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One of the most popular boardgame video reviewers, Marco Arnaudo , has a saying, " In every boardgamer there is a wargamer screamin...

5 Free Ways to Attract Gamers to Wargaming: for Publishers, Developers and Designers by Ania B. Ziolkowska 5 Free Ways to Attract Gamers to Wargaming: for Publishers, Developers and Designers by Ania B. Ziolkowska

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


One of the most popular boardgame video reviewers, Marco Arnaudo, has a saying, "In every boardgamer there is a wargamer screaming to come out." I happen to agree and I am on a crusade to help bring more gamers to the wargaming hobby.

You may wonder who am I to try to teach publishers about doing their job, so I will briefly introduce myself. My name is Ania B. Ziolkowska and I’ve been a freelance graphic artist in the wargaming industry since 2014. You may say this isn’t very long. It’s not, but I believe that I have a fresh perspective, not only from an industry insider point of view but also as a trained ad specialist. And, what’s probably most important, from a casual gamer-turned-wargamer point of view. So bear with me and I guarantee you that following these five simple and (mostly) free steps, will not only attract new customers to your business but will also increase loyalty to your brand.


If your reaction to this point is "doh, it already is", but before releasing the game only your team (playtesters, designer and developer) read your rulebook, then I bet you I will find at least five things in it that may be improved to serve gamers better.

The common oversight is to give the rulebook to only industry insiders to review. The designer and the developer have good knowledge of their game’s rules, so they may easily miss some unclear paragraphs. Playtesters and proofreaders are a great asset, there’s no doubt about it, but they are usually wargamers themselves. Give your rulebook file to a few casual gamers and ask them to use the commenting tool (which is built into text editor). Have them write down all their questions and doubts while they read along. Also, ask them to mark if and where later in the text they’ve found the answer to their previous concerns. This will give you a good understanding of what needs to be fixed, rearranged and explained in more detail, or simply calls for an annotation in your rulebook.

In general, try to avoid acronyms and abbreviations. There is a lot of military jargon in wargames as is, so don’t make it harder for newbies by adding to this acronyms. If you can’t (or won’t avoid them) then provide a glossary in the front or back of the rulebook. Explaining an acronym or abbreviation just once in the text may not be enough - you can’t assume that a reader will remember all the definitions right away. Or that they will remember where in a sixteen page- rulebook the acronym was already mentioned.

Use many illustrations.This may cause the rulebook to be longer but will help gamers understand the rules better and will also make pages look less intimidating (by breaking blocks of text into more coherent parts).

Insert a lengthy example of a play in the rulebook and make sure that it doesn’t follow the simplest choices the player may take during their turn. Also, ensure that it doesn’t include that one exception to the rule in the whole mechanics.

And finally, post your rulebook online. Assume that at some point gamers who have never heard about your company may consider purchasing your game. Now, their decision may be to check out the artwork, the reviews and other players’ opinions and/or the rulebook itself. Artwork is a powerful tool, it may be eye-catching but most gamers need at least one extra incentive to purchase - either they know and trust your brand, or they are interested in the particular topic your game covers, or they had positive experiences with other games by that designer. Those who are new to wargaming won’t have the benefit of any of these. They may read or watch some reviews or ask around. However, reviews may not exist yet and some gamers want to judge mechanics and complexity for themselves - especially if they’ve never bought a wargame. So post it! Post that rulebook on your website and on Boardgamegeek (because this is the place where the people who you want to attract hang out).


Playtesters are one of the most valuable assets in the game development process - they are passionate, self-motivated, methodical and they are usually working in exchange for the product and (yes!) appreciation. It’s really impressive that tests can be conducted by people all over the world thanks to the internet, but I would strongly advise you to have a small group of playtesters that you can actually watch while they play. This may be done via webcam, but watch them closely: Are they having fun? How many times do they need to consult the rulebook? How do they use the turn track, holding boxes and tables on the map?

I’m often surprised how differently players actually use tracks and holding boxes in contrast to how the designer or developer intended it to work. I see many pictures of games in play with counters piling up on a track, sitting outside playing areas to avoid covering important information, or crowding in small holding boxes. These are easy to avoid mistakes in the design process if you just simply watch how people play and interact with your prototype.


You may ask, who the hell is the "right" video reviewer?! That’s a fair question. If your game targets grognards and people already well acquainted with wargaming, then just send your copies to those with high recognition and well-earned respect. In that case, even the old-school wargame magazine review would be a great and very useful promotional tool.

If you however produced a lighter wargame, a solitary piece or a wargame with cards, then your target customer is beyond the scope of grognards. You need to reach younger people, wargame newbies and casual gamers looking to expand their horizons. In that case, video review is the way to go.

Did you know that Google owns YouTube, and a Google search will always select YouTube video over any other content which may be related to your game? If you really want to have a wider impact with your game, try to look for those reviewers who make well-filmed, well-edited, dynamic videos which are a maximum of 10-15 minutes long.

In the era of the internet, social media and smartphones, we all have shorter attention spans and we tend to switch to another video after a couple of seconds or minutes, unless there is something which is dynamic enough to keep us interested. Fortunately there are some reviewers who balance the art of the boardgame review really nicely. To illustrate what I mean check The Discriminating Gamer YouTube channel.


Go to conventions. You don’t have to show up at each and every one of them, but try to attend at least some that are near you. You don’t need to have a huge booth. You don’t even need to have your own booth - many publishers share their space to lower the costs and that’s perfectly fine.

Show up, lay your games on the tables and set them up ready to play. Your game may be too long to play at the convention, or even to explain all the rules in just a couple of minutes, but show the game itself in action.

Prepare a short description of the game - what it’s about and why this particular subject is so interesting. If this is not a strictly wargaming convention, then don’t go into too much historical detail - be brief and focus on the things which capture imagination, stuff like ‘’In the 15th century knights were mostly nobleman and they despised archers for not fighting honorably by killing enemies from afar. On some occasions, like during the Battle of Creҫy, knights even rode through lines of their own archers. However, at Agincourt, where the English were outnumbered 4-1 by the French army, archers played a huge role in the English victory.” Those kinds of details will stick in the listener’s mind better than numbers and dates.

