October 6, 2013 by mellowshade
If you remember his little portrait in issues of White Dwarf (see below) then you’ll have fond memories of Andy Chambers! The folks over at the Conclave of Har have done an awesome interview with him and you can read it all in full below and on their blog site HERE.
Also don’t forget to check out the first episode of their podcast above!
What were your first wargaming memories? How did it all start?
I do believe it all started with the Airfix gun emplacement battle set. This guy:
It came with a set of German infantry and British commandos. That cannon you can see fired matchsticks, so the Brits had a hard time storming the emplacement. Interestingly the German infantry were really crude models whereas the commandos were beautifully sculpted, the first time I was to run into the old style/new wave clash in a miniatures range.
Going on from there what inspired you start writing your own rules and games?
From there I went on the collect, build and play with various Airfix tanks and planes. My dad was a model aircraft enthusiast in his youth and he encouraged me by getting a subscription to Military Modelling. I played WW2 games with a friend on the bedroom floor for a while, and then started to notice adverts in Military Modelling for these things called ‘fantasy miniatures’ that were cast in ‘pewter’ – Lord of the Rings orcs (unlicensed naturally), Greek myths stuff like Medusa etc. I bought some miniatures, tried various available rule sets and found most of them to be pretty incomprehensible or abstract to a youngster. Since the rules didn’t seem to make the things happen in games that I wanted to happen I started tinkering with them, adding bits in and new unit types. Eventually I started writing rules from scratch.
Were there any lessons that you learned at that early stage that you still carry with you to this very day?
Hmm, lots I think. It’s just hard to formulate them into coherent sentences now they’re so subconscious. Let’s see…
1) remember that your writing may be picked up and read by ten year old (or younger) and go on to shape their opinions for the rest of their life.
2) It’s easier to adapt something than start from scratch, especially when you’re starting out.
3) Inconsistencies in a miniatures range really matter and are incredibly obvious, no one ever wanted to play the crappy looking Germans.
The Great Crusade:
What were your goals for Warhammer 40,000 once you became Over-fiend and do you feel you accomplished them?
Fast forwarding many years to when I became Over-fiend I can’t say I had any real goals consciously held in mind. I wanted to expand the 40K game with new races and new force organisations to stop it getting boring. I wanted the game to play in a way that was dynamic and exciting without getting bogged down in boring stuff, and I wanted to run some really big global campaigns. I suppose you can call those goals. We managed to hit them pretty hard, Rogue Trader/2nd ed through to 3rd ed underwent a massive clean up thanks to Rick Priestley’s efforts. I was horrified when he first demoed the 3rd ed rules for me and Robin Dews who was studio manager at the time, but I came to really love them. we did more races and Codices, we ran big campaigns.
What were you most proud of? (within 40k). What was the thing you were least proud of and perhaps wish had been different?
I’m not sure if you’re asking about the game or the universe here. The two are inextricably linked in my mind so I’ll treat is as the latter. Most proud: Toss up between the first Armageddon campaign and doing the Battlefleet Gothic game. Adding whole chunks of background to the universe like that was great. Least proud: Titan Legions and Gorkamorka, both great concepts for games which should have worked great but my heart wasn’t really in either of them so I feel I let them down.
There is no denying that things were different back in those days it was a time of amazing growth and exploration with so many new games. Can you just give as an idea of what it was like working for GW at that time? Did it really seem like the sky was the limit?
Not really, not for me at least. You have to understand that early on I was twenty four year old drop out who hadn’t even been to university. I was suddenly in a studio environment where I worked alongside folks like Rick Priestley, Jervis Johnson, Jes Goodwin, Richard Halliwell and Bill King every day. The sky was the limit for them, maybe, (actually I think not, that sobriquet can only really be applied to Bryan Ansell) – while I was the one doing White Dwarf articles and taking photos to support their efforts. I tried to come up with new and interesting stuff too, learn as much as possible and help out any way I could. It was certainly very interesting. By the time I achieved the lofty position of Over-fiend the exploration phase was over, 40K had clearly won out over Space Marine, Warhammer Fantasy Battles and all the others.
Given that the plastic tech these days means that practically anything is achievable what is the one thing not possible ‘back in the day’ that you would have liked to have seen?
