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Interview with James Hewitt about designing AoS 1st ed.


sandlemad
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https://www.goonhammer.com/the-goonhammer-interview-with-james-hewitt-part-1-age-of-sigmar-and-40k/

There's a good interview on Goonhammer with James M Hewitt of Needy Cat Games, possibly best known in the GW games community as the designer of the excellent Adeptus Titanicus rules. Here he talks about his experience working on the early releases for AoS. There's some fascinating stuff there, he's got a good bit of criticism as someone who has seen how the sausage gets made, even though you'd never characterise him as an AoS-hater or anything.

On the 'funny rules' that accompanied the first warscrolls:

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As an example, one of the ones I did was for the Keeper of Secrets. It was all about making games thematic and evoke the background, and to add interesting interactions between the players, so the rule was if after a character within 6” of the Keeper, because y’know six is the number of Slaneesh; if an enemy character within 6” of the Keeper makes an attack roll you can offer them the chance to make more attacks, but if at any point the roll contains three sixes (or whatever it was) their character is slain.

[...]

And they came back. And I think the problem was kind of a… the telephone game. Basically,  to give an example of the problem, a manager on high gets offered a banana and says “I don’t fancy eating that banana”. The next manager, one rung down from them, who wants to be seen to be doing a good job says “oh, my boss does not like eating bananas, so I’ll stop sending bananas his way.” It might have been because that particular banana wasn’t what he wanted, or he wasn’t in the mood for a banana, but it results in all bananas being embargoed. And it carries on. “Top boss doesn’t like fruit!” says the next manager down, “Well, let’s not produce anything with fruit.” Then eventually it’s “So, the manager at the top doesn’t like eating food, never send food his way.” 

It was a tense time, lots of pressure, and everyone was trying to please the person above them a little bit too much. From what I can tell it’s not quite as much of an issue these days. But what it meant was that if Top Manager at the top said “That rule is really colourful, and makes people play the game in a different way that’s not just rolling dice, that’s really cool”, that then trickles down to the rules team being told to add more silly rules, and it ends up with someone in the team going through all the compendiums replacing some rules that were more like “+1 to hit” with “+1 to hit… if it’s raining outside!”.

On how the core rules were designed:

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Everything – all the core rules – was designed, written and tested around that core box. 

Now, when you think about the contents of that core box, it is all infantry, with short range weaponry. The only ranged attack in there is the hammers being thrown, so the rules were written around close up engagement with no ranged combat at all. Because that’s what we were told to do. 

And it got to this point where there was this sudden mad dash. There was this huge long development period, behind closed doors, and then suddenly, it all had to be done yesterday. And so, there was no time to consider questions like: Right, how does ranged combat work? How does a massed ranged army function? What does it do? How are you dealing with different types of units? Y’know, combined arms… That all became… “just get it done”.

On the assumptions behind the core rules only being four pages long:

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I wasn’t designing the core rules, Jervis was, but we’d all been involved in testing and feeding back and working out the rules for the other armies and things, we kept reassuring ourselves by saying “it’s alright because we’re doing a big hardback rulebook and that is going to have a commentary section”.

[...]

So it was all about lowering barriers to entry and there was this thing about we’re going to put commentary in the rulebook, there’s going to be a big section of rules commentary. That four page document is still the core rules, you still havae to read that, but the commentary section would have loads of examples, diagrams and edge cases and things like that. So the quick start would give you [the ability to] sit down and play it, but if a weird thing comes up we’ll go check the big rulebook. That was always the idea.

At the 11th hour, a lot of stuff got changed. And one of the things that got changed was the rulebook. Someone decided they didn’t want a hardback rulebook, because that felt too much like old Warhammer. So instead they decided to have whatever the first book was called – I think we just called them the Realmwars books? Realmgate wars? The first book was mostly narrative, with scenarios and maybe some battlegroups/battalions, whatever they were called in the end. And that was it and all the stuff that had been put in, I mean, it had been written, I’d seen it, the commentary section was pinned up on the wall and it was done, but it got pulled entirely.

It's well worth reading the whole thing, dude's got some good thoughts on game design and interesting experiences.

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Very interesting to learn that they had the three ways to play idea BEFORE the first launch of the game, so before the GHB. 

Also it addresses a lot of complains I had (about how the launch was handled in terms of marketing and rules design mostly), complains I went to the Design Team but was in fact the management's fault. 

Also, the other people leaving GW at the same time as Tom Kirby includes Alan Merret, right ? 

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1 hour ago, HorticulusTGA said:

Also, the other people leaving GW at the same time as Tom Kirby includes Alan Merret, right ? 

I think so, yeah. I suspect it's more than just him but he was the one behind the 'no points' push of early AoS and "Top Boss who said he didn’t want a banana" sounds like Merrett's MO (e.g. blocking Genestealer Cults, 40k knights, etc). He's not thought of well by a lot of ex-GW people for a bunch of reasons and Hewitt wouldn't be the first to make the point that even though Kirby gets the blame, the bad culture of 'oldGW' wasn't just him.

Edited by sandlemad
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12 minutes ago, sandlemad said:

I think so, yeah. I suspect it's more than just him but he was the one behind the 'no points' push of early AoS and "Top Boss who said he didn’t want a banana" sounds like Merrett's MO (e.g. blocking Genestealer Cults, 40k knights, etc). He's not thought of well by a lot of ex-GW people for a bunch of reasons and Hewitt wouldn't be the first to make the point that even though Kirby gets the blame, the bad culture of 'oldGW' wasn't just him.

