23 September 2013

Interview with Robert Faust – Brink of Battle 1 year

Brink of Battle, the very open ended historical skirmish game has now been out for over a year.  It remains in my opinion one of the most cleverly written set of rules in how you can create soldiers and adapt them to various historical periods without trouble while the core game mechanics offer solid gameplay. In this interview with Robert Faust you will be able to learn about the evolution of the Brink of Battle rules as they branch out to cover new ground as well as get an insight into indie wargame publishing.

Q:  The core rules of Brink of Battle are geared towards historical skirmishes, how have the rules been received since the release by the historical crowd?
A: Very well. Response to this game usually follows a set pattern with most Historical gamers.  At first, they are wary of any ‘one ring’ type of game system that can accurately represent all historical periods, and still make each period ‘feel’ right in capturing the differences that each era had from each other.  Once they get a few turns under their belt, or ask enough questions to get a better understanding of how and why this game is different from everything else they’ve seen, they start to warm to it.  A short time after that, and dozens of ‘what about’ type questions getting answered, they get what I call the ‘dawning of possibilities’ look. Once they get that look on their faces, we know they have caught the ‘vision’ of this rule set, and that is followed by nothing but powerful excitement!   

If you read our reviews on Wargame Vault, you’ll see what I mean.  And then we were nominated for and Origins Award for Best Historical Wargame Rules.  That spoke volumes to us as to how we were being received and we were deeply honored to be in the same category as Osprey/Battlefront/Deus Vult.  I remember as a kid reading the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society for the Traveller RPG and seeing the adverts for the Origins convention and then reading about Origins Award Winners.  It was always a big deal to me subconsciously and it blew me away that my rules got a nomination!
Q: Have you noticed a particular era/period that people tend to play the most using your rules?
A: Not one that really stands out per se.  Each of the three Periods we represent has a subgenre that gets more play than the others. For Period 1 – Ancient/Medieval we probably have more Dark Ages players than anything else. Period 2- Early Modern seems to have French & Indian War as a focal point, and then Period 3 – Modern attracts Old West games with a close runner up being WW2.

Our friends in the Big Gunz club up in Sacramento (Aaron Morneau, Mark McDaniels, Dave DuJordan, and Aaron Olsen) had me, Drew, and Alan up for an Old West tourney that totally kicked ass.  All of the games were tense nail biters that really held true to what you’d expect from a good ol’ American showdown.

: Have you seen any particular game that had you go “Alright, I didn’t expect to see THAT!”?
A: I’m sure there have been gobs of examples that aren’t coming to mind right now, but the one that pops into mind happened in my Old West tourney game against Aaron Morneau. One of my Veterans, an ex-Pinkerton named McCluskey, jumped out in the middle of some buildings to do some Mobile Fire with his shotgun against one of Aaron’s posse who was around a building corner. Aaron took three more shots against McCluskey from three different attackers. All that happened was a Shocked result.  It took so much fire to take him out, I dubbed him “Iron Balls” McCluskey!
Q: To me the central part of the rules is how you can build a warband for any period – how did you come up with that idea and was it hard to make it work for all periods with all the various skills, equipment and period specific categories that the game offers?
A: I was first drafting a WW2 version of something in scope that was like a Mordheim or Necromunda where it was more man-to-man rather than squad –to-squad action.  As I was working on different aspects of Close combat, it occurred to me that the rules would really work well for a Thirty Years’ War setting too. TYW is my favorite period, and when I thought about how at this level of play, the only thing that sets ‘real world’ humans apart from each other in battle is their training and equipment, it dawned on me that I could recreate any historical period and only have to create one rule set.  

For example, a Spartan and a Delta Force Operator both have peak fitness conditioning and similar psychology as elite warriors, but very different weapons, armor, and other gear.  Once you frame those parameters it becomes easier to transcend time periods and capture the right ‘feel’ of the types of fighting that evolved over the centuries.

Now, it becomes easier but not easy. It took six years to write, test, edit, compile and release.  Most of the design focus was on playable realism, a term I learned from Traveller: 2300 back in the day.  Also, my dynamic tension philosophy had to be satisfied as well. And I had to somehow divide 5000 years of military history up into some quantifiable groups.  I decided in the long run that the prevalent method of armed conflict would be what determined the break points between eras.

From 3000BC to around 1450AD most conflicts were resolved by violent men doing close combat violence to other violent men.  Archery factors in, but smashing your foe in melee is what gets shit won.  That became Period 1- Ancient/Medieval.