Big, variable configured kits like tanks, walkers and such in much the manner that GW are doing a lot these days. The few that were done back in the day were not great and we ended up hanging all kinds of metal bits off them to get variants. The other thing I used to wish for all the time was small models like Gretchin or Rippers in plastic. By their nature it was very hard to make them worthwhile in the game compared to their price in the shop as metal miniatures.
I remember in an early-ish issue of WD a scenery piece made out of a old Star Wars toy, back in the day this kind of improvisation and creativity was a very big part of the hobby. Now not so much. Now it seems that everything is available to buy. Do you think this detracts somewhat from the hobby side of things and makes people lazy? Or is advancing tech making scenery construction redundant a good thing (I guess it does give us more time on our hordes of unpainted models!)
I don’t think the availability of bits makes modelling redundant at all. Last month I was at Warlord Games open day and I was looking over the scenic basing materials on sale. A little part of me looked at the beautiful, tiny patches of rushes and thought ‘well that just takes away the whole point doesn’t it?’ to which another part replied ‘don’t be so stupid, if people want to make their miniatures look amazing who are you to say no they can’t?’. I do know what you mean, and part of me hankers after an earlier age where grav tanks were famously made out of plastic bottles but I think that’s just nostalgia. The models I see these days are 1000% better than stuff from ten, twenty years ago.
If you could pinpoint one event or release or moment in time where the ‘change’ started at GW what would you say it was? Would you have stopped it had you seen what would happen, Farseer Style ?
There wasn’t some kind of moment of change that could be pinpointed in that way with GW. It’s simply grown into a bigger business and that brings changes with it that are, I think, inevitable. I saw exactly the same process happening at Blizzard in the time I was there. It’s an interesting thought experiment to try and imagine what GW would have become if Tom Kirby had never taken over from Bryan Ansell as that started the process of really expanding the business. I suspect the outcome would have been either GW would have gone out of business by now or it would have been bought up by a large product group like Hasbro. I suspect no one would like those outcomes either. I personally felt there was a big change when we moved into the HQ site at Lenton, but in retrospect that was more a symptom than a cause.
Do you still stay in touch with all the ‘old school’ Adrian Wood, Ian Pickstone, Jervis, Richard Baker and Co? Who was your favourite opponent back then?
I’m friends with Adi Wood on Facebook and I see Jervis about once a year to play a game of something (usually something one of us has been developing). Jervis remains my absolute favourite opponent out of the people you listed, he’s honestly the nicest guy you’ll ever play a game with and a very, very good player. My all-time favourite enemy is Big Pete Haines though, to the extent that we’ve just started scheduling regular monthly battles again starting in October.
Are you a strictly competitive tournament gamer or do you (as we do) prefer a narrative approach?
I like to have my cake and eat it to be honest with a strong narrative and competitive game play. I don’t see one as necessarily excluding the other. I have little time for exploitative army lists chosen to defeat an enemy by surprise more than anything else, or by using loopholes to gain an unintended advantage. This isn’t just an outgrowth of writing the rules, I didn’t like it when people would show up with ten Tiger tanks when I was a youngster either – it’s simply not fun and a game should be about two people playing, not one.
Which games do you indulge in outside of work?
PC and console games, far too much really, but they are so…available (currently GTA5 and Total War: Rome 2, both of which are great in case you’re wondering). Role playing games (I’m member of a weekly group that’s been going for more than twenty years), plus card and board games on occasion. I don’t play any sports if that’s what you’re asking.
What is your chosen soundtrack for when you paint?
I don’t really have one, just a moderately sized Itunes playlist on random shuffle. There’s all kinds of crap in there.
Given how big Game of Thrones is now do you regret not being able to work on the Westeros game?
I have many regrets, but I can’t really say that’s one of them. They’re great books and frankly an even better TV series so I’m glad they’ve done well, GRRM is a great guy by all accounts and really loves his toy soldiers too, so he gets my vote. As a game background it’s not exactly the best environment for 28mm battles in my opinion, but you can say that about Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit too.
Do you prefer to work in a universe where you can go anywhere and do anything or does working within a predetermined universe focus your goals?
For me as a creative the words ‘we could do anything!’ are absolutely terrifying. That simply means we have no idea what we’re doing or where we’re going and will be doomed to flail around until we figure it out. Working with a pre-determined universe means you can work coherently to illuminate new parts of it, put an exciting twist on things or revisit past ideas and make them more awesome. So yeah, I guess you could say I have a preference. As a professional I should tell you that universes where you can go anywhere and do anything don’t tend to pay very well. Creative freedom is amazing, but it seldom puts food on the table.
