We caught up with Tom Morgan-Jones of Terrorbull Games, publisher of War on Terror.
For starters, what is your view of the current boardgaming scene here in the UK?
I’ve always been impressed with the board game scene (people) here in the UK, admittedly I’m relatively new to it, I hadn’t illustrated one before 2006 and it’s been a great baptism by fire. I’ve entered into it with various different hats on too, as a new gamer, illustrator, and publisher, and to be honest it’s a really welcoming scene. I’ve worked and played in other fields and they haven’t been as much of a laugh or shown such generosity. Unfortunately I don’t have much of a history in gaming to compare the scene to a few years ago, although now I wish I did. Gaming is really about the people gathered around a table for me, how you can challenge each other in ways that you might not in everyday life and that’s a pretty cool thing to be doing. It’s a shame that there are quite a few shops having a hard time at the moment, Playin Games in London has just shut down and that was a formidable little store, people say that times are tight, to my mind that’s when board games should be flourishing. There’s always time to have fun, or there should be. It would be great to have more places to hang out and play games in, like they do in Germany. It should be more of a public activity here in the UK.
What would you like to see done which could help board gaming become more mainstream amongst the British public?
I think designers on the whole should look at the subjects they tackle, perhaps look at more contemporary issues and have a bit of fun with them, that’s what we’re trying to do at TerrorBull Games. Although I’ve just shot myself in the foot if I encourage everyone else to do just that. I think that mainstream shops should sell a wider variety of games, there seems sometimes to be an antiquated view of games by people who don’t play them. And gamers themselves, and I include myself, should be more open, encouraging, spread the word more and engage with non gamers more, it’s easy to get people hooked, it’s often a case of matching a certain type of game and player. Then human nature takes over, and you want to win, again and again.
How does the UK market compare to other places you’ve marketed your games?
The sense of humour and attitude our games have seem to cross many boundries, both geographically and socially. People seem to ‘get them’ across the globe. A lot of English people said in the early days that we’d be crucified if we went to the US with War on Terror, but quite the opposite happened, the game was embraced. Admittedly we went to California which is pretty liberal, but we did meet Iraq vets who if they did or didn’t agree with our politics applauded us for making the game and talking about it. Sadly the prejudice had come from the English people we spoke to before we left, they had prejudged individuals they’d never met, and that’s a pretty bad thing, but pretty easy to do. And speaking about prejudging, War on Terror hasn’t gone down well at Essen, well it hasn’t been given the chance, we’re still banned. We were told by the organiser that our games ‘go beyond satire’ and having a game called War on Terror is ‘worse than having a swastika on the box’ (which is illegal in Germany). So we do still face certain problems, it comes back to administration problems. When we get round them, the people love the games. We chose a difficult topic to sell to buyers, not to people, but we need buyers in order to get to people, unless people come directly to our site. Museums and galleries have been an interesting avenue for us, they appear a bit more liberally minded. I didn’t think our games would be selling in The Nobel Peace Centre, Saatchi and the likes of Amnesty International when we first brought it out, but they are now. Amnesty sell them all over the world which is pretty cool.
How did you get into game design/publishing?
By accident, it was a private joke between the designers Andy Sheerin and Andy Tompkins whilst they watched the news and thought the invasion of Iraq by George Bush was sick, and playing out just like a parlor game. So they thought they’d highlight the absurdity by turning it into one. They’re sharp tools and got going with designing War on Terror as a side project, we were all friends and as I’m an illustrator by day, we pooled resources and bingo. We realized pretty early on that we might have to go this alone so we set up TerrorBull Games in order to get War on Terror published. I wasn’t expecting it, it just kinda happened.
War on Terror – What’s it all about?
World liberation of course. Murdering people for all the right reasons. So it’s all about the oil. Or stabbing you friend in the back, with or without their knowledge. It’s dirty dirty fun. Couples have broken up because of it, and it’s brought couples together, which kinda evens it out. But apologies to those whose relationships have been broken, that wasn’t our intention. We want people to have fun and debate essentially, talk about stuff they might not normally, or see sides to people they hadn’t before. I suppose that can be dangerous. We need to shout, cry, laugh and want to do it all again because it was so much fun. We received a touching message from a survivor of 7/7 recently: “You have turned terrorism into a theme that can be toyed with. And for the first time since my evacuation from the tube 7th July 2005, I have been able to do just that, without having it crawl under my skin. You have no idea how grateful I am. “
What has been your most successful design/published game so far? What kind of feedback have you received?
