LET ME LOVE YOU, LEVIATHANS!

Ok, tabletop gaming talk time.  I’ve been a table top gamer for SLIGHTLY less time than I’ve been a vidya gamer.  My first minis were the famous “30 Space Marines for 30 dollars” box back when GW wasn’t in the running for “Most idiotic evil corporate empire on earth” and I’ve played ever since.  Battletech, Every GW game out there, Johnny Reb, Age of Reason, Command Decision, X-wing, Warmahordes.  You name it I’ve probably looked it over.

Leviathans very quickly earned a special part in my heart.  This is an incredibly fun, not tortuously complex, immensely characterful game.  Seriously, who doesn’t love Pre-Dreadnought flying battleships blasting each other to bits over Victorean Europe?  It’s a great game and if you can find a copy I strongly suggest forking over for the (overpriced, and more on that soon) box.  The miniatures are fascinating, and you will be fondling them gleefully, the rules are fun and the fluff is entertaining as hell especially if you are familiar with early 20th century naval personages.

But there’s a fly in the ointment.

That’s not true.

There’s some ointment on the wasps nest.

Leviathans has been mismanaged, unlucky, and royally screwed over since the beginning.  Their kickstarter ran well, but since then.  Woof.  I’m not entirely conversant with the chain of events but whatever research they did on their suppliers apparently missed the fact that Don Corleone was less crooked, and Chicago less corrupt.  Catalyst (which runs a shoestring organization to begin with) faced numerous… well… shakedowns in getting their product released, and ended up selling either for a loss or for a bare profit on the $100 dollar box set that staggered onto the market nearly a year late.  They released three box sets, the core one, and two fleet box sets that never saw the shelves here for about 50 a piece.  They contained the same miniatures as the big box, with variant ships.  Some e-pubs followed and lots and lots of promises.

And that’s it.

The new factions?  Not ready yet.  More miniatures?  Not even close.  Now there’s just no way to even GIVE them more money to continue development short of waiting for another kickstarter.  That will basically get us back to where we were 2 years ago when the product first launched.  If it succeeds.

Recently the extremely clever and devoted developer of the game, one Randall Bills, posted a statement basically admitting that they had lost all control of the miniatures (renders, molds, everything) and that their initial production model had been a failure for many reasons (not the least of which being malfeasance by the mini producer) and everything but the rules needed to be done from the ground up.

It looks more and more like Randall needs a boss.  Someone with more business experience to provide oversight, rigor, and experience to prevent the kind of catastrophes that have plagued this program since the first kickstarter.

The tone of this last message reminds me of Bruce Graw of Agents of Gaming.  Bruce created a game called Babylon 5 Wars, based on the TV series, and it was a rather similar game to Leviathans in the way the game flowed.  The game even had some pretty considerable success, which is amazing when I think on how incredibly difficult to assemble many of the miniatures were.  It fell apart towards the end when the license for the game wasn’t continued despite Bruce’s considerable efforts and investment and the company disappeared like a soap bubble.

Both companies were exposed to point failure, that is one single bad player in the scheme could ruin them.  Bruce didn’t have much control over it, his whole concept required a partner to play along, but Randall didn’t have to use that company, and he could have given himself surety that protected him from getting screwed over like he did.  Especially after it happened once.

Both companies had major supply issues as well.  B5W minis would show up with molding flaws that were simply ridiculous, enormous bubbles, or concavities, detail so worn away that ships looked like metal bricks, B5W was not immune to issues with their producers, and Bruce had to spend a lot of time cat-wrangling.

B5W suffered an ignominious demise because of these problems.  Leviathans seems to be heading that way.  I want it to succeed, I want to see the Germans, Italians, Russians, Austrian, American, and Japanese fleets sail the skies.  I want more miniatures, I want the amazing mapboard to have neighbors, and I want expanded rules.  I don’t want Leviathans to be a footnote, but unless they get some supervision I fear that Bills will be the next Graw.

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About Corelin

An Eve playing Fool who occasionally writes about the shenanigans he and his minions get up to.

Posted on June 10, 2014, in Things I think I think. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think I’m gonna have to disagree with you here, buddy, because the parallels that you *think* you see aren’t necessarily what you actually *are* seeing.

    Okay … I’ll grant you it’s possible that both can use a proper business manager. Maybe, just perhaps mind you, such a proper business manager could’ve helped them to avoid SOME of the mistakes each has made/is in the process of making. That said, such a body is no guarantee that some or even all of the same mistakes Bills has made wouldn’t have been made anyway; and no one was ever gonna be able to save B5W/FA and AoG when Warner Bros. backed out, period.

