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lord of the rings games Interview with Alessio Cavatore

Hey Folks, Flinch here, and a very happy Flinch at that. I recently had the honor of picking the brain of Alessio Cavatore and let me say what an interesting time it was. In the grand scheme of interviews we've done here at Gaming Havens, this has to be my favorite. Alessio has a long history with Miniature Games, most recently he was one of the masterminds behind the Warhammer Release: The Tomb Kings. Now he works just as hard to bring you the most true to life Tolkien Tabletop Battle Game possible.

Flinch: Tell us a bit about your history with Tabletop games. How did you come to be a part of the Games Workshop family?
Alessio: Playing role-playing games back in Italy, I had come across Warhammer before, but I had decided to avoid the temptation and dedicate all my energies to my Kendo training. In 1993, though, I broke my thigh bone in a freak accident and consequently couldn't continue with Kendo. That meant that I needed a new hobby to keep me busy (studying for my university exams? surely not!) and tabletop wargaming is a lot easier than Kendo when you're going around with walking sticks! I therefore began my gaming career with a Skaven army and won the 1995 Italian Tournament. That put me in the spotlight of Games Workshop Italy, which was at the time recruiting, and got me a job as a translator here in Nottingham. After less than two years in Britain, as a result of me constantly bombarding Rick Priestley and the other designers with questions and submissions, and winning a couple of Warhammer staff Tournaments, I finally got the job I was dreaming of: that of games designer. After three years spent mostly on Warhammer, Games Workshop's decision to produce a game based on Peter Jackson's masterpiece has now given me the opportunity to have my own game system. With my job title now changed to "Ring-bearer" (seriously, it's on my contract!), I really love my job!

