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Fire at Will! (An interview with Steve Wood)

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Space a dangerous place.  At least, it always seems to be in the future.  Perhaps we just love imagining massive, well-armed ships floating around out there, and we need to imagine some way to put them to good use.

Gunship: First Strike is a board game that gives you a chance to customize one of those massive ships and pit it against your opponent in a deadly space battle.

The game was previously on Kickstarter and became a success.  Now it’s getting an expansion that promises to add a whole lot more to the Gunship universe.  We had a chance to interview the designer , Steve Wood, about the game and the upcoming expansion, so check it out below and then visit the Kickstarter page to help the project succeed!

My questions and comments are in bold italics, while Steve’s responses are normal text.

This appears to be some sort of geek in his natural habitat

Who are you?
I’m a massive sci-fi and board gaming geek. I’m sitting in my (mostly) Star Wars-themed home office in Bristow, VA, wearing Batman pajamas and listening to the original Star Trek Bridge sound effects on iTunes. I love Star Destroyers, Zombies, Drizz’t novels, Super Heroes, Firefly, the Washington Redskins and the 1980s – and my wife and 2 dachshunds, of course!

Glad to hear you’ve got both Star Trek and Star Wars love going on. For some reason, people seem to think you have to pick one or the other, which is lame. There’s room in the world for both!
As much as I HATE to admit it, any Enterprise would tear an Imperial Star Destroyer to ribbons!

As long as their shields didn’t give out too soon.  So, how did you get into the tabletop hobby?
I think it all started with Fortress America in my early teens, around ’85 or ’86. Then Axis & Allies. Then Car Wars, Blood Bowl and BattleTech were huge influences and we started drawing our own maps and creating our own rules and systems. I was always a huge fan of toys. I grew up in what I feel is the Golden Age of action figures – Star Wars ruled my toybox, G.I.Joe made it’s debut into 3 3/4″, the Transformers arrived! I remember epic battles where I’d combine all of the good guys from all of the sets vs. all of the bad guys in crossover upon crossover. But BOARD GAMES, man, THEY had SYSTEMS. They came with all of these dice, and probabilities and strategy. It was, and still is, the “adult” way of playing with toys!

What is your current favorite game (Besides anything you created yourself. That’s cheating!)?
The Flavor of the Month is Castle Panic. It’s beauty is in its simplicity. We were thinking “this would be the BEST Zombie game!” and then guess what? They’re making one! Can’t wait.

Give us your “elevator pitch” for Gunship: First Strike. Then give us 2-3 paragraphs describing it in more detail.
Gunship: First Strike! is a tactical space battle game that focuses on the little thematic things. There’s no hexes, no workers, no political maneuver. It’s all about managing your Shields, Weapons and Armor (and later, your increasing damage to individual systems!). You build a custom Gunship, selecting your weapons payload according to your plan and/or current situation. You have a Fighter Squadron and a Carrier where you can land and effect repairs / switch weapons. The other guy has all the same stuff as you (it’s a civil war) and the object is to destroy his Carrier before he destroys yours. There are many paths to getting this done, usually NOT the one you THOUGHT you were taking!

We believe that the Gunship system is innovative in that it uses Cards placed on Boards to “build” the ship and track its damage. You select Weapons from a deck of cards in each of 4 different Gunship colors. These cards are laid in specific places, making the game very modular. This allows us to create all kinds of Upgrade Cards, etc to keep everything new. At the moment there are 22 different Upgrades an addition to the standard Weapons. This allows Players to build the kind of Gunship they want instead of forcing them into a box. As time goes on, we’ll keep adding more and more Cards, different types of Wings (which are also modular, allowing them to even be blown off!) and other means to keep the customization possibilities endless.

In additional to customization, our system naturally suits a very cool combat system. When your Gunship takes its first Hits, you lose Shield cards. Take a few more shots, and you’ll start to see Armor cards going away and graphical damage printed on the game cards will start being laid out on your Components (areas of your board representing things like Generators, Engines, Weapons etc). You can SEE your Gunship being affected by the battle as it slowly gets full of glowing craters and dents. Maybe you lost a Wing and you GS is lopsided. Maybe the Torpedo kill shot you were going to launch at the enemy Carrier has been hit by an Ion Cannon and the Ionized! card sitting on it is keeping you from your destiny. Or maybe you’ve just left your Carrier and are protected by full Shields and a shiny new coat of Armor. Whatever the status, it’s all laid out right in front of you and you’re in control of everything EXCEPT the chaos of battle, as it should be.

Gunship has been really well-received by our fans and online reviewers. Our (very) few critics have mostly pursued the avenue that there is a lot of luck involved. But I believe that luck is a part of EVERY board game. Even the Euros have cards that affect things in random ways. Settlers of Catan has cards and dice. You may THINK you’re going to get that Ore and buy that last VP from the deck. But if the DIE ROLL does not come up for one of your Mountains or if you buy that card and get yet ANOTHER Knight, your plans are foiled. In gunship, you THINK you;re going to make one last Attack Run on that Carrier, drop your Bombs and win the day. But oh NO – your Wing with the bombs on it got nailed by Defense Cannon fire, and when you circled back around to use your OTHER Bombs, the dice went against you and they all missed. Such is the nature of combat. The TRUE strategy in theGunship universe is knowing how to build the vessel that gives you the best chance of doing what you want to do.

