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Posted on Jun 22, 2011 in Boardgames

Academy Games – Interview

By Rick Martin

Uwe Eickert – Academy Games. Interview.

Armchair General’s Rick Martin recently had the opportunity to chat with Uwe Eickert of Academy Games about where his company has been and where it is going.

Rick Martin: Please tell us about your background before you started Academy Games.

Uwe Eickert: I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Metallurgy. I worked several years in the plastics industry, before starting my first manufacturing company, Arius Corp., in 1988. We specialized in high-speed cutting tools, Kevlar cutting shears, military knives, and high-end hair cutting scissors. I then founded an internet service provider and emergency wireless network company in 1995, which sold for a profit in 1999. This gave me the funds to purchase or found other companies and build them up through the early 2000s. I finally sold four more companies by 2008. That is when I finished my MBA, specializing in corporate valuations and M&A.

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Please tell us about Academy Games.

I founded Academy Games in 2008, because I wanted to publish the type of game that I liked to play. I loved Squad Leader, but could not find opponents for ASL. I had a 6 month free period in Jan 2008, when my work obligations to the buyer of one of my businesses expired and my projected graduation date. During this time, I taught myself Photoshop, sourced local American printers, structured a business plan and self published the game.

Was Conflict of Heroes your first war game design?

No, my first game system was a Civil War miniatures rule system that I published in 1994, well before the Internet revolution. This is part of the foundation of the new American Civil War series of games that John Hill (Squad Leader, Johnny Reb) and I are designing.

Conflict of Heroes also started out as a miniatures game and we still use it as such. It is gaining quite a miniature gamer following, so we decided to create an official miniature’s rules set that we will be posting on our website soon. (Read Armchair General‘s review of Conflict of Heroes.)

My original intent for Academy Games was to create a series of instructional games for junior high and high school students. I have several games that teach electrical circuit fundamentals, molecule structures, and others that I have sitting on the side lines. I did this mainly because my market analysis at the time indicated a lower barrier to growing a brand name in the historical gaming category than in the educational gaming category.

How has Conflict of Heroes evolved from Awakening the Bear to Storms of Steel and Price of Honor?

As previously mentioned, Awakening the Bear began as a miniatures rules set. It evolved into a block game and then a counter game. I demoed the counter version of the game to L2 Design Group in 2007. Art Lupinacci is one of the nicest people in the industry and he gave me a lot of good advice about game presentation and how our industry is structured. During play testing, I received a lot of player fan input. I listened to everything and continually modified the game mechanics until satisfied. There comes a time when you just have to stop designing and be satisfied with the results.

Awakening the Bear won both the 2009 Origins and the Charles S Roberts awards for Best Historical Game of the Year. This was very satisfying and I designed Storms of Steel with the exact same rule set. The SoS files were at the printer and the printing plates for the rules had already been burned. That is when I woke up on a Sunday morning with a variation to the turn order. I jumped out of bed and started to write down my idea on the pad of paper that I keep on my bed stand. I then literally woke the printer up and asked if he had begun printing the rules yet. (Luckily he was also my running partner and used to my eccentricities .) He had not printed the rules yet, but told me that I would have to pay for new printing plates if I made changes at this stage. I told him to hold off a week, during which our design team play tested the new simultaneous unit activation rules. All of our play testers loved the changes, since they made the game play and flow much better.

So now what? Did we dare make this radical rule change to a game that had just won all of these awards? It was agonizing and I called quite a few people, asking them for advice. I finally decided that it is better to always move forward than to stagnate. The decision was the right one, since Storms of Steel won the 2010 Origins Historical Game of the Year and enjoys terrific ratings and sales.

The rules are now quite stable and we made no changes for Price of Honour. We added cavalry and bi-plane rules, but these were just add ons using the same core rules.

That brings me to the v2 publication of Awakening the Bear, due this fall. We have totally redesigned the map boards (Wow, they are incredible! They make our old games look like crayon drawings), added a new units, added wrecks, and added a campaign system.

In addition, John Butterfield (the well known designer of the Ambush series and Omaha Beach) and I have designed a very streamlined solo play system. I am usually not a solo player, since I can find plenty of opponents, but I really like this system! So we may sell solo packs to the previous games to make them 100% solo compatible, similar to John’s other games.

I love the integrated approach of a series of wargames designed around a core set of rules – was this always your intent with Conflict of Heroes?

Yes, it was part of my original business plan and design intent. Even though Awakening the Bear covered earlier war tanks, I had to design the system then already to accommodate the tremendous armor and firepower increases that came later in the war.

I also planned to offer 4 different series of games over time. This would give gamers a game style choice and if they liked one game in the series, they could be assured that futur games in the series utilized the same rule set. We now have 5 series in the works.

