Black Powder Red Earth: Creating A Wargame In A Failed State | Designer Interview

May 31, 2022 by avernos

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At the end of last year, I became aware of a small scale skirmish called Black Powder Red Earth. Based on both a comic and video game it offered ultra-modern small scale operations in an alternative middle east in the near future.

Black Powder Red Earth // Design Team Ember

Special Forces kill teams fight for control between a pair of failed states and while ideology seems to be the key in reality they are being used to fight a proxy war for control of natural resources by more powerful corporations and governments. I got a chance to chat with some of the people behind the game and with the release of the second force for BPRE, I asked Jon Chang to tell me a bit more about the game and how it has evolved from pixels to resin.

Gerry McCabe: What's your background in gaming? What sort of games were you into?

Jon Chang: Pretty much our entire staff are lifelong gamers. Chess, Poker, Atari 2600, Commodore 64, Amiga, Advanced Squad Leader, Recon, and eventually Space Hulk! We drew on these classics and more recent games like X-Wing (tabletop), Shadow War Armageddon, and fast-paced combat strategy games like Battlezone (1998) as our true north for when we were designing our title.

GmC: Where did Black Powder Red Earth start?

JC: After 9-11, I steered away from my career as an interactive art director and moved into the national defence space.

My early work experiences were in support of Special Operations Forces [ SOF ] who were conducting sensitive operations globally during the Global War on Terror. Teams who worked out of uniform, and lived outside the “green zone” fighting battles that were often shrouded in secrecy, informed both the look and missions depicted in our title.

I went on to be a plank holder at one of the first modern small arms training companies, Magpul Dynamics, and later the co-founder of Haley Strategic Partners where I was responsible for media, and special purpose equipment development. I was also fortunate enough to contribute to the Company’s Disruptive Environments training program which would be the first time I helped design a real-world war game(s).

I believe it is that career and those relationships that allowed us to create such a uniquely authentic near-future war story which is Black Powder Red Earth [BPRE].

GmC: Is the intention to run the various media strands concurrently, how will one feed into the others and will further comic storylines introduce units to the tabletop?

JC: Awbari was designed from the ground up as an interconnected work with the narrative in the graphic novels happening concurrently with events in the tabletop game. Both the upcoming expansion and campaign books are timed to parallel events in the comics, each providing colour to the other with events in one work directly affecting the other.

This is definitely informed by my lifelong love of anime and Japanese video games. When I got into a movie/game/series I hunted down the world guides, model kits, art books, and whatever else the creators produced that expanded on the world and informed events within it. Black Powder Red Earth as a whole is definitely modelled around that level of investment in fiction.

GmC: Can you tell us a bit about the background to BPRE and the factions?

JC: The decision was made early on to create the fictional nation of Awbari. This allowed us to leverage years of experience to create factions that had characteristics and motivations of the most dedicated opponents as well as the people tasked with destroying them in a single setting.

The failing state of Awbari barely operates under a military dictatorship locked in a stalemated civil war with extremist zealots. Supporting the dictatorship are Gulf state Petro-monarchs. Opposing them is a Chinese proxy state. Both back their side with mercenary armies from America, Iraq, Syria, and Europe. Both sides want the same thing: – exclusive access to Awbari’s mineral wealth.

Crisis Team Scorch

GmC: What made you take the decision to produce a miniatures game after working on digital games for so long?

JC: It was very organic. With each iteration and refinement of our video game’s tabletop prototype, the more we fell in love with the format.

Ultimately, we are all craftsmen and artists at our design house. The budgets required to deliver the quality of experience expected by players of a modern video game are essentially untenable for a small shop like ours.

Tabletop allowed us to best leverage our skills to produce something that is AAA quality without having to compromise our vision to a publisher/corporation. It also allows us to remain hands-on in every aspect of the work, guaranteeing we could deliver a title that represents the best possible in manufacturing, and materials as well as the creative.

GmC: Can you briefly tell us about the style of gameplay BPRE represents on the tabletop?

JC: BPRE28mm is a close combat miniatures game at a “skirmish scale”. It is fast-paced with each game essentially collapsing a few minutes of time into 7 turns. The game is urban/sprawl focused because realistically, that’s where these kinds of fights take place.

Players act as Team Leaders that have the flexibility to design symmetrical or asymmetrical kill teams to best complete their objectives and create dilemmas for their opponent. Exercising direct control over each unit with alternating activations means the opponent always has a say in what you are trying to do. Accordingly, the game is unforgiving. Highlighting bad decisions immediately, killing your guys as quickly as you can walk them into a field of fire.

The tactics are real-world simple. Fire and manoeuvre. Fix and finish. The only difference between a raw recruit and a tip of the spear warfighter is the ability to coordinate and combine these two actions decisively. BPRE28mm is an experience that is truly quick to learn but will take a lifetime to master.

Mercenaries & Aayari Guard

GmC: Was the intention to mirror the digital game?

JC: BPRE28mm is a totally different experience than the turn-based tactics video game.

In the digital game, our primary purpose was to showcase a covert action where a hostile local population was unaware of the player’s force.

On the tabletop, there’s little point in artificially simulating the fog of war. As players, we can see everything happening in the “battlespace” in real-time. No matter what, that knowledge will influence our decisions.

Accordingly, our focus was on fast-paced, high stakes combat. Something that would keep players on their feet and in the fight. The two games couldn’t be more different in this regard.

GmC: Have you developed the Game Mechanics to match your intentions?

JC: Absolutely. Rather than a min/max meta, the mechanics of BPRE28mm are crafted around the fundamentals and hard-earned lessons detailed in FM 3-21, US Army manual for The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad.

To quote the book, “Characterized by extreme violence and physiological shock, close combat is callous and unforgiving. Its dimensions are measured in minutes and meters, and its consequences are final…Leaders creatively combine weapons, units, and tactics using the principles of complementary and reinforcing effects to create dilemmas for the enemy.”

Worth noting, FM 3-21 was required reading for everyone who participated in the game design to include our “class system”, which is structured around potential force composition as detailed in the Army manual.

GmC: Can you tell us about the miniature design and sculptor, are you working with a team or will the range be produced by a single designer?

JC: Our miniature design is a two-stage process. We document the exact fighting loadouts with detailed photography and pose references. We then provide that to our modelling artist, who had minimal knowledge of this subject matter coming into the project.

To maintain our quality and creator investment, our plan is to continue working with this select team for the foreseeable future.

GmC: are the plans for the game in the short term?

JC: We’ve completed work on our first expansion, scheduled for release in November 2022. The expansion includes a whole new game mode, 7 new units types that expand on our existing class structures, three new structure tiles with the option to include multi-story structures, and finally a suite of additional Intervention cards for gamers to employ during play.

GmC: Where should people go if they want to stay abreast of the game?

We have a host of social media destinations from our:

  • Instagram - Daily updates with images and news.
  • The BPRE28mm Facebook Group - For specific to the discussion of the 28mm game
  • YouTube Channel - Which features painting tutorials from Sam Lenz and K03rnl (Christof Keil)
  • Our Patreon - Where our audience can directly support the development of our books and games, as well as access exclusive merch and our private Discord

We hope you enjoyed the chat about Black Powder Red Earth! Are you tempted to add this to your collection?

"Special Forces kill teams fight for control between a pair of failed states and while ideology seems to be the key..."

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" reality they are being used to fight a proxy war for control of natural resources by more powerful corporations and governments"

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