The Willy Wonka of Tabletop Games? – An interview with Phil “Osprey Games” Smith

Ragnarok is lavishly illustrated with evocative images of fantasy viking warriors and their enemies

If you fancy winning any of the current line of Osprey Games or wargames, then read through to the end of this interview!

Robey: Hi, Phil. Sorry to keep you waiting a bit.

Phil: No worries. How’s it going?

Great! In fact, the reason I was delayed was because I got distracted browsing for viking minis after chatting with Tim Korkelewski.

Ragnarok is lavishly illustrated with evocative images of fantasy viking warriors and their enemies
If you don’t want a collection of viking minis, don’t but this book!

Ha! He’ll do that to you.

How are things at Osprey?

Good, thanks – busy (as always)

How long have you been at Osprey, now?

Just over 12 years, now.  I started in July 2007.

Wow! That’s a long time. But if I remember correctly, Osprey Games wasn’t a thing when you started with them.

Not really, though games at Osprey does predate me. We had Field of Glory under way when I started. They found out that I was a wargamer and I swiftly inherited that project!

Field of Glory
Field of Glory is, sadly out of print these days, but you can find copies on eBay or Amazon Marketplace once in a while

So, I started as an editorial assistant on the military history books, and really focused on that side of things. Wargaming was a side-project, really, but it was successful, so we dipped our toes in further and, like I say, I was in the happy position of being able to be involved quite heavily with that from the get-go.

The full range of wargames books from Osprey is pretty extensive now, but other than Field of Glory, what was the first game you commissioned and edited?

The first one I commissioned… man, that’s tough. We had several FOG series (Napoleonics, Renaissance), then Force on Force [Still available from Ambush Alley Games – Ed], and Bolt Action, and I was involved with the commissioning of those in some way, but I think the first that I really would call my first would be the first Osprey Wargames title – Dux Bellorum, by Dan Mersey. That came out in 2012, so it’d be around 2010 or so that it would have been commissioned.

Dux Bellorum

That’s a great little piece of Arthurian Dark Age wargaming, there. But you raise something I wanted to touch on for the benefit of our readers. Could you explain the difference between Osprey Wargames and Osprey Games?

Sure – Osprey Games is the overall organization, and covers our wargaming lines, board games, card games, roleplaying games, and whatever else we can come up with. Osprey Wargames is the ‘blue book’ series of wargames.

That’s super clear. But there are wargames that aren’t, as it were, Wargames. Bolt Action, Tomorrow’s War [Also, now from Ambush Alley – Ed], Ragnarok and, of course, Horizon Wars amongst others aren’t in the blue books range. Why make the distinction?

Horizon WArs
Still available at all good wargames retailers! Just saying!

It’s not really a distinction – it’s just a very straightforward name for the series!

They also pre-date the existence of Osprey Games by about 7 or 8 years. At that stage, ‘Osprey Games’ wasn’t even a glint in the eye when that series title was selected!

And Osprey Games, of course, now incorporates more than just wargames. You are becoming quite the publisher of note in the competitive world of board and card games. Is this a sign of the often-touted idea that “analogue” games are enjoying a renaissance on the back of the growth of digital games?

People love games – always have, always will (I hope). ‘Analogue’ gaming offers experiences that digital doesn’t (and vice versa). I’m not sure I’d say it’s ‘off the back of’ digital gaming – certainly alongside, though. I’d probably lean towards attributing it to the general upswing in popularity and visibility of what I guess you’d call ‘nerd culture’ – comics, manga, roleplaying – it’s one massive Venn diagram!

Osprey have so many forthcoming and recent releases, it’s hard to know what to start with. So on the clear understanding that you obviously love all of your games, which one are you personally most excited about?

Well, Oathmark (mass-battle Fantasy system from Frostgrave author, Joseph McCullough) has been in development for a long time, so I’m really looking forward to that one finally getting out there. Otherwise… our first RPG titles (Romance of the Perilous Land and Paleomythic) in December. Much as I love board and card games, I’m really a wargamer and a roleplayer at heart.

oathmark human infantry
Northstar Models already have a range of infantry for various races, ready for Oathmark

I hope to pin Joe down for an interview in due course, so I’ll be sure to grill him on Oathmark, as well as on Frostgrave and his self-published oeuvre, Rangers of Shadowdeep. But RPGs are a subject close to my own heart. Why should RPG fans take a close look at Romance of the Perilous Land and Paleomythic?