Also prepare a super-simplified version of the rules - a basic structure, so you are able to give at least an impression of the game’s flow. Don’t improvise, convert rules into script, try to read them out loud and time yourself - this is not a lecture, this is a convention, you have to be reasonably quick.

When you have both scripts ready for your product there is nothing simpler than reaching out to your fans and asking for help. How many people will your company send to the event? Are they sociable people? Are they eager to share the product with a wider audience? It is always better to anticipate a bunch of enthusiastic fans, who may even know your games better than you do, than to show up at the convention and just sit behind the table and not interact with visitors. When you have scripts ready, give them to your volunteers and you are ready to go.

When I say "show up", I don’t mean only conventions. I mean show up on Consim World, BoardGameGeek and at least some other social media. And do it regularly! You cannot just appear once in a while with a copy of your newsletter. First and foremost you need to give value to your audience. Share images of your upcoming games, pictures from the process, designer’s notes, but first and foremost answer gamers’ questions.

When you publish a game this is not over yet If you don’t show up to answer questions about the rules (or instruct a designer to do this) the game quickly becomes a rotten egg and sadly your company image suffers too. This is especially important when you are a small company and you cannot assume that one of those hundreds of players, who already purchased your game, will know the answer. No, you haven’t sold that many copies yet, so make it a priority to help gamers understand those rules. Gamers who are left alone with their questions unanswered may not trust that your next game will be worth buying.


Does it seem to you that I’m being silly now, assuming that you may actually do the opposite? I don’t suspect you will, but do you do enough to make your customers and especially loyal fans feel appreciated? The more you acknowledge your audience, the more connected they will feel and they will also be more likely to purchase your games.

When someone posts a good review on any of your products thank them by leaving a comment or simply hitting the like button. When someone tags you in a post or a comment which recommends your product, at least leave a like. If someone posts a picture of your game in play on Facebook and tags you in it, share that picture on your page (I mean share by hitting the share button, not saving the photo and posting it as your own). Those small gestures mean a lot to many gamers and builds a loyal group of fans and ambassadors of your brand.

When you are at a convention and anyone (and I mean literally anyone) stops at your booth to take a look at your game, assume that this person may end up buying it. Don’t dismiss a person based on their appearance, age, gender or other popular stereotypes about what wargamers look like. Always engage with people, even those who show only the slightest interest.

If a fan helps you at the convention, give them some games in exchange for their time. Thank them by name on your social platforms. And never, ever forget to include playtesters and proofreaders names in the credits!

You may wonder how your relationship with your fans, volunteers and playtesters may help you attract more casual gamers. The answer is, we don’t live in a bubble. The better you treat those customers you already have, the wider the net you cast in the sea.


These are just few examples of how to attract new customers to your brand and most of them involve only your time and effort. The best thing is, by concisely following these steps you will provide not only better games for all of us - no matter grognard, play-it-all or a newbie – but will also strengthen your own brand, gain a loyal audience, customers, fans and ambassadors - something which no money can buy.

Wargame Design Studio       A new wargame studio has been set up by the folks behind the recent Panzer Battles games.   We wi...

Wargame Design Studio Wargame Design Studio

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


A new wargame studio has been set up by the folks behind the recent Panzer Battles games.
We wish them good luck and hope they continue to make new wargames to keep us entertained long into the future. I also hope we get to see some unique designs and features in some of their future games.

Transcript of Joel Billings  of 2by3 Games Interrogation      Good morning Mr. Billings, I hope you had a pleasant night. Now ...

Interrogation of Joel Billings Interrogation of Joel Billings

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


Transcript of Joel Billings of 2by3 Games Interrogation

Good morning Mr. Billings, I hope you had a pleasant night. Now to continue with our 'interview'. If it will help matters we can do a little role playing. I will go get my dentistry tools and ask you if it is "safe".

First some quick fire 'about you' questions.


Joel Billings

Hair colour?

Eye colour?






Single or in a relationship?

Married 27 years

Little Joels or..erm..Joelettes?

2 daugters, Melany 26, Jenna 23, 1 son, Alex 18 (about to leave for college, at which point all 3 will have gone to the dark side - Southern California - while my wife and I are in the San Francisco Bay Area).

Favourite food?


Favourite film?

Das Boot

Favourite colour? 

Really? (mumbling between interrogators)

Favourite book?

Task Force Lone Bandit (my father wrote it, so I’m biased)

Favourite music genre and bands?

Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Elvis Costello (rock of the 70s, as my music life peaked when I was in college)

Favourite holiday destination?

Western Europe

Lucky Number?

43 (actually my wife’s, but it’s been my roller hockey jersey number for the past 20 years)

BF109 or Hurricane?


Sherman or Panzer IV?


West front or East front?

It depends on the scale and/or battle, but I like them both.

Tactical or Operational?


Rommel or Patton?

I’m too much of an American to not pick Patton. My father took me to the movie Patton when it came out when I was 12. My uncle served in the 1st Division in Sicily and he had a mixed opinion of Patton. My dad was just happy that Patton didn’t go into politics.

Hmmm..interesting....Now we have a good idea from the ACME Lie Detector when your telling the truth we shall get on the real questions. Remember ACME Lie detector currently has a money back guarantee, that's how good it is!


What started your career with computer gaming in general, and specifically wargames?

