Friday, May 16, 2014
An Interview with Too Fat Lardies - With a hint
TooFatLardies. Aloud, this name can be a source of confusion, especially for us Americans (aside from those of us who have worked closely with those from the UK). However, for those who are into easy to understand and fairly quick playing games, and rules which don't care what company's figures are used, then TFL is a name and identity that you are familiar with. In today's post, I share a recent interview with Richard Clarke of Too Fat Lardies. While I have not had the pleasure of meeting Richard in person, virtually everyone, everywhere, has only the best of things to say or write about him.
So, it is with great pleasure, and no small amount of personal excitement, I present the interview.
Thank you, Richard, for agreeing to the interview. While my readers and blog followers are from all over the world, not every one has had a chance to play a TFL game, and I find that sad. Hopefully, some (maybe a lot of) folks will wander over to your site www.toofatlardies.co.uk and give it a good perusal, after they finish reading this interview, of course.
JP: Okay, to get it out of the way, for Americans, please explain why "TooFatLardies" is the name you chose for the company. A couple of my local club members just-don't-get-it.
RC: Well, to describe someone as a “lardy” in the UK is to rather impolitely suggest that they are rather more rotund than they should be. Nick and I are both in that bracket (both then and, sadly, now), so we both qualify as “too fat” and “lardies”. There was a TV cookery show on at the time called Two Fat Ladies so the name was play on that. At the time writing rules was a hobby rather than a business so we weren’t really bothered about doing all that marketing stuff about projecting super-slick images to our clients, we just went with a name that described us - it’s one of those names that does what it says on the tin.
Over the years the name has been both a curse and a benefit. At the outset some people simply refused to play our rules as we had a “silly” name. However, over the years the whole Lard thing has become a very recognisable philosophy which many people relate to, an ethos of combining fun gaming with historically plausible results, and that’s something Nick and I are very pleased to be associated with.
Of course it does make losing weight problematic!
JP: How did you get involved in wargaming in the first place? How did your gaming then transition into creating a company and publishing rules?
RC: I started wargaming at school when I found one of Don Featherstone’s books in the school library. I was 11 years old at the time, so went straight from rolling marbles at my toy soldiers to rolling dice at them. Toy soldiers have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The earliest toys I recall playing with were soldiers, and I’ve never stopped.
The transition to becoming a rules author and publisher was a longer transition and not really intentional. I began writing for wargames magazines in the early 1990’s I think, maybe the end of the 1980’s. In those days Wargames Illustrated was a great magazine, really at the cutting edge of the hobby, and then editor Duncan Macfarlane was happy to publish my scribblings. In the early 2000’s I wrote a series of articles and mentioned a set of home-grown rules that Nick and I had developed and included my email address. A few chaps contacted me, I sent them the rules and they began to tell me I should publish. I said I couldn’t be bothered, but in the end they nagged me so much I went ahead and took the leap.
That was in about 2002 and we basically ran it as a not-for-profit hobby. By 2007 we had got so busy that I was faced with the prospect of having to give it all up as it was interfering with my “real” job. However, I had a long discussion with my wife and she told me to follow the dream, and I took on TooFatLardies full time. Since then the business has just grown and grown beyond all our expectations. We’ve just been nominated for an Origins Award for Chain of Command, so we certainly feel like we are in the mainstream of the hobby now and have broken away from the “cottage industry” image we had in the early days.
JP: Which period(s) appeals to you the most, why?
RC: Blimey. That’s a tough one. None and all. My real interest is in military tactics and how they have evolved over time. In that respect the period from the introduction of the Minie rifle in the late 1840s through to the real birth of modern infantry tactics in 1918 must be near the top of the list. The incredible divergence of technology which came along from that point onwards - breach loading rifles and artillery, magazine rifles, machine guns, the development of indirect-fire artillery tactics – all of these left the armies of the world struggling to develop tactics which maximised the effectiveness of their weaponry but minimised their own casualties. The development of new tactics was an arms race in its own right, and this is something which I think is important to understand if we are going to produce rules which really reflect the conflicts we are gaming.
Having said that, in the past couple of years I have spent a lot of time in the Age of Arthur developing our Dux Britanniarum rules, and that has been a huge amount of fun. It has introduced me to having to look at research outside of the normal range of book-based sources that one uses normally. Developing an understanding of the period through studying archaeological sources, legends and even the hagiography of Saints has been really interesting.
I suppose that really means that I love whatever period I am working ion at that moment in time. The process of research is so intense and all-consuming that you must love the period in order to go through that rigorous procedure. Our reputation for historical plausibility is based on that research, if we were to try to short-cut that process it would be spotted immediately.
JP: Just how big is the "lead mountain" at home, and do you paint your own armies or do you rely on others to paint them up to an expert standard?
RC: Not as large as it used to be! We had a brand new office built about 18 months ago and part of that process involved throwing out my lead mountain. I had stuff from twenty-five years ago that I hadn’t painted and, frankly, never was going to paint. I sorted everything out into three piles, Keep, Maybe Keep and Throw. Then, half an hour before the rubbish collection, I chucked everything away apart from the Keep pile. Before I could change my mind the rubbish collectors had whisked it all away. It was very liberating. I now have just what I want for the near future.
I have traditionally done all my own painting as I am not a bad painter, but I am at the point now where my eye-sight is starting to go. I need to make some decisions on this pretty much immediately. I can always turn to my chum Matt at Glenbrook Games to paint stuff for me as I like his style of painting. It’s good to know there is an alternative. That said, I will miss painting as I find it quite relaxing.
JP: Your games have long relied upon a card activation mechanism, but with Chain of Command, you've gone to a new(er) version of a dice-based unit activation. Was this long planned or did it come as a surprise during development? Will we see this again in near future releases?
