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Tuesday 3 June 2014

Interview: Ross MacKenzie (Spartan Games)

In all the hullabaloo from the last couple of weeks with the D&D announcement, I'd been putting off this entry.  I had visited a special exhibition of gaming put on at City Hall (the Intendencia) here in Montevideo.  That tells you something about how much impact gaming is starting to have in Uruguay (though of course, it also says something about how the city government, for all its flaws, does put on quite a lot of public activities for its citizenry).  In any case, while visiting this mini-con, I saw a table where there was a demo of a very interesting-looking miniatures wargame, the likes of which I'd never seen in Uruguay before:

I soon found out that the source of this was a Scotsman now living in Uruguay, who was associated with a wargaming company named Spartan Games.  They produce some very interesting games, and miniatures to go with them:

So without further ado, here's my interview with him:

1. Who are you, and what can you tell us about Spartan Games?
I'm Ross MacKenzie, Proofing Team Leader, one of the Senior Play-testers, and a Vanguard for Spartan Games: specifically for their Dystopian Wars line of games.
Spartan Games is a UK Table-top company that started up in 2008, and has been going strong since then. I got involved with them around 2012 or so, through my local war-games group back in Scotland, as a play-testing team, and, over time, we got more involved in the process until we got where we are now. 
2. More specifically, what are Spartan's current miniature wargame lines?
Spartan has three main wargame lines: Uncharted Seas, launched in 2008, a Fantasy Naval game, which is currently mail-order only; Firestorm Armada, launched in 2009, a Sci-Fi space battle game, which got a 2nd edition last year; and, finally, Dystopian Wars, which launched in 2010, a naval and land-based Steampunk wargame, with its second edition coming out on the 28th of May.
There is also Dystopian Legions: a 32mm Skirmish game in the Dystopian Universe, Armoured Clash, again in the Dystopian Universe, and Planetfall, a Land variant for Firestorm Armada.

3. The miniatures I saw at the event at the Intendencia were very impressive, anything else you can tell us about them? Were they made in-house?
The miniatures are all made from resin, with some metal drop-ins, usually for turrets and the like. Spartan is trying to move to using resin as much as possible because it's cheaper, lighter, and easier for everyone to work with. Spartan does an amazing job on the detail and quality of the models, which are all made in the UK and shipped world-wide. They come un-painted, and, for the larger models, with some assembly required, so the hobby involves a bit of DIY and artistic skill, which is a big part of the fun!

4. What were the inspiration for the games?
The games are all original ideas of the head of Spartan Games: Neil Fawcett, with amazing background information written by Franco Sammarco.
From what I understand, Dystopian Wars is pretty much a "what-if?" setting. It's a world where, in the 19th century, people discover technology far beyond what we have even today, along with a new element "Sturginium" that powers much of this. The discoverers hoped that freely gifting this new knowledge to the Great Powers of the world would bring about a utopian society, but, instead, it brings about a World War of epic proportions: indicating mankind's predeliction toward greed and power. Unlike a lot of other Steampunk settings, Dystopian Wars really feels like Victorian Science Fiction with a strong basis in taking actual historical events and changing them in reaction to the discovery central to the Dystopian Universe.
Firestorm Armada, similarly, feels a lot like the older, hard science fiction of Asimov and Clarke, with some of the elements of Frank Herbert's Dune thrown in for good measure. People travel by "folding" space, there are strange alien races with advanced technology, but the two most important players are the "Terran Alliance" and the "Dindrenzi Federation": two human organisations that have brought in the other races of the galaxy in a massive war, effectively over how humanity should be governed.

5. how do you think spartan's games compare to GW's; what would be the incentive for fans of GW's games to check out Spartan's, what do you think Spartan does better than GW that would make it worth investing in?

Well, I've been a player of Games Workshop games since the age of 4 (the benefit of having a much older brother!) so I'll say here that I am a massive fan of GW's lines, and have far too many models back home in Scotland (one day I'll get them here!). When comparing Spartan's games to GW you have to remember that all of Spartan's lines (except Dystopian Legions) are more on the scale of 40K's Epic, and Battlefleet Gothic Lines, at least when we're talking about the size of the models.  I'd argue that Spartan's games tend to involve a lot more thought and strategy than GW ones, and the scale of Spartan's games allows for bigger battles.