We loved playing Epic 40,000, unfortunately given that Warhammer now has apocalypse which has mass battles and extremely big models it seems unlikely that that particular system will return. How do you feel about Apocalypse? Is there such a thing as too big?
28mm miniatures always did better than anything else back in the day, I can’t imagine that’s changed unfortunately. I haven’t played an Apocalypse game so I can’t comment on the rules but conceptually I think it’s a fine thing. A lot of the changes of 2nd to 3rd ed 40K were to enable larger battles, there’s much cynicism about this (some deserved) but it was done in response to the fact that gamers wanted to have more of their collection on the tabletop for a battle. Having a special ruleset variant to deal with very, very big battles seems sensible to me, and no, there is no such thing as too big when it comes to numbers of soldiers on the tabletop just as there is no such thing as too few, just different games is all.
We also loved Necromunda, it encouraged a style of narrative and personalisation that sadly seems to be lacking nowadays. Do you still play it?
Not for a long time, although just before we moved from Seattle back to Nottingham I had sudden, strong urge to run some Necromunda and instantly had people volunteering to play. People also mention it to me very often over Facebook or emails. It’s surprising how well it’s remembered, although it’s such a gem it shouldn’t be surprising really. Necromunda and Bloodbowl both fulfil an idealised niche in my mind of ‘campaign games done right’, some of that is warm fuzzy memories of the studio campaigns, but I don’t think we should overlook the importance of the fact that there were long running studio campaigns for both of those games. It’s also interesting to see that other companies have subsequently moved to occupy the niche left by their absence.
What can you tell us about Hive Secundus? We heard that there was going to a be an exploration of it finding it to be Genestealer infested, any truth to this?
First I’ve heard about it to be honest, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an idea floating around. Alan Merrett, head of IP these days, has a bit of a thing against genestealers though so it sounds unlikely.
What did you learn from White Dwarf reader feedback from the play test rules for Battlefleet Gothic and how did that affect the final version?
That carriers were really, really important in people’s minds when I’d been intending to keep them just as a side line because it was conceptually a space Battle of Jutland. The idea of carrier warfare has become such a staple of Sci fi that it was absolutely vital to make it work well as a viable alternative to guns and torpedoes (without excluding either). I also learned that people wanted ramming and boarding actions to play a big part too – the interesting thing to note is that these are all dramatic, evocative, narrative-inducing elements to have in a game so I feel that feedback was very worthwhile. Aside from all that the sheer volume of response helped convince the Studio bosses to go ahead with it.
How do you feel about BFGs rule template seemingly becoming the standard for many of the fleet based games out there (all the Spartan Games games use a similar ruleset)
Sincerely flattered. I did my best to write a fun set of spaceship rules that would produce an enjoyable game that would be playable in a reasonable time frame. If folks like the way it worked enough to use elements in their own productions then that means I must have succeeded to some extent.
Were there any other races you would have liked to include in the BFG rules? Additional xenos races that perhaps were not covered elsewhere such as the Fra’al?
Not really, we were kind of stretching things with Tau, any races smaller than that would be like Trinidad and Tobago going up against the US Navy. The additional Xeno races really need to go into the 28mm range to make any impact otherwise it’s just a funny name.
If you could go back and do BFG all over again what would you change?
I actually did some work on a BFG 2.0 set after leaving GW. All it really comprised was stripping out the firepower table for gunnery and going to rolling to hit/rolling to save instead. It cleaned up the game a lot and made it more interactive by using armour saves. The only other major change I can remember was limiting the number of attack craft a carrier could launch to its number of bays and removing the chance of running out of ordnance.
Probably Necromunda because GW could do some absolutely ass kicking scenery to go in the box these days, plus the gangers would look amazing. Go Goliaths and Escher, rock and roll. As to why (beyond cool scenery) because as 40K expands in scope (Apocalypse et al) it still leaves, indeed demands, an entry-level niche for a skirmish game in my opinion.
…continued on Conclave of Har
If you’d like to read the rest of the interview head over to the blog linked below or at the top of the page and see what Andy Chambers had to say about the future!
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