RC: Well, you say a card activation mechanism, but actually we have a number of different card activation systems in our rules. We have never said we only do card activated games; we have always looked at the best way to reflect and represent warfare, and this means that different engines do different things for different conflicts. Chain of Command is a fun WWII set of rules with a command and control system all about presenting the gamer with a number of choices in each phase of play. The idea is that he can do a number of things in each phase and the challenge is to find the best coordinated sequence in each phase. The concept is actually an extension of the Fate Deck system in Dux Britanniarum. You roll your dice and that then becomes your “hand” for this phase. How you play them, in what order and with which units, is up to you. It’s a system which allows you a degree of tactical flexibility, but not complete control. People seem to love it.
Was it long planned? In a way. I actually dreamed it up while we had the builders working on the new office and for six months it was stuck on paper and in my head. As soon as I got back into the new office I painted two platoons in two days and put it on the table. It worked. We took it on the road in January last year, running demos around the shows in the UK, and the response was great. Interestingly, lots of gamers have tried Lard for the first time with Chain of Command and are now trying and enjoying the card based games as well.
JP: Your company is quite prolific, how many people are there behind the scenes? Do you rely on external writers to produce much of what you publish or do you personally do most of the writing/editing?
RC: We produce most of what we publish, but we do have a number of chaps who write for us, especially on the scenario front. Nick and I tend to work through the first phases of design concepts. We then have a great team of gamers on Lard Island who work through the rules with us from the earliest stage of development. This usually starts with us putting toys on the table and just saying “What happens now?”. That is a fantastic and really exciting phase with any rules where you absolutely build the basic component parts from scratch. We then have clubs and gamers all round the world who work on the second stage playtesting. After that we have a further team of proof-readers who put the whole thing through the mangle.
In the office we have Emma who does the post and we have Monty who works from home in Scotland who keeps an eye on the web for me and generally helps by pointing to questions I need to answer. We are very keen to provide maximum help via our TooFatLardies Yahoo Group and Forum, and his presence there means I can pick up the most pressing issues. I’m the company donkey who does all the horrible office jobs like dealing with the tax man, doing the accounts, ordering the stationary. All of which gets in the way of playing games, but has to be done!
JP: Some time ago, you went with a tablet version of pdf for your releases, I have personally purchased three such versions. Have you found tablet versions to be in increasing demand or about the same overall? How about simply the demand for electronic versions, whether or not it is for tablet or PC? I know that due to
international shipping increases, my preference for a hard copy has been superseded by the plaintive cries of my wallet, so a big THANK YOU for taking care of a need!
RC: We were really at the front end of providing PDF rule sets and at the time there was a huge outcry on the web about how terrible this was. At the same time we immediately saw a huge jump in sales, especially in North America and Australasia. So, as you say, it is clear that postal charges are a big influence on purchases made. The tablet edition of the rules have been a huge hit. When we first produced a tablet edition for I Ain’t Been Shot Mum in 2011 less than 10% of electronic purchasers went for that option. Now it is well over 50%. In fact when we did the advance order deal for Chain of Command which included a free electronic set with each hard copy purchased over 80% went for the tablet version. It looks like more of us are getting tablets and increasingly they are being used for gaming.
JP: You're active on various fora, not just the Lardy one. Are you feeling a bit pulled in all directions at once, or do you find have more time in the day than the rest of us? If you do, I need in on the secret, because I'm constantly lacking time.
RC: My big problem is finding enough hours in the day. That’s why Monty came on board as I just don’t have enough hours to do everything I want to do. It may sound a bit strange, but wargaming is my business but it’s also my hobby. When I go to places like Lead Adventure Forum I am generally there as a wargamer rather than on business. It’s great to just hang out with fellow gamers and discuss what we’re painting or building terrain.
JP: Apart from a Lardy published game, what have you played recently? Now, what do you enjoy playing the most?
RC: I played Black Powder the other day for the second time and had fun with that. I have dabbled a bit with Command & Colours as that is a fun diversion and easy to set up and play. Of course the nature of my job means that I tend to be playing a set of our rules and that is usually a game in the development stage. I’ve been playing a fair amount of Boer War recently, but this in truth I have been skiving off and playing a LOT of Chain of Command. I am totally in love with the system and have been painting like a lunatic to assemble all sorts of different forces. I ordered my first Spanish Civil War forces yesterday as well as some modern stuff for an Afghanistan version we have a project team in Australia working on.
JP: Okay, I really MUST ask as I have been waiting for a while now. Where is Algy? One cannot purchase Algy 1 from the webstore, even in pdf form, but Algy 2 is no where on the horizon. Bag the Hun seems terrific, but it is for the wrong war. Can you share with us where in the development process that Algy 2 current stands or even a tentative year that you are shooting for release? Honestly, I am having to make do with a card maneuver game by a different company and I am very unhappy about it. (Sorry, but that is my one and only selfish question, honest!)
RC: Not forgotten, that’s for sure. Again, this is an issue of not enough hours in the day. I am a great believer in letting things happen when they happen. I am sure most wargamers will understand how we go mad for one period for a while and then switch to something else at the drop of a hat. I’m just the same. If I try to force myself to produce a set of rules when I am not really fired up and into that it just won’t work. So I let things happen at their own speed and follow wherever my own interest leads me. Hopefully you get a better product in that way.
Again, my thanks, Richard, for sharing your time with me and my readers. I wish you and TooFatLardies good health, great wealth, and lucky dice!
A note to my thorough readers. In the VERY near future, as in early next week, we will be offering a prize draw. More info to come at that time. Stay tuned!