I started playing wargames with Tactics II at the age of 7 in 1965. My father got the game from his brother (both WWII vets), and my father taught it to me. After that Gettysburg, and many other Avalon Hill boardgames followed. I loved it as my father got me interested in military history by the time I was in 2nd grade. I spent the next 14 years playing as many wargames (and some statistical sports games) as I could afford, while I eventually got a degree in Economics from Claremont McKenna College in the Los Angeles area. In 1979 when I graduated from college and saw my first personal computer (a TRS-80 at Radio Shack), I thought the time was right for wargames to be made on computers. I had a small amount of computer experience in college, and had programmed a very simple wargame for a BASIC computer class. I didn’t have the skills to do the programming myself, but I was lucky enough to be spending my summer after graduating working in Silicon Valley. Through the local wargame stores I found two programmers that were also wargamers and interested in working with me. At that point, I founded Strategic Simulations, Inc (SSI). Had I not been in Silicon Valley, I don’t think any of this would have been possible. For that I have to thank my favorite college professor who had gotten me an internship at Amdahl that led to the summer job, and my uncle for letting me live in his house in Palo Alto that summer and for giving me encouragement to put off business school and start SSI instead.

What have been the major hurdles you’ve come across during your game development career?

Early at SSI since most of our games were in BASIC, we struggled with making the games run fast enough. Later on, the issues became that the games grew to be so complicated and time-intensive that testing them in a reasonable time-frame became very difficult. My major struggles weren’t so much in development of wargames though, as they were managing SSI as it grew and produced non-wargames. I enjoyed all kinds of strategy games, including statistical sports games, although wargames were my real passion. Many of the development people at SSI were big role-players (not me), so that allowed us to branch out into role-playing games generally and the SSI D&D license was the culmination of that effort. By 1990, wargames were no more than 25% of SSIs sales, so a lot of my time was spent on the business and not as much of my time went into game development. Two years after selling SSI to Mindscape in 1994, I decided to end my short lived executive career at Mindscape and go back to being a wargame developer at SSI. In 2000 the opportunity came up to partner with Gary Grigsby and Keith Brors and create 2by3 Games with the idea to focus entirely on developing Gary’s wargames. I had been developing Gary’s games since 1982 and his were always my favorite wargame designs, so it was a natural partnership. The challenge we’ve faced at 2by3 is how to continue making these ever increasingly complex games given their limited market. It wouldn’t happen without the group of volunteers that came from our fan community and have done all kinds of work needed to produce these projects (database, scenario, testing, programming and more).

Which game are you most proud off that you’ve been involved in?

That’s hard to say. Over the years, starting with War in Russia in the early 80s and ending with War in the East in 2010, Gary’s eastern front series of games have been very special to me. I was a huge fan of SPI’s War in the East monster board wargame when it first came out in the early 70s). Another game I am very proud of is the original Panzer General. As arguably the best selling personal computer hexagon based wargame of all time, it was a very special project created by an all-star group of employees at SSI in 1994. I think the many games in the Panzer General series, and the PG inspired Panzer Corps series put out more recently by Matrix, have introduced a lot of people to PC wargaming. I’m proud of War in the Pacific, given just how difficult it was to develop. Once released, I never wanted to see it again, but I was very proud of its release and subsequent improvement by the community with the release of WitPAE.

So War in the Pacific was the hardest to see to completion? Why was that?

Every ship, every plane, pilot, squad fighting in the entire Pacific. A game that played in daily turns executing ever airstrike for 4 years. It was massive. The only way it could be tested quickly was using the AI to play the AI, and even that took days. Having human players test it was very difficult. We had done massive games before, but this was the biggest by far.

What have been your low points and what have been the high points?

Getting to develop 10-15 games a year in the 80s was a lot of fun, although it was also hard work. Getting SSIs first game completed in 6 months, and then getting SSI to turn profitable within a year were big early high points. Later on, getting the Dungeons & Dragons license in 1987 and releasing many successful D&D products over the next few years were high points. Not being able to take advantage of those D&D products on the early consoles, and problems with completing the 2nd generation D&D engine, and the layoff that came because of it were low points. The sale of SSI was both a high and a low, and the early success of SSI within Mindscape, thanks in part to Panzer General and Steel Panthers was another high. Forming 2by3 Games in 2000 and getting to work with Gary on a day to day basis again as I did in the 80s was another high point, as were the release of WitP (more of a relief) and War in the East.

What advice would you give to someone who was contemplating designing\developing wargames?

Play a lot of games. Get involved with beta testing wargames. You may find you can talk to various game designers/developers and help out with various tasks aside from just testing. There is a difference between a programmer/designer and someone like me that hasn’t programmed since 1982. It’s hard for non-programmers to get to be designers, but it’s more possible for them to be a developer. However, I found that my basic knowledge of BASIC back when most of our games were programed in basic did help me deal with programmers, so I’d encourage developers to get some experience if they can with programming, if only at a very basic level.

How do you feel about the change from brick and mortar commerce to the new internet download version?

I’m very happy to see it go this way. It works for wargames, especially when we have a great distribution partner in Matrix. Most wargames are niche products and had an increasingly difficult time finding shelf space. Unsold gamers were returned, forcing prices down as inventory stacked up. Removing the middle man (retailer and often a distributor) means more for the designer and publisher. For downloaded products, the cost of the download is less than the cost of the box and docs, so that’s another advantage.

Do developers and programmers get a larger percentage of profits with the new model and the absence of overhead?

Yes, generally royalty percentages are higher than they were back in the 80s and 90s, and the percentage of the retail price actually received by the publisher is higher than it was in the brick and mortar days. That’s not to say you get rich making serious wargames, but the amount received per game sold is higher than it used to be.

Can you give us a brief run down on how SSI came into being and what are your feelings when you look back to that time?

I got the idea of making computer wargames in 1979 while working at a summer job in Silicon Valley between graduating from college and going to business school. When I was able to find two programmers also interested in making computer wargames, we started SSI. I did not plan on becoming a publisher, but once Avalon Hill said they weren’t interested in what we were doing, I had to figure out how to publish and distribute our first wargame when we finished it 6 months later. It was a great time, when personal computers were just getting into stores, and computer users were hungry for software. For me, it was great fun because once we started publishing our games, people started submitting games for publication. I got to work on a new game every month, and I got to work with some great designer/programmers. When I look back, I wonder just how everything came together, and how much we were able to do without any experience. Of course, when you’re young, you’ve got time and energy. It helped to have my sister running the production part of the company, and having my uncle available to provide business advice. In many ways it was a family business. At the same time, the people that joined our R&D department were all wargamers, so we had that in common. As the company grew, there was always a game going on of some kind, at lunch, or afterwork. Board games, miniature games, role-playing, you name it. When I met my wife in 1986, she described the company as a treehouse for gamers.