We’re expanding and setting the parts in motion for you to be able to do SO much more with our system. 2013 and 2014 are going to bring surprises and game components beyond your wildest expectations!

What inspired you to create Gunship in the first place? Did it pop out of nowhere or get the idea from something else? Did you take inspiration from any other games or designers in the process?

One of my very favorite games of all time was Block Mania by Games Workshop. Came out in the early 80’s and it was based on the Judge Dredd universe. I decided to make a space version of it called Space Mania, using the same game mechanics etc but with a new theme. Of course, this was when I was 18 and did not fully understand things like IP and copyrights! I just figured I’d call them and get permission. Internet was still a long way off. What you see today is the final metamorphosis which is nothing like what I started with, although they both share Torpedoes! Can’t have a space combat game without ’em.

What was the biggest challenge to overcome in the design process?

Artwork. I’m graphically trained in vector art for the sign and printing industry. I’m a competent layout guy but I never had the skills to design 3D stuff with textures, etc. If I hadn’t met Luca Oleastri, this never would have happened. Funny that I met him AND found out about Kickstarter in the same week. Then, 20 years of dreaming went to reality in less than a year.

Can you give us any hints about the “surprises” you mentioned? Any tasty tidbits for our readers?

It’s always tough to pick that ONE last big Stretch Goal. You have no idea where it’s going to go and you need to be VERY careful with your planning because just because you HAVE the money to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you SHOULD do it. Some things can really change the production times, etc. What I’m thinking right now involves taking the Race Course into a new “dimension”. That’s all the hint you’re going to get!

Tell us more about the expansion that’s on Kickstarter right now. What does it add to the base game?

a Ton. Movement in First Strike is very linear and abstract. You are either defending your own Carrier, attacking the other, or somewhere in between. So three places you can be. In Afterburners, you have 10 or more “zones” that you can move to in a circuit. You have to choose your Speed carefully because you might be in a straightaway now but then “hit” the Asteroid Field (or an opponent’s Mines). You can grab Power-Ups that boost your ship but then you can Overheat if you’re not careful. There’s new Upgrades that combine with the old for great new combinations. It’s really a completely different experience and we have had a super time playtesting it. The laughter never stops.

Can you tell us about an exciting or unexpected moment that happened in Gunship?

The last Kickstarter was one of the greatest times of my life. I have held onto this dream for over half my life (and I’m 40). I never expected to hit over 20k on the first day, or to go as far as we did. In the end we were able to add so many great things. If I had to pick ONE exciting moment, it would be when Luca and I first met online and he sent me the very first 3D version of the Gunship. It was beautiful and the perfect harbinger for great things to come.

What is the most important thing, in your opinion, any game design should have? How have you implemented that in your game?

Fun and Theme. Playing a board game is supposed to take you away from reality for a couple of hours. It should immerse you into a different place while you play. If you can laugh and shout and moan as the dice betray you to your opponent’s delight, and imagine yourself in the command seat of that starship, trying to make critical starship decisions, then I have done my job. I (obviously) feel that Customization is a huge plus. People like to build their game to suit their own personalities, and I try to make that an option in every way possible. If you want to talk just mechanics, I’d say Balance. Whether you love Gunship or hate it, you can’t say it does not have excellent balance. We worked really hard on that. Nothing worse than playing on the receiving end of a lopsided beating. But I’m not promising you won’t take one every now and then if you get sloppy!We’ve implemented as much cool sci-fi artwork as we could fit, sometimes going over budget just to cram that one last piece that would add a tiny detail somewhere. We’ve tried to make the game feel like a space battle as much as possible. I’ve watched every sci-fi space fighting movie I can find (oh, the hard work of game design!) and tried to find some aspect of it to put into the game. I’m trying to find a company that makes small customizable sound boards so you can press buttons for Gunship sound effects, but so far, no luck!Any final words you’d like to share with our audience?

Just want to take an opportunity to thank the board game community for such great support over the last couple of years. From the contacts and resources I have found in the Board Game Geek Designer Forum when we were just getting started, to the guys and girls I meet at the conventions who stop by to talk about Gunship and buy a copy. We’re getting great reviews and comments and growing at a nice, steady pace. Just a few years ago, it would not be possible for a small guy like me to jump into this industry, but sites like Kickstarter and the generosity and faith of the gamers is fueling a revolution that can only help our hobby. I’ve found gamers to be really good people overall. Maybe we weren’t the most popular people in school sometimes, but I see that trend starting to change and I am proud to be a member of that brotherhood.
Thanks, Steve, for your time If you’d like to check out Gunship and its new expansion, here’s the kickstarter link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1291246114/gunship-afterburners———-

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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