A visit to Firelock Games
5th February 2018, 1 Comment
Misc., Wargame Companies
I’ve missed the last two wargames club nights as I’ve been away in Florida. I was there to give a talk about pirates, and I used the trip as an excuse for a few days of R&R down in Key West, and up in Miami/Lauderdale. On my travels I seized the opportunity to pay a visit to Firelock Games. They’re a new kid on the wargames block, and one of the most vibrant hobby companies I’ve come across. Their lair is in Kendall, a suburb of Miami, tucked away in an industrial zone well away from the glamour of Miami Beach or Coral Gables. Getting there was a bit of a chore, thanks to heavy traffic, but it was well worth the trip. That’s Kendall up above – not the most glamorous area, but pleasant enough. Trust me – there are far worse parts of Miami that this! Now, Firelock Games first appeared on my radar about two years ago, when rumours started circulating about a new set of pirate rules. Then adverts started appearing. One of them is shown down below. It all looked fairly well planned and researched, even if I was mildly miffed they’d used a younger upstart pirate historian as their consultant! It all looked very inspirational, and seemed to be set in the era of the buccaneers – the age of Henry Morgan and his ilk. That made it a lot more game-able than something set in The Golden Age of Piracy, which was really a little later – the first quarter of the 18th century, regardless of the advertising down below. The buccaneers fought the Spanish (and sometimes each other) everywhere around the Caribbean basin, so its a period with bags of wargaming potential. Then, the rules appeared. It took me a while to get round to buying a copy of Blood & Plunder , but when I did I was impressed by the high production quality. In fact, the book is something of a work of art, with some great illustrations. Also, it soon became apparent that Firelock Games weren’t just selling a set of rules. they’d gone a lot further, and built up a whole package. They sold you the rules, but you could also buy cards with troop and leader characteristics on them, activation cards, game markers and even specially-themed ten-sided dice. This had been done before by other companies, but it was still pretty impressive. However, that was only the start. Next, Firelock began producing a range of figures to support their rules, and then ships too. You see, Blood & Plunder isn’t just about fighting it out on land. You can also use the rules to fight sea battles too . I was also impressed when I started reading the rules. They began with a useful historical precis of the Buccaneering era, written by my pirate history colleague Benerson Little. I have to say, Benerson did a great job, especially when he produced a detailed timeline of buccaneering activity. There’s more than enough meat there to tempt wargamers to set sail for the Spanish Main. It’s worth buying the rules just for that timeline. I have to admit, I haven’t tried the rules out yet, but I’ve read them, and I plan to play with them very soon. To older European wargamers like me who lack a fantasy gaming background I usually balk at the mention of D10s, or rules laid out in a format designed to please the Warhammer crowd. However, there was enough style and chrome here to make me want to try the system for myself. So, finding myself in Miami, I got in touch with Mike Tuñez of Firelock, who kindly invited me to drop by. It was Mike who came up with the whole concept, and who was the mastermind behind the Blood & Plunder rules. He’s a lovely guy, and a real enthusiast for the period. Mike began by giving me the grand tour. Their offices and workshop is utilitarian rather than sub-tropical swanky, but I was impressed by the way it was all laid out. For a company that was fairly new they had it all worked out, with a marketing person, a financial person, a design team and of course the production staff. Here’s a picture from the beating-heart of Firelock – the casting area. They keep releasing new figures, hence the stack of moulds, but what impressed me the most was the replica morion, used presumably as a caster’s safety hat…
Next Mike let me scrounge a couple of sets of cards – the activation ones, which are themed according to what side you want to play, and the unit and character cards. A selection of the English buccaneer ones are shown above. I quite like the miniatures, but I had to confess to Mike that I’d already invested in the old Foundry range, backed up by a few English Civil War and late 17th century figures. He didn’t seem to mind, and insisted you can play Blood & Plunder with whatever you have – even the cards can be replaced by plain old playing cards, although then you’d miss some of the period chrome.Next we passed the guys whose job it is to quality check the castings, and pop the lead into blister packs. Beyond them was the packaging department, with rack upon rack of blister packs, and rows of shelving units, all with figure boxed sets and resin ship models stacked on them. When Mike showed me a pile of sloop miscasts he sells cheap at shows I was seriously