Here at BCP, it’s safe to say that we love our toys almost as much as we love our comics.
Like many folk, we got really excited by Mechabrick, the LEGO robot fighting game (as featured on Channel 4’s ‘LEGO at Christmas’), so when we heard about the new venture from its creator Ben Jarvis, Armoured Syndicate – a combined game and comic in a Post-Apocalyptic setting – we jumped at the chance to find out more (and score the odd exclusive, naturally).
Here’s how the conversation went.
BIG COMIC PAGE: So Ben, tell us a bit about Armoured Syndicate as a setting and as a whole.
BEN JARVIS: Armoured Syndicate is a small-scale sci-fi skirmish game set in the near future. It’s really all about business and money, it’s not your usual ‘shoot everything quicker than the other guy’ type miniatures game. It’s set in the western US and along the Mexican border about 100 years from now after global warming has caused the western US to be largely abandoned to desert conditions and massive corporations have seized power from governments.
Armoured Syndicate actually started out as a toy range (electronic fighting mechs) about 12 years ago. I was just getting back into painting gaming miniatures at the time and, after I began writing the backstory for the toy range I started thinking “Actually, this would make a really cool tabletop game instead!”. I have been working on it ever since and really started the serious work of bringing it to market for the last three years or so. We launched the first miniatures early last year with the aim of building it up slowly. We wanted to prove the quality of the models and the game we were creating BEFORE we hit crowd-funding with the game.
BCP: What do you see as the main influences on Armoured Syndicate?
BEN: In terms of the visual style and story…. well, ‘many and varied’ is the best answer! It’s sort of a visual amalgamation of Mad Max and The Matrix with the jarring juxtaposition of sharp-suit wearing businessmen with oriental swords fighting desert outlaws with improvised explosives and revolvers. There’s certainly a healthy dose of ‘wild-west’ in there but we didn’t want to make a ‘wild-west themed sci-fi game’ because that’s kinda been done to death and we wanted something more real and more gritty. There’s some anime influences in the mechs, some definite nods to District 9 and Chappie too. The core idea was to make it all believable… everything has a backstory and a reason, every mech has an origin, a country of manufacture, a series of deals, gambles and card games lost that resulted in it ending up where it is now. I guess from that perspective it is also very Star Wars!
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BCP: On the comic side of things, tell us about the creative team?
BEN: I was SO lucky to be contacted by Rik Hoskin at the start of this year. He actually e-mailed me out of the blue after seeing my Mechabrick game on TV asking if we wanted a comic writing for it. I had JUST been discussing how cool it would be to do a comic for Armoured Syndicate with my business partner so we jumped on it and asked Rik to put a team together. He has been awesome and found us incredible and very experienced artists in Tom Creilly and Tom Garcia and also managed to get us Simon Bowland to do lettering for it. It’s a team you’d expect to see creating work for DC or Marvel so to get them together to do our little comic for our game was just brilliant.
I fear I’m possibly a bit of a nightmare client though, as a designer and, having created the entire Armoured Syndicate universe and every character and piece of hardware in it myself, I have been REALLY particular about things looking right…. but they have dealt brilliantly with my demands and the end result I think speaks for itself!
BCP: And as for the game design? What was the team’s rationale there?
BEN: Although I play games a little and know what I like, I am NOT a game-designer. I knew from the start it would be important to get the right person on board for the project to design the game and write the rules. Through our past work with Mantic I was able to get put in touch with Mark Latham. Mark is basically a legend, from his work at Games Workshop on some of the biggest games in the world to his more recent work on The Walking Dead and Sedition Wars… he is probably about the most experienced and well respected game designer in the UK. Again, fate smiled on me when I managed to get him to agree to write Armoured Syndicate for me!
I gave him a fairly loose brief and he has come up with something really awesome. You know when the game designer sounds genuinely excited about a project that you are on to a winner. Essentially the game is all about asset value. Everything on the game board has a value and the aim is to end the game with a higher asset value than your opponent. Whilst destroying their assets to reduce their value could be considered as a last resort, stealing them or coercing them to change sides is twice as effective. We are creating a micro-skirmish game, by which I mean the details are VERY important.
You can play with just three or four models per side but how you treat those characters and what their loyalty and motivation is like is very important. You have to keep paying everyone to keep their loyalty so managing your cashflow is as important as battlefield strategy. The game is also very mech heavy and all the mechs are sentient so are characters in their own right…. we are having great fun playing with the ‘three rules’ and the fact that robots can’t kill humans… unless a human forces a robot to kill, then the robot has to deal with guilt and that affects it’s motivation…. it’s going to be unique and very cool!