Was it a terrible blow to let go of SSI, or was it a relief at the time?

It was a bit of both. I knew that selling SSI to a bigger company would inevitably change the company forever. If it wasn’t for the increasing cost of development and the risks associated with that for a small company, I would have been happy to stay independent. However, with the gaming consoles coming in, the rising cost of development, and the increasingly hit driven business, the risks were too great. Once we decided it was time to become part of a bigger company, it then became a matter of finding a company that valued us. It took over a year, and two possible deals going south (EA and Spectrum Holobyte), before Mindscape came along. Since they had recently been bought by a big British conglomerate, it seemed as if there was a good chance for us to do well there. In fact we did very well for the first two years within Mindscape (partially because we were no longer shackled by the EA affiliated label distribution deal that was costing us a lot and partially due to some timely hit products). Unfortunately, Mindscape had its own problems, and I found I really didn’t enjoy the corporate management game and preferred working directly on the games.

You must understand that this mode of questioning is a means to an end. This isn't just an outlet for my salacious appetites. Some people believe that the heyday for computer wargames was years ago. My feeling is that we are in the golden age right now. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Thanks to Matrix and internet distribution, I’d agree that times are pretty good for computer wargames. Unlike boardgames, computer games are constantly changing due to changing technological capabilities. So it’s hard to compare a game from the 80s to one of today. There seem to be plenty of good games for people to spend time on.

Wargaming (both board and computer) is a hobby where the players are, to put it gently, aging. Do you see it this way, or do you feel there is actually new blood filling the hobby's veins?

Yes, I think a lot of our customers are aging baby boomers that started with hex based board wargames in their youth, and then got computers after college and moved their gaming to computers. Back in 1980 I found the average age of our customers was 23, and I was 22 at the time. Over the years, the average age of our customers kept going up. There was a wave of new gamers that came in during the 90s via games like Panzer General and Steel Panthers. Those games sold 5 to 10 times what any other wargame had sold. They were easy enough and good looking enough to attract some new gamers. Some of these people went on to play more complex wargames. Of course wargamers are outnumbered by other computer gamers, but some percentage of computer games manage to find computer wargames and get interested. I don’t have any hard data on our customers these days, but I’d bet for games like Gary Grigsby’s War in the East, the average age is probably near 50. I’d bet that the average age of Panzer Corps players is much lower. Hopefully games like Panzer Corps will continue to create new wargamers, although I do wonder how different wargames will be 10-20 years from now when the old guard that played wargames before computers came along are mostly gone.

What do you feel needs to be done to bring younger wargamers into the fold?

More games like Panzer General and Steel Panthers. Good looking, intuitive, easy to play games that are more accessible to non-wargamers. Is it fair to compare an author and a programmer? Both are in some way creating something new. A programmer/designer is like an author in a way, as game design is a creative process. Of course understanding high level programming is a barrier to entry for many would-be designers. At SSI back in the 80s we used to say that designs were a dime a dozen. The key was finding a designer that had the ability to program his design. Keith Brors was a great help in those days creating tools that Gary and other others used to make many of our early wargames. Without those tools, it would have been much harder for some of the designers to program their games. But fundamentally, it took a designer that could program to make a game happen.

Does a programmer suffer things like 'programmers block' etc?

I’m not really one to answer that as my only experience at programming was programming Pursuit of the Graf Spee back in 1981. I know that Gary often hits problems that require him to take a long walk on the beach to work out in his head. After taking that time, his mind manages to come up with solutions to the problem he’s trying to deal with.

Please hold still and stop squirming, and let the sodium pentothal do its work. You were involved with some wargame releases whose longevity boggles the mind.

Some in our hobby keep an extra old DOS computer just to play some of your games. The original SSI wargames are spoken about in hushed tones like the boardgame giant SPI, in our hobby.

There are four games from twenty plus years ago that everyone seems to want to have an updated version of. They are 'Age of Rifles', 'Battles of Napoleon', 'Great Naval Battles' and 'Steel Panthers'; you were involved with all of them in some way or another. Are you surprised at this fact, or when you saw the completed editions, did you know they were winners?

Games that have the flexibility to cover many different battles of a period are always more interesting (and popular) than those covering just one battle. AoR, BoN and SP, all fit that category. Of course SP was much more commercially successful than the others, but we knew all three were fundamentally good products that covered their subjects well and allowed players to simulate a wide variety of battles. It’s no surprise that people would like to see these games return in an updated form (I’d like to see them as well). GNB was special because it was a much better looking game than other wargames of its time and had a real time element. All 4 of these gamers were made by experienced designers that had a lot of experience making computer wargames and knew a lot about the subjects they were working on.


If you stop fighting, I will loosen the ropes a bit. This is hurting me as much as it is hurting you, you know. So, now to the elephant in the room. We have had '2 by 3 Games' ' Gary Grigsby's War in the East', now ' Gary Grigsby's War in the West', and ' Gary Grigsby's War in the Pacific: Admirals Edition'. There have been some mutterings on Matrix's forum about the schedule of upcoming games. If memory serves me, 'Gary Grigsby's War in the East II' and a compilation that will be 'Gary Grigsby's War in Europe' have been talked about. In the midst of these postings was a nugget called ' Steel Tigers', so just sit back, and I will get you some water and you can tell us all about '2 by 3 Games' upcoming schedule. Which future release are you most excited about working on, if any?

