The 2011 Alternative Armies Interview

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 Craig and thanks for asking me back once again to look back and look forward from this vantage point of the tail end of 2011. I would begin by saying that all fans of Orcs in the Webbe should look back at previous years advent calendars and interviews so that this year's makes a little more sense in the bigger picture.

My name is Gavin Syme and I am the creative manager of Alternative Armies and also 15mm.co.uk. This has been my honour for eight years now. I have designed a good number of game systems some of them being Flintloque 3rd edition, MOTH, USE ME and Firefight 2.0 and so on. Some on my own and others with talented fellows like Alex Draper, Bob Minadeo, Mike White, Steve Hazuka and Alex Self. I am the fellow responsible for the ongoing development of the World of Valon. I suppose that makes me Mr Flintloque. 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. 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.

Q: Compared to the bonanza of the previous few years Flintloque has seen the release of Bier & Bones back in the early spring of 2011 and no titles for the rest of the year. How was Bier & Bones received by gamers?

A: You refer of course to 5028 Flintloque 3rd edition – Bier & Bones the game book that covers the central Uropean theatre of the Mordredian Wars. The book was very warmly welcomed by players and fans of the game world also. It was eagerly anticipated since it dealt with an area of Valon that has many miniatures, many characters and nations that you would be familiar with but that had never had a book of their own. With the trivertate of titles out (War in Catalucia, Death in the Snow and Grapeshotte) for third edition it was the next place to go. New pastures as they say. Some gamers even emailed me and said it was the finest writing for Valon they had read so far and indeed I had a blast doing it. Bier & Bones has slotted into the canon of Flintloque as if it was always there and that is the best commendation that anyone could make for it.

Once Bier & Bones was out we released new miniatures to support it including Burrovian Gunners, Blacke Brewswick Dwarves, Von Rotte Legion Dwarves and others. We also loosed some sets for Grapeshotte such as the Ostarian Engineers, Undead Engineers and so on. The most recent releases were the Uhlans Von Krautia and the Fruscati Grenaderia. But yes there have been no other titles for Flintloque this year. Why, well as you read on you will see. Essentially 2009 and 2010 were entirely dominated by Flintloque for me and I (for the sake of me sanity!) looked to other ranges for titles to produce. But rest assured my synapses are firing and next year there will be power smoke a plenty!

Q: Can you let my readers in on the Flintloque book plans for 2012? Will we see the release of more titles in the range and perhaps a campaign book such as 'Retreat to Kooruna'?

A: Well they might take my thumbs if I say too much but sure I can push some knowledge on you and your readers. In the coming year I will indeed be going beyond the four game books that exist and be releasing Flintloque's first campaign book. This will be the 'Retreat to Kooruna' book and I am looking forward to bringing all of the disparate parts of this that already exist together plus a load of other new material as well. A campaign book will need a Flintloque game book (such as War in Catalucia) to use but it will be 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. Broadening and deepening the World of Valon once again.

Beyond this title I cannot say what concrete plans exist for Flintloque titles but I hope to get two or three out in the coming year and each of them will be very different from the last. There are outline plans for several other books at this time. This is on top of a lot of new miniature releases for the game.

Q: I would like to turn to World of Valon miniatures for this question. What are the releases looking like for Flintloque in 2012? Will you be focusing on any certain aspects of the Mordredian Wars? Oh and can we expect another LEU limited edition boxed unit code in the spring?

A: Next year will be a great one for miniatures in the World of Valon. Releases are looking plentiful and will begin in January with the arrival of 'Troll Month' which sees the Trolkin (smaller brothers of the mighty Trolka) entering the stage with two releases. Trolkin began in the 1990's with Messa Gruga in Obidiah's Army but he was an orphan until now as we will have the 'Lergo Line' and 'Bange & Oafson', a line unit and a limited edition respectively to get gamers started with Trolkin. As well as these releases Troll Month has another jewel to offer and that is the 'Skandavia' primer download. A free PDF which gives a huge amount of information about Trolkin and Trolka from their homelands to their officers, weapons, regiments, uniforms and more. Look for this in January on our website.

In the spring of 2012 we will be following up on the coat tails of Troll Month with many more Trolkin for you. These will be detailed in the free download but will include Trolkin Gunners, Cavalry, Jagers and command with the end result by the close of the year of players being able to field a whole division of these stony warriors. I have a lot of sculpts for Flintloque up my sleeve and these will feature more Todoroni, more Burrovians, more Dogmen in the rest of the year plus some more limited run codes too.

