Hello again fellow gamer and welcome to yet another insight interview here on Tabletop Gaming UK. Today I get to speak with a really close friend of mine who is one of the driving forces behind some of the best games out there. So without much further ado, here is my interview with Derek ‘Del’ Sinclair of Spartan Games.
TTGUK: Hello again Derek it’s really nice to see you again, it’s been way to long
DS: Yes all of about five minutes while we were drinking a cuppa tea upstairs. Far too long.
TTGUK: How long have you been working for Spartan now?
DS: Gosh a long time now, I think when dinosaurs stalked the land I was stalking Spartan Games. It must be around eight years or so now. I started just by being a forum member and from there I went into the playtest and beta team, making suggestions and such and eventually led to writing for Spartan.
TTGUK: Your first involvement was with Dystopian Wars wasn’t it?
DS: Yes initially though a lot of involvement with Firestorm Armada 2.0 was really were I started I guess.
TTGUK: Speaking of Firestorm Armada it looks like the game is about to get a major overhaul, could you give our readers a bit of an insight into that and what’s going on with the game?
DS: Firestorm Armada is almost ten years old now and it really hasn’t changed much in all that time and evolved from what was Uncharted Seas into the current game and right now its in a 2.5 state, which I have always viewed in most games design is like a top up point and when you move into a 3.0 version you are a little bit more free to make some design choices that perhaps earlier versions wouldn’t give you the scope to do so. It gives the freedom to take things in a different direction if that is what you wanted to do. So when Neil asked me if I was interested in writing Firestorm Armada 3.0 I said that I would love to, as long as I had accessing the gaming public. When you do big seismic changes in any wargame you don’t want to ostracise your audience and mess them around as they have already invested a lot of time and money into your product. So you listen to what they say and what they want from the product and take all that on board. These are the people who will most likely make up a large proportion of your game and often have constructive things to say that you really do need to listen too. If you follow your own ego and just do what you want it’s bound to upset folks down the line!
So what we did was a whole load of surveys and looked at all the data we had and asked questions of our gamers and got them directly involved. We don’t want to go making drastic changes that will ruin the game for players, we want to improve on it and allow it to evolve. There were a few things that came back from the feedback surveys one of which was speed of play. The gaming market that we are in at the moment seems to be overrun with quick fix games that are extremely simple to play, and that poses something of a challenge for us as many of our gamers want to play a game with more complexity, something that they can really get stuck into. They are a little crunchier than some other games and we do have a lot of stats and such, but there are a few companies that are going down that route right now.
Without totally re imagining the game we have changed things to allow the game to be sped up and allow for much faster games, but keeping with the same level of complexity that we have always had with Firestorm Armada. We have changed the way that the ships are laid out and the stat cards are easier to use and of course all our rules are free to download from the Spartan Games website for free.
The next point was we weren’t seen to be supporting the game, which is always a blow and I have always felt that one of the best ways to build support into any game is to build narrative. Narrative game play can be really difficult to get across in a lot of games as many people will tend to pick up a game, play it and put it away and move on to the next game. Spartan Games players tend to want to have something with a little more depth to their gaming and I pushed for a campaign system in Firestorm Armada 3.0 which exists in two ways. Firstly we have a flashpoint system which allows the company to build a narrative by introducing waves of models in releases that the players will be able to buy into knowing that they will be able to use them in scenarios that will be generated around them and that’s the flashpoint.
TTGUK: Is this similar to the way that models were released in waves in Halo Ground Command?
DS: It’s similar but we have just done it with Dystopian Wars and do the same thing with Firestorm. The flashpoint system is a pure narrative. Firestorm Armada is whatever the players really want it to be as it doesn’t exist in a real world as such and we have created a system where you can have exploration fleets now, instead of just one main force. In essence turning the game into a campaign system that allows much more control by the players to do exactly what they wish with the game. So you can go off and explore strange new worlds and well beat the living chunks out of anyone you find in the way. This allows us to directly link with our ground based game Planetfall and both systems become very tightly linked in the way that rules are presented to the customer and reinforces their ability to play our games in a linked universe.
TTGUK: Are we likely to see any new races?
DS: Oh massive, massive spoiler! You don’t ask for much do you? Well er. Yes. The answer is yes. We are going to do the core six factions in Firestorm Armada; Terran Alliance, Dindrenzi Federation, The Directorate, Aquan Prime The Relthoza and Sorylain Collective. All of those will get an upgrade and get new models with of course new rules, but at the same time the new two player boxed set that will be coming out won’t feature any of the core six factions, instead it will feature two different factions, the Saurians who are an isolationist sect and sit in the top corner of the galaxy and the other will be the Pathogen. The reason we have gone for these two factions is we want the Saurians to feel like a super elite force when you play them and on the opposite hand the Pathogen to feel like a super horde force which will give you two different styles of play and will be great to go up against each other. If you can imagine six guys standing on a hill and fighting off a horde of forty thousand bad guys. They will be coming out along with the releases for the other six factions. And of course the rules have now changed and allow you to slot things into your armies far easier. So if you wanted to play as Directorate and wanted to slot in Works Raptor models you can just put them straight into your fleet now with no alteration. This will give more scope to gamers who may have already got models from other factions and such in their collection.
