Interview: Uwe Eickert - Founder of Academy Games
Exploring the ambitions of the strategy board, and now PC, game developer.
Interviewee: Uwe Eickert, founder of Academy Games
Wargamer (WG): Could you give a bit of a background history to Academy Games?
Uwe Eickert (UE): I founded Academy Games in 2008 while finishing my MBA. Earlier that year I had sold one of my previous companies, a knife and scissor manufacturing company, and had a few months free time. I had designed Conflict of Heroes two years previously and decided to self-publish the game. I researched the industry, hired a rep, set a pricing level, found a local printer and took my chance. Luckily, this is a very friendly industry and many veterans gave me great advice and help. Awakening the Bear became an instant success, won Historical Game of the Year, and went through three print runs.
My goal for Academy Games is to expand into the historical game market, not just the war game market. The games must be challenging, but easy to learn. The components and presentation must also be top notch.
WG: What sort of process does Academy Games go through when creating a tabletop title?
UE: We have a unique process, I believe, based on our engineering backgrounds. Every game must begin with a solid game engine—the mechanics that make it run. This is the most important part of the game and has nothing to do with the game theme. Only after the engine is solid do we add the game theme on top of this. Then we begin the refinement process. It is much, too much for this article to go into details, but I will give an overview of this process. We begin with a decision and information ladder flow chart, similar to a ladder logic diagram used in computer programming. Each game decision and mechanic is mapped out. We can then visually see the 'Tact' (game rhythm), 'Schwerpunkte' (areas requiring more game play time, thought or actions in relation to the rest of the game), strengths and gaps in the game play. We then address the problem areas and build up, concentrate and develop the 'Dopamine' areas. 'Dopamine' areas are those that we identify as key game play components that keep the gamer playing the game and continually coming back for more. We then combine this process with group brainstorm sessions. Luckily, we have some very creative and intuitive developers. By combining the 'hard' flow charts and the 'soft' creative input, we end up with a flexible and very revealing system for evaluating and developing games. It has been successful so far.
WG: With PC wargames having become so prevalent, did Academy Games plan on bringing some titles to the format from the start?
UE: Yes, every stool needs at least 3 legs. This is true for any business, since one needs multiple 'portfolios' or market strategies to mitigate risk and increase profits. We began with historical war board games, a market segment that we felt would be the easiest to penetrate. Then these board games are converted into electronic mediums. We have recently begun to introduce the third leg - easier mass market appeal historical games. We have begun this with 1812: The Invasion of Canada and will be introducing non-wargames such as the cooperative-player game Freedom: The Underground Railroad.
WG: What was the reason why Conflict of Heroes was selected as the first title from Academy Games to make the jump to the PC?
UE: LOL - We had no other games when this process began two years ago! The series also garnered lots of acclaim, winning the Origins Historical Board Game of the Year, two years in a row. First, for Awakening the Bear and then with Storms of Steel—that introduced the v2 rule set. The series also won the Charles S Roberts award, the Genius in Gamin award, etc. The series has also sold tens of thousands of copies in multiple languages. Fully translated printed versions are available in English, Mandarin, German, French and Spanish.
WG: In bringing Conflict of Heroes to the PC, was there anything that had to be changed or left behind from the conversion? What was added?
UE: Nothing had to be changed, but Eric Babe (the mad genius Lead W.C.S. Programmer) and I decided to change the way units take AP actions. In the board game, each player can activate only one unit or group of units at a time, using a set pool of “Action Points” (APs). The computer allowed us to drop that requirement and now a player may jump from unit to unit paying for actions with APs at will, as long as any given unit still has APs left. The computer can keep track of each unit's remaining AP pool.
People not familiar with the game may think that this is a big game changer. It actually is not, since in the board game a player may still jump from unit to unit by interspersing AP, “Command”, “Card” and “Opportunity” actions. I have also found that computer game players tend to concentrate actions in local areas and tend not to randomly jump around the battlefield—similar to real life command. So, the flavor and feel of the board game and the computer game are still very similar.
WG: The release of Conflict of Heroes has been very successful. Is Academy Games planning on bringing the full lineup of their games to the PC?
UE: Yes, Matrix and Slitherine plan to release further games in the Conflict of Heroes series. These may include our Pacific, African, and Western Front games as well as CoH games based in other time periods such as Vietnam and modern day Afghanistan. Strike of the Eagle and 1812: The Invasion of Canada are being developed in HTML5 format for both computers and iPads.
WG: Is there any time period—real or fantasy—that Academy Games would like to explore?
UE: We are currently developing games base on the following: War of the Roses, Tang Dynasty China, Sikh-Anglo Wars, Viking Invasions of England, and the revolutions for independence of South America. In addition we are working on non-war based historical games as previously mentioned. So what I mean to say is, if we want to explore something, we just go ahead and explore it. :) I will not mention the futuristic space battle game, since I may get a lot of flak for this!
WG: How does Academy Games plan on creating immersion and increasing strategic/tactical depth in future releases?
UE: Ohhh, we are very creative! Gettysburg will be released soon and it is based on a totally new system that will concentrate on the American Civil and Napoleonic Wars. The game includes no numbers, no dice, big regimental counters that show only 3D wire created men and cannons, and a very unique brigade level 'battle memory'. The system offers the depth of complicated war games of the 70's without the pain. One can teach a novice player to play in 3 minutes. Yes, 3 minutes! And that player will not have to look at the rulebook from then on. It is all in the unique and intuitive system. I have not been this excited about a game in a long time.
Tying in to a previous question, the system is being designed as a board game, a miniature game and a computer game from stage one.
WG: When developing your games what aspect do you consider more paramount: historical accuracy or strategic flexibility?
UE: We try to find a balance between the two. Historical accuracy is a very nebulous thing. As we state in our games, we try to model units on historical battlefield statistical results, not shooting range or spec capabilities. For example, the German Panzer IV had very good anti-tank capabilities, but it was not used as such on the battlefield. It was an infantry support tank carrying, primarily, high explosive shells. That was its doctrine and so we force players to stick to that doctrine by giving that tank very low anti-tank firepower capabilities.
WG: In closing, what can Academy Games offer to the wargaming market that other developers cannot?
UE: Nothing. We are part of a very creative, diverse, and growing market segment. Other developers are publishing incredible games that I love to play and often recommend to others. What Academy Games can offer is to be part of the driving force that is expanding this wonderful hobby of ours.
In parting, I want to thank you for allowing me to share some of Academy Games visions and future plans.
Interviewer: The Wargamer