Blood and Plunder was an incredibly successful Kickstarter for Firelock Games (and our review is coming tomorrow). Their latest Kickstarter, Blood and Plunder Raise the Black was also a success. We talked to Mike Tunez about Blood and Plunder, the Kickstarter process, making games during a pandemic, and the future for Firelock Games.
This article forms part of our Nautical Tabletop Month that's running across all of November. We're going to look at different nautical wargames and board games, as well as interview developers about capturing the sea feel on the tabletop. We'll also look at nautical factions in popular wargames along with tabletop accessories that are available to keep your hobby ship-shape. You can see all the articles here on the hub. So come aboard as we set sail and celebrate all games nautical in nature.
You can buy all the Nautical Tabletop Month products from our tabletop sponsor, Firestorm Games.
TechRaptor: The original Blood and Plunder was your first Kickstarter in 2016 and it smashed through stretch goals. You’ve since had 2 more for Blood and Plunder, including the current one and one for Oak and Iron. How has the Kickstarter process been for you overall?
Mike Tunez: Kickstarter is such a great tool for smaller businesses like us to achieve our grand ambitions. At the same time, it’s also a few solid months of emotional rollercoasters and sleepless nights as we lead up to the project and run it. Overall though, I would say it has been a really positive experience for us despite the challenges that often arise.
TR: How has the Kickstarter process changed for you since your first? Are there things you wish you had or hadn’t done?
MT: I wish we would have done plastic from the beginning. Had we known how successful the project would be we definitely would have. I think it's a much less intimidating material. At the same time though, I really like our current line of metal models so I’m glad we will have both now. Overall I’m really happy with most of the choices we’ve made. Everyone at Firelock is active in the hobby, and we make things the way we would want to buy them as gamers and hobbyists ourselves.
TR: What first inspired Blood and Plunder? Were you fans of the genre?
MT: I have been a lifetime fan of pirates, tall ships, swashbuckling, as well as history, especially the history of the places near me. The combination of those things lead me to a curiosity about the reality of pirates and their true story. I have also always had a love of wargaming, so writing my own rules for my favorite period was a natural progression. At first, I developed the ruleset on my own in my spare time after work. Once the rules were slightly developed, I played a game with my local gaming friend, and now business partner, Alex Aguila after a conversation about the show Black Sails and how cool a pirate wargame would be. He loved it and divulged a lifelong desire to start a gaming company. And here we are.
TR: Your first Blood and Plunder Kickstarters had similar numbers of backers, but Raise the Black is already looking to surpass those numbers. Was that the plan with the 2-player starter set, to bring in players from outside the first 2 Kickstarters?
MT: It was a significant part of the plan. We have a lot of interaction with our player base at both conventions and online. We knew that there were tons of people out there who were really interested in the game but were looking for either an easier buy-in or specifically plastic models. In this Kickstarter, we delivered on both of those. The perfect thing to get new players into the game. To not leave out our current fan base, we made them all brand new models and released the 2-player expansion along with an expansion book with lots of new units and factions that also moved the game's timeline forward into the beginning of the 18th-Century. We also made all the new models to be compatible with both our original 17th-Century setting and the new 18th-Century one. Both can play together as well.
TR: The 2-player starter set in Raise the Black is obviously a perfect jumping-on point for new players, but if they wanted to get started playing now, while they wait for Raise the Black, what do they need?
MT: A rulebook, 12+ models per player, some 10-sided dice, and a couple of decks of regular playing cards is sufficient. We do sell 2-player starter set bundles on our store as well.
TR: Blood and Plunder Raise the Black is a change of century for Blood and Plunder. What was the thought process behind moving the timezone and what does it mean for previous players?
MT: Moving the story (or history) of Blood & Plunder forward has been our aim since day one. Originally, the plan was to cover everything from the early North American Colonies all the way to the American & Haitian Revolutions. As it happens, that turned out to be a bit too ambitious. So, we started with the mid-17th-Century and worked our way up from there. Presently we plan on covering up to roughly 1830. For existing players, this is only good news. Units and factions from all time periods covered by the game will be able to play against each other. We have a solid points system that creates very balanced games. Technology didn’t move terribly fast during this time period, so that helps it stay balanced.
TR: Blood and Plunder lets you transition between land and sea combat. Which is perfect for the setting. Was it always the plan with Blood and Plunder, or did it start as just land or sea?
MT: Not only was it always the plan, but we wanted the game to be focused on that point. We didn’t want either aspect of the game to feel like an afterthought, so we developed them together as a single cohesive system. Ships are a simple step-up once you learn the basics of land combat. We have a realistic, yet simple set of rules for moving ships on the table. The rules for how they interact with units and artillery are identical to those of buildings in the game. So essentially, we treat ships as buildings that can move around, which makes sense I think. It also makes them very approachable. Even by stiff-legged land lovers!
TR: How difficult was it finding the balance in the mechanics to allow the transition between land and sea?
MT: It was very difficult. I kept moving in directions that overcomplicated one aspect or another at first. One night, after a frustrating day of our ideas falling flat, we were sitting around having a few drinks mulling over the day's work, and I think it was Fred Barnard, who worked hand in hand with me in developing the rules, said, “You know, aren’t ships essentially just floating buildings? Can’t we just give them all the same rules?” At that moment it clicked, and we knew we had it. The game sailed right along (pardon the pun) from that moment on.
TR: Blood and Plunder can be used in a gaming campaign with your other successful Kickstarter, Oak and Iron. Are there plans for more of this incorporation with deeper campaign options
MT: There are, and in fact, we had made great progress to completing the rules for that just before Covid struck, along with a series of other timely disasters for us. We had to change gears into survival mode from there. We hope to be able to have it out toward the end of this year or early next. It’s going to include some fun new options like rules for 1v1 ship duels in Oak & Iron that you can then merge your Blood & Plunder games into as well.
TR: You’ve obviously still got to deliver Raise the Black after the campaign ends, but what’s next for Firelock Games?
MT: Well, we are going to be giving 110% to getting this new Kickstarter delivered as fast as humanly possible. But in between then and now, we have a few projects in the works to further expand Blood & Plunder, Oak & Iron, and Blood & Valor. As well as some all-new games we have in the works for the more distant future. We are really fortunate to have attracted a lot of people with interesting new ideas from within our community.
We have some cool ports of the Blood & Plunder system to other time periods and settings as well as some other games. A couple that are well underway are Under the Black Sail. Our upcoming historical RPG by Tim Korklewski and a smaller skirmish scale Blood & Plunder game called Frontiers with a focus on shipwrecked sailors, foraging parties, explorers, fur traders, and other small bands of that kind. It will all be wrapped around a campaign system as well. It is mostly Last of the Mohicans and the Revenant type stuff. I am excited for all the cool games and expansions we have in the works. I think Firelock Games has really hit its stride with this latest Kickstarter, and we have plenty of ambitious plans.
TR: Thank you very much Mike. We've been playing a lot of Blood and Plunder this week and we're really looking forward to Raise the Black, and with Frontiers, you definitely have my attention.
Even though the Kickstarter has ended, you can be notified when late pledges open for Blood and Plunder Raise the Black here. We also reviewed Oak and Iron this week, the ship wargame that ties into Blood and Plunder. You can check out Firelock Games' other titles, Blood & Valor, a Great War (WWI) skirmish games based on the Blood & Plunder rules, and Scurvy Dice, their piratical themed dice rolling game on their site.
Firelock Games also have a very active Facebook community. All of their games have active groups they interact with the community there regularly.