Around 1450AD there is sufficient use of black powder weapons that we see the first major shift in settling armed conflicts.  That becomes the start of Period 2 – Early Modern.  Finally, once smokeless powder and metal cartridge ammunition become sufficiently widespread we enter Period 3 – Modern somewhere in the 1880AD range.  Not perfect, but close enough for our purposes
Q:  With the sci-fi and fantasy expansions in the works have you noticed an increased interest in your rules outside of the primary historical wargame community?  
A: Yes I have. I wanted to establish the historical rules first, since historical gamers are more discerning as to what they like and what accurately represents their gaming eras.  With that done, adding supplements to round out the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres would be an easier task with the core mechanics in place.
What I find most enjoyable is having customers who catch the ‘vision’ I mentioned earlier start listing off all of their favorite subgenres or miniature ranges they can now recreate with a single rulebook.  We have over 680 downloads from Wargame Vault of the free fantasy ‘ashcan’ of Epic Heroes, so I know there is interest out there.

Q: Are sci-fi/fantasy gamers more inclined to use Brink of Battle, and if so why do you think that is?
A: I’m not sure its genre specific.  I have found that my target demographic has less to do with genre and more to do with game scope and type. This game is really designed for guys like me; at or around 40 years of age, day job, family/social commitments, limited time to paint huge armies or learn a new rules system that take hours to play, doesn’t want to rebase his figs, doesn’t like being forced to use ‘x’ company’s minis, or be stuck in a rules set that was made to sell miniatures.

All that said, I know there are lots of guys older and younger than me that are looking for similar rules.  When I looked at the market of man-to-man level historical games back in 2006, there wasn’t anything that fit that market category, so I went out and created it. Today, seven years and change later, Brink of Battle is still in its own market category.  Everything else is either one step bigger in number of models per player, like Saga or similar systems, or they are smaller such as .45 Adventure or Strange Aeons, where it’s a few models per side, or almost an RPG type of feel.

We live in the 3-20 models per side range of the market. We are also not a Beer & Pretzels type of system, so that is another distinction, and we can be used either for Tournament play or a continuing Campaign where Experience and Injuries shape your force.  And, since we have so much flexibility for genre it really becomes, as you put it in your first review, a ‘toolbox for the imagination’.
Q: Do you think that wargamers are harder to attract to a set of rules if the rules aren’t supported by an official range of miniatures?
A:  Absolutely. That was a surprise for me to learn the hard way.  Over the past 25+ years I’ve been doing this hobby I have observed a steady trend of certain customer perceptions that are not always logical.  First among these is that a game system is ‘dead’ if it doesn’t have any new material or miniatures released. That makes no sense to me. A game system is dead when my friends and I stop playing it. Or everyone stops playing it. There hasn’t been a new release of Yahtzee with different rules and fundamental addition changes since it came out. It’s not dead. Cosmetic changes have been made, but the game still gets purchased and played worldwide.  The artificial expectation that has come into its own in the past 20 years of weekly/monthly product releases is really no indicator of a game system’s viability, longevity, or sustainability in my view. 

But, the river runs one way, and I’d be a fool to try to swim upstream when miniatures and rules combo’s are the soup du jour.  We’ve all picked up new rules for new models, and if we don’t have both, something feels wrong because that’s the way it’s always been…..

Brink of Battle’s great strength is that you can use figures from any manufacturer.  That’s also its biggest weakness, because I don’t sell miniatures.  I’m seeking to remedy that situation with Epic Heroes by forming strategic partnerships with key manufacturers who may not have a rule set to help move their fantasy products. They make figures, I write rules. We link arms and deliver both to the customer without having to become joined at the hip per se
Q: I’ve seen really mediocre rules becoming best-sellers just because they are supported with miniatures – while some really good indie games without miniature support having a hard time to attract attention. Do you think it is possible to work around this sort of “mental obstacle”, and if so – how?
A: At first blush I’d say there isn’t a way to get past this phenomenon.  If Brink of Battle had been full color with lots of nice hobby pictures would it have had a better chance at winning the Origin Award? It’s possible. If Brink of Battle were a slick full color product with hobby info and pretty pictures it might have had better odds of winning.  If I had a miniatures line to go along with it who knows what kind of attention that would have drawn.  Definitely more than it did.

My biggest inspiration for having a game without miniatures was Arty Conliffe.  Crossfire is one of the most innovative games I own, and he, to my knowledge, didn’t sell figures.  That’s what I was looking for; successful game dynamics without all of the other bits going along with it. If there was a possibility of releasing a game without miniatures Kickstarter killed it.  So now I need figures to do that or it doesn’t get backed?  It seems so.  If I didn’t, I’d have to go along the RPG line of selling your “character’s appearance” into my product.  For a new background world that has no track record of popularity I don’t see anyone buying that.  So for now, Minis plus Rules seem to be here to stay.

