I recently got to sit down with Linda Cox, Brand Manager for Avalon Hill and Mons Johnson from R&D to discuss what it is like working on a product like Axis & Allies Miniatures.
|Set II Interview|
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what other games you worked on?
(Linda) I've been with Wizards for nearly five years now and have had the opportunity to work on a lot of terrific projects - Magic Online - Avalon Hill Board Games and Avalon Hill Miniatures. I've also worked as a business analyst prior to joining the brand management team.
(Mons) After a stint in the U.S. Army, I've worked at Wizards in various roles on and off for almost 7 years. Both D&D minis & Star Wars minis, most of Wizards trading card games, and many of the Avalon Hill Board Games have been the focus of my work, usually development.
Q. Why a World War II minis game?
(Linda) The official reason and the one in my business plan is that even 60 years after the end of hostilities, millions of people around the world are still fascinated by almost all aspects of this war. The scale was not unprecedented but it's immediacy was. The newscasts, pictures and film were not weeks out of date but broadcast within days or even hours of an event. Every family on nearly every continent was touched and involved. Our leaders and our politics still continue to be defined by this period. It was not about a single issue, a single battle or a single man but involved millions of men, women and children committing quiet acts of heroism on a daily basis. Hundreds, even thousands of books, films and games continue to re-examine this period and demonstrate it's importance to our collective psyche.
The un-official reason is that we are all fans of this game and were delighted to bring it to market! I think that the enthusiasm we bring to A&A mini's is evident.
Q. The miniatures themselves are very detailed. How much research is done for each unit?
(Mons) It varies by unit & by sources. Sometimes the sources we have are very detailed and the research is quick and easy. For other units, the search for information is quite time consuming. There is also different aspects to the research, we have to research the unit's operating uses, it's paint patterns, the combat effectiveness, etc. Like I said, it varies.
Q. What directions did early design take and what sort of concepts were kept or discarded?
(Mons) I wasn't on the original design team. I do know that morale was originally considered as it is a big part of combat, but was discarded since it didn't add that much to game play. It turned out to be a lot quicker/simpler and almost as realistic to include disruption as a step to represent troops pinned down or under shaky leadership, but not to add morale.
Q. What sort of design decisions do you have to make when you have to consider factors like ease of play, length of play, realism and fun factor?
(Mons) The name of the game is Axis & Allies so the focus of design is a fun WW2 game. Like the board game, we have to scale back some of the simulation in order to insure that it continues to be fun, quick, & accessible. For example, to properly represent snipers, they should be hidden until they are found. Obviously in a miniatures game hidden deployments can be done, but it really bogs down play, and doesn't add any fun. Snipers in A&A Minis can only be shot at from short range, which we felt was the proper ability for a fast, fun game.
Q. AAM is Wizards of the Coast's first foray into miniatures that represent real world entities, rather than fantasy or science fiction. Does that affect game design at all?
(Linda) It's both easier and more difficult to re-create figures that are so well researched and documented. We are passionate about historical accuracy and this standard sets the bar really high. For example, when we chose to scale these figures at 15mm we worked very closely with our sculptors to make certain that they kept to the scale and that our figures look very life like. It's not easy to reduce a six foot soldier to 15 mm but they did it and they did a great job!
(Mons) It clearly affects design. For our other miniature efforts the miniature game play sometimes drives the design, if we think of a cool game mechanic for the miniatures game it can be added to the fantasy setting. We have to design the game to mirror the reality for Axis & Allies Minis, we cannot include something that did not have a real existance.
Q. What is the design process like when you are coming out with an expansion for a newly established and popular game like AAM?
(Mons) I have read a lot of books about WW2, it is a hobby of mine. It was a huge event that still effects us today. For expansions, I have tried to take a particular part of the great drama that was the Second World War and bring it into the Axis & Allies Minis game, while at the same time supporting those units & things that are already part of the game.
Q. What is it like designing a game that you know will be examined by grognards who cut their teeth on games like Advanced Squad Leader?
(Linda) Well, one of the first things we did was show it off to our partners at Multiman Publishing who we've licensed ASL to! We wanted to design a game that was accessible, easy to teach and learn, and more importantly, scalable. If Axis & Allies Miniatures introduces more players into the world of miniature war gaming then we'll know that we've been really successful.
(Mons) Advanced Squad Leader is an excellent set of rules. There is a large difference in simulation level between Advanced Squad Leader and Axis & Allies Minis, however. Axis & Allies Minis is much closer in spirit to, um, Axis & Allies then ASL, so people who expect to replay their ASL simulations in a new venue may be disappointed. Of course, there is nothing preventing someone from playing ASL with Axis & Allies figures...
Q. Set II adds paratrooper and sniper units to the mix. Can we get any hints about new game mechanics coming up in future sets?
(Linda) I'll stay out of Mons' area of expertise.
(Mons) Let's just say there are 3 dimensions in warfare.
Q. Will we be seeing new maps in the future? Will they be historically based or feature different enviornments (winter, desert, etc.)?
(Linda) We are looking at a number of ways to get new maps into players hands. The two most important ways are through Organized Play and our online scenarios.
(Mons) New maps will feature different terrain types and will focus on a historical area of battle, such as a desert map for a North African campaign.
Q. What's your current favorite army or unit?
(Linda) I grew rather fond of the Red Devil Captain after breaking open so many starter sets!
(Mons) I do have to admit I like the Tiger. There is a Tiger on my work computer keeping the other minis (like the troublemaker 'Snig the Axe') in line.
Q. What are some of your other favorite games?
(Linda) My current favorite is Vegas Showdown. Our team spends two or three hours every Friday playing tabletop games and we keep pulling it out. I'm also having fun play testing some of our 2006 games.
(Mons) Magic will continue to be among my favorites. Vegas Showdown also has been played and enjoyed lately.
Q. As AAM grows, will be seeing airplanes and naval units incorporated?
(Linda) It seems logical doesn't it?
Q. Is there any chance we will be seeing advanced rules for AAM?
(Linda) This is definitely an active topic of discussion. I love the ease of entry in our current game and look forward to the new mechanics introduced in the expansions but there is a demand for a wide range of playing styles and we're talking about it.
Q. Finally, What are some of the challenges you encountered in the design and production process?
(Linda) Our biggest challenge I think came from the demanding delivery schedule we imposed upon ourselves. We used this product launch to test how much we could realistically reduce our time to market. It's been a challenge to ensure that our information handoffs are perfect when moving quickly or rotating resources but we've taken already strong processes and made them even more efficient. There have been a couple of mis-steps but we've really set new standards for ourselves and for the industry. I'm very pleased with our results.
(Mons) There have been a lot of barriers to communication in the product development cycle. The chain from design to art design/development to the distant production facilities is long. That combined with an aggressive delivery has allowed a few errors in such as making the 3" Gun M3 too small, but we are still happy with the tremendous strides that we have made in bringing this product to market.