Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Irregular Wars at Political Dice

Somewhere in the midst of the chaos of the release of Irregular Wars: Conflict at the World's End 1.5, followed by 'the big move', James over at Political Dice posted a inter-web-view with me covering some of the background behind Irregular Wars. For those who haven't seen it, I have reposted it below in another time-poor attempt to keep the blog lit. = )


This is most… Irregular…

Greetings all and sundry. Today I have another of my world famous interviews with an independant wargames developer/publisher. For the first time today I am delving into a little bit of historical warfare. Usually I steer clear from this as my experience of historical wargames is 2 guys with their heads buried in books trying to out-read one another in the meanings of rules. I think most historical games get to bogged down in trying to be “Realistic” and they suffer as a result. I say this with the proviso that I have not actually played any at present, the head burying not making for an enjoyable game for me has kept me clear of them. Of course this has mainly been linked to mass combat wargames rules and I’m sure there are some that are fine but I do not want to try investing time, let alone money, on a fruitless endevour. My interviewee today though has himself “A wargaming system for small actions” which appeals far more. designed for small engagements between the years 1519 – 1641. Anyway I shall move onto the interview before I talk to much about stuff I do not know. This is the longest yet so if you feel it is to long and could have done with being split, please leave a comment to say so.  Here is Nic, creator of Irregular Wars…


1. For those that have not come across you before, please introduce yourself and your game(s)

Hi, my name is Nic Wright. I am an archaeologist by day (mild mannered?-James) and by night I fight battles against historical and fantastic foes using small soldiers on a table top. I bought my first miniatures in 1991 – at the tender age of 10 – and have dabbled in the hobby one way or another ever since. I sometimes go by my online alter-ego, Harry Hotspur and maintain a blog discussing my miniature habits at <http://irregularwars.blogspot.com.au/>.

Over the years, I’ve played a few different games: Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Mordheim, Man O’ War, Warhammer 40,000, Necromunda, Flintloque, Song of Blades and Heroes (plus its many supplements), (And here ends any recognition on my part!-James) DBA, DBM, DBR, HotT, Armati, Napoleon’s Battles, Spanish Fury! Actions, Spanish Fury! Sail, Disposable Heroes, Coffin for Seven Brothers… I’m sure that there are a few others that have slipped my mind.

Right from the start I was tempted to write up my own variant rules to reflect scenarios not considered in the conventional rule books – most of these angled towards smaller actions and mission based games. However, my only commercial endeavour, Irregular Wars: Conflict at the World’s End was released in February 2011, published by Vexillia Ltd. (who also publish other independent games such as Pike and Plunder). In partnership with Vexillia we decided to make the game available as a pdf package to keep costs and prices down.

These fast play Renaissance rules (focused on the period c.1519 to 1641) recreate the smaller actions so common at the fringes of the European world. For those not too familiar with the period, the rules cover the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, Montezuma and Ivan the Terrible. There are already good renaissance rules out there which work well for the battles of the Italian Wars, French Wars of Religion, 30 Years War, English Civil War etc. What Irregular Wars offers are rules and army lists for Tudor Britain and Ireland, the major European colonial powers, and the peoples of the New World, the East Indies and the Eurasian steppe.

Designed for engagements between forces of around 500 – 2,500 men (and often women) the game emphasises the tactical concerns of command, company resolve, terrain, weather & disease. With a game scale set at around 1:25, the basic unit is the company of around 50-150 men, manifested as 2-6 figures based together on a single stand.

Rather than focusing on the minutiae of individual casualties and armour based saving throws, the core game concept is based on the resolve of individual companies given their situation in the battlefield. For example, a company of skirmishing Tupi scouts (Amazonian Indians) might not suffer many casualties from being fired upon by a single cannon, but the psychological effects of large black-powder weapons on peoples unaccustomed to their use stand a good chance of bringing that company one step closer to scattering back into the rainforest. When a company’s resolve drops to much, it ceases to function as a tactical unit and removed from play, regardless of actual casualties.

A revised and expanded edition of the rules (v.1.5) is about to be released by Vexillia Ltd. on the 20th of April. Any players who purchased v.1.0 should be able to contact Vexillia and receive the revised version for £1.20 (UK and EU) or £1.00 (rest of the world). The purchase price for new players is £6.00 (UK and EU) or £5.00 (rest of the world). Interested gamers can check out some of the sample pages at the webstore to get a bit more of an idea of what how the game is presented <http://www.vexillia.ltd.uk/common/shop_books.html#19>.

2. What drew you to write your own ruleset(s) and why did you choose 15mm?

The germ which grew into Irregular Wars: Conflict at the World’s End was planted back in 2005. I was working in Northern Ireland and was doing a lot of reading about the wars of the Tudors in Ireland and the fierce Gaelic resistance to English expansion. Throughout it all, I always had questions running through the back of my mind about how these wars would be played out on the table. Sixteenth century battles in Ireland were fought between quite small forces except for one or two noteworthy exceptions (such as Kinsale in 1601). Not so small as to be played as skirmishes, but smaller than the scales facilitated by existing rules sets – the entire English occupying force of Ireland before the Nine Years War (1594-1603) was usually less than 3,000 men.

