To start our celebration of all things tabletop and nautical, we decided to speak to a wargaming legend, Andy Jones. He was part of the development team for Games Workshop's Man O War and both supplements. Man O War was a ships wargame, set in Warhammer's Old World, and featured all the factions at the time.
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.
TechRaptor: Andy, for the tabletop gamers who might not know who you are, could you give a little introduction to yourself. How did you start tabletop gaming, where you’ve worked, and what you’ve worked on?
Andy Jones: Ah, where to start? Ok, I was hooked on toy soldiers from the days of my first Timpo cowboys and crusaders, and firing lit matches from my Britains howitzer. That of course graduated into Airfix soldiers in 1:72 and 1:32 scales, whereby my brother Richard and I avidly collected everything we could lay our hands-on, building and besieging crazy cities made up of odd and sprawling combinations of the Roman fort, Sherwood Castle, Fort Sahara, Coastal Defence Fort and so on. In terms of actual structured gaming, I used to go and watch my pal's dad and his mate refighting Waterloo with armies of flats on a painted board. We were so enamored that one evening they ran a gladiator combat game for us. I was a Retarius and died from a particularly nasty gladius thrust to the liver if I remember right. From there I was hooked and bought Combat 3000 and Laserburn (I still have 2 copies of Laserburn, plus Advanced Laserburn, Robot, and the scenarios Assault on Bunker 17, Tarim Towers Heist, and Sewerville Shootout.). Of course, I had no idea at the time that most if not all of the characters in the scenarios were various Tabletop Games staffers who would soon be Games Workshop employees (Captain Ackland, Security Chief Halliwell, Computer Scientist Merrett, and so on).
Whilst studying for my degree I worked part-time at weekends and holidays at the A Watts and Sons department store in my home-town of Northampton. Some of the time I was delivering furniture in a lorry that I probably shouldn't have been driving, some of the time I was in the wages office and some of the time I ran the Toy Department. That’s where I met John Stallard, who was my road rep. At around the same time I was advertising a miniatures painting service in White Dwarf magazine under the imaginative moniker of AJ Figs, and ended up painting quite a few models for Bryan Ansell amongst others (let’s just say that quite a few of the figures in various army shots in the original Warhammer Armies book might have been accidentally inaccurately credited).
Graduating in Economics and Law I joined Games Workshop in September 1986 in telesales, to ‘get it out of my system’ before doing my articles, etc and becoming a solicitor. I finally ‘got GW out of my system in 2017’, so never did do the solicitor thing.
Gosh, my history at GW could go on a bit, so I will try and keep it short and focused on the good bits. Telesales led to events organization and the nearest we had to marketing, where John Blanche and I started the Golden Demon Awards, anyone remember the first GD at the Victoria Baths in Nottingham? Around the same time I was handling advertising in White Dwarf, coming up with such awesome taglines as ‘Retail Detail’ (although we never did use my ‘Order More Marauder’ buyline, sadly), and promotions such as getting us pages in the Daily Star dressed as Space Marines or appearing on the James Whale Radio Show with Suzi Quatro (and appearing on Kilroy Silks roleplay special, which was kinda weird as there were Vikings and adults in baby wear on the show too). Lucky enough to be involved in Heroquest, I also got to run Gamesday in 1987, 88, and 89 which was quite a baptism of fire as A) no one could help me because every Events Organiser before me had apparently been fired after their first event (no pressure then) and B) At the time Gamesday was a 3-day event down at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London. Moving the entirety of Eastwood to London for 3 days was quite the challenge. I also use to do quite a lot of the shop openings, when back in the day hordes of fans would camp out overnight. Anyone at the Plaza or Reading openings, I salute you!
We had a go at Dark Future Paintball too, which nearly ended in disaster when 2 coaches full of us arrived at some woodland owned by a relative of Tom Kirby somewhere up north, all dressed in Mad Max-style jackets and helmets with horsetail plumes, etc and had at each other with an array of paintball weaponry until the entire Yorkshire armed response team turned up and told us through loud hailers to ‘lay down our weapons and come out with our hands up’ because someone across the valley had reported a small army had kidnapped two coach drivers and was starting some kind of armed insurrection. OK, so on reflection it DID end in disaster, but at least no one actually got killed.
I had a spate in the design studio, masterminding a bunch of things from The Troll games (such fun recording those tapes, look up Roger Lyons Kaiser Chiefs to see what glories our sound engineer on those sessions has risen to) to Space Fleet (and the other 4 intro games Mighty Warriors, Ultramarines and Kerrunch), taking in an edit of Space Hulk, the creation of the beast that became Warhammer Quest (Gav Thorpe's first gig if I remember right) and of course Man O War. Jervis Johnson and I even created the ‘Healthy Families’ game for a dutch vegetable company with art by Pete Knifton.
