Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Hive Probatious: Defend Against Pestilence

'All was darkness. Memories and dreams flew through Adelias mind as if a tempest was inside her mind. Her hard childhood learning to defend herself in the depths of Hive Probatious, improvising weapons until she joined the Eschers and was giving her first gun. Her father, who was an officer had started to lose his mind, and her mother had dragged them both away from the eyes of those who may question what he had fought and seen. The Inquisition will cleanse anyone who sees Chaos, and her father had seen much. He would often wake up shaking, murmouring of disgusting creatures that slowly stalked the battlefield, clouds of flies buzzing around their humanesque forms as smaller creatures would gather in great numbers playfully laughing and attacking the guardsmen. Sometimes he could not speak at all of what he had seen. Her thoughts began imagining large Astartes in armour that rotted, the smell of disease and filth strong and their relentless advance, firing boltguns and plasma wherever they pleased. With a jolt, Adelia shot up.'

Welcome all to a 2000 points battle report between the insidious Death Guard lead by none other than Typhus versus the gallant (yet slightly scummy) Hive Guard! First time using points and it worked out pretty well, managed to fit in a little more than I did in 100 power.  Deployment was a standard set up along the lengths of the board, I rolled and got first turn but Lewis seized the intiative! Darn it!

'Her vision was blurred, but she recognised her surroundings quickly. The dark ceiling and the low green lights of the command centre was now a familiar sight, a welcome one at that too. As her eyes started to focus she saw the crew of her Leman Russ battle tank to the side, all sat around a table sullenly drinking whatever was in their cups. "Awake I see. Bout fucking time" a gruff voice said. Her fellow Escher looked over to see her awake, as she looked to the side seeing Birim, his huge grey haired mohawk looking black from the battle but a smile on his face. "Wha... What happened?" Adelia asked. "One of those Death Guard bastards smashed your tank up, but its being fixed. Your girls are all fine apart from some scratches and smoke inhalation, but you got thrown out from an explosion on the main turret. Should be fine though. Massive bruise on your arse made all the lads laugh" he said joyfully. Then she felt the ache through her entire body, her arms were covered in scrapes and her backside throbbed, Birim wasn't lying. Ophelia, the driver of the Leman Russ, walked over and put her hand on Birims shoulder. "you alright sis?" she asked. Adelia let out a sigh, "I think so, medicae administered anything?" "Yeah" Birim replied. "Drink this and get up" he said handing her over his hip flask. Adelia had drank from his flask before and the liquid inside burned her throat. For once, it didn't feel unpleasent.'

Lewis commanded his forces forward quickly taking the two bastions with deep striking terminators right on the top. It took quite a while to get them out of there! My plasma executioner tank took a lot of damage early on and wasn't very effective but with how much damage it took it did its job! Autocannons vs Death Guard are pretty good though and even though it wasn't ordered it did well! Deffo keeping him around.  Those terminators though took out 2 squads of infantry, the damage to the tank and almost killed a sentinel. They got some bad ass weaponry!

"So some of us are alive, did we acheive the mission? Whats the casualties?" she wanted to know. Birim walked over to a desk where some people were discussing a hologram. He picked up a dataslate and walked back over, the red glow from the slate lighting his face up. "Pushed em back, made the fuckers pay. A lot of em are left lying face down in the dirt, though their stinking corpses probably like that. Ghronx went down, but hes not dead. Well not yet anyway. He still owes me 30 credits. We lost a few vehicles and about 40 men. Lot of repairs needed all being worked on. Some stupid bitch let a Marine slap her tank... oh yeah thats you." Birim snorted heartily under his breath. "We got em retreating and whatever they were after we don't think they got. Beat em to some of the supplies so we should be good until reinforcements." Adelia swung her legs over the side of the bed, taking a moment to stretch. "Who did we lose?" Birim looked up at her solemnly. "Most of my boys are gone, some are wounded pretty bad but that won't stop em from getting stuck back in if needed. A lot of your lasses are wounded too, not sure how many dead. Them Goliaths seem ok but the Defence Force squads lost a lot too. Reinforcements are hopefully coming in soon." Adelias experience of gang warfare was that you might lose a couple of comrades during a skirmish, but war brought loss to a whole new level."

Objective wise it was a close battle, I managed to get a few early on but Lewis kept close too. I'd edge forward by a couple then he'd catch up, and coming towards the end of the game he had just pushed ahead by a point.  I love how the objectives keep you guessing what you need to do. The best example, was me having to advance all my forces out of my deployment zone, which I manmaged to do and then on Lewis' turn he had to move 4 of his units back to defend his deployment zone. Narratively after his slow grinding advance I rushed forward and took him by surpise forcing him back. We loved that moment! My Vendetta took out the Plague Drone which was the scariest unit for me as it could surge forward with flamers and tie up valuable units. It had to go! 6 Lascannons worked haha.

