17 November 2012

Interview: By Fire & Sword with Konrad Sosiński & Rafał Szwelicki

I'm happy to post yet another extremely interesting written interview, this time with the authors of By Fire & Sword, Konrad Sosiński and Rafał Szwelicki. I sent them a document of questions and they both answered the questions, you can see the replies from Konrad marked (KS) and from Rafał marked (RS).


I also marked credited the questions submitted to me with the name/pseudonym of the person from which the question originated.


Hope you guys enjoy the inteview, it's a long one!









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Background/backstoryQ:  Tell us a little about your background and how you ended up in the miniature wargaming hobby?

KS: I am a lawyer by education. From law school I was recruited to Special Forces where I served for 2 years. Later I decided to test myself in the world of great corporations. I spent almost 7 years in Deloitte working in legal and tax advisory. In the meantime wargaming was my main hobby. Later I had an opportunity to distribute Warzone, my favorite game, in Poland. I wanted to get into this. At first I worked on two fronts, being a lawyer by day and selling figures in the evening. This could not last long. After I signed a distribution contract with American GHQ company I decided to quit my legal career.

RS: I am an archaeologist by education. At some point during my studies I started to cooperate with Konrad and to work at Wargamer. First as a showman – I held game presentations at conventions all over Poland. After one of such conventions we decided to create By Fire and Sword and this is how it all started.

Q:  What's your earliest miniature wargaming related memory?

KS: Definitely 1/72 scale plastic soldiers that I used to play with in my childhood with my brothers and friends. Then I already had thousands of them. With age this condition only deepened …

RS: I was interested in battles from my childhood. I was wondering why there weren’t any games that can be played with Lego figures. Warzone was my first wargame. I was still in primary school and it was real madness...

Q:  What triggered you guys to write this ambitious set of rules? I’m saying ambitious because it really feels like you have taken the period and rules very seriously and covered a lot of factors which in the end makes the way the game plays feel ”right”.

KS: At first it was supposed to be a game for a group of friends. However it quickly turned out that we had a pretty good game and we liked it a lot. As a result we decided to publish it and if you want to do something you should do it as good as possible. We wanted high quality both in terms of substance and graphics. We wanted the game to knock you off your feet. I think we managed this. The lucky fate that I met up with Rafał was also very important. Without him By Fire and Sword would not have come into being. It’s our child.

RS: At the beginning there was an idea and some will. With time the concept was becoming clearer, we narrowed the subject and started to go into details. Here the help of Michał “Kadrinazi” Paradowski was invaluable, without him this game wouldn’t have half its details and a lot of mistakes.

Q:  The amount of historical information and detail surrounding each unit and nation, and the whole presentation really gives the impression that you are fans of this period – care to tell us a bit more about your historical interests?

KS: As I said the substantial quality of the game is one of our priorities. I think that it is impossible to write a good set of rules for a historical wargame if you do not know and love the given historical period. We know it and love it. Despite this we still considered our knowledge as insufficient and as a result we have a whole team of historical consultants.

Q: I know you two are into 17th century re-enactment. Care to tell a little about that hobby and did the interest in re-enacting 17th century somehow help you in writing the rules?

KS: Yes, we reenact 17th century western type infantry (musketeers) and Polish dragoons. We also shoot some cannons. At the moment our battery includes 3 guns, among them a 6-barrel organ gun. Of course I would love to reenact a winged hussar but unfortunately I cannot ride a horse yet. Our reenactment experiences influenced the shape of the game rules. This concerns mostly the rules for usage and accuracy of different types of firearms.

Q:  I don’t know the Polish wargaming scene that well to be honest, but it feels like there are a lot of interesting and exciting thing going on. New manufacturers of miniatures, terrain and wargaming rules. How big is wargaming in Poland and have you noticed a growth of interest in the hobby over the last couple of years?

KS: Wargaming in Poland mainly means GW. Other companies entered the Polish market very recently. At the moment historical wargaming is mainly represented by our game and FOW. Other historical systems are restricted to isolated small groups of players. Until now Polish companies mainly produced sets for making conversions of GW figures or additional elements such as bases. Now there are several companies with new original projects. The interest in the hobby seems to be growing.