The biggest incentive for fans of GW games to check out Spartan though is the price: Spartan's models are very high quality resin, but are sold much cheaper than GW's models. Not only are they cheaper, but they package their products mostly in "sets" that allow for a much more pick-up and play feel. If you want to get into Firestorm Armada, for example, you can buy the two-player starter set, which comes with a rulebook, and enough models for a small fleet for each player.  There are also "Patrol Fleet" boxes, that come with the tokens, cards, and models you need to make a small fleet, and then all you'd need to do is to buy the main rulebook: the stats for each faction's models are available from the Spartan website for free!

This system is also being ported over to Dystopian Wars with the new 2.0 rulebook, 2-player starter set, as well as Naval, and Armoured Battle Groups being released in June, that will allow people to simply buy a box of the faction they like best, get a rulebook, and get playing!

6. What are you doing in Uruguay? How long have you been here now? Are you here for good?
I'm in Uruguay because I fell in love with an Uruguyan lady, I arrived in the country last December, and we got married in mid-January, after having dated long-distance for 4 years. I can't say for certain if I'm going to be in Uruguay for good: I'm from Scotland originally, but I also have strong ties to the USA, so we're keeping our options open, but I can say that I'm likely to be here for at least 2 years, if not more.

7. How are you finding Uruguayan life in general?
Very different from life in Scotland, certainly! The weather is one of the things that has taken the most getting used to, but now that we're heading towards Winter I'm feeling a lot more comfortable! I got a job offer within two months of arriving in Uruguay, which made me warm to the country considerably! The people here are very friendly, and I like how everyone seems to know everyone else here: there's a definite community spirit in Uruguay which reminds me a bit of home.

8: What sort of work are you doing in Uruguay?

I'm currently working in Zonamerica, where I've found that pretty much everyone I bump into is into some kind of hobby scene, and pretty much everyone has native-level English there too: the place feels a bit like I've wandered into the USA!

9. How are you finding the hobby scene here?

I'm very impressed with the hobby scene here! I did not know what to expect at all, and was pleasantly surprised to see that there are so many people into role-playing, card games, board games, comics, anim√©, etc.  One of the best things about the community here, in my opinion, is the gender ratio: the Uruguyan hobby scene has a very healthy mix of men and women. What's even better is that it doesn't feel like there's been any particular effort to make the hobby scene more inclusive here: it just is. It's a lot better than the scene back home in that regard, where there’s still a very “boy’s club” feel to the scene, even if there's some progress being made, slowly. I was also really surprised to find that there's actually a community of people who play Games Workshop games here, though I've not yet had the time to meet up with them. The conventions and events have really impressed me so far, and I'm looking forward to attending Montevideo Comics (where I'll be showing off Dystopian Wars again!), as I hear it's the biggest event in the country.

10. The roleplaying hobby in Uruguay is huge, and very strong in terms of networking. But its also fairly cheap, as a hobby, to get into. Most gamers here don't own their own books, those who do often use pirated copies. Do you think that this would make it a challenge for the types of miniature wargames Spartan does to catch on here?
I was worried that people would find Wargames prohibitively expensive, but I've already convinced at least 5 people to buy fleets, with more people asking for details on where to get models at each convention I attend, so, on the price side I'm not so worried. Maybe the community will be a bit smaller than the role-playing one, but we'll have to wait and see.
Spartan actually releases the rules for their models online for free, all a player needs to pay for to get into the game after that is a copy of the rulebook, which are sold at a very reasonable price. I wouldn't be surprised if groups shared a rulebook between them, at least at first, but the fact that everyone gets to know what their models do without having to spend a single peso should, in my opinion, be a big draw.

11. Have you found the language barrier to be a big issue for you, in terms of getting involved with gamers?
My Spanish is, I must admit, pretty much non-existent at the moment, but it's something that I'm working on! However, I've found that most gamers here have pretty good English, even if they don't speak much, they understand me. I also have the advantage that my wife is into my hobbies, is a native Uruguyan, and happens to be an English teacher, so she's able to interpret for me if things get difficult. I've also met a few people here with impeccable English who are very exciting by Dystopian Wars and have been helping me out immensely.
I am hoping to learn enough Spanish to get by by the end of the year, but we'll see how that goes!

Well,  thanks to Ross for the interview, and if you dig wargaming, check out Spartan games!


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