War on Terror is still a bigger seller than Crunch – the game for utter bankers. I love Crunch, it’s a really devious paranoid tense card game and we’re working on a game to top the two, but it’s a bit hush hush at the moment. War on Terror has brought us death threats, hate mail, we’re banned from a lot of places and police have confiscated sets. On the upside we’ve had proposals and a hell of a lot of praise from all over the planet, from Playboy to Pilger, Stars and Stripes to Al Arabiya News and Amnesty International to New Internationalist in Australia. Frank Chadwick likes it, Graham Linehan has had it played in his IT crowd show, it’s been exhibited in the Berlin Academy of Arts, it’s in permanent collections of many museums such as The Imperial War Museum and the V&A. Hardcore and non gamers have embraced it. It’s a joy to meet people who have played it, we’ve been bowled over by the reactions, it’s very surreal.
Can you tell us about the process you went through to arrive at the finished product? Tell us about the ups and downs, why you chose your mechanics and themes, etc.
Andy and Andy could tell you in detail about this as the designers but they’re busy in our bunker working on Edition 2 and our new game so I’ll let you know the basics. It took three years of developing and testing, refining the game many many times, it was a hell of a lot of work. The first time we tested it I think by the end of it the sun was coming up, and we hadn’t finished but we were having a lot of fun, we knew then we were onto something. For us the subject matter came first, and we designed a game around that. We chose the War on Terror because the media in this country don’t want us to talk about terrorism, fear is the governments friend, so we thought we should talk about it. It’s like our government is creating a new Nazi state, and we’re not paying attention, the main stream news is a joke, fear mongering and totally biased. The propaganda is sickening. Hitler would be very very proud. What was it that he said? “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.”.
Any words of advice for others interested in design/publishing their own games?
Yeah, have perseverance if you have a good idea. Do something you believe in and not for the money. Pour your heart into it, work at it and at the end of the day you can’t ask for more. We’re approached a lot, and one thing that repeats itself is that the prototype has only been tested on close friends and family. Don’t just test your game with friends and family, I don’t mean to sound cynical as if you can’t trust your friends and family, but you need to be ruthless and receive ruthless criticism for it to be useful. Do test your idea with friends and family, but test it a hell of a lot more with strangers.
With the launch of the iPad, do you see the possibility for digital versions of your games?
We’ve always tried to steer away from digital games, preferring the human interaction around the table. A rather large phone company did contact us concerning War on Terror, they were keen to put it onto a phone format, then they decided it might be a bit of a sensitive subject and suggested we change the name and theme to spiders vs ants. So until somebody has the balls, the know how, or the money, War on Terror is remaining a board game. Long live board games.
What project(s) are you currently working on (that you can tell us about without giving away too much, of course) and can you give us a sense of what the theme, mechanics, etc.and when we should be able to purchase the game(s)?
We’re in the early stages of developing our third game, we’ve tried a few prototypes, it’s going to be awesome. But I’m afraid, as you would expect, I’m keeping tight lipped about it. For now. If you want to sign up to be a tester however, you’re more than welcome to get in touch with us ( firstname.lastname@example.org
) and when the time is right…well, you could be part of the next chapter of TerrorBull Games.
What type of games do you like to play? Any particular favourites? Any games or game types that you hate?
Mind games are best. I’m a simpleton so nothing over complicated suits me. I’ve been getting into Jungle Speed recently and shattering nearby beer glasses by accident, Bruce Lee style. You can’t get simpler than that.
Likes and dislikes in regards to mechanics, theme?
When you’re given tough choices, and you’re playing the odds, the victory is always sweetest. Games about something like hill walking which I’ve seen as a theme sound crazy to me, why not walk a hill? That’s pretty achievable and a lot more rewarding. I’m not so keen on mundane subject matter, although saying that, I’m open to suggestions as it always depends on the approach. Nothing’s ever in or out, it all depends on the chemistry of the whole package.
Tell us where we can meet you this year. Upcoming public demos, conventions?
We’re not sure which events we’re attending this year, as we’re flat out working on Edition 2 of War on Terror and developing our third game. So might be doing a little more hiding in our bunker than usual. Saying that, in a couple of weeks time I’ll be running a War on Terror tournament at the festival that is Secret Garden Party in our home county of Cambridgeshire, feel free to drop in and terrorize me.
For more information on TerrorBull games go to: