Interview: Ben Jarvis | MECHABRICK

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Interview with Ben Jarvis

Dubreq Ltd are better known for being the manufacturers of the iconic pop-culture instrument, the Stylophone, but are heading into the exciting world of tabletop gaming. We caught up with the company director, Ben Jarvis, to talk to him about Mechabrick, a new game that promises to combine giant robot combat action with LEGO-like building blocks.

What is Mechabrick?

It’s the culmination of five months of very hard work, driven by 37 years of being a geek. Mechabrick is a combination of three things I have loved since I was a kid, combined into one 'perfect product' (my opinion may be a little biased). I have always loved LEGO, I've always loved tabletop games and, from Transformers to Zoids to Gundam, I've always loved big robots with guns!

Mechabrick throws all those elements together into a board game that sees 1/144 scale mechs, built from Minifigs, fighting around scenery built from plastic building bricks. The original idea was simply: "Wouldn't it be cool to make kits to convert Minifigs into giant scale mecha?"

This then slowly morphed into "Wouldn't it be cool to build scenes and dioramas out of bricks for those mecha?" and finally became "Wouldn't it be awesome to arm those mecha and actually play a game where they fight around plastic brick scenery?” We didn't want to become a clone brick producer so the idea of just making after-market kits to convert Minifigs into the mechs seemed the ideal way to make the game, likewise, we're just encouraging the gamers to build the scenery (we will be offering instructions and suggestions) and use their imagination to 'build the game' as they see fit. This project is all about creativity, unlike a lot of big games companies, we believe that the end-users have at least as good an imagination as us and we are hoping they will help expand the game, add to the rules and build this into something more than we can create ourselves.

Mechabrick

What is the appeal of doing a Giant-Robot assault game with plastic building blocks?

I'm an AFOL (Adult Fan Of LEGO). I'm also a competition miniature painter, and I used to be a gamer. For me, the idea of getting to build scenery for a game out of plastic bricks, then convert and upgrade my robots, then use them to fight a battle is the perfect combination of creativity and gaming. It crosses an already somewhat blurry line between gaming/miniatures and brick built models.

Others have made rule-sets to play games using robots built from plastic bricks but this is more than that, this is an actual physical product (and will hopefully be followed by a whole array of follow on products to expand the idea further).

How customisable are the Mecha? Will we be able to use our unique mini-figs?

The basic mecha in the first game use the torso and legs from any Minifig. Only the legs and waist are really visible once the mech is assembled so it's just down to colour matching to create the look you want. We have however made this a product that can be used how the end-user wants to use it.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if a lot of the parts from our mechs get used in converting Minifigs or making mechs that we haven't even dreamed of yet. If we either meet some of our stretch goals or get to keep developing this product line later anyway we hope to bring out an increasing number of parts that add to that potential creativity.

Mechabrick

What makes Mechabrick different from games like BattleTech?

From a gaming point of view, Mechabrick is designed to be a family-friendly game. I don't want that to put off the hard-core gamers as we are adding in an ever expanding set of add-on rules, developed with the help of some very experienced tabletop games designers, to really open this up into something exciting. But at its most basic level the boxed game can be played with a 4-page rule-book and be understood by 10-year olds.

I remember being frustrated as a teenager that I couldn't play a lot of the tabletop games with my younger brother because the 60+ page rulebooks were insurmountable for a ten year old, so I ended up writing simplified versions for us to play when we were kids. This does that from the start, strips away all the extraneous stuff to leave a very simple, almost chess-like, set of rules that govern the core game. Those basic rules however can be added to build stories and scenarios that will make this an exciting game for anyone.

From a physical point of view it's the building brick element that obviously sets this apart from robot battle games that have gone before. The core of the strategy in the game is about fairly standardised mechs on both sides, but making careful decisions about weapons and upgrades to those mechs before the game starts, that will be where the real skill lies.

Do you have plans to do Kaiju fighting so we can improvise a LEGO-based Pacific Rim game?

Funny you should say that!

One of the first expansions for the game, if we get it funded, is to make a new enemy for the mechs to fight, some kind of mecha-zilla to attack the city from the sea. How that happens in terms of actual physical models and expanded rules we'll have to see but, having built a demo game-board for this game that includes a harbour, it became the obvious next step!

Will the game allow us to use other models made from building bricks? Tanks, UFOs etc?

That is certainly something we are considering. The core idea of the game is about customizing your mechs to battle each other but, in the expanded rules, there is no reason we can't introduce other vehicles into the fight. I think this may be something that happens in the form of new rules and some instructions to build such things from standard bricks rather than new physical products.

Mechabrick

What plans do you have for Mechabricks future?

Well, getting the 'Gangs of Neon City' game funded on Kickstarter is goal number 1. Assuming that happens (which it looks likely to do at this stage), we plan to release a range of new weapons and add-ons for the mechs on a regular basis over the coming year or two. At some stage next year we also have two further games that we hope to bring to Kickstarter. One is a direct follow-on from the first Mechabrick game and is tentatively titled 'Mechabrick - Red Legacy'. It will introduce a full new set of different mech designs and, as the name suggests, a different setting that will contrast with the shiny far-eastern cities of the first game, having a more dystopic, eastern-block feel to it.

We also have another totally different game that is also set in the Mechabrick universe, but takes the fighting to a different scale, and a very, very different location. The tentative title 'Supermassive' probably hints at where that one is going.

Ultimately we are hoping to take our company in a totally new direction (a direction we are all passionate about) off the back of Mechabrick. We hope to expand and be able to focus completely on games, models, miniatures and 'geeky stuff' from now on. I can't wait.

Mechabrick can be found on Kickstarter, and ends November 13th.


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