With the sheer size and scope of the Mordredian Wars we do not focus in on any one aspect of it any more. Its just not possible because for every player who shouts 'Catalucia, Orcs and be damned!' there is another shouting 'Undead!' and another yelling 'Dwarf Wars' while at the same time there are some who want the limits of the war pushed ever outwards towards Aegypt, Injia and even further. This means that we make releases to add to different armies and every now and again add a new race (like the Trolkin or Burrovians). Keeps everyone reasonably happy! There is now no direct link between the book releases and the miniature range too. This makes a lot of sense if you remember that thousands of gamers have collections already and are more interested in narrative than miniatures for their own purposes and scenarios. So the Mordredian Wars goes ever onwards growing and expanding each year and almost has a life of its own now.

At the moment I have no plans for another Limited Edition Unit (LEU) code but this might change. We will be at Salute 2012 and so far we are committed to running a big Flintloque game which will most likely be carnage!

Q: Some of my readers want to know if plans are afoot for more Flintloque game books such as one for the Otharmann Empyre or one that covers Obidiahs Army and mercenaries? I hear mention of titles such as 'Blood on the Sand' and 'Deserters and Scum'.

A: Those titles do exist but in name only at this time. Blood on the Sand is the planned game book to cover the Otharmann Empyre along with Aegpyt and all things desert in Flintloque including Mordred's expedition to seek the Sword of Shivalia and the vanished Dracci amid the Pyramids. Deserters and Scum is a planned game book that delves into the depths of what it means to be a soldier of fortune in the Mordredian Wars. It deals with Obidiah and his army along with mercenaries and such that can be fitted into any campaign for Flintloque. Two titles each that is radically different from the other.

I suppose I could say that I am looking at Blood on the Sand for the next game book but I have no concrete plans confirmed and it would be into the autumn of 2012 before it came up for working upon. So yes, plans are afoot but at this time only plans...sorry to disappoint!

Q: The Notables Yahoo Group has begun discussing Slaughterloo and a possible new edition of the fantastic black powder napoleonique mass battle game. Is this right and when can we expect to see it?

A: That is indeed correct. The Notables Group will be the place for discussion on Slaughterloo across next year. There is a new edition, a final edition (like Flintloque 3rd edition), of the game on the cards but it is way off in the future. Alex Draper, the creator of the mechanics in the current version, is again at the helm and just like with Flintloque we are taking all of the input from hundreds of players across the last five years and putting it towards the best possible engine for this brilliant game. More information will come up in good time on the group, in fact as I write this there is a discussion going on about Divisional Composition and Sizing in Slaughterloo, so your readers will not miss out on anything. I have no release date to give you but it is likely to be late on in 2012 or possibly later than that.

Q: Turning away from Flintloque for these next questions I would like to begin by asking some questions on the USE ME series of titles. It seems from the web and the blogosphere that USE ME has been a huge success for the company; what are your plans for it next year? Also are there plans to release a bumper book with all the rules collected and combined into one great big set?

A: As I said earlier once Flintloque 3rd edition was out the company asked me if I would like to do something else for a while. I said I would and that tied in with some health problems I suffered early this year so the break and change was welcome. Don't fret though I am fully recovered now! USE ME actually came from a draft of mechanics that I had created at home for using with my young son who is getting into gaming. A D6 (six sided dice) engine that played really fast and was a lot of fun. It took me some time and testing to get it together and then UM001 USE ME 15mm Science Fiction was released. With the help of Mark Hannam over at Dropship Horizon blog we pushed the title and it just went mad! We have re-printed UM001 several times now and it is still selling well in print and now as a PDF too.

Initially I had not planned for more titles to create a series but after a conversation with a few gamers it was put to me that other versions, some quite radically different from the first one could be added to make a series. USE ME High Fantasy followed, then USE ME World War Two and USE ME Modern Warfare (both by fantastic fellow Omer Golan) after that USE ME American Civil War by myself and USE ME Starship Battles by Mr Golan. So we had six titles and they are all doing well with each going into a different part of the hobby. I have already announced that the very early part of 2012 will see three new titles added to the USE ME series. I have been working on them for some while and they have been aided greatly by Mr Golan and also big Flintloque fan Kurt Benson too. The three new titles are as follows:

UM007 USE ME Post Apocalypse
UM008 USE ME Wild West
UM009 USE ME Zombie Dawn

Each of these titles uses the same core mechanic but is very different in its options, expansions and materials in the book. I will not go into detail here as it will soon be on the 15mm.co.uk website, but you can tell what each of the books deals with and all three were chosen as they were the most requested genre's of gaming that we got in feedback from customers.

But what of the future and the rest of 2012 for USE ME? Well here are my plans and as always these are subject to change at the whims of the gods. Currently in the early stages of development are USE ME Cyberpunk which is a personal favourite of Mr Golan who is penning it himself and USE ME Alien Safari which is my own creation. There is also USE ME Renaissance which I am working on too. Each of these titles goes into new areas, sci-fi, solo play and historical. Two are skirmish level and the third is a battle system. I think we can expect three to four new USE ME titles during 2012.