Q: There are many rules out there today that have been ordered by a miniature manufacturer and the author has to adhere to strict limitations in design and content. What are the advantages of writing rules without any specific miniatures in mind and how much does that affect your decisions and the directions of the rules?
A: Great question. First, I don’t like typing with handcuffs on my creativity.  That’s why I started my own company and didn’t seek to work somewhere else.  So it’s the Hungry Wolf versus Well Fed Slave concept. I’m a hungry wolf, but my income is not at all dependent on game sales, so I have total freedom of creativity, release schedule, and such.

The main advantage to not having attached ‘x’ company’s miniatures is that it is easier to avoid Power Creep.  For those unfamiliar with the term, Power Creep is a design problem most often encountered when rules are written to sell the newest miniatures being released. This is unavoidable to a large degree because different authors pen the newest book, and may not have the same sense of game balance. Or, it is a case of a rule set is evolving and it’s been so long since Army Book A has been released that it doesn’t stand a chance against Army Book X’s stats.  That’s Power Creep.  

We don’t suffer from that tendency with Brink of Battle.  The reason I can say that with confidence is because A. we don’t use army lists; B. all players have access to all game effects; and C.  We write rules and don’t sell miniatures. We have no tendency to favor one troop type so it can beat the others, and therefore we balance all effects/mechanics against those already available and ask whether or not this new effect gives another choice like the others, or is a ‘must have always’ choice that will throw everything out of balance.That’s also not to say we don’t really like ‘X’ troop type from another game, and want to represent such in the Brink of Battle system.  We are extra diligent in those cases so that people don’t end up forced to play what we like in order to win because our bias made it more powerful.

Q: Tell us a little on how your writing process looks like, what inspires you and how do you come up with rules?
A: It’s a different process now than over the first years of development.  In the first years of development I had to sort out dice mechanics, turn sequencing, model conditions, model stats, period differences of combat, movement and physics of running, jumping, etc.  Once I had the core concepts down, the rest was fairly simple.  I would write a rule, and then think of ways to break it. So, for example, a model must target the closest enemy model if it wants to shoot or charge.  That’s the Target Priority rule.  Makes sense, right?  You go for the dude closest first so he doesn’t whack you first. But then, I thought of the Drilled Trait which lets you ignore Target Priority and select any opposing model you can draw a Line of Sight to when making a Ranged Attack Action. In the Fantasy supplement we take it one step further with the Acrobat Trait which lets you ignore Target Priority for Charging into Close combat.  And it never stops. Ideas will pop into my head at any given time.  

As for inspiration, well, that could come from anywhere. Most of the time it pops in my head, I scribble it down in one of my notebooks, and then go back and revise or refine it further.  Other times I’ll be talking with someone and they spark an idea, or they make a suggestion but don’t know how to represent it mechanically.  Most often these things pop in my head, and then I run them by Drew and Alan for feedback, which usually results in a better outcome than if one of us did it all.  I run an honest shop where my inner circle of play testers and collaborators can tell me they don’t like the way something works without fear of me dismissing their viewpoint or stubbornly refusing any idea that is contrary to mine.  My only requirement of them is to not bullshit me, or poo poo something without a reason just to be contrary, etc.  I don’t tolerate that kind of feedback because it leads nowhere. I’ve dealt with enough gamers in my time that were contrary for no other reason than to veil a childish attempt at being perceived as more intelligent than they are. I don’t have time for that. And my core group doesn’t pull that stunt.

However, just because they have a different viewpoint doesn’t mean I roll over and adopt it either. I have the final word, and will say, ‘nope, I like it this way’ if I truly think we’re on the right track already.  It’s a fine balance, and I’m pretty sure we’ve struck gold with it. Other times I’ll say, “ok I understand what you’re saying, but I need a more compelling reason to make this change than what you suggested.  Give me something more” and it usually gets modified or stays just the way it is for lack of anything better.

I’m also more of a “Not no, just not now” kind of creator.  I’ve worked very hard to surround myself with smart friends. It would be foolish of me to kick their ideas to the curb, when there probably is a great fit for that idea down the road if not right now.  It makes for a stronger team and a better product, in my opinion. I’m finding that my Brink of Battle players are smart, insightful, and full of fresh ideas or suggestions that get consideration as well.  That’s invaluable to me as a writer.