    So, what else …

    I think you overstate the effects of the miniatures line and its issue on B5W’s success (or lack thereof). Much like with SFB – to which B5W truly owes its beginnings – it was never a miniatures-driven game; it was a purely board game, with counters on hexes. Now, obviously, the miniatures were a VERY substantial add-in (and, therefore, expense), but that was a thing for hobbyists (like me). The miniatures were A thing, but they were never THE thing. The same went for Fleet Action, when that came along. And both games’ support was assured, thanks to a rabid fan base. They were successes from the get-go; the base products – the books, supplements and all the other basics which you HAD to have to play the game – were all of generally high production quality, released reasonably to schedule in a fairly constant stream, and all else being equal would’ve been perfectly fine in the long-run. Even the miniatures, for all the issues they had, were well enough off (they didn’t run into real issues with the sculpting and so forth until they tried to release the line again under Mongoose’s auspices). The “fly in the ointment,” as you put it I think entirely properly in this case, was that Graw’s Agents of Gaming was very much a one-trick pony whose product was entirely beholden to the whims of Warner Bros. All their other attempts to differentiate product either never gained traction and fell through, or died aborning when Warner Bros. pulled the plug (Cold Wars).

    This couldn’t be farther from the case with Randall Bills and Catalyst. Whatever we might think of his business acumen, conceptualizing and negotiating skills in regard to Levs, Bills and co. are far from being in that same position. As full owners by themselves of two VERY highly successful, popular and expanding franchises – Battletech and ShadowRun – they are in a totally different situation from anything Graw and Co. were ever in. Catalyst, simply put, is going nowhere. With their success, they have – with the help of things like Kickstarter, if necessary – they have the resources and ability to take a chance on something like Levs, and even do so again (as it appears to be the case). Now, okay, it doesn’t relieve Bills or Catalyst of the foolish way they went about it in this case. But there’s no evidence that they truly burned anyone but themselves with it; certainly, they were never in deep or abiding danger of losing their business to the mistakes they made; and it looks like they have sucked that up, gotten on with improving their other (specifically ShadowRun) franchises, and will return with full commitment to Levs in due course. Heaven help him, but with this was something that was never, *ever* gonna be possible for Graw.

    The take-away here? I think you *can* love Levs … or at least, you will be able to once Catalyst returns to it. Yes, it may be a little while (probably sometime in 2015); and yes, there will probably be a Kickstarter involved (I have that from my LGS manager, who is a GAMA board member and knows Bills personally – in fact, I may even have some further info from him on the subject after he return from Origins, which is this week; we’ll see). But Catalyst and particularly Bills – whose spot in the gaming industry is secure without this product, totally at contrast to Graw’s and AoG’s with their product – is nevertheless committed to Levs, and has had some sharp lessons learned from it. I won’t promise a success, but I like the odds. All we need is, as David Carradine’s character in “Kung Fu” was constantly told, a little “patience, Grasshopper!”

    • I probably am overstating the connection, but I stumbled on the agents of gaming website and the tone of that (and the reminders it struck in me of the last couple months of B5W) reminded me a LOT of Bills comments. Too much to pass up any comparison.

  2. That’s alright. My comment was not meant to chastise but to educate; as you know – we have separately talked on it many times – I have personal connections with a number of the people involved, and inside knowledge from a number of streams that allows me insights that others – your honorable self included – might not have. It’s only right to bring those to the table.

    Over the years, both while AoG was a going concern and after Warner had pulled the plug on their connect, I have had the opportunity to talk at some length with both Bruce Graw and Rob Glass (AoG’s two principals); and while they certainly admit to mistakes, it’s hard to see any errors of the sort which Bills and Catalyst had committed with Levs. They weren’t errors of hubris, really, or even judgment, but honest mistakes they were reasonably able to overcome. And a good thing, what with the entire company riding on the fortunes of Bab5Wars. Heaven knows they tried to initiate other projects, so that all their eggs were not in one basket; unfortunately for them, they were just never able to get any of them to pan out. If there’s one overriding regret I think either gentleman truly had from those days, as we talked about it, that’s it. They knew life was rather … uncomfortable, sitting in the hands of Warner as they were, without any kind of fallback. Perhaps, if Glass had been able to bring Cold Wars to fruition quickly enough, they might’ve salvaged the company at least. But he never was.

    As for the miniatures, I really do find it extremely hard to criticize and of the efforts that Agents of Gaming put forward in those terms. With only a few real exceptions, I think the quality – *especially* when you measure it in terms of their faithfulness to what you saw on the screen – was nothing short of superb. Especially if you got an original casting – or one from shortly after they finally re-mastered the molds – they were pretty clean and reasonable to work with. If not … yes, they absolutely could be a trial, both to clean and to assemble. And I will grant that certain of them – the Narn G’Quan cruiser, in particular, but not alone – were a real trial to work with under any circumstances. But I balance that against what they had to do to try and present something that reasonably accurately portrayed something from off my TV screen – no matter how you want to state the case, given the larger scale and amount of detail they brought to the table (which I to this day still appreciate immensely), I simply cannot criticize that. Not, that is, without criticizing ANY effort to bring a breadth of miniatures to the table, to begin with. Having decided to do so in the first place, *I* think they did so in the right manner, given the technology they had to work with in that day – which was well before today’s 3d modeling and 3d printing straight from the computer.

    But even had AoG had that technology properly available back in the day, it wouldn’t have made a difference to anything except a bit better quality to their product (which would have been nice, but even so). The game – and the company – still would have died when Warner, for other reasons, yanked their license back.

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