There are no plans to produce a bumper book of collected titles for USE ME. Each of the titles is its own little world and gamers seem happy with that.

Q: Its been a big year for 15mm scale science fiction and the SHM range seems to be growing by the month. Can you tell us what the year has brought for this genre of gaming and what's on the cards for next year?

A: Indeed it has been a massive year for 15mm science fiction gaming but its been a trend I had seen coming and have been watching for several years now. Five years ago when 15mm.co.uk released Laserburn back on to the market there were few companies doing this scale and genre but now there are a great many that that is great news as it means variety and choice and more customers demanding miniatures. Choice is what the SHM range is about as well. I began the SHM range to allow aspiring sculptors to get their creations into mold and released to the world. So far we have five designers released or about to be.

The range is growing fast and has been really much more successful that I expected. I honestly only wanted to get miniatures that would otherwise never see the light of day out there as they were designs that did not fit anywhere else and would not be considered by other companies as singles. I think that is what had contributed to its success as customers have come along and gotten miniatures they did not expect to ever be able to have. Indeed SHM20 Vergan has been one of the top selling codes of 2011 across 15mm.co.uk. SHM has tripled in size this year. I could not see that happening to any other range at this point.

Next year we are starting with more than half a dozen new aliens in the SHM range; each of them unique and very different. Traders, Mercenaries, Holymen and Civilians and I have to say fantastic for any space opera setting...I already have a set myself for USE ME! We will follow up with further codes including more Wildthingians and I think by the end of next year the SHM range will have doubled in size again and will feature some of the most original miniatures around.

Q: Can I ask you about HOF Fire-Team. Is this system going to be released because the playtest draft was excellent and from what I hear it was nearly out back in the autumn?

A: Aye, it nearly was out this autumn but the schedule was changed in favour of the Ion Age so it was delayed. HOF Fire-Team is a great system and more than four hundred gamers tested it back when the draft was out. The game is a heavily altered version of Firefight 2.0 made for 15mm scale and squads rather than single miniatures. It has been written by Bob Minadeo the same grand fellow who penned Firefight 2.0's mechanics. HOF FT plays on grids and is a fast play system with a unique 'tech level' aspect that lets you do anything with it from near future to space opera and of course Ion Age gaming. It is my intention to get the game released as soon as a slot comes up for it to be completed. This should be in 2012.

Q: Another success of 2011 has been your drive to get the brilliant 28mm scale Ion Age range back into gamers hands once more. Miniatures that support Firefight and Moth along with many other systems. Have you managed to do this and what does the next year hold for the range?

A: What can I say here but WOW! I really had no idea how many people remembered, owned, loved these miniatures. For those who do not know the Ion Age 28mm science fiction miniatured were created before Flintloque existed and they sold in vast amounts but they had been retired for the best part of fifteen years by the time I came to look at them again. We have now managed to get all of the miniatures back into production and onto our website. They now have a better coding system and excellent images too. I would be the first to admit that the task was mammoth and took longer that I expected, indeed we have only just now gotten the Shia Khan released completing the range at just under one hundred and ninety different miniatures.

With the range now out in its entirety the future in 2012 is limited in terms of miniature released but big in terms of game system with which to use them. I can say though that we do now have four new IA codes of Retained Knights which are the first newly made miniatures for the Ion Age since the 1990's. These will be out in the spring. Hopefully we will then expand the range further with more Retained, Muster and Khanate before moving on to adding other Humans and perhaps even aliens to the catalogue.

Q: This year saw the release of MOTH which took the Ion Age and put it on the gaming table outside the grids used by Firefight. How were these rules received by players? Also I believe your release schedule changed from that planned; can you tell me what caused this?

A: How was MOTH received by players...well electronically of course! I jest but MOTH was our first electronic only title designed from the outset to be a readable, printable PDF. I am proud of MOTH as it is a game I wanted to write since it was first mooted about the office. Its based loosely on USE ME but it is more complex and uses a D10 not D6 mechanic incorporating some unique features. These features include 'Degrade' allowing you to fire through objects or other characters, a fluid squad mechanic which allows huge flexibility in creating and splitting your men, the elan rating which allows you to choose when to move and act based on your training and so on. It was odd at first to see my Ion Age miniatures on terrain and not grids that is for sure, but it was well worth it as although Firefight is a great game MOTH allows you to play out in the fields, forests and so on instead of in claustrophobic cities. There was easily room for both systems.

MOTH was a success for the company and that was good since we had got really little notion of how an electronic only game would be received as we were all about the print before this. The mechanics themselves have attracted a lot of praise and a community is growing nicely for MOTH.

Q: So, what's next for MOTH?

