those who tested the new mechanics of Flintloque; we created the game they wanted us to.

I cannot tell you how many players now have the 3rd edition who have never seen older versions of the game but I do know three of them personally. They have really enjoyed the game and find themselves reading and re-reading the book over and over again for enjoyment. It really does all the player needs and wants from playing the game to between games, choosing the miniatures for your Section and what uniforms to give them plus scenario seeds.

Sure we have had questions on the new rules, questions on the decisions to change things. I think this proves that gamers care. None of these have been negative, indeed most of them were asking ‘newbie’ questions that we were hoping to get, thereby proving our own decision to put the new engine in the game. I have to mention Ben Honey here, he put in some of the finest new player questions ever, and I took great delight in answering them.

War in Catalucia was just the first in a whole new series of books for Flintloque 3rd edition. As it stands, on its own, I would say it’s been received with great eagerness and has found a place in the hearts of Black Powder Fantasy gamers everywhere. Either that or Alex here is screening my email!

Q: As we all know Death in the Snow is coming out in January and is currently available for Pre-Order until the early part of January 2010. Can you let us know what miniature support we can expect after the book's release? Is there anything new and quirky (like the excellent Graviski Re-Animator) in the works?

Death in the Snow was the second most requested title when we surveyed our customers for the 3rd edition. After Orcs vs Elves in Catalucia the Undead won out. With Death in the Snow (DITS) we take the action to the frozen hell of the Witchlands and the Grande Armee du Norde’s retreat from Moskova.

DITS itself covers all the current miniatures for the Witchlands campaign and also gives new statistics for miniatures not yet in production. Players can certainly expect miniature support for DITS after its release but keep in mind that many, many players want the book for the collections of Undead miniatures from us that they already own and wish to continue to use with the new rules and mechanics.

I cannot go into huge detail of coming releases for Flintloque, but I can say that plans are afoot for more material for the Dark Czar. Additions to the K.G.B Liches, Wraiths, Gargoyles and others…Undead Todoroni anyone? Most of these releases will be standard but there will be some Limited and perhaps even a Very Limited Edition code among them. You could say we began the material for DITS with the Promo2009 miniature (free with any order in December 2009), Colonel Raylen Durandus, who is outfitted for the Ferach Imperial Postal Service in a winter uniform.

On the Grande Armee du Norde side we plan on expanding into the Confederation of Finklestein forces and also perhaps more Ferach Werewolves and even introduction of the long awaited Trolkin, smaller cousins of the huge Trolka. We are as always open to suggestions from players, what miniatures they would like to see us release and so forth.

Quirky…its all quirky my friend! Humm…something really odd. We have been asked if we will do Zombie ‘Tele Tubbies’ in the service of the nefarious Doctorov. Does that count?

Q: As always with players they are looking forward to the book after next before the next book is out. As shown on the back inside cover of 5025 Flintloque - War in Catalucia this is expected to be Grapeshotte. Unlike War in Catalucia (WIC) and Death in the Snow (DITS) it's heralded as an Expansion Book, not a Game Book. What can we expect from it?

War in Catalucia and Death in the Snow are Flintloque 3rd Edition Game books. This means that they both contain full rules for playing the game in the theatre of the wars each is concerned with along with the background for that part of the Mordredian Wars. You don’t need one of these books to use the other. All Game Books are stand alone.

However Grapeshotte is an Expansion book for Flintloque 3rd Edition. This means that players with need one or other of the Game books for Flintloque 3rd Edition to make use of it such as Death in the Snow. Grapeshotte concerns itself with several subjects in the World of Valon that none of the other Game Books for Flintloque will deal with. These are firstly Artillery, secondly the specialists of Sieges and other smaller sections then the mighty Armory. All of these add to your gaming experience in one area or another. As I know you are going to ask me about each of these I will go into them in a wee bit more detail.

Grapeshotte itself is a type of artillery round or ‘shotte’ and it’s from that the books takes its title. In the book the full rules for the use of all kinds of artillery will be present. Those of you who own War in Catalucia will have seen in the mechanics of the Action Phase of each turn there is sub-phase D Artillery Fire; the majority of mechanics in Grapeshotte go here.

Gunnery takes in all the sizes of cannon from the tiny 2lb grasshoppers (the same weight of shotte as used by a Kannonderbuss favoured by Ogre infantry) to the 4lb battalion guns right up to the fixed position 18lb and even 21lb monsters that some might say are a bit big for skirmish (but hey it’s a number one request for Grapeshotte that we put them in!). Also Howitzers which fire ‘shelle’ in an indirect flight path and the mad case of the gunners world the Rockette.

The new bad boy of gunnery is the Mortar which can be used on table but it also has rules for using off table as well – fire support! Each ‘gunne’ will have its own stats and rules of use in play.

