Sometimes when we speak to a PR rep or a Community Manager you wonder how much they actually care about the game they’re talking about. Sometimes you wonder how much they actually care about games in general.
That is the exact opposite of what I got when I spoke to Mantic Games’ Social Media Manager, Rob Burman. It was almost a full hour before we got around to talking about The Walking Dead: All Out War because we were too busy talking about Dice Masters and a few other games. And after chatting with Rob it became clear he isn’t the only gamer in the stable, it’s safe to say that there is a team who live and breathe games behind All Out War and it is most definitely going to be better for it.
On to the game at hand. Miniatures is definitely the name of the game for Mantic. Their stable includes Dreadball and Warpath, to name just two miniature games, as well as the very cool Battlezones terrain. They’ve even dabbled in licensed miniature games, with their Mars Attacks game. But as experienced as Mantic is, Rob says that they’ve taken it to the next level for All Out War; “I would say it probably is the highest point for Mantic for the quality of the components and the product,” he said.
“We’ve had to up our game to make sure the game matches the license. This is pushing the boat out and the great thing about that is it’s going to have a knock on effect.”
“People are putting their trust in you to deliver on a project.”
Rob mentioned Mantic’s Star Saga, the game they’ve just Kickstarted, and says that the quality of the components is going to carry on to their future games. But Mantic aren’t just veterans in miniature gaming, Star Saga isn’t their first Kickstarter rodeo either.
All Out War was Kickstarted too, Mantic have used Kickstarter to fund projects before and they seem to know what they’re doing. Rob says that “Kickstarter is a great way to reward those people”. He’s talking about backers, the guys who believe in the project before they’ve had the chance to see the game in a fuller form.
“People are putting their trust in you to deliver on a project. They are putting trust in you to deliver on promises, so you want to reward that trust with something that is really great”
And great it is.
Mantic are really looking after their backers here. While you’ll be able to pick up the core set next month and get eighteen miniatures, a gaming mat, a rulebook, a quick-start guide, an RV, some cars, half a dozen barricades, nine supply tokens, a threat tracker, a killzone/blast template, a range ruler, an initiative counter, another twenty counters, six survivor cards, forty more cards consisting of events, supplies and equipment cards and more than ten dice. Kickstarter backers are definitely getting a heartfelt thank you. They’re getting a bumper box with basically too much to fit into a feature with a word count. Check it out here and get jealous.
When you see what’s gone into that box, you can just tell it’s a massive, genuine thank you. The guys at Mantic clearly appreciate the support and show it in more ways than just shoving as much as they can in a box, each of those models looks great and the whole box will keep painters busy for weeks. It’s not just the Walkers and Survivors though, the cars and barricades are going to lend a real atmosphere to the game, instead of having to use your imagination when you know the rubble on your usual game table is made up of bottle lids.
The quality of these components reflects the strength of the license. Rob says that Ronnie Renton, Mantic’s CEO, wanted to tackle another license after they made Mars Attacks.
“There was a sense of wanting to do another license but what should it be. Do you go for a big one, a video game or a film license?
“It just so happened Ronnie was reading The Walking Dead comics. He was talking to his son about it and his son just went to him, ‘Dad, what are you reading?’ Ronnie looked and thought ‘of course!’
“The problem was there are a lot of zombie games out there so it’s how do you make it different. You’ve got a massive license so the difference was it wasn’t just survivors vs zombies, it’s actually survivors vs survivors with the Walkers almost being movable scenery that bites you. If you read The Walking Dead, a lot of the time the conflict is between survivors and the Walkers are almost in the background. So that’s how it came about. The idea to get the license went in to Ronnie’s head he set up a meeting with Skybound, went there with a miniature they’d designed to show what they could do and a few ideas of roughly what the rules would be and the rest as they say is history.”
“They’re more involved in signing off on the uses of artwork and images, not necessarily the game.”
You’d be surprised though. The history Rob mentions isn’t what you’d expect. A relatively small studio carrying the weight of The Walking Dead franchise, you’d think suits would be lurking at every juncture, double checking everything and halting progress to check up on everything. It’s been almost the exact opposite.
“Ronnie went into this meeting and he was feeling super nervous about going in there because these are the guys that make The Walking Dead! He sat down and started talking then someone said ‘can we just stop you.’
“They asked, ‘are you guys running a Kickstarter at the minute?’ They’d actually been looking at Dungeon Saga and saying they really liked the look of it and how cool it was. That immediately calmed the guys nerves and then they realised actually a lot of them were gamers themselves, so that made it easier to explain the way the game would work and what the rules would be. After that, they’re involved in signing off on likenesses. We have to send them renders of the miniatures to make sure they look like the comics. They’re more involved in signing off on the uses of artwork and images, not necessarily the game. They’ve been really good, you do hear some horror stories about licenses and they’ve been relatively easy to work with.”