'Memories of the battle started flooding back. Part of the mission had been to reclaim two old Bastions, but the enemy had managed to somehow teleport straight on top and the firepower from them took a toll on the defenders lines. Eventually they were cleared and one of the Astropaths had made it into one, the information claimed potentially being valuable. She remembered a smoking Vendetta gunship screaming around, its Lascannons blazing bright lights across the sky before it was struck and tumbled to the ground. The Death Guards flanks seemed to have been pushed back, but the middle had been the problem. Adelia suddenly remembered the masked Astarte that had strode forward over the bodies of friends and foes alike and struck at her tank with force she never knew one person could wield. After that, she could remember nothing. "Ghronx is in the medicae if you wanna go see him, along with the more badly wounded" Birim mentioned. As she set her feet on the floor, pain stung up her legs and her back. Her first couple of steps were uneasy, but the pain wasn't an alien feeling. "Best go see how the horny bastard is then" Adelia said as she walked away.'

These Death Guard Plaguebursters are brutal. Lewis has informed me hes getting more to add to the two he already has and I am worried! We had a little Callidus vs Typhus action (eventually, we kept forgetting we had them in reserves!) and I was gutted the Assassin didn't do more damage. Damn Chaos Psyker of filth!

My commander fell to a Plaguecaster, who then went into my command tank and finished it off. That was brutal! He then fell to lasgun and plasma gun fire from some infantry and the Goliath Veterans. Typhus had moved forward to try and contest an objective but I was able to slow him down enough before he could add his considerable weight to the fight. 

'She saw Aldreyus to one side, who was talking to the Astropath she had seen with the Goliaths before. A Ratskin shamen was also present, although he seemed distantly in thought elsewhere. She nodded at the Primaris Psyker who noticed her. "Ah Adelia, you're up and ok. It is a blessing to the Emperor that you are well". "Yeah I'm pretty happy about it. Although death means a good sleep" she replied. "Oh dear, thats not good... Oh I see! A joke! Ha I like that one!" he proclaimed as Adelia rolled her eyes walking past the old man. A few corridors along she came to the medicae. Some of it had been shut off, some illness had been caught by a couple of guardsmen although it seemed to be contained. She walked into the area and could see Ghronx's body lying on a bed, a couple of machines seemed to be hooked up to him. A man in civilian clothing bar an apron walked over to her, giving her a courteous nod. "Adelia I believe?" Adelia nodded, "Yeah, hows he doing?" "Not great, I'm afraid. He was found unconscious but barely breathing, we're hoping we can stablize him." the man said. "And you are?" Adelia asked. "Claus, I'm the medic here. Well sort of, not offcially but I've had some training. Not military grade training but just down in the Hive." he explained. "Good to have you here Claus. Hows my girls doing?" Claus checked his dataslate and scrolled through the hologram. " out of the 17 casualties, 4 were dead on the battlefield, and we lost another 3 since. The others should be alright to some level however." Adelia felt relieved that more were not lost, and patted the balding Claus on the back. "Appreciated Claus. Let me know if Ghronx wakes up." "Will do maam" replied the medic as he walked off to attend some of the wounded. Adelia had never been called that before, and it took her off guard. She thought back to her father and how he was an officer, and it seemed she would follow in his footsteps. 'Lets just hope I don't go crazy and see the shit he saw' she thought to herself.'

So tose Death Guards are brutal. Armour saves then extra saves on top of those on a 5+, they are hard to put down! I'm glad they're not cheap to bring too because facing a horde of them would make me cry. Well cry because of the challenge brought by the emperor of course... Ahem. 

A great game, I hope you enjoy the story I wrote too. Fancied doing it from a different perspective and theres probably a lot of mistakes but its all good. 

Whats next for the defenders of Probatious Hive? One thing is certain, there is always war!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

AS vs SW/BA 400 Power BatRep!

Welcome to the first Batrep in a while, a battle between Imperial factions no less. One consisting of 200 power of Astra Militarum commanded by myself and Mark, the other army a 100 power Blood Angels force commanded by Lewis with a 100 power Space Wolves detachment led by Adam aka Fuzz. It had been a little while since we played so we kept it reasonably simple with 6 objectives and drawing upto three cards a turn per side. Secondary objectives as usual, line breaker, slay the warlord and first blood. 

"Howls cried in the distance as the mist began to clear from the nights embrace. Morale was low, although the Cadian 193rd had tried their best to get the hive gangs spirit lifted in what would probably be the moment they meet death. Their home, Hive Probatious, had been obliterated by a crashed starship and the onsuing battles that came afterwards. Sightings of everything had been seen, from multilimbed aliens to power armoured giants and even green skins. War had come to the world of Corbel and what was left had to fight back to survive. Many of the gangs had fallen but each house still had some strength. Adelia's father had once been an officer in the Corbel Tank Regiment and his stories were better than any school for Adelia. The hum of the engines of this Leman Russ she now commanded made her feel comfortable, as if her father was at her side. She took a glance at the dataslate and could see the defences were all in place. The Escher had found an old factory and apprehended some Leman Russ tanks, a couple Chimera APCS and given the Goliath gang that still stood, aptly, a Goliath truck. The Cadians who stood with them also had several of their own tanks, more Leman Russ, Taurox and even a couple of the Basilish with their huge Earthshaker cannons. Hope filled Adelia that survival could be a possibility, until she heard the howls again. "