Whilst in the studio I got to design a bunch of games for the Crystal Maze TV show, which was a blast. As a result, when the Crystal Dome game centers opened up and down the country I got the highest score ever and a nice award certificate until my idiot pal Bob Avery (anyone remember the Paranoia game and the fish at Gamesday ‘87?) proudly said ‘my pal Andy designed all these games you know!’ after which we were unceremoniously booted out.
What next. Warhammer Records, ah yes. Seeing as how various rock bands sometimes found themselves in the design studio as they passed through on tour, and Warhammer Imagery seemed a perfect fit, we thought ‘let’s reinvent the music industry, how difficult can that be?’. Harder than you might think, let me tell you. From the Blood for The Blood God flexi from Sabbat, we graduated to quite a roster, which was a huge distraction if quite a lot of fun. Sadly, its’ eventual closure was inevitable. Having said that, I’m still in touch with the mighty Bolt Thrower (WOOOOOORLD EATER!), still, listen to Oblivion from DROK when the mood takes me, enjoyed meeting Byff Byfford when he came it to see how we were getting on with Fiorevcer Free, and still liaise with Bryan May from time to time to time since he so generously agreed to come and play on Oblivion (take a listen to ‘Get Out of My Way’ for that signature guitar!).
I kicked off our first licensing efforts, both language versions of our various games, plus the first forays into interactive games. I claim the original Space Hulk and Shadow of the Horned Rat as some of my fave efforts in that sphere, although the games that came later and continue today are so much slicker!
Whilst working on Warhammer Quest I contracted one, Marc Gascoigne, to edit the Bretonnian Knight pack, and whilst we were at it we set up the Black Library too, launching with Inferno! and the Warhammer Monthly comic, then our first novels. To get it going we had to write some short stories ourselves. My offering was the Warhammer meets Pratchett effort Grunsonn’s Marauders (my take on Warhammer in WHQ wasn’t a million miles different, to be honest. Check out the finger of Doom spell in the rulebook and you will see where my Warhammer was coming from). I am really proud of the Black Library and where the teams took it long after I had moved on (I got it back many years later to fix when it had lost its way a bit, but we won’t go into that). I should probably mention that seeing as we demonstrated that we could actually publish stuff, we took over the Citadel Journal, which in turn led to us launching Fanatic Press (‘by gamers for gamers’) and a whole load of dedicated mini magazines for the various game systems (Gangwar, DeathBlow, Bloodbowl Compendium, etc).
We can throw Special Projects into the mix, ranging from the Road Maniax sets with Mattel through to Combat Hex with Sabertooth Games, and of course the wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity to spearhead and lead the Lord of The Rings project, including the amazing Battle Games in Middle Earth partwork from DeAgostini. The Lord of The Rings was a truly amazing time, with a ton of stories to tell and a wonderful experience.
All sorts of exec management and strategic projects stuff followed including running the GW legal team for ages, heading up all digital efforts, Magazines, global export, Black Library again, more licensing, Warhammer World, etc which was fun but probably not very entertaining to recount here.
Eventually, the time came to leave GW, and I cheerfully headed off into the sunset for a well-earned rest, only to be kidnapped by Asmodee thanks to Christian Petersen and Stephane Carville. That was three years ago and I now head up Asmodee Entertainment, the arm of Asmodee tasked with taking our very many IPs into fiction (check out Aconyte books, oh look me and Marc G are back together), interactive games, the media, escape rooms, consumer products and so on. So I get to build again from scratch, which is just up my street. Check us out at Asmodee-Entertainment.biz and Aconytebooks.com.
Which brings me bang up to date. Are we done? There’s more?
TR: A celebration of nautical wargames wouldn’t be the same without mention of Man O War. What was the initial push behind the creation of it at Games Workshop? It was a break from the usual fantasy wargames produced at the time.
AJ: My memory is a little unclear, but we were looking at all sorts of games that could be stand-alone experiences set in the worlds of Warhammer and 40K. Hence Warhammer Quest actually, or Necromunda, or Gorka Morka or Man O War. Nigel Stillman had the germ of a game idea, which was Warhammer at Sea, and I was teamed up with Nigel and Bill ‘Trollslayer’ King to wrestle the game into production.
TR: Had you played other historical nautical wargames prior to Man O War’s creation or did you play others during the research for it?