At the moment, we’re working on both War in the East 2 and Steel Tigers, and I’m equally excited by both. War in the East 2 is a continuation of the progress we’ve made with the WitE and WitW system, using the map we created of all of Europe that was used in WitW. Exactly how far we will take this system is unknown. We’d like to be able to ultimately reach a point where we can have games with Soviet, Axis and Allied units all fighting in Europe. Getting a game that allows this starting in 1943 would be easier than starting in 1941, and much easier than starting in 1940 or 1939. At the moment we’re relying on Gary for the AI programming while Pavel is doing 90% of the rest of the programming. I really like the changes we’ve made so far, and think this game will go a long way to providing an even more accurate simulation of the Eastern Front. As for Steel Tigers, we’re working closely with Matrix’s internal development team. It’s really a joint effort as the goal is to be every bit as state of the art with ST as SP was when it was released.

Steel Tigers is the one I’m really excited about. Will old Steel Panther players recognise it as a new Steel Panthers game, or will it look very different?

Steel Tigers will be a top down hex game with the same scale as the original Steel Panthers. However, the look and feel and interface will be up to today’s standards and should be very impressive. The original Steel Panthers looked as good as most AAA products circa 1995. We’d like Steel Tigers to be just as impressive relative to today’s games. It’s not 3D, but it uses 3D models to provide a great graphical look. The ability to play individual scenarios, linked campaigns and semi-random campaigns will be familiar to those that played SP. Of course Gary has added some new elements (like the ability to split infantry units), but fundamentally we want this to play as smoothly as SP did, but with the benefit of 20 years of improvements in graphics and interface.

Will you be aiming for historical accuracy and realism with detailed ballistic model and armour modelling, if not how will these things be modelled?

With Gary involved, we’re always aiming for historical accuracy and realism. When you realize that the combat in War in the East is being resolved in a shot by shot method that began with Steel Panthers (or even before), you know that Gary has a lot of experience making combat systems. His primary responsibility with ST is the under the hood code, so I have complete confidence that the game will be realistic.

No one expects these days for Steel Tigers to be released with all the Nations etc Steel Panthers was released with. Can you tell us what Nations will be in the first release?

I’m glad you asked. The effort it takes to create artwork for all the weapons is much greater these days than it used to be in 1995. For that reason alone, we realized early on that we needed to break SP into pieces. The first product will focus on the Eastern Front. We will have the Soviet Union, Germany, and most if not all of the Axis Allies that fought on the Eastern Front. If I recall correctly, we’re also including Poland. We fully expect to release expansions covering Western Europe and the Pacific, but for now, we’re focused on the Eastern Front.

Last question on Steel Tigers. What years will it cover?

It will cover battles from 1939-1945.

You’ve been very co-operative. Which upsets Mike as he still hasn’t got to use the nose tickler! In fifteen minutes the ACME Kidnap rope will automatically release you from the ACME kidnap chair, well that’s what it says on the box. Oh no not again...Mike, Run…sirens..Jay this that th(sounds of someone or something running into a wall,,more shouting fades into distance..sounds of victim getting themselves free)...TAPE ENDS

The following transcript is the interrogation of David Heath formerly of Matrix Games and now main man at Lock ‘n Load Publishing.       ...

The David Heath Interrogation, sorry Interview:) The David Heath Interrogation, sorry Interview:)

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!


The following transcript is the interrogation of David Heath formerly of Matrix Games and now main man at Lock ‘n Load Publishing.


Hello, all! I've managed through a covert operation to kidnap another mover and shaker within the wargames industry. After a two-minute torture session involving gaffer tape, a chair and a feather duster, David Heath of Lock ‘n Load Publishing finally succumbed and agreed to answer any questions our devious interrogator could come up with. The transcript of said interrogation is below. Interrogators questions (Bob "You can't say that" Me "Oh yeah right"). Interviewer questions in black typeface and interviewee answers in red.

  OK first and foremost please introduce yourself, and not just name rank and serial number! In fact, why haven't you just been saying your name, rank, and serial number? Oh and stop saying there was no need for all this..we’re not going to fall for that old trick, we’re not stupid you know! Tell me who you are, your age, your favorite music, your favorite band, your favorite color (no idea why I'm asking that but go with it), favorite food and your favorite game of all time. Finally, are you married or single and are there any little ones around?

  Well, ok my name is David Heath, I am 51, and music tastes are all over the place, from Rock, Punk Rock, Big Band and Classical. Some of my favourite artists are The Cars, Stray Cats, The Police, MxPx, Post Modern Jukebox and Thousand Foot Krutch. I do enjoy some classic bands like The Clash, the Beatles, and the artist Carman.

  Two of my favorite board game designers are Mark Herman and Erik Lee Smith. I pretty much enjoy any games designed by these guys. Some of my favorite designs ,that I highly recommend, are Across the Five Aprils and Churchill. My favorite board game is by John Prados titled Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. 

  On the digital side, three of my top designers are Gary Grigsby, Norm Kroger and John Tiller. I can’t think of any digital game I would call my favourite, but I do still enjoy Steel Panthers World At War.

  I’ve been married to a wonderful woman for 24 years named Ava Marie. We have three boys Andrew 19, Nicholas 17 and Shane 12. I also have what I call my extended kids, Austin 18, Noah 14 and Jesse 9 from my sister family. All of the boys are gamers from consoles, computers to table top games we do them all. My family throughout my life have always supported my gaming habits which makes me a doubly blessed. Oh, and I almost forgot my favorite color is blue.

  Good, good, that's more like it. I see you're now willing to co-operate. OK, Bob, you can put the nose tickler away! So, David, I'd like to start at the beginning. What did you want to be when a little David?

  My Dad was always watching historical shows and movies, and it gave me a love for all things history. In the 5th grade, I found my first wargame at my local Toys R Us by Avalon Hill and the love affair has never ended. I always wanted to design, develop and publish games and I've been so blessed by God and my family to be able to follow my dreams.

  So how did you follow your dreams, what was your first job and at what point did you become involved in the gaming business?

  First thing I decided was to learn as much as I could about the process and the game industry. My High School had an internship program and I was told if I could find a company willing to take me on I could do it, since they didn’t have any companies for game design, imagine that. 

