The Tuesday Interview – Ty Bomba
Longtime industry veteran Ty Bomba gives us the low-down on his upcoming projects ~
Brant Guillory, 31 January 2017
You’ve certainly been around wargaming for a while. At last check, your designer page on BGG goes about 4575454646386 pages deep. Of all the games you’ve worked on as a designer or developer, which one sticks out as one that just immediately ‘clicked’ as a smooth design, and what’s one that took some serious wrestling to get it into shape to get published?
To answer the last part of that question first, I tend to have trouble with naval designs unless the assignment allows me to use an evolution of the old-AH War at Sea system. I don’t know why that is. As to design projects that “immediately clicked,” that happened the first time for me with Dynamo: Dunkirk 1940, which I did for World Wide Wargames back in the early 1980s. Since then it’s happened a lot – so often I couldn’t enumerate all of them. As a matter of fact, it’s happening right now, as I’m working on volume three of my “Putin’s Wars Series” – Putin’s Silk Road War: The Coming Sino-Russian Conflict for Central Asia – for One Small Step Games. My feeling is, if you have a creative occupation and that kind of thing isn’t happening for you a lot, you need to ask yourself if you’re in the right career field.
Is there one that just never quite came together that you can tell us about?
As I eluded above, there were two, both naval designs I’d been assigned for Strategy & Tactics magazine. One was When Lions Sailed: The 17th Century Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars, and the other was The Graf Spee. The really frustrating thing for me in regard to those titles was the fact I did come up with creative approaches for them that satisfied me. As it was, though, those approaches fell far enough out of the bounds of my original feedback vote-supported proposals that Dr. Christopher Cummins, the publisher of the magazine, wouldn’t consider them as fulfilling the project specifications.
You’ve got a handful of hypotheticals and alternate histories bouncing around today. What’s the fascination with scenarios that ‘could have been’?
You want to keep in mind the original motivation behind the development of wargaming was to investigate the parameters inherent in near-future campaign plans and hypotheticals. So, broadly speaking, that genre of games is actually as pure and valid as any other. That noted, I think the fascination with them is largely the same as it is with straight-up historical designs: exploring the parameters of the possible. Beyond that, there’s now hardly any major historic events that haven’t been explored in multiple designs, so the what-ifs open us up to fresh topics.
At what point are you just throwing combatants into the game for fun, without regard for what really could have been?
In my approach, I distinguish between “alternative history” and “alternative universe.”
Like any other game genre, what-ifs can be done well or they can be done poorly. In my approach, I distinguish between “alternative history” and “alternative universe.” In the former you’re examining the might-have-been (or might-yet-be) possibilities of a situation based on some high-level real-world leader’s decision to go with “option B” instead of with “option A.” Games on things like Operation Sea Lion or a 1943 Anglo-Allied invasion of northwest Europe, etc., fall into that category. When I do that kind of design, I never “throw combatants into the games for fun.” When you go to an alternative universe topic – such as my forthcoming Triumph of the Will: Nazi Germany vs. Imperial Japan, 1948 – the whole point of the exercise is just to have fun (in an admittedly dark-satire kind of way), so what’s allowable there can be taken from a much broader palette.
Ultimately, aren’t all wargames just a form of alternative history anyway?
True, but – as my experience with surveying hobbyists over the decades has shown me – the people who dislike the alternative history genre tend to do so with a fervor that’s often more intense than, say, that shown by people who dislike a given historical genre. I don’t know why that it is, but it’s true.
Talk to us about what’s up for preorder right now? What’s next off the design table for you that we need to look for?
In calendar 2017 and 2108 I’ve got the following designs coming out, though I’d be hard pressed to be certain of the exact order of their appearances.
- The ISIS War (Modern War magazine no. 33)
- Cold Start: The Next Indo-Pakistan War (MW no. 36)
- Soyuz ’81: What If the Soviets Invaded Solidarity Poland (MW no. 38)
- Strike & Counterstrike: The Moscow Counteroffensive Solo, 1941-42 (World at War Magazine, no 53)
- The 1945 Luzon Campaign Solitaire (WaW no. 59)
- Last Stand at Isandlwana (Strategy & Tactics magazine no. 314)
- Operation Typhoon Solitaire (World at War magazine no. 65)
- Schlieffen’s War: Campaign in the West, August-September 1914 (S&T no. 319)
- 1938: What If? (CounterFact magazine no. 6)
- 1941: What If? (CounterFact magazine no. 8)
- Guderian’s War: Army Group Center, June-September 1941 (boxed from One Small Step)
- If Dragons Fight: The Coming Struggle for Taiwan (boxed OSS)
- Nippon, Nukes & Nationalists (NNN3): The War in East Asia (boxed OSS)
- Putin’s Northern War: The Coming Struggle for Finland (boxed OSS)
- Putin vs. the Dragon: The Coming Sino-Russian War for Siberia (boxed OSS)
- Stalin’s Final War: 1953, What If? (boxed OSS)
- Putin’s Silk Road War: The Coming Sino-Russian War for Central Asia (boxed OSS)
- Russia Falling: The Coming Civil War (Paper Wars magazine no. 85)
- Triumph of the Will: Nazi Germany vs. Imperial Japan, 1948 (boxed from Compass Games)
- Brezhnev’s War: NATO vs. the Soviet Union in Germany, 1980 (boxed Compass)
- American Falling: The Coming Civil War (boxed OSS)
- Battle for Russia (Command Magazine Japan)
You’re editing and writing for CounterFact magazine these days. How did that come about?
At the end of 2014 I was fired from my position as senior editor at S&T Press (for refusing to move to Bakersfield to work out of the office there), and CounterFact publisher Jon Compton happened to be looking for an editor for his new magazine (which he would let me do from my home). Jon and I had worked together before, so it just clicked into place.
It seems like there’s always another wargame magazine trying to get off the ground every year? What’s the key element that separates CounterFact from the others?
It’s all in the title: we specialize in quality alternative history and near-future what-if designs – what the academics refer to as “counterfactual analysis.”
Why still put ink on dead trees these days? Why not shift to an online format? (Note that we are in no way encouraging you to muscle in on us!)
That decision would be made at an echelon of command above mine, though I advise everyone not to discount the continued value of on-paper magazines as amazingly efficient and convenient data storage and retrieval devices.
Wargamers tend to dig conventions, because – let’s face it – it’s very rare you get to hang out with dozens of other Grogs anywhere else in your life. What’s one of the best times you’ve had at a wargaming convention?
I’ve never had a bad time at a convention. I always enjoy talking with the comrades-in-arms, both fellow designers and wargame players. I regret my schedule and budget haven’t allowed me to attend any since 2007.
Anything we should’ve asked you, if you were interviewing yourself?
I’m often asked online something like: how can you turn out so much work; aren’t you afraid of burning out? To which my answer is: my work doesn’t exhaust me, it reinforces me. My job isn’t in any way a drudge; it’s my art. I’m fortunate to be able to make a living doing the work I most enjoy.
Thanks for joining us at GrogHeads!