In this second post of Unsung Heroes of Gaming, CigarBoxBattle.com gets the great privilege of interviewing Mr. Howard Whitehouse, one of our favorite Game Designers. For over 30 years he’s written fun, light-hearted rules that continue to entertain. He’s created cool hybrid games that combine aspects of RPGs and Wargaming. His rules ALWAYS push you, as a gamer, to plan and react in ways that are unique and creative. We’re going to talk to him about this and more. Welcome Mr. Whitehouse in a BIG WAY!
CBB – Are you or have you been a gamer? (Miniature Wargames, Role-Playing Games, or Board Games)
HW – Since childhood, I suppose! When I was about 12 – in 1970 – my friend Bill Powell found a book in the library by the sainted Donald Featherstone (who died this week as I write this – a great man) and we started rolling dice and measuring how far our Airfix figures could move, instead of just throwing things to knock them over.
CBB – What kinds of games do you prefer to play?
HW – I am a ‘social’ gamer rather than a competitor. In fact, I may be the worst wargamer I know, constantly making stupid errors that my opponent jumps on (as he ought, really). I’m a ‘Small Wars’ – colonial gamers will get that reference to a classic Victorian guide to fighting savage ‘eathens in dreadful places at the ends of the world – rather than someone who wants to play giant battles. I like that zone where RPGs and miniatures games come together. But most of all, it has to be fun. I’d much rather lose and have fun than win some sort of grim slog where we all look up charts and calculate odds.
CBB – What was the first “hobby” game you ever played?
HW – As a 12 year old we tried Featherstone’s rules and the Old School stuff done by Charles Grant and Brigadier Young. But I found out that all the cool kids were playing WRG ancients, which was –of course – a lie. Far too complicated and dry.
CBB – How did you get into Game Design? Tell us about it?
HW – In those days of yore it was pretty normal to design your own games – or at least write rules of your own. When I was 13-14 I wrote a wild west gunfight set, which must have been excruciatingly over-fiddly, because kids of that age want every bit of detail they can find put into the game. Plus, 1970s games were much too complicated anyway. After that I wrote some Colonial warfare rules, mostly-cribbed-from- someone’s Napoleonics rules, and other stuff I’d hate to bring out if it could still be found. Which it can’t – hah!
CBB – What was your first Game Design commission? Tell us about it?
HW – Commission? I’d always written games for myself. The first time anyone came to me and asked me to write something was – I think – when Frank Chadwick asked me to work on the background of ‘Space 1889’. I also wrote a follow up involving liftwood flyers etc in Africa, but alas the whole Space 1889 project was not a success when it was first launched – it took years to become a real hit!
CBB – As a Games Designer, what do you feel you are most known for, and which Gaming accomplishment makes you most proud?
HW – In 1985 or 6 I wrote a set of rules, “Science versus Pluck”, a colonial wars system based on the RPG structure where the GM runs the savage hordes (and the world in general) and the players are competing British officers of the Victorian era, plus war correspondents, Syrian interpreters, Abyssinian guides etc. The difference between SvP and the standard RPG format is that it isn’t a man-to-man scale game; players command regiments and brigades. I’ve always thought this should be applied to military wargames of many other eras, and it’s a disappointment that it hasn’t been generally adopted.
I’m best known for ‘Astounding Tales!’, my pulp era rules which are a combination of ‘lite’ RPG and skirmish miniatures rules. Most years I run a 20-30 player AT! game at Historicon – sometimes 30s pulp, 60s spies, whatever strikes me as entertaining. It’s always a riot of improve comedy, bad voice impressions and occasional song. Yes, we’ve featured the Indiana Jones theme, and invented Bond theme (“I Expect You to Die”) and a remarkable Barry White impersonation.
CBB – What is your favorite part of the Game Design process? Tell us why?
HW – Hmm. It’s not the arithmetic, I can promise you! I like the research aspect a lot, and writing up the general parameters and objectives. The exact details of ‘+1 for this’ etc are much more of a chore. In general, I keep the rules mechanics as simple as I can, since I see rules are support for the game, not the game itself.
CBB – Which part of the Game Design process, do you feel, is your “sweet spot” or specialty? Tell us why?
HW – I think I am good at looking at a topic and analyzing what makes it interesting from a gaming perspective. If it seems just like something else, but with different hats – and that’s the way many wargames rules seem to work, Napoleonics being treated as mid C18th with some columns and horse artillery – then I look for what makes it unique and interesting. I am not interested in playing, say, Field of Glory spaceships combat.
CBB – Have you worked on any recent projects you would like to tell us about?
HW – Over the last year and a bit, Roderick Robertson and I established Pulp Action Library to release various rules we’d done together – a Prohibition era set called ‘Mad Dogs with Guns’’ (in association with Mark Copplestone), two short and silly games – ‘Caveman’ and ‘Eat Hitler – the Nazi Taste Treat!’ – and ‘Battle-Troll’, a man-to-man game of the Norse Sagas.
Here’s a link to the Pulp Action Library website
Here’s where you can buy all of our kewl rewls!
CBB – What will you be working on next?
HW – We are putting the finishing touches to ‘Outlaws of Sherwood’, which is about the Battle of Stalingrad — no, wait, it’s about Robin Hood. Our next big project, which has been gestating for a long time, will be a tongue-in-cheek Sword and Sorcery game called Chainmail Bikini”. It’s the same RPG-meets-skirmish game combo from Astounding Tales!, but with greater emphasis on smiting with Mighty Thews. Tradititional RPGers are warned that, no matter how much treasure you accumulate, there’s a huge chance you’ll lose it in a gambling den and wake up in a cell or an alley before the next adventure!
Come ‘like’ us on Facebook to find out what we are up to (and gawp at cheesy pulp magazine covers)
CBB – What is the difference in your process when designing games you’ve been commissioned to design versus designing games that you come up with on your own? Would you mind sharing some of your process with us?
HW – The times I’ve been asked to write rules for a commercial purpose – as opposed to ‘for my own entertainment’ – there’s been a clear understanding that they have to be very clearly defined so that people who come to the game from systems like the GW games (and especially from a tournament-type background) can follow them more easily. My own inclinations are to assume anyone who plays a HW game is able to make the sorts of leaps of imagination that come naturally to me – or at least agree with like-minded players to make up rules where none exist. I like a certain looseness, a relaxed approach that says “Don’t use a complex table – roll against ‘STUNTS’ and see if you swung from that chandelier without breaking a leg.”
Howard, we here at CigarBoxBattle.com are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to bring this interview to our readers. We appreciate your kindness and insight. We always look forward to your next game.
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