Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Industry Talk: Emily Fontana, On the Lamb Games


Well today I've managed to nab some time off of the exceedingly busy Emily Fontana from On the Lamb Games, who currently have a Kickstart campaign going for their JRPG inspired Endless Fantasy Tactics. I actually quite like the look of the game from a thematic point of view as I was a bit a JRPG nerd... OK, I'm still a bit of a JRPG nerd, but you get what I mean. So without further ado I give you the interview...

Frontline Gamer: Hi Emily, firstly thanks for agreeing to answer some questions.

Emily Fontana: Thanks for having me!

FLG: So then, On the Lamb Games. Who the bloody hell came up with that name and what does it reference? Sorry I just had to ask, inquiring Welshmen want to know!

EF: Its a really odd reference to ‘The Simpsons’, and its entirely Matt’s fault.

FLG: Duly noted, Matt is to blame! Could you give me a bit of a breakdown as to ‘who’ On the Lamb Games are, and what everybody is responsible for? And what your role in all this is?

EF: There are two core members of OTL: Matthew Whitehouse who is responsible for the majority (around 99%) of the writing and myself. I handle pretty much everything that isn’t writing or artistic. Heath Foley has recently been promoted up from freelancer to being ‘Art Director’ and is responsible for almost all of the art in Brushfire, Historia Rodentia, and Endless. Our sculpting is handled by several freelancers; Daniel Fokine, Bob Naismith, Micheal Evans, Jason Wiebe, Leandro Ventic, and Brother Vinni.

The Aquitar Warnamd for Brushfire

FLG: Your first game, or the game of yours that I’m most aware of is Brushfire. Could you give us a bit of a breakdown as to what Brushfire is? How it plays, who the factions are etc?

EF: Brushfire is our first miniatures game, but second released under OTL. Brushfire is a historical parody skirmish game where historical armies are represented by the animals of their nation. It uses a simple modifier + d10 system for combat, and alternate activations for player control. In the main rulebook there are eight factions: The Empire of Aquitar, based on Napoleonic France and featuring Badgers, Weasels, Shrews, and Moles. The Commonwealth of Axony, based on Napoleonic/Zulu Wars Brits and features Cats and Dogs. The Kingdoms of Chugoku, based on Three Kingdoms & Boxer Rebellion China and features Pandas, Lemmings on Chicken Steeds, and Flying Squirrels. The Free Cities of Mare-Civitas, based on Conquistadorial Spain, and featuring Mice, Chipmunks, and Capybara. The Ribenguo Shogunate, based on Warring States/Early Meiji Japan and featuring Otters, Foxes, and Tanuki. The Sultanate of Scyzantium, based on Byzantium/Persia and featuring a variety of Lizards. The Vandalands, based on Napoleonic/Medieval Germany/Eastern Europe and featuring Rats, Hamsters, Shrews, and Gerbils. The Tribes of Zabar, based on Zulu/Boers Wars Africa and featuring Warthogs, Hyenas, and Lions.

FLG: I think it’s fair to say that the imagery for Brushfire isn’t exactly your normal fantasy, sci-fi or steampunk settings that seem to permeate our hobby. I guess that’s a roundabout way of saying it’s unique! So who comes up with the ideas for Brushfire, and what were they smoking when they came up with it? And where can I buy some?

EF: We were eating rotisserie chicken. While designing Brushfire we determined very early on that there were too many variations on ‘Humans, Orcs, and Elves try to kill each other’ in tabletop gaming and were determined to do something different. Being nerds, and the children of nerds, we grew up on stuff like Redwall, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. We felt this style was fairly unrepresented in tabletop gaming, especially in a way that wasn’t presented as ‘Furry.’ We are also history nerds, and after having several attempts of playing/learning Historicals (and dealing with the grumpy old men usually involved) we also figured we’d have fun making fun of History with Brushfire, which is where the parody aspects come from.

Brushfire artwork for a Chipmunk Weapons Team.

FLG: Mmmmm Chicken! So my theory about somebody growing up wanting a more violent and aggressive version of Sylvanian Families isn’t correct then? 

EF: Well considering I had to go look up what ‘Sylvanian Families’ is on Wikipedia... I’d say no.

