Interview With Tony Webster

The Game

Tony Webster partnered with Gary Chalk to design Cry Havoc back in the early 80’s.
He has been kind enough to answer a few questions for Cry Havoc Fan.

Buxeria: Tony, I feel honored to get in touch with the man who invented a game that still keeps me awake at night, almost 30 years later! Thank you so much to answer my questions today.

Tony Webster: I'm more than happy to answer a few questions if I can!

B: How did you come up with the idea of a skirmish game set in the Middle-Ages?
And who, as I understand that this was a joint effort between you and Gary Chalk?

T.W.: Myself, Gary Chalk and one or two other friends (notably Grant Newell) would meet

Tony Webster

Tony Webster in the early 80's, when he wrote the Cry Havoc rules.

every Friday evening at either Gary or Grant's house and engage in miniature gaming. Grant Newell and I were very much fans of WW2 54mm figures and along with Gary Chalk we'd fight section/platoon sized engagements based on "Operation Market Garden" (Arnhem). Gary Chalks' real passion however was at that time the medieval and renaissance periods and we'd often engage in large scale campaigns using Gary extensive collection of 25mm figures.

Occasionally for some light relief we would play a military board game. One evening we were playing a game (the name escapes me, it may have been an ECW game) and we became extremely frustrated with the morass of rules that had to be waded through in order to complete a turn, it was at that point that I said "we could produce a game that would be more fun than this" . Grant didn't really have the time or inclination to involve himself in the project but Gary readily agreed and as I recall it was he who suggested we should set the game in the medieval period and that if I set to work on drafting some rules he would make a start on producing some maps and counters.

B.: The concept of counters with decreasing values based on their health was ground-breaking in the early 80’s. How did you invent this?

T.W.: The idea was taken from our own WW2 miniature gaming experience where Gary and Grant had built in rules for wounded and stunned figures and the effects the condition would have on their performance.

B.: How did you share the design work with Gary? Was it simply “Gary, you draw the maps and counters and I come up with the rules” or something with more interactions?

T.W.: I have trouble putting paint on a wall, all the credit for the magnificent artwork in the game has to go to Gary, he designed the maps and counters, as far as the presentation was concerned my input was limited to map scale and counter values. As for the rules, I drafted the basic mechanics presented them to Gary and together we then set about "tweaking" them. I would like to say a this point that we weren't attempting to design a military simulation our goal was to produce a simple playable and FUN game, we'd already had our fill of "simulation" games with rule books the size of a telephone directory.

B.: The character names mix English, French and German names. Was there a reason for this? A few of the names are weird and probably have a related background. Is there anything that you can share with me?

T.W.: There's not a lot I can tell you about the naming of the characters. Gary Chalk did all the art work and presented the finished product with the names already in place. Given Gary's familiarity with the period I didn't question his name choices but I do recall chuckling at his inclusion of "Wat" and "Tyler"in the character mix as back in the 14th century Wat Tyler lead the "peasants revolt " , this was a typical example of Gary's mischievous humour.

B.: Did you design any other games? I didn’t see your name attached with any other ones, so I’m wondering if this was just a hobby for you or something that you wanted to get serious about.

T.W.: For me game design was just an offshoot of my wargaming hobby, I was nothing more than an enthusiastic amateur, so much so that when the game went into production I didn't even bother to ensure that my name was credited, come to think of it neither did Gary. Subsequent to Cry Havoc, Gary and I discussed the possibility of producing a game set in the "Days of the Raj" with particular emphasis on the Northwest Frontier. Gary started sketching a few maps and I began wrestling with the effects of volley fire and melees with Afghan tribesmen. Unfortunately for a variety of reasons the project stagnated and died a death.

B.: What about your relationship with Standard Games?

T.W.: Apart from Gary himself, I had no direct contact with "Standard Games" aside from the receipt of an occasional cheque for my part in the games design. When it was first released "Cry Havoc" was being sold essentially by mail order, one or two specialist game outlets had taken half a dozen or so copies and that was about it. After several months I was asked if I wanted to sell my rights to the game. Given at that time it's so far less than stellar performance, I settled on a price and relinquished my rights to the game. If truth be told I was never in it for the money, I was more than happy that the game itself had been manufactured and that although the numbers were small, gamers in far flung corners of the planet were apparently enjoying it (one of the first orders came from a guy in Papua New Guinea ! I was delighted !!).

B.:You didn’t design the following games in the franchise. Any reason?

T.W.: Not long after Cry Havoc was released my wife and I had a second child and life's priorities changed also as I'd lost touch with Gary and I was never familiar with the people at Standard Games .

B.: One topic in the Cry Havoc rules that has been generating a lot of discussion over the years is the effect of combat with a 1:1 odd ratio: The attacker cannot win and has a fair chance of being wounded. Was it intentional?

T.W.: For reasons that are beyond me, the inability of the attacker to inflict any damage in a 1:1 ratio was an error that wasn't addressed when we tested the game. It's more than twenty years since I've played but I think at that time our "speedy" solution was to treat 1:1 ratios as 2:1 (but still applied terrain effects).

B.: Another issue is the strength of the crossbows: Many believe they are way too strong and ruin the gameplay. Is it something that was anticipated?

T.W.: We were happy with the values attributed to the crossbows and didn't consider them too strong, should a bolt strike it's target the effect could be pretty devastating. Having said that, there is a case to be argued that at the higher ratios we should have always allowed at least a 1 in 10 chance (maybe even more ) of the bolt missing its target. Certainly at the longer and medium ranges I would recommend lowering the crossbows attack strength.

B.: Did you anticipate that this game would still have a large fan community and would still be alive almost 30 years later?

T.W.: I remember being pleasantly surprised when Cry Havoc first appeared on the shelves of some major stores. I was even more surprised when its popularity became so strong that it spawned other games but never in my wildest imaginings did I consider that 30 years on a dedicated crew of gamers would still be playing and enthusiastically discussing Cry Havoc! I'm amazed that in this age of computer gaming a relatively simple board game like Cry Havoc continues to flourish.

B.: That's probably because your goal of creating a FUN game was successfully achieved. Thank you so much Tony for your insights and for spending the time to share your memories with the Cry Havoc community.