As for my two closest collaborators, we have a great working synergy that is paying solid creative dividends. Alan Washburn toggles two roles as an artist/graphic designer and gamer as well.  He can read a rule or mechanic I write and pretty accurately tell if it will need an accompanying diagram or if the text communicates the information clearly enough on its own.  He’s the Rosetta Stone between my head full of prose and he and Gilbert Leiker’s artistic genius.  Alan and Gilbert have some great artistic gifts, but sometimes I’m trying to communicate a concept to them and Alan has to translate what I’m saying in game designer speech into something that makes sense to him and Gilbert in artist speech.  To me that’s an absolutely invaluable ability on Alan’s part. And I can’t wait to show their talents off in Epic Heroes.

Drew Davies has become the closest thing to a Co-Author that I could have with the fantasy book.  He and I have a dynamic of kicking around ideas that is very organic.  It usually goes something like this: I see something that gives me an idea for a new Trait or game effect, piece of Gear, whatever.  I run the idea by Drew and then we chew on it.  He’ll likely say yea or nay based on his viewpoint on the system and how this new thingy will fit in.  We will discuss it, and maybe he knows what he doesn’t like about it but might not be sure what to change, and about that time we start really throwing out ideas until we hit something that clicks and WHAM! we’re done.  Or maybe he knows what he’d like to see it do, but I’m not sure whether or not it clicks with my intended concept.  We discuss, we playtest, and ultimately we end up with something that is more organic and plays well.  We’ve been in this dynamic for so long now that it’s like the two hemispheres of the same brain passing information back and forth until it’s actionable and a finished product.   

It dawned on me the other day that for the Epic Heroes supplement no part of the 28,000+ words I’ve typed have not been improved upon by collaborating with Drew.  It’s like my conceptual brain spawns an idea, but his analytical brain refines that idea and improves on its function.  He’s my Co-Author on the supplement because of that dynamic.
Q: I imagine most authors have a single period or theme that they find interesting and then pour all their inspiration and knowledge into that single area. With Brink of Battle, the game is so open ended but at the same time the rules cover the different periods really well. How do you manage to distill the essence each period and make it work as a whole?
A: This question kind of dovetails with what I said earlier about how I decided to break 5000 years of human history into 3 broad bands.  The way I distilled each era’s proper combat ‘feel’ was by sticking ardently to the Playable Realism concept.  If I had accurately represented what happens when two men fight in real life, then the rest would sort itself out.  

For example, in Close combat both fighters are at risk of injury, not just the guy whose turn it is to act.  More of this happens in the Ancient/Medieval period due to the use of armor and shock effect fighting tactics.  Archery is a useful component, but isn’t the primary factor for deciding victory.  In the Early Modern period, black powder weapons spew gobs of greasy white smoke, and have close in fighting and slow to fire ranged weapons that can knock a hole in armor.  So we have Smoke Tokens that provide Concealment when you fire your musket, and that works for and against the shooter because that was a real issue in that period of history.  Push of Pike is going to happen, because black powder weapons have greater chance of misfires and are slow to reload.  That captures the ‘feel’ of Renaissance and Age of Reason warfare very well.  Finally, the Modern period and its proliferation of reliable, high rate of fire guns put death at a distance.  It’s really hard to get into hand-to-hand combat in this period, as in real life, because before you can usually get that close you’ve been shot in the face! WW2 games in this period ‘feel’ right, because you are shooting men down at range, or up close but not in close combat, most of the time.

The other major factor to this, and you and I have discussed this before, is that I use a d10 to create a believable amount of chaos in resolving combat.  You can be a crack shot, but sometimes things just go to shit and that’s part of the ebb and flow of battle. Your elite Fallschirmjager just got whacked by a Maquis in a turtleneck with a derringer because, oops, he shot you really well.
Q:  What part of the core Brink of Battle rules are you most happy or proud of?
A: That’s a tough one. I’ll throw up a tie between Damage Bonus and Weapon Reach.  Both affect Close combat, which is probably what I’m most proud of truth be told.  Here’s why it’s a tie.
It always bugged me that in every wargame or RPG I played, how much I beat the target number to hit by with my attack never increased my damage.  That is a fundamental flaw I see in pretty much every game out there.  When I was a younger man in another lifetime I did non-competitive Fencing for a couple of years.  Two takeaways from that ended up in BoB.  The first was the simultaneous nature of combat.  I represent this with the Edge and the Break mechanisms and more subtly with the Weapon Reach process.  The second was Damage Bonus, because in sword fighting where you poke a guy is just as important as what you poked him with.  