FLG: Shame, my sister bloody loved Sylvanian Families! I guess I should talk about your current Kickstart Campaign, for your new game called Endless Fantasy Tactics. I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but it looks like a product that genuinely needs crowd funding to make it happen. By which, I mean that recently there have been games coming to Kickstarter that are pretty much finished products. How do you think this behaviour actually impacts on products and ideas that are genuinely seeking funding to make them happen, like yours, as opposed to glorified pre-orders?

EF: No problem at all, as it’s the absolute truth! As shown earlier we’re a very tiny company, and we would not be able to give Endless a proper release if it wasn’t Kickstarter. We’d likely only be able do one figure at a time every few months, and it would end up impacting Brushfire’s release schedule. Thanks to Kickstarter we’re able to get 12 sculpts done up front (So Far!). As for what other companies are doing on Kickstarter, I do agree that it shouldn’t be used as a fancy preorder scheme, but I think the only thing that has truly harmed the little guy on Kickstarter was Bones. The ridiculous quantities of miniatures Reaper was able to throw at people brought in a ton of new blood to Kickstarter (which is good!), but also made people think that this is something that can be done by everyone (which is bad).

FLG: Ah yes, Reapers Bones Kickstarter! It hangs like the sword of Damocles doesn’t it over all other hobby related campaigns now. I wandered what the impact of that campaigns stellar success would be on other companies, and more specifically their campaigns. But, more importantly the backers of these campaigns and their own expectation levels. What do you think the impact has been?

EF: I think it has made everyone really step up their game and shown constant updates, replies to questions, and teases for stretch goals are all expected. However the insane Dollar to Miniature ratio that was only really possible with Reaper’s massive catalogue of already sculpted models and the low cost of the Bones material has gotten stuck in people’s heads, and it's just not something that a smaller company like ours can do.

FLG: Indeed, I guess in a way it feeds back into a complaint I heard early on with crowd-funding from certain backers, they felt the big companies in the hobby shouldn't be getting involved. I don't necessarily subscribe to that point of view, but I can see how it would shift the goal posts somewhat for smaller companies like yourselves. So I’d be really interested in what you make of the whole Kickstarter phenomenon, and what you think of the process as a small indie creator? Do you find it hard competing against some of the more establish and better supported firms out there? Or is the buzz and spin off from those things enough to help you guys to achieve what you want?

EF: We’ve used Kickstarter twice in the past, both times for Brushfire. Back in 2010, before the rest of the industry really found out about it we attempted to Kickstart the Brushfire rulebook. It ended up failing, but we learned a bit, and we were determined so scrapped together enough cash to get the book released (with a lot of cut backs on it). It’s a great deal easier now on Post-Double Fine Kickstarter to get a product launched, and we’ve learned a lot from watching the bigger players at work. We tested the waters again earlier this year to fund the Scyzantium faction models for Brushfire (Getting Jason Wiebe and Bob Naismith to do three sculpts for them). We had intended to run the Kickstarter for Endless much closer post Gencon, but ran into some delays that caused us to delay things. This ended up working out better I think, as we aren’t in direct competition with Dreadball now.

FLG: That’s probably one of the most common fears I hear from companies about to launch product on Kickstarter, or Indiegogo. That they will somehow get the launch window wrong and end up competing with a heavyweight. I guess there’s not much you can do about that though is there? Or do you contact other companies to see if they’re planning on doing things around the time slots you are hoping to run your own campaigns?

EF: My friendship with various people in the industry helps, but also just keeping an eye on the gaming news sites and watching for patterns also helps. Such as that no one is going to launch something too close to December, as backers are not likely to throw money around for something coming out next year when they need to get gifts for the holidays. Expect to see a lot of campaigns built around Adepticon, Origins, and Gencon as those are prime advertising spaces; and with Kickstarter opening to the UK now its likely Salute will also be included in that list.

FLG: You mentioned you’ve used and failed at a Kickstarter in the past, and that you learned from the experience. What was the biggest thing you learned, and what advice would you give to other small indie companies out there thinking of heading down the crowd-funding route?

EF: Aim low in case of failure, but plan for success. You’ll want your goal to be as low as you can possibly manage to get stuff into your backers hands, and always plan to spend some amount out of pocket. High goals can scare away backers, especially if they haven’t heard of you before. Advertise everywhere you can, even if its just submitting news to blogs.

FLG: Do you think that this whole crowd-funding thing is a bit of a fad, or is it something of a more permanent change for our industry in general?