tempted, but then I thought of my already over-stuffed suitcase, and abandoned any boat-buying ideas – for the moment. Mike showed me the models, and I was seriously impressed with them. Best of all was the rigging. Each one comes with elasticated thread, which makes rigging a breeze. Like most things at Firelock, it had all been thought through. Here are some more cards – the activation decks used for the English and Spanish. You also get others, for French, Dutch or non-aligned Buccaneers. As I said, you could use playing cards, but these have the activation information already on them, and show you which suit trumps others. Whoever designed these cards had a real eye for period flavour. The danger, of course, is that this will all inspire me to take another look at my own buccaneers, which have been languishing in a box for far too long. Just in case you care, here are some of them;The top lot are Buccaneers, a mixture of Foundry pirate figures and a few Bicorne English Civil War musketeers mixed in with them. I’d recently put them on bases (from Supreme Littleness Designs) with 20mm (1 pence) slots, with magnetic backing. The plan was to use them for A Pikeman’s Lament, the new 17th century grand skirmish set from Osprey, but now I’m veering more towards Blood & Plunder. I guess I’ll have to try them both out.Down below are some Spanish – in this case regulars from the Nueva Armada Tercio, attached to the Armada de Barlavento (Windward Fleet), charged with defending the Spanish Main. The figures are mainly late 17th century ones from North Star, with some English Civil War ones thrown in. I also have non-uniformed local militia, and Indian allies. Anyway, back to my visit to Firelock Games. Mike showed me the range of ship models he and his team had produced, and then unveiled his latest creation – a prototype model of a Spanish galleon. Now, I have a sloop and a pinnace in my own collection, but they’re completely dwarfed by this tabletop leviathan. That’s the galleon prototype down below, on the company’s gaming table. Yes, they game there at lunchtimes, or rather they would when they aren’t working all hours masterminding the very same kickstarter designed top launch this puppy. Now, I’ve written the Osprey on the Spanish Galleon, so I know my way around them. I was impressed. While not designed on any particular ship, it had the right look and size for a mammoth treasure galleon of the late 17th century, and as Mike tried to explain the problems he’d had to overcome in designing and building it, I wasn’t really listening, as I was too busy drooling over the galleon model… to cap it all, Mike showed me other prototypes for smaller vessels, as well as gun batteries and even full-scale Spanish colonial fortifications. This’ll make Firelock a “one-stop-shop” for this colourful period. The rules you see, are designed as a set for use on land, as buccaneering actions were fought around the coastlines of the Spanish Main, but also at sea. Morgan’s sea battle off the Maracaibo Bar is a prime example, or the ship actions fought elsewhere, as recounted in period accounts like Exquemelin’s The Buccaneers of America. So, you can use figures, but ships are very handy too. The rules allow you to use both, and contain a simple but seemingly effective set of naval rules which allow your fights to move from the sea to the land, and back again. Like I said – it’s all well thought out. As a parting shot Mike offered me a tot of rum – and although it was very unlike me I had to decline, as I was driving. Instead then, he gave me a newly-produced miniature – a lovely little figure based on the painting of a buccaneer by Howard Pyle. I can’t wait to paint it, and now I’m home I’ll have to dig out my Buccaneers and Spanish, and give it all a go. So, expect this to appear here soon as a new period – The Spanish Main. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a pic of my most recent Spanish unit – half a dozen Spanish cavalry – mid to late 17th century Dragones de Cuera (Colonial Spanish cavalry, with buff-coats). They tended to carry lances and adarga shields, and these ones are all Front Rank Figures, mostly converted from their Spanish Napoleonic irregular lancer. I think they look the part! So, a big thank you to Mike and the Firelock team for letting this old pirate historian poke around their place, and for inspiring me to blow the dust off an old half-abandoned period.
Dear Angus, thanks. I love the article. I originally played Warhammer but I am a history nerd at heart. I have loved getting into B&P. Part of my experience has been research to learn about this fascinating period of history. I really didn’t know much about the period and I have especially enjoyed reading your books. With regard to six sided vs ten sided dice, I have grown to prefer the ten sided dice. I can’t explain it, but I feel like the shape may make them inherently more random. I feel like they roll more than a cube does. Somehow when I play B&P, rolling a 9+ seems a lot more reasonable than rolling a 6+ in Warhammer. Just my humble opinion. It’s probably that the people playing B&P are less irritating.