In BoB, the amount by which you beat your opponent’s opposed result adds point for point to your Damage Check against that model.  The higher your score the higher your Damage Check will be and the likelier you poked him in a soft spot or got past his armor etc.  That’s a very big part of both Ranged and Close combat, and one of the more innovative aspects of the game, or so I’ve been told. 

The other mechanic that goes hand in glove with Damage Bonus for point of designer pride is the comparison of Weapon Reach during the execution of a Charge Action in Close combat. This came out of some very early work I was doing with Zones of Control.  Having decided to make it an any period game, I needed to represent the advantages and disadvantages of wielding different length weapons in melee.  I could not get the ZoC mechanics to play without seriously bogging down the action, so after mulling it over for a bit I hit on a great compromise that would make longer weapons matter, but also not clutter the table with differing Zones of Control that would slow play.

Weapon Reach is a number between 0-3 for hand held weapons.  A knife is 0 and a Pike is 3, for example. In my view, both attacker and defender are in a position to get hurt. If you’ve ever been in a schoolyard fist fight you know what I mean.  Both guys get hurt, just by different degrees.  An attacking model would therefore be At Risk of a Counter-Attack if his total score is significantly lower than what the defending model rolled.  So your defending model isn’t just standing there getting beat on helplessly like in some systems.  Both are fighting for their lives, and if the Attacker stuffs it up, well he could be the one in the body bag.  We call that At Risk.  If an Attacker Charges an enemy model they compare Weapon Reach numbers once Engaged in close combat.  If the Attacker has the higher number, then he is not At Risk of a Counter-Attack no matter how badly he rolls as he is hard to reach with his distance advantage.  If the Defender has a higher Weapon Reach number, then he has advantage of distance that the charging Attacker must overcome, so the Charging Attacker is at a Combat half penalty on his Attack. It’s fast, it’s simple, and it totally captures the way a melee fight should work and ‘feel’. To date I have not seen anything like it, so when you add Damage Bonus to it, you can see why they are at a tie for my favorite mechanic.
Q: How does it differ writing the historical oriented material from writing the Sci-Fi material for Brink of Battle? What’s your inspiration when writing historical and sci-fi/fantasy material?
A: On the historical side, I get inspired by my favorite periods of history whether from written accounts or from other media.  I did huge amounts of research for the main rules.  That’s why it took 6 years to write.  I had to become well versed in all manner of combat from each period in history.  I researched for the earliest examples of whatever I was writing about, and then used that to name the Trait or Gear.  This was to keep as much historical flavor to the mechanics as possible.  For example, I wanted a Trait that would represent the fighting style of Landsknecht Doppelsoldners armed with Zwiehanders charging in to clear a path through a pike block.  In mechanical terms the Pike had a Weapon Reach of 3 and the Greatsword a 2.  This would cause the Doppelsoldner to be at a Combat/2 penalty.  That wasn’t how it really happened, because they would swing their greatswords at the pike heads and try to either cut or break them off in order to allow their comrades to bust through as well. So to represent this in game terms the new Trait would grant the user a +3 Weapon Reach Bonus when Charging.  This would take a Greatsword to a 5 and prevent that model from being At Risk of a Counter-Attack.  That was how it usually worked historically, and the most prevalent of the groups to use that were the Forlorn Hopes of the Landsknecht and Swiss in the early Renaissance.  So I named the Trait “Noch Weiter!” which is the battle cry of the German pikemen.  Loosely translated it means “Press Forward!” and was meant to encourage the push of pike.  So that is one example of ways in which I created historical rules and gave them their proper Period ‘feel’. 

Now, the process is pretty similar for Fantasy and Sci-Fi elements.  My inspiration for fantasy comes mainly from books, movies, other fantasy games or worlds and such.  On the book front I like the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser stories from Fritz Leiber; Elric, Corum, and Erekose stories by Michael Moorcock; Hyperborean Cycle stories by Clark Ashton Smith; the Death Dealer books by Frank Frazetta & Jim Silke; pretty much anything by H.P. Lovecraft but especially The Shadow over Innsmouth; Conan & Solomon Kane tales by Robert E. Howard, and most definitely all of Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian books.  For television and movie inspiration I dig the cinematic versions of any of the aforementioned books, Legend of the Seeker TV series; 300, Spartacus: Blood & Sand and the rest of the seasons of that series, and of course the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dragonslayer, and Fire & Ice by Frazetta & Ralph Bakshi.  

