Alternative Armies just might have the most diverse offering of any miniature gaming company that is active today. Whether you are a fan of historical, fantasy, or science fiction you will find something to suit your tastes.
I contacted Gavin B. Syme of Alternative Armies to see if he would like to talk to us a bit about Alternative Armies and my favorite game of theirs, Flintloque.
Happily, he obliged!
Eyecast Restoration: How did you come to work at Alternative Armies?
Gavin Syme: An unusual tale this one; not the norm. It came to me really. Alternative Armies has been a part of my life since about 1996, and I worked for the company as a student and travelled around a bit to various shows and conventions (Gen Con and such). Great fun and crazy times. It is a family business now, since 2000, and when I left university in 2002 I entered high finance and lasted about a year before I decided it was not for me. I went into insurance after that, and that was kind of the same.
The choice was made by me in 2004. Alternative Armies or moving to London or perhaps further abroad for corporate ladder jobs. I chose the family business, as I love wargaming, history, and writing fiction; plus life by the seaside is mighty fine. Making miniatures brings joy to people and that is a reward in itself. Here I am all these years later, and now I recruit fresh faces.
ER: Have you always had a love of history?
GS: You would be correct in that assumption, yes. I have a master’s degree in modern history, as well as a personal library of some 2,000 books, most of which are history titles. I must have been about 5 when the past began to fascinate me. After all, if you know where you came from, you can plan where you are going. Ancient Greece and tales of brave Leonidas, the legions of Rome and Caesar, the raids of the Vikings, Cromwell, and more. History is a friend to me and offers new stories and events every day. For the moment I am reading about the development of the Swiss Confederacy and the rise of pike warfare in the late 15th century.
ER: While further developing Flintloque what were some of the hardest obstacles you faced?
GS: I came to Flintloque when the game was about to go into its second edition in 2004. I had a small amount of input into that edition but not much. I took over the full development of the World of Valon in 2008. At that time the hardest obstacle was the size of the story of the game. For 10 years, articles, magazines, web posts, journals, and several books had told a disjointed overall tale. Organising that and creating a definitive map of “Urop,” where the Mordredian Wars are taking place, was arduous. Frankly had I not had the training as a historian it may well have been impossible. That took nearly a year. It was a challenge to get to third edition as well.
In 2009, War in Catalucia was released—the first third-edition Flintloque book. I worked closely with my American friend Mike White, and there was a very tangible excitement from the fan base of the game… would the rules be any good? It turned out they were and in fact the best yet by a long shout too. Deepest, widest, solid, and with more and more. Three more books followed and I was so pleased.
I took a break from them at that point and will return to it. The hardest continuing thing really is that Flintloque has more than twenty different armies in it, and every week we are asked for more for each of them. We have to choose what to release next (we have a list and that list grows; then we choose the top requests). To keep any game in print and expanding for more than 20 years is an astounding achievement, to keep it fresh, to keep it vibrant. As always I extend my heartfelt thanks to the wargamers who have been players of Flintloque for so long; some from the beginning.
ER: Was educating as well as being entertaining your plan for Flintloque?
GS: Interesting way to look at it. It was not my intent but it is a byproduct of creating material for Flintloque that a deep knowledge of the time period 1750-1820 is needed, along with the same for the wars of Napoleon. I suppose my love of history seeps into the pages as each title contains a little element of the real world. I do recommend that every person who is keen to try Flintloque out—say using the Escape the Dark Czar beginners set—reads up a little on the 1812 Russian Campaign to get a grounding. It is not vital but it helps. There are many general books on what was really the first global conflict, often for pennies secondhand.
ER: Humour is peppered throughout the gamebooks. Do you find humour to be an important tool when writing?
GS: For Flintloque humour is vital. It is a pivotal part of the game world. Since the World of Valon is Earth but not quite, the names of the nations and of the principal characters are twisted in a way to make them recognisable, and where possible, chuckle-raising as well.
Every real-world nation has its unique culture and history, and this allows for jokes, which are always meant kindly. And since we have players in virtually every real nation featured on Valon, I know they love the fact that they feature in the game. As a Joccian Ratman (a Scottish Man), I am a Lowland Rat fond of fighting and chasing women, loyal to my friends and liable to drink to excess if given a chance. Jokingly true.
Humour as a tool is useful, but I do not use it all the time. For instance in the Patrol Angis series of books, which are science fiction, there is little humour; instead, a more intense action form of writing is employed. In games such as Erin and Typhon, which are based on mythology, there is more invention but not a lot of direct humour… Fomorians don’t laugh much.
ER: How do you feel about the evolution of miniature games over the last twenty-five years?
GS: Twenty-five years is a bit longer than my involvement in wargaming as a living and a job, but I have seen most of that time. I have no feelings on the changing market really, as it is what it is. I just moved along with it.