To go with these queens of battle the rules for Gunners are given in full. They are the only type of characters who can properly use artillery and based on their abilities and experience rating each contributes a number of ‘Shotte Points’ to a cannon each turn and this basically determines how fast it can be loaded and fired. So shooting the gunners is a great idea! Each cannon requires a different number of shotte points to load it, so in play it can be quite nerve tingling having gunnery in your forces. You can use other types of characters to load cannons but its risky as they are way slower than Gunners with this task.

Horse Artillery, Limbers and their crews also make an appearance in the Grapeshotte book. So that your Section can now be of the famous 1st Royal Horse Artillery of Albion, some guys get all the glory! Of course it’s possible to spike guns and to misfire them, to blow up scenic items on the table as well. It’s all there.

There are also different kinds of rounds for the artillery to make use of in play. Direct fire cannons can use ‘Roundeshotte’ which is a solid iron ball (a really big musket ball) or ‘Grapeshotte’ which is a tightly packed bag of many smaller iron balls that are like a huge shotgun blast at close range; then there is ‘Fuzed’ which is a lit bomb which can explode against enemies. There are also variants like ‘Kannister’ and ‘Caseshotte’, even ‘Exotic’. Exotic rounds are unique to each nation, the Albion Orcs have ‘Shreddle’ for example. Indirect artillery like Howitzers use ‘Shelle’ which drops onto the enemy and explodes along with ‘Carcass’ for lighting the field at night or dropping poison or other nasties on foes. The Elves have ‘Fyreshelle’ among their exotic artillery rounds for dealing with Zombies.

After the rules for artillery in play comes the incidental mechanics for dealing with other specialist situations that you find in places where artillery is used. These cover Fortifications (walls of stone and wood along with towers like the Murtello ones), Sappers who are chaps trained to do away with others fortifications. Then there are the advanced rules for Grenades for Mines and Breaches along with the Forlorn Hope (death or glory my lads!). Enough siege mechanics to allow you to put anything up to a small castle in play and to then to storm it and also defend it to the last. Oh, and some mechanics for garrisons between scenarios to see if they can hold out…or they end up eating their own boots!

Then comes the Armoury section of the book. This large group of pages is a firm favourite with all players of Flintloque and is one of the most fondly remembered and quoted parts of the old vintage Grapeshotte book (now a rare collectors item in its own right). The Armoury section details firstly all the artillery of a nation then all of the firelocks from pistols to muskets and exotics that that same nation uses in battle. All the nations of Valon are covered from the Albion Orcs to the Undead to the Otharmann and even Deserters and all in between. If miniatures exist for them then the nation is fully covered. Full statistics, points costs and more. This lets you arm your characters with an even wider array of weapons.

As an added bonus Grapeshotte also covers new character types like the already mentioned Sapper and Gunner but also some others like Guard and Mounted Infantry; rarer and more special for being so. And on top of that the full rules for the Londinium Coach (set 5107) and other wheeled contraptions are also included to bring vehicles into Flintloque 3rd Edition.

Lastly the Grapeshotte book will also have the infamous colour blast templates to pull out. These were so popular in the vintage boxed set that Alternative Armies still provides them as free PDF’s to those who ask for them. From grenades to howitzer and mortar blast templates to the conical canister blast template and more.

In conclusion you can expect a lot from it. More mechanics, more weapons and a word count more than double the original. In fact I would go so far as to say that it’s almost indispensable for the Flintloque player to have it. That ain’t a sales pitch it’s a fact; if you have a Game Book you will want this Expansion Book to go with it.

Q: Will Grapeshotte 3rd Edition contain scenarios to expand on the existing theatres we've seen in WIC and DITS ?

Grapeshotte will not contain the nine original scenarios from the vintage edition no. It would be pointless to re-print them (if there is enough demand we will certainly put them out for free for use with 3rd edition) and when we asked a random sample of fifty players if they wanted scenarios they all asked for totally different missions and characters. But almost all of them wanted more types of guns and more mechanics for the game. The space in the book is better used in other areas as I outlined in the last question.

But we do not let our players down Grapeshotte will feature the Scenario Seeds the same way the War in Catalucia and Death in the Snow have done. These give a springboard for players to get going and will feature theatres not yet seen in 3rd edition.

Q: And following on from that what's the planned release date for the Grapeshotte expansion book ?

We hope to release Grapeshotte at Salute 2010. That is April 2010. After all it gives you more of a reason to come and see us on the day if you are coming along to the show!

Q: Looking to the further future what books for Flintloque are in the works after Grapeshotte has been put out?

It’s a wide open future my friends. Once Grapeshotte is out the tripartite of the vintage books will be back in print fully updated, expanded and improved. Then Alternative Armies is in virgin territory for Flintloque, but be assured we have plans of conquest a plenty. I cannot assure your readers of release dates or even the exact order of the next titles but here is what is next in a nut shell.

