Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Ambush Alley Games - In the beginning

We have been loving Force on Force from Ambush Alley Games and now published by Osprey Publishing for a while now and putting together a few things on this fantastic wee system.

So we got to thinking that we wanted to hear a little bit more about Ambush Alley Games and the people behind the system. Lo and behold Wee Andy cornered Shawn Carpenter, Mr AAG himself, to give us all an insight into the company.

Shawn gives us his BATREP debrief ......

Andy asked me to write up a short history of Ambush Alley Games to share on the Wee Gamers blog, a request I was happy to comply with – nobody likes talking about AAG more than me! It just so happened that I was working on just such a history for our recently released “Memory Alley” PDF release, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone and share the introduction to that book with you:

“One summer day in 2006, my brother Robby and I decided that none of the miniatures rules we’d tried were working for us. We were both coming back from roughly a decade-long hiatus from miniatures gaming and were desperately trying to re-capture that feeling of discovery and excitement that we recalled from our glory days of miniature gaming in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Revisiting our old favorites left us a little flat – sure, some of them had changed a bit over the intervening years, but they were still basically the same ground we’d covered “back in the day.”

We turned our attention to free games and the new (to us at that time) crop of PDF only games; there were definitely some good games out there, but most would require us to do quite a bit of hacking to get them to work for the type of game-play we were looking for. Talking this over on that summer afternoon in the shade of my porch, we decided if we were going to have to write rules, we might as well write an entire rule book of our own.

Ambush Alley Games GHQ
We sat down that afternoon and put together a check-list of what we did and didn’t want to see in our game – if we were going to write a game just for us, why put stuff in it we didn’t like? Then we made an outline of what the rule book would contain and started brain-storming. Soon we had the skeleton of a combat system in place – a system that allowed both players to remain involved throughout the turn and eliminated all of the thumb-sitting we disliked in many IGOUGO games.

Following advice from a long ago article on RPG design, we focused on creating desired outcomes rather than attempting to replicate complex processes. We consciously decided that our rules would embrace the concept that the little toy soldiers on the table knew their business and didn’t need us to remind them which end of their rifle was the business end.

We also decided that we wanted to emphasize the skill of the guy behind the gun rather than the technical minutia of the gun itself. In the right hands, a rifle will produce casualties, whatever gas system it uses or weight of bullet it throws. We’d decided to focus on fireteams rather than individuals, and it seemed wrong to focus on the individual characteristics of the rifle if we weren’t focusing on the individual characteristics of the rifleman!

One concept we added to our design list came about serendipitously. One afternoon I was setting up a large play-test table and decided to take some “glamor shot” photos with units posed as if they were already in contact and shooting it out. Robby came over and studied my little vignette thoughtfully, then said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to just start the game HERE? Right in the middle of the action?”

Hell yeah, it would!

Starting the game with units in contact or nearly in contact led to another defining characteristic of the system we were creating: small table sizes. Our 6’x8’ table was soon replaced by 2’x2’ “battle boards” and our playtesters loved it! It was easy to trick a small table out and they were soon playing quick, fun games on tables that looked more like dioramas than the tables we were used to – tables that often looked like some soldiers were playing golf when a war broke out.

Small tables meant we didn’t need dozens of figures per side to cover all the real-estate effectively. We dropped our level of play from platoons of figures to squads or even fireteams of figures – on the “Regular” side, at least. We still needed at least 20 or 30 figures on the “Insurgent” side of the table, but they tended to get “recycled” quickly in the teeth of First World competence.

In a little less than a year, we had a finished set of rules in our hands. Thanks to the wonder of the inter-webs, playtesters from Oklahoma to New Zealand were playing through scenarios in an hour or less and were having a ball doing it. When our dinky little playester’s forum hit over two hundred members, Robby and I began to realize we might be onto something with this little set of rules we’d named Ambush Alley. We decided to publish it as a PDF and see how things went – and things went so well that within three days I had to come up with an automated delivery system or Robby and my wife Peggy and I were going to have work shifts to keep up with e-mailing out copies of the rules.

And that’s how Ambush Alley and Ambush Alley Games were born.

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