How do you start a post about two subjects that are a huge deal? Not only have I hit 100 posts and 13,000 views for my blog, but what better time to post an interview with one of the most influential people in the history of wargaming, and especially Games Workshop, Andy Chambers. I've been a huge fan of Andy's work since first looking in White Dwarf. From his tales of the Piscina campaign, the various specialist games and codices he's written to his entertaining rivalry with another of the GW legends, Jervis Johnson.
"Hello Andy, thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions, its greatly appreciated. What are you currently up to in the worlds of Tabletop, Roleplaying and Videogames?
- Hi Kevin, currently I’m working as a freelancer on a number of different projects for myself and other people. I’m writing 40K-related fiction for the lovely folks at Black Library. I actually just started the third novel in a trilogy about Dark Eldar but I’ve also been doing short stories and novellas for them as well. A little company called Fun to 11 was good enough to put my card game ‘Flame War’ up on Kickstarter and that won it’s funding so it’s now been published. I’m working on a WW2 tabletop fighter combat game called Blood Red Skies which I hope to get published next year. This year I’ve undertaken a fair bit of sub-contract work through Alessio Cavatore’s Riverhorse Games so I was working on early drafts of Fantacide for Architects of War and wrote a Soviet supplement for Bolt Action from Warlord Games.
You're well known by many as one of the more influential people to have worked at Games Workshop, helping to craft games like Warhammer 40,000, Space Marine and Titan Legions etc, What was it like when you first joined Games Workshop? What was the atmosphere and the people like?
- Very small and a little Kafkaesque at times. The first GW studio when I started working was in a place called Enfield Chambers in the centre of Nottingham which was a distinctly Victorian-looking space which was one side of a quadrangle overlooking a tiny courtyard. There was ‘eavy metal (as was) sales and management on the bottom floor, miniatures designers and writers on the second, artists and paste-up (physical paste up back then, with glue and scalpels) on the top. I shared an office with Jervis Johnson and he proved to be the nicest man in the world. Jez Goodwin and Richard Halliwell (the original designer of Space Hulk) were both just down the hall, along with Bill King (of Felix and Gotrek fame) who was the first real writer I’d ever met. I learned a lot very quickly.
Come 14 years later, you part ways with the company. What were the reasons for your departure?
When you left, did you feel you had done all you could achieve at the company? After you ended your tenure at GW Which of your creations were you most proud of?
- Hmm, that’s a difficult one because you can always achieve more. Nonetheless I’m proud of what I achieved while I was there and the entertainment that it’s given to others. The project I’m proudest of all about was Battlefleet Gothic as I’ve got a bit of a thing about space ships. BFG was fun because it was a chance to do a whole game from ground up; rules, miniatures, background and art. Have to say that the Armageddon campaign was also amazingly cool to be an instigator for, and that working on Chaos, Orks, Tyranids, Tau, Necrons and the Skaven made me proud because people responded so well to them – although none of those are my creations.
After leaving Games Workshop you joined Blizzard and worked on computer games, was there a different mythos between working on tabletop games compared to videogames?
- There’s a lot of similarities but there’s a lot of differences too. Videogames are a lot more multifaceted than tabletop games – you don’t just need art, for example, you need animation, lighting, effects, environments and sound to bring that art to life on screen. That makes them a lot more complicated to create so the team size is a lot bigger and communication becomes the key challenge. I have to say that having worked in the videogames industry I am just awestruck by the amount of passion, dedication and professionalism that goes into creating games you all too often play over a few evenings and then discard.
One of the things I used to love about Games Workshop, were some of the specialist titles, three of which you wrote, being Necromunda, Battlefleet Gothic and Gorkamorka. How does it feel to you about Games Workshop concentrating on 40k, Fantasy Battle and Lord of the Rings? Do you think there is room for these games to make a comeback in the future?
- I think with Space Hulk and Dreadfleet GW have shown some willingness to meet player desires for new and shiny things. The concentration on the big three is a purely pragmatic business solution from GW’s point of view to having finite resources to apply. From a personal perspective it makes me sad as I think the games you mention did a lot to expand the universe in interesting ways. Fortunately Fantasy Flight Games, Cyanide and Relic have all done good things with the GW license over recent years so there’s still hope for stuff outside the norm.
