I’ve been privileged to talk to the owner of Ramshackle Games who produce and publish the Nuclear Renaissance game and lots of pretty cool models.
In the interview I got to talk about game design, his inspirations and his current Kickstarter to fund the production of an expansion to the game. He also gave Nerditis an exclusive look at an upcoming model! Read it all below!
ReeceMJones: First of all, thanks for agreeing to the interview :). Perhaps to start off, can you explain a bit about Ramshakle Games? What are you about and what would people best know you for?
Curtis Fell: Hi Reece! Ramshackle Games has been in operation sine 2006. It pretty much just me who runs the business. I make and sell 28mm figures and vehicles. I try to keep the price as low as possible, so that customers can get fun, characterful gaming models at a good price.
I have always been a keen model maker and got a bit bored working as an animator. I took a sever injury while learning to sword fight, and while recovering I decided to start my own business.
I worked for 3 years for Aardman animations, on the film Chicken Run. In the model making studio I learned alot about resins and mold making. After Aardman I worked in Nottingham for Free Radical Design, who made Time Splitters, a great video game on the consoles. However, it was running into management issues by the time I took my injury, and I didn’t really want to go back. So I invested some of may savings in a vacuum chamber and haven’t looked back since!
I had alot of help at the start from Gill Harisson, who was a model maker at the time. I originally wanted to make chess sets, but as Gill pointed out, I was more keen on 28mm gaming. So we came up with the fist batch of models. His Badger has proved to be the most popular vehicle in the range so far and has sold consistently from day one.
The company could not support both of us to start, so he went and got a real job while I worked part time as a cleaner to make ends meet. We started writing the rules for Nuclear Renaissance at the time as well.
Since then I’ve been expanding and developing the range. I also do a bit of free lance work. Another part of the business is that I accept amateur donations of models. There are alot of keen model makers out there who just want to see their models produced and I’m happy to help. I usually offer casts of the model in return. It means I get a master model at a low cost which is great for me. The latest in this line has been the Radlotyte Pirate copter.
RMJ:Reading about the various companies you worked for over the years (and the joy they have brought both my family and myself) I’m half tempted to scrap the initial interview and just ask you questions about your time working for them haha ;).
You mentioned how your first real step towards the makings of Ramshackle was Gill Harisson. Did he help inspire the range of models you have made so far? What other inspirations have you drawn upon when making the line?
CF: Well, my inspirations have come from lots of sources. I have been playing Games Workshop games for over 25 years, so the scale I model in has been influenced alot form their models.
The great thing about running my own business though its that I can just make what I feel like! I sometimes make models that I think might sell well by trying to identify a gap in the market. However, I think my best work is just when I do something I find fun.
RMJ: Thats good to hear, as you do hear lots of stories about people setting up in the industry and coming to not really like it much. Nuclear Renaissance itself is a pretty fun game and I like the sort of punky/mad max style you have got going.
What goals did you want to achieve with the game when you started writing it, or was it more just a case of just wanting to let loose the inner game designer in you?
CF: I have always really enjoyed skirmish level games and campaign gaming. I like developing a gang. I wanted to make a game to go with the Ramshackle models. People often say “they are nice, but what are they from?” so having a game really helps. I also wanted to write a game that had the fun parts of other games in but left out or improved the problem areas. The main point was to make a game that could support several players. My gaming group almost always played games with 3 or more players.
Initially, the idea was to put in place really realistic combat mechanics. The first edition was very maths intensive. Each combat had the player factor in about four numbers. For the latest edition,I compressed it all into a single statistic. This player does all the maths before the battle and the profile reflects this. You can add in loads of options, skills, abilities and weapons but it remains simple.
SO this has been the main thing behind Nuc Ren, making an easy to play game that has loads of depth to it. I think a good game should be able to reflect a player’s personality. There should be enough depth to let the player be an individual.
I wanted to allow alot of freedom in the game too, but without it becoming an RPG. I hate game where you cant do something (like loot the fallen!) just because the designers couldn’t come up with a good enough rule for it! One thing about writing a game is that you end up having to make arbitrary decisions and put limits on what players can do, so finding that balance is really important.