  I called Victory Games in New York City and had a few talks with Mark Herman and he agreed to give it a try. I am so grateful to both Mark Herman, Erik Lee Smith and everyone else at Victory Games for giving me a chance. Those guys took a lot of their personal time showing me how they do things and why. Trust me it was the best thing I got out of High School after my wife. 

 The mid 80’s was a good time for me NYC, after work on Friday it was time to go hang out in midtown before going off to the Village for some dinner. The Complete Strategist in New York City was the wargame hangout. Daniel, the store owner, always took the time to greet everyone and review of the latest games and to talk shop. I learned about what stores needed and why. We would talk for hours, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

  What was the first game\project you worked on? How did the game do and was the experience enjoyable?

  Hmmm, that would be the Ambush series and Pacific War for Victory Games. I got to help with the map for Pacific War, which was some of the best times I had at Victory Games. The guys at Victory Games never treated me as a stupid kid. They made sure to put me down as a playtester on the Ambush modules I worked on. Both games are considered classics these days.  I also did some playtesting for SSI and made friends with a lot of the people there.

My first computer project with myself at the helm was after I started The Gamers Network, an online review site. I wanted to do more and I loved Steel Panthers and had made friends with Joel Billings from SSI. After many talks I finally convinced Joel to allow my group to have the source code to do a fan base edition of Steel Panthers Series. I think he might have just been tired of the debate (grin). Both winSPWW2 edition from Shrapnel games and Steel Panthers World At War by Matrix Games came out of from my talks with Joel and Gary. This was a significant achievement back then and was never allowed normally.  Neither edition of Steel Panthers would exist today if it was not for Joel and Gary taking a chance and agreeing to this. 
 Michael Wood was the lead programmer with Bill Wilder and his Raiders working on the scenario designs. As a team, we worked very hard trying out new ideas and finally released Steel Panthers World At War. What we figured would be a blip on the gaming world took off and was a huge success for us and would become the starting point for Matrix Games. I was told it would never happen; then that nothing would come of it. Lesson learned from that is to pray hard and keep your eye on the prize.

  Most of us first heard your name with regards to Matrix Games. If my sources are right, you started Matrix Games back in Staten Island, New York in 1999. Can you tell us what made you want to start up a game company devoted to wargames and how did the process go in getting it up off the ground and running as a viable business?

  At the time I started Matrix Games I had already owned a few business but that work was never as heart felt as when I was doing gaming stuff. My goal at the time was to work Monday through Thursday, play games Thursday night until late and then be off on Friday to recover. It never worked that way, but it helped me decide that  I wanted to do something in the game field. 

 Everyone had told me it wouldn't make money and to not waste my time. I started with the Gamers Network reporting on anything to do with board or computer wargames and enjoyed that.  When we started doing Steel Panthers: World At War I  felt one of the advantages we had was that we were already working as a tight team.

  Looking back at your time at Matrix Games which game are you most proud of and which was the most successful?
  I am very proud of all the products we put out and the people I worked with. Uncommon Valor was one of my favorites since it was the first time I got to work with Gary Grigsby and Joel Billings on a new product. Most people never get to meet their heroes; I got to do that and work with them.

 Also which game would you rather forget about?

 Oh, that is an easy one, Fortress Europa. I can still here Erik Rutins laughing at me for years about that game. It was a mess, and it was all my fault. To this day I still get taunted about it, luckily there are not many copies out there, if any to be found. What it did teach me was everything you produce is important and not to be taken for granted. That means the manual, player aids, menus and even the inside of a box. The first two big lessons I learned here was to never stop reviewing the game during the development process and keep trying to find ways to make it better, and that does not always mean cheaper. The third colossal one was never let anyone pressure you to release something you are not happy with. Something I think some designers and publishers can use today.

  David, your companies’ philosophy always seems to be to create a family atmosphere and a close-knit community, do you feel you were successful in achieving this? Was this important to you?

 This has always been my philosophy; The staff that work well together, play together and have fun and not always be just work. Sometimes you just need a break. I have closed the office to catch a movie, a surprise food break, etc. The team knows I want to hear their views on any given subject, and I do consider what is being said to me. I once had a guy tell me “I must make all final design decisions” I said “No way”. I know I'm not the smartest person in the room. I’m just someone who made some mistakes and hope I’ve learned from them. Once any decision is made and jobs are allocated  I then expect total commitment and their best effort no matter what.

  From the customer end, it’s simple; I want the customers to be able to get in touch with our designers and staff. I personally never trust a company that doesn’t have a forum to engage its customers. I try to answer our customers questions, and I do enjoy chatting with them. Half the fun of gaming is talking to people and that should not change if you are a publisher.

If you could go back is there anything you’d do differently?

  Look there is a lot of things I would love to have a redo on but that is not life. I try to roll with the punches and move forward. So I do not over think the past. I figure out what could have been done better and then make sure I do that next time.

What were your high points and if any your low points during your tenure of Matrix Games?

  I enjoyed it all from the start to the end. Some things more than others but overall good times. I love putting deals together and making what I was told would never happen, happen.

Why did you feel the time was right to sell to Slitherine Games?

 We had published about 80+ games, and I felt I had gone as far as I could take the company. I was simply burned out at the time, and I need challenges and goals to work towards to drive me. I figured the deal with them would help me get to the next level. It never worked that way.

 I didn’t know it then but I was starting to get sick, and being a typical man I suppose it took some time before I went to see a doctor and that of course ended up with me needing surgery. It was supposed to be a simple ,quick check up but they found two tumors growing inside me. The good news is I'm now fully recovered, I lost over 140 pounds and now I just need to pay more attention to my health.

  After the sale, it was announced you'd still be around, however at some point you disappeared. What happened?