Q: If I’m not completely wrong, your business “Wargamer”, arranged the European Team Championship in Flames of War a couple of months ago. And there are seemingly a constant stream of By Fire & Sword events and tournaments going on. Is the tournament scene something that you want to use as the main attraction for your rules or do you think tournaments are just a great way of promoting your product?

KS: We were the sponsor of the FOW tournament at ETC. I was really impressed by the grand scale and professional preparation of the event. We put great emphasis on the promotion of our game and wargaming as a hobby at various large events. We are present at every gaming convention in Poland. We co-organize 2 large historical gaming events in Poland: Grenadier (7 editions in Warsaw) and Pola Chwały (Fields of Glory - 8 editions in Niepołomice by Kraków). Of course we organize and sponsor many BFaS tournaments and of many other games we sell. As far as BFaS is concerned there are about 10 tournaments per month in Poland. Apart from tournaments we also organize reconstructions of battles and other similar events connected to our game.

Manufacturing/production

Q: How long did it take from the first idea of writing these rules to having the current version of the finished rulebook?

KS: It took us over 4 years in case of the Polish version and over 5 in case of the English version. As I mentioned before high quality is a priority for us, that’s why it took us so much time. Gathering materials for the game took a lot of time. Especially obtaining accurate information about the armies of the Ottoman Empire, the Tatars or Muscovy. Many pieces of information included in our rulebook are unique. The Polish players like both the game and our approach to it – I hope that the game will be received as good elsewhere in the world.

Q: Was the vision of what the rules were meant to accomplish always the same or was there an evolution of ideas and concepts?

KS: In total there were 4 versions of the game. They were very different from one another. Only the orders structure remained the same as we liked the idea very much. The game evolved from heavy wargaming to the current easy to learn version that at the same time remains interesting and appealing to wargaming veterans.

Q: What proved to be the most difficult thing to achieve and what have been the most fun about writing a new set of rules?

KS: In BFaS you don’t play with armies of equal strength. You don’t play, say, a 1000-point battle. Creating a system allowing for balancing such a game caused a lot of problems. It took hundreds of tests and a lot of work but the final result was worth it. The system works very well now. What was the most fun? Well… gaming … I love this game.

Q:  What made you guys settle for 15mm scale? (Fredric Lundgren)

KS: The 15mm scale allows recreating quite large battles in a realistic way. In the 28mm scale this would not look as good and as epic. Besides the 15mm is cheaper and allows players to field larger armies. In my opinion the 15mm scale is the future of wargaming if we aim at recreating battles and not skirmishes. The 28mm is perfect for skirmish systems.

Q: The rules also mention that you can use other scales, bigger and smaller, is that something you have experimented with or have future plans for? Maybe a “conversion kit” with ranges for 28mm scale?

KS: Each set of rules can be used for playing in various scales. We do not intend to experiment or make conversions for other scales. Our range of figures is closely fitted to the rules in terms of bases, make up of sets and availability of figures. Of course you can play in 28mm or 10mm scale but there may be a problem with the availability of figures. The army lists for our game are very rich. This is the result of the fact that we analyzed the historical sources very precisely and dug out any information we were able. The figures available on the market often do not fit the game’s requirements. This is often due to non-historical equipment presented on the figures (for example Cossack infantry with berdishes). Moreover many of the sets were never produced by other companies. It is difficult to find figures for Lithuanian petyhorcy cavalry, Ottoman tufekci or the Wallachian horse serving the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. I think we are the only ones to produce them. At the moment our range includes more than 120 sets for only 6 armies for the second half of the 17th century and there are still many more that we need to do... The large range of terrain elements is a supplement to the huge offer of 15mm figures. The choice is really big.

Q: Readers of my blog have probably noticed my preference for the D10 dice, but I would love to hear what made you choose this over any other dice like the otherwise popular D6?

RS: It’s nothing special. A 10-sided die allowed us more variability. For some characteristics (as Morale, or Skill) it seemed a natural choice and we did not want to use several types of dice in the game.

