Charlie Don’t Surf – We Interview the Author

Richard, thanks for coming to the Lard Island News offices.  We’ve just seen the news that Charlie Don’t Surf is at the CDS Cover Smallprinters; great news for lots of people who have been waiting a long time for this set to come along.  It’s taken you some years to produce these, why the delay.
In answer to your first point, yes, I am very excited about these rules, and you’re right, they have been a long time coming.  Charlie Don’t Surf was the very first set of rules that Nick and I ever worked on, he called the first four pages of notes ‘DMZ’ but I insisted on Charlie Don’t Surf for very obvious reasons.
The honest answer is that we were happily working away on Charlie Don’t Surf when we crashed into I Ain’t Been Shot Mum.  Many of the ideas and concepts that we were working on for CDS were used to produce IABSM, and then we had to produce all of the support material for that, so that took time.  However the real reason was I hit a brick wall when it came to trying to model asymmetrical warfare.  It was very easy to produce a game where the VC were nothing more than pop-up targets for the Free World players to zap, and I must admit that we went down that route for quite some time, but I was never satisfied with the results.  It really needed a huge rethink, so I put the rules on the back-burner for some time, just picking them up and dabbling when the mood took me.
In the end it was attempting to model similar conflicts in Africa that provided the key.  Once I had that the real hard work started as I pretty much had to disassemble everything we had done previously.  In a way it was a shame, as lots of people had put a lot of work into the original concepts, but ultimately what has emerged is a much more robust and sophisticated game, and one that provides some really enjoyable and challenging gaming for both sides.
What aspects of the rules would people who have previously played Lardy games recognise?
Cards.  The turn sequence is card driven, as is the case with all of our rules.  I really haven’t found a better means of conveying battlefield friction than by using cards, and frankly I don’t think you can model warfare, even in a game, without that being present.
Actually I think anyone who has played a Lardy game before will recognise much that is in the rules, however I hope they will also see that they are much more streamlined than, for example, IABSM.  The Fire Table is still at the heart of the firing system, Action Dice and Command Initiative are all there too.
I am interested to see that you have included the Fire Table, pretty much exactly like the one in IABSM.  Is that not a retrograde step?
How do you mean?
Well, isn’t that the big complaint you get – “what is a good shot, what is a poor shot?” I thought that with rules like Mud & Blood you’d moved on from that mechanism.
Interestingly I think the whole Fire Table issue that you’ve identified is a bit of a smoke screen.  Yes, the table does have the headings Great, Okay and Poor, but the text explains that you can simply treat that as In the Open, In Light Cover and In Heavy Cover.  There are plenty of rules that do that (like our Mud & Blood that you mentioned) and nobody bats an eyelid.  All I am trying to do is say that the gamer can be more sophisticated than that if he wants.
In truth the Fire Table is a great tool.  Your squad is firing, you decide how many Action Dice they want to “spend” on that, and then roll the dice and cross-reference on the Fire Table.  It tells you not only how many hits you have achieved, but also whether the unit is Pinned or Suppressed.  I like rule mechanisms that do more than one thing at a time, so a fire result and a morale result at the same time, and does it quickly, strikes me as a quality mechanism.
Mud & Blood, along with Sharp Practice, are somewhat different in that you are actually rolling dice for each man.   That is because they are more skirmish games than CDS is.  We’ll be using the Fire Table again in v3 of IABSM when it comes out as well.
Okay, so what has changed?
Quite a bit in the area of command and control.  I had a very interesting conversation with a friend in Sweden, Marcus, about command and control in IABSM.  He mentioned to me that Big Men can actually reduce the coordination of a platoon rather than increase it, due to their only being able to influence one squad at a time.  It’s an excellent point, and one that I have addressed by giving Big Men Command Initiative points more akin to the system in Sharp Practice or Mud & Blood.  So, your platoon commander with three command points can activate three different squads.  He can do other stuff to, and once the bullets start to fly he’ll have plenty of decisions to make in terms of where he spends his points, but this has really made the game more dynamic.  Big Men of a high quality can really get things moving.  Of course there is still room in there for the Sergeant who is only going to influence one unit at a time, so you get the full spectrum of command ability much better reflected in the rules.
The big change is the way the game plays.  I felt it hugely important to represent the asymmetrical nature of the conflict, and we have done this by setting both military and political victory conditions.  This puts very realistic pressures on both forces to constantly assess just how achievable their original mission is, and to consider the bigger picture in terms of balancing military success against the political ramifications of casualties and so on.  Interestingly the game will often end not when one side or the other stands triumphant on the battlefield, but when one side leaves the table.  Free World Forces can often capture large areas of real estate that is not worth a hill of beans.  These are very interesting systems that, I think, could be transferable to pretty much any modern COIN ops.