"The sun never shone that brightly on Corbel but with Give Probatious in ruins its rays crashed through the dome ceilings, bringing more light into what was left of the hive than it had ever seen. 'Defenders of Corbel, death is imminent, but what we take with us is not an option. You may face the most elite and fearsome enemies today but you shall stand and you shall fight". Adelia listened as Commander Creed took to the vox. She looked around as his voice filtered through, the infantry standing on edge taking some level of courage from Creeds inspiring words. "Your homeworld burns around you, but your spirits must burn like an inferno if we are to walk away with victory. Stand for your homeworld and your Emperor shall stand with you!" Cheers went up all around the lines as Creeds message hit home. 'So we're gonna die' said Ophelia, the driver of Adelias Leman Russ. 'Probably, but we have plenty of guns to try and kill them with, lets pound at least some of them into death before we get fucked up' Adelia replied. The vox flared again, and the ruff voice of Ghrox came into life. 'You heard this Creed, we aint got much chance of seeing this day through but we get to kill some of them Astartes bastards. Why they attack we dunno, but we make em pay.' The abhuman was a strange one Adeila was sure, but as different as he looked there was no doubt he was one fo them. A horned beast like head whose mouth always had a cigar smoking from it, Ghronx was a bounty hunter in the Underhive before the war came and had now become a leader of sorts in the defence force. Birim, one of the few Demiurgs had also become a figure of command and both were capable fighters she'd seen. "

I was using my hive gang guard for the first time, and had managed to get together a brigade to give our side 9 command points giving us 18 in total. Obviously we had to take the trait and relic that let us regain or steal command points. The armies were faced were much smaller but very elite. Adams Wulfen and Thunderwolf cavalry were scary, whereas Lewis' Terminators could hit us from anywhere via deepstrike and Land Raiders are always hard to damage. 

After both armies had deployed the BA/SW combo won the right to go first. I rolled to seize and rolled a 3. To command point or not? Ah go on, we had 18 command points to use so why not. What did I roll? Lets just say some Leman Russ tanks lumbered forward to get the first shots in! I rolled a six!

We managed to get first blood after the Hellhound burnt up some wolves but to be fair out first turn wasn't the most effective. Now we had some scary Astartes coming at us!

"Her thoughts started to shift to all the people standing with her. Aldreyus the Psyker, whom many still took wide berth of, his powers had saved many of her fellow Eschers and despite his dangerous skills they happily stood with him. Commissar Graven was a very old man as war had come to Corbel but had taken up his bolt pistol and uniform again after being saved by some of the local troops. Birim had got the last of the Demiurg on Corbel together and they hunched together in their Chimera ready to take the fight to the enemies wherever they need to be. The Goliaths had taken an astropath called Nelsium amongst them, their attempts to persuade some local Ogryns to the cause had failed however. The howls started to sound louder as the mist had almost cleared. Adelia realised that battle was upon them as the Cadian tanks engines roared into life, drowning out the wolves. The defences turned to offence, as the Cadian forces lurched forward cannons erupting towards the grey and red lines that opposed the defenders. The enemy opposite Adelias lines began advancing, and the battlefield lit up. Lasers streaked across the battlefield, cannon shells tore holes in both lines. A massively large giant lumbered towards the lines surrouded by huge wolves, warriors in both grey and red armour accompanying it. The Goliaths and one of Adeilas Escher gangs rode forwards in their APC's, autocannons blazing away at the lines but only killing the wolves. It would silence some of the fucking howling she thought as she commanded another tank to concentrate fire where Cadians were firing"

Fuzz'es Wulfen were slicing through a lot of Marks units on the right, but our tanks were making them pay. Logan Grimnar found his wounds cut down quickly but as he made it to combat it was hard to finish him off. The thunderwolf cavalry scared us a lot too, but we were slowly able to push them back.

"Reports on the right flank were that the grey armoured Astartes were advancing with great speed, some like bestial demons leapin forward with great speed, raking the Cadians tanks with claws and axes butchering the troops inside the Taurox. Others rode the backs of massive wolves, pistols firing wildly into the allies lines as they too tried to close the lines and wreak havoc with their own axes and thunder hammers. As Adelias Leman Russ fired she glanced out of the cupola to see the air shimmer and buzz, before 5 huge armoured marines appeared. 'Fucking terminators!' she cursed as they storm forward into the local defence troops, lightning claws tearing their bodes apart and hammers collpasing skulls. Just as Adelia was beginning to lose hope Birim and his fellow Squats disembarked and unleashed a fusilade intot he terminators alongside more of Adeilas fellow eschers. 3 fell as hundreds of lasgun shots bounced of their armoud. Aldreyus concentraded and from his hand another Terminator fell as energy surrounded it and made its armour collapse. One remained however and with a pack of wolves that had sprinted towards the defenders lines smashed its hammer into the Leman Russ Exterminator whos autocannons and heavy bolters had taken its toll on the enemy. The explosion took out most of the wolves, a few of the Demiurg were caught and even a sentinel looked to take some damage from the blow."