 After the sale was completed, I had a hard time finding a place to fit in. This is not to blame the new owners, as I am sure I was not in the best of places personally. The new owner had their business style and ideas, and I had mine, and the two didn’t match.
  I was there for about two years; during that time my Dad past, and we were very close. My Dad attended the conventions with us, and we always had a great time. One of my best memories is of my Dad, Bill Wilder, Bill Trotter and Larry Bond simply talking about life over a cup of coffee. Another time we went to GenCon, and we were all getting ready for the hall to open, and GenCon some of the costumes people wear are a little wilder than at other conventions. I tried to warn my Dad and he looks at me and says “David I’ve seen it all before”, within five minutes a girl dressed in a gothic outfit walks up with her boyfriend (I assume it was a boyfriend) on all fours in a leather spike outfit on a leash. My Dad just stared at them and then at all of us and said “I was wrong, very wrong.” We all broke out laughing, and the couple started explaining what game their outfits was for. 

  So with my Dad passing the spark kind of went out of me for a bit. During the time I ran Matrix we hardly had any staff turnover, but by this point only two or so of the original team was left, so the company I called mine was not there anymore. I felt it was pretty much time to go. So I did, and that was that door closed and I then took a break.

 After that, I started started working with an old friend who ran Just Adventure. I was helping  developers and getting involved in products very much like before and it was refreshing. I was allowed to run my area of the company, and I just enjoyed the freedom and the challenge working there. I still collaborate with the guys there when needed.

  You're now the owner of Lock ‘n Load Publishing. How did this come about and what was it about Lock ‘n Load Publishing that appealed to you?

  Mark Walker the original owner of Lock n’ Load called me and simply said he was looking for someone to buy the company and asked if I was interested. At first said “No thank you”, but a buddy of mine thought it would be a good idea, and I was feeling the need to get back in the game. So after some more talks a deal was worked out.

 What did you do first once taking over Lock ‘n Load Publishing?

 There was a lot, and it took me a while to get a handle on all the products and then for me to work out what needed to be done, and more importantly how. Once I started figuring out the details I soon realised there were quite a few issues, some minor, some not. One of the main issues was getting the product lines back to the market.

 I decided that the best way to correct a lot of issues was to print as much as possible in-house. This gives us a lot of freedom, but it took a while to work out those details. This caused Mark and I to bump heads as we both have very different styles of handling things and the end result was Mark starting a new company called Flying Pig Games. At this time Mark has released one new box game and another one is on the way.

What has been your hardest thing you needed to overcome? 
  The games themselves have been the best and at the same time the worst thing to overcome. At this point, I feel Lock ‘n Load Publishing is doing the best it ever has, and the community seems to agree. We know there are still more things we need to improve and we will. The games and the systems themselves are in the best shape ever, the rules, maps and counters have all been improved where needed. Our new editions having been selling out in record time.

  Let me take a moment to do a shameless plug of my team because without them none of this would have been possible; Jeff Lewis now leads the Lock ‘n Load Tactical Series, Sean Druelinger the Nations At War Series, Matt Lohse, and Keith Tracton the World At War 85 Series. In-house helping me keep it all together on the graphic end is Marc von Martial, Blackwell Hird, and David Julien. Darren White and Jason Church are covering our flanks handling our Production, Shipping, and Customer Support. There are many others like Ralph Ferrari, Jim Zabek, designers, programmers, etc. The bottom line is it's all about the people you surround yourself with and with a great team you can do just about anything. We have improved the quality of our game line and the gamers overall experience.

What do you consider to be some of the best changes you made at Lock ‘n Load Publishing?

  I guess taking any confusion out of the company name, game series titles, new domain name and a major one is simply making the games available again. 

 The other big one was the need for expansions, to need other expansions. You should never need something such as extra counters, maps, player aid cards etc., to play a standalone or what we call a core/base game.
  In an expansion you will of course need a core/base game but not another expansion and especially not one from another historical era. To help clear this issue up in Lock ‘n Load Tactical we made it easy, if you see the word “Hero” in a title of a Lock ‘n Load Tactical game you know it is a complete game and requires nothing else. 

 I think it’s very frustrating for customers to buy  a modern era expansion that not only requires a modern core/base game which is understandable, but then to also require the customer to purchase a World War II era core/base game just so you can use the maps to play the expansion this is just too much. By us making things consolidated where possible it gives the customer confidence in what they are purchasing and what they can expect in a game from us.

  What do you consider to be some of the bigger changes you made for the customers since you took over?

  Of course the games, but outside of that, I would say the new pre-order/backorder system with our new customer loyalty program. Our new pre-order system will allow you to place pre-orders with no need for a credit card or payment upfront. No Risk or Outlay of money. When the pre-order is ready for shipment, you will be sent an email with a link to click on and pay for your pre-order. You will then have ten days to do this, and if during the interval you decide not purchase the product then you don't need to do anything. The order will automatically be cancelled, and you may order the game at any time at the current price.

  We use to have a reward point system, you had to know how many award points you needed for a game, limited to what products you could use them on and you needed to remember to use them at checkout. Our new Loyalty system is simple and does all the work for you. Our new Loyalty system keeps tracks of your purchase history and applies you with a discount at checkout; that is applied to all of your purchases including pre-orders. This discount is visible right at checkout, and you never need to do anything. As you purchase more games over time, your discount will increase over time giving you an even larger discounts. Your discount is made based on your purchases over time and NOT the amount currently in your cart.

  One of the things gamers hate is throwing down money on a game with no idea if they like it. When I was at Matrix Games we were always being asked to provide a demo. Wargames are not first person shooters so making a demo is a lot harder, and a major time drain for the programmer. Most wargames need some type of printed rules. The last thing is, we are setting up services to provide much better rates for our customers in Europe and Canada. Expect to hear more on that soon.

  Lock ‘n Load Publishing is most famous for its board games, where Matrix Games was mainly digital wargames. So will the board game side still have a big role in the future of Lock ‘n Load Publishing or will digital wargames become Lock ‘n Load Publishing's bread and butter?