Q: I have been made aware of the so called DBA basing of your units in By Fire & Sword. Was there any thought behind the choice of how you base the miniatures and the size of the bases?

RS: A 15mm scale game requires some kind of basing system. Of course we could have develop a very specific system (e.g. large bases as in Vis Bellica) but it was not so significant. We decided to use the system well known from DBA, this was made thinking about gamers that already have their figures or want to play in both systems...

Q: Have you any indication on how popular this period and geographic location that is covered in By Fire & Sword is in Western Europe and the US? It feels like an overlooked part of history (Gibby)

RS: While creating the game we were not thinking about the popularity of the period in the US or Europe. We just wanted to create a game about winged hussars and the 17th century. After some time it turned out that the 17th century is such a wide and diverse period that we had to narrow it. We chose this period due to the number and diversity of enemies that the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth faced.

Q: I think I read in another interview that Rafał Szwelicki is doing the sculpting for this game at Wargamer. How long have Rafał been sculpting and does he have any specific source of inspiration for his style (which I think should be described as realistic rather than “heroic” scale)?
RS: Yes I am sculpting figures for By Fire and Sword (though not all of them). Previously I usually made figures only for myself. I used to play Warzone a lot then. As a pupil and later a student I was not always able to afford some figures, on top of this there were problems with availability of some models. So I started to sculpt the missing figures myself. When a few years ago we planned to create By Fire and Sword I tried my skills in 15mm scale and I liked it so much that at the moment I work only in 15mm.

Rules of By Fire & Sword

Q: I’ve heard that you are now simultaneously working on the first expansion for By Fire & Sword which will be about the “Deluge”. Care to tell why you choose this theme for the first expansion?

RS: First we wanted to focus on the period which is described in the main rulebook with ready army lists. We chose the Deluge as it is a very interesting part of the period. It allows to introduce new armies and develops the game at the Skirmish level.

Q: The current rules have Sweden, Poland-Lithuania, Russia, Crimean Tatars, Ukrainian Cossacks and the Ottoman Empire included. The upcoming Deluge expansion will add additional nations like Transylvania and Brandenburg. Will we also see an expansion of the existing nations in terms of units that perhaps didn’t make it in the main rulebook or when the historical framework gets a bit wider? Will we see Denmark? (Fredric Lundgren/ Rob ”TheBlackCrane”/Andreas Törnqvist).

KS: The Deluge will include units and organizational structures for all the armies. The conflict between Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth did not take place in a political void and other countries also fought various military campaigns. Not necessarily against the PLC. For example during the Deluge Tatars were the allies of Poland. The description of the Transylvanian army that will appear in the Deluge will be very detailed and interesting. We think that it will be of great value in itself for people interested in the 17th century military. Of course this will lead us to production of many new figures sets only for the Transylvanians. The Danes will surely appear but in a PDF that will be published after the English version is published.

Q: The main rulebook mentions larger battles, beyond division level, “army and campaign mode”, and that we will see specific rules for those in the future. Could you just share some ideas and concepts that you have in mind for these truly gigantic battles? (Marco)

KS: Playing really huge battles in BFaS will require rescaling. At the moment a typical Polish unit, the banner, is 3 bases strong – 9 figures. After rescaling every base will be representing one banner. This is not that easy and will require rescaling all the army lists. Still this is something for the future. At the moment the divisional level can be quite challenging as far as the time and figures necessary are concerned.

Q: Characters are also mentioned in the core rules, and there have been a few of those released (in Polish) in PDF format. Like the peasant informer, the witch for the Cossack army which is great fun and so on. Are the any plans to add rules for famous commanders, or the characters from Sienkiewicz “Trilogy” like  Wołodyjowski, Skrzetuski, Podbipięta  and Zagloba)?

KS: There will be special characters for every army. Their influence on the game is small but they add character to the armies. This is very important for us. We do not plan to add rules for fictional characters – the figures that are available are solely collector’s items. Of course this does not mean that you cannot use Wołodyjowski as a dragoons commander. Nevertheless there won’t be any special rules for them. However the Deluge will include the first historical characters. These will include historical commanders such as Wittenberg, Czarniecki or Radziwiłł. Those special characters will have their special rules and will be able to significantly influence the games.