Do you still keep up with the games you worked on? For example, have you tried the Sixth Edition of Warhammer 40,000? If so, how do you feel about the direction Games Workshop has taken?
- I generally pay attention to the chatter and read reviews but I’m usually too busy playing my own stuff or work-related games to game. Personally I like what I’ve heard that in sixth there’s been a conscious move away from the tournament-centric approach of fifth. Tournament rules are great for established players that want to test their skills but they have a distinctly chilling effect on the fun factor of a game in my experience. I’ve always felt that its better for a game to be first and foremost engaging, enjoyable and approachable for new players while the chess champions stuff can always come later.
Starcraft II garnered a lot of critical acclaim, do you feel like there is a lot of difference in terms of how the media perceives videogames compared to tabletop games?
- The media pays virtually zero attention to tabletop games for the simple reason that it isn’t mainstream in comparison to the multi-billion dollar industry that is videogames. Really comparing the two is a bit like comparing Premier league football and crown green bowling. More money gets spent on videogames than movies these days, which is presumably why Hollywood keeps attempting Frankenstein-like collisions of the two. That being said I’ve seen a resurgence in tabletop gaming over the last decade simply because videogames are becoming so pernicious that folks seem to have decided that they still like to play something else. Fortunately specialist media on the web has done a lot to knit the worldwide gaming community a lot more tightly together and that’s something I think has strengthened the hobby immeasurably.
What tabletop, roleplaying and videogames are you currently playing? Are there any hidden gems out there you'd like to tell people about?
- Currently I’m playing; X-Com Enemy Unknown (which is fantastic, though I really want a Necromunda version of it), Borderlands 2. I play in a weekly role-playing group that’s been going for over two decades. Tabletop I’ve been playing Dust Warfare, Bolt Action, Fantacide, lots of Blood Red Skies and a little bit of DBM. For hidden gems I would recommend any of the above, plus Small World is an excellent board game I’ve enjoyed a lot and Ascension is a fun game based on deck building mechanics. For a straight card game FFG’s Space Hulk card game is good fun and worth a try.
You've got a huge catalogue of work written by your hand, is there any you wish you could go back and tweak or change? Is there one game you'd love to write, perhaps on a franchise that doesn't have a game written for it?
- Everything and nothing really, you learn as you go so there always changes you wish you could make but you only know what they are after you’ve done it if you see what I mean. I’d definitely tweak with BFG if I had the chance to as there’s a few core mechanics I would do differently in hindsight. I liked the Starship Troopers miniatures rules a lot but I would go back and clean up the rulebook if I could. It would be nice to streamline some of the ideas to make the rules easier to learn. Things I would like to do – a 2000AD based wargame based on A.B.C warriors, Nemesis the warlock or Rogue Trooper. Those stories were really influential on me when I was growing up. I’d also like to do an 1950’s Alien invasion game with National Guard vs the flying saucers sometime, thought I think that’s more of a board/card game than one for miniatures.
Finally, apart from your current projects, what does the future hold for Andy Chambers?
- Moving house shortly, which will be nice because I’ll have space for a games room at the new place. I’m working on self-publishing, or rather publishing with the help of partners, with Blood Red Skies and hopefully other titles over the next year or two including co-writing some Weird War 2 e-novels with Bill king. In the longer term, growing old disgracefully and probably dying in penury.
Andy, thank you again for answering these questions, it’s an honour and a privilege to be able to feature this on my wee little blog.
- My pleasure. I should really do a blog of my own but in the meantime I can make appearances in other peoples, which is nice."
And that there folks is the 100th post on this most humble of blogs. Its been an amazing run, and hopefully shall continue to be so for a long time to come. I'm hoping to get some more interviews by various people in and out of the industry, so keep a look out for those. Thanks again to Andy Chambers, a true gent and legend of our incredible community. Onwards and upwards!
Images owned by Games Workshop, Fantasy Flight Games, Blizzard Entertainment and myself.