Marks lone Cadian sergeant surviving against all odds! Those odds don't include those terminators though that sluaghtered him

After a few of my infantry units and the Veteran Goliaths were able to take down Lewis' Terminator Captain I got duly charged by Bjorn. The battle ended before he did more damage thankfully but I did lose a few transports and a sentinel to him and a couple of meltaguns held by accompanying troops. 

After racing out to a 9 point lead in the first two turns our objectives became dry with some difficult ones to attempt. Make the Astartes fail morale and defend 2 objectives for two turns. Both were too far away! The Blood Angels and Space Wolves clawed their way back and on Turn five it was 10-9 to the Astartes. 

As turn 5 finished the Astra Miliatrum had managed to collect 11 points to the Astartes 13. It was a close game and if we'd have remembered a couple of things then who knows. Either way we had a cracking game! The amount of tanks that blew up was astounding despite sixes being needed and did a lot of damage. 

"The left flank however did seem to be keeping together, although the huge grey Dreadnought still advanced, with 5 of its smaller brethren and five of the blood red troops too. Another Terminator teleported nearby, this time one that looked to be a commander, its armour more ornate than the others that had come into play just moments earlier. Once more Commander Creed took to the vox. 'The Emperor will protect, the Emperor inspires, whatever is sent to destroy us will ultimately fail as our faith shall never fall!' Seconds later Commander Creed was dead, wolf like warriors tearing him and his command squad apart in an attack down the right flank. Scions had been killed, and the Basilisks were now being stalked. One of Adelias Leman Russ tanks had been charged by the wolf cavalry, but survived and reversed as the Executioner Leman Russ behind it levelled its weapons dropping some of them dead. A couple more died from the Cadian firepower, as a wolf pulled chariot that hovered above the ground flew foward into the Cadian lines butchering more of the guardsmen. More vox chatter came in, the Goliath gangers had levelled the Terminator Captain with some of the other troops on the left, but the Eschers nearby were torn apart by the Dreadnought. The red armoured troops had taken down more of the infantry but had also almost been wiped out by chimeras. The centre seemed to be holding but both flanks were collapsing. One of the Basilisks blew up, taking some of the enemy with it but it gave little solace. Wolf cavalry was wiped out by a combination of Leman Russ fire and infantry squads, and the wolf chariot was also blown out of the sky which seemed to anger and confuse the wolfen forces even more. Adelias tank fired again taking more of the red astartes down, but the battle was over. Both forces had taken a pummelling, the Cadian lines were almost wiped out, the Goliaths barely surviving. One of the Escher gangs had been wiped out and only half the Demiurg were left. The Astartes had suffered too, but whatever their mission it seemed to have been fulfilled. The rocky outcrop in the middle of the battlefield seemed to be a point of interest to the Astartes and Adelia could only hope it wouldn't be the end of their world. For now, the defence would rage on."

So my first outing with the Imperial Guard was a very enjoyable one! Compared to Space Marines they are a lot more varied in how well dice rolls do, as you're 50/50 compared to most Space Marine rolls where its 70/30. When you get those good rolls by Emperor you appreciate them! I can't wait to get more games in with them. I'm planning on a box or two of Orlocks to upgrade soe of my infantry, I love the Squat infantry but the models just don't fit in. I'll keep them around if needed but they will probably become retired in time, especially as new gangs are released for Necromunda. 

What else to add? I think a couple of heavy weapon units would be useful, and I'd like to try out my Vendetta and Stormlord at some point too just to see how they are in a game. I just love Leman Russ tanks though! I have another two to get painted up which will give me 5 plus the Tank Commander. The sentinels disappointed me although they were my most recent purchase so wasn't surprised. Psykers are fantastic, the power giving you +1 save was especially useful in cover to make my goliath veterans much more survivable. 

Hopefully my next game is soon to try out more combinations and remember those bloody stratagems! More soon on all the Necromunda info coming out of the HH Necromunda weekender with thoughts, hopes and holy Emperor fantasies for the game!

The fiction bit was written by myself and is probably terrible. Its been a while so I hope you weren't expecting much!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Interview: James M Hewitt

James M Hewitt is the man behind Needy Cat Games and certainly a veteran of the games design scene. From his work with Mantic and Games Workshop working on games such as Dreadball, Necromunda and Blood Bowl, James has now gone freelance under Needy Cat Games where his valued skills can be hired. Being a huge fan of much of his work I was honoured to be able to ask him some questions! 