EF: I think we will continue to see new projects for some time, but I doubt we’ll have many more ‘Bones’ style successes.

FLG: I guess whatever you think of Kickstarter, you have actually received the funding you required to make Endless Fantasy Tactics happen a few days ago now, so you must at least be happy with that outcome. But where would you like the funding to get to in terms of making Endless Fantasy Tactics the game you want it to be at launch?

EF: Getting to 100% Funding was fantastic, the few weeks before we went live were incredibly nerve wracking, but getting to almost 50% in the first day helped a lot. As for where we want it to get too? We have stretch goals planned up to around 400k, which would allow us to release everything in the rulebook along with variant models for all of the main classes. But, in a more realistic way, $145k would be fantastic: We’d get all of the basic classes out, several named characters, bosses, and the rulebook all done. Thief ($100) backers would get around 25 models, Dragoon ($200) backers would get around 45 models, and Cleric ($300) backers would get around 75 miniatures.

FLG: So how important has the emergence of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter being to small-scale companies such as yourselves? How hard is traditional finance to obtain right now?

EF: Its very helpful, Banks don’t usually like giving out loans to make toy soldiers. For our first three games all of the costs were paid for out of pocket, from our day job paychecks and selling off comic book and toy collections. For Endless I won’t have to sell a kidney to get the game released.

FLG: Yeah I'm starting to run out of organs I can sell too! Could you explain to us a little bit about the game, and what it entails?

EF: Its a grid based fantasy game, heavily influenced by 90s console RPGs. Players make parties of Heroes and Monsters and duke it out either in standard ‘kill them all’ or in a variety of scenarios or narrative campaigns.

FLG: It seems to me, as a slightly ill informed observer, that Endless Fantasy Tactics is a boardgame with intentions of being a wargame. Is that a fair assessment, or am I being too crude?

EF: The use of a grid can make it look that way, but its no more of a boardgame than Battletech or any other hex-based wargame.

FLG: That's fair enough. In the video on your Kickstarter campaign there is a multi-level board that you have produced to play your games of Endless fantasy tactics on. Is that something that you’d look to produce as a product to run alongside the game? Or is it something you could give us a bit more of steer on how to produce such a board, especially given height plays an important part in the game?

EF: We are working with Outrider Hobbies to produce a modular wooden board, and we hope to add it in as an optional extra to our backers during the campaign. Our demo board was made using a single Hrist Arts mold (#206) and casting several hundred tiles. I’m going to be writing a tutorial for the rulebook on how to build a 3D table, but the game can easily be played on any RPG mat, you just need to mark the elevation of higher tiles.

FLG: Well it’s good to hear you have an option on the way for gamers, as I think one of the most important parts of any game is the theatrical display. We as gamers want to see games that look pretty first and foremost, when laid out in front of us. Most gamers wouldn’t acknowledge that, but after nearly 18 years of heavily demoing various games, I’ve noticed it’s more important than perhaps we like to admit. So was this a consideration when designing Endless Fantasy Tactics? You know, how it would look when it was all lined up?

EF: A bit yeah, we always knew it was going to be grid based combat, but we went back and forth a few times on if it was going to be Hexes or Squares. Squares being the traditional Video Game method, but Hexes being more familiar to wargamers. It came down to wanting to stay truer to the sources (video games) and that I had a much easier time building things square then hex.

FLG: It’s quite obvious I think, as you say, where the inspiration for Endless Fantasy Tactics comes from, and those are the Tactics based JRPGs that I grew up playing like Grandia, Final Fantasy tactics and their ilk. So, which of these sort of JRPG’s do you remember most fondly?

EF: Depending on who you ask it may not count as a JRPG, but The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is probably my favorite game of all time. For a more ‘pure’ TJRPG choice I’d say Disgaea. Matt has played a significantly larger amount and would ramble on a great deal about Tactics Ogre, Breath of Fire, and Xenogears.

FLG: I’m not going to get into the debate as to whether or not Zelda is a traditional JRPG, lets just agree it’s a damn fine game! Breath if Fire and Xenogears though, wow, those are some pretty heavy JRPG’s right there. I also had a soft spot for Disgaea too. If you were going to sell people on Endless Fantasy Tactics what would you say to encourage us to pledge our hard earned cash?

EF: If you’re looking for an easy to learn and fun to play miniatures game, Endless is for you. The more funding we’re able to get for the Kickstarter, the more models we’re able to get to all of our backers.

