The news that a second edition of Bag the Hun was about to be published saw Lard Island News’ star reporter despatched to chat with Nick Skinner, author, raconteur and Herman Göring impersonator.
Nick, welcome to the Lard Island News offices. We’ve just heard that Bag the Hun 2 has arrived from the printers, clearly something you’ll be excited about. Tell our readers, what made you want to produce a second edition of Bag the Hun?
Our Bag the Hun games are always fun but I wanted to add greater variety and scenario options to our games. We also felt that manoeuvres needed expanding and that further tweaks were needed to reflect the nuances of warfare in some theatres. This meant that not only would the rules need to cover the ‘standard’ fighter vs fighter and fighter vs bomber combat, but that they must also cover the key aspects of ground and naval attack – in all its forms. Additionally I felt ready to further challenge, expand, develop and clarify some of the initial concepts used in the first edition to make for a more thoroughbred product.
What aspects of the rules have changed? Would a regular user of BTH like V2?
When we announced that we’d be releasing BTHv2 we asked gamers what they would want to see in a second edition. The universal cry was for more aircraft data and more manoeuvres. I am really pleased then that the new edition includes stats on about 160 aircraft of all nationalities. As far as manoeuvres are concerned, we have been able to expand the options markedly with the addition of a number of additional moves, ranging from some that are fairly simple (like the Chandelle, for instance) through to the somewhat more intricate Thach Weave and Snap Rolls. By applying bonuses for some aircraft when performing certain manoeuvres then we can really encourage players to choose the same manoeuvres as their historical counterparts. The use of ‘bogeys’ to represent unspotted threats has added an extra element to the tabletop game and forces players to plan and to think tactically about their approaches to combat, something that I am really pleased about. These new aspects have been built on the pre-existing central mechanisms which remain unchanged, so those planning to upgrade will find the changes easy to absorb.
What size games are the rules really suited to?
I think that beginners can easily handle a flight of aircraft (i.e. 6-8) per side to begin with and believe that the game works really well at that level too, with most dogfights being concluded in an hour or so. However experienced gamers could handle games of at least a squadron a side easily enough. We sometimes have almost 50 aircraft per side for some big games and although that is a very high number, the complexity is reduced if fairly straightforward bomber formations are involved. Mind you, the table can get pretty crowded! If you do go to those numbers it is worth assigning cards at the flight, as opposed to section, level, simply to keep the card deck manageable.
Are the rules as Anglo-centric as the first edition? Can I use my US forces now, or will I still need additional information?
You certainly can field your US forces. BTH2 covers all aspects of WW2 across all theatres, so there’s something in there for everyone. Additional sections on formations, manoeuvres and particular national tactics and characteristics mean that games can be set in all of the major combat arenas of the war. Some of my personal favourite games from play testing were set over the Pacific – particularly early war up to and including Midway and that theatre offers some great actions revolving around ground and naval attacks as well as some superb dogfighting clashes. I also really enjoyed Defence of the Reich games in which Luftwaffe jets attempt to stem the B17 tide. Both require very different tactics. A good proportion of our play-testing took place in the United States, and the influence of feedback from the guys involved in that perhaps helped to subdue any in built Anglo-centricity.
How long has it taken you to produce these?
Much longer than I would have liked! Like most people caught up in the rat-trap of modern life, I am only able to devote a tiny percentage of my time to the things I enjoy most. The broader scope of the rules also added to the development time. Start looking into the tactics of naval strikes and the amount of variety that can be added to games expands considerably. Once we started exploring this we realised that we’d taken the lid off a very big box. The increased scope of the games also meant that there were more concepts that need to be run through, and it is difficult to test each aspect in every game – for instance not many games combine scrambled take offs, rocket attacks on flying fortresses and torpedo runs at the same time. Each area has to be tested not only for the principal area itself, but also for each period of the war. In the six years of aerial combat from 1939 to 1945 advances in weapons and technology extended the envelope of warfare, and it was important that the rules reflected those developments and allowed players to apply realistic tactical approaches. I think they are worth the wait.
What is the rule writing process for you? How do you go about producing a set of rules?