An example of this is the way the looting is handled. At one point in development the game let players loot the injured in a campaign and keep what they got. Guns in Nuc Ren are really expensive, so some of the players were simply harvesting everyone else’s guns.
In the end, it can make for a better game if players can use their enemies weapons against them, so I wanted to keep looting in. Plus I think that in a post-apoc wasteland, looting would be practice. However, I realised that “game points” and actual money in the wasteland are not the same. A gun is expensive in points because of how powerful the gun rules are. However, a gun may not be so expansive in real money. So players are able to loot and use weaponry in game, and if you build a gang around the concept of looters they can make money. However, you cant take away a player’s main armament, maybe a quarter of their gang points, just for losing.
So Players get back their looted equipment AND the looter gets to sell it, but for only a token amount. You can explain how this works by saying the looter sells it but cant get a good price due to ammo or power incompatibility. The lootee just replaces their gun at a nominal price, which is already accounted for in the points price they pay at the start. However, thats just one way to look at what is happening. In the end, we found it was more fun this way, and I think thats the most important thing.
RMJ: Its good to hear that. Playing the game (version 2), it really comes across as a labour of love that reminds me of the better movements of games like Necromunda and Inquisitor, if a little less gun heavy. When making the game, was it a conscious decision to use a D10 system or something that evolved naturally? In many games from the UK, the D6 is certainly seen more often (probably due to the influence of GW or ex GW staffers games more than anything), so its certainly unusual to see it.
CF: Yes, I wanted to increase the level of probability. A D10 has a better spread of numbers. I think its fun to use polyhedral dice too. D6s are so last year!
RMJ: Sounds like a good enough reason to me! So, onwards to other topics.
You have a kickstarter going at the moment to fund an expansion to the main game. Its been going well so far as you’ve funded your initial target and are heading towards your second stretch goal with over 20 days still to go. Hows has your experience been?
CF: Its my first attempt at a Kickstarter, so its been a bit of a learning curve. I’m really happy I got the initial funding, so I’m going to be able to print up the expansion book, the Tome of Tridlins. I just went for a low target so I can keep the project on track. There are some real horror stories about kickstarters going wrong, funding that has raised thousands but spiraling costs on production have lead to huge losses! I didn’t want to put myself in that position, so have just really gone for a modest funding plan to cover the printing of the book.
As this was fulfilled early on, I’m now trying to secure enough to get a reprint on the actual rule book. I think Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms are a great funding opportunity and I think it is here to stay.
RMJ: How has the reaction from the community been to your making the Kickstarter? The Nottingham area is known jokingly as the ‘Lead Belt’ by some gamers, so I wonder how much interaction you have with the various other companies that operate in and around the area.
CF: Yeah, I’m friends with alot of model makers and other people working in the model gaming industry. Its great to be able to meet and talk to some of the really great sculptors out there. I’m also friends with people who have done other parts of the industry and advice from them is always useful. The best thing though is that there are always people up for some gaming!
Their reaction to Kickstarter has been wholly positive, and people are always interested in talking about it.
RMJ:Very true, considering it was what made me pluck up the courage to interview you haha! So what plans do you have for Ramshackle Games after the Kickstarter? You’ve already said you want to expand the Dunger Family. Anything else on the horizon I could have a cheeky peek at?
Also, how hard is it being your own boss and running a miniatures company, especially now that due to the internet, there is a an almost limitless amount of choice open to players?
CF: My plans after the Kickstarter are just to keep going with expanding the ranges. I want to finish fleshing out the soldiers range. I am learning some 3D model making so I will probably run another Kickstarter to rise the money to get some soldier models printed out.
As for being my own boss, thats great. I can make what I want and work when I like! It can be a bit of a grind doing the casting. The resins are not particularly nice to work with and its hard work, but thats the same with any job. At least I’m casting my own models.
I wouldn’t have been able to even start Ramshackle Games if the internet didn’t exist. Alot of my models are very niche market, and the great thing about being online is the market is world wide. While its true that the model gaming market is quite small, there is always room for some new and fun models.
Its a great way to work, I’m totally independent. I just need an internet connection and the materials. And of course always coming up with new ideas, but thats the fun part of the job.
The Ramshackle games Kickstarter is still going and will end on the 22nd of March. Check it out here