First of all, thank you for your time in answering some questions! What got you into the tabletop hobby initially?
Good question! Like a lot of people, it was a slippery slope. I was lucky enough to be more-or-less the right age when Hero Quest came out, and my dad picked it up for me for my birthday. I think I was only five or six, but it absolutely grabbed my imagination – suddenly, there was this whole world of heroes and monsters and swords and magic, and there was a board game that was intricate and complicated but so deep and interesting. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I was way younger than the recommended age, but I was already a big reader, and I got right into it. I’ve still got that copy up in the loft, loads of character sheets filled out with tiny-James writing (or the sheets I made my dad fill out when I forced him to play with me – “Dad the Barbarian”, that sort of thing). I got Space Crusade, too, when it came out a couple of years later. Problem was, I didn’t have any friends who were interested in playing, so the games ended up going on the shelf after a while, and it wasn’t until several years later when a copy of White Dwarf magazine was being passed around at school (issue 169, with the infamous card bunkers) when I remembered how much I’d loved it all, and a lifelong love was reborn. The first WD I bought was 174, when the Death Zone supplement for Blood Bowl was released, and I’ve still got it. One of the most exciting pages was the catalogue at the back with its Mail Order form, which I filled in with gusto even though I never sent it off – in fact, here, have a photo!

I didn’t know what a codex was, but at a tenner it was one of the cheapest things available. The Razorback ended up being the first kit I actually bought, and I’ve still got it – painfully daubed in thick enamel paint, the detail straining to be seen. I got the Ork Dreadnought too, but the Eldar bits never quite materialised.
So yeah, that’s how I got started in the tabletop hobby in a rather rambly nutshell. 

What games would you list as your absolute favourites?
Ooh, now, there’s a question. In recent years I’ve been doing a lot more board gaming than wargaming – I’ve got a two-year-old who makes it very difficult to find time to build and paint armies, and I’ve been dealing with a bit of what I think might be carpal tunnel syndrome, which has meant I can’t hold a paintbrush for more than half an hour without my wrist aching (insert jokes here, everyone). That said, Mordheim’s got to be up there somewhere – it was basically Necromunda 2.0 but in an incredibly compelling setting. I think a lot of the weirdness that came to the fore in Warhammer’s later years can be attributed to Mordheim.
Other games I love include a board game called Stronghold (it’s a two-player siege simulator, little wooden cubes everywhere but incredibly tense and rewarding), Netrunner (a fantastic asymmetrical card game from Fantasy Flight, which has got away from me a bit in recent years but which I still adore), Blades in the Dark (a tabletop roleplaying game which does some very clever things indeed and is another example of a fantastic setting) and Galaxy Trucker (a game about building rickety spaceships out of parts and racing them around space… this is the game that convinced me you can write humour into rulebooks). 

That’s by no means an exhaustive list, but off the top of my head it’ll do. It’s a bit like asking a parent to name their favourite child. Ask me again in a month and you’ll get all new answers!

Following on from fave games, what about your favourite games mechanics that you've played and written?
Ooh! Great question. I mentioned Stronghold a minute ago – one of the cleverest mechanics in that game is its resource management and asymmetry. When you’re the attacker, the turn is broken into a number of stages. In the first stage, you gather resources; in the second you build catapults and other siege equipment; in the next stage you outfit your troops; and so on. However, each thing you do gives a ‘time’ token to the defender, and after each stage they get to spend those tokens on doing anything they like within the castle walls. So you have this delicious decision to make, as the attacker – do you spend time preparing, giving yourself better odds of getting over the wall and winning the game, or do you rush the walls as quickly as possible, knowing that the defender won’t have much time to react? The game’s full of little decisions like that, all of which add up to a really visceral experience. Seriously, look it up and give it a go!
As for mechanics I’ve written… I think Gorechosen is one of my favourite designs, because it’s so pure. It was written to first draft in about a week and a half, which is insanely quick, but that’s because the brief was so simple - it’s a pit-fighting game, with a bunch of Khornate champions. I wanted to put emphasis on movement and positioning (I’ve played a few pit fighting games that are just “roll dice until someone’s dead”, which is dull as anything) and I’m dead chuffed with the way the “Kill Zones” do this. For anyone who hasn’t played the game, it’s based on a hex grid, and each character has certain hexes which it can target. For example, one character just has short-ranged hand weapons, so they can target the three hexes in their front arc, while another character has a big anvil on a chain, so he’s most effective when he’s a couple of squares away. It means characters are always jostling for position, trying to get their enemy in their sweet spot while avoiding the opposite from happening. It makes the game pretty tense, and I like that!
When did you decide you wanted to break into games design, and how did you go about this process?
Great question, and I’m not entirely sure! Throughout school, whatever I was playing, I was usually the one reading the rulebooks and teaching people how things worked. When I was twelve or thirteen I teamed up with my mate Oli and wrote a load of extra rules for 40k, including some stuff that covered fighting in tunnels (which I think was because we had a copy of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, with its paper dungeon map, and we wanted to put it to use). This evolved into us having a stab at writing a couple of games from scratch when we were fifteen or sixteen, and I actually sent one off to Games Workshop to see if they’d publish it (ahh, youth). I’ve still got the very polite letter from Andy Chambers saying “thanks but no thanks”.
I left school and half-heartedly started a degree in Linguistics, but my heart wasn’t in it, and I dropped out after a term. I moved back home and realised I needed a job, so I applied to the local Games Workshop store (Maidstone in Kent). Gary, the store manager (who was there when I was a kid, and is still there to this day – I’m half convinced that the shop, possibly even the town itself, was built around him) took me for an interview in the local pub, because times were different then, and asked me what my eventual goal was in working there. I remember saying that one day I wanted to write games for a living. I’m not sure if I ever thought it would happen!
I ended up spending the next decade working in GW retail, where I learned a hell of a lot about what gamers like, what works, what doesn’t, how to run campaigns, and so on. And, of course, I got to know a lot of people who ended up rising through the ranks and getting into the games industry; I can think of half a dozen games companies off the top of my head who are managed (or, at the very least, staffed) by people I was a retail store manager with. Eventually, when I was sick of retail hours, I was lucky enough to get offered some writing work. One of my old area managers was working for Mantic, who were looking for someone to write a sci-fi sports game. He knew I was keen, he put me in touch, and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ever since!