The important thing is to know what level of game you are aiming for, then to get some basic assumptions in place around which you will build your model. These assumptions have to be based on historical understanding, so knowing the history is key – even more so when the viewpoint is from the level at which you are trying to game. For BTH there is no better source than pilot accounts because they tell you what was important to them and use terms that have real meaning – this is crucial in setting the flavour of the rules. When Richard and I are writing together we would normally have a brainstorm on the basic mechanisms to get something down on paper, then playtest, edit, playtest, edit again and so on until we feel we have the right approach and result. The rules soon build that way. Crucially for me, a good set of rules should see the gamer wrestling with the same set of available decisions as his historical counterpart. As part of that it is important that the ‘data’ that the player uses to make his decisions is historically relevant and is obtained and influenced in an historically accurate way. So the overriding driver is what decisions did the historical counterpart have to make, and what influenced him in making those decisions. If that is modelled accurately then the gamer will be left with the right ‘feel’. My aim in BTH is that if you asked a gamer to write an AAR for the game he has just played then what you would be looking at is an account that would read very similarly top a real WW2 combat report.
Where do you stand on the “colour versus black and white” argument that is seemingly exorcising some people in the hobby at present?
I love colour. There are plenty of wargamers who do not have the time or space to devote to regular games and glossy photo-filled books are a great way to stimulate the drive that’s needed to get an unpainted army into tabletop action. There are some quality products about, but for me too many of them fall into the category of what I call “Coffee table wargaming”. Sure, they look nice to flick through whilst sipping a cappuccino, but all too often that is where the attraction ends. My plea to gamers would be to shop for rules with your minds, and not your eyes. Rules need to work and they need to be historically accurate. If that can be combined with colour then that’s brilliant, but be assured that no matter how nice your toys look, you’ll never get them out again if the rules do not give you the game you want.
Why don’t we see more aerial games at shows?
I think that the general issue is one of ‘eye candy’. Ground based games are generally perceived as offering greater scope for terrain builders, and without doubt there are some cracking talents on show in that department, but for aerial games the options appear limited. I always think that aerial games can make great participation games and I am hopeful that the ability to build in ground attack to BTH games will allow gamers to use some creative landscapes in their games. Wouldn’t it be great to see Beaufighters taking on flakships in 1/100th scale!
Who is Johnny Danger?
Johnny Danger is a big man of the skies. He is that fictional hero of a genre that will be familiar to all readers of Commando Comics and Battle Picture Library. Johnny, his US Navy colleague Bob Uppendown and the Hun Otto Plebb feature in many BTH games at Lard Island and all have now passed into local folklore. I think he has a rich future – especially now that Richard’s drawings have brought him to life! Actually what really makes me chuckle about Johnny Danger, like so many hyped up big men, is that when he features in a game he’s always the one shot down with the fluke shot!
What is your favourite aircraft of WWII and why?
I’m pretty conventional in my choices, the Zero, FW190 and the Mustang all have appeal and anyone who has studied the history of the Beaufighter cannot help but be enthralled at its versatility but nothing quite pulls my chocks away like the Spitfire Mk1. The early mark may not be as technically efficient as later models but its lasting association with the Battle of Britain means that it is a long-standing favourite of mine. With no other aircraft can the words Dakka Dakka Dakka be applied with such feeling.
What do you see yourself writing next?
One of our aims is to get cracking on the next version of I Ain’t Been Shot Mum, but aside from that I think that scenarios for Bag the Hun would be the way to go. My reading in support of the rules has expanded my library hugely and my notebooks are bursting with historical scenarios from all theatres that would make great games. It would be great to get something out for that. There has long been talk of a Malta campaign supplement to sit alongside the existing Finest Hour supplement for the Battle of Britain but I still feel that’s some way off.
What’s it like working with Richard Clarke?
Most importantly we have a laugh. Rich and I have gamed together for around 25 years and look for our games to contain that little extra ‘something’ that makes for an improved gaming experience. His drive is infectious, his work rate – both in terms of figure painting and writing – is phenomenal and his ability to eat green chillies and to exist on virtually no sleep confirms my suspicion that he is not from this planet.
Nick, thank you for your comments, we wish you the very best of luck with your new rules.
Some years ago I had some really excellent 28mm scale buildings made for me which were designed to serve as first or second world war scenery depending on the game to be played. Of course over time I lost the details of the chap who undertook the commission for me, a fact I was bemoaning