In addition, the details that we have of the campaigns seemed to involve a lot of guerrilla, hit-run-hide, tactics with engagements taking place across drumlins and bogland and in heavily wooded areas. Most wargames – reflecting most historical battles in the ancient, medieval and early modern periods – feature this sort of rough terrain as a side note, something around the fringe of the battle field. I wanted rules which placed the effective use of terrain as one of the keys to victory. So I started dabbling with ideas and jotting down notes until, a year or so later, I had something approaching a rules set.

 
Having prepared the core rules, I then started to let my eyes drift over various miniature ranges and kept finding 16th and 17th century colonial figures, Aztecs, buccaneers, samurai and the like and wishing I had a set of rules for them too. Then it hit me that I did. The principles of 16th century Irish warfare were fundamentally the same as other early colonial theatres which saw more regular or technologically advanced powers coming to grips with indigenous fighters. Thus Irregular Wars: Conflict at the World’s End was born.

The rules themselves are not scale specific. Because the basic game unit is the company, they would function equally well in 6mm or 25/8mm scales – or anywhere in between. My personal preference for 15mm figures is for a couple of reasons. Although I am decent enough at painting, I am slow. Painfully slow. Even given a (rare) whole day in which to sit down and paint, I’d be lucky to get one or two 28mm figures finished. In addition, I am time poor, I have a day job, an infant son and a wife who, while she indulges my hobby, would still like us to spend time as a family. However, I can get maybe nine or ten 15mm figures painted on those rare painting days, so that is a considerable bonus.

I am also space poor (smaller figures equal less storage space and less table space), and more generally, I am just poor (smaller figures are cheaper!). So you see, entirely personal reasons really. All of that said, the scale of Irregular Wars means that the gamer does not require too much space to build a couple armies (called ‘battles’ in the game). My Colonial Spanish battle has 62 figures all told including a cannon and two mastiffs. My Hollanders only have 45 figures and my Caribbean Indians just 41. The battle sizes should make the purchase, painting and basing of entire forces relatively quick and easy on the hip pocket. Even at 28mm scale, the creation of an Irregular Wars battle is not too great an undertaking – the same as building just two or three units for some other popular games.


3. Why did you choose Historical gaming over (what I see as the more popular) Sci-Fi or Fantasy genres when you wrote your ruleset?

My first miniatures were 25mm Napoleonics – I was reading the likes of C. S. Forester and Bernard Cornwell far too young. As I have said, I have played a few fantasy and sci-fi games in the past, currently I am loving SBH by Ganesha Games (my time poor/space poor/money poor cheap streak shines through again) but I’ve always come back to historical wargaming.

I guess that being an archaeologist with certain leanings towards the Greco-Roman world, I’m also an advocate of the proverb that truth is often stranger than fiction. When you read the likes of Plutarch or Suetonius you realise that so many larger than life characters have populated history and steered the course of empires that fantasy often pales in comparison.

That said, there are also a number of really fun and/or good-looking fantasy games out there. Why go to the effort of developing one if it will only compete in a market that is already budding with good ideas. I am under no misconceptions that Irregular Wars: Conflict at the World’s End will make me enough money to live off, but it fills a niche that other products do not cover.

4. What advice would you give a budding games writer, especially one interested in historical gaming?

i) Research, research and research. Read a lot first, both the history of your chosen period, and also other rules sets. When reading up on the history, delve beyond your Osprey guides (don’t get me wrong, they are a great introduction) and look at some of the primary accounts. So much of popular history is presented as follows: “This is a fact. I know it is a fact because I’m an historian. You know it is a fact because I just told you.” It is not really going to be good enough if you are trying to develop a game that people will spend time and money investing in. You need to find out the origin of the so-called facts before you include them in your games.

ii) Be original. Don’t just copy or adapt the core mechanics of other sets. If you want to set yourself apart and produce a new product, make sure that it is a new product. The way that command and control of companies is structures, and the resolve loss system, are both unique in Irregular Wars. As a result, the mechanics produce a fresh gaming experience.

ii) Play test. I had people around the world playing early manifestations of Irregular Wars for a good year or two before an official version was published by Vexillia. The feedback of other gamers is essential as they will play the game differently from the way you do as the developer.

iii) Entertain other peoples suggestions. Be open to criticism and suggestions that might make your game better. After all, if you doggedly produce something which nobody else is willing to play, what was the point?