FLG: Well thanks for answering my questions, is there anything else you’d like to add?

EF: Just that anyone who thinks they might have an interest in Endless should grab the Quickstart rules off WargameVault and give it a try! Thanks for letting me ramble on for a bit.

FLG: My pleasure! Just so people know currently the Endless Fantasy Tactics Kickstart campaign has 19 days left to run, and has already raised just over $19,000's, which is perilously close to its next stretch goal. I'd urge people to go and read the free Quickstart rules as Emily suggested, you can also get them direct from this link, and see what you think of the game for yourselves. Peace out!


  1. I'll admit, after reading this I checked out endless again and it's starting to grow on me. I like the style of Bushfire as well, very different.

    I'm starting to get kickstartered out though. Perhaps it only seems that way because I've only started paying attentions to these sites recently, but every month more and more awesome projects seem to be unveiled. I just can't keep up.

    Not to mention I'm running out of places to put this stuff and Sedition Wars hasn't even arrived yet!

    Whatever I end up doing, I'll be keeping an eye on On The Lamb Games.

    1. I'm not so sure I'm getting Kickstartered out... but I'm pretty sure my bank balance is!!! :P

      This though is a campaign I'd be keen to back at either Thief or Dragoon level. I mean the idea of a boardgame come wargame based on tactics style JRPG's is enough to get me excited. The quickstart rules look OK as well. I might try to see if I can get some proxy games in.

      As for crowd funding stuff, my copy of Tentacle Bento finally turned up today, and obviously Sedition Wars and DreadBall are going to be with me next month. So I've got a bit to look forward too. Still this and the Freebooter's Fate Indiegogo campaign are calling...


    2. Lol, I'm guessing you know I wouldn't mind owning most games :p But like you, bank account says no :(
      Not to mention time and space!

      I don't know. It looks good, it really does. But I'm missing the JRPG nostalgia most people seem to have with this.

      In my case it's unfortunate they are running alongside the Freebooter's Fate one. Especially since a certain someone suggested they add a rulebook as a possible pledge.. And they're throwing in a starter and game cards as well?

      I'll be having some of that!!

    3. Yeah there's the Freebooter's Fate Indiegogo campaign, and for those of us who have been keeping an eye on Adam Poots' weird and warped Kingdom Death universe it also has that looming large. Despite the totally f'ed up stuff that will no don't contain I'm a big fan of horror and warped creators, always have been. I like being freaked out, so I have to say for me that might also be an influence. But the biggest one is that I actually have £0's in my bank account, in fact I currently have a minus figure because I have an overdraft!!! Still if I had the dosh I'd probably spend it.

  2. WHAT!? Did hear anything about the Kingdom Death game/kickstarter coming??
    I just made an order of a few new releases today.

    I'm sorry to hear that. The economic and labour climate still hasn't improved in the UK? Not that it has anywhere but still..

    1. TBH with you Aeria I'm starting to take it a bit personally. :P

      Seriously I've applied to so many jobs now it's getting a bit ridiculous. I'd have thought somebody would have taken a punt on me, but nope. I think I'd make an awesome employee, but then again I would wouldn't I?

    2. I can understand that. I've been there last year. I have the luxury of still living at home though, so in the end I opted to postpone moving out and finish a master degree after all.

      I truly hope things will improve mate. Easier said than done, but don't let it get to you. And don't give up!

  3. Played the Kickstarter-exclusive preview rules last night with a friend that is thinking about getting into it. Solid game, nice and easy to play. I really like the multiple Command options, it makes for a lot of variety out of a single model. The only real problem I have is that it seems to occupy the same game type as Dungeon Command- Endless has the hobby element of painting models and building a board, while DC has the deckbuilding aspect. I foresee it being hard to keep my play group interested in both games.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on gameplay Conspyre. Always good to hear from peeps who have actually tried this stuff out. I'n ot got round to playing it yet, so it's good to hear that mechanically at least it is sound enough. :)

    2. There's a lot of depth tucked away in the rules. Currently they're written and laid out in the classic "these only make sense if you know how to play already" fashion, but I assume further revisions will help with that. The Cleric in particular is interesting- she's got pretty awful stats (Move 3 is rough), but her ability to resurrect a dead model makes her more of an add-on for another figure than her own model (I'm paying 2 more points for a second Knight that can show up later!).