While at Mantic, the company seemed to take off with a lot of success. What were the key factors during that period and what was it like being part of the company as Mantic grew?
It was a real period of growth. I joined the company properly between the DreadBall and Deadzone Kickstarters; DreadBall had made a frankly insane amount of money (Kickstarter was new, and Mantic was one of the first tabletop games companies to really take advantage) and Ronnie was really keen to invest in the company’s future. When I joined, I think there were about twelve staff – but within a year it was about twice that. Suddenly there was an in-house painter, a sculptor, a graphic designer, a full-time photographer, I was doing community management but also writing and editing… it was a really exciting time. We all had a load of creative input into anything that got made. We hit a lot of hurdles, and I worked more hours than any healthy person should work, but it was such a rewarding experience, and I learned so much. These days there are even more staff there, and more levels of seniority – if I’d stayed, who knows how high up the ladder I’d be now?
When Games Workshop announced the return of Specialist Games, the community welcomed the decision with open arms. What was it like moving to GW and having the opportunity to work on some classic cult games? The reboot of Blood Bowl seems to have gone down incredibly well, it was the game that got me into tabletop gaming and I absolutely love the new edition. Necromunda too seems to be following suit.
I initially went from Mantic to Games Workshop because, even though there were little opportunities to be involved in game design while I was at Mantic, I really wanted to be able to sink my teeth into some big projects. Of course, that was a couple of years before Specialist Games was announced, and I was part of the main Citadel Rules Team – that’s the guys responsible for 40k, Age of Sigmar, anything big and shiny that uses the main range models. As such, I didn’t touch any classic cult games for quite a while! That said, I did get to make Warhammer Quest: Silver Tower, which was sort of like revitalising a classic. Interestingly, when I was first briefed, it didn’t have the Warhammer Quest name attached to it – it was going to just be a Tzeentch themed dungeon crawler – but regardless of what was on the box, I knew it had to measure up to WQ. After all, when GW puts out a dungeon crawler, what are people immediately going to compare it to? 

For me, though, it was a delight. Warhammer Quest was one of my favourite games growing up, and the specialist games always held a place in my heart. I never had too much to spend on wargaming, so big armies were often a challenge, which meant I focussed more on Necromunda, Mordheim and Inquisitor. I didn’t get into Blood Bowl until I was in my twenties, but once I did I knew how special it was. So when Specialist Games was announced, I got very excited and decided to apply for whatever roles came up. Sure enough I got the job, and had a great time reimagining the games I’d loved so much in my youth. 
Having worked on some of the boxed games, what challenges did you face taking wargames that are normally quite large scale battles into a board game setting?
With a tabletop wargame like Warhammer 40,000, the rules are huge in scope – they have to be, in order to cover the wide range of factions, models and settings. Unfortunately that means that, to a degree, they have to be quite homogenous. There’s a lot of abstraction, and a lot of detail is omitted to keep the game flowing smoothly. By comparison, each standalone boxed game is a chance to zoom right in and look at a faction, or even just some particular models, in great detail. Take Assassinorum: Execution Force, for example (I didn’t design it, but I was part of the team that was involved in its production). In 40k, Assassins are deadly dangerous characters who excel at killing enemy models in a particular way, but there are limits to how you can portray that. When you think of the kind of stories you see in the narrative about assassins, they do a lot of their fighting away from the battlefield. You can’t see that in a 40k game, but in that boxed game there was the chance to build the game mechanics around the idea of being sneaky and stealthy, taking down guards and acting as a team of very specialised individuals to achieve a goal. That’s the other thing you can’t do in 40k – the nature of the game is that it’s adversarial, two (or more) players in direct opposition, but with Execution Force or Silver Tower you’re working together against the game, which is a very different player experience. 
So that’s the goodpart, but you asked about the challenges! Betrayal at Calth is a good example to use. It was the first time GW had released plastic Horus Heresy era Marines, which meant it was going to fly off the shelves. This had a few consequences. First up, I had a bit of pressure from above to not worry too much about the design of the game – “it’ll sell either way, so there’s no need to make the game fantastic”. While I can see the financial / workflow benefit in spending only a week on the design rather than a couple of months, I still really struggle with producing something half-hearted. That was the first challenge, definitely – if I’d been designing a pure board game, which didn’t use miniatures from an existing range, that wouldn’t have been an issue! Another related challenge was the fact that we knew a lot of customers were going to be ignoring the game components completely, but some were going to want to play the game but then add the minis to their army. That influenced the game design – as the miniatures were multi-part kits with several different weapon options, we didn’t want to say “you must build the Ultramarines squad with a flamer and a missile launcher if you want to play the game” as that could easily clash with what the player wanted to put into their army. This led to the idea that all weapons are pretty much equal in that game – boltguns were the default, but they couldn’t be boring or useless! The idea was that you could put your squad together however you like, and it would just influence your strategy rather than making it easier or harder to do well in the game.