So, really, it’s no surprise that All Out War is looking as promising as it is. The development studio are all gamers and the license holders are all gamers. Everyone involved just wants to make a great game. The way Rob talks about it, you start to forget that they’re actually a business at all. Everything he says is about how important it is to make a good game, that grows through the license and is basically just a great way to spend some time, whether you read the comics or not.
That’s not to say Mantic haven’t been facing down a behemoth of a challenge. Not only is there the hurdle of a huge established universe to deal with, but so many characters die or change substantially. They’ve handled it superbly though. Rob tells me how they’ve looked at how Wargames have presented their characters in the past and just thrown it out the window.
“The way it’s done in the game is characters have character cards. In the old days of wargaming you’d have a great big army book and that would detail everything that happens to that particular army. Now with character cards you can develop a character really easily. For example you may start off with one version of Rick in the early game, then a few expansions later you might have a different one. There are a few characters that start off as normal survivors and end up with leader capabilities as well which gives them different abilities. It’s actually quite easy to represent how they progress through the plot by developing their cards which is reflected by the abilities they can use in the game.”
So as the story follows the comic arcs, a few expansion waves down the line, we’re going to see a different Rick, a different Andrea and an older Carl. “Yeah, there’s even a version of Rick on a horse you can get so that’ll be coming out to retail. It is the same character but he’s changed slightly and it’s much easier to do that with character cards than having to release an entire new army book”
Like Rob says, the character cards system will be much easier on your bookshelf than some wargames where you end up with a dozen books that you struggle to carry to your game club. “So the initial core set comes with a booklet and that’s it. That’s all you need to play a game. What’ll happen then after that is each expansion will come with a slightly smaller book that will have some scenarios in, so say if you’re playing in Hershal’s farm there might be some scenarios of going into the barn or things like that. You’re not going to end up with masses and masses of books on your shelf. To be honest once you’ve learned those initial rules you can do away with the rulebook, it’s not hard. It’s really quick to get a game set up and after that your rules are based around different phases, it’s really simple and that’s one thing we needed to make sure it was really accessible, we didn’t want someone picking it up and then being confronted with a massive rulebook when they just wanted to recreate a certain scene or something like that. That was one of the things to make it as straightforward as possible.”
Not only are Mantic going against the grain with their rulebook, they’re flipping the skirmish wargame starter set on it’s head. Traditionally in skirmish war games starter sets come with two really small armies, limiting what you can play with, whereas with All Out War, Mantic are throwing a whole game at you in a box. In the Kickstarter edition, yeah you do get everything you could possibly need. In the core set, £35 at retail, you don’t get as much as you get in the Kickstarter Edition, that is ridiculous what you get in there.
“In the core set,” Rob gets up from his desk and I can hear him rustling through an Alladin’s Cave of gaming as he grabs a copy of the game, “you get your key characters like Rick and Carl and then you get some generic survivors you can use in your gang, then you get Walkers as well. There’s enough to play a nice two player game. The idea is from there you can expand with boosters that have more characters and equipment.”
“As you get more stuck in you can get some of these boosters to tweak your band of survivors and their loadouts.”
Mantic have changed how you make armies, too. Instead of having to buy different models, you just swap out a few equipment cards and you’ve got an army that plays in a totally different manner. “Typically in a game we’ll say let’s play a 100 points. Each character is worth a certain amount of points then you can upgrade them slightly by giving them different equipment. Obviously Carl has his lucky hat, that’s a piece of equipment – you could give it to anyone, you could have Rick wearing the lucky hat – but the idea is you can tweak with the characters and equipment.” Now this equipment is everything you’d expect to see from the comics, things like the classic zombie killing devices. baseball bats, knives, chainsaws, everything you’d see in the comics.
“In the core set you get a handful of these equipment items. As you get more stuck in you can get some of these boosters to tweak your band of survivors and their loadouts.”
Rob mentioned playing a 100 point game where each player builds a band of survivors with 100 points made of characters and equipment. But this skirmish game isn’t just a one on one deathmatch or a race to complete objectives, there’s also a campaign element to look forward to. Each expansion will progress the campaign, covering stories from the comic arc the expansion is based on. The campaign is made up of stringing missions together and will change depending on how each mission ends, “for example if you succeed you might start the next mission with a new piece of equipment or if you fail you might start with less health. So there are consequences to how well you do.”
This cracking interview with Rob will be concluded in part two of this feature tomorrow.