AJ: Research? You mean that folks do research before ….oh. Well, to be honest the closest I came to nautical games prior to Man O War was probably the Trafalgar board game from my childhood, which my mates played a lot. Seriously, Nigel was the expert on all things historical. Bill got to write cool color text and argue (very well as it happens) about the game design, and I got to stop anyone actually coming to blows (dice were often thrown at each other, lots of stomping off for a bit, but no serious injuries were recorded). One hiccup was that the game was designed to come with card ships (beautiful art from Wayne England) and then at last minute new uber boss Tom Kirby decreed no game would come out without plastic models. So we scrambled for the plastic galleys. Good decision in retrospect.
TR: You worked on the core Man O War rules and both supplements for it. Were you involved in the project all the way through production and lifecycle?
AJ: Yes, by the time we were working on Plague Fleet and Sea of Blood, I had a much bigger part in rules writing color text as well as general coordination and project management. It was a pleasure working with Dave Andrews on the art for the islands etc in Sea of Blood, and I very much love the Plague Fleet cover by Mr. Gibbons. I still have a shrink-wrapped copy of both supplements in my games room.
TR: Most historical nautical wargames try to capture the accuracy of real ships, but Man O War featured the fantasy factions of the Warhammer world at the time. How difficult was it to capture the theme of the factions with their ships and maintain the balance between them?
AJ: Mmmm. It was actually quite straightforward to capture the themes and flavor of the various races, and looking back I think we did that quite well, from the Orc Hulks to the Bretonnian Corsairs and Dwarf Dreadnoughts, not to mention the Chaos Dwarf Thunderfire barges whose smokestacks echoed the ridiculous hats of their crew or the floating Slaaneshi Hellship pleasure palace. I don’t think anyone can accuse us of being subtle. We took the big themes of the various factions and writ them large.
Game balance has never been a thing I have much truck with, to be honest. Is the game fun? For all of us? Feel about right? Ok, that’s good enough for me. I have no idea if the general opinion is the game is terribly unbalanced or not. Is the Black Ark too powerful or the Plagueship not powerful enough? Do the flying creatures or monsters wreck the subtle resonances of the game (or just make the game even more of a fire hazard by requiring even more cards and counters?). Who knows? Not me! Nigel I am sure had a good plan for ensuring the evasive balance was there, and I don’t remember a huge hue and cry about ‘unfair!’. We played it A LOT and tweaked even more, so I guess it came out ok in the end.
TR: What was/is your favorite Man O War faction and ship?
AJ: I always had a soft spot for sailing gracefully around with Galleons and Corsairs and delivering crushing broadsides, so long as the wind was with me. Either that or suicidally ramming things with a well-aimed and very lucky drilla killa.
TR: Man O War, like a lot of older Games Workshop specialist games, still has an active and vibrant community, despite the game being discontinued by Games Workshop in the early 00s. What do you think drives the popularity of older games like Man O War, other than an awesome rules set?
AJ: Well, personally I do think that at that time GW was still discovering its mojo, and was on a crusade to genuinely be a workshop of good games. Lots of different games. Far too many to actually support long term as it happened. So we got to experiment a lot. And I guess we were kind of the first to do that regular big box game thing, and so captured the hearts of young gamers the world over. It may be true that your first love is the deepest, and so fond memories plaster over any yawning cracks of game design or model quality, and legends are created that last a long, long time as folks remember that first opening of the box and goggling in awe at the sheer amount of STUFF! My guess is that the communities for these games are largely populated by devotees of a certain age. Nothing at all wrong with that either. I certainly have many fond memories of those early’ish days at the studio. It was all a bit more raw, cavalier, and gung ho.
TR: What has been your favorite game to work on during your career so far?
AJ: Gosh. Warhammer Quest I think. Or maybe Shadow of the Horned Rat. Or Space Hulk. Or the Troll games. Or Space Fleet. Or Man O War. Or….
TR: What tabletop games do you currently play?
AJ: Less than I would like, what with work, home, classic cars, and guitars eating my time, but at the moment I am painting up a few boxes of stormtroopers for Star Wars Legion, still dig out Thunder Road from time to time, and semi-regularly play all sorts of game ranging from Guillotine to Dobble, Ticket to Ride, Cards against Humanity, Get Packing and the old classic Mastermind. I have quite a collection of old board games too, so every so often Escape From Colditz, The Business Game, or even Waddingtons Air Charter get an airing.
TR: Thank you very much for kicking off our Nautical Tabletop Season Andy. It's been a pleasure.