The third Flintloque 3rd Edition Game Book will be titled ‘Bier & Bones’. Like War in Catalucia and Death in the Snow it concerns one theatre of the wars; this time the Central Urop theatre. Bier & Bones covers the mighty Empire of Ostaria realm of the Dogmen and the country of Krautia home of the Dwarves. Along with other nations like Burrovia, Beervaria, Saxhunde and minor forces of the Ferach Empire such as the Swizzic Republique and for Albion the Ogres of the K.G.L the book gives these places and forces the royal treatment with full details of their armies and history on Valon. It will have statistics along with Skills, Traits and Flaws for these races and place and more still. Bier & Bones covers all the rest of the minor nations of the Mordredian Wars like Korsuca too. It will be a must for all Dwarf and Dog players not to mention Rabbit fans too.

Along with this Flintloque will get its first Campaign Book. This type of book will need a Game Book such as War in Catalucia and also perhaps the Grapeshotte Expansion Book as well; they will not be stand alone titles. The Campaign book will give players the narrative against which to set their games of Flintloque whither single or linked scenarios into a full blown campaign. Full accounts of the campaign, full details of the forces involved, mega detail of one or perhaps two of the armies in the field, a dozen or more scenarios and also famous characters to use straight from the page. The first Campaign Book will be Kooruna.

What is Kooruna you ask? It’s the campaign that saw the Army of Albion under Surjon Moore nearly wiped out by the numerically superior Ferach Armee chasing them. Want to be a Rifleorc? Want to be one of the Filthy Arf Hundred of the 50th Foote? This is the book for you. Enough Flintloque gaming material to keep you playing every weekend for months.

Those are the plans for Flintloque at the moment. Keep in mind that Alternative Armies is also expanding other systems too.

Q: Last year you said that late November of 2008 put Bedlum on the map due to the release of the 5107 Londinium Coach box set. One year on with further releases, are there any definite plans for Bedlum or has it been laid to rest neath a cobbled street?

Let me assure you Craig that nobody at Alternative Armies gets buried without my say so. The release of the magnificent 5107 Londinium Coach boxed set (one of the finest white metal models ever made in my opinion and the only true 28mm scale Georgian Era coach in the world too) put the idea of Bedlum firmly into the minds of players. The Bedlum miniatures such as the Duke of Yippestatte and Captain Cockratin did the same; super characters for Flintloque games. But it’s not the end for Bedlum.

There is a joke going around the guys who work for and with us that Bedlum is the proverbial Golden Fleece, we quest for it and it is never found. This is not the case, its all in my head and a lot of it is on electronic paper too. We have been so busy we simply have not got to it yet. I know what you are all saying, why not and gimmie it now!

It’s not so simple, we get asked for many things and all I can do is prioritise and then get done what it’s possible to do. Alternative Armies has a very good releases policy and support policy for its customers, especially when you consider that we also released Firefight 2.0 this year and we maintain the 15mm ranges that 15mm.co.uk is famed for like the new Alien Squad Leader 2 and Age of Might and Steel fantasy battle as well. Those 15mm chaps shout just as loudly in my ears too.

If gamers were happy to have Bedlum with the miniatures we have now plus a few more then I would say fine, but unless something changes we do have a lot of work to do to get the characters and rabble needed into place with the book, and players say they want the figures almost as much as the book itself. I would be willing to put it to a survey once Bier & Bones is out for Flintloque next year. Do all the Orcs in the Webbe readers want Bedlum before campaign books or other Valon titles?

Q: Moving onto Alternative Armies other ranges, 2009 also saw the company release the long awaited sci-fi system Firefight 2.0. Can you tell us a bit about it and why you went for a second edition. Is it, like Flintloque is now, dramatically different from its first edition?

Firefight 2.0 the Ion Age is nothing like the games from the World of Valon and it was our first new science fiction title in a decade. There is a lot of information on the game on the AA website on these pages but in short Firefight is unique. A big claim I hear you say and yes it is. But here is why I think so.

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of science fiction games out there and it gets on my nerves, and goes against the goals of Alternative Armies too, that most of them are overly complex and very dark in their take on the future. Super enhanced characters who kill entire regiments on their own and weapons that can level a city block used one handed in an impossibly small distance from a target; you all know the types of games I mean. Firefight is not like that at all. The first edition was one of the finest games I ever played as a teenager and trust me I played a lot of them.

Firefight 2.0 is played on a squared grid and uses Action Dice, a mechanic unlike any other game including Flintloque 3rd Edition, the action dice means that you never quite know how you are going to be able to act when your characters come into play. Seriously it’s the only game I have ever played where you got a tight feeling at the back of the throat when you contemplated breaking cover and sprinting for a doorway. It’s really hard to calculate the chances of success, its not percentage based. Firefight is about the ordinary men and women soldiers of the human future, any of them can be heroes or gone in moments.