Q: Will you be releasing standalone army lists as downloadable PDF’s or collected in “army books” in the future? (Marco)

RS: Some of the army lists will be available as free PDFs. We already published Courland and we plan another army by Christmas. In addition files with historical skirmish forces also appear in the downloads section. These are additional army lists for already published armies but based on specific forces known from historical sources. We also plan to publish historical divisions and regiments.

Q: How important is historical accuracy for you in terms of how the rules mechanics work in the game? One very popular WW2 wargame that I play myself is often promoted as “WW2 the movie”. Does By Fire & Sword intend to do the same or is there more depth in terms of unit accuracy and actual tactics?


KS: It’s one of our priorities. We really put in a lot of effort into making our game historically accurate. The descriptive part of the rulebook is a mine of knowledge on the armies appearing in the game. The descriptions were prepared by a team of historians under the direction of Marcin Gawęda – author of numerous publications concerning the 17th century and privately a wargamer. This attitude is reflected also in the rules. Units and armies have their own specificity. If you try to play our game with pieces of paper instead of figures you will quickly know which piece represents the winged hussars, which Muscovite streltsy and which Ottoman Deli. We avoid generalizations often seen in other systems. Pike & shot regiments in Swedish and Polish service, in theory identical, behave and fight differently on the battlefield. In many games different formations as Ottoman sipahi and Polish winged hussars are treated in the same way – as impetuous cavalry. In fact those are completely different formations with different capabilities, tactics, armament and training. Lumping them together under impetuous spears is like saying that a musket and Kalashnikov are one and the same as they both fire bullets. One Polish newspaper wrote that a game of BFaS is a true lesson in history and not a dull one. I couldn’t agree more. Still I understand the approach of BF. I want to emphasize that if we were to choose between extreme historical realism and playability we would always go with playability. After all BFaS is only a game and is supposed to bring fun and satisfaction to the players.

Q:  So far the rules cover a lot of things but have left sieges fairly untouched. Since this is the era of great sieges, trenches and storming the breach in the walls – are there any plans for rules to simulate a proper siege? (Derf)

RS: We plan sieges in more distant future. Unfortunately a siege is not only a battle with a fortress on the table. A siege means days, weeks, months and sometimes even years of digging trenches and mines, artillery fire, sallies of the garrison etc. We are planning a set of rules that will include all of this, but this is far in the future. 

Q: I’m a big fan of how the special rules for units and nations are presented in this game, they come off as very natural and not “tacked on”. Was it hard to come up with ways of distinguishing nations and formations and did you feel like you had to give each nation “something” or did everything evolve organically while you were writing the book?

KS: This came by itself. We didn’t have any problems with this. The theatre of military operations in Eastern Europe is very varied. Every army is completely different; Poles, Swedes and Turks are all a completely different playing experience. The Cossacks fighting from behind a wagon train or the tactics of mobile Tatar cavalry is are unique in Europe. With such possibilities our armies are very varied and each has its own, clearly visible character.

Q: I know a LOT of people are very interested in this particular question: When will we see the rules released in English and would you care to shed a little bit of light on the process of translating the book?

KS: At the moment we can state the date of the premiere of the English version. In February 2013 we are commencing the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. We will be gathering funds for the publication of the rulebook. The campaign will be a perfect occasion to buy the rulebook and receive many gifts that we prepared. In March we will print the book and the premiere will take place at Salute 2013 in London on 20 April 2013.

Q: Follow up question to that, will the English rulebook be available from a wider assortment of retailers – like North Star? (Rob ”TheBlackCrane”).

KS: The rulebook will surely be available at our current partners: Northstar in UK, Warpath in USA and Frontline Hobby in Germany. Many other companies are already interested in cooperation and sale of our game but everyone is waiting for the English version. We have potential distributors in Czech Republic, Austria, Ukraine, Lithuania and Russia.