5. What would you say is the hardest thing about getting a Wargame “out there”?

There are a lot of bespoke wargames out there, many are free to download off the internet, many are not. I suppose the challenge which I saw was the greatest was building a visible profile without spending too much money. When the game was first developed I couldn’t afford advertising but I am lucky that I was able to build up a small following of wargamers who were prepared to try the game and engage with me in making it better. This helped to create a small but visible web presence; the first step to getting out ‘there’ in the scary world or actual consumers and gamers.

6. A fair amount of history is theoretical and sometimes pure guesswork. What difficulties have you faced with this? I imagine you have had disputes with people about historical accuracy etc.?

Yes and no. There is a lot of guesswork involved, especially when working out the proportions of different company types in the battle lists. As a foil to this, for the more obscure nations (in my mind) I have had a fair bit of engagement with the gaming community at large about what troops should be present and then more reading to work out how they might function at the scale of the game.

I haven’t yet had any disputes that weren’t resolved in a gentlemanly manner. I also am a champion of the attitude that says if a player wishes to make a change in the battle lists and their opponent agrees, go right a head. I’ve even provided a list of generic company types for people to include in their battles if they feel I have missed something.

I still refuse to include zombie pirates though. Refuse! (Boo!-James)


7. Have you created your own miniature line? or can you recommend a specific line for use in Historical gaming?

I haven’t developed a miniatures line. One of my pet peeves is the existence of gaming systems which suggest or clearly state that you need to use a specific line of miniatures.

There are a number of good brands out there which produce suitable miniatures for Irregular Wars. Perhaps my favourites (and the chaps which feature most on my tables) are produced by Vic Pocilujko at Grumpy Miniatures. In Australia these are available singly through Eureka Miniatures; in the UK, through East Riding Miniatures in packs. At 15mm scale, Grumpy produce all sorts, from Colonial Portuguese, to Cossacks, Indonesians, Afghans, Ming and Tupi, as well as buccaneers and Landsknechts. The figures are slightly more chunky than Essex miniatures, but of the same height.

Just about any manufacturer who produces 16th-17th century figures will have something appropriate for one of the nationalities featured in Irregular Wars, Essex, Khurasan, Peter Pig, Eureka, Legio Heroica, Old Glory, Museum, QRF, Tin soldier. There are lots out there, it’s just a matter of matching up brands so they look ok on the battlefield. My Irish and English are all Essex for instance, my other battles are a mix of Grumpy, Eureka, Museum and Essex.

8. Have you faced any difficulties related to artwork for your rulebook? Did you do it yourself or hire a pro?

To avoid any copyright problems, I did all the images in the rule book myself using my own miniatures, terrain, camera and a photo editing programme. There are a lot of nice images available in other books and the internet, but I didn’t want to wade through the issues of copyright permission or pay huge amounts for royalties.

9. What difficulties have you faced with the distribution of your ruleset?

Finding someone to go into partnership with to publish the game was a real concern of mine. I contacted several different companies to discuss the idea and the issues of sales, distribution, and royalties.

I never thought I would make a load of money off the game – I wanted to publish it purely to protect its copyright and the integrity of the game mechanics. However, different companies offered between as low as 7% or as high as 50% royalties from sales; there’s not a lot in that for a game which is only sold for a few pounds. I was very lucky when I made contact with Martin Stephenson at Vexillia – he has certainly been very helpful and supportive guiding the rules through its first year as a published game and in the work and assistance he provided in preparing the revised and expanded edition.
10. What have you found to be the hardest thing about getting your ruleset complete?

Ha! Is a ruleset ever complete? Almost from the moment the final proofs were approved for version 1.0, I started to have new ideas about slight tweaks and minor changes that might make the game mechanics a little tighter, or a little more unpredictable. Within a month of release we included an additional eight ‘chance’ cards (bringing the total to 32) which can be played through the game to represent random events such as heavy downpours turning good going into rough terrain, or the presence of a particularly virulent disease strain in the area of the battle.

As I mentioned earlier, we have just finished proofing version 1.5. The new changes will result in more randomised variability during deployment (companies being late or led by impetuous captains who lead them forward before the rest of the force is ready), the option for missions and scenarios such as ambushes, cattle thieving and raids on villages, and more battle lists – there are now 38 different nationalities or factions with slightly modified company behaviours and recruitment procedures.

I hope that these changes will been seen as advantageous to the game and look forward to hearing feedback from the community. It has certainly been a lot of fun play testing them – even if I do seem to lose four times out of five. I would like to think that the game is now a complete package.

It’s good to have the definitive version of Irregular Wars now off my desk and available to the gaming community. Next up I would like to work some more on a set of 16th century naval rules that I have been testing for some time. There is still a bit of work required to streamline the game, but hopefully it will be out soon (this year or next?) through Vexillia Ltd.


And there you have it! My thanks go to Nic for taking the time to answer my daft questions! I encourage you to check out what Nics rules have to offer as they seem an interesting ruleset.

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