Interview With Chris Baylis

The Game

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Chris Baylis is a well known game designer. He recently created games like Station Master and Space Shuffle. He is also the editor and reviewer of Games Gazette, a games review magazine. I have been fortunate enough to chat with him on December 9 and 10, 2008. Below is the transcript of our conversation.

Buxeria: Chris, I understand that you were the game designer of DARK BLADES as well as its expansion. I would have a few questions to ask you about the background of this game and your memories of this time.

Chris Baylis, Designer of Dark Blades

Chris Baylis: If I can answer your questions I would be happy to do so. But it is a long while since I have played DARK BLADES and I may have to go dig it out if there are any rules queries.

B.: My questions actually don't have anything to do with the game itself but more your experience as a designer. So let’s start: Who came up with the original concept of Dark Blades? Was it somebody at Standard Games who commissioned you on the job, or your own initiative?

C.B. : I approached Standard Games because the rules for CRY HAVOC Man-to-Man didn't work - the man attacking cannot kill the defender unless he backs him up until he cannot go back further. Andy McKay was a former Games Workshop employee and was a salesman for SG. He is the one who set up their metal miniatures division and he actually spun the mini's himself. He asked me to design DARK BLADES after my initial contact with SG.

B. : Who is to be credited for the artwork of the counters and the maps?

C.B. : The map of Labrynthia was of my own D&D world which I used for campaigns and games here at home. Standard Games had one of their designers draw and colour it.

B. : What did you like/didn't like in the CRY HAVOC game concept? What did you improve in the concept?

Map of Labrynthia

C.B. : I loved the CRY HAVOC idea and game mechanic - although it didnt work totally as I mentioned above. I changed the man-to-man fighting table and introduced magic and dragons, etc. CRY HAVOC is medieval, I made it fantasy. I also, in my games, limited the range of the crossbow, which Standard Games had capable of firing any distance in a straight line - with their crossbow rules, you could fire at the moon and hit it ! The CRY HAVOC, and indeed most of the entire series, of play-maps were far superior to anything available at the time, and probably are as good as anything published now or since. Unfortunately, if I remember correctly, the author of VIKING RAIDERS, which was the game that came out immediately after DARK BLADES, reverted to the old CRY HAVOC rules, taking no note of the fact that I had changed the combat system for one-on-one fighting so that it actually worked. This wasn't through any desire for the original rules, it was because Standard Games (and maybe the author also) simply wanted to reprint parts of their old booklet of rules instead of creating an entirely new one for each new game in the series.

B. : There were no strategic rules to make use of the map of Labrynthia. Was this an omission, or just due to a very tight release date?

C.B. : The map was meant to be a poster map not played on. There were terrain rules and the map terrain was pretty obvious. The idea was that if you played the game as a campaign - Dark Blades v the Black Fox - then you chose an area and used game map boards as appropriate to that area as possible. Remember it is a board game, not a role-playing game even though it has an RPG feel to it.

B. : What about the expansion set?

C.B. : The scenario book (expansion) was supposed to have 25 different adventures but having strained my brain to reach 20, I sold them on the idea of 20 adventures and a whole load of new tiles etc. which I personally think worked a lot better.

B. : Would you know who designed Outremer, the fourth installment in the Cry Havoc franchise? This information is nowhere to be found and even "experts" like Alan Paull who initially worked on that game has not been able to tell me.

C.B. : No, sorry, no idea. I didn't much care for Outremer as although it may have been somewhat correct historically it didn't work for me and I thought the map was plain and boring - personal opinion only.

Dark Blades Expansion Set


B. : How did you come up with these weird names for the characters of DARK BLADES?

Many of the characters had special meanings. Ceebey for example is CB (Chris Baylis). The region of Franmere is named after my wife Fran who had just had our first son, Grant (who become Grast) and thus as Fran was his mother and mere is French for mum you get Franmere. One of the characters (I really cannot remember them all now) is called Davrich. This is made up of the names of the two guys who owned Standard Games. Most of my friends and family became names in one way or another either as characters or regions/places of interest on the map. Andy McKay also has a character in the game (MacKandy). Although I suggested the fantasy version to Standard Games it was they who decided the name Dark Blades and the Mon Ogers. These were to go with a range of figures (25mm metal miniatures) they produced to go with the game. I gave Dark Blades his background story and his actual name. Standard Games named Black Fox so I put him in Wyly Castle (as foxes are known to be cunning or wily).