Yes, that's specifically the point I'd like someone to explain to me. Why was/is Merret so ill viewed ?

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As I understand it he was considered difficult to work with, not a great manager, treated designers poorly, and was prone to throwing his weight around. In the context of IP this meant that if he didn't like it personally, it wouldn't go through (e.g. genestealer cults for years), which also caused a lot of headaches for folks working for FFG, BL and inside the studio.  Supposedly he tried to have the 40k riptide shelved after it had been designed, at the last stage before it went into production, because he thought it was a bad idea. He was ignored and it went on to sell like gangbusters.

A lot of this is really on the level of scuttlebutt but it does seem to be pretty widespread from folks who passed through Nottingham. More specifically he riled a lot of fans  by saying that hobbyists' favourite activity was "buying things from Games Workshop", as opposed to painting or collecting or gaming (which neatly dovetailed with Kirby's "jewel-like objects of wonder" line). That was in the context of the GW vs Chapterhouse trial, where he made pretty big and ridiculous claims about the absolute originality of GW products and then after that all went south, was behind the defensive IP-led renaming of things like 'imperial guard' to 'astra militarum'. 

So while there's some fan grumbling and grudge holding, quite a few aspects of what people don't like about pre-Rountree GW as a workplace and as a company are linked to him.

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8 hours ago, Cronotekk said:

So you're telling me the 4 pages of rules were just quickstart rules meant to be followed up by a larger core rulebook? And they just scrapped the core rulebook and we'll probably never see it since 2ed is just those quickstart rules again?

No ? The AOS1 core rules had to stay on four pages, and a commentary of those four pages (with charts and examples) was apparently scheduled to follow after the launch.

The author cites the "How to start AOS" magazine to be close to their original goal. 

The 2nd ed. core rules are just like that : quite like the 4 pages original, but more detailed (and rightly tweaked here and there for more depth), and spread on 18 pages, with pictures and examples (and other infos like how AA work "centralized" in it). A bit like in the 40k 8th ed rulebook. 

And on top of that the FAQ/Designer's commentary system continues the idea...

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20 hours ago, sandlemad said:

I think so, yeah. I suspect it's more than just him but he was the one behind the 'no points' push of early AoS and "Top Boss who said he didn’t want a banana" sounds like Merrett's MO (e.g. blocking Genestealer Cults, 40k knights, etc). He's not thought of well by a lot of ex-GW people for a bunch of reasons and Hewitt wouldn't be the first to make the point that even though Kirby gets the blame, the bad culture of 'oldGW' wasn't just him.

That explains why Genestealer Cults have gotten so much love recently. I imagine the designers had tons of ideas that kept getting shot down, and they just stockpiled them until recently when GSC was given the green light. 

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20 hours ago, sandlemad said:

he riled a lot of fans  by saying that hobbyists' favourite activity was "buying things from Games Workshop", as opposed to painting or collecting or gaming

I mean he's not wrong considering the impulse buying and massive stacks of plastic and/or boxes you see floating around a lot  collections. I'd be lying if I didn't cringe a bit when I see people posting photos of their buying something like x9 Start Collecting's and a load of blisters, knowing that almost none of that will be unwrapped before burn out kicks in sooner rather than later.

Everything else in the interview roughly aligns with the consensus from people of AoS1 being hastily rushed and last minute changes though.

Edited by Clan's Cynic
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In fairness though people don't buy them to hoard them - they buy them with full intent of enjoying them in building, painting and playing. It's just motivation and time that they lack in. 

 

Also don't forget the "whale" customers who splurge on vast numbers of unbuilt boxes are typically in a great minority. Sure they spend a lot individually and globally likely do account for a significant number of sales; but at the same time they are far smaller than those who generally keep on top of things for hte most part. Or who only end up with a huge backlog after long periods of slow buying and slow game progress. 

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4 hours ago, HorticulusTGA said:

No ? The AOS1 core rules had to stay on four pages, and a commentary of those four pages (with charts and examples) was apparently scheduled to follow after the launch.

The author cites the "How to start AOS" magazine to be close to their original goal. 

Yeah, back when Hewitt did an AMA on reddit he said the goal of the Core Rules was to be a self-contained set that had to be on 4 pages for the rest of the game's future to be built around as a living ruleset and for easy player entry. Core rules are a definite cornerstone of Age of Sigmar that's lead to so much inventive scenarios and campaigns despite that easy entry learning.

You can really see they put care into the rules as just reading them dispelled all the "instant win " scenarios people said AoS 1 had by falsely twisting the rules, like saying the Tomb kings units can just burrow and win the Sudden Death: Endure scenario by having no units to get attacked but the Core Rules clearly negated that cheat by stating you need at least one model on the table or you lose.

2 hours ago, JackStreicher said:

I am actually pleased with the core rules.

Ditto! :)

I loved AoS 1 even before the Grand Alliance tomes and how it let narrative players go wild with crazy army customization along with making games a friendly affair of agreement rather than points to encourage selling the big models back then. I still use AoS 1 core rules for fast games from time to time. :D

So my hat off to Hewitt and the designers of Project Stanley for their hard work on making such a great game that just keeps getting better!

Edited by Baron Klatz
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1 hour ago, Baron Klatz said:

I loved AoS 1 even before the Grand Alliance tomes and how it let narrative players go wild along with making games a friendly affair of agreement rather than points to encourage selling the big models back then. I still use AoS 1 core rules for fast games from time to time. :D

 

Agreed!!

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