“Q&A with Robin Empey of Battlefield Game Design
by Mike Williams •
Today Bring Your A-Game chats with Robin Empey, the man behind Battlefield Game Designs. He spoke to us about wargaming, creating his own rules sets and more. Enjoy!
Bring Your A-Game: So tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been wargaming? What was the first game you remember enjoying?
Robin Empey: I have been wargaming since 1989 when I met an individual that was running a comic book store in the town that I had just moved to, who eventually became one of my best friends. He came over to my place and introduced me to a game of Axis and Allies. Although it was a board game, it used all the little plastic miniature pieces, and I really enjoyed it. Eventually he introduced me to 6mm WWII wargaming which was his specialty. At Christmas time, he gave me my first rule set which was a Napoleonic rule set written by Jim Bowden…Chef de Battalion as I had been watching the Richard Sharpe TV series and fell in love with that era. The following year, we went to Columbus Ohio to Origins in what would become an annual event for the next several years. It was here that I actually met Jim Bowden and was able to play in several of his Napoleonic run games. I also experienced a lot of other great games in several other periods. By that point I was hooked.
BYAG: Your web site says you have developed a number of rule sets. Tell us what all you’ve developed and maybe share a little about each one?
RE: Since I really enjoyed the horse and musket era, I really began to focus on that period. Having watched the Richard Sharpe TV movie series, I began to fiddle with the idea of playing more skirmish style games in that time period. In 2002, I wrote my first set of skirmish rules called Green Jackets and Voltigeurs in order to play Napoleonic skirmish games based on the British Rifles company. I ran a couple of games at Historicon in Pennsylvania as well as at Hotlead in Stratford, Ontario, and everyone really enjoyed playing the games. In fact several people convinced me to get them published. In 2007, I finally published Green Jackets and Voltigeurs and pretty soon people were buying it at the conventions that I attended which led me to run more games which in turn led to more sales and so forth. In 2012, I revised and added additional information and released it once again to even greater success. So last year was the tenth anniversary of the initial creation of Green Jackets and Voltigeurs.
In the meantime, I was doing research into my family genealogy and found out that my family was involved in the American Revolution, the French Indian War, and the War of 1812, so I used the basis for Green Jackets and Voltigeursto write my next set of rules Red Coats and War Hawks to game the War of 1812 at a skirmish level. I contacted Forrest Harris from Knuckleduster, whom I had met several years before at Little Wars in Chicago who also happened to produce his excellent range of figures for the War of 1812, as well as Lance Cawkwell from Galloping Major Miniatures in the United Kingdom, who happens to produce an excellent range of Aboriginal figures and I struck up an arrangement to aid all of us to increase our sales. It has also provided us with more exposure all over the world. Lance then convinced me to think about looking into creating a rule set for the French Indian War period as his figures are specific to that time period, so I have spent the last year and a half working on this time period in formulating a rule set for the French Indian War.
In February or March, I will be releasing my third rule set entitledBuckskins and Rangers which will allow players to game the French Indian War at a skirmish level. I will be attending Hotlead in Stratford, Ontario as well as Battlefields Game Convention in Michigan in March where I will be hosting a number of games. Next year I hope to release my fourth rule set based on the American Revolution.
BYAG: Have you collaborated with other designers, or are you the sole developer of the rule sets you’ve designed?
RE: I am the sole developer for my rule sets, however, I have had a great deal of support from other people who have assisted me in my research in the various time periods, as well as game test a variety of game mechanics to ensure they work correctly. During one of our trips to Origins, I met fellow game designer Lou Zocchi, who ran several seminars on writing rules and running games which was invaluable in getting me started in creating my own unique rules.
BYAG: When did you launch Battlefield Game Designs? What factored in your decision to start your own publishing company for your rules?
RE: In 2000, my comic book store friend, another friend and I started up Battlefield Designs which was a retailer of game terrain. Initially we were the North American distributor for several terrain manufacturers from all over the world: Australia, Great Britain, Scotland , Germany , the United States and Canada . Unfortunately times changed, my friends went in different directions and in 2010 we formally ceased operations as Battlefield Designs. Since I had made a lot of contacts during that decade, I continued to work at Historicon selling terrain and running games. Finally in 2011, as the sole owner, I created Battlefield Game Designs, which specializes in creating and designing rule sets. My wife and two sons have been huge supporters and have even run several games for me at the conventions allowing me to mingle, and drum up business selling my rule books.