So yeah, there were plenty of challenges! But challenges often lead to better design. It would have been dead easy to say “boltguns don’t have any special rules”, which would have been lame when two thirds of your models are exclusively equipped with them. It’s actually influenced the way I work now; I tend to set myself artificial limitations, so I challenge my assumptions about my own designs and the end product hopefully ends up better. We’ll see if that works!

You have since left Games Workshop and gone freelance. What are your aspirations for Needy Cat Games?
So far, I’ve been doing lots of freelance work for other companies. Business is good, I’m getting to work with several old friends I’ve known for a long time as well as making some great new contacts – it’s good to be busy! However, eventually, I’d like to be publishing my own games, expanding the “studio” and getting some staff in (if nothing else, maybe a junior game designer to help with the workload!). The industry’s in a great place for that kind of thing, with little studios popping up left, right and centre, and crowdfunding makes it a real possibility. I’m lucky enough to be able to say I’m supporting my family with my work, which is a great feeling, but I’m not quite at the point where things are comfortable enough to not have the occasional worry. That’s the real dream, isn’t it? Doing what you love, and making enough money not to worry about the bills. One day!
What would be the one game you would love to create, if money was no boundary? Would it be based on an already existing IP? Would you want to create a world from the ground up?
Much as I love wargames, I’ve got a real hankering to work on something more abstract. I’m a big fan of Euro-style board games – little wooden cubes, serious faces all round, multiple paths to victory, all that – and I’d love to really sink my teeth into designing one of those. I think it’s human nature, isn’t it? You spend a few years working on one thing and it just makes you want to work on something that’s entirely the opposite! 

There are a few topics I’d love to cover in games, though. Zulu was one of my favourite films growing up, but I’ve not seen a self-contained board game that doesn’t approach it in a really dry, painfully-historically-accurate fashion. I’d love to take a more cinematic approach to it!  

If you had to recommend 3 games of any kind to a budding games designer to play and learn from, what would you suggest?
 Oh blimey. Good question! The first thing I’d suggest is “hey, there’s no way you’re gonna learn enough from three games, so this is just a starting point!” Then I’d tell them to play three games that will challenge their assumptions, because if they want to design games they almost certainly already play them, and they’ll have a lot of ideas about what designing a game means. I’d start with Hanabi.
If you’ve not encountered it, Hanabi is a little card game about putting on a fireworks display, but the theme’s barely relevant beyond an excuse for pretty pictures on the cards. Mechanically it’s dead simple – there’s a deck of cards, containing five sets of cards (red, yellow, white, green, blue). Each set contains cards numbered 1 to 5. Players each get a hand of cards and on their turn they can play a card from their hand to the centre of the table – with the group as a whole attempting to complete a full 1-5 run of each colour. So, if White 1 is on the table, you could play White 2.
So far, so pedestrian, yeah? This could be any number of basic play-it-with-your-nan-on-a-caravan-holiday card games. But there are two twists…
1.    If you play a card out of order – in the example above, you play White 1, 3, 4 or 5 – the players collectively lose a life. Three lives and it’s game over.
2.    You hold your hand of cards backwards, so you can only see the backs. At no point are you allowed to look at the cards in your hand. Any cards you play are played blind – you don’t see what they are until after you’ve played them. Argh! Clever! 
 Basically, when it’s your turn you can either tell someone limited information about the cards in their hand, you can play a card from your hand, or you can discard one. It becomes an exercise in both memory and teamwork, and is a frankly brilliant bit of design innovation. Yeah, there are some holes, and you can only play it so many times before you start figuring out an obvious winning strategy, but I’d definitely suggest Hanabi as a game to play if you want to learn about challenging your assumptions about a design (things like “when you hold a hand of cards, you can see what they are”). 