On the fantasy game front I cut my teeth on Dungeons & Dragons at age 12, then on to Warhammer Fantasy Battles and Roleplay at age 17.  I think those two products should be required reading in all of their incarnations for any fantasy game designer.  TSR and Games Workshop pioneered so much of what we see on TV or in video games and such that I think it’s important that we acknowledge our roots and pay homage to them when possible. 

Sci-fi inspiration is all over the place as well.  Here are some of the key players in that arena: For books I’m a fan of Armor by John Steakley; all of the Hammer’s Slammers books by David Drake; Asimov’s Robots and Lucky Starr books; Keith Laumer’s Bolo stories and everyone’s version of the same; Han Solo at Star’s End and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy.  On the TV & movie side we have Star Trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica as the Holy Trifecta.  In fact, when I was eight and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said ‘an astronaut’. What I really meant was Viper Pilot. The list of TV and movie inspiration is pretty big. So I’ll just say if it had a spaceship, an alien or a ray gun I watched it and still do.
My biggest Sci-Fi inspiration actually comes from some key roleplaying games.  Traveller was the second RPG I owned and to this day my all-time favorite.  What Marc Miller and Co. did with that game and its background universe of the Third Imperium so captivated my imagination that to this day I can quote its history like scripture.  More than just an idea inspiring machine, Traveller taught me an important lesson as a game designer: how to secure player ‘buy-in’ to your setting.  GDW gave us a skeleton of 11,000 worlds, fleshed out just enough of them to give us a point of reference and a place to then hang our creative hat as we added our own imagination to creating what would be later dubbed as IMTU; In My Traveller Universe.  No two GM’s had the same Traveller Universe, but they had enough collective cross-over to still be recognizable as the same setting. Brilliant!  

Star Frontiers and Gamma World added to my bucket of Sci-Fi inspiration.  When the Sci-Fi supplement is released, my Triple Helix setting will be my homage to Gamma World, Star Frontiers, and Traveller.
Q: I imagine that when writing historical stuff there is a lot less to worry about in terms of unintentional plagiarism – a Hoplite will always be a Hoplite.  Is there are worry when writing sci-fi and fantasy rules that you may accidently use something that another author has already come up with, unintentional similarities and so on?
A: By and large, that hasn’t really been an issue.  Primarily because what I have written is pretty unique in the marketplace.  You said in one of your reviews of BoB that it wasn’t another copy and paste rule set like many you had seen.  That alone makes it easier for me to write without concern of plagiarism, accidental or otherwise.  I’m pretty OCD when it comes to originality, so I actively avoid rehashing or mimicking other people’s ideas.  There are many elements of both genres that you just can’t copyright per se.  An Orc is an Orc.  Nobody owns that.  A Killzinger Orc of the DoomKrypts is a different matter entirely.  You can copyright that version. What’s hard is the sheer volume of interpretations or tropes that are out there now.  Coming up with something fresh and original is more of a challenge. All the tropes aside, I pay attention to what’s out there, and rely on my Brain Trust to point out if I’m close to something they’ve seen that I haven’t. 

Q:  What are you most excited about if you had to pick one sci-fi and one fantasy element from your upcoming expansions?
A: That’s a great question that is harder to answer than you’d think.  We are breaking some new ground with the Epic Heroes book. For Fantasy it has to be my Magic system.  I’m breaking with the convention that skirmish games have limited spells and not much influence on the game.  There will be access to greater power levels at greater risk to the caster.  I’m confident it is unlike any magic system you’ve seen to date. 
For Sci-Fi it’s a bit harder to say.  Much of the new Sci-Fi Gear is listed in our free PDF on the website.  I would have to say that since many of the Inborn or Racial type Traits will be revealed in the fantasy book, there won’t be many surprises there.  The Gear will probably be the highlight, since that’s what seems to most define what constitutes a Sci-Fi wargame.  Who knows, maybe something will strike us and that answer will change over time.
Q: A while back, you sent me a draft sheet with a few rules for Lovecraftian/horror skirmishes. A welcome addition since I have a vast collection for that particular subject. Are there any plans for a standalone Gothic Horror expansion or will that be covered in the fantasy expansion book?
A: My original marketing plan was to release 3 core supplements to the main rules, and then do micro-supplements in between.  However, that’s a lot of principal writing etc, so it may not be as steady a release schedule.  For example, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Vehicles were the planned core supplements.  Then we could do Sci-Fantasy with all of those books, but do a micro supplement that takes elements from both and does a lot of the leg work for the player.  Same goes for Gothic Horror/Pulp/Weird West/Weird War 2, and so forth.

