We have a little early Festive treat for your geeky pleasure, as we were lucky enough to catch up with author and gaming-industry legend Mark Latham, who was able to provide us with some exclusive info on the new campaign system for Knight Model’s Batman Miniature Game, plus The Walking Dead, Harry Potter and more!
BIG COMIC PAGE: Hi Mark, thanks for chatting to us today.
MARK LATHAM: No problem, thanks for having me.
BCP: Let’s start with The Walking Dead: All Out War. How do you start adapting such a well known narrative?
ML: Well, after the initial meeting with Mantic where we all got very excited about the possibilities (I’m sure you can imagine an over-excited Ronnie Renton? Well, that x10), I went away and read the Walking Dead comics. Literally, all of them up to that point. As a writer myself, I was particularly interested in the big themes—the ‘meta’—that I’d have to take particular care over. If you don’t get those big themes represented well in the game, it won’t ring true to fans of the franchise. So from there, I came up with a list of bullet points that would become the design bible. Walkers wouldn’t be controlled by a player, they’d be AI-controlled, like an Act of God, a force of nature. Individually, Walkers are weak, but in large numbers they can tear even the best fighter apart. Survivor groups would be aiming to gather resources—killing each other is necessary, but it’s a secondary concern. If you go at the opponent too enthusiastically, you attract more Walkers, and the tension levels increase, making everyone nervy. Finally, no one should be safe—the kill count in this game can be horrific, and victory can come at great cost. These were the big points, and I think we represented them pretty successfully.
BCP: What do you think are the most important elements in a small scale game?
ML: Players need to be invested in every model, and every model should be able to do something cool. This generally means that a single model in a small skirmish is analogous to an entire unit in a large-scale wargame. They can take a few hits, dish out some punishment, run, hide, sneak, scavenge… otherwise, the game will probably be over really quickly, and players will find that their nicely painted models will be taken out too easily. There also has to be an element of unpredictability I think. You’re not dealing with huge, sweeping strategic overviews. You’re down at ground level, taking actions on a reactive basis—this is why I prefer IGOUGO systems for large-scale battles, but alternate activation for skirmishes.
BCP: Do you think there’s a move in the industry towards hybrid miniature-board games?
ML: I think the rise of miniature board games on Kickstarter, and the massive success stories therein, have certainly given the traditional wargames manufacturers real food for thought. This idea of having lovely, paintable minis with which to play a traditional board game (i.e. Zombicide), or collectible pre-painted models with which to play a freeform tabletop skirmish (like X-Wing), has really taken off. The Walking Dead was always meant to be more of a skirmish game, but with some very recognisable CMG elements—booster packs with really cool equipment cards, an AI deck to add an element of unpredictability, cool accessories like the Threat Tracker dial, and so on. It taps into a certain zeitgeist in the industry right now, and I think it’s here to stay for a long time to come.
BCP: You’ve also worked on Armoured Syndicate (which has just finished its boxed game’s kickstarter). How did you approach this, and was it any different as a non licensed product?
ML: Actually, my approach as a freelancer was very similar, because Ben Jarvis (head honcho of Black Phoenix) had already done huge amounts of work on the design of the models and the world they inhabited. My job was to help him come up with a set of rules that reflected that world. We went back to the ‘first principles’ approach, just like I did with the Walking Dead. This time it was all about corporate agents protecting their assets so that they could wire-transfer funds to their support network, calling down air strikes or remote-hacking enemy mechs. It was about huge mechs that aren’t allowed to kill humans, but which are absolutely vital on the battlefields of this post-apocalyptic world. Hackers can make mechs break their protocols and harm humans, but when they do so the mechs are prone to remorse, and can go a little crazy; lots of cool ideas like that. Working with Ben, though, was sort of like working directly with a licensor—a level of access to the creative director that you don’t normally get when working on a big franchise.
BCP: What’s your favourite mechanic in this game?
ML: It has to be the banking system. It sounds dull, but it really isn’t. Essentially all key actions in the game earn you bank chits, in the form of $ tokens. Each turn you have to choose to allocate these to your models so they can actually do stuff (no one works without pay in this world), or you can ‘bank’ them so that they are protected and count towards your final core, or finally you can spend them to ask your creditors for assistance. That lets you draw from the support deck to see if your supporters actually helps you, and if so what form that help takes. It lets you do some light resource management each turn, forcing you to make tricky tactical choices, which really gets across that double-dealing corporate nature of the setting.
