Sunday, 27 February 2011

An interview with "Big P from GMG" - Piers Brand (Ambush Valley's author)

Piers, reading one of the first printed copies of the new Osprey Publishing's Force On Force.

Piers Brand (writer of Ambush Valley, painter and photographer for Force On Force) offered me the chance to do a quick interview with him that is also covering parts of his involvement writing the forthcoming Force On Force supplement for Vietnam, called Ambush Valley.

Piers, you are a wargamer for a long time now. How and when did it start?

I always had toy soldiers. My very first toy was a Corgi King Tiger that my uncle bought back from a trip to Bovington tank museum. I progressed to setting up grand battles with hordes of plastic soldiers to actually wanting to do something with them. What happened was at the age of ten, my uncle and his friends started playing role-playing games and I joined in. They used metal figures and soon my step-father was buying them for me. Weekly trips to a local gaming store became more serious when in 1984 we discovered Warhammer. For the next three years my poor step-father built a huge army of Orcs to face my ever growing Dwarf army. Then around 1988, I joined a local wargames club and embarked upon historical wargaming starting with, of all things, the Indian Mutiny! From there its remained pretty much constant through my life as my hobby.

Tell us a little about your general interests – why do you love wargaming?

Well I have always been a rapid devourer of military history, especially WW2, as I spent part of my early years living with my Grandparents and my Great-Aunt who would tell me stories of the war and buy me books on military history. My love of toy soldiers and model kits led me to find something more to do with them, as just sitting them on a shelf always felt a bit pointless to me. I love all military history but I do have my 'favourite' periods... yet I seem to be constantly adding new ones. What do I love about my hobby? All of it I guess. I love the fact I have something that gives me escapism from the real world and helps me relax and unwind. I also love the social side of the hobby and most of my closest friends are also my gaming buddies. I also love the fact my wife has no interest at all in it...

I know you have learned a lot about history just because your historical gaming needs proper research – is this a fundamental part of the hobby for you?

Yes I think its all part of the same hobby for me. History goes hand in hand with gaming. My university degree was War Studies and I love to read as much as I love to game. I try and be 'historically accurate' but I also have an over active imagination so I indulge in fantasy and sci-fi gaming too. All that said, I never let history get in the way of a good game... as an up coming Austro-British versus French Napoleonic game will prove. I love history and so its a big part of my hobby.

Could you actually enjoy gaming when there is no “story” involved?

I guess so, but I find it so much better with a back story. Even my one off games seem to develop a theme as those who read my AARs will know. I guess its my old RPG days showing through... a good story gets you in the right mood for the game.

You must have stumbled over tons of rules in all those years – do you have any favourites?

Apart from Force-on-Force, actually very few favourites... as I hate reading rules. Rapid Fire is a set I adore and play alot. This is closely followed by Blackpowder which is a recent addition to the stable. Other than that, I still play and love Mordheim from GW and the 2nd Edition of Warhammer holds alot of fond memories, as does the original 40k. The original set of Indian Mutiny rules I had back in 1988 were great but sadly I lost them and have no idea what they were called!

Eventually you came across “Ambush Alley” and "Force-On-Force" – how did you learn about those rules?

You know I cant really remember... But I think it was from Shawn Carpenter (AAG Head Honco and all round gimp) on The Guild. I eventually gave in to his constant pleas and bought them. The rest is history as they say...

You probably have taken them down to your gaming group (Green Machine Gamers) – how was their opinion on those rules?

Indeed I did. The group loved them. The AAG rules are a real regular feature at the club and we hosted an Ambush Alley Day a few years back. They really suit my group very well.
Given that you are an author contributing to Ambush Alley Games’ books now, when did you decide that you want to write for them?
Im not sure I ever did... I think I just fell into it. I wrote a small campaign for AA that went into Wargames Illustrated and from there started using the game for Vietnam. Then somehow I volunteered to write a full supplement on Vietnam. I was hooked on the rules from the moment I got them and I saw the wide potential the system had. I was lucky that Shawn at AAG knew the potential in his rules and was willing to let me try and help out. It started with playtesting the original Force-on-Force and led to 'Ambush Valley' my Vietnam supplement, that is currently being revised and expanded for release by Osprey later this year.

How was the relationship regarding your work with the Carpenter family (the original AAG authors) ?

They are ok... But I dont like their music. Oh wait... Not that carpenter family... Seriously, I think I get on very well with them, especially Shawn who seems to have a similar mindset to me - Too many ideas and not enough time! I wouldnt call it work... Its an extension of my hobby with some people who I now regard as good friends, despite them being on the other side of the Atlantic. Great people to work with and its been an honour to be along for the ride through very exciting times for AAG. I hope the relationship will last a long time... or at least until Shawn wears his mankini again.

You seem to find much interest in Vietnam, which after all is the conflict you are now actively writing about for AAG. Why especially Vietnam?