BYAG: Your web site says your games add “realism to your miniature games.” Can you elaborate on that?
RE: The neat thing about my rule set that other rule sets don’t incorporate is that you can use your figures individually, in small units, or in a combination of small units and individually throughout each round of play. As each round develops, you can change up your strategy depending on what happens during the game. It is a card activated game so that figures are activated when their cards are turned up, and each figure is provided with a set amount of action points each round allowing them to perform certain actions each round. At the beginning of a new round, figures roll for a new set of action points. This system continues to change randomly throughout the game, so it really requires a lot of strategic thinking and not just luck. I also let kids as young as 10 years old play as long as their parents are playing since the game is that easy to play. Being a teacher, I feel that kids lack a fundamental degree of critical thinking skills, and this game forces them to think on the fly. A number of adults have also benefitted from this type of gaming system.
BYAG: Why do you think it is it important to many wargamers to have a rule set that focuses on realism?
RE: When I design rule sets, I spend a lot of time researching actual historical battles and then include scenarios in the rule books to re-create these skirmish battles on the tabletop in miniature form. Being a teacher, I think it is important that kids and wargamers understand the context that they are playing in historically so that they can better appreciate what our ancestors had to endure. When running games, I give the players a brief history lesson at the start of the game leading up to where the action is about to be played out on the tabletop, and then let the battle unfold as it may. At the end of the game, players usually want to know what actually happened in real life, so I wrap it up as an historical lesson and compare real life to what did happen during the game. Many times, the battles play out similarly to the real life situation. The games I have run always ebb and flow so that no one knows who really wins and what the margin of victory is until the end of the game. That way all of the players can leave the game with a better sense of historical understanding for a small part of historical reality while learning and having fun at the same time.
RE: The best way to get my products is through my website; however, I may have to look at getting other means of distribution started up, especially with the ridiculous rise in postage costs all over the world. Another way to get my products is at the conventions that I attend. That way, you can play a game and then walk away with a rule set without having to pay for postage, plus I tend to give away a small coupon off the price of the products at the convention when you play a game. I also peruse The Miniatures Page, Lead Adventurers Forum and Tabletop Gaming News where I place information on concerning news, new products, etc. When I see notices for people looking for rule sets in the eras that I have written, I send out e-mails letting them know of my products, sending them a link to my website (which needs to be updated) and providing them with answers to their questions and inquiries.
BYAG: Do you go to conventions very often? If yes, which ones do you make it to? Do you go as a gamer, a vendor, both?
RE: I use to attend a lot more conventions except life has become very busy for me. I attend Historicon in Pennsylvania ; Hotlead and Council Fires in Ontario ; Battlefields and Pro or Con in Michigan . I have tried getting back out to Little Wars, Cold Wars and Fall In, however, my real life job has gotten in the way and not allowed me to get to those conventions in the past several years. Hopefully I will be able to attend them in the future once again.
When I go to the conventions, I volunteer, I run games and sell them on site, and if I get a chance I go to shop and play when possible.
BYAG: What’s your favorite scale to game with? Why?
RE: My favourite scale is 28mm. I love painting the details on this size of figures. I find 15mm too small to paint and anything smaller impossible to see on the table let alone paint, however, I will gladly play with those scales if the game looks like a lot of fun, has decently painted figures and terrain.
BYAG: How about your favorite period to game in? Why?
RE: My favourite period…that’s a tough one! I really enjoy the Napoleonic / War of 1812 period, but I enjoy playing Western, Ancient Roman, Medieval, Pulp Action, Modern, WWII, Gladiators, Lord of the Rings, Pirates, space games and some fantasy. I guess, pretty much anything when you think about it.
BYAG: Do you have any advice to give budding game designers who’d like to create their own rule sets and have them published?
RE: Find an era that you really enjoy, then research it to death. It’s better to know too much than not enough. As for the game itself, keep the mechanics simple but with enough detail to make it as realistic as possible so that both kids and adults alike can play and enjoy it both with each other and within their own age brackets.
BYAG: Is there anything about Battlefield Game Designs, your rule sets, etc. that you’d like to speak to that I failed to ask you about?
RE: I think that you have covered just about everything that there is. I have enjoyed speaking with you and making me think back to the origins of how I got started. I hadn’t really considered this before. It has been quite a unique journey, and I have been fortunate enough to have met some pretty amazing people along the way, and hope to meet many more. Thank you for providing me with this opportunity.”