Interview With Gary Chalk

The Game

BoardGameGeek Forum

Gary Chalk is the "genius" who invented Cry Havoc in the early 80’s. As an illustrator, he designed the maps and playing pieces, while the rules were co-written with Tony Webster.  
After a long quest, I have been able to get in touch with him from Las Vegas, while he was in Normandy!

Buxeria: Gary, you made my day in accepting to answer these few questions.

Gary Chalk: You're in naughty Las Vegas, I'm sitting in freezing Normandie and my email made your day? You should get out more.... Joking aside, it's really great to have such a warm response!

B: I've been in Vegas too often over the last 15 years to still get excited
by Sin City, and having an interaction - yet virtual - with the man who invented a game that has been inspiring me these last 25 years is really a thrilling experience. Now let's get back to Cry Havoc: This game had

Gary Chalk

quite a few ground-breaking concepts that definitely participated to its longevity: Outstanding artwork, differentiated characters (names, outfits, weapons, etc.), game scale. How did you come up with these?
G.C.: I came up with the concept of Cry Havoc because as a figure gamer who had begun to play board wargames, I was genuinely appalled by the design of the products on offer at the time. I couldn’t understand why gamers were prepared to spend hours pushing tiny squares of khaki and field grey card across mud- coloured maps. I thought that there must be a more exciting way to design a wargame and set out, with all the confidence of youth, to do just that.

I decided to use named individuals, as these seemed to be about as far from the sludge green counters marked “3rd Shock Army” as I could reasonably be expected to get. Likewise I settled on the medieval era as it was extremely colourful, with varied weapons, larger than life characters and an ambiance somewhere between a wargame and roleplaying. Not a serious simulation. Not a well-reasoned examination of the feudal system.

B: There is still a lot of discussion within the Cry Havoc community about the combat table when the odds are 1:1. It seems to be way too unfavorable to the attacker. Is there any reason behind it?

Cry Havoc was meant to be FUN!!! This is why combats at 1:1 odds are indecisive. The evenly matched Sir Jacques and Sir Roger are supposed to clash swords, sway backwards and forwards a couple of time before some ghastly peasant nips round the back and sticks his pitchfork into sir Jacques’ sensitive regions, thus changing the odds and bringing the combat to a sad end.

As it was meant to be fun, I didn’t worry about market research or looking around for better ideas. After Tony Webster and I had worked out the rules together, I just sat down and did it. So, if there’s anything in Cry Havoc you don’t like, please feel free to change it.

B: Any secret story about the origin of the various character names?

G.C.: The names for the characters were chosen at random from any medieval names I could find in reference books dealing with the period.

B: Do you still have any sketches of unpublished characters or maps that you could share with me?

G.C.: Unfortunately I don’t have any sketches or notes left from this time. As an illustrator, if I kept all my sketches and notes, I would now be waist deep in paper.

B: Foot soldiers are fairly stocky and almost look like dwarves. Was it intentional, to cope with the square size of the counter or just an artistic choice? Also, representing characters from the back was quite a bold move. How did you come up with this idea?

G.C.: The characters are a little on the short and stocky side, but then people generally are. Few people are tall and elegant in real life. The type of person you see in a tv advert is rarely seen on the street. Also, the shorter the character, the more room I had to fit in the top of a spear or a polearm. I also tried to make them looked varied by using lots of different colors

and showing people from the back, the side and so on. I wanted to make them feel as much like 25mm wargames figures as was possible and indeed would have loved to have produced figures to use on the maps.

B: Let's chat about the maps: Why did you come up with a yellow color to represent the flat terrain, while the grass of England is pretty green :-) Also, I'm still trying to find the actual crossroad on the map with the same name: Why such a name?

G.C.: I wanted the maps to be colourful and settled on the sandy yellow base colour as something that would be useable just about anywhere in the world. If it was grass green, it wouldn’t look right in a desert etc. I had vaguely thought of a crusades variant and so the yellow seemed a good choice. The names, such as the Crossroads were put on the maps to

 differentiate them one from the other rather than cold, dull numbers. After all these years I will finally own up that there is, in fact no crossroads on the map of that name. Guilty as charged.

B: What is your feeling to see your creation still being praised, played and expanded 30 years later? If you were to reinvent the game today, what would you do differently?

G.C.: I’m amazed that the game is still played and is so popular today. If I were to reinvent it today I would make sure that this time I actually made some money out of it! In fact I discovered that my partners in the enterprise, who were a pair of printers, had enormous financial problems that they had not told me about. I couldn’t get any cooperation on how to take the game forward, there was no money to invest and I was finally forced to leave Standard Games in order to make a living. What exactly happened next and who produced what I don’t know. I was too busy keeping the wolf from the door.

However I had become a game designer and went on next to work for Games Workshop, where I worked on the original version of Talisman and designed Battlecars and Battlebikes as well as doing loads of illustration for them. This was before the company turned to the Dark Side of the Force and still wanted to produce interesting games on any number of subjects. The rest is history and I became a man with a great future behind him!

B: Finally, what are you working on today, what is your next project?

G.C.: At present I’m busily writing and illustrating children’s books, although I would love to produce some more Cry Havoc style games. In fact, I’m actually working on something that strongly resembles the same concept, taken forward into the gunpowder age. Anyone out there for Pirates, Last of the Mohicans and or Napoleonic skirmish warfare? Named counters, of course, with even better hex maps and a rather cunning command control system. In spite of the wrinkles, I feel ready for a new gaming challenge. If you all like the sound of this, I might even see what I can do about those controversial 1:1 odds on the Combat Results table…

B: Thank you so much, Gary, for your insight. Let me extend a warm thank you from the entire Cry Havoc community!