Not sure really. It was a period that I played at my old gaming club and its imagery hooked me right in. It has everything you could want, even cool music! Its a period that lends itself perfectly to the rule system as well as to gaming and every game we have played has been enjoyable and exciting. Vietnam is also so different from most other wars with such a difference between the combatants. I think it also a rather unique war from the way it was fought and the reception it had at the time, and still does today. Im interested in a lot of wars of the post-war period but Vietnam has come to the fore partly due to how it fitted with the AAG game system. I finally found a system that allowed me to game Vietnam the way I wanted to.

How came you thought the Ambush Alley rules are just perfect for your ideas? What was the special “twist” you were looking for on the market?

I immediately felt at home with the rules. They allow you to use real world tactics and it works. They also keep all players involved all the way through, are quick to play and are easily modified to whatever period you are playing.

With the new releases of Osprey Publishing, distribution of the books will reach corners of the world, that before never heard of Force On Force – why should those people get into FoF rather any other set of rules?

To see pictures of my miniatures of course... Kidding! Force-on-Force is a great game. Its fast, furious and alot of fun to play and you dont need massive armies to get started. Its actually a very cheap entry into the hobby. Its also a game that will make you think and no two games will ever be the same.

Do you have any special tips for gamers that never before played “moderns”? Any hints for newbies?

Play whatever you are interested in. Look around various internet forums, see what other people are playing and whats available and then see what it is you want to play.

Which brings us to the community. You are a well known individual around the world wide web when it comes to wargaming WW2 and the post-WW2 era. How much do you enjoy interacting with the crowd in different forums?

Im not sure Im that well known... But I like being on a variety of forums showing what we are up to Ireland. Their aint much of a hobby scene over here so the internet gives us a great way of interacting with other hobbyists and show off our games and miniatures. I have alot of good friends online and have picked up lots of ideas and tips.

The Guild wargamers forum in particular has a special place in your wargamer-heart. Why?

The Guild is my second home. Its the latest incarnation of a chain of forums run by myself and three other guys. We have been running a wargames forum in one guise or another together for the last six or so years. It also hosts our club forum and alot of the members are close friends of mine. We also met up last year for a huge Cold War bash! The forum is also heavily centred towards 20mm gaming, my preferred scale, but we cover everything. Its also just a jolly nice place to hang out on the internet.

Do you give much about the opinons of the people out there? It sure feels good to have “fans” – but how about people that are trying to point out that something doesn’t look right? How much is their feedback changing your work (modelling and writing)?

My work constantly evolves with other peoples ideas and examples of their work. Thats the greatest strength on the internet is that it allows people to share ideas and also show the results. My style has developed for the better thanks to various peoples comments and ideas over the years. I dont mind people pointing out things that are wrong, but Im also pretty much a stubborn git, so I do tend to do things my way most of the time. Im not sure I have 'fans' though!
We sure hope to see AAG’s books having great success – will you continue to write about eras in history that you have a particular love for?

I hope so. There are several periods that I have begun work on for wargaming supplements, the Iran-Iraq War being one. This is a period, that along with the Indo-Pakistan Wars, fascinates me and I would love to write a wargaming supplement to cover it. I have done a great deal of research on the period and begun work on a few bits. My other big interest at present is the colonial period and I think the AAG system is perfect for this. I would love to develop a set of rules for AAG to cover the 1850-1900 period of colonial expansion. Other than that, I guess I would like to work on a WW2 version of Force-on-Force, but that is likely to be a big undertaking. Of course the main problem is getting all this done while having a demanding full time job and a young family. Apparently both of those think they come before my toy soldiers...

Piers, you have established a great amount of connections into the world of kit and miniature makers for the conflicts you write about – could those one day result in a set of miniatures and rules in a box? A “starter” set like other companies sell?

Yes its been thought about for a long time... Never say never.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Mainly from those on The Guild and other forums. I dont tend to rate my own work very highly, Im my own worst critic, so I strive to be as good as some of the painters out there. There are some amazingly talented people in this hobby with skills that put me to shame!

You also have a daytime job and a little family to take care of – is there always enough time for your hobbies?

No never enough time... With baby No. 2 due to arrive any time now, I will have less and less. But thats all part of the grand scheme... Besides you get alot of painting done in between night feeds. There is never enough time, but I have a great balance at the moment and a superb wife who allows me a 'studio' in the house and lets me go gaming every Friday, so I aint gonna moan too much.

Does your family always fully support your hobbies?

In their own way... Yes. My wife has no interest in it at all, but allows me to do what I like. My daughter on the other hand is already painting soldiers...

What would you suggest if people’s gaming groups have never played a certain style of game before?

Try it... What have you got to lose?

Is it worth to start collections on your own and hope, others will get hooked eventually?

Of course. I do this alot as it allows you to put on games and other people dont have to supply anything to play. Its great to have a group where people all collect to a group project but I also quite like doing my own projects and put together armies for both sides. I do this alot with Force-on-Force as the armies can be quite small.

Thanks for answering my questions, Piers!

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