Now, here’s one of the key concepts behind Epic Heroes that I’m most excited about.  I wanted my fantasy supplement to build on the mechanics of Period and Setting that I put forth in BoB’s main book.  So, just like the regular rules, you will still choose a Period and Year, but it will be an Equivalent Year, meaning that it is mostly used to define what weapons and other Gear are available to the Players. Once those two factors are determined, the Players will then need to pick a Power Level (I was calling it Legend Level but it was an unnecessary embellishment to what is just a Power Level).  Power Level determines the degree of power the Magic, Magic Items, and Traits will have for a given game.  So, if you want a low magic Conan setting, Power Level 1 is for you. If you want something more akin to Lord of the Rings, then Power Level 3 is your spot.  PL 2 is a happy balance between the two. So, for the Gothic Horror stuff you play tested, that’s just right out of the Epic Heroes Traits list.  You could choose Period 3, 1920AD, Power Level 1 and WHAM! you are gaming Call of Cthulhu-esque battles.  The sky is the limit!
This is the first book of its kind that I know of where you can add Magic and Monsters to any existing Historical setting.  Want to play Weird West or Weird War 2? Epic Heroes has you covered.  Want Gothic Horror or Pulp with scary bits?  Got you covered.  How about our Dread Europa setting where historical figures and fantasy figures fight for the fate of the world?  Got what you need right in one supplement.

Q: You have a pretty lively facebook group for Brink of Battle where players can give their direct feedback. How important is player interaction for you as a writer and how much does that interaction affect your creative process?
A: I tried to get our own Child Board on the Lead Adventure Forum because that is my favorite forum online.  The people on that board are really smart, funny, and inspiring, but most of all, very respectful of others. However, it’s not a place I can cross-post to capture each different Forum by genre with a single post.  That has made it less populated I think on one hand, but Facebook is a good place for a lot of easy interaction since it’s pretty widely accessed by folks.  We have 109 members in the Facebook group.  It has become a nexus of activity and commentary.  

I’m of the opinion that Brink of Battle is my game up until you buy it.  Once you own it, it’s your game. I’m not one to tell you how to have a good time.  So, if there is something you want that needs to be added or tweaked, I’m not one to say ‘no you can’t’.  I don’t know how anyone could say that, but I’ve seen it happen.  So, I want feedback, questions, opinions, etc. because no one person knows it all.  Now, if you tweak the rules and they no longer run like the well-oiled machine you bought, please don’t blame the rules or me for that.  : -) 

Having direct feedback and being able to listen to what my customers like is crucial to my further creative process.  If we can scratch that ‘gaming itch’ so to speak for someone, odds are good it will work for someone else as well.  I love that Writer/Gamer interaction. Plus, Brink of Battle players thus far have turned out to be a pretty savvy and respectful bunch.  I’m very happy with my customers. Knowing that my future efforts will be appreciated urges me to make better rules and grow the player base more.
Q: Personally I sense a rising trend in “casual gaming” among genres that were previously very detailed and perhaps more time consuming to play. There are still a couple of manufacturers that deliver interesting and historically accurate sets of rules without streamlining them down to appeal to everyone. But nowadays it seems to be a struggle between those gamers that want more detail and those gamers that have very little spare time for their hobby and want to get through a game in an hour or two. What are your thoughts on the current state of the wargaming industry when it comes to rules, and how does Brink of Battle fit into that equation?
A: Back in 2006 when this project started, I looked around at the ‘skirmish’ systems extant at that time and found that they fell into two camps: Beer & Pretzels or Bullets & Biscuits.  The former was really more about dice rolling and less about strategy or tactics.  The latter was too bogged down in counting bullets & biscuits to be playable; just too granular.  I felt that my rules would capture enough ‘crunch’ to make you chew, but be so intuitive to play that they were easy to ‘swallow’ without needing an Accounting degree.    

I also observed a pattern where a new box of plastics would be released by someone and gamers would say things like, “I’d love to buy that box of Thirty Years’ War pikemen, but I don’t want to learn a new set of rules, spend 200 bucks or more on 100+ models.”  So, from a retailer’s point of view, this gives their customer the opportunity to buy a box of 32 plastic figures and a 30 dollar rulebook and play a period without rebasing, relearning, or reinvesting into something more difficult or time consuming.

Adding those two elements together, the goal was to have a One Ring type of product.  Based on the reviews and testimonials we’ve seen, we hit that goal.  You had commented in your review of the core rules that it was a radical departure from the ‘cut and paste’ rules that have been popping up in the past few years.  I hadn’t really thought of that before you mentioned it, and once you did I started seeing cookie cutter mechanics everywhere I looked.