Q: From what retailers can you currently buy the Polish language version of the rules and the miniatures, for those gaming groups out there who might have a member proficient in the Polish language and want to get started right away?

KS: At the moment the Polish rulebook is available from Frontline Hobbies and our store.

Q: Do you guys have any plans for an expanded set of missions for Division sized games akin to those for the “Skirmish level”?

RS: Yes, but not exactly the same. We need to look at the scale. Skirmish parties were sent for a specific reason – seize terrain, reconnaissance, seize a river crossing for the marching army. Division is such marching army. When it met another army the task was easy – deploy the ranks and defeat the enemy. So there will not be a set of missions like “seize the crossing” as this is a different level of play. For a patrol seizing a bridge is the objective in itself, but for a division it is just one of the means to reach the objective which is to defeat the enemy army.

Q: Any plans to incorporate the weather and seasons into the rules? I noticed there are a few bits and pieces already in place that may indicate something like that with gunpowder weapons being marked as match-lock and wheel-lock.

RS: Of course. In the future we plan to publish such rules (as a part of one of the future supplements or as a downloadable PDF).

Q: The reconnaissance rules for this game are quite clever and feels very. What was your inspiration for the reconnaissance party rule?
(For those that don’t know, you can prior to the battle starts send one regiment on a reconnaissance mission to gather points used for tactical advantages, but may at the same time lose troops in the process).


KS: We were mainly inspired by historical sources. It just functioned this way in the 17th century. Even better that if it also works in the game! Moreover it is one of the elements that are absent in other games so it had to be incorporated into BFaS.

Q: Another thing that is pretty cool is how players can bring armies of different size and have the game balance out the points by allowing the weaker player to buy tactical advantages for the point’s difference. What was the inspiration for this mechanic?

RS: Personally I consider it the most important and revolutionary element of By Fire and Sword. Everything else is just background and layout of features while this system is changing the philosophy of gaming. It is no longer an artificial meeting of equal armies (something that in reality seldom occur) but an asymmetric game where one player has a numerical advantage and the other situational advantage.

A few quick and short questions

Q: Which currently released nation in the rulebook is your favorite to play?

KS: Ottoman Turks – I love Janissaries. Next are the Muscovites. Yes, I know – I really love to have a numerous army…

RS
: I like the Tatars. I love to maneuver and pull tricks and win over better armed and equipped enemies...

Q: Favorite movie?

KS:
Many different movies. Among historical movies concerning the period of our game it would be the old Potop (Deluge) movie based on the book by Sienkiewicz.

RS: Old Polish comedies: “Miś” (The Bear) and “Jak rozpętałem II wojnę światową” (The Way I started WW2). I had watched them several times over and could do it again, and this does not happen often.

Q: Favorite boardgame?

KS: I like multiplayer games, with figures of course. My favourite game is Napoleon In Europe by Eagle Games.

RS: I rarely play boardgames so I don’t have a favorite one. Maybe if I write one myself...;)

Q: What other miniature wargames do you play?

KS: Nowadays I mainly play BFaS but I feel sentimental attachment to Warzone and my absolutely favourite game of all time - GW’s Warhammer Epic Space Marines and I sometimes play them.

RS: Legends of the Old West where I have a warband of Mexican army soldiers (based on US Army rules but with muskets instead of rifles).  I also have a small fleet for Dystopian Wars, but didn’t play it yet.

Big thanks to you both for taking the time and doing the interview!

6 comments:

  1. Very interesting piece, thanks for that. Of course links are already on our FB walls :)

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  2. Great Interview. Love it when passion is the motor.

    The Frontline Hobbies you mention in some answers... is that Frontline Games?

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    Replies
    1. I think that Frontline Games , the German store, is indeed the correct name.

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  3. This interview reaffirms my suspicion that By Fire and Sword will be worth owning not just as a rulebook, but also as a historical resource for wargaming this period in any system.

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  4. Very interesting and informative interview . I am dusting off my Ottomans in anticipation of Feb 2013

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  5. very good job !
    i want my exemplary of the rule

    ReplyDelete

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