BCP: You’re also working on a couple of projects for Knight Miniatures including 2017’s Harry Potter game. Without giving too much away, can you tell us if this will be a different game engine or similar to others?
ML: I can say nothing about the rules I’m afraid, or I’m told that the men in suits will take me away. I can, however, tell you that I’ve written the background section, pending approval, and I will be editing the book when the rules are finished.
BCP: And excitingly, you’re now working on the BMG campaign system. What can you tell us about this?
ML: I loved doing this. The Arkham Knight book is my first solo project for Knight Models, and touches on my first love in skirmish gaming: campaigns. It really plays to my strengths—I’ve been writing campaign systems since my first game, Legends of the Old West, was released… ooo, longer ago than I’d care to admit. This book will give you general rules for character development during campaigns, friendly tips for running different types of campaigns, and new play modes, such as Predator Mode, where you can take one tooled-up hero against lots of henchmen. The centrepiece of the book is, of course, the Arkham Knight campaign. This takes the basic plot of the recent video game, and turns it into a tree campaign. So you can play through the story mode, unlock side missions, advance with WayneTech upgrades; the works!
BCP: You’re also an established author of course. Have you considered developing a game based on your works?
ML: I have, although I haven’t moved forward with it yet. I’d really like to write an RPG actually, based on the Apollonian Casefiles. Time is so tight though, I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to it… if there are any RPG developers out there who want to licence it from me, I’d be happy to talk!
BCP: And what games do you have on your shelf?
ML: All of them! That’s not much of an exaggeration, but seriously the things I’m currently playing (besides testing and refining my own games of course) are Zombicide: Black Plague, Conan by Monolith, the Marvel Superheroes Miniature Game (okay I did help out on that one), Warhammer Quest (classic), the X-Wing miniatures game, and Munchkin: Marvel edition. I imagine I’ll be dropping all those pretty soon when a game about a certain boy wizard drops on my desk. I may have a slight gaming addiction…
BCP: We are a comic site, so I have to ask – what’s your particular poison?
ML: I’ve been into Marvel comics since I was about 7 years old, so I still touch base with the big guns, like Thor and Spider-Man. I’ve been enjoying the recent Hawkeye, Black Widow and Mockingbird runs a lot though. I’ve been reading a lot of Titan’s Doctor Who comics too. As I’ve got older though, I’ve found I’ve branched off into more creator-owned comics and one-off graphic novels. My latest acquisition was Reppion and Moore’s Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, which is an adaptation of M R James’s short ghost stories. Really cool stuff.
BCP: Are there any other games you’ve worked on that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
ML: Almost too many to mention! In terms of design, I loved writing Broken Legions for Osprey recently, and working on Knight Models’ Marvel game was a real pleasure. Of all the games I’ve ever written, Legends of the Old West and Waterloo are still very dear to my heart, and it’s a crying shame they’re not in print in any more. A lot of my work these days comes from editing and background-writing though—I’ve written pieces for Batman, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Sedition Wars, Kings of War, Warpath… it’s a pretty cool gig, really.
BCP: Finally, any franchise you’ve not worked on but would really love to get your hands on?
ML: Okay, so I’ve worked on LOTR & the Hobbit, Batman, Marvel, Star Wars, Warhammer/40K, Sherlock Holmes, and now Harry Potter. That’s a lot of boxes ticked for me! I’d have to say that there are some video game licences that I can’t believe have yet to be exploited – Skyrim springs to mind especially, and I’d be all over that. As a true child of the 80s, I’ve been looking jealously at the Labyrinth board game, and the Conan game, too. But really, in terms of sheer guilty pleasures, I’d love to do a Highlander game. That would be the best thing ever for a geek like me. If anyone out there is working on such a game, and they don’t tap me up for it, I’ll curse their names for eternity (before rushing out and buying it anyway).
BCP: Thanks again for your time!
ML: My pleasure.
Author of The Lazarus Gate and The Iscariot Sanction, Mark A. Latham is a writer, editor, history nerd, frustrated grunge singer and amateur baker from Staffordshire, UK. A recent immigrant to rural Nottinghamshire, he lives in a very old house (sadly not haunted), and is still regarded in the village as a foreigner.
Formerly the editor of Games Workshop’s White Dwarf magazine, Mark still dabbles in tabletop games design, while writing strange, fantastical and macabre tales, mostly set in the nineteenth century; a period for which his obsession knows no bounds.
Follow Mark on Twitter: @LostVictorian