Interview With Alan E. Paull

The Game

Alan E. Paull is a well known game designer. He recently created games like Tara, Seat of Kings or Confucius. Alan has been kind enough to chat with me on December 8 and 9, 2008. Below is the transcript of our conversation.

Buxeria: Alan, I’m really thankful that you accepted to answer my questions for Cry Havoc Fan.

Alan E. Paull: Happy to answer any questions you have! Nice looking website by the way.

B. : Just to start, I would like to focus on your contribution to the CRY HAVOC series. My understanding is that you were the designer of SIEGE and SAMURAI BLADES, as well as

Alan E. Paull, Designer of Siege

the author of the first scenario booklet for CRY HAVOC. Is this correct? Bob Gingell, another Cry Havoc fan that contacted you a few years ago mentioned that you were also the author of OUTREMER. Is this true?

A.P. : I was the designer of SIEGE and the first scenario booklet. SAMURAI BLADES was designed by Peter O’Toole; I was a developer and tester for that one. I did not design OUTREMER. I was going to be the designer of OUTREMER, on the grounds that we were going to re-design the whole game system, but Standard Games double-crossed me and got someone else to design OUTREMER without reference to me, and (without permission) used some of the Siege mechanics. I was not pleased, because we had developed a far superior game system, which I still have and which was never published. Unfortunately OUTREMER was primarily a continuation of the earlier games; and the new system would have taken the whole thing to a much better level; it included proper charge rules, integrated morale rules, and was all-in-all far superior.

B. : How did you start your relationship with Standard Games on SIEGE? Was it "just" another contract job for you or something more profound? Did you have any initial contact with the original designers of CRY HAVOC, Gary Chalk and Tony Webster?

A.P. : I was a new game designer when I first met the Standard Games people. Gary Chalk was a director at that time, and I worked with Gary on my first game – City of Sorcerers (my first published game). Gary did the artwork for CoS. SIEGE was a commission from them, largely because they had committed to producing the game with that title but had no designer to do it. Gary had started to work on it, but wasn’t getting very far, and left after CoS was finished and well before SIEGE was done. I was / am a military historian (amateur now), so I had a lot of relevant background information, and I had toyed with quite a few military game designs in the past. I also have a good friend who knows huge amounts about medieval warfare and castles in particular, so I had great sources of information, encouragement and reality checks. So although it was a commission, I was very happy to do it, because it was in my area of interest. I never had any contact with Tony Webster, and Gary left soon after I met up with the company.

B. : For SIEGE, what has been your exact contribution as a designer? I know that Peter Dennis designed the counters. What about the Castle and Camp maps?

A.P. : All the game design and development was mine. Graphic design of the counters and the maps was by Peter Dennis (who I like a lot – he’s probably the top UK board games graphic designer). It’s important to note however that the game-related layout of the terrain and so on, is part of the game design rather than graphic design. Peter did a great job on the graphics; I would have preferred to have had time to work more closely with him on the relationship between the graphic design and the game design, but in this case it was done separately. So in terms of the maps, I showed where the bits had to go, and Peter did the creative stuff. The challenge of that game was to do the whole thing in 9 months, which was the time-scale set by the commercial imperative. Normally games take 2 to 5 years (sometimes more) from concept to finished design, then production time on top. To do it all in 9 months was difficult, even though we were constrained to be compatible with CRY HAVOC. C.H. had no mechanisms for siege warfare, and no morale rules, which were essential for any sense of realism. Also we had to design the castle itself. I decided, for reasons of scale to use a Welsh border castle: Skenfrith.

Skenfrith Castle
Skenfrith Castle

I’d wanted to base it on Bedford Castle (a famous and well documented royal siege took place there), but it was too big for the ground scale. Incidentally, we were criticized by someone who bought the game, who claimed that the castle was totally unrealistic; in fact the castle map was reasonably well scaled to Skenfrith Castle, so that’s one aspect of the game system that cannot really be questioned!

B. : 25 (or more) years later, what is your memory of this game? Is there anything that you are particularly proud of? Is there anything that you would have done differently? Any regrets?