A: Well currently there are two titles out for MOTH. ION01 MOTH – Prydia Aflame which is the core rules book and ION02 Ion Age Handbook which is a miniatures catalogue that also contains other material including the first two missions in the 'Prydia Burns' campaign. The other eight missions can be had for free from Barking Irons Online. In 2012 I plan more Ion Age titles including a handbook title for the Khanate which will include miniature catalogue and missions etc. There is also the second book for MOTH which deals with advanced rules and vehicles which bolts on nicely to ION01. I have outline plans for a title about the Khanate Empire itself which will greatly expand on what is known of this alien foe.

Next year will see MOTH grow but it must be kept in mind that it is just one of the titles in the Ion Age. Much like the World of Valon there is scope for many games each having a different goal (skirmish, squad level, battle level, grid based etc) but each using the same miniatures and basing from your collection.

Q: Firefight 2.0 is a great and unique game but with the first print run near its end and a lot of players giving their input to the system you said back in the summer that there was a chance that Firefight would undergo changes. Is this correct? Does it mean another version? Will it be in print or as a download title? Also will there be new mechanics in it for fighting in rooms, buildings, parks and so forth?

A: Changes. Yes, that is correct. The current run of FF2.0 is nearly exhausted and we have picked up a lot of feedback from players about what they wanted to see in the game and where they wanted it to go. Another version is under way now and I think it will be put out in both a print and a download format. It will contain all the mechanics of the current version plus those for every other urban area you have mentioned plus more. It will be a complete title. I plan on separating the gridded tiles from the book. Two reasons for this. Firstly many people have their own preferred tiles and the next version will allow any 25mm to 30mm grid to be used. Secondly we will produce our own official Firefight tiles but these will be put out as low priced PDF's. This lets gamers purchase once and print as many times as they like for big, big maps. Firefight will then again take it place in the line of Ion Age titles.

Q: Across this year 15mm.co.uk has been releasing USE ME titles as electronic documents for paid download; it seems its been well received by gamers. What are the plans for electronic or PDF documents in 2012? Will you be doing more titles like this?

A: Yes, I decided that we would get into paid downloads. Alternative Armies has been giving out free PDF's and downloads since 2006 but we never charged for any of them. It is my intention to continue to create purpose made download versions of each USE ME title and for MOTH too. We may also begin to electronically publish for other systems such as Firefight and maybe even Flintloque. 2012 will see the development of this new string in our bow.

Q: This year also saw the move from a printed magazine publication to the online Barking Irons Online portal. How has this gone ? What are your plans for it for 2012 ?

A: It has gone really well. As I have already said we were undone by the success of the printed magazine as it absorbed so much time in the packaging and dispatching of it. The portal gives gamers all the same content but for free and this suits us too as it means we can better concentrate on books and miniatures for the systems that Barking Irons features. We all win.

The readership of Barking Irons Online (BIO) has increased since its launch and it has a load of great content on it from myself and other writers and designers. My plans for 2012 are to continue the development of BIO and to watch it grow. We plan weekly and monthly releases of scenarios, missions, hobby articles, guides, optional mechanics and so on for Flintloque, MOTH and Firefight among others. Tony Harwood has given BIO some great terrain and scenic builds and he intends to keep on doing so. BIO will be the place to be for content to use in your games from Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk.

Q: Lastly, you informed us back in the autumn of a new sister brand that was joining Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk. This brand would specialise in selling your excellent painted and based miniatures so beloved by Flintloque and Slaughterloo players on their own website. This brand also sells high fantasy and 15mm scale miniatures too. Plus its got free postage worldwide! Can you tell OITW about www.painted-miniature.com ?

A: That is entirely correct we have added a third brand to our glory! As some of your readers will know Alternative Armies has a team of lovely ladies who spend their lives painting miniatures. They are very good at it and many gamers have entire armies from us painted and based ready for play. A great service and great pricing. The ladies themselves suggested that a website of their own to ply their wares would be a good idea...so we did it!

www.painted-miniature.com sells only painted and based miniatures in 28mm and 15mm scale taken from the ranges of Alternative Armies and 15mm.co.uk. Everything on the site is in stock for immediate dispatch and yes its free worldwide postage on all orders. Go along and have a look and drop them a line too they are friendly...well to customers at least!

Q: As a parting shot do you have any final thoughts for OITW's readers ?

A: Only that they enjoyed this annual interview and to let it be known that I can always be reached by email at Alternative Armies. Just head the message up 'Attn# Gavin Syme'. I will reply, but I can only type so fast so give me some time to do so! Plus of course that I am filled with admiration for you Mr Andrews and Orcs in the Webbe. I know how much work it takes to run a website and you do a superb job collecting, filing and putting up black powder resources. As you say...Keep the Flag Flying!


Webmaster's Notes

An Orcs in the Webbe Exclusive! The above interview was first published on Christmas Eve 2011.