B . : Do you know who owns the rights to the game today?

Characters of Dark Blades

C.B. : About 6-7 years ago I wrote to the founders of Standard Games, even though the company is no longer trading, asking if I could have the copyright back on DARK BLADES and they didn't reply. Then 3-4 years ago a guy I know who has published a few games decided he would like to republish the whole CRY HAVOC range. But he told me that the amount asked for was horrendous and he quickly shelved then buried the idea.

B. : Chris, it was a real pleasure interviewing you, and your insights were really awesome. Thank you so much!

PS: Chris has been kind enough to provide us with the complete background of the names used in DARK BLADES. This is a unique opportunity to decipher the thought process of a game designer in my honest opinion. So here it is:
Dark Blades: I was told that was the name of the main character and the name of the game. My remit was to create a game around that name. At the time I didn't like the name or the artwork ( I saw the hero as a younger, more like Roger Moore as Ivanhoe or William Russell as Lancelot, or Conrad Phillips ar William Tell) so I rebelled and gave him the name Tristan de Rikard (Trust in Richard in a muddly sort of way).
The Black Fox. I tend to think Standard Games  gave me this name also - which is why I put him in Wyly (wily like a Fox) Castle, but I may have made both names up
Asiera: This came about because at the time of creating the game my car was A Sierra ( a Ford)
Cardwyn: We knew someone called Anwyn from Cardiff.
Myre: Characters often ended up deep in the sh** or mire to put it politely
Lymouth: One of our friends lived in Plymouth so we literally took the P out of him.
Castle Domor: someone said they wished their character could do more
Rootham Abbey - from our window we could see foxes rooting around in a neighbors' garden
Cardenia - After the Gardenia flower
Langwyn - Inspired by our friend Nick Langford
Coffe: Coffe was the Labrynthia of Martin Church, one of our regular group. I put Coffe and some of its parts into the game as homage to Martin's great role-playing and DM'ing. (I lost touch with Martinb several years ago - I must check Facebook to see if he is on it)
Denitia (and all things Den...) Denise Hayden (the first girl I remember kissing - aged about 7 or 8)
Franmere and all things Fran... Fran was (still is) my wife and she had just given birth to one of our 3 kids. Mere is French for Mum.
Arek El Salaam We had salami on a pizza while listening to Eric Clapton, so Eric the Salami.
Ammee: French for friend amis  just played around with the spelling
Davrich: the two brothers of Standard Games, David & Richard.
Faith: Hope and Charitys
Garre Delieu:  Gare is French for Station but the name if you say it in English accent is Gard de Loo (Guard the toilet)
Arrowshot Castle: Sounded cool
Idol Mountains: obvious place to set an adventure
Sunfire - real cool name for a semi-clad fighter female (beats Red Sonia any day)
Quill again a cool name for a Merlin type mage
Holdearly = Hold dearly (much loved)
The Shrine to the One -  complete load of BS but it later made for a good role play adventure base
Hope:  as in Faith, Hope & Charity
Saylom is Salom
Londaal is London
Bayshore -  Baylis's dream home
Cathedral of the Vision of the Prince - same as the Shrine to the One
Lonside  on the side of Londaal
Onborder literally on the border
Zabooli -  Longleat wild animal park. We went to Longleat (it was like a Zoo) and Beaulieu Motor Museum on the same day so Beaulieu Zoo = Zabooli
Zatan- obvious Satan (or maybe Santa)
Grast = Grant
Laberne =  born of LABrynthia and named after famous TV show The Golden Shot where the quizmaster used to say "Bernie, the Bolt" so you get Laberne the Bow (with a little Robin Hood throen in for good measure)
Thrugg Lumpthew -  I think Andy McKay named this one, or perhaps it was Standard Games as they produced a 25mm fisuew of him.
Shaman - obvious
Dworc Half Dwarf Half Orc
Matt of Jizir -  Matt used to run Torchlight miniatures and play games with us
Leigh of Colme -  Matt lived in Leigh on Sea, as did 2-3 of our regular players
MacAndy - Andy McKay
Ceebee -  Chris baylis
Dill - After the Herb
Zed - last letter of the alphabet
Arlon - after Standard Games home Arlon House
Simon - a player
Rix - instead of Rex
Evans after Pevans (Paul Evans - now with JKLMN&P game distributors)
Peterson - Peter's son a friend
Barney - Fred Flinstone's mate
Roberts - Dave Roberts was a friend