  • The Conflict of Heroes squad level series.
  • The Fight of the Colours regimental American Civil War and Napoleonic series. The first game to be published is The Bloody Crossroads – Gettysburg Day 1.
  • The Fog of War block game series. This is a series of bluff and counter bluff grand strategy games. The first game, Strike of the Eagle, is available for pre-order and will be shipping in July.
  • The Birth of America series is an area control series of games. It is a cooperative player game for 2-5 players and is meant to be fun and light. The first game in the series is 1812 – The Invasion of Canada. (Yes, we really did do that.)
  • An operational series that I have been working on for the past two years. It will cover major historical battles on a brigade and divisional level. This game will be very unique, with no dice and a novel / quick combat system.

So you can see that I am a fan of game series. I have a pool of very talented designers that are creating new games based on these game engines.

The mass movement rules are interesting and work very well – what prompted this rule?

Soviet group movements. We agonized on how to represent both Soviet mass charges against the higher quality German units and Japanese Banzai charges. After much experimenting, we settled on this elegant group action system.

How have the Conflict of Heroes games been received?

Very well. AtB has sold over 13k copies worldwide. Surprisingly, the sales had not slowed down after 1.5 years. But we ran out of stock last fall and have been working on the v2 of the game ever since. It is not good having a game not available on the wholesale level for such a long time. But sales of Storms of Steel and Price of Honour have kept up the interest in the series.

Do you find game design goals different between European and North American markets? Have you explored the Japanese war game marketplace yet?

Wargamers are essentially the same throughout the world. They love to study history and like recreating battles. Academy Games tries to be very neutral in how we portray historical forces and this has caused some issues. Being a German national that grew up in South America and Puerto Rico, I have to be very sensitive to the German stereotypes. It may surprise you, but I grew up with a lot of prejudice directed against me as a teen when I moved to America. It did not help that my grandfathers and uncles all fought for the "enemy." I grew up in a culture that was different from that in Germany. The French and Germans stuck together, especially in Venezuela. We talked openly about the war, learned the old German tales, read Karl May and the Nibelungen/Heldensagen, and sang the Buergerkrieg and 30 Years War songs. Men were proud of the units that they had fought for. It was not based on Hitler and ideology, but on being true to your comrades, your word and honour.

So I have to be very careful in how our games and our company are presented and perceived. It makes me nervous just being open about this subject in this forum. I almost erased the previous paragraph several times.

Back to the question, I have found that the French wargamers love anything to do with wargames and they are one of our best markets.

The German wargamers keep more to themselves and do not advertise their wargaming preference. In the German version of the game, we changed the series title to ‘Angriff’ from ‘Conflict of Heroes’; had to delete any reference to Hitler, instead calling him the German “High Command’; could not show pictures of SS fighting units, and so on. This is shame and I think that it is dangerous to ignore or whitewash history. But that is another topic entirely and why all of our new games now include a campaign overview. In the newest CoH game, we spent a lot of time and effort to present both sides of the Polish campaign fairly and tried to dispelled many of the negative myths surrounding the Poles.

We have sold a few thousand copies into China and I find this a very exciting new market. Lastly, American wargamers love anything to do with almost any historical theme and want to keep the presentation of history as accurate as possible.

What is next for Conflict of Heroes?

Guadalcanal; First Men In – British and American Airborne Battles at D-Day; Under Burning Skies – The Abyssinian War (Italians, British, Somolians, etc.); and Kreta.

What is next for Academy Games?

  • Strike of the Eagle – The Polish Soviet War of 1920
  • 1812 – The Invasion of Canada
  • Bloody Crossroads – Gettysburg Day 1
  • Sturm Europa – WWII Grand Strategy Game

Where can a gamer purchase your games?

We sell our games through full distribution world wide.

Mayfair Games has taken over our sales and order fulfillment. This has been a wonderful arrangement, since it allows up to ship our games overseas consolidated our shipments with their games.

We use full distribution, because we want gamers to support their local stores. If you ask your local outlet to order our games for you, it helps in several ways. We as a publisher gain, because this store will usually then stock a copy of the game, especially if you talk it up. This in turn gives other customers access to the game and we all win. Gamers have more opponents, the stores stay in business, and we sell more games.

Any other comments?

I am writing this late on the Friday night before Memorial Day weekend. Please pray for our soldiers that are serving, thank any service man that you meet on the street, and honor those that died to keep our freedoms. Also, keep an open mind and try to understand why our enemies are fighting. We can only achieve peace and become friends by understanding each other and working together to live in peace.

Of course, if this does not work, hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em fast, and make it stick!

About the Interviewer:

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War 1 and 2 gamer who can remember war games that came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

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