Model of Bedford Castle
Model of Bedford Castle

A.P. : I was happy that the game was finished on time, because the time scales were probably only about a third of what might have been required, and that it turned out to be a much-loved and much-played game. I certainly enjoyed designing and playing it. I particularly liked the graduated learning of the game system, so that it was more accessible than a lot of other military games of the period; you could get to grips with the basics before moving on to the more complex bits. Of course nowadays you could easily get away with presenting the whole thing in one go, because even casual players of military board wargames are used to that type of thing.

I would have preferred to have spent more time on game development, making sure the wording of the rules was tighter in particular. When I’m designing games now, I’m pretty much guaranteed to re-write the rules from scratch at least three times.

B. : Would you have in your archives any unpublished/unfinished material for SIEGE that you would be willing to share with us?

A.P. : Unfortunately I don’t. This is partly because I have a whole (new) finished Crusades game that I worked on, that I might produce soon, once I’ve updated it for more modern tastes.

B. : Waoh! It is quite mouth-watering and you will make the Cry Havoc community very excited! Will it include any concepts that you intended for the original OUTREMER game? When do you plan to release it?

AP: We’re not yet sure of our plans for that yet. It may be that we’ll produce a rule set, some maps and perhaps some illustrated components, but let the player buy miniatures. It will be based on stuff I intended to do for the Crusades game. I’ll release information when things are a bit better worked out - on the Surprised Stare Games website.

B. : I strongly believe that the success of the CRY HAVOC games over time has to do with the quality of their artwork, and their innovative counter structure. How do you explain that this system didn't become a standard for simulation games? I throw a few possible answers:
- Graphic designers like Peter Dennis are not cheap, and the production cost must be very high;
- Standard Games owned a Copyright on the game system that would have been very costly to infringe;
- Market walked away from man-to-man, ambush style games and this concept was not exportable beyond its original intent.

A.P. : Production cost was very high – Peter had to do separate illustrations for each figure, which is a lot of illustration. Also the materials used were expensive, and initially only viable because Standard Games was attached to a print company. I guess that the quality could have been increased slightly – say, to use heavier weight card for the counters – then a higher price could have been set. Copyright wasn’t an issue. In fact I retained (and still retain) the copyright in SIEGE. I think that miniatures-based board wargames would have been a good solution.

B. : Now, a few questions about SAMURAI BLADES, even though you may not have all the answers.

A.P. : Please note that you should credit Peter O’Toole for SAMURAI BLADES – I was only involved in the development! I wouldn’t like people to misunderstand and think that I designed it; not that it’s bad though!

B. : All right, so in this case you were the developer while Peter O'Toole was the designer. What is the distinction between both functions? One is more "strategic" while the other one is more "tactical"?

A.P. : It’s Peter O’Toole’s game: he did the game design and most of the development; I merely assisted with development and play testing. The designer is responsible for the game concept, the design of the mechanics and components, and usually the first cut of the rules. Game development is the process of taking that initial working game design and turning into the finished pre-production prototype. This often involves tinkering about with the mechanics to a greater or lesser degree, sometimes experimenting with additional mechanics or refining original concepts. If you have a good game design, the development process can often turn it into an excellent game design. Usually the designer has the final say in decisions about game development (though not always with some game companies). In the CRY HAVOC series, the designer usually did most of the development too. Some companies will take the design and put their own development team on it – not a situation I myself favor. Also some game designers are not good at writing game rules, and it’s rarely a good idea for a designer to rely on just his or her own abilities; it’s better to have a team to help.

B. : What was the "marketing pitch" for SAMURAI BLADES? Selecting Medieval Japan as a continuation of the Cry Havoc series was quite unusual (and the lack of success of that game proved it to be a bad choice after all). Do you know who made this decision?

A.P. : I don’t know the answer to that one. I suspect it was a commission from Standard Games to Peter, because they wanted to continue the series. It’s not a bad choice for a theme, bearing in mind (now) the success of medieval Japan themed games (Samurai, Shogun X 2, etc). Peter O’Toole had done a WW2 game for Standard Games called “Speed and Steel”, so he was known to SG. Unfortunately, I haven’t been in contact with Peter for over 15 years.

B. : Alan, thank you again for your invaluable contribution, and for providing us with so much entertainment over the last 25 years with SIEGE!