They’re good games! The former is an OSR-style Arthurian fantasy game that aims squarely for the Medieval depiction rather than the Dark Age or Romano-British version. It has a gazetteer of the Perilous Land that really leans into British folklore. Paleomythic is a stone age fantasy game – players will build a tribe as they build their characters, and then they get to deal with prehistoric life, megafauna, ancient races, spirit magic – stuff like that!

Very distinctive! Do they have familiar core mechanics, such like D20 or percentile dice, or is there something new at the heart of them?

Romance will be familiar to anyone who has played a version of D&D. Paleomythic has its own system, but it’s all D6-based.

Now, I ought to press on to the subject I think most of our readers will be interested in. After all, what wargamer hasn’t dreamed of publishing his or her own game? Osprey is almost unique in soliciting and publishing original, author-led wargames – and I only say “almost” as journalistic leeway, because I can’t think of another company doing what you do. How does an aspiring game author get your attention and what qualities does a game have to have to attract your interest?

The easy answer – just get in touch (info@ospreygames.co.uk) and start talking to us! A summary of the project is a good start, but there’s really no hard and fast rules for submissions – in the past I’ve received proposals in the form of full rulesets and, in one case, a single sentence! A game has to be fun – everything else – genre, theme, mechanics, etc. – is negotiable.

Did the person who sent you a one line pitch end up getting commissioned?

Yes, but not immediately – we did discuss things in more detail thereafter. But the one sentence was intriguing enough to catch my imagination!

I have to ask: what game was that?

That’d be telling!

So you can’t tell me what that pitch was?

No! But I can tell you that Frostgrave came close – that came out of Joe bemoaning the lack of a Fantasy game that did exactly what he wanted… so I challenged him to write it!

I presume a new game pitch would have to offer something that doesn’t already have a place in the Osprey Wargames range. Are there settings or themes that you just get too many of?

It tends to go in waves, really. I think some topics or genres seem to really peak around the same time, and there’s often a spate of proposals for, say, zombie games or medieval skirmish games, in quick succession.

But, yes – the preference is definitely for something different

How long does it take, generally, for a project to go from pitch to published?

That really depends on how complete the game is and how full the schedule is. On average, though, we work a couple of years ahead.

As well as commissioning games, of course, you also commission some amazing artists to illustrate the books. Are you also open to approaches from aspiring illustrators?

Always!

I think I’ve exhausted my questions. Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?

Just that we’ve got some fun stuff coming up – keep an eye out! And thanks for all the support they’ve given to Osprey Games.

As always, a pleasure to chat, Robey.

Likewise, Phil.

You’ve got to the end of the interview! Congratulations! And now your hard work is going to pay off, because in true Willy Wonka style it’s Golden Ticket Time.

We were inspired by the story of a game commissioned on the strength of a single sentence, and intrigued by the mystery of what it might have been.

So we want you to write in the comments section on this interview your best one-sentence pitch for a brand new game. The TTGUK staff will review all of the answers and our favourite THREE will get to pick any one current Osprey game to win for their very own! Submissions will be judged on the basis of their brevity, originality, wit and how good a game the TTGUK staff think it would make.

(No purchase necessary. The decision of the judges is final and no correspondence will be entered into. TTGUK staff and writers and family members of TTGUK staff and writers can make their suggestions but will not be considered for prizes. The winners will need to provide their name and a valid mailing address to the organizers which will be shared with Osprey Publishing. TTGUK will not keep this data once this information has been passed on to Osprey Publishing.)

8 Comments

  1. Heard once that James Cameron pitched Aliens by writing Alien$ on the flip chart. Couldn’t think similar for wargames so went with next best option. 🙂

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  3. Reimagining of early 80s GW game Judge Dredd now set it the Apoc War with more Flab On and Edwin Parsey type cards and less miss a turn or half your turn cards do it’s full on ‘take that’ play like we liked back then before we went all co operative!

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