My own way of working has changed totally in that time though, as has the company. Social media being the biggest change. I never used to interact with our customers so directly in such large numbers. I enjoy this, but it can take up several hours in a day at times, and I tend to be around seven days a week.
I would say that the rise of resin as a medium has been the biggest evolution of the last quarter-century, allowing the creation of models simply impossible in metal, such as bigger monsters and tanks. Though 3D printing is now fairly common, that will be an evolution over the next couple of decades.
The games themselves in my experience have become more streamlined and less complex than before, with sadly less of an emphasis on artwork internally (my favourite thing). There is now more choice than I can follow in the industry in choice of games and miniatures and that is a great thing. Alternative Armies has doubled and then doubled again its size of ranges as well as its print and virtual gamebooks all as part of this evolution. Overall the hobby is more fragmented now, but larger than ever and it's a positive change.
ER: What are the most gratifying and most challenging parts of your job?
GS: The most challenging aspect of my job is balancing time. I am the public face of the company, which commits my time, as well as the creative manager for choosing projects and designs and lead author for titles; plus I run the website too. I manage this by splitting my day into pieces and never working more than 11 hours a day… well, maybe 12 some days.
The most gratifying part of my job is rather simple. Two things: Firstly, seeing a project from conception to release, and secondly, getting nice messages from customers in thanks and so forth for what we do.
ER: If you could impart words of wisdom to a budding author, what would they be?
GS: Keep trying and expect the first book or series or articles you write to be poor. It takes a lot of practise to get good at prose, at dialogue, at setting, and of course at article- or interview-writing such as this.
Try to write for an hour a day. You will develop your style and improve, and when you get the first word in print it is a big moment. The market is more open now for authors than ever with virtual books outselling print ones and ground-floor access to platforms such as Kindle. That is half the battle already won. I myself do what I can for new authors and also new designers with things such as “write an article,” which we publish with your name on it, or the SHM Range, where we mold a miniature which would otherwise never see the light of day. Both of these are “toe holds” in the public eye giving exposure. It helps you on to more work, and it helps us, which is totally fair. Alternative Armies always rewards those who create for us.
ER: What are your favourite games?
GS: Now that is a question. My favourite Alternative Armies game… well that would be telling… the answer would upset fans of all the others! I do not play as much as I would like to, as with this job and three children (and now a puppy too) time is not an ally most days. I still get a real kick out of Rogue Trader, Dark Future, and especially Space Hulk and Adeptus Titanicus, all games of my youth. I also like Gruntz. Beyond that my eldest son and I play Minecraft Dungeons which is enough like Heroquest to make me smile.
ER: Will the timeline of Valon be moved forward toward the present?
GS: Never say never, but it is not likely. There is so much to do with Flintloque that I am not tempted to move towards the 20th century or beyond. We have moved back in the timeline of Valon with DarkeStorme and forward a bit, with Frontear covering the Amerkan Civile Warre. The 18th and early 19th century have the perfect balance of technology and science to blend with fantasy and magic. I can see me being Georgian for quite a while.
ER: Thank you for agreeing to this Interview!
GS: It was my pleasure. If anyone is keen to ask me a question or to know more about Alternative Armies, Flintloque, or what we do, then they are most welcome. You can find me all over the place but by email to firstname.lastname@example.org is sure to reach me. Thanks.
Alternative Armies has so much to offer the wargamer and hobbyist. This is usually where I break down the different miniatures and games available. There are so many amazing miniatures and rules to choose from!
I will break from the norm here and list my favorites with a quick blurb, and enthusiastically encourage you to visit Alternative Armies and click away and explore. Enjoy!
Photos courtesy of Gavin B. Syme and Alternative Armies.
Kitton lies far to the east of Urop, shrouded in mystery. The Kitoka live there, honorable and valiant. These feline samurai, ashigaru, and others are amazing miniatures. I ordered them when they first released and I am super happy with them. You can check them out here.
It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the "oldhammer" movement and vintage games and miniatures make me happy. Alternative Armies manufacturers to this day some of the most classic of miniature lines. I especially love the Asgard Science Fiction miniatures. Do check them out. A great way to collect vintage miniatures without breaking the bank!
Saving the best for last, we have Escape from the Dark Czar starter set. This was my first foray into the world of Flintloque and Valon. It is amazing and a fantastic value. I fell in love with the scenarios. It pitches desperate survivors fleeing from the Czar's undead through the haunted woods of the Witchlands. Moody, exciting, and the miniatures are absolutely top-notch.
Thank you for reading all about Alternative Armies, and I hope this spurs you on to check out some of their amazing games and miniatures. Please give us a follow on Instagram @eyecastrestoration and on Facebook here. Thank you!
Our first giveaway is coming up fast, so look for a post next week.
Editing by the amazingly talented Brian White.
Pictures by Alternative Armies, used with permission.