What size games are the rules really suited to?
We state company size actions, but in truth we’ve had some excellent games where one side or the other has had only about one platoon.  Equally we’ve played games with two companies of NVA plus armoured support coming up against a company of ARVN in 1972 or later.  If anyone has played IABSM this is its brother in terms of game size.  A company per side plus support would be pretty average, but frankly the victory conditions mean that we well handled small force can take on a much bigger enemy and still win.
Isn’t that a bit larger than most Vietnam games?  I mean they tend to focus on Platoon size games.
Maybe they do.  Platoon size games are great for fighting a patrol action, but if you really want to fight a battle then a company size game really introduces so many different dynamics.
What is the rule writing process for you? 
Start small.  I get my ideas on a piece of paper, put together a deck of cards, shove the figures on the table and then we basically brain storm our way through the first few games.  This can be literally as basic as turning the first card out of the deck and saying “Right, what does that mean”.  We have a very vibrant development group on Lard Island and within three or four workshop sessions we’ll have a twenty-five page draft that we can put out to play-testers around the world, while we continue to play our games and develop and expand ideas.  After that it is just a case of playing game after game and dealing with any issues that arise. 
You mentioned earlier the issue of friction, and modelling warfare.  Does that give us a clue on where you stand on the ‘Simulation versus Game’ debate?
There is no debate on Simulation versus Game, just a lot of bollocks talked.   I think it’s pretty simple really, we are wargaming, by definition that must include some attempt to produce a game that relates to war.  In order to relate to war it must share some of the characteristics.  So, for example, cavalry move faster than infantry.  It’s simple stuff; any game that saw cavalry move 6” and infantry move 18” would be laughed at.  Whether we like it or not, we are attempting some simplistic form of simulation within our games.  The question really should be how far do we want to go with the simulation whilst maintaining the “game” element?  To my mind a game has to be fun, a wargame has to be fun and simulate aspects of warfare.  However, I do not believe it is a straight line with Fun at one end and Simulation at the other.
Okay, so accepting that viewpoint how do you view the hobby’s shift towards rules that are more about fun and less about simulation?
Well, I am not convinced that question is entirely different to the last one.  What I will say is that it is my intention to keep the historical content high in Lardy rules.  In its purest sense Fun in a wargame is dictated not by how much historical content there is, but by the rule mechanisms.  So, for example, a chap who knew nothing about Napoleon could have a great fun time playing a wargame, based purely on the game mechanisms making it fun to play.  Agreed?
Yes, agreed.
Right, but if you’re interested in military history you will also want to see that represented in a wargame.  So, as mentioned earlier, that will determine that our cavalry do move faster than our infantry.  Now that is a bit of simulation that as far as I can see has no impact on how much fun you can have.  So, if we can agree that simulating realistic movement rates does not affect the fun aspect of our game, then my question would be why should we not aspire to introduce more areas of simulation to complement our basic fun game mechanics.  By running the two along-side each other we are able to make our wargames so much more than just a game.
Do you see that as being in-step with what the hobby wants from rule sets?
I don’t honestly believe that there is such a thing as “the hobby”.  Wargaming is a broad church with a whole host of gaming preferences, and I would not presume to tell anyone in it what they should or should not want.  All I can do is keep producing rules that interest me and that I find enjoyable to play.  I can only hope that they will enjoy them too. Fortunately thus far they have, and I have gained a lot of good friends as a result of TooFatLardies.
What do you see yourself writing next?
I really don’t know.  IABSM3 looms large, as does Algy and M&BWWII (still no snappy name for that one!).  I am putting together another set of Kriegsspiel rules from 1872, and I really want to get my teeth into In the Buff.  What I do know is that I have got at least three years worth of work already lined up ahead of me,  the question is just what order it all happens in.
Richard, thanks for your time today.
My pleasure.


1 thought on “Charlie Don’t Surf – We Interview the Author”

  1. Lovely interview, very interesting responses to some – pardon the expression – “sharp” questions. heh. Jokes aside, it gives an insight into “why is this rule this way?” sorts of questions by us players.
    My question is considerably sharper: when will “Charlie Don’t Surf” be available for orders?

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