Oh, and another thing - maybe you haven't guessed it, but I really like talking about myself!
Flinch: Were you a fan of the Lord of the Rings before the films came around, or were you of the new generation of fans brought on by Peter Jackson's work?
Alessio: I have been a huuuge fan since my secondary school teacher (bless her!) made me read the Hobbit. I'm the kind of geeky person that has read all of Tolkien several times, and must read something from the Professor around Christmas every year. I have many books on Tolkien and his works, and I especially love collections of illustrations, map and calendars based on Tolkien's books (John Howe's being my absolute favourite). To give you an idea, the maps from the first edition of The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion I ever read have been put into frames and hung on the wall of my lounge (formerly of my room in Italy). That said, I also have to add that Peter Jackson's rendering of the Fellowship had me in tears of sheer emotion all of the nine times I've gone to watch it, and the Two Towers is the same. They're fantastic!
Flinch: How do you go about selecting concepts for the Lord of the Rings Tabletop Game? Is it difficult to choose between, say, Uruk Siege Troops and a league of Ents?
Alessio: Until now we followed the films quite closely what and tried to represent everything as faithfully as we could. Recently, together with the new license for the books, came the problem of choosing which of the many places and peoples of Middle-earth to explore first. Choosing what models to produce is sometimes tricky, and there are moments when commercial considerations may clash with a designer's enthusiasm for a particular concept, or with the physical limits of what we can do (the Ents being a good example of something that is so complex as to prove almost impossible to make). All in all, I think that in Games Workshop's design studio we can normally come to a good compromise, without going too much down the commercial way, but keeping things driven by genuine enthusiasm for the finished product. To put it in simpler words, we always try to make stuff that would satisfy our own personal love for toy soldiers and games!
Flinch: How long was the Two Towers expansion of the LOTR Tabletop Game in development? Is this typically the time it takes to develop a Tabletop Game?
Alessio: The Two Towers took us a good six months, but since then the process has become faster and smoother than it was during the making of Fellowship. Of course we've learned a lot about this new experience of designing something that's not based on our own IP, and with the now consolidated understanding and communication with New Line Cinema, we can work much more efficiently.
Flinch: I'm told you worked on Warhammer prior to Lord of the Rings. With so many concepts detailed in Warhammer stemming from Tolkien's writing, do you find similarities when sitting down to work on a Lord of the Rings campaign?
Alessio: But of course! Warhammer and the entire fantasy genre would not be there without Tolkien, and to be able to work on "the original" is at the same time an honour and a daunting idea. It has been very difficult to learn once again to write "Dwarves" instead of "Dwarfs" and "Hobbit" instead of "Halfling"... ;-)
Flinch: What were some concepts for the Two Towers that didn't make it into the final design? Are there plans to pick any of these up in the future?
Alessio: There have been several troop types we didn't make for various reasons. The most notable ones are certainly the Ents, the Nazgul mounted on the Fellbeast, the Mumakil and the Haradrim. The Easterlings are another one. We will do most of them in the Return of the King and following supplements.
Flinch: What is the most rewarding aspect of working with a Lord of the Rings game like this?
Alessio: Being immersed and always talking about one of my favourite subjects is well rewarding, but I have to say that going to the film's premiere has been a pretty unbelievable experience. Meeting and talking to people like John Howe and Christopher Lee, who I have admired since my youth, and with Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor and the actors who I have more recently come to admire, has been something I'll remember for the rest of my life!
Flinch: What element of this game are you the most proud of?
Alessio: Its simplicity. It's very easy to learn, and it's very entertaining in scenario play, but at the same time it can become challenging and interesting from a more competitive approach. I think that it's arguably one of the best skirmish systems ever produced for tabletop wargaming (not that I'm biased...). Rick has built this into the initial design and I will certainly try and keep it as simple as possible. The more I accumulate experience with games and their design, the more I feel that simplicity is the key to any great game.
Flinch: What can we look forward to in the future of the Two Towers expansion? Nazgul on Fell Beasts? Other Ents? Ugluks troops perhaps?
Alessio: The first new troop type to make its appearance will be the Rohan Royal Guard, the elite warriors that defend the king of Rohan. I would have loved to make the Ents straight away, but mostly for the technical reasons mentioned above, that project has been postponed to a moment where we'll have more resources available to do justice to the fascinating Shepherds of Trees. In summer though, it is likely that the flapping of great wings will be heard in the skies of tabletop wargaming...
Flinch: Has development begun on Return of the King? If so, what stage of development are you in?
Alessio: I've just finished writing the first draft and we're beginning to playtest it.
Flinch: Now that Games Workshop has acquired the license to do miniatures based on the books as well as the films, what are you looking forward to in Shadow and Flame and beyond?
Alessio: I'm extremely proud of Shadow and Flame, since that kind of gazetteer-like supplement is a rather new thing for us and it's my brainchild, it is precious to me... I really hope that people will like it, so that I'll get more resources to back the next one. We're trying to get to a position where we'll be producing three supplements for our The Lord of the Rings battle game per year, bringing it on par with the other two core systems. This should allow us to explore the four corners of Middle-earth and its history, enriching the game with more races, heroes, monsters and magical treasures. What could be more exciting?
Flinch: Who in the Two Towers do you most identify with? Did this make developing stats for that character easier?
Alessio: I have to say that a few years ago I would have said Legolas, who was definitely my favourite. Recently, life is getting me to feel closer to the Men in the story - Aragorn and Boromir. The Elves are so perfect that the result is a bit cold and distant, while the gritty mortal Men that have to constantly fight against their own weaknesses as well as the external enemies tend to get my sympathy now. It feels so much more Heroic when they conquer their human limits. I believe this probably comes across from their awesome game stats.
Flinch: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, we'll have to catch up with you soon and talk a bit about your work on the new Warhammer Army: the Tomb Kings! Thanks again!
Alessio: Any time you want. As I said, I find the subject of myself really irresistible! ;-)
What a rewarding experience it must be to work with such incredible content and turn it into an equally incredible game. We'll have more from Alessio in the future, in the mean time, what do YOU think about the Lord of the Rings Tabletop Battle Game? We'd love to have your comments! Just drop em in an e-mail and send them off to!


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