Having observed the release and growth of the skirmish gaming market over the past seven years, I think as an industry we are close to arriving at the tipping point between big army games and skirmish ones.  Look at the success of Song of Blades and Heroes, Saga, Malifaux, Warmachine/Hordes. Then there is the veritable legion of new ‘skirmish’ game Kickstarters.  I’m almost at a point where I just don’t want to see another new ‘easy to learn, great tactical options’ advert again.  I even saw a marketing release last year that was nearly point for point a replica of my marketing release from earlier in the year.  I couldn’t believe it.  But that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to competition.  

It may take a while, but I think too that players will tire of playing systems that are only written to sell miniatures.  I have seen an increase online in threads that say, “Is ‘X’ game broken?”  It seems to happen far more with rules that are miniature sales driven that by those that are written as well crafted, power creep resistant products.  My prediction is that these types of systems will crumble under the weight of their own patches and rule band aids because more time went in to having incredible production values and not well crafted game mechanics.  You can have both, but if that’s going to work, the rules need to be tight from the start.

The best example of, in my opinion, the cleanest rule book with quality production value is the original Warmaster game.  Rick Priestly wrote the tightest, clearest set of rules.  It has excellent diagrams and very accurate prose.  It is my Gold Standard for how a rule book should be and was influential on my early decisions on how high I wanted to raise the bar on clarity and quality.  
Q: If someone wants to write a set of rules, what would you say are the biggest challenges one would face during the writing and during the publishing process?
A: Knowing when to quit writing and publish is perhaps the biggest challenge.  I’ve lost track of the number of guys I’ve talked to or corresponded with online that have all say relatively the same thing: I’ve been working on my rules for years. I keep tweaking them so much that they are never ready to publish.”  I was determined that I wasn’t going to do that.  When it was time, I put it all together and shot it out the airlock.  When FedEx brought by proof copy to me from Lulu I was a little nervous.  Opening the finished product for the first time was nothing but pure magic.  It didn’t matter at that point if we’d go on to sell one or one hundred copies.  I had finished what I had started and it was a great feeling. It is even better when someone has a great time playing it. 

Another thing I would recommend is to have a good technical editor, and what I mean by that is someone who can read your work and see the technical typos, grammar errors, and logic knots that need to get unraveled.  My Wife Jenanne did that for the BoB main rules.  She didn’t read it to learn the rules, and she found things that in my mind I had developed a blind spot to seeing.  That helped me reconcile terms and effects that were created several years earlier and had become part of the background noise when I would go back through and look to find inconsistencies.  Very important.

Create something different from what is already out there. That gets harder to do every year, but is nonetheless important to the process. Ask yourself three questions: How is this different? Who is this for? And, Why is it fun?  If you can answer those questions you are probably on the right track.  Know your target market and stay focused on them. 
Q: What is on the horizon for Brink of Battle and what are the plans for the future?
A: The most immediate plans are to finish principal writing on the Epic Heroes rules by the end of this month.  We then do the final full push for play testing, getting figures painted and more scenery built, finalizing artwork, getting the whole thing assembled and ready for release by February or March of 2014. After that, I’d really like to do an Old West micro-supplement.  I’m a HUGE Have Gun, Will Travel fan and really had a blast at the Big Gunz Old West tourney a couple of months ago.  I think that will dovetail nicely with the fantasy rules so we can get down with some Weird West action.

From there it will likely be back to designing the Vehicle rules.  That will be an odd one because it is a big departure from most of the BoB system.  There are a lot of moving parts to that project.  But, we need it done so we can then get the Sci-Fi book done.  Since Gilbert did the main rule book cover, and Alan is doing the Epic Heroes cover, I’d like to have David Deitrick do the Sci-Fi cover.  No other artist has captured my science fiction imagination better than David.  His Traveller work set the tone for everything going on in that Universe.  So that would be icing on the cake.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to tell us that haven’t already been covered?
A: I think I’ve said enough for now. As my buddies can tell you, I have a few things to say. ;)  Thanks for your participation, input, and interest in this endeavor Alex!

Thank you Robert for taking the time answering these questions!
And for those of you who missed my previous (and first) interview with Robert from back in june 2012 you can check it out HERE


  1. What a great interview - kudos to both of you!

  2. Good read. I better get the rules. It actually looks like something I would like a lot.

  3. I am now absorbing the rules after buying the pdf.


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