  When I was doing computer games one of the biggest issues we had was not all programmers are game designers. So many of the games could have been better or they took a lot longer than they should have to complete. Having a long list of proven game designs and systems takes that problem away. 
 Just about every digital game we release will have a Windows and MAC edition followed by iPad and iPhone where possible. Our idea is to provide a totally FREE core edition of our digital games. So anyone can download the whole complete game and start playing. Our core game will normally come with one a two easy battles/scenarios to allow a gamer to see if he likes it and make sure it works on his system. If the customer is pleased with it he may purchase the games Battle Packs that will provide more battles/scenarios. This also helps with updates as every engine update will automatically update any older content. We currently have available Panther Games Command Ops 2, so if you’re not sure it is for you, simple, download it and find out.

  Line of Fire Magazine issues seemed to have stop. When is the next issue coming out?

 The quick answer, it is not. We had a lot of customers not wanting to buy a magazine just for a few scenarios for the one or two games they liked. We have decided to stop releasing any new issues of the magazine for the foreseeable future. 

 Our customer want more content for the games they already have from us. So we will be releasing more Compendium magazines for our different game series. We are taking the games that have been released in back issues of Line of Fire and re-releasing them as stand-alone products. The next two Compendium will be for Lock ‘n Load Tactical. The first one will cover scenarios and articles for Lock ‘n Load Tactical: World War II and the second one for the Modern Era. They should have all the previous released Lock ‘n Load Tactical scenarios with a few surprises.

  Gamers can be quite a vocal lot. Wargamers I reckon are probably one of the hardest to please. Grognards want different things to the casual gamer, then they all have their favourite scale, then you have the traditionalists and then those who are happy to see new mechanics, all with something to say and usually not shy in voicing their opinions.

 What’s your experience been like dealing with what can be a difficult section of gamers especially difficult to please? Does this make developing\designing wargames tougher than a different genre of game?

 There are always a few that you can't please and those I don’t worry about too much. Overall the gamers are a great and understanding lot. I never liked using email for a customer support, emails get lost or missed. Our forums and support desk really help us 90% of the time with keeping up with our customers. We also go around the internet keeping are customers informed and answering questions where ever  we have a presence like BGG, CSW, Facebook, Twitter, and Google. 

 One of the things I personally do is pick a recently placed order and call that customer and see how he felt his service was. I don’t mind upset customers because if they are spending money and something is wrong they have the right to say so and that is why we have a support ticket system and the forums. There is no hiding, when we make a mistake we take our lumps, but this goes both ways and we have customers who post how happy they are, leave us nice support tickets saying thank you etc.

  As for designing/developing games I would say it makes no difference. The designers are important but if you want a great game it really requires a good developer.

  What advice can you give to those who are thinking about getting into the game business as a publisher?

 If you've got the bug to publish the likelihood is you have already started. If you’ve got a question just ask someone at a publishing company or even a local print shop. I get calls and emails from college students to gamers asking questions all the time. I don’t mind answering a few questions from time to time so feel free to email me.

 What advice can you give to those wanting to work in the game business in any other position?

  Go to a company (LnLP is always looking) and start off with a few scenarios, or playtesting. Then try your hand at maybe building an expansion for a game.

  What job within the business would you say is the one most needed so easier to get a job in? What would skills you say are must haves for those with ambitions to get into the game business?

Each companies needs are different but one part of a game that can be a gateway into the industry are the graphics. To me the Graphic Artist is the most needed but not necessarily the easiest job to get in with, and that is the short simple answer. Not all artists can do all things, but once a publisher can make a connection it’s a good starting point.

 What is the most important thing you feel our hobby needs?

Bring in more gamers PERIOD, and I am not talking about more Magic players. There is nothing wrong with Magic but it is not growing our hobby at all. We need more clubs, gaming groups and leaders to help teach someone what this hobby is all about. The first gaming club I found was through the General magazine whilst I was in High School and I am still friends with many of those guys.

  We need starter wargames to teach what a ZOC is and other basic wargaming terms. There are a lot of good games for this, Jim Werbaneth’s Rommel At Gazala, Peter Bogdasarian’s Tank On Tank Series and there are a lot of other games from other publishers. 
 We need more games that keep us engaged, here is an example of what I am getting at. I went to play Churchill and I could not get pass the rulebook. I am sure it was me, to tired or simply just not connecting the dots. The game is just such a great design it was like nothing I had played before. I was so lost that I had to have a friend come by to teach me. I got the pizza and he taught me the game. I loved the game and it seemed so much easier than the rulebook made it look. This game would never have been played if I had needed to figure it out by myself. 

 I teach at a school on computer software and I convinced the school to allow me to teach the software class while giving them a real project. The project is teaching these kids how to design, develop and produce a game. This fall I will kick this off, I have no idea how it will go but I am excited.

  This past February I was reminded how important these retail stores are to our hobby. My son Shane and I went to Jeff Newell’s convention called Game On in Seattle, it is a small convention but one of the most enjoyable ones I attend. One of the exhibitors was a game store called Around the Table which is based in Seattle. One of the owners is Nick Coelho who I had never met before yet soon we were chatting away and  I stated that I would like to learn two games at his booth. Nick went and got his own copies of these two games and came back and spent the evening teaching my son and I how to play and then went on to play the games with us. Not wanting to make a choice I had to buy both games. If I ever open a Lock ‘n Load game store, I promise this will be done at my store if it ever comes to be.

  What are your dreams for Lock ‘n Load Publishing?

  What any publisher wants, gamers to enjoy the games we publish.

  Finally, I want NUTS! and it's expansions Clash of Titans and Stalingrad by two-hour wargames to be converted to the PC. We won't get the nose tickler out if you now commit to this?

  Hey, Ed and I were just talking about making a LnLP edition of NUTS it may be closer then you think.

Bob, what's that noise? Sirens? Oh sh…Bob thank you for your time, just cut yourself out of the chair with these..oh you got out of there quick… Ok please don’t say anything…ouch, yes I deserved that..ooooh..and that…ow..that to…..

Exciting!! Gotta run..bye!