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BCP: Are their any particular unique design elements to the gameplay that you’d like to share?
BEN: The whole game is going to be pretty unique, but the whole idea of cash-flow is possibly the key element. In most games you get a ‘points value’ at the start of a game to spend on your army. In Armoured Syndicate you have a bank balance. You can spend all your liquid assets on mechs and characters to fight for you… but you risk not being able to pay their salaries as the game progresses and therefore loosing their loyalty. There will be a central bank from which you can borrow money and where you can deposit money during the game. The ebb and flow of money during the game is going to be almost as important as what is happening on the board which I think is going to add a really cool edge to the game-play.
BCP: Why did you decide to crowd-source funding, and via Kickstarter in particular?
BEN: Armoured Syndicate will be our fifth crowd-funding campaign so we’re sort of ‘old hands’ at that way of doing things now. For better or worse, crowd-funding (and Kickstarter in particular) have just become THE way that new games and miniatures ranges are launched these days. From a creator/manufacturer’s perspective I guess the massive advantage is that you get to gauge interest before you commit to production of a new product. I think a lot of backers see it as ‘easy money’ for the creators but the amount of work and money that has to go into a project before you put it up on a site like Kickstarter is usually massive. To have even a small chance of competing and raising a decent amount in the crowded games market these days you have to spend tens of thousands and be prepared to put two or three years work into a project before you see a penny back from crowd-funding.
We’re looking at this (as we have with our other campaigns) as a long-term project though. The project is unlikely to break-even off the first Kickstarter campaign but we will hopefully come out of it with several more models on sale and can continue to grow the range and end up with a product that keeps selling and making money for the long-term.
BCP: What kind of bang will folk get for their buck?
BEN: Quite a lot! Our models are all very high-quality resin figures manufactured in Europe but we are trying to make pricing as reasonable as possible. One key thing I want to do is allow people to buy EXACTLY what they want from the campaign. All too often I want ONE model from a Kickstarter and that model can only be obtained if I buy an entire faction of 20+ models I don’t want and that annoys me. For the Armoured Syndicate campaign we want people to be able to buy ONE model, or a couple of pieces of scenery if that’s what they want. People will be able to get a single model for about £7.50 or so but there will also of course be bulk deals to get the whole faction or enough models to play an entire game and prices will then drop down to 20% or more below that single model price.
We’re trying not to over-stretch ourselves by offering too much, especially too many things that have not been fully sculpted/manufactured yet but from scenery elements like walls and vending machines, the character models and mechs themselves through to decals and photo-etched detailing parts, I think we will have something for everyone!
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BCP: And, finally, any other secrets you can share with us? Can you tell us more about the Rabbit?
BEN: Don’t mention the rabbit!
RoRo holds a very special place in my heart and I think may well become the star of the campaign. Dromeda Corporation, one of the two factions we are featuring in this first installment of the game, were conceived as this global mega-corporation with their fingers in every pie. It made sense that they would have a media/entertainment arm with kids cartoons etc. It followed therefore that if they had cartoons and their own cartoon characters, they would probably also have a theme park or two featuring those characters. As mechs and robots are commonplace in the Armoured Syndicate world it made sense that the relentlessly cheerful costumed characters at any 22nd century theme park would also be robots.
RoRo Rabbit is essentially Dromeda’s ‘Mickey Mouse’, beloved by children and appearing on lunch boxes and baseball caps across the world. When the western US was abandoned Dromeda closed down RoRo World and left the mechanical characters to rot… and RoRo, after decades pandering to spoilt children, finally snapped. He is now the subject of stories told to scare little children, this battered rogue robot rabbit, armed with a blood spattered club made from a carousel horse on it’s pole, who hunts humans in the desert wastelands.
Like I said…. the key thing about Armoured Syndicate is everyone and everything has a cool back-story that influences how they can be used in the game, it’s going to be great fun.
BCP: Thanks for your time!
Make sure to like Armoured Syndicate on Facebook, where you can see the first couple of pages of the tie-in comic, “Armoured Syndicate: The Offer”, and make sure to check back here in the very near future where we’ll be releasing EXCLUSIVE previews of the remaining pages!
And, as always folks, remember to social media your heart out for a chance to win goodies!