TTGUK: I briefly mentioned Halo before and you were very involved in both Halo Fleet Action and Halo: Ground Command. Both games have been really well received and well loved by fans of the computer/console game and war gamers alike. So what’s on the horizon for both games for the future?
DS: We had a very clear vision of what we wanted to get across from the start and give a consistency across the systems that would be evident in both games. We have just got the flyers to come out for Halo: Ground Command. These are all accessible through the Spartan Games Force Builder, which is an invaluable tool for building up your forces for your games.
TTGUK: Having used it myself its really cool and very easy to use and means that you are not carting loads of cards around with you if you can access your smartphone or tablet!
DS: I would urge anyone who is interested in playing Halo Ground Command to go directly to the Spartan Games Force Builder and you will be able to build armies very efficiently and fast with no fuss.
With Halo Wars 2 and the advancement of the timeline we are looking at some Banished ships and ground troops. We have the UNSC Marine Corp and the Infinity coming and the Briganteen for the Covenant which is an enormous ship and we have just completed the Phoenix class which is essentially the precursor to the Infinity. Of course we work very closely with both Microsoft and 343 Studios and if they decide that they want to release something that’s cannon we can follow the direction and it may take a little while but allows us to give the very best for our gamers.
TTGUK: Is there anything you want to do with the Halo games?
DS: I liked to be able to do a scenario builder that will lead into a campaign system that we can of course offer for free via the Spartan Games website.
TTGUK: I’ve played against you in both Halo Fleet Action and Halo Ground Command many, many times now, especially Ground Command and it has always gone down to the wire for us and come across as very narrative and almost like a cut scene lifted from the game itself. Very cinematic. Was that the goal from the offset?
DS: Its funny you should mention that because whenever you design anything you list your key PI of things that have got to happen and one thing that we wanted was to capture the pure essence of the game and its universe. There is so much source material out there from the games themselves to fan fiction, comic books and much more. It was vital that at any time players were playing one of our games that they could get a picture postcard moment, almost like a snapshot that they would remember for years to come. For example I remember vividly throwing everything against your officer who was holed up in a building and he single handily beat them all back.
TTGUK: Perhaps the best dice rolls I have ever had in a game, but man was it ever exciting. Which is also perhaps the reason I no longer take a Spartan into battle and max out on officers instead.
DS: I do recall me getting a little bit upset and deciding that it was easier just to level the building with Wraith artillery fire, than it was to get this Alabama tick out of my side. It was a great moment and again totally played cinematically.
TTGUK: Kickstarter! You did a very successful Kickstarter for Dystopian Wars late last year. Are there any plans for future Kickstarters?
DS: We have announced that we are going to bring Firestorm Armada 3.0 to Kickstarter and of course the same amount of engagement that backers had with the Dystopian Wars Kickstarter will happen again as Neil (Spartan Games Head honcho and main man Neil Fawcett) is the person who deals directly with the backers. We do send out surveys and get feedback and Neil is always passionate about giving the gamers just what they want and this allows us to be more directly involved rather than having someone down the line answer questions that may be misinterpreted.
TTGUK: Neil is a really nice guy and he sure knows his stuff when it comes to his systems and I have always found him really approachable and helpful. I have had some real problems with Kickstarters over the years and its always good to see someone taking the initiative and leading by example.
So finally I would like to thank you for your time and allowing our readers this quick insight into what’s going on in the worlds of Spartan Games. Just one last question before we wrap things up. Who would win in a fight between Kirk or Picard.
DS: (caught off guard) Seriously? Its got to be Picard all the way, you have got to go for the bald, he would just dip his head and dazzle him.
TTGUK: Thanks a lot Derek it’s been a pleasure
Exciting times ahead for Sci-Fi fans of both Firestorm Armada and Halo, but all isn’t’ just spaceships and lasers as Spartan Games continues to release lots of amazing products for their steampunk inspired game Dystopian Wars. For all the latest up to the moment news check out the Spartan Games website.
I would like to thank both Neil and Del for taking the time out to help with this interview.
And as always if you have any questions you can always post them in the comments below and I will try to get answers for them as soon as possible. If you liked this article why not share it on social media with friends.
Keep rolling them dice,
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