Why do a second edition? For a few reasons in all honesty. Firstly the memory of Firefight was still strong nearly twenty years after the first edition was released, there are thousands of copies out in the world, more than the total of all the first run of Flintloque and Deadloque combined. This means that Alternative Armies still got an average of one to two enquiries every week about buying the game or the miniatures even though we did not advertise it and had not done for many years. People loved it, really they did. Some still play it now in 1st ed, how many games have that kind of loyalty; not many. This made us want to honour the game and to bring it back to life updated. Secondly the fantastic miniature range that goes with the Ion Age, classic and timeless designs with individual taste, they are as Alternative as an Orc Redcoat; its all been re-molded and will be re-released before we make any new miniatures. Thirdly and the catalyst for the project was teamwork between myself and Bob Minadeo, a real pro when it comes to games design and big fan of Firefight like me too. Between us we have birthed a terrible beauty on the gaming world!

The mechanics of the game are essentially the same but tidied up and expanded, more options in play. The intense feel of it is the same, but the backend, the missions and the squad building is expanded and given more integrity. Other little differences like aerial mines and sentry guns have been added. The tiles for playing on themselves have changed, now with a thirty millimetre square not twenty two, giving more space for bigger miniatures. A mix of computer generated backdrops and traditionally rendered colour scenics by the talented Edward Jackson give the game the scope it should have had all along. Plus the scenic elements are now separate from the Battlegrounds (main tiles) meaning massive variety in set up and play.

I must also point out that I decided to be as fair as we could with gamers with Firefight 2.0. IAG001 Firefight 2.0 – Killing Streets is the first of many sets for the game. Containing a thirty two page book with full rules and nine missions along with a themed tile set of ten sheets of thick card to cut out (in this case roads and pavements) you get all you need. Unlike other makers we offer the tiles printed not as downloads you have to print yourself, be realistic, what would it cost you to print ten sheets of heavy card in colour? Never mind the booklet too. We will include a rule booklet with full rules and nine unique missions in the next two sets along with tiles as well. This means you will have a spare booklet for your buddies too! We aim to build an entire future city to fight in over time.

To finish I would say if you have played Firefight and you enjoyed it you will be able to pick up, play and enjoy Firefight 2.0 easily. If you have never played Firefight, give it a go. Solid, tactical and rewarding it’s a unique and intense set of rules that are easily portable too.

Q: Is Starvaulter still in the works?

Yes, very much so. Starvaulter will be set in the same Ion Age background as Firefight 2.0 but it will deal with adventure and discovery more than the intense urban fighting of Firefight. It uses the same miniatures for total interchange between the two games. Unlike Firefight though I fully intend to use Flintloque’s 3rd edition engine to power it in play making it a percentile game system which is character driven. Expect to see Starvaulter once Firefight is established and the Ion Age miniature range is totally re-released.

Q: Will you be releasing a 15mm variant of Firefight to support your large line of smaller scale miniatures ?

Wow! You must have a phone tap on me! How did you find that out?

Yes I can’t deny it. You could call it ‘Travel Size’ like you used to get for Snakes & Ladders etc. It will use all our 15mm sci-fi miniatures. I was so impressed with Bob Minadeo’s work on Firefight 2.0 that we have agreed between us to do a 15mm version called HOF at this point. I cannot say much for now, only that it will be based on the Action Dice mechanic and will use tiles as well (probably with a 20mm grid), and will be A5 format not A4 like Firefight. I hope to get it out to players in 2010; perhaps in the spring or a bit later.

Q: Obviously with Alternative Armies huge line of very nice and very detailed 28mm fantasy miniatures, are there any plans to release a new/updated rule system to support them? i.e. Will we see a D100 Flintloque compatible version of DarkStorme at any point this year?

Hummm…Interesting question. I would have to say no at this time. After reading all of the above, you can see we have quite a bit on! But the idea is solid though. If we did do it then it would have to strive hard not to end up like Dresda, which was a weak and short lived title all round. DarkeStorme replaced Dresda really well and is a solid D6 mechanic fantasy skirmish game.

Off the top of my head a game based on Flintloque 3rd editions mechanics could be set at the very end of the Darke Age of Valon which would allow it to be traditional fantasy but also to feature optional rules for the very early Black Powder weapons and the Dracci wars from the time just before the Ferach Empire. Keeping fantasy and black powder gamers equally happy and allowing crossovers into the Mordredian Wars too with the same mechanics.

Arrgh! Don’t get me started…there is fantastic enough to come next year!

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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 2009.

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 20th November 2014 as part of Orcs in the Webbe's ongoing Flintloque Archive Project.