I recently had the opportunity to interview Brian Shotton of MERCS Miniatures. In the interview we discuss the future of MERCS and a little bit of how the game came to be, and get some background from the creator. To learn more about the game visit mercsminis.com
TE: Could you give a little background about your company, and a little bit of your "gamer cred"?
BS: MERCS started as a minis company. Keith and Tom started making minis just to see if they could. People loved them. They won some TGN awards; next thing you know people are clamoring for more: more minis, more background, and a game. Keith and I knew each other from our day jobs; he knew I played all kinds of games. He asked if I would write some background for the website, and if I thought I could design a game.
I obliged. A couple months later, I invited Keith and Tom over to play MERCS. Everyone had a ball.
Keith is relatively new to gaming. I, on the other hand, have been playing games for more than two decades now. I cut my teeth on AD&D, early GW fantasy, old SSI wargames. Moved to 1st edition Space Hulk, Mordheim, Puerto Rico, Advanced Squad Leader, Fortress America, Shogun (Samurai Swords), Tigris and Euphrates.
TE: MERCS is a true skirmish game with only 5 models per side, why did you chose to limit the factions in this manner?
BS: We wanted to make the game cheap to get into for one. However, with only five models the stakes are pretty high. I liked the tension only five figs. It was also the average number of people in a fireteam when I was in the army.
TE: For those who don't know the story behind the game could you briefly summarize the backstory?
BS: MERCS is our world; it is Earth circa 2170. Corporations have merged with nations to create giant mega-conglomerates, or what we term as MegaCons. These MegaCons have elite trained security forces called MERCS. MERCS do all kinds of jobs, some on the record some not.
TE: With a limited number of models needed to play how do you envision the game growing? Will there be new models for the existing teams or will you be releasing sets of new factions that don't mix with the existing factions?
BS: All of the above. I can't wait for people to see what we have in store for them. Each MegaCon can have multiple MERCS groups. The FCC has a potential of twelve distinct houses. It is our intention to continuously add to the existing MERCS groups, both with regular team members and special limited edition one-offs.
And the MERCS world is a living world, MegaCons can rise and fall . . .
TE: The models for this game are really great sculpts, could you give a bit of background on how you developed the concept?
BS: Thanks! We are very proud of them as well. The process has evolved a bit, but this is the method that we have found to work well:
Once we have determined where a faction is from in the world and their general play style, it goes into the game test phase. Brian, Kenny and eventually the beta team test play and tweak until they function properly and are balanced. During this time, there may be sketches and concepts roughed up. Nothing is super concrete yet though.
After testing is complete we move into the visual concept. At this point I have a list of each characters stats, such as the weapons they wield or equipment they may have, their armor value, movement speed, etc. It’s most important to be faithful to their in game stats, but other elements like their nationality, location in the world, and cultural history can be referenced as well.
I begin by designing a base armor model. Since all the soldiers are humanoid, I differentiate them mainly by their armor and weapons. Important things to consider are their general silhouette (and how this contrasts against the other factions), form and functionality of the armor, color palette, etc. During this time we also talk about poses we like. I do lots and lots of thumbnails of interesting poses. There's a great deal of trail and error involved. Sometime we'll shoot photos of ourselves in crazy poses and I'll draw from them.
Once the armor is designed, the final characters are rendered, with any variations on the armor made to models that need it. I do spot illustrations to show different angles, and design the weapons at this time as well. Then it's all emailed to one our great sculptors!
TE: In the demo games I've seen (and played in) the Kemvar faction seems to be really strong, have you had any complaints about the power level of the different factions?
BS: KemVar isn't stronger or weaker than any other faction. It simply is a very good faction for beginners to play as their Active Camouflage softens mistakes that beginners often make. As players start to figure out MERCS and their own MegaCon's strengths, the edge KemVar appears to have vanishes rapidly.
TE: Do you have plans for releasing mission packs in the future? The missions in the book are fairly robust but gamers always want more options.
BS: Do we ever. We have plans for a pretty large campaign that will be published and tied into the MERCS world in a number of ways.
I am writing the second MERCS book as you read this. It will have many thing in it (new faction portfolios, additional rules, etc.), but it will be in large part a campaign book. This will tie directly into the fiction that Jennifer Sims is writing now as well (she wrote the short story in the MERCS Game Rules). The fiction, in turn, feeds back into the next campaign book, and back and forth we go. In addition, we'll have side-scenarios in a couple gaming magazines throughout the year that tie back into what people have read and done.
It is ambitious, and I hope we can pull it off. The entire campaign is planned out. It actually feed back into my answer for the fourth questions a little.
TE: Digging through your forums I found some pictures of a melee orientated faction, could you give some details on how they'll play?
BS: sefadu! Yes, they are very exciting. I love their look and their play style. They are very cool looking, fast, and play very fun to play. I can't give many details out, but they rely on their Leader more than other MERCS groups. If he is successful, his team has a easier time hitting targets. THey have a lot of tricks but are still easy to use. I think people will really dig them.
TE: What games have you or are you currently playing?
BS: I have played too numerous games to mention, but I am currently playing K2, Notre Dame, Tichu, Here I Stand, Dominant Species, and 7 Wonders. And a couple games of my own design.
TE: What are the next Megacons up for release? Should we expect them at GenCon?
BS: sefadu and Keizai Waza are the next two factions. Unless something goes horribly wrong with the sculpts or casting they should both be available at GENCON. After that it is Texico and Ios. Texico is almost ready to launch to my beta players now. Ios is in the early stages of Alpha currently.
TE: In the story from the book, KemVar repulsor tags can target buildings, is it to game breaking for them to be able to do so in game?
BS: Yeah, the same with shooting your own guys. It is one of those things that just doesn't work in a game without really complicating the game to such a degree that we lose a good portion of the audience. Creating a list of what it can and can't stick to is not something I wanted to do. I realized in beta testing them that there would always have to be a line drawn somewhere, so why not draw it in such a way that the rule is easy to remember and follow.
TE: You recently announced several accessories that will be available soon, do you have any other details?
BS: Sure. We are very excited to be working with Battle Foam and Gale Force Nine.
Gale Force Nine will be producing counters for MERCS and printing our maps that we have at shows. Everyone always wants the maps and they are something we have tried to manufacture for quite some time. John came over to our booth at GAMA Trade Show and told us he could do the maps if we wanted to try.
The MERCS Battle Foam bag is going to blow people away. Keith and I are pretty creative guys and when Romeo asked what we wanted to do, we told him. I can't give details yet, but MERCS was designed around the philosophy that a players didn't need to own a small moving van to play our game. We have never been a fan of gaming luggage; the bigger the more we hated it. I think our bag will fit our philosophy very well and introduce something very cool and very different in gaming carrying cases.
We are also very close to doing faction specific dice and retail group packaging. Things are very exciting.