Next up is a big one – Pandemic Legacy. This has been covered to death elsewhere (check out Shut Up & Sit Down’s spoiler-free review), but in short it’s a game which has a limited number of plays in it. You’re a bunch of experts trying to stop a series of deadly viruses from wiping out the world, and you play through one year. Each month features up to two games, meaning you’ll only play the game between 12 and 24 times… but each game you play has irreversible consequences on the next. You’ll be tearing up cards, drawing on the board, sticking stickers to things, opening sealed boxes and finding new components… it’s fantastic. Again, it challenges an assumption – this time, that when you put away a game at the end of a session it’s the same as it was when you took it out – but it also teaches some good lessons about economical storytelling and how to evoke emotional responses from players through clever use of components. 

Finally, I’d get them to play Captain Sonar, if they can find seven other people to play with! Two teams of four are each in control of a submarine, and they’re hunting each other across a Battleship-style map grid. Everyone has their own responsibilities – one player shouting directions, another player loading torpedoes, and so on – and in one of my most favourite bits, each team has a ‘radio operator’ whose job it is to track the other sub’s shouted directions, plotting a course on a sheet of acetate until they think they know where the enemy might be. Oh, and again, there’s a twist – the game is played in real-time. No turns, no order, just madness as eight players talk over each other, captains sweating bullets as they can tell the other team are getting closer to figuring out where they are… until someone shouts FIRE and it all stops so you can work out if anyone got hit. It’s a good game for breaking assumptions about how players interact – the real-time nature of the game, as well as the way you’re listening in on what the other team’s saying, made this game really stand out when it was released.
There you go, I managed to think of three games. But there are so many more! My biggest piece of advice to aspiring designers is always to play as many games as possible. This is especially true of wargames designers – you might not realise it, but board games have a lot to borrow from! If you restrict yourself to only playing what other designers in your field have designed, you’re much less likely to innovate.
 Thank you very much for answering if theres anything else you'd like to say or give a brief description on Needy Cat Games then please feel free!
Thank you for letting me ramble on! All I’ll say is that you can find out more about NGC by visiting www.needycatgames.com, and if you are looking at designing your own games I offer an affordable consultancy / guidance service for new designers and indie startups. Drop me a line!
Huge thank you to Mr Hewitt for taking the time to answer these questions, that we both started with issue 174 White Dwarf is crazy! Again, for any more info www.needycatgames.com
is your place to visit if you want to know what James is currently doing or if you'd like to talk to him about helping develop games! 

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Specialist Games Progress: Human Team and Goliaths

So following on from yesterdays progress on my 40k collection todays post is all Specialist Games! First up are my Ostermark Oracles human Blood Bowl team!

 First are three of my four Blitzers, all slightly converted with pistolier heads from the Empire AoS range and some slight tweaks to arms to give some different poses.

What team doesn't have coaching staff? Well heres the Oracles! Assistant coach on the left, Head Coach in the middle and apothecary on the right, all from one of the old Empire cannon crews. 

Now the fourth blitzer of the team and its the last metal Griff Oberwald miniature GW produced. I loved this model so it seemed only natural to have him lead my team!

Every team needs linemen to do the dirty work like blocking and covering the harder players on the opposite team and heres the Oracles linemen. All of their heads are different, and I cannot believe I've forgotten which company made these but I have one left to use that reminds me of Hanzo from Overwatch... to save for future additional player or something else.. that is the question!

As a human player the thrower and catcher combo is much needed, and I'll get myself a second catcher at some point to back up this one. A second thrower might be useful too!

 I love the Mighty Zug models, all of them! I use the newer one as an Ogre, as I have the last two previously also. Such a dynamic yet brick hard looking miniature!

 I fancied making a full on turn marker for the team too using some of the bits from the human sprue and I'm happy how its turned out. I also use my coaching staff as counters, the Head Coach being the score marker, assistant coach for rerolls and the apothecary to... well just heal someone!

Along with the Blood Bowl are my almost finished Goliath gang!

I've built them all as they are in the box, but I have another three of the stub cannon toting gangers to form up with three heavier weapons as I'll be using them as Veterans in my Astra Militarum list. Slam them in a Goliath(which will be a Taurox for game purposes) and I'll have a shotgun armed squad to slap some shots into infantry units to soften up or finish off. 

Some of the close combat guys who may also get in my list but using Genestealer Cult rules, as acolytes. Because they're hive gangers I love the idea of them using the ambush rules and surprising units and think it fits well in the narrative of my list.

Few more one with a Rivet gun, I have two of the other heavier weapons built too and they'll counts as special weapons depending on what I fancy. 

Finally my Leader! Yep, that cigar is the second attempt as I lost the first, its so small! I love the hammer too, although I wish it was easier to put in different positions but may have a go at one swinging a hammer at some point. 

Also heres how the bases look, which I'm pretty happy with! They have washes of Nuln Oil and Agrax on to filth it up with some verdigris on too just to add some wear. And of cause, chevrons! 

I've also been working on the escher gang but theres still a lot to do on those, all built as the gang in the box but will be making more lasgun armed gangers to build up an infantry squad for the AM army and then another 10 wth combat weapons to use as neophytes in the GSC portion of my army. 

I've got some other ideas for the list but I wanna do some crusaders and not sure what to use for